Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Portland Timbers: My take
I like soccer. Whether you call it soccer, ''football'', futbol, or footy, matters not. I've always kind of liked it, at least at an international level. The crowds for a lot of European soccer matches always had an electricity about them that was very foreign to me, yet so intriguing. I've always been a huge a fan of the World Cup, especially since the U.S. hosted in 1994. There is something cool about nations fighting it out on the pitch to see who will come out on top. The World Cup is so much more than one month of soccer, fought between 32 nations. The qualifications start up to a couple years before, and many nations hopes and dreams are already squashed long before the opening ceremonies and first kickoff even take place. Once you appreciate the entire process, you can really appreciate why the actual "World Cup" is such a big deal.
International league soccer has always been a little harder to follow. Sure, when an English Premier League came on, I would try to tune in. The crowds are so passionate and vocal, it's almost hard NOT to watch. Sometimes the teams and results almost become irrelevant to the actual experience. But in the U.S., following league soccer is tough, even in the age of instant information and 500+ cable channels. Especially when I am already allotting so much time following sports that actually take place in my own country. I mean, there are only so many hours in the day, right?
When the MLS came into play in 1996, I gave it a look, but something just wasn't right. The stadiums were too large, and the crowds were too small. Not to mention the talent level was obviously more than a few notches below the top foreign leagues. It was hard to even get excited about my local team, the Chicago Fire. Let's face it, the Fire were taking a back seat to way too many other things in Chicago. Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Hawks, traffic, politics, weather, actual fires, etc. Even when the Fire moved into their smaller venue at Toyota Park, I still just never found the time to show interest in them.
But I digress.
Fast forward to Thursday night------------>
I heard about an MLS game that was taking place on Thursday. Portland vs. Chicago. Now, for all I knew, Portland and Chicago could have been the biggest rivals in the MLS. I had no idea that this was even a big deal, let alone a HUGE deal to the fans in Portland. To me, on the surface, it was just another wagering option on an otherwise slow betting Thursday night. Then, a few more people mentioned it, and a few more. So I decided to tune in, despite the late 10pm (Chicago time) kick off. During the pregame, it became VERY clear, that this was not just some "event" for the Portland faithful. Perhaps this was the Timbers first MLS game, but it was very evident that their supporters were far from soccer newbies. They were energetic, vocal, and everyone seemed to be in the best of moods. So, I had to dig a little further.
It seems the Portland Timbers have been around for quite some time. Almost as long as I have been around, in fact. I suggest this LINK to their official site for a little background into their history. This may have been the Timbers first ride on the MLS "bull" (at home at least), but it was hardly their first rodeo. If I did not know any better, I would have guessed the match was taking place somewhere in dreary ole England, as it was complete with rain and all.
The climax of the pregame festivities came at the National Anthem. Listening to, and watching the National Anthem's in an international soccer match is one of my favorite things in the world. The passion shown by the players, and fans alike, is hardly outdone in any sporting arena. (And this is coming from a Chicago Blackhawks fan). So, when the Anthem finally commenced on Thursday night, I was quite taken aback with it, in a very good way. I will let the Timber's Army show you for yourself......
I mean, if you're not moved by that then.........well...........I feel sorry for you.
Turns out Portland, Oregon is quite the soccer town. I seriously doubt this was a flash in the pan, one time kind of deal for them. Their passion for their team runs very deep, and this is not the trendy, hip thing to do in town. In fact, the Timbers Army has been around for some time now, complete with their own WEBSITE, chants, songs, and even instructions, for beginners and veterans alike.
Now, I'm not some expert businessman, or marketing genius, but why it took so long for the MLS to get a team in Portland is beyond me. Obviously, the red tape and logistics of it all are probably very complicated. But it seems to me that this is EXACTLY the type of franchise the MLS needs to not only survive, but to thrive in the US sports market. Let's face it, the MLS is NEVER going to supplant any of the big four sports in the U.S. (NHL, NBA, MLB, and NFL.) That's just a fact. But once the MLS
Or, perhaps I am being naive, and American soccer has already found it's place, and I am just now discovering it for what it is. What I can tell you is this, until last Thursday I had never watched an entire half of MLS soccer before, and had it not been such a late start, I'm sure I would have watched the entire match. I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have NEVER been more excited to see another MLS game as I am right now. I know most the games are not televised nationally, but I will do my best to find a way to tune into the next Timbers match, be it home, or away.
As someone who holds no allegiance to any MLS team, or soccer club in any league for that matter, I think I have found a team that I can really support and root for. I don't want to just jump on to some trendy thing that I happened upon, but really, we all have to start somewhere. As a 36 year old adult, I am I far removed from the days when I may have questioned one's allegiance to a team or sport, or needed justification or proof of one's "fanhood" to a team. I answer to myself, and you should do them same. But if you are looking for an MLS team to root for, are just a curious soccer observer, or fence-sitter on the sport, I seriously suggest you check out the Portland Timbers. I have a feeling you be welcomed. And as with anything, you will get back, what you put in.
So, until the next Timbers match, I will leave you with a highlight of their first goal (at home) in MLS history from their 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire on Thursday night!! Congrats on the win!! The Portland team, fans, and city all deserved it!!!
Search Amazon.com for Portland Timbers