The views expressed here are the views of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of 107ist or the Timbers Army.
My Dearest Portland Timbers Football Club,
It’s funny sometimes how the silliest things can elicit the strangest reactions from people. On Tuesday, Geoffrey C. Arnold posted a story on Oregonlive about how it’s tough to play under the expectations here in Portland. The story featured several quotes from Lovel Palmer and Troy Perkins, as well as one from John Spencer. My immediate reaction was frustration. I didn’t read the story that carefully, but something about it struck a chord.
Initially, I didn’t like a quote from Perkins which ended a story about his days in D.C. with “It is what it is and it doesn’t matter about [the fans].” After thinking about this, though, my first reaction was wrong. Those brackets are probably pretty important, and, in the context of a previous contradictory Perkins quote, this was probably either a matter of something coming out wrong or being reported wrong. So, that’s not really what struck the chord. Very clearly Troy Perkins doesn’t think the fans don’t matter.
Then there was this from John Spencer: “It’s a very difficult place to play. The fans think that just because you have a world-class atmosphere, you’re supposed to have a world-class team. But it takes time to build a quality team.” This is the one that got to me, but why?
Well, first off, it’s wrong. On a few levels. For one, Portland is absolutely, positively not a difficult place to play professional soccer. Yes, we have people on the internet who comment on the team, for better and for worse. We write on Twitter, and Facebook, and websites. And you know what? It’s all pretty tame stuff. Sure, it’s a lot compared to, say, Chivas USA, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of the world of soccer. Like, I mean, really nothing.
You want external pressure on playing professional soccer? Well, I seem to remember a story about a certain young boy whose family was threatened because he signed with what some thought was the wrong team. That’s pressure. The stuff that’s said on Twitter, or Stumptown Footy, or Timbers Insider, or – especially – here? That’s not pressure. Compared to the world of soccer, on a scale of one to ten, the pressure here is maybe a one-and-a-half.
Then there’s the whole being recognized out-on-the-town sort of pressure. Portlanders are known for our sheepish politeness. On Monday I met a friend at an all-too-swanky Pearl District coffee shop to watch City-United. The place had a dozen or so folks there to watch the match. Clearly soccer fans, and considering it was noon on a Monday, probably pretty big ones. At halftime Mike Chabala and Rod Wallace walked in. Guess how many autograph seekers interrupted them at their TV-side table. Guess how many people went up to talk to them about how the team was playing. You got it; not a one. Instead, the two of them sat there watching the match and sharing a pair of headphones. It was adorable. Not exactly a pressure cooker, either.
Then there’s the-fans-really-care-about-us sort of pressure. Yeah, we stand in the North End, 5,000 strong, and sing until we can’t anymore. Yeah, we sell out our beautiful downtown stadium. And yeah, we care about how the team does. If that’s the kind of thing that makes Portland a hard place to play, well, then I’m incredulous.
And here’s the other thing about Spenny’s quote there: I don’t think it accurately portrays the expectancy here in Portland. Spencer said the fans expect excellence. Don’t get me wrong, we all want excellence. We want MLS Cups, and U.S. Open Cups, and Cascadia Cups, and Champions League titles. But if we truly expected it – if we required that sort of payoff to keep us coming through the gates – let’s face it, you wouldn’t be reading this right now and I wouldn’t be writing it.
We do, however, expect that the club care as much about itself as we do about it. That’s why people like Ryan Pore and Mandjou Keita (the 2009 version) are good players who we appreciate, but folks like Ian Joy and Scot with one “T” are absolute legends. The former were good players who – at one point or another – demonstrated excellence in a Timbers uniform. The latter are guys who embodied the club and its supporters, and would give absolutely everything they had for our team, the mighty PTFC.
But Spencer being wrong isn’t what got to me, either. He’s been wrong before and I didn’t get as frustrated as I did about this quote.
Here’s what did: pity. If I had to choose one word to sum up the last couple months, that would be it. Pity.
Every time something goes awry on the field, that’s what we see. Against New England, when Saer Sene stunned the Timbers in the first minute? Pity.
Against RSL, when the Timbers conceded the equalizer in the 89th minute? Heads dropped, and they conceded another goal. Pity.
Against Chivas USA, when the Timbers endured a rough start to the second half and Alejandro Moreno pulled the Goats level? Pity.
Against Los Angeles, when Kris Boyd was wrongfully disallowed a Goal of the Year candidate? Pity. When Juninho struck from distance? Pity. When Beckham put the nail in the coffin? Pity.
And then Saturday, when Perkins got kicked in the face and only a yellow card was issued? Pity. When Steven Smith was harshly whistled for a penalty? Pity.
So on Tuesday, when I saw John Spencer talking about how difficult it was to play in Portland, you know what I thought? Pity.
That’s what got to me. I’m tired of the pity party. I’m tired of something bad happening and the team going Eeyore on us.
Did you notice what L.A. did after Boyd scored that opener? They didn’t hang their heads. They went Lou Piniella on the linesman despite the fact Boyd was obviously onside. If you don’t think that had something to do with the flag going up three minutes later, I got a Sellwood Bridge I’d like to sell you. Point is, they did something about it. They fought back.
That’s what I want to see from the Timbers. That’s why the win against SKC felt so good. And that’s why my single favorite moment of last Saturday morning was Kris Boyd getting booked for dissent. For once I felt like somebody didn’t just feel sorry for himself.
If Portland comes out on Saturday, plays a lifeless 90 minutes, and concedes twice in the last ten minutes to lose, I’ll go home hoarse, hang my scarf over my closet door, write a critical match report, and get ready to watch the Houston game. And then Chicago. And then Vancouver. You know what? So will everybody else reading this, because that’s who we are. We stand by our club through it all.
We’ll just be doing it more happily when the team is showing the same desire for the club that the Army does every match.
I hope that expectation doesn’t make it too difficult to play in Portland.
 Something you well know by now if you were unlucky enough to be subject to my Wynaldaesque reaction.