A night to remember in Portland

A night to remember in Portland

MLS- Portland Timbers

A night to remember in Portland

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Photos by Jose M. Romero

(SