Rewind a decade ago and you would likely find Emily Menges on a soccer field in Nassau County, playing either in her hometown of Garden City or possibly with her club team in Albertson.
Current day Emily Menges is a long way from Long Island, currently playing in her fourth season with the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League. While playing professionally was a dream of hers, she probably never thought of playing before thousands of soccer-crazed fans in Oregon’s Rose City.
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“It’s wonderful,” Menges said of Portland. “We have a two-way relationship with the fans. We provide them with entertainment and they give us so much support.”
After graduating from Garden City High School, she played her college ball at Georgetown where she garnered a host of awards. In 2014, she was Portland’s third round pick in the NWSL Draft.
Recently, Menges spoke with SleterFC.com on her time with the Thorns, the growth of the NWSL and possible opportunities with the U.S. national team.
SleterFC.com: Why is soccer so popular in Portland?
Emily Menges: While the city has the Timbers and the Trail Blazers, there is no professional baseball or football teams. I think that is the big reason. The fans don’t get spread out among a lot of teams.
SFC.com: The Thorns went to the finals in 2016. What was the feeling with the squad heading into the season?
EM: We have a similar team to last year. It’s tough to keep the same team as the year before, but there are a lot of familiar faces. That helps at the beginning of the season and eliminates that awkward phase of needing to get to know new players.
SFC.com: What was it like to have Paul Riley for your coach at Portland given your relationship with him during your playing days on Long Island?
EM: I actually didn’t play for Paul, but played for his wife, Tracy. But I’ve known him and his family for so long and it was nice to have a friendly face out (in Portland).
SFC.com: How have you seen the NWSL grow during your playing career?
EM: I think it has only gotten better. With the teams they’ve added and other changes, there are more people invested in the league’s success. There are smart business people involved in the league and it’s being run well. Our owner, Merritt Paulson, is not only looking to make money short term but wants the league to succeed long term. The (television) deal with Lifetime and sponsorship deals from companies such as Microsoft are also going to help the league grow further.
SFC.com: What memories stand out from your playing days on Long Island?
EM: I still remember my entire club team and we’re still very close. We have a running group chat that is something that will never go away. We bond over things that we all miss. It’s a bond with teammates that you can’t find anywhere else.
SFC.com: During your youth playing days, did you ever think you would be playing professionally?
EM: I always knew there were different options such as playing abroad and I knew one girl that went to Iceland. But I didn’t expect to make a career of it. I figured I would go out to see some country and maybe play a few months. But I never thought it would turn into anything like it has.
SFC.com: Regarding the Women’s National Team, they’re going through a transition now ahead of the next World Cup. Do you think you have a shot to make the team?
EM: I was in camp in November of last year and it was a great experience. I have had conversations with Jill (Ellis, the WNT head coach) and there may be an opportunity for me to get my foot in the door at some point.
SFC.com: What advice would you offer to today’s youth players?
EM: I would say that playing after (college) is possible no matter where you go. Definitely don’t rush into something just to have a job. I had a lot of teammates in college have a job set up six months before they finished college but then started getting offers to play from teams abroad. One girl asked a company if they would hold a job to allow her to play in Germany, and they did. I think a lot of companies would be open to that. I also think it’s important for younger players to be active in sports other than soccer. Out here (in Portland), we’re seeing kids being asked to play only soccer at a young age. That’s not good for the player’s athletic development.