Some players are so transcendentally good, so vastly and obviously above the mundane level of the everyday squad player that they don’t just demand respect.
They command it.
Even opposing fans have to bend the knee. Those are the “Ugh, I hate to see her so much. She kills us. She’s so damn good…” kinds of players.
Here in Portland we’ve been blessed with that sort of player from the first kick of the league in 2013.
Christine Sinclair, Rachel Beuhler, Tobin Heath, Karina LeBlanc, Allie Long, Vero Boquete, Lindsey Horan, Amandine Henry, Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter…the Thorns roster is rich with the names of players that have inspired everything from affection to adoration for their skills on the pitch.
Certain players, however, seem to have a different sort of special place in the hearts of the fans. They don’t have to be great players. (They can be, but they don’t have to be…) They don’t have to have some special gift, or some unique brilliance. They’re not always – or often – MVPs or Players of the Week or even on the highlight reel after the match.
There’s just something, often something undefinable or complex, that makes them The Beloved.
Meleana “Mana” Shim may well have been the single best loved player in Thorns history.
And why not? What’s not to love? Undrafted in 2013, she just walked into the open tryouts and won a spot on the team. She exploded onto the pitch that season, her five goals put her third on the squad behind the Twin Towers of Morgan and Sinclair.
Plus she was just fun to watch; clever, shifty, perhaps not the fastest on the team in a dead sprint but pacey in bursts. Not a lockdown defender but decent marker and tackler.
Plus, let’s face it; she had a great song, perhaps the catchiest of any of the Thorns player songs ever sung.
At the end of the season Shim looked ready to break out beyond the team, perhaps becoming one of the marquee players in the league, perhaps even getting a look from the national team.
But the Thorns FO didn’t agree. She went unprotected in the 2014 expansion draft and was taken by the Houston Dash.
Then, in perhaps one of the weirdest deals the Thorns ever made, she was traded back to Portland during the NCAA Draft one week later.
I’m not sure what happened after that.
I’m not sure if it was not being protected, or being traded, or working under Paul Riley rather then Cindy Parlow Cone, or just bad timing and bad luck, but Shim had a very rocky sophomore campaign. The bright promise of 2013 dimmed…just a bit.
But she recovered to have a fine 2015 – four goals and four assists, second on the squad behind Allie Long’s Big Year. Things were looking bright for Shim…but the season itself was a dim one, and after Riley was let go her playing time declined steadily under Mark Parsons until she was finally released in midseason 2017.
She knocked around a bit after that, playing in Sweden that year, and then ending her playing career in Houston in 2018.
What makes her story a little more poignant is what we didn’t know as we sang to her; that she was dealing with bipolar disorder along with all the other physical, mental, and emotional stressors that follow a professional athlete.
The thing about life is that you don’t get the fairytale “happily ever after” ending. Shim had a brief, bright career that earned her a lot of love here before she had to face that sunset. Perhaps that was enough. Only she can say for sure.
Shim has moved on from her professional soccer life, back to Hawai’i, doing…well, whatever she’s doing. I hope whatever that is she’s doing it well, and I hope that she has a good life and is comfortable in her skin.
And I hope that, every so often, in a quiet moment, when she stops and listens perhaps, very faintly, like a sound of distant surf, she can hear the echo of thousands singing “Mana Shim! Doo doo dee doodoo…” and smile at the memory.
It’s kind of startling to think of how many fan favorites came from the 2013 squad. Perhaps none so well loved as well as so entertaining as “KK”, Karina LeBlanc.
What makes that even more bizarre is that LeBlanc played only a total of 22 games for Portland; just the 2013 season. In January 2014 she was traded to Chicago, where she retired from the sport after the 2015 Olympic Games.
LeBlanc is still immersed in the sport she loves; she’s the head of Women’s Soccer in CONCACAF, a UNICEF ambassador, Olympic medalist…KK was with the broadcast team in France this past summer. She’s in the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame, and just now – mean, like, just now, just the past week – she became a mom.
But when I think of her I don’t think of all that; I think of her here; of her wild shock of red mohawked hair and her ferocity and her standing tall in the goal in Rochester to win that first star.
