In all my years living here, somehow it took until last night to finally attend a Portland Timbers soccer match.
The experience was all I expected. Fans of all ages decked out in green-and-gold Timbers gear; a rowdy Timbers Army section that led the stadium in a non-stop stream of songs, chants and occasional profanities; and great action on the pitch.
Before the game, you could enjoy traditional Irish bagpipe music and, a few feet away, be amused by a Bible thumper who evidently thought it would be a good idea to proselytize outside the entrance to Providence Park. (Dude, these folks were headed to a sports event, not church.)
Even with long lines for food and drink and even longer lines to the bathroom, the whole atmosphere was upbeat, and I felt a nice buzz in this place that calls itself “Soccer City USA.”
On the field, the Timbers were dominant from start to finish against their regional arch-rival, the Seattle Sounders. They took far more shots on goal, had far more corner kicks, controlled possession of the ball — and still lost.
The Sounders, focused on defense all night and committing lots of fouls, squeaked out a 1-0 win when a ball deflected off the heel of a Timber defender and found the net late in the game. That “own goal” added to Portland’s losing streak, which now sits at four games.
It’s a shame because the Timbers thoroughly outplayed their opponents. All evening, I could sense the pent-up energy, knowing we were one play away from the entire stadium erupting in celebration. But a goal by the home team never came.
In all my years in Portland, I’ve seen the Trail Blazers, Winterhawks, Ducks, Beavers, Pilots and Thorns. And now, thanks to my friend and former co-worker Mike Francis, I can add the Timbers to that list.
Mike and I go way back in journalism. Way back as in to the late ’70s, when I was a young reporter at The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, and Mike was a sports intern. We both wound up at The Oregonian, we both left the newspaper business, and now we’re both working in higher education.
Mike’s just begun a job as assistant director of communications at Pacific University in Forest Grove while I’m teaching undergraduate courses at two campuses in the Portland area.
We’ve always shared a love of baseball, but lucky for me that Mike is a big soccer fan, too. He provided a ticket and a game-day scarf along with running commentary that helped me sort out the players and understand much of what I was seeing, including a nice tradition of waving your scarf during the National Anthem.
I plan to repay the favor at a Blazers game this season. It’s a different fan experience, for sure, one that’s curated by the franchise itself as opposed to the fan-driven spectacle created by the Timbers Army. Very cool to be part of the latter, even if just for one night.