Thorns hope to thrive in Portland, league

Local ticket sales have been strong for women's soccer

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

PORTLAND — Twice in the last dozen years, entrepreneurs have given women's professional soccer a shot.

Both the Women's United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women's Pro Soccer (2009-2011) succumbed to debt after three seasons.

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is the only owner of a Major League Soccer team to invest in the NWSL. His Portland Thorns FC play their first home match at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field.

The United States Soccer Federation's leadership role in the new league was vital to Paulson's involvement.

"We have a great relationship and a lot of respect for U.S. Soccer," Mike Golub said. "The fact that U.S. Soccer was behind this both financially and organizationally was a huge factor for us."

As the chief operating officer for the Thorns and the Portland Timbers, Golub played a leading role in the five-month sprint to build the Thorns franchise. Early indications are encouraging. A crowd of more than 14,000 is anticipated for Sunday's match against Seattle Reign FC. The team has sold about 7,000 season tickets for its 11-game home schedule.

Golub said response from fans exceeded his high expectations.

"We always said our goal was to lead the league in attendance," Golub said. "We knew (the team) was going to be well received. Once we knew which players were allocated, that certainly helped too."

Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, two of the most recognizable female athletes in the world, are Thorns forwards.

Star power aside, Golub said financial stainability is more realistic for the NWSL than it was for the WUSA and WPS because the national soccer federations in the United States, Canada and Mexico are paying the salaries for their national team players.

Even though the NWSL has been quickly organized — Paulson committed to the league in November, just before its formation was announced — Golub said the league is committed to thoughtful growth.

He said the dynamic among team owners is similar in the NWSL and MLS.

"We're in this together. For us to be successful as a whole, we all have to be successful individually," Golub said.

For example, Golub said he spoke with operators of WPS clubs when building his budget and deciding on ticket prices for Thorns games (which start at $9 for season-ticket holders and $12 for single-game tickets).

While the Timbers televise each of their MLS matches live in the Portland market, the Thorns do not plan to televise games locally this season.

Home matches are on the radio, and all games will be streamed live on the team's website: http://www.portlandthornsfc.com. Golub said the Thorns home-game streams will be of state of the art.

This week the NWSL announced an agreement to have six regular-season games and the three playoff games shown nationally on Fox Soccer Channel. Golub said his main goal for the first season is to create a big-league experience for fans at Jeld-Wen Field.

"If the success we have with the Thorns helps beget other MLS teams being interested in being part of the league, then that's great," Golub said.

GAME NOTES — Portland and Seattle each opened the season with 1-1 draws on the road, Portland at FC Kansas City on a Christine Sinclair goal and Seattle at Chicago on a Christine Narin goal.

The Reign are without their three U.S, national team stars: goalkeeper Hope Solo (injury), Megan Rapinoe (playing in France) and Amy Rodriguez (pregnant).

This is the first of four matches between Portland and Seattle. This is the first of 11 home games for the Thorns in a season that runs through mid-August.