—by Travis Hefner
Author's note: A version of this piece was originally written for East Coast Platoon, but it applies equally to all TA.
Hello my road warriors, my champion hotel finders, my masters of brunch in cities up and down the coast. Hello my darlings, hello my East Coast Platoon.
What a year, wasn't it? I giggled in Columbus as we counted to twenty-seven as a group when the ball was kicked off. I was overjoyed to finally win in Chester and to sing the Union fans out of their stadium. I threw my hands up, laughing only because I'd cry otherwise, as Canada blew our doors off twice in Montreal and Toronto by a combined score of 8-2. I spent 10 wonderful days in my adopted Rose City. I finally took my first trip to the Fishing Village on an away day I won't soon forget (Hashtag GusBus). I ruined my voice in New York City trying to chant with no drum to guide us. None of these things I did alone. None of these things I ever want to do alone. All of them, I was with you. Always, I found joy.
So, I ask you, personally, where did you find joy in this season? Was it an incredible goal you saw? Was it a friend you weren't expecting to see? Was it new friends you made? Was it an effort the team put in that didn't end in three points, but still won you over?
I found joy in all of these places. Long live the 2017 Portland Timbers, the battered bastards of soccer, a patchwork team held together by the indomitable will of El Rey, Troesma, Diego Valeri.
First, the obvious. The soccer. I saw Darlington Nagbe embarrass Tim Howard on a beautiful summer night in Portland, Oregon. Top of the box, turn, chip, in. He celebrated like he'd done it a thousand times, cool as you like. The crowd was wild, myself included, hugging strangers, picking people up, almost falling over. Nothing can steal that beautiful moment of the beautiful game from me. Nothing can steal that joy.
We have such a unique situation here in our little group. We come from everywhere when we go to an away day. I'm privileged to have met so many of you (and as always, those I haven't met, please say hi some time if you're so inclined), so if you'll excuse a hackneyed Forrest Gump reference: you never know what you're going to get when you show up. It is a joy to see someone you haven't seen for a year or more. It is a joy to see someone you've only known through the mutual interest of the Portland Timbers on Facebook and Twitter. You are a joy.
Despite you friends, I'm of the mind that you can never have enough, and this season delivered once again. In Columbus, Ohio, a group of friends crammed themselves into a fraternity house turned AirBnB. In the process of drinking more and longer than the frat houses around us (Ohio State, ya soft!), I found myself in the company of two people who I had never met before. Three away days later, numerous conversations later, I consider them great friends. Friends who gave me confidence and put me at ease as my start in nursing school grew closer and closer. All because they wore green and gold clothing accented with axes. All because of PTFC. All because of shared joy.
It's not often I get be around fellow Timbers fans for extending periods of time, but I do highly recommend it. My privileged days in Portland, Oregon this year included meeting friends for drinks, for meals, strolls in the park, food bank volunteering, painting tifo, and pickup futsal. This, of course, goes beyond the pitch and eleven men. But, at the same time, it only exists because of them. Good thing about this, though? We're ECP, we're everywhere.
Even in my own backyard of Pittsburgh, I'm no longer the only one regularly watching the mighty PTFC in my village. And while the overall population of MLS supporters at my local has unfortunately blossomed (including a few too many Sounders fans calling my pub home), I love that I have a partner in crime for the Portland Timbers. No longer am I the incredibly loud person shouting in an otherwise quiet pub. Well... I mean, I'm still that, but it seems less weird now that I'm not the only one. You get the idea.
Finally, though, it is still the soccer. It is still the Portland Timbers. It is Roy Miller somehow being the hero of our backline, filling in admirably at center back while Liam Ridgewell fought through injury after injury. All of this when nobody wanted him on our side when he was signed. His injured Achilles, denying him another chance to rise to our aid, is a tragedy Shakespeare would nod approvingly at. It is Jeremy Ebobisse thrust into the spotlight in Vancouver at... what, 12 years old or something... and scoring a goal and adding an assist. One of many gutsy performances with lesser elevens on the road against our two bitter rivals. Gutsy performances that helped us win silverware. It is this whole ragtag group of players coming in and out of the lineup, too dumb or proud or something to know they shouldn't be doing this, and winning the goddamn Western Conference when they absolutely should not have. It was last night, too. It was a team trying to do whatever they could with their fourth center back, third striker, third defensive midfielder, first-choice wing playing on one foot and third-choice wing playing with a busted-up nose. I will always have respect for Sebastian Blanco after last night because of what he did for us. "Care like we do"? I have no problem saying that a man numbing his own foot for the chance to maybe play some minutes does.
The 2017 Portland Timbers had a great season and I will hear nothing to the contrary. We can ask, "What could have been?" all we want, but I choose to ask: "What has been?" Because what has been is a season of joy, perhaps not culminating in that ultimate joy, but one nonetheless.
So, I ask you, my darling East Coast Platoon: Where was your joy this season? Because it exists. And, don't fret too much my lovelies, it'll be preseason again before you know it. Before you know it, it'll be time to create new joys. I can't wait.