Editor’s Note: Prost Amerika Portland photographer Diego G. Diaz stepped off the pitch and onto the bus to document his personal experience traveling to an away derby with the Timbers Army.
Words and photos by Diego G. Diaz
August 24th, Sunday, it’s a big day in Portland. Ahead of us lies 173 miles and one of the most celebrated rivalries in MLS and probably one of the most attended MLS games in its history – SEATTLE VS TIMBERS….
There are about a 1500 in the Timbers Army contingent to march north: 15 buses holding about 750 people and then another nearly 750 to meet us in Seattle.
Each bus is “sponsored” by a local brew pub or cidery that provides each bus with a keg.
Ahead of us is the promise of a vibrant Century Link Stadium at capacity – about 70,000 people, proof of a substantial growth of this sport, especially on the west coast.
We are not talking just about pure attendance and sports bar viewing partyThe whole movement has been a bit of a culture shift, green and gold scarves hang from all kinds of institutions: architecture firms, interior designers, coffee shops… etc.
Right around the afternoon, as I am coming out of my Radio Cab, I have the feeling that this is not just one more Seattle versus Portland game — make no mistake, this going to be a proper football derby.
On a classic rainy late summer day, the convoy assembles, in what jokingly is chanted as the “invasion of Seattle.”
This is the big day, call it the Derby or the “Clasico”. The atmosphere in the buses is festive, everybody is socializing.
With all details taken care of, the bus driver gave the mandatory safety briefing and eloquently explained the bathroom use instructions instigating laughter in an eager crowd that quickly turned into the general cheer as the engines rumbled: “Now let’s go and beat Seattle.”
It’s a big day for everybody, we all have been waiting for it, and it’s hard to not get carried away—this is going to be a good day.
The traveling is spiced up with some local brews from our sponsors that, far from turning the trip into a frat party, is rather a great touch to get us in the mood and makes us all feel like we are traveling in luxury as we mingle and look at the anxiety of fellow drivers in their own cars just stuck in traffic.
At a rest stop, a couple soccer balls appeared and a few kickarounds broke out.
Some fans broke into chants, displayed banners, and even lit a few green smoke devices.
A great climate of camaraderie and friendship— “special”, I’d risk to say, even as a father and a son walk around in their Sounders jerseys, a couple stares but nobody seemed to care.
This is a party, and the Timbers Army are on the march!
With over a five hours of delay, the convoy made it to CenturyLink Stadium and security takes over. We are not allowed outside of the buses until we get to the designated parking area
Bizarrely, we are assigned a parking lot that doesn’t belong to CenturyLink.
Therefore we have to pay for parking on the spot for 15 buses, should we want to disembark and head to the game.
There is a sense of a bit of disbelieve, phone calls, negotiation with the parking staff, and a sense of foul play —but it’s a derby and some animosity is expected.
Before we leave the buses, we are briefed about taking as little as we can: leaving back packs on the bus, as Seattle stadium security can be a bit aggressive.
As we are getting escorted to our area of the stadium, as happens everywhere way up behind one of the goals, as far from the pitch as possible, some fans shouted “we are being herded.”
There’s no bad feeling – in fact this is by far the most civil derby I have ever attended.
As we climb up the hallways and ramps that lead us to our seats, chants are echoing through the hallways and the game, for the fans, began the moment we exited the bus. “When you hear that song, it’s the Timbers Army boys, they will be coming down the road,” is sounding out and is one of my favorites.
We all get to our seats, buy some beverages, and as is customary complain about the sales tax. Game time is closing in.
Portland is not a big city, so I am running into lots of friends and acquaintances, smiles and a fantastic atmosphere in what looks like a state of the art venue, except for the artificial grass (I still don’t get it.)
Amongst all the people that I saw, the Timbers lumberjack mascot, Timber Joey, stands out against the sea of rallied fans.
Seattle displays their big banner “Bonfire” taunting the TA who retaliates back with one of their own.
Then, the teams line up, the national anthem plays, and fireworks explode— match on!
