Portland and Philly are coasts apart, and a mindset apart. Aren't they?
Portland's support for the Timbers is revered in the MLS world. And in the NBA, Portland is a model small market. The Union get outstanding support from the Sons of Ben, but tough, eastern, urban with a capital urb Philadelphia is different from micro-brewed and fresh-roasted Portland. This IS the city where young people go to retire, right?
Philadelphia fans are a bit misunderstood. They aren’t like Portland fans. Oh, sure. You hear that they threw snowballs at Santa, but you never hear that the supposed Santa was an ersatz-elf, a stick-thin malingerer who management coerced onto the field to do something...anything! to soothe the pain of yet another savage beating being taken by the late-60’s Eagles. Chum to the sharks; an urban legend is born. Philly fans can be brutal, but they are predictable in who they love and loathe.
Working-class heroes who leave it all on the field are dear to even the grumpiest fanatic in the City of Brotherly Love. Talented, gifted athletes under-performing in the clutch become victims. Every touch of the ball is painful. Broadcasters and out-of-towners just can’t understand why Philadelphians will boo Mike Schmidt and Randall Cunningham, but cheer Boxcar Hospadar and John Kruk. Jim Eisenreich overcomes Tourette’s to hit .300 and catch anything hit to right? Lifetime hero in Philly.
I was born and raised a Philly sports fan. Years have passed, times have mellowed me, but once a Philly guy… well, it never completely goes away. I was at Timbers-Whitecaps a few weeks ago and started to get a little Philadelphian at the match, particularly towards the various and sundry floppers in white. My high-school age son reminded me that I was in Portland now. Except for folks in puke green with Xbox on the jersey, we’re supposed to be NICE to opponents. Don’t set a bad example for the kids.
Drats. Dude had a point.
So, I’ll try to fit in a little better, have another Timber Dog and pint of -- hey, where’s the Drifter nowadays…Widmer Brothers, hello? -- local micro-brew, chill a bit and just chant along with the Army.
Like our Timbers, the Philadelphia Union started off well and stalled out. As I write this, the Dogs of War are placated a bit by a badly needed 1-0 win over SKC. But the fanposts over at Brotherly Game read: "Hackworth’s last stand," "The need for a 10", "Something’s Rotten In Chester" and "Take a Seat Jack." In these titles you can hear the lovely song of the never-endangered Delaware River Boobird.
This kind of made me wonder who would be the fan-favorites in Portland that took a lot of heat in Philly, or the Portland pluggers who’d be immortal Union fan favorites? I figured it would tell the tale of two cities.
First, the heroes:
- Will Johnson. Sure, he used 3 fingers when he could have used only 1… but he’s from the suburbs. If Larry Bowa played soccer, he’s Will Johnson. It’s not always pretty, but he gets the job done. He mixes it up a bit too much, but hey, it’s just high spirits. If he’s in the lineup, Portland rarely loses. He’s out? It’s a crap-shoot. And pacing off eight steps and taking a yellow to show up the ref? Pure. Philly. Magic. (Unless he got the second card, which would have been ugly).
- Diego Chara. Chara would be a Philly legend. Pugnacious, spirited, unbelievable motor. He leaves it all on the pitch, every match. Yeah, he couldn’t hit the Commodore Barry bridge from 6" away, but who cares? It’s all about how you play, and no one plays more or harder than Chara.
- Frederic Piquionne. He’d be more popular than the Eagles back up QB. I can hear a 6’3" stevedore at his local cussin at the 1971 Vintage RCA Color TV hanging above the taps: "If Piquionne was playin’ we wouldn’t be down 2—zip at half, youse guys can put THAT in the bank. That’s all I gotta say." Who could argue? Who’d want to risk it?
The guys they wouldn’t be so sure about:
- That Diego Valeri guy. Oh sure, he’s got those goals and assists. But he’s the best paid guy on the team, and he’s missed a bunch of critical chance. Half the city would love him as much as we do, but the other half would be talking about him forcing the ball in the 18 yard box, or being slow on the trigger, or about his left foot.
- Donovan Ricketts. The disgusted glower when an opponent fouls his net is pure working-class menace. Big Plus. Unfortunately, his length makes some incredible stops look a bit too easy, so he doesn’t get the love that all those clean sheets deserve. There’d be a strong contingent somewhere in Port Richmond at a bar that still has a supply of long-gone Schmidt’s beer (yeah, it’s fresh you stunad! You want it or you want to get the hell outtahere?), who’d tell you that Gleeson is MUCH better.
- Darlington Nagbe. He’d get painted as an under-performer. #1 on 24 under 24? Bah. Overrated. A #1 (he was actually #2 - see comments) overall pick should be able to cure cancer, be more powerful than a locomotive, and faster through the defense than a White Castle burger through your digestive track. There’d be endless talk of how the Union should trade him for another plugger. Kind of like that awesome Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland. (Re-enter the stevedore: ‘Youse still got that one all wrong. It was a good trade. Ruland was the better player, just his knees went out.)
Guys who’d be best described as victims:
- Pa Moduh Kah. Blundering is bad in Philly. Blundering and shooting off your mouth about how good you are is worse. Blundering, shooting off your mouth, and not having the remotest sense of remorse for costing your team points? That’s an excuse to go swimming in the Schuylkill below Passyunk Avenue. (If you’ve never been there, the water is red. Your best chance is to hope it’s solid enough that you can walk out.)
- Ryan Johnson. First, I really like Ryan Johnson. So maybe the Philly guy is slowly getting beaten out of me. But he’d be constantly measured to the preseason game where he ran the channels with indifference pounding home goals from every angle. He looks like he should be a superstar, and when really he’s a competent but streaky forward. No fact would be good enough. The villagers would be grumbling about how long it’s been since they had a good old-fashioned castle-storming.
- AJB. He looks SOOOOO good 96.4% of the time. This is remarkable for such a young man. He’s bigger than the bouncer down at Vinnie’s place, faster than little Stevie lighting out from Lulu Kersavage’s house back on homecoming night in '77, can out muscle Bill Barber in his heyday, and reeks of potential. But he takes plays off. Some of those cost goals. And matches. That is cold, hard, death in the shadows of the Chester docks an refineries.
I started off this thread thinking how different Philly fans are from Portland. But, then again, most of the criticisms I’ve cited actually have come from Timbers chat boards, with a little Philly flourish added.
So, I'm going to go all Portland for a minute. I'll take a queue from my kid and back our club. I'll be about what we’re for, not what we’re against. (Unless it’s the Flounders. Sorry bub, I reserve the right to be all-Philly on that one.)
To all of the Timbers… great season so far. Go close the deal, make the playoffs… and win, lose, or draw (again)…we’ll be out there chanting for you.