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Where EAST meets the Northwest

SKILLFUL SUGITA. Hina Sugita of Japan challenges for the ball during an international friendly soccer match held in Kameoka, Kyoto prefecture, Japan, in this July 14, 2021 file photo. Sugita arrived in Portland last week and by Saturday evening had logged her first 12 minutes as a member of Portland Thorns FC. Preseason matches for the club are scheduled at Providence Park on March 8 and 11. The National Women’s Soccer League season will officially begin with the Challenge Cup, with games held in Portland on March 30, April 2, and April 17. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

From The Asian Reporter, V32, #3 (March 7, 2022), page 14.

Midfielder Hina Sugita arrives in Portland

Midfielder Hina Sugita arrived in Portland last week and by Saturday evening had logged her first 12 minutes as a member of Portland Thorns FC, entering a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) preseason match against OL Reign in the 78th minute.

According to Thorns FC general manager Karina LeBlanc, "Hina is a player that the club has been pursuing for the last few years … She is a young talent with international experience and a skillset that strengthens our roster."

Portland acquired the rights to the Japanese international through a transfer with Japanese club INAC Kobe Leonessa in exchange for allocation money. Following the transfer, Sugita was signed to a three-year contract with the Thorns. The transfer was announced on January 26, 2022.

Sugita is a member of the Japan Women’s National Team and played in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup as well as the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which were actually held during the summer of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sugita has earned 27 caps with the senior national team.

At the U-20 level, Sugita and Japan finished third at the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup. During that tournament, Sugita played in all six matches and won the Golden Ball as the most valuable player of the tournament.

While participating at the U-17 level, Sugita played in the 2012 and 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cups. The Japan U-17s won the championship in 2014 and Sugita scored five goals in five matches, earning the tournament’s Golden Ball.

Sugita is not the first prominent Japanese player to travel to the U.S. to play in the NWSL. Nahomi "Naho" Kawasumi had that honor when she joined Seattle Reign FC (now OL Reign) in 2014. Naho played several seasons with the Reign and INAC Kobe Leonessa before joining the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC in 2019, which later became NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Other Japanese National Team players with NWSL experience include Yuki Nagasato, who was part of the Chicago Red Stars from 2017 to 2020 before playing with Racing Louisville during the 2021 season. Nagasato has returned to the Chicago Red Stars for 2022. Midfielder Rumi Utsugi played for the Reign from 2016 to 2019 before returning to Japan. Kumi Yokoyama and Saori Takarada also had joined the Washington Spirit in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Sugita’s contract has her playing in Portland for three years and she will wear jersey #8 for the Thorns. Thorns FC head coach Rhian Wilkinson said of her new midfielder: "Hina is a playmaker with the ability to play across multiple positions … she plays with bravery on the ball always looking for opportunities to be dangerous."

Two preseason matches remain for the club and both are scheduled to take place at Providence Park. On Tuesday, March 8, the Thorns meet the U.S. U-23 Youth Women’s National Team. On Friday, March 11, the club takes on the Chicago Red Stars. Both games kick off at 7:30pm.

The National Women’s Soccer League season will officially begin on March 18 with the Challenge Cup. Home games in Portland are scheduled for March 30 vs. Angel City FC, April 2 vs. OL Reign, and April 17 vs. San Diego Wave FC. Challenge Cup games are also televised on Paramount+. To learn more, or to buy tickets, visit <>.

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