What happened during and after Wednesday’s loss were not the actions of the Timbers Army I thought I knew. Maybe it was the "Army" that doesn’t have season tickets. Maybe it was an "Army" that saw the TA on TV and said, "I want to be loud and yell and cuss and scream." The Army on Wednesday night was not students of the game. Maybe my view of the TA over the last few years was an illusion.
Someone once asked me what made me a Portland Timbers fan. "It is just soccer," they said.
Soccer was a sport that for many years I had no interest in. I played the sport only briefly as a child, and I never followed as a fan. My sports were NASCAR, NFL and hockey. The first experience with professional soccer I had was stumbling into the Scottish bar in my college town during a brewfest. It was a 0-0 tie between Spain and Italy in the UEFA Euro quarterfinals. Between sips of a bloody mary, I’m sure I asked questions like, "What is a corner kick?" and "Why is the clock counting up, not down?" Then, in November of 2008, I watched Freddy Adu and soon-to-be Timber, Kenny Cooper score goals for the U.S. in World Cup Qualifying in Denver. From that moment, I was hooked.
Then in July of 2009, I moved to Portland from Denver. Denver is a sports town. Within a few blocks you have 4 professional sports franchises. At the time I moved to Portland, there was one and it was basketball.
The Portland Timbers played in the United Soccer League’s first division. They played in a triple A ballpark shared with the Portland Beavers. The score was put up on a green baseball scoreboard that marked innings rather than halves. Although the park wasn’t professional, the fan base was. The Timbers averaged 10,392 fans that season and went on a 24 game unbeaten streak (still the longest in USL history). It was easy to get hooked when a team was that good. Section 107 was always full during those games. And the noise coming from it seemed as if the whole north side of the stadium was chanting along with them, even though, sometimes, there were only a few people around. I grew to know when to cover my mouth when smoke bombs went off, how to stand for 90 some minutes without getting tired, and how to be a supporter. The excitement only grew in 2010.
My husband says the 2010 Timbers were his favorite team in the last 25 years of sports. If either of us could remember the ’85 bears, it might tie them for first. The team was now playing in the USSF, still one tier under the MLS, and went into the season knowing they would be an MLS team by 2011. Many of the players weren’t sure if they had a team to play for in 2011, being pushed out by professional footballers already in the big leagues.
If comparing my time with the Timbers to a relationship, 2010 was the year we "went all the way." The adolescent playfulness of several games during the season came to a steamy head on September 2, 2010. The Timbers Army had spread the word to bring sunflowers that night as it was the last regular season home game. During the 80th minute of every game, the army sings "You Are My Sunshine" in memory of Timber Jim’s deceased daughter. The game had been a nail bitter. Then from the side of the pitch, Ryan Pore made a run for it. Pore nailed a header into the goal… right in the middle of the 80th minute as sunflowers waved against the night sky. Timber Jim (standing atop the dugout) was ecstatic, the crowd screamed, I started crying, and a hail of sunflowers rained down on the field.
I can’t remember the last 10 minutes of that game. As the players stood atop the dugout at the end of the 1-0 win, they threw some of the flowers back, straight to the Timbers Army… a thank you for the past year, a goodbye salute for some like Ian Joy, Scot Thompson and Takayuki Suzuki.
On opening day of the MLS season in 2011, I stood in section 107. I looked to my right and every section was full. I looked to my left and every section was full. We were all on our feet. After the Army sang the National Anthem, I wept.
We become fans when we live, breath and cry for a team. We wait in line for 5 hours just to buy two single game tickets. We get there several hours before the gates open. We don’t leave early. Soccer is life’s torments being played out in 90 minutes, and we control what happens, even just a little bit.
An ad hangs in my office that the Timbers took out in the local paper before the inaugural game in April
2011. It describes what to do now that you have Timbers tickets. A section of it reads, "It’s on you to make Jeld-Wen Field the greatest place to play football in America: Home to the boys in green, respected and feared by all else."
I don’t believe the "Army" that was there on Wednesday night executed this statement.
Be loud. Be excited. Be loyal.
Be a supporter.