World Cup players reflect after return to Thorns practice
They're thrilled to be home.
That was the common refrain from the four Portland Thorns players who helped the United States win a second consecutive Women's World Cup.
"It feels so good to be home" after two months on the road, Tobin Heath said after the Thorns' Wednesday training session at Providence Park.
"I wish our first game back was here. Getting on another plane is going to a little hard."
Get on a plane she will Thursday, traveling to Salt Lake City ahead of Portland's National Women's Soccer League match at 7 p.m. PT Friday against the Utah Royals.
Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett and Adrianna Franch each took a few questions from local media and said she was looking forward to getting reintegrated to the Thorns after a life-altering couple of months representing the United States.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons said "a couple" of them will play in Friday, adding: "I hope we can see them all."
Factors in those decisions will include player fitness but also the process of reintroducing the Americans to a team that has played well in their absence.
"The team's done so incredibly well while we were gone. I'm so proud of them," Horan said. "Now it's incorporating us back in and getting us all on the same page again. It is a process. But every team has to go through it."
The four are coming off of a unique and special team experience representing the U.S. The week after the 2-0 finals win over the Netherlands at Leon, France was a whirlwind that included a New York City parade and an appearance at the ESPY Awards, among other celebrations.
Heath, who won her second World Cup title, delivered the line of the afternoon when describing the post-World Cup frenzy.
"We kind of didn't want to leave each other after going through something like that. The celebration's always fun," she said. "You go from treating your body like a temple to throwing it out the window. In that way, it's a bit of recovery."
Horan said the parade down the Canyon of Heroes and attending the ESPYs were worth the lost sleep.
"I've never experienced anything like that before. Everyone showed up for us and to celebrate us. It's amazing," Horan said, describing her state during last week's events as "exhausted — but worth it. We wanted to celebrate with our team and with our fans and those that didn't get to go to the World Cup."
Heath said the team was in its own world in France and not aware of the level of interest the tournament was attracting in America.
"We were in our own little world, doing our job and what we set out (to do). We had no idea what was going on back home until we got home," she said. "The support and the hype has been kind of awesome. But we didn't really feel it until we got back home."
The "equal pay" chants from the stands in Leon and the focus on the U.S. team's efforts for fair compensation continue to be hot topics.
Heath said the easiest place to inspire change is at the club level.
"I think on the NWSL level we have a long way to go here. There's a lot of things that we need to get better at," Heath said. "I hope we realize that (equality) starts with decisions that are made every single day."
The players understand the World Cup victory gives them a platform they haven't often had to talk about fairness for female athletes. But Franch emphasized that discussions of social and economic issues do not overshadow the soccer.
"This is what sport does. Sport brings so many people together from different areas. And they can come together and talk about different things," Franch said. "I love sports and that's why. It brings so many people together. Just look at our fan base in Portland and look at what we had in France."
A backup goalkeeper, Franch did not play in any World Cup games. But her favorite moment was the penalty kick save in the semifinal by U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, in part because Naeher was in the spotlight following in the shoes of Hope Solo.
"It just shows all the work that she's put in, that all the goalkeepers put in to be there. We train everyday together. We created an environment in our group," Franch said. "Being a backup isn't ideal, right? But you have to believe in the one that's playing. That's the same thing that we do here (in Portland). Having that moment for her was pretty surreal."
Sonnett said the tight bond the players of the national team formed once the roster was selected was a lesson that will stick.
"I think I'll remember and bring to any team that I go to that collectiveness is very powerful. And having each other's back — I know it's cliche — but it's something that winning teams have," Sonnett said.
Though she played only a few minutes in France, Sonnett said she returns with an understanding about competing at the highest level.
"Being able to play with the best players in the world every single day and that competitiveness that you have to bring every single day, I think using that and bringing that back into the NWSL environment is going to be crucial. Hopefully that's contagious and everyone feeds off that."
The conquering heroes are looking forward to the Thorns' eight remaining home matches, beginning with next Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. game against Houston. And they hope the World Cup success can attract new fans to each of the NWSL's nine stadiums.
"The big message, Megan Rapinoe said it, (is) everyone has a part," Sonnett said. "Whether it's an excuse to drink, or get out of the house or bring the kids, it is a heck of a lot of fun coming to a game especially here at Providence Park.
"Buy jerseys. Buy season tickets. Everyone has a part in growing the sport."
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