After two years, my girlfriend Annie was finally able to visit her beloved Portland again. Luckily for me, she brought her Belgian boyfriend with her and so I get the chance to discover the beauty of the Rose City in person.
Being told about the similarities between Portland and Belgium, I was anxious to find out if this was true or not. Our incredible hosts, Nathalie and Jared, fed us with doughnuts upon our arrival and drove us straight to a bar where I had a my first taste of one of the local IPA’s (Indiana Pale Ale beer). Great food and booze, Portland seemed a lot like home to me from the start.
On the drive home from the airport, Jared told me that he had a spare ticket for the Timbers game against San José. Food, beer and soccer … had I really spent 24 hours on a plane? Being a big soccer fan, I love to grab the opportunity to watch games wherever I go. Next stop would be Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon.
Tuesday evening we left for the game riding … race bikes! I rediscovered my Belgian genes of cyclism and after a hesitating start I made it safe and sound to “The Bullpenn”, home of the Timber fans. Difference with Belgium? Portland is much more safe for bikes than cities in my home country. Other difference; Annie and Nathalie went “cornholing”, which is apparently something different than it sounds like to my perverted ears.
Before our trip to the US, I read that ESPN had discovered Belgium’s talented young players and that European media noticed the upward rising level of the MSL. My soccer-blogger-mind was aroused immediately; what would soccer be like in the US? Is it comparible to European Leagues? I figured the Belgian Jupiler League, my natural blog-habitat, could serve well as a benchmark of the average level on the Old Continent.
For starters, Jeld-Wen Field would serve well as a rolmodel for Belgian stadiums. Built in 1930, originally functioned as a baseball-stadium, it’s almost totally renovated resulting into a nice mix of old and new. Capacity is up to 20.000 people and it’s sold out almost every game. Only topteams in Belgium can compete with this.
But what I liked most about my visit were the fans, both sides walked amongst each other before the game in full harmony and respect for one another. Drinking beers and having a great time. Belgium isn’t ready for this yet, unfortunately.
And then there’s the Timber Army; seated at the north ring of the stadium you have to come in on time as tickets are on general admission. It benefits the atmosphere because all the fans are in way before the game starts. I’m happy to know that my favourite team in Belgium, Club Brugge, will practise this tactic from next season on as well for their Blue Army.
The Timber Army impressed me. I was told they were the best fan site in the US, but I had no idea what that meant. I was about to figure it out. Their recipe is simple but harder to perform; they sing from the beginning till the end of the game using an impressive repertoire of songs.
But what I liked most about them was the fact that they stick with their motto “When I root, I root for the Timbers!”; they spend their energy on supporting their team, not at yelling towards the adversary. Nice, the Timber Army would be top in Belgium too.
You can’t go to a Timber’s game without noticing Timber Joey. Timber Jim retired but his successor is waiting right down the line. Whenever the Timbers score a goal, you’ll see Timber Joey chopping down a large piece of wood with his chainshaw – I shit you not Belgium – in the stadium. Only in the US, I guess?
Great stadium, great fans, a great atmosphere and Timber Joey; the MLS has got it going on, one would say. The only thing that has to improve is the level of the game. The game against San José, positioned nr.1 at the Western Conference at the time, was played at a high tempo with lots of duels but too many easy passes going wrong. On the technical and tactical level there’s much room for improvement and based on that game I don’t think either team can play a significant role in the Belgian Jupiler League.
Portland’s best player during that game was winger Franck Songo’o, who made the difference with a crystal-clear cross leading to the half-time score: 1-0. The Timbers would score a second goal but after the forced substitution of Songo’o were pushed back by “The Earthquakes”, leading to a tying goal. Jeld-Wen Field went silent for three minutes but pulled themselves together and brought home the needed victory.
After the game we went to “Paddy’s” , where I had a well deserved Strongbow and some good old Mac & Cheese with BBQ-Pork. I had a great time. Or as the Timber Army would sing: There’s a party in Portland, nobody’s sleepin’ tonight!