Thursday, July 2, 2009

After Thoughts from Yesterday's Open Cup Match

As we got home from the match last night, our cats wouldn't leave us alone, even after the initial greetings at the door. They hung around the entire night, staying close enough to see what was going on. Unlike most cats, ours tend to be more visible, but last night, they were more present that most times. As I got up early to feed them, they followed me around the house, which isn't usual either. Granted, I have seven cats that live with us, so it's hard to go anywhere that doesn't have a cat around, but it reminded me of their incredible sense of knowing when the people around them aren't feeling like themselves. As I puttered around to get ready to go to work this morning, I kept trying to sing, "Always look on the bright side of life" and see the sun coming up, realizing it was a new day, but even with the cats' influence, I'm still in a bit of a fog about last night.

Girl, myself and girl's mom left our house at 2:30 yesterday to make it down to the park by 3 pm, and there was already people lining up to get into the park, and purchase whatever tickets were remaining to the match. As we left, we'd heard it was a sellout of 16,000 plus for Timbers - Flounders, but they had opened up a few remaining seats game day. Girl's mom decided to stay in line, while girl and I headed to the pub for some food and relaxation, and it was already packed in. We saw some Flounders fans walking about, and there was some good natured ribbing going back and forth. We left to get back in line about 5:30 PM, and the lines were already stretched to SW Morrison and all along SW 18th to get in. I hadn't seen anything like this since the Sunderland match in 2005. As the gates opened at 6 and I went through the ticket area, I'm usually one of about 4 or 5 fans that hit section 107 right at 6 pm, and girl is right behind me. When I got into the section, there were people coming from all directions to get seats. Within 10 minutes, the section was entirely full, and many regulars had been displaced by unfamiliar faces. We had managed to save just enough seats for our crew, although we were two deep at points, and girl and I brought some old friends to the park, the whale and monkey. For those new, the whale and monkey appeared back in 2006 during a Timbers - Flounders match, and every time we scored, the whale would move up and down with the monkey on its back. The whale was one of the centerpieces at our wedding, too, turned upside down, so it was nice to see them back for the special night that it was.

By 7 pm, the game was still 20 minutes from kicking off, and sections 104 through 111 were filled. The old regulars of 111 were moved to 105 because of smoke bomb issue, but they were surrounded by fans. Even the Flounders' contingency was strong, sending 7 buses and over 400 fans down south, although there were plenty of puke green kits littering the west end outside of their section. As I looked about, I saw a lot of new faces intertwined with many old friends, and I got a very good sense of what MLS would be like with both the Timbers and Flounders in it. Granted, this was a special occasion, but regular season matches would be this crazy full and intense. Much like being in Sunderland during their derby with Newcastle, two cities that really don't like each other at all. I also was witness to some of the gamesmanship prior to the match. The Flounders were originally going to wear all blue, but apparently forgot to bring other kits down, so they wore their lime green kits and the Timbers wore their black alternates. They'd wore them in previous matches for the Open Cup, but it's a rare occurrence to see the Timbers on their home pitch not in green while the other side is wearing green.

By the time the anthem got completed and the massive TIFO project of Timber Jim destroying the Space Needle was done, the crowd was in a frenzy all the way through the kickoff. Until the first minute and a blue flare hit the pitch, and then the Flounders struck with a rebound goal and it was 1 - nil fishheads. The collective air of the stadium was sucked out, and there was a quiet still except for the southwest end, where Flounder fans were celebrating. The Timbers got a couple of nice chances early, but couldn't capitalize, and then in the 27th minute, a crazy scrum of players let to another Flounder rebound goal, and it was 2 - nil fishheads. I didn't quite recognize the Timbers in the first 30 minutes, as they played very tentatively, passing was not crisp, and Hayes was a very marked man, which really crippled our offense. We played back on our heels, and the Flounders aggressively took the game to us. We got our feet about minute 32, and passes that were falling off started finding players, and Keita knocked in one at minute 43 giving the Timbers fans hopes of a comeback. It seemed like the Timbers were finding space, and they were starting to get back the passion and swagger that I've seen from them at home. At the half, there was cautious optimism.

The second half, I thought the Timbers were the better team, making good passes and stringing together some nice runs, but it seemed like the final pass was just off, which led to a hurried shot or Flounders clearance. A strange occurrence happened when Flounder Nate Jaqua was called offsides while netting a goal, but honestly, I think he might have been on-sides, it was that close. George Josten made a couple of nice runs, and got knocked down right at the box, without any call, yet seconds later, a similar call went for the Flounders. Around the 77th minute, Flounder Sanna Nyassi goes down in the corner without any contact, and rolls around on the turf for what seems like forever, and a well-aimed water bottle launches from the crowd and comes within millimeters of his groin in disgust. Even Timbers GK Steve Cronin was yelling at Nyassi to get up or get off the pitch. Honestly, I don't get the fascination of throwing things on the pitch, and while I smiled at the water bottle and target, it was a stupid move. As the match went on, the Timbers attacked and attacked, but couldn't get anything past Flounders GK Kasey Keller, and after 5 extra minutes, the whistle sounded and the game ends 2 to 1 fishheads.