And I can’t think of anything better to say about her than what I wrote at the time she left us:
“On a sporting level this deal makes excellent sense; Chicago sent their keeper to the expansion Houston team and then, in return for not contesting Portland’s signing of a new keeper, gets Portland’s old keeper. Keeper for keeper for keeper and everyone’s happy.
Except…that a lot of people here in Portland genuinely liked, enjoyed, or loved Karina, forgetting that she was a playing piece on a playing field.
I know I’ve said this before, but if sport has any value at all it is as a distillation of human spirit. Sometimes the spirit is the exhilaration of achievement, often it is the grim disappointment of failure.
Today the sport reminds us that anytime we love someone, or something, Fortune holds it hostage against us. If we do not love we cannot lose, and yet we must either choose to love or protect ourselves by not chancing the loss and, in effect, forfeiting the gains of love.
Love and loss; for in life as in sport the end of the story is always the parting of ways, the terminator of delights, and the separator of companions.
And yet, if we do not love, what do we gain?”
And speaking of people we loved and lost…I gave you a hell of a lot of stick, Emily Sonnett, for continuing to make rookie mistakes long after you stopped being a rookie.
But, damn, girl…
There’s soccer as sport and then there’s soccer as performance art. And you are one of the most gifted comic artists ever to grace the 120-yard-long-stage.
You may not have had made all the tackles and won all the duels…
…but, damn; you had all the best faces.
I’ll miss the hell out of you, y’goof.
Well, except when you come to town with Orlando. Then I’ll expect your former teammates will hand you your head.
And speaking of characters…
…perhaps the last and most fun of the beloved Thorns players is Meghan Klingenberg.
Alongside her sense of humor, I think one thing that has endeared Kling to the fans is her onfield connection with her coach’s little daughter, Edie:
Let’s face it; the only thing more heartwarming that an adorable little urchin is a doting adult doting sweetly on the adorable little urchin.
All we have to do now is make up a song for them, too.
So those are some of my choices, Thorns players I have loved, or seen and see as well-loved.
Who are yours?
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9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Memory Box 2 – The Loved Ones”
Good choices John. All three are really sweet people and in the case of Sonnett and Kling kind of nut cases, but I will really miss those Sonnett celebrations, the dancing and GIFable facial expressions. Kling may have lost a step but she lost Marta on the assist to Henry in the 2017 semifinal. That was a sweet move.
I would add to that list Vero (I follow her on twitter and her El Pais column on sports) and Hayley Raso.
With Vero’s it is her craft, her competitiveness, her enthusiasm, the courage she has shown advocating for her national team and grace when she was kicked off the team, her smile and (this just me) that wonderful Galego accent.
Raso was so fun to watch with her ribbons, telegenic smile, aggressiveness and acceleration down the line. Who could forget her response in a pressser to the question “was that a shot or a pass.” Raso with a huge smile answered “It was a goal.”
Yeah it was!
The odd thing about Vero is that I recall her as kind of underwhelming. Not that she wasn’t a terrific player – she was, and is – but I think a couple of things combined to hit her hard.
1) She arrived late in the season – didn’t start until June – after a lot of anticipation and concern that Riley was trying to put together “his” team too late, then
2) She was visibly uncomfortable with the level of physical play that PRO let go. She was still effective when she got time and space, but often didn’t get them, and
3) Vlatko played a viciously cynical semifinal, knocking her around and out of the match and the playoffs, and
4) Then she left, having played only fifteen games.
The primary sense I got from other fans was great respect for her skills, regret that she was here so briefly and that the league didn’t really play to her strengths, and a sort of distant appreciation for her in general. So I’m not sure she was “loved”. Respected? Yes. Appreciated? Definitely. But I don’t think she ever quite crossed over into the Beloved.
Now Raso? Yes. Very much, and I know a LOT of people who are still mourning her move to the FAWSL. I should have added her in, too, but she’s going to be in the next piece with the strugglers…
Great choices. I don’t know how people are doing, but I’ve found myself looking at sports a lot less. Until there is a vaccine, I don’t think I am going to any event. I am hoping that the revenue stream of televised events allow for these sports to coexist
For me soccer is like all my other avocations; something I enjoy when it’s here and something to tinker with and discuss when it’s not. At the moment it still feels like the offseason. Perhaps in six months or a year it won’t, but for know I still have fun with stuff like this.
