The morning after another Timbers match, my voice still hoarse and my legs aching from cheering, jumping, singing my football club to victory over Chivas, and I have concluded: Valeri Goosebumps should be a recognized medical condition. Not to mention the mania of passion and song and movement that seems to take me over every time I join the 107 section of the Timbers Army to cheer as the team takes to the pitch.
Nothing signals I’m home more than a night with the Timbers Army in the soul of Providence Park (once in a long ago dream Civic Stadium) in Portland, Oregon.
It has been a football (yes, okay, soccer) heavy week and I feel pleasantly hung over from the frenzy. Wednesday night was the MLS All-Star exhibition game versus Germany’s powerhouse Bundesliga team Bayern Munchen and the city was awash in posters, billboards, and soccer-themed activities. One of the lucky few 20,000 with tickets, we headed downtown early to watch the kids kicking balls around in the bowels of Pioneer Courthouse Square as soccer fans from around the country (even globe – I detected smatterings of German) lounged on the brick steps. Then Timber Joey, our chainsaw wielding flesh-and-blood mascot led a procession of bagpipers and soccer fans from to the stadium as we passed a barrage of free giveaways and Portland getting on its weird.
I can proudly report my very first Unipiper sighting – the local legend pedaling on one wheel in kilt, Timbers jersey, and Darth Vader mask as his flaming bagpipes set our feet to the Imperial Death March.
I was impressed with the sheer number of MLS jerseys I saw that night, both milling the streets of Portland and inside the stadium. FC Dallas. Houston Dynamo. Toronto FC. A seriously brave swathe of Sounders
bad neon. The majority of us were obviously in Timbers green, but an impressive display of Bayern red blended us into a Christmas soup. It was jovial, pleasant, the Portland mounted police officer casually laughing with a Caleb Porter-lookalike on the street as his scarfed horse watched us with bored nonchalance.
Inside the stadium, well, just some football brilliance from an impressive collection of big names in the soccer world. Bayern looked surprised we had come to play, frankly, and not just kick a ball around. But I’ll leave the post-game analysis to the sports writers. I just thrilled at watching the footwork of Thierry Henry, Diego Valeri, Obafemi Martins, and Landon Donovan (among others), while the late introduction of the German national team stars who play for Bayern kicked everything up a notch at the end. MlS 2, Bayern 1.
As for the fallout from Bayern coach refusing to shake Coach Caleb Porter’s hand twice? We never noticed this in the stadium. Instead, we were radiating our joy and appreciation out to the athletes, MLS and Bayern alike. For the record, Mueller and Schweinsteiger led their team in a lap around the pitch to applaud the fans as their coaching staff sulked in the locker room.
As fun and huge of an event as the MLS All-Star game is, in the end it’s just an exhibition game. Last night’s Timbers match was the real deal, with 3 points and a playoff chase on the line. Amid the chanting voice of a 5,000 strong Timbers Army and as the goosebumps shivered through my body like a raging fever, I witnessed Timber Diego Valeri streak down the middle of the field, his feet dancing a ballet with the ball, until he struck a beauty of a goal home to leap us onto the scoreboard.
I relished the goosebumps and Valeri’s genuine smile of joy, that same slightly sheepish smile he gave us at the All-Star game when his teammates pranked him into running onto the field by himself, only to be embraced in the thousands of fans chanting his name with respect and reverence. He stopped, turned slowly to acknowledge us all with heartfelt gestures and that same humble smile.
It is this strong connection of mutual respect and love from fans to team and back again that I love about my team, my Timbers Army family, my sport, my city.
I could gush on and on about the 80th minute moment with Timber Jim and the Timbers Army singing “You Are My Sunshine”, but I think The Oregonian does a better job than I could ever do. Enjoy the feature article from today’s paper.
Today I head north to Snohomish. More tales from the road to follow soon.