—by Jeremy Varo-Haub
Usually a 4-1 loss puts me in a foul mood. No question, I had good reason to be upset. Despite matching Orlando 1 for 1 on shots taken, and despite winning the possession battle (can you feel me reaching for something—anything—good to say about our performance in Orlando?), the Timbers were fully, soundly, fairly beaten by the Lions, who were clearly inspired by the return of Kaká and his immense class and creativity.
If I had watched that game from home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I would have spent the rest of the evening ruing our chances—wishing Adi had converted that penalty; wondering what it might be like to have the left back question answered; mourning the poor, disconnected play of our usually gifted and capable midfield; wishing the ref hadn't been so obviously involved in the first and third goals; and wishing that we had stopped the Lions from scoring anyway.
A view from the seats
But even though I was in Orlando, lost in a sea of purple, and even though I didn't see them play to their potential, I finally got to see my beloved Timbers play live. We were 14 rows back, right at midfield. I could see Diego Chará's supernova of a smile from my seat.
I grew up in Portland. I love Portland. But for more than a decade I have lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—a place that is as far away from Portland as you can get without leaving the continental United States.
The Timbers are one of the ways I stay connected to home. When I watch home games at Providence Park, I remember living six blocks from the stadium after I graduated from college—back when baseball was still played there. When I read about how Timbers supporters raised money to fly Savannah Bee out from Columbus for the opener against the Crew, I feel proud. We are a warm and delightful people, with a great sense of humor. We embrace our opponents and are ever determined to show them why Portland is the greatest city in the world! I look at those shots of the stadium and I wish I could walk down to the Goose Hollow Inn for a Reuben. I want to raise a glass with the Timbers Army at a game. I want to see that green smoke, hear that chainsaw growling, hear the Army singing (and singing and singing and singing).
But it's a long way home to Portland, and it's only four hours' drive to Orlando. Despite the loss—which I hope is a bump in the road and not the beginning of a run of poor play—I left more delighted than disappointed.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Orlando. I've heard good things about the club and its supporters. But South Florida—the Florida where I live—is a weird place. Everyone here is from somewhere else. Most of them are going somewhere else, too. This isn't a place where most people feel settled. Snowbirds come down here from the Northeast during the winter. They lay out in the sun and drink mojitos. And once it warms up back home, they go back. Immigrant families pass through South Florida on their way somewhere else. Young families move to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, chasing the sun, and eventually the humidity or the flatness or the call of home leads them away again. This place is a huge geographical revolving door. It's not hard to imagine what that does to a culture; there are very few deep roots. It's as far from Portland culturally as it is geographically.
The boys warming up
So while I'm excited about Miami getting an MLS team—I'm enough of a fan of soccer that I can appreciate what it will mean to be able to easily go to games—I'm not sure how successful they'll be. Everyone here is from somewhere else, and they don't forget it. I know I certainly won't. I'll go to watch Beckham's team play, but I'm Rose City 'Til I Die. I don't know what that means for a club down here. I hope that a soccer culture even 50% as strong as the culture surrounding the Timbers develops. But I'm not optimistic.
Orlando—four hours north of Miami—is a different place altogether. You'd think that the city that grew up around Disney World wouldn't have much of its own identity, but the opposite is true. It doesn't seem like it would make a huge difference, but the five years the club spent in USL Pro gave them time and space to develop. By the time they moved up to MLS, it was easy to fill the stands with purple shirts. The supporters club never stopped waving flags, never stopped singing—though we didn't give them much reason to stop, either. Before and after the game, downtown Orlando was filled with people in purple shirts, too. The folks who surrounded us during the game were generally kind, even though I was wearing my championship scarf. (One quick aside: before the game started, one Lions supporter yelled something at me that I didn't hear. His wife apologized for whatever it was he said. I just smiled, pointed at my scarf, and said, "I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you over this star.")
Orlando has the second highest attendance in MLS this year. I'm enough of a fan of soccer in general that I was encouraged by the experience. Soccer is bringing people together in Orlando, like it does in Portland. Like it does for people like me who love Portland and who aren't there.
It's too early in the season to worry about the Timbers too much. They gave up that first goal and the rest of the game it looked like they were running uphill and Orlando was running downhill. In many ways, tactically, that's exactly what happened. We gave them more and more space to run at us in the back while we pressed for our own goals. Being down a goal will do that to a team that is 3,000 miles away from home, missing their fiery English center back, playing outside of their conference, and still trying to figure out what to do about the left side of the pitch.
But even though he missed that penalty, watching Adi wrestle for space in the final third, lay off balls to his teammates, and work hard to get in on goal was worth the drive to Orlando. Chará chased balls down and won tackles even as he struggled to contain Kaká. Nagbe showed flashes of pace and I could see the Lions worrying about him whenever he turned himself up the pitch and ran at goal. Borchers gobbled up the ball—most of the time—whenever it got close to our goal. Live, they looked as lovely as I knew they would. Individually, all of those guys feel like family to me. (Valeri plays guitar and loves Portland? Chará loves to draw? These are my people.) But collectively, they just couldn't put it together.
The author and Jeff
It was a disappointing result, but I would happily go watch that happen again, just to see my team in person. It would be even better to see them win, but like I said earlier, I'm RCTID. I'll take whatever Timbers team I can get. And they will always be one of the main ways I stay connected to Portland.
One other thing happened at the game. While the Timbers Army was streaming in and heading to their corner, I heard someone calling my name. It turns out that a college friend of mine lives in Jacksonville, Florida. I haven't seen him in 20 years. His wife's family is from Portland, and after experiencing a game right in the middle of the Timbers Army a few years ago, he's RCTID, too.