My guess is that no mass events will be permitted until there’s a vaccine or something like 80-90% of the public show immunity. Perhaps some time in the summer the leagues will be able to resume in closed venues so they can profit from the viewing revenues. But I’m going to bet it’s going to be a long time before we see another “real” match…
Same with me; until there is a vaccine? That is really sad because a lot of what makes this special is having 20 to 25,000 fans cheering for this team.
About Vero John, it might be just me. I worked in her hometown (Santiago de Compostela) from 1999-2001 and almost everyday I walked or rode my bike by the soccer stadium and sports complex that was recently named after her. I loved her and her game right from the beginning. She is a class act and still a very good soccer player and an excellent writer too.
…and a tremendous advocate for her teammates (which is why, as I understand it, she was canned from La Roja after leading the drive to get Quereda out) as well as the WoSo comunity in general (she was instrumental in forcing EA to include the women players in their FIFA game series). She’s a boss, I’ll be the first to say it.
Sadly, tho (as far as her tenure here goes), I think it IS just you. Vero is one of those players that you have to really know the sport to appreciate fully. She’s not the sparky, stands-out-immediately Rapinoe-sort of player. She’s deft, subtle, and when she’s on you don’t always see how she’s pulling the strings, she’s so silken. It’s that slide rule pass that looks so easy you don’t understand why her teammates rave about. She’s like the sort of keeper you never see making insane full-stretch saves because her positioning is so good that she doesn’t have to.
But…referring back to the whole “not thinking about soccer” thing Trail33 mentioned…for me it helps to think and talk about the sport and the teams I enjoy following. Otherwise I end up brooding on how fucked up it is living in the Plague Year. In a lot of ways (as a military history buff) our situation reminds me of the descriptions of the defenders of cities under siege. A long, boring, nerve-wracking slog, day after day, watching the besiegers sap closer and closer to the walls (watching the infection and death tolls). Watching the horizon for signs of a relieving force – the vaccine – because you know without it that the walls will inevitably be breached and the storming parties hack their way inside…
Jesus. Now I’ve depressed myself further…
I appreciate the articles and reading about past years, I miss the sounds of the game more than anything else. I was so excited to see Morgan, Sophia, and Rocky integrate into the team. I wanted to see how we’d do against the U23s. I had taken time off of work to go to all the matches,
On a side note, I am so appreciate of the stay at home orders and how many people have taken this seriously. How many of you looked at Morgan’s interview on Thorns Twitter Page? I saw see was rooming with Westphal and I thought of you guys.
I wish the concept of going to a game made sense to me. I think of how many games I’ve been to where someone coughed and was obviously under the weather. Not saying anything to be polite, but quietly wondering how self focused a person was to go to a game in that shape. Then after my internal dialogue, giving that same person the benefit of the doubt because the tickets were expensive and smile/cheer with them regardless.
After watching the clips of people at spring break, I realize I’m not as polite now. I likely will review social media and any of those kids who showed a blatant disregard for life will likely not move past the next stage even a decade from now. It’s sad because I would of likely given them the benefit of the doubt before. I’ve noticed I’ve hardened there and narcissism will no longer be a tolerated behavior.
Now I am just hoping you all stay healthy and this team/league can go on, because I am invested in these women and these fans. I want to see massive levels of success.
Then I looked at this and stopped being so serious
I wanted to savor this article so I waited awhile to read it. Maybe it’s too late to comment, but thought I would anyway. One player we enjoyed a lot, for too brief a time, was Meg Morris. Remember her? She came on the field like an enthusiast ic freight train and then just cheerfully mowed everyone down. She was injured, tried to come back and play thru the pain because she loved the beautiful game so much, then she was gone. I wish we had gotten more of her. I’m really glad you talked about Williams. We moved to Portland in 2015 and became Thorns fans in 2016, so I wasn’t familiar with players that came before. When the first Thorns home game was shown a few weeks ago I thought “who is that Williams player!?!” She was feisty and fun to watch then didn’t play in the final and I was really curious what happened.