The NWSL Challenge Cup shifts this week to the quarterfinal round. Playing without Tobin Heath, missing Adrianna Franch and Becky Sauerbrunn through injury and suffering its only preliminary-round loss in stoppage time against two-time defending champion North Carolina, Portland is the No. 8 seed and will play the top-seeded Courage again. A World Cup winner and the 2018 NWSL MVP for Thorns FC, Lindsey Horan agreed to share her perspective several weeks into the bubble in Utah.
I'm not saying this is the single most important bit of advice I can offer my peers in the WNBA, MLS, NBA and NHL as they start to figure out life in a bubble and get back to playing games after so many months away. Just don't forget to thank me later.
Bring a teqball table.
All right, that might be more useful advice if you have some soccer skills. Put Google to use if you don't know what I'm talking about (think table tennis and soccer -- the highlight clips alone are worth it). But in addition to what I packed and brought with me from Portland for the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, the table I had shipped from back home in Colorado has been huge.
With all eight teams in the same place out here, you get what you get as far as training times. We've been training a lot recently around 10 in the morning. So you get back to the hotel, eat lunch and then have a lot of day left. Meetings and treatment take up some of that, sometimes a lot of that, but you need to find ways to pass time. We've been playing a lot of teqball.
We're more than two weeks in, and I'm actually truly enjoying this experience. And yes, that surprises me. I'm in a relatively good mood all the time, which if you know anything about the normal grind of a tournament, isn't easy. As you can imagine, being in a bubble for a whole month, or however long you'll be here, it can be tough. But we're dealing with it really well.
I would never say this feels like just a regular season in Portland. First of all, it is a tournament setting. I'm used to that in international soccer with my U.S. teammates, but it isn't really anything we've experienced with our club teams in the NWSL. That obviously isn't the only thing that is a bit strange about the environment. Rose Lavelle is one of my closest friends, so yeah, it's really weird to see her across the hotel lobby but only be able to briefly say hi from six feet away. She's in her bubble with Washington, I'm in mine with Portland. Bubbles inside bubbles.
To be fair, I struggled a lot even deciding to play in the tournament. Honestly, I was waiting until the last second because I wanted to know for sure that it was happening. That was my big thing. We really didn't know exactly what we were getting ourselves into because this has never been done. And we're doing it during such a wild time in the world and during the coronavirus pandemic.
I didn't want to go into this just being like, "Oh I wanted to play soccer again because I miss soccer." I felt like that was a selfish way to think about it. Look, this is a huge worldwide pandemic. I didn't want it to be perceived in a bad way, that we were doing this when a lot of people were going through tough times.
And then you also had the fact that we were the first league to come out with a plan. There was some talk about shouldn't we let someone like MLS or MLB or the NBA go first and then follow their path? But the NWSL did a really good job. You see that now. Everything has been really positive so far in this tournament and we're getting to put on a show for fans.
I spent a lot of time in Colorado while everything was on hold and we were all trying to stay home. So for me, getting back to Portland for training before we traveled to Utah for the tournament helped convince me it was possible to pull this off. All of the communication helped -- I can't even count all the pages of documents we received outlining protocols and all of that. And it helped seeing how Portland put protocols in place to keep us safe while we were there.
The real advice I'd give people in other sports is to remember that there are no dumb questions when it comes to something like this, so ask anything. I wasn't one of the main people in our group doing the asking, but I'm thankful so many of my teammates did (also: teqball tables).
This whole year is difficult to make sense of. I feel as if there is so much you can say. But at the same time, there is also so little you can say to add anything that hasn't already been said.
It was such a huge bummer, our regular league schedule getting wiped out and the Olympics getting postponed. We're athletes. So much of the routines of our lives comes from preparing for those things -- and it's such an exciting thing going into a tournament like the Olympics and everything around it. But there is just so much more in life that is happening right now. I don't ever want to look at it in a selfish way, just because we can't play soccer or we couldn't have the Olympics this year.
That's a constant reminder for us. It's not the year we envisioned but make the most of it. Take any positive you can out of it and make yourself better in any regard you can.
I think that adapting that mindset to what we're doing on the field is why our team is still energized despite not always getting the results we want so far.
There are so many things you want to improve, and you wish you had an eight-month season to fine-tune things. But you don't. None of the teams here do. You're in a tournament setting. There is only so much that you can do and improve on with limited time, looking ahead to the next game.
People are getting opportunities that might not have gotten opportunities in the season. I think that's really cool, seeing these players get minutes and managing minutes. So it would have been so nice having an actual season with this group and the potential we have, but we're making the most out of the tournament we do have.
That's true for everyone, veterans, newer people, everyone. Like our midfield, bringing in Rocky Rodriguez and Angela Salem this season. I think it has been one of the best midfields we've had in a while in the way that we integrate with one another and interchange. I've known about Rocky for a long time, from her time with Sky Blue and Costa Rica. But she's special in person. It was very vivid. I could see a soccer player as soon as she touched the ball.
She's already playing with the Portland style. It's not very difficult to pick out a true footballer from others. Whatever happens in this tournament, we have that chemistry now. Same with Angela.
This is all difficult. We can say that I don't know how many times. But I take the positive out of it.
I always want to be grateful for what I have. No one really around me has been affected by the virus in general and my family and close friends are safe. Not a lot of people can say that. I constantly remind myself of that.