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Portland sets NWSL record attendance with 19,123 fans

Portland broke an NWSL attendance record on Sunday when 19,123 fans showed up to Providence Park for the Thorns game against the Houston Dash.

Even Thorns players were taken aback by their home crowd.

“To score in a home game like tonight, in front of almost 20,000 people, I think will be one of the best memories of my career,” said Thorns midfielder Veronica Boquete, who scored the game’s lone goal. “Tonight was the biggest crowd for me. I’ve never played in front of that many people. It was really special and I’m so proud it was here in Portland.”

Thorns coach Paul Riley was equally impressed with the crowd for his team’s 1-0 win over Houston.

“Absolutely incredible,” he said. “There are no fans like this in the world, and to have them pack the whole place out, and they’re so loud, and every single one of them is so passionate, it gives you a lift. Towards the end there, they were attacking us a bit, and we just wanted a shutout, and wanted to win the game so badly, and they helped so much. You hear them and you don’t want to let them down.”

Let’s be clear: Portland is an anomaly. There is no other market like it in the United States outside of Seattle. The Reign aren’t connected to the Sounders, though, and are still building their fan base (attendance is up some 70 percent, but still below 4,000 per game).

And unfortunately for the league, Portland looks unlikely to host a playoff game for the second straight season. Winning a championship at home was Portland’s No. 1 preseason goal.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said at halftime of Sunday’s match on ESPN2 that Portland can’t be viewed as the model, because it is too unique. Houston, he said, is the model for MLS-NWSL partnerships, while the Washington Spirit have the model down for the independent franchises. That thought on Washington is one that has been expressed by some other owners around the league as well.

NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey was in Portland on Sunday, and she echoed some of what Gulati said.

“Every market is different,” Bailey said. “Obviously Portland is unique and it brings a lot of special interest in soccer and women’s soccer. Each of the other cities have to take a step back and see what it is about their particular markets that they can find a way to grow that game as well. Some have done better than others. Each one has a uniqueness of what they bring to the table and they need to capitalize on that. I think in a lot of markets, we look a lot at those club, youth teams, but you can’t just rely on that. If you look out here, you see a lot of parents with their children. It’s not just the youth that are really being targeted. It helps with the attendance. We really have to find the different demographics and find out what we can to be able to get to fans like this everywhere.”

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