Portland Timbers defeated Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semi-Finals on Saturday night. A win for PTFC against their most despised rival in the first MLS playoff game in club history, one I got to take in with the 1100+ Timbers Army faithful who made the three hour trip up I-5 to CenturyLink Field. While a supporter of the club for many years dating back to their USL days, this was my first venture on the road to cheer on the boys with our green and white army. Here’s my attempt to document and do the trip justice. Seattle Away.
Timbers Army took three busses up to Seattle – an adverse effect of MLS’ playoff scheduling and learning your opposition only a few days in advance of the game (usually, it’s more like 8-10 busses full of TA). Thousands more joined by other means, they weren’t going to miss this one. Our simple charter bus crammed fifty of us together as I made made many former-stranger, new-friends during the day-long excursion. Honoring our statewide heritage, each bus is sponsored by an Oregon brewery. I had the pleasure of joining the Ninkasi bus with their keg of Total Domination IPA. I am an IPA drinker and unopposed to drinking before noon in the name of footy, but pints of high-ABU beer before noon strikes, well… you know it’s going to be that kind of day.
Under the advice of the MLS, we took off from the
Rose Garden Moda Center around 11:30am for the 7:00pm match. They wanted to minimize the opportunity for direct confrontation between Timbers and Sounders supporters. No one wanted the banter to escalate to violence in this most important chapter of the 503/206 rivalry, so a few extra precautions were taken. I didn’t hear of any fan violence that can stain such an anticipated matchup between bad blood. The songs we sung were crass and creative as I yelled some shameful things with shameless pride. Few things we chanted should be repeated outside of matchday, but two of my favorites were profiled at the end of this account.
Being my first trip to Seattle Away, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. There were coolers and backpacks full of lunches, snacks, and additional adult beverages. Homemade brownies, leftover halloween candy, and assorted munchies were shared family-style up and down the aisles. One break halfway through the trip was our only detour – a rest stop that I can only imagine when a full load of ten busses full of (respectable) intoxicated fans take over the turf like the Sons of Anarchy. We briefly watched Sharknado on the overhead tvs – cheering every absurd moment. If ever there was a movie that translates well to a drinking game, that movie is Sharknado.
We arrived in Seattle around 3:00 and set up shop in the Pyramid Alehouse, across the street from CenturyLink and Safeco Fields. It was a Timbers wonderland. I have no idea how many Timbers supporters flooded that brewpub, but whatever the capacity, we had that plus fifty. After an hour and a half of shenanigans, the TA took to the pitch. Again, aiming to prevent any unneeded interactions between the TA and ECS, we were politely asked to all leave for the stadium in unison an hour before the gates opened to the public. Cue my second favorite moment of the day:
We’ll be comin, we’ll be comin, we’ll be comin down the road.
When you hear that noise from the Timbers Army boys, we’ll be comin down the road.
I looked forward to the walk up to the stadium. I know that walk from following English and European football, as the fans come together from every nook and pub to assemble like a LeBron James ad and merge towards the playing grounds. Scarves were raised, songs were sung, isolated Sounders fans looked like Planet Earth prey. TA in full voice, the fun had begun.
Once seated in our section as far away from the pitch as they could place us, we began the long countdown to kickoff. By the time the anthem was sung and the ECS rolled out their soon-to-be-mocked “Welcome to Your Nightmare” tifo, we were ready. Everyone was. Outnumbered 20-to-1, TA was there in full.
Looking back, the game is a blur. Bad calls that you expect on the road, lots of chances for the Sounders, a costly yellow card to Lamar Neagle, a deft header by Ryan Johnson, a clinical finish by Darlington Nagbe. We expected that third goal to roll past the keeper. We started the Tetris chant just a bit too early and the most self-aware fans know that’s why Sounders scored. With this semifinal being an aggregate, two-leg series, we head back to Jeld-Wen Field with a goal advantage for the second leg this Thursday. Post-match euphoria. Players walked to our corner of the pitch to applaud us for the support and we returned it with equal vigor. Pa Madou Kah, the Gambian defender, arrived pounding his heart and club crest, exemplifying how much the game meant for the team and their supporters. From the nosebleeds, we could feel his emotion. We felt that same emotion.
Again, to prevent any unnecessary altercations, they made us wait for the rest of the stadium to vacate before we could leave the top corner of the stands. We could care less. The songs and celebrations continued as we all soaked in the victory, the first in Seattle since 2005.
Once leaving our section, the best part of the day unfolded. Familiar to many NFL venues, we had a long and winding walk down to ground level. No longer was our sound lost in the open-air stadium, but amplified by the reverberations within the concrete stairwell. It was probably no more than a five minute walk in all, but my memory lasts far longer than time in reality. The extra hour we got when Daylight Savings fell back that night – I got the whole hour back during that walk. We reminded Seattle where they belong on the bonfire we built. We sung about how our plans to run around the town with certain body parts exposed. Everyone heard the noise of us Timbers Boys (and Girls).
It was The Moment. The moment that makes being a sports fan worthwhile. You spend absurd hours investing too much energy and optimism, generally to be beaten down [maybe not for everyone, but I’ll bet that I am not the only one]. Good fans support their team through and through. And occasionally they reward you. It makes all that time seem like dues paid to receive this reward. The 2-1 result in this first leg will be documented and praised; an important day in club history and the first foot forward to advancing in the MLS playoffs. I’ll mostly remember that walk.
We shuffled into the buses with a glazed look in our eyes, dazed while realizing what the hell just happened. What a gift I undeservedly received for my first Timbers Away, but I appreciate it as much as one could.
Until Thursday and beyond,
Rose City til I die, Rose City til I die.
I know I am, I’m sure I am, Rose City til I die.