The kickoff is 30 minutes away. But already, loud voices chant and sing. Trumpets blow. The sound of drums bounces off the concrete.
Where am I? Manchester’s Old Trafford? St. James Park in Newcastle? Liverpool’s famous Anfield?
No. I’m in Portland, Oregon, at Jeld-Wen Field. And yes, these people are chanting mightily for soccer.
There’s a friendly match (or exhibition) on tap, with Dutch champions AFC Ajax making a visit to the Rose City. They’ll play first-year Major League Soccer franchise Portland Timbers. They might not have a pedigree to match that of Ajax. No reputation for Total Football or as a breeding ground for top players.
All the Timbers have are Sal Zizzo, Kenny Cooper and the fans – most notably the Timbers Army. Oh, they also have Timber Joey, a bearded, smiley colossus on patrol with a gas-powered chainsaw. He’s there to make sure you’re cheering. Not that he needed to prod the crowd much. Timbers have a relatively long soccer history (for a U.S. side, anyway) dating all the way back to 1975.
Throughout the match, I wondered what the Ajax squad thought of the Timbers. They issued a 2-nil beatdown that wasn’t anywhere as close as the scoreline. Ajax showed smooth, assured control of the ball. Their formations morphed with astounding liquidity, rapidly changing to match the situation. Their second goal? Midfielder Demy de Zeeuw could’ve just hammered it in – but no. He opts for a more complicated and stylish scissor kick. It’s the sort of move you won’t see at even 10 percent of the matches you could watch. That’s the Ajax way … soccer should – no, must – must entertain.
No matter how Ajax regard their opponents, I hope Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers fans and the city of Portland made an impression. It’s a very nice stadium, the fans are in great voice and it’s a terrific city.
I also love that Portland ardently supports the Timbers. Throughout the city, you’ll see people in Timbers regalia and bars urging people to watch matches there. I saw about three people wearing Trailblazers NBA shirt. Contrast this with Washington, D.C. or Denver – there, I saw barely an signs outside the stadium that MLS existed. In Portland, people are abuzz about the franchise.
I notice a funny little habit of the Timbers fans during the Star-Spangled Banner: After every few lines, they’d wave their scarves or banners in the air and make a whooshing, rocket-like noise. Kind of funny, and very unusual.
Good luck to the Timbers, and thanks for turning this visitor from the desert into a fan.