Late in the second half of the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League semifinal match last October, the Portland Thorns were losing at home to the Western New York Flash 2-1. It wasn’t pretty.
But Portland’s diehard supporters group, the Rose City Riveters, began cheering, chanting and singing louder than ever. As spirits began to rise, defender Emily Sonnett scored off a rebound in the 78th minute (her first ever professional goal), tying the score. The noise from Portland’s Providence Park was deafening.
“The place just lit up,” said Thorns midfielder Allie Long. “The Riveters’ energy changed the whole atmosphere. I vividly remember feeling like, ‘We’ve got this.’”
The Thorns lost 4-3 in extra time. And while it was a tough loss, especially as the Thorns had held the best record in the league, Long says the fans’ passion that day still lives in team members’ hearts.
Much has been written about the fierce and rowdy Riveters — with anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 fans in attendance at home games. While they are the largest supporters group in the NWSL, the other nine teams in the league also have supporter groups that are just as proud. Groups like Cloud 9 (Sky Blue), the Spirit Squadron (Washington Spirit) and Chicago Local 134 (Chicago Red Stars) all bring amazing energy to the games.
They stand, chant, sing, raise enormous hand-painted banners with clever slogans called “tifos,” and drum for entire games, stirring up unwavering support to their teams. And, they take their job very seriously.
“Soccer games are supposed to be loud, otherwise it’s like you’re watching a game in the library,” said Jennifer Muller, one of the leaders of Cloud 9. “We’re there to make noise, to sing, to be loud, and make the games fun so people want to be there.”
Supporters groups have been part of the soccer culture for decades. They make up the core fan base, creating an exciting atmosphere that draws people to games and keeps them there. But what makes the NWSL supporters groups so extraordinary is how intimately they are connected with the players. Members are able to meet players in person and get photographs. Many travel to away games to keep the firepower going on the road.
It’s truly a unique relationship and one that’s mutually beneficial Just ask Washington Spirit midfielder Joanna Lohmann (out this season with a torn ACL), who stops by the Spirit Squadron’s tailgate before every home game.
“As soon as I step out of the car, I can feel the love they have for our team — it feels like family,” Lohmann said. “Their energy is intoxicating, and you feel like they push you through the entire 90 minutes.”
That vocal vote of confidence can be especially meaningful, as women’s soccer players can face unique challenges. For example, some NWSL women’s soccer games have fewer fans in attendance compared with some Major League Soccer games played by men. And women soccer players have long fought for higher pay and more respect.
Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly says groups such as Cloud 9, his team’s fan club, help the cause.
“These groups raise the profile of professional women’s soccer, adding credibility to the players and fans and validating the time and energy they spend being involved in the sport,” Holly said. “They also embed some really hardcore fans into the community, and that kind of energy and enthusiasm is contagious and really important for growing the league and attracting new fans.”
In other words: They are a lot of fun.
You can watch the NWSL Game of the Week live on Lifetime or stream it on myLifetime.com and the Lifetime iOS and Android apps every Saturday at 4 PM ET, with the pregame kicking off at 3:30 pm ET. Every other game of the 2017 NWSL season will be available live on the go90 iOS and Android apps. In addition, international fans outside of the United States can watch the Game of the Week live and on demand via NWSLsoccer.com and the NWSL iOS app.