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Thorns’ Bella Bixby lost father to suicide week before NWSL semifinals

(Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby revealed after her team’s 2-0 semifinal loss to the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday that her father died by suicide this week.

“I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation, but I do feel like I’m ready to say it,” Bixby wrote on Twitter in the hour after the final whistle. “I’ve surprised myself by how strong I’ve been, but I couldn’t hold it anymore. My playing for this city meant so much to him.”

Bixby played all 90 minutes against the Red Stars. After the game, she broke down in tears and had to be carried off the field by her teammates.

“I think regardless of the outcome tonight, I would’ve broke down — you can only hold it in for so long,” she wrote.

Bixby thanked Portland fans for the “unconditional support” throughout the season. She also thanked the Thorns supporters’ group, the Rose City Riveters, for making her dad an honorary captain Sunday night.

The 25-year-old is a nominee for NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year after a standout season for the Thorns, who entered the playoffs as the top seed after earning the NWSL Shield for the best record during the regular season.

After Bixby’s tweet, support flooded in on Twitter, including from Thorns teammate Becky Sauerbrunn.

Thorns captain Christine Sinclair thanked Rose City for their support and told Bixby in a tweet, “Your father would be so proud of you.”

Head coach Mark Parsons also spoke about Bixby after the game, saying he was “just so sad” for the family.

“Life is more important than sport. Knowing what she’s gone through, her husband and her family has gone through this week, and turning up, if you didn’t know what she was going through, you would have said she was the best Bella Bixby that she’s ever been. I don’t know how she did it,” said Parsons, who coached his last game for the Thorns on Sunday.

“I love who she is, I love the person she continues to grow and develop into. Yeah, we see an amazing player, but this is someone who makes everyone better around them. In the time of such a tragic event, she continued to make other people better around her.

“I’m sorry that this happened to such wonderful people,” he continued before calling her a “lifelong friend” because of how she’s treated and respected him. “We’ve all been there for her and we’ll continue to be there for her.”