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Friday, September 23, 2011

A visit from royalty

We spent a few wonderful hours with our daughter last night, just the two of us, and in the middle of that time, there was a pretty nice soccer game. The U.S. women's national team was in town for an exhibition contest (or is it a friendly match) against Canada, and the idea was to give the Portland fans a chance to see them in action after their recent excellent showing in the World Cup.

It was our first visit to the renovated stadium, and we did our best to close our mind to all the twists and turns of the city's dubious dealings with you-know-who. We had seats in the toney club portion of the new grandstand, which meant we could have all the complimentary pretzels, peanuts, Cracker Jack, hot dogs, licorice ropes, soda, and water we wanted. We blew $8.50 on a 20-ounce Widmer's beer, but that was all we had to pony up for.

On a perfect evening weather-wise, the place looked and felt good. Seeing more than 18,000 people in it was mighty impressive. Our seat was comfortable, and we remembered enough not to try to fight the crowds for anything at halftime -- although in the groovy new section of the stadium, in which we were sitting, there seemed to be plenty of everything, including elbow room.

We don't know much about soccer, but seeing this team was a treat. They've achieved so much, and they send such a clean-cut message to the millions of kids who play the beautiful game. Even though the match didn't start until 8:00, which is the middle of the night when it comes to Portland event times, the crowd was full of kids, especially girls, and their parents. During the introductions, we actually got a little choked up. A far cry from the cynical mist in which so many other sporting events take place -- the Blazers, the Ducks, and so on.

Hope Solo is the goalie, and she got a lot of attention from her many admirers. But so did several former players for the University of Portland -- a couple on the U.S. team, but even one on the Canadian side. Good on all of them.

As for the match, the U.S. squad was superior from start to finish, but they had trouble getting the ball into the goal until after halftime. One U.S. striker (we think that's what they're called) hit the crossbar a couple of times in the first half, which had us all howling. But in the second half this giant of a player named Abby Wambach, whose jersey many in the crowd were wearing, went nuts.

First she just hauled off and let fly a wicked shot that the Canadian goalie (who was darn good) couldn't stop. Unassisted, the announcer said, and indeed it was. The crowd went wild, of course, and a little while later, Wambach scored again on a short header that she put in on a pass from along the baseline. More pandemonium. It was at that point that we realized that hey, this is what everybody came to see -- the U.S. women knocking it into the goal. People's hearts, not their heads, were doing the yelling.

Somewhere amid all the celebration, something happened that we weren't anticipating: We suddenly saw our daughter in a new light. She has played this game for several years now. She knows more about it than we do -- way more. She's probably halfway to the point in life that some of the players in front of us are at right now. And when those goals went in, our girl jumped up and cheered, and looked over at us and smiled, and cheered some more. "Did you see that, Dad?" Everything around us was shining. And ringing. You can't make that happen -- when it does, it just does.

Now, soccer does have its dull moments, no question about it. No wonder the regulars spend so much time chanting and singing. But since we couldn't make out the words to the droning, we let our mind roam around. All the seats on the MAC club balcony were filled... There were even some people sitting in the little windows inside the club... Hey, whatever happened to that soccer announcer who used to scream "Gooooooooooooooo-al!"-- is he still alive?

During a couple of dry spells, we tried to concentrate on the players from Canada. On this night, they were clearly the Washington Generals to the U.S. team's Harlem Globetrotters. But they were all gifted, and fast, and strong, and hard-working. No doubt they've gone to many more places in the world than we'll ever see, all for their athletic talent. We were secretly rooting for them to score at least once toward the end.

It didn't happen. A messy goal right at the end gave the home team a 3-0 victory. Apparently, you're supposed to say "three nil." We can do that. It's kind of like tennis, where you say "thirty love." We went home a slightly different person than when we set out for the evening -- uplifted. Here's to the U.S. women's team -- if they ever come back this way, we'll be there.

Comments (12)

Wonderful post. Glad you could see some positives with JELD-WEN Field, too!

And yes, the USWNT is a fun team to watch and an easy team to like. It was a great game last night and I also wished that Canada could have at least put one into the back of the net.

My wife and I are expecting our first child in about ~43ish days - a girl. This post had more emotional appear to me than probably most others that will be reading it... as I'm someone who has a soccer playing and watching background and have often thought about how I will love taking my little girl to watch women's soccer.

Glad you both could have such a great time.

That's cool. Thanks for sharing, Jack. You ought to go and check out the UPortland gals together sometime, too (if you haven't yet, or don't occasionally).

Fabulous Jack.

"And when those goals went in, our girl jumped up and cheered, and looked over at us and smiled, and cheered some more. "Did you see that, Dad?" Everything around us was shining. And ringing."

The meaning of life is not so elusive.

Choked up a little here, myself. As the father of a 4-year old girl, I hope to have similar moments.

Sweet memories for a lifetime. Great post!


I am glad you had a great night with your family.

It's just that--as one of the Timbers fans and supporters of a wonderful new "civic" stadium that you have so doggedly maligned over the past years--I can't help but be offended. Why can't you appreciate the joy, excitement, and civic pride we feel when we watch a game and cheer for victory? Why is all of our collective ability to come together and route for the home team--for the women's team, PSU, Timbers, and others--not worthy of the expenditure of public dollars? Every time I go to a game and hear the roar of the crowd and high five my buddies and the friends I've made who hold season tickets next to us, I feel its worth it.

Jack, it appears the "Army" was not in attendance. Do you think if they had been there, your opinion would have differed about the evening?

Phil, for the tens of millions dumped into that stadium - needlessly - we could have had a lot of pot-holes filled. The place didn't need some $60 million in retro-fits, and it didn't need to cost a baseball team.

That noted, I found Jack's post about his recent experience there interesting, and even touching. Though insufficient to motivate me to actually attend a soccer game.

One question did come to mind: did Jack and his daughter take light rail to and from the game?

Heck, no. We parked on the street.

I don't have a problem with soccer, or the Timbers, or rabid fans.

I don't like crooks like Henry Paulson, incompetent politicians, or obnoxious drunks. None of those were on display last night.

In this post, I forgot to mention the team's coach, Pia Sundhage. There's a definite love affair going between her and the fans. And from how she carries herself, it's easy to see why.

I'm a longtime fan of women's soccer, who believes Mia Hamm would make a good President of the United States. I think she'd be outstanding, but men still control the type of women candidates we get for high office, and it's a damn shame. It took a man to choose Sarah Palin for VP. There are millions of better women out there for that job. Millions.

So for helping to break through the stereotypes, these women on the US soccer team - past and present - are heroes, not heroines, heroes. Can you believe we call a woman hero a name that sounds like heroin?

There are so many examples of sexism that you see to this day and we're losing out as a society because of it. As a musician, I'm always pleased when a woman who makes it in the biz, doesn't just sing but plays instruments. That's something we need more of too, and why Bonnie Raitt is such a hero for tearing it up on the electric slide guitar.

I'm also a Timbers fan and have many talks about the team with one of the Timbers Army currently in New York for the big match today. I also try and follow Barcelona and the Premier League. Messi is a genius and Luis Suarez of Liverpool is amazing. I've followed soccer all my life, so count me as a big fan.

However, I don't think I could go to Jeld-Wen field. I'm not saying it's wrong. It would just be too weird knowing I was giving Henry Paulson money after the hurt he put on America. I understand Jack going, and it's all good, but I couldn't do it. If Mia Hamm were elected president and they held the inauguration at Jeld-Wen Field, I wouldn't go.

The comments that seem to indicate this was about spending public funds on a sports venue, are mystifying to me. I didn't get worked up the last time we shelled out bucks on this place. If memory serves, I think I even wrote a positive column about it in the Tribune.

We spend public funds on subsets of the population all the time, including on schools for young daughters to attend. That concept wasn't the problem. I just have a problem with the whole "destroying America" thing. I get a little misty thinking about the country on the team jerseys, too.

Look at the recent data on serious knee injuries in young girls playing soccer. It's frightening - over double the rate for boys, which is already really high in soccer.

Given the variety of other great sports that don't destroy young women's knees there's no way I would encourage my daughter to play soccer.

You look at even a high school girls team and already 2/3's of them have something on least their one of their knees. Life long injuries that come back to haunt you.

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