PORTLAND, Ore. – It takes more than a downpour, thunder and lightning to stop a Portland Timbers soccer match in the Rose City.
Just ask the 20,438 customers with tickets at Jeld-Wen Field, the hardest-core who sat through a soggy halftime period plus a 20-minute weather delay before the second half began at a recent match.
The Portland area is home for me. I spent almost 22 years of my life in this part of the U.S., but had long since left town when the Major League Soccer version of the Timbers debuted in 2011.
The original Timbers were there when I was a kid, then came various reincarnates of the team, including the second-division United Soccer League team that I saw play a couple of times when I would come home from Seattle to visit family.
Watching that team, it was easy to see why Portland is perfect for soccer. If a lower-division team could draw tens of thousands of fans, it made sense to give the Rose City an MLS club.
It’s been a smashing success. The Timbers have sold out 24 straight league matches. Though closer to the bottom of the MLS table than the top, the Timbers – take away an embarrassing U.S. Open Cup loss to fifth-division Cal FC on May 30 – have played much better of late within MLS.
Claims to be “Soccer City U.S.A” are kind of hard to dispute when one witnesses the atmosphere at matches.
On May 26 when Portland faced one of its Cascadia (upper west coast) rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers Army – the club’s main supporters group – was in its seats behind the north goal well before first kick. Fans lined S.W. 18th Ave. hours before the game even began, and not just for the free T-shirt giveaway that night. They had already started their chants and songs.
The scene made me sentimental. I grew up going to the stadium, then known as Civic Stadium, for minor-league baseball games with my dad. To see the atmosphere there now, I feel proud to have contributed to it with all of the baseball, college football and other events I paid to see in the place over the years.
The Timbers Army sections are the epicenter of noise at matches, and some of their chants aren’t PG-rated. But the group’s energy helps power the rest of the stadium, making Portland a tough place to play for a visiting team yet a place visiting players rave about because of the atmosphere.
Mascot Timber Joey revs a chainsaw and saws of pieces of real timber into round slices that go to players who score goals. That night, Scottish designated player Kris Boyd tallied Portland’s only goal in a 1-1 draw.
There’s not music or sound effects to get the stands rocking, it’s just crowd noise and singing and chanting. Jeld-Wen Field isn’t the biggest stadium in MLS, but it’s got to be the loudest per capita.
“It’s unbelievable. I think they got louder once the rain came,” captain Jack Jewsbury said of the crowd after the Vancouver match. “Obviously with a game like this, with the rivalry and the Cascadia Cup (given to winner of competition between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver), it’s one they’re fired up for. It’s unbelievable for us as players to be a part of an organization and the fan base like we have here.”
The Timbers are great for the city. They’ve won over town with the use their original color scheme – green, yellow and white – in two of their uniforms and pay homage to the city with their Rose City red kits. They’re going through growing pains as a team and organization as a whole, but more success on the pitch could come soon with the parity in MLS.
“From Day 1 no matter where you’re from, it’s been pretty special to see the way that the city has embraced us, the buzz around the city,” said Jewsbury, who arrived in a trade with Sporting Kansas City last year.
What’s a little rain and inclement weather? Portlanders, at least the ones who have lived there for a long time, are used to it. Home sweet home.