The look of frustration was evident by the team as they walked by during their post game parade, while the Flounder green supporters celebrated their win. Girl and I started taking down our TIFO, and we both said how much we really wanted to send the Flounder supporters home, knowing what it's like to drive 3 hours after a loss. It's not a fun feeling at all, but it's what you do for your team. And mind you, I'm impressed with their level of support, and their team does play well together. But I seriously can't call them a rival, and here's my reasoning as such.

Rivals may hate each other when their teams are playing, but they at least show the other side a certain level of respect before and after the match. I've traveled to Vancouver, BC multiple times and have been verbally taunted and such, but the fans there are respectful, and we always have a good time there. They treat the visitors with some disdain during the match, but it's earned respect and during the match, you know both sides are going after each other with everything they have. But in the case of Shittle, I've witnessed plenty of questionable things done to our players and fans that get laughed off or dismissed because of a rivalry. I watched as one of my good friends chased a Flounders supporter onto their bus after the Flounder fan struck my friend unexpectedly, took his Timbers scarf and then hid on the away bus. As I tried to intervene between my friend and getting on the away supporters bus, I saw the Flounders fans acting in a rather dismissive, aloof way, wondering what the big deal was. I will give credit to a couple of them that actually were trying to help, but the vast majority couldn't care less, and apparently, one of them posted word of the accomplishment in Flounder land how a TA scarf was heading up north. There were rumours of other incidents after the match, but overall, I thought that most people were mostly behaved, outside of a few morons that were pulled from the Beer Garden for trying to start a fight, and two supposed TA that fought with each other in section 106. But the attitiude struck with me.

I've witnessed the MLS efforts here in Portland very first hand and it's frustrating to me to see the hurdles and obstacles, which only make me want it more, and last night had some beacons of good things, with a big crowd and a competitive match. But the Flounders' path in MLS has been filled with anything but peril, as they were added to MLS with absolutely laughable support of their former club, including even marketing their team as "finally, the world's game comes to S***tle". I can imagine most Flounders supporters have no idea about the former club, but some of them act like they've invented being a fan. Once their club was added to MLS, the money came to the club, it was decided that Qwirst Field would be a suitable MLS park even though it was a football stadium, and they even got the Seachickens owner to become part owner of MLS to help with that, plus the Seachickens marketing and sales staff help with MLS. The entire plan came together apparently so simply, so effortlessly, but I really was left wondering if they deserved it. And they've shown up for this honeymoon period with big crowds, a band, and buzz. But when you get so much easily and so quickly, it can foster resentment from those that have had to battle to get the same things.

If you want to call it jealousy, I think you bleed more lime green than anything, but what I've failed to understand is how easily this has fallen together for a sports market that doesn't deserve it. The people attending games there aren't fans, they are customers, not knowing anything about the team prior or caring about anything more than being part of the new fashionable trend. And while I can admire the crowds and a buzz for a moment, I cringe at the fact that this has fallen into their lap, and I'm frustrated and tired of it. I'd really like for once for them to learn what it's like to see the other side. You can't have respect for a "rival" that doesn't understand what it's like to suffer for your team, deal with frustration, or virtually be ignored in your own city. I can't respect anything about that club, and last night's event did nothing to change that perception. You may be winning on the pitch, but at least with many of us, and markets around the country, the Flounders aren't gaining any respect or love at all. And while they might say it's because they are winning, it's really the way that you're winning that bugs a lot of us. If you are supposedly better than us, show it by using your talent, not grade school tauting, intimidation, and bullying. I can only think about what they might be afraid of to just leave things as they are and taking a chance on a level playing field, but seriously, the Flounders played their top team for the most part, and barely walked out of here with a win. While I'm disappointed in the loss, the silver linings are starting to appear.

And tonight, I'll be back in PGE Park, watching the Timbers battle Bayern Munich II at 7 PM. It probably won't have the same intensity or TIFO as last night, but I'll be back supporting the lads, because that's what you do. When a tough loss happens, you get back up and keep singing and chanting. And at some point, I'm trying to figure out how to teach the cats to meow to Monty Python songs, it might be a good post match decompression.

Other thoughts from the web about the match:

Soccer By Ives recap

USA Today - Yes, the paper with charts and other things reported on it.

the Oregonian's take

Ginge Talks the Footy has some pictures and video to share.

MatchFitUSA was impressed with the crowd support and atmosphere.

The Third Degree, a blog from Dallas has some thoughts about the match.

The Offsides weighs in with support for Portland as well, and loved the TIFO.

The official MLS match report. Not a bad write up, even if they did get a few things wrong.

I had some issues with the batteries on my camera (thank you, Panasonic), so I have only still pictures that I will load sometime this weekend, along with shots from tonight. Hope to see some of you there tonight, and go Timbers!!!

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