Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I can't help falling in love with you

Someone should have been writing a book about the Portland Timbers this season; I want to read it. I want to watch the feel-good Hollywood movie about this improbably brilliant season, the season that should never have happened and should not be happening still, not in the wake of finishing in last place the season before, spirits broken, a coach out of touch with players and fans, and ongoing acrimony between supporters, Timbers front office, and security that culminated in the ousting of eight loyal longtime fans following their doomed pyrotechnic protest*.

One year on, supercoach Gavin Wilkinson has turned the team around entirely--surpassing even his own expectations of spending three years rehabilitating the sickly squad--while after years of absentee ownership with an attitude toward soccer ranging from the indifferent to the outright hostile, enter Merritt Paulson, and I think--correct me if I'm wrong--he wanted to own a baseball team, but he took a few looks around at the Timbers, at soccer-mad Portland, and at the fookin' mental supporters group and he got it! Finally, management sat down with a representative group of fans, each found out that the other group is not made up of hideous monsters (in the case of fans, hideous monsters planning to rip children from the bosoms of middle America and devour them but worst of all teach them to swear while they're doing it and in the case of management, hideous monsters intent on launching a cleansing campaign against anyone in homemade Timbers gear or weird-looking at all in a broadly interpreted sort of way, a campaign led by an army of humorless, decidedly un-MILF-like [sorry, boys] soccer moms in tricked-out minivans spangled with bumper stickers boosting the cause of suburban vacuity and zombification) ...whew, I just ran out of breath. The point being: who could have foreseen a season like this one, so soon after last year's disaster?

So the Timbers defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 on Sunday night, for a 3-1 aggregate quarterfinal score, and Timbers move on to the semis. And as the scoreline mounted Sunday night, I loved you all, North End. I wanted to marry every single one of you, twice, so it's a damn good thing they don't allow for that sort of thing because today my hand would still be too cramped from signing all those annulment papers to write this post. What else? Spectacular tifo opened the match and the North End, sprawling across at least five packed sections, was monstrously loud. The banished flare-wielding crew marked the end of their year-long expulsion, entering with a bagpiping band. Awards were handed to players, a pre-game plaque for Kiki Lara as Community Player of the Year and a halftime ceremony for Josh Wicks to receive his Supporters Player of the Year trophy.

The match itself got off to a shaky start for the Timbers: some shockingly miscalculated passes, easily plucked by the Whitecaps, and calls that just didn't seem to go our way. As the minutes mounted and the scoreline remained level, my sense that this would be another Timbers-quarterfinal-crash-and-burn grew. And then the break: a 27th minute header from Justin Thompson, and after that it was anybody's game to win. Timbers looked better after the half and goals by Andrew Gregor and Jaime Ambriz clinched the victory. The third goal felt like a dream, the kind where you know it's a dream because it doesn't ever get this good in real life.

Ecstatic as I was to see them head home empty-handed, I couldn't quite bring myself to join in the Your season ends tonight! final-minutes taunting of the Whitecaps, having had the same nightmarish refrain in my head during previous seasons. (Make no mistake: Seattle I'd have taunted with glee.) Although things turned ugly on the pitch at the end, the players had the class to turn and applaud the Timbers supporters before going over to thank their contingent of traveling fans. Afterwards, at the Bullpen, I chatted with a guy who had come to the game almost by accident: giving a friend an emergency ride, he'd meant to drop her off and leave and was somehow persuaded to stick around. He said he wasn't into sports and had never been interested in attending a match, but ended up having a fantastic time and planned on returning. It was a different crowd, a different atmosphere, than he'd imagined or experienced round a sporting event before.

Three days on, I still feel like I'm in the grip of a happy dream. I think the Timbers can defeat the Atlanta Silverbacks this weekend and I think they can beat any team they face in the final, but if their season ends this Sunday, they will have done enough for me this year, more than I could've asked for. Next year apm will be following the Timbers from afar, as we (or two-thirds of apm anyway) are hitting the road to check out soccer pitches in the rest of the world...and bringing you on-the-ground coverage of same, it's been extraordinary watching our boys make it this far.

Report and photos from Sunday night's match are here. Timbers play Friday night in Atlanta against the Silverbacks and the second leg this Sunday at 5 pm in PGE Park. (I think. Timbers website says 5, Fox Soccer Channel says they're showing the match at 4, so find out when you buy your ticket and don't take my word for it.) Tickets are on sale now at the PGE Park box office and the match will be televised live on FSC.

*scroll down thread for gorgeous pics from Allison Andrews


Lucas said...

I have it on the authority of Zeus Hissownself that Sunday's game will kickoff at 5:08 PM. That is not a typo. For the nat'l tv broadcast, 5:08 PM.

Everything you've said is true, the Timbers have me in a dreamlike state from which I do not want to emerge. Unreal amazing ecstatic my head just blew up. Love.

Lynda said...

Thank you for clarifying, Lucas! 5 is better than 4 and 5:08 is...well...just plain weird.

I hope we get to stay in this happy cocoon for a couple more weeks...