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.