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‘They inspire me’: Portland Thorns practice in Bend, meet and sign autographs for young fans

'It makes me want to get better at soccer'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With the reigning National Women’s Soccer League champion Portland Thorns' 2023 season opener about a month away, the team stopped in Central Oregon on Friday to host a training session at the Bend FC soccer complex at Pine Nursery Park.

Pine Nursery is normally a great spot for kids to practice soccer. But when the pros, and champions, are in town, it's better just to watch.

That’s what one group of young Thorns fans did.

“We’re younger, and we can see older people do it -- and we might want to try it too,” fan Aliah Coursen said.

“It makes me want to get better at soccer,” Imogen Grasty added.

“They inspire me to just go, you know?” We can see older people do it -- and we might want to try it too,” fan Nora Linderman said. “I want to play soccer more now!”

More than 100 Bend FC players and young Thorns fans had front-row seats.

“I love the Thorns, because they’re the closest soccer team near us, and I like watching them on TV,” Coursen added. 

Claire Phillips, a defensive player for the Bend FC Thorns, is impressed by the pros' skill.

“Well, they score a lot of goals, that makes them pretty good,” Phillips said. 

Thorns forward Sophia Smith is the reigning league MVP, 2022 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year and a fan favorite.

Maybel Watt, a forward/midfielder for the Bend FC Thorns, is a big supporter. 

“I like Sophia Smith, because I like how she plays and that she’s creative with her goals,” Watt said. 

However, it wasn't an easy year for her and her team.

Last season, the Thorns owner stepped down after an independent investigation found patterns of systemic abuse in the NWSL, specifically with Portland.

Smith and her teammates said after a year with drastic highs and lows, they’re looking to reset.

“I think we’re expecting to come into the season and do exactly what we did last year, but do it better,” Smith said.

Midfielder Sam Coffey chimed in.

“What happened last year doesn’t matter any more,” Coffey said. “It's a clean slate and a blank slate, and that’s an exciting opportunity for us to just rebuild.”

Bella Bixby, the Thorns goalkeeper, wants the club to aim for the bigger picture.

“That’s something we focus on is that the championship is a welcome outcome of what we’re trying to do, but we're trying to go beyond that,” Bixby said.

Bixby is an Oregonian, originally from Milwaukie. 

“I mean, I grew up coming to Bend, playing soccer in the Bend/Redmond area a lot, spent a lot of time in Sisters as a child,” Bixby said. “This area is obviously beautiful, so I feel connected to it.”

She and Smith know how important it is to connect with fans, like a young Sophia Smith had the chance to do with soccer legend Abby Wambach.

“I’ll remember that forever,” Smith said. “She took maybe two minutes to ask what position I played and stuff like that, and that’s something I'll remember forever. I want to be that person and that player for other young girls and players to look up to, and I think it goes a long way to take a few minutes out of your day to say hi and get to know these players, because they might be the next ones to come up.”

Article Topic Follows: Sports

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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