Ooooohs and aaaahs, hands on the head, and constant clapping and singing transpire as danger haunts the Sounders goalie in that first half when Timbers look more solid—at least that was the perception from high up.
The Timbers supporters are being loud and we can barely hear the Sounders fans who probably can’t hear us either. I want to think that some of our chants are making it to our boys on the pitch.
As the game progresses, Argentine star Diego Valeri hits the post in a wonder curler from the center of the box.
It wasn’t until the second half, when the Sounders own Argentine, former River Plate star Mauro Rosales, a man with a good and not often known past with the national team, takes a protested free kick that precisely finds Eddie Johnson that Sounders break the stalemate.
The game goes on, but Portland does not react.
Soon, hope is killed with the referee’s final whistle that sends the players to the showers. There is a bit of disbelief and disappointment that we did not do well in the second half and justifications went rapidly to key absences on the team: Diego Chara, definitely a key engine of that team, to mention one.
The game is over and, after a short wait, it’s time to undo our steps.
On the same route back to our buses for the trip back, we mass out as we wait for the signal to leave.
Timbers supporters are a bit upset, a bit impatient, feeling stung in their pride, and signs of fatigue, after what has already been a 10 hour ordeal, starts to show on people’s faces.
Finally the descent to the parking area starts.
You may think that this Army’s resolution is about to falter, wrong! The silence breaks, the songs come back, and drums roar. It’s common talk amongst the different soccer media that there are doubts about the team’s resolution and how key absences on the team brings their winning spirit down—not this Army of supporters: they chant, drum, and clap all the way to the buses, happy to be here, win or lose, and proud to be Timbers. “And when I go, and when I go, I want to be covered in green and gold.”
Back in the buses, the climate relaxed: most people engaged in small talk, some slept, some watched movies on the overhead screens, the mood had settled, we all agreed it was a tough loss, but, without a victory to fuel what could have been a party back, it is a long road home.
This has already been a full day of emotions with happiness, sadness, and euphoria. Now it is time to rest with many of the people checking their watches to see how few hours they will sleep until bitter Monday takes them to their regular lives and diversity of occupations, students, professionals, blue and white collar.
As 2 AM approaches, I still find some energy to grab a night cap at my local pub; there was a need to dwell on all this for a bit. I can’t help but to think through my experiences and how this emerging love of football in the region is still in quite a pure state.
There is, for sure, some rhetorical abuse of rivals back and forth and looking years back, there may have been a couple isolated altercations.
However, none that I saw that day, far from it honestly. These Cascadian rivalries are more about the party and the love of the game than anything else. Supporters may be loud, but are generally very well behaved.
As a person with several continents in my background, I don’t find it pertinent to go in detail, nor am I interested in flashing a resume of observed football support malpractices and hooliganism around our messed up world, but I can’t help to think, this is how it should be done.
Even though there have been some examples of hooliganism— most recently and notorious the arrests of two San Jose supporters related to disturbances in their Portland visit— it’s really only isolated instances instead of the norm.
I find this rebirth of the love of soccer in the west coast to be in quite a pure form. Could it get out of hand in the future? I’m not sure, I sure hope not—just let me live in today’s experiences and dwell on this sensation of how football passion can and should be lived.
I say, that all has been amazing: the organization, the atmosphere, the excitement of an away derby is always special.
Loss and all, it has been a great football day, what has made this the most worthy, is not just to see this love for the game, or the passion for the team colors; in this little corner of the world that all of us odd characters have called home.
It’s not just finding something to do or choosing to support a team to have something to do, or to escape reality, it’s the “somos los Timbers” (Timbers have chant in Spanish, means “we are Timbers”), the rainbow flags, the displays for respect and messages of social inclusiveness, and the effort for a positive community impact.
I may be unfairly borrowing from the centenary club FC Barcelona, and definitely putting it in different context, but there’s a tangible will to transcend and be “more than just a club.”
A sporting icon has been reincarnated in our good old Portlandia, alongside Powell’s City of Books, the keep Portland weird signs, Voodoo Donuts, the southeast hipsters, the coffee shops, and the Trail Blazers, the Rose City is also about the Timbers— Soccer City, USA, indeed.