Last weekend I had a chance to be part of a traveling football supporters group for the first time, as along with 500 Timbers Army members I took a bus caravan up to Seattle for the first-ever MLS match between America’s most bitter soccer rivals: Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders.
It wasn’t just a first for me. This was the largest-ever traveling contingent for a soccer club in the history of the United States, and it would have been even larger had there been more tickets made available.
The national sports media was there (I managed to make it on ESPN a few times, without doing anything that would make my mom blush). The league, and, to some extent, the entire North American footballing culture, were watching to see if the hype was just that, to see if the rivalry would erupt, and to see if we’d behave ourselves.
Largely, we did. The 50 of us on the Widmer bus finished off a keg, a few backpacks filled with beer cans and some ambiguous flasks — all used it as fuel for our songs, and we never stopped singing.
It was a site to see and a sound to hear — 500 Portlanders, soaking wet from a ceaseless downpour, filling the bowels of Qwest Field with a truly deafening roar, marching into the stands. When Seattle scored the first goal of the match, the stadium all turned to look at us, to see if we’d (finally) go quiet. We kept singing. When Portland scored the equalizer four minutes later, we nearly levitated.
As a newcomer to the team this year, and to Portland, I loved seeing some of the old-timers take moments last night to look at each other and share a hug, wordlessly conveying the sense of how far they’d come as a group. They should be proud.
Watching the re-broadcast from home the next day, I could hear our band of 500 clearly singing over the 36,000 Seattle fans. It was a true football derby, and I didn’t have to leave America to see it.