For years and years, the MLS has been seen as a distant relative to some of the bigger European leagues. Not so much a little brother, but possibly a second or third cousin…possibly only related by marriage. A league that has drawn harsh criticism from football fans outside of the United States, and sometimes harsher criticism from football fans INside the USA.
Portland’s inclusion into Major League Soccer last season seemed to give America’s premier league another spark that will hopefully ignite the MLS into a league that is more than a place where aging stars look to make one last big paycheck. Although Timbers fans won’t appreciate the connection, the MLS has been boosted by the recent inclusion of teams like Seattle, Portland, and, with the MLS big-wigs seeming to actually put thought behind team placement, the last two additions (Vancouver and Montreal) seem to be more steps in the right direction.
The trip to Portland saw me crossing a multitude of states, boarding three separate planes, and, finally, entering into the Rose City. During the day of the Timbers’ match against the visiting Chicago Fire, I started off by visiting a local soccer shop called The Far Post. Besides being blown away by the fact that they have multiple colorways of all the top-tier boots, they were amazingly friendly and I even spent a while inside talking footy and boots with some of the staff.
After finally prying myself away from a store that oddly resembles my dream closet, I moved onto a little sports bar that many of the Portland natives had suggested to me for my ‘pre-match’ ritual. The Cheerful Bullpen is only a block away from Jeld-Wen Field and it is where many Timbers fans spend the evening hours. With the biggest twist in this sports bar (as far as American sports bars are concerned) being that most of the TV’s are showing footy and most of the wall decorations are related to various football teams from around the world. I even sat under an extremely old West Ham scarf as I enjoyed some of Portland’s finest fare.
With a kick-off time of 4 pm, I had planned on arriving at the stadium with plenty of time to get some pictures before any other patrons had arrived. However, about three hours prior to kick-off, a line of fans (mostly members of the legendary Timbers Army) stretched around almost two-thirds of the entire stadium. All of them clad in green and yellow with enough scarves to blanket a small country. We’ll talk more about the ‘Army’ later, but they certainly are a major factor in nearly every facet of the activities at Jeld-Wen Field. As I continued to circle the grounds, I approached gate 5 and was given my press pass that allowed me field and press-box access. I then back-tracked to gate 4 and waited in line with the growing masses to make sure that I didn’t miss a single part of the Timbers experience.
At 2:30 (and with the entire stadium surrounded in a ring of green) we all piled into the stadium and made our way to our seats. I moved up to the press box and that is where I started hearing the Timbers Army beginning to sing. Now, this was at around 3 pm and the kick-off wasn’t for another hour…and this amazing group of die-hard fans wouldn’t stop chanting/singing/dancing/taunting/cheering until a full 30 minutes AFTER the game. The Timbers Army truly helps to make this one of the greatest atmospheres in the sport today, and it gives hope to a football fan like me that the MLS might actually be an elite league one-day.
After leaving the press box and going into the stands, I was immediately greeted by several fans sitting in front of me that asked me where I was from and what I was doing all the way in Portland, Oregon. After a hearty chat and their bemusement at my constant amazement in regards to the Timbers Army, we quickly turned our attention to the approaching game.
From the moment the national anthem starts, the special nature of this ground and its atmosphere shines. The roar from the Timbers Army at the end of the anthem left goosebumps on my arms, and I was sure that the approaching match would definitely be amazing. A Portland goal in the 20th minute only heightened the noise in the stadium, and I was promptly greeting by high-fives from complete strangers. Another constant highlight was any time a visiting player would lay on the pitch after a challenge, every Portland fan would raise their scarves (a scarf that can ONLY be purchased in Portland (not even online!) and show a phrase that echoed the chants sung by the Army- NO PITY. In a sport where diving is becoming rampant, this certainly made my day. It became even better when these scarves came out in the 80th minute, followed swiftly by the entire stadium chanting “DIVER, DIVER, DIVER,” when Chicago’s Sebastian Grazzini picked up a yellow card for simulation in the box…it was fantastic!
Although Chicago pegged back before the end of the first half, a Fire own-goal in the 52nd minute ensured that I would get to experience Jeld-Wen Field after a win.
Now, I realize this is going backwards a little bit, but the Timbers have a bit of a tradition for every goal scored during a match (also for every clean-sheet). They have a mascot called Timber Joey that cuts a large round chunk off of a scarf-covered log after every goal. He then carries it around the pitch and presents it to the goal-scorer (or keeper) at the end of the 90 minutes. It only adds to the spectacle inside the stadium, and it looks amazing when Joey is covered in green smoke from a Timbers Army smoke-bomb as he adds the noise of his chainsaw to the fervor of the crowd. (Great picture of Joey doing his thing during the match I attended here- credit to Yahoo! Sports)
Massive thanks to Chris Metz and the rest of the staff associated with the Timbers for allowing me some special access and for their overwhelming propensity to help a relatively unknown writer. Also thanks to every Timbers Fan out there for creating a great situation in Portland! I also want to send a special thanks to the guy that hooked me up with a ‘NO PITY’ scarf as I will always cherish it. GO TIMBERS!!!