—by Travis Hefner, East Coast Platoon
Without question the best thing I get from liking soccer is the sense of community. In Montreal on Saturday, that sense was both reinforced and undermined in ways I have never seen before. I have never gone from such a high of enjoying what it means to be a supporter to such a low in the amount of time that I did last night.
This, of course, has nothing to do with the actual game played between eleven (well, for a little while, anyway) Portland Timbers and eleven Montreal Impact players. This has to do with what came after. Anyone who has ever been on an away trip knows that we are penned in at the end of the match by security. This presumably allows for the vast majority of the home team's fans to leave and for us to then leave without issue. Montreal was no different. What was different was the number of Impact fans who kept walking up to our section, shaking our hands, and giving us degrees of respect for our strong support. You know, things that a genial winner does after their team just blew your team's doors off. It went further, however. From a section over and down, the remaining members of the 1642 Montreal supporters group waved and called for us to come join them. We tried, but at first security would not allow it. A few more Montreal supporters came up to us and we begged and pleaded together with security to let us go join the other section. Security eventually allowed it and we flooded down to the supporters' section.
I've never experienced anything like what happened next. This small band of Timbers Army chanting back and forth with 1642 Montreal, laughing and joking in between songs, before finally culminating in telling our respective rivals to fuck off (because of course), with our new friends joining in.
Security let us have our fun, but it was time to get a move on. We mumbled some "Merci" to Montreal as they wished us safe travels home, and for a moment, the game was forgotten. It was, as an Impact fan said, "Le foot sans frontières," soccer without borders. The game, at that point, didn't matter. What did matter was two passionate fan bases sharing the joy and love they get from this sport.
Unfortunately, Charles Dickens wrote the goddamn script of this away day. Security, while superb in their handling of things inside the stadium, couldn't have been worse outside of it. Impact fans once again approached us as we walked toward the Metro to leave the stadium region. Ignoring attempts at de-escalation with handshakes and unresponsive to "Hey man, good game" (might have been a good tip-off, eh?) these Impact fans were allowed by security to get close enough to sucker-punch a Timbers supporter and steal a flag before running away shouting "Welcome to Montreal," like a 20-year-old Will Smith movie.
Montreal security's response? Big ol' shrug emoji. Our response? Mostly confusion.
Split lips heal, stolen flags get replaced, but that doesn't change the fact that this type of behavior undermines the vast majority of good support in MLS.
Over the past year or two there have been incidents with New York teams, Orlando, San Jose, and Montreal. It is a trend that must be snuffed out by supporters groups and front offices alike.
However, I choose to focus on the good. One of the most famous words in the French language is "fraternité," and that is what I will take from Montreal with me. The actions of a handful do not outweigh the many Montreal fans that sang and danced with us in the post game. That's what should be remembered every time, not the Montreal fans sucker-punching and stealing, but the camaraderie we all have supporting this stupid sport that we all take too seriously. We outnumber those who think violence is a way to support a team, and we will continue to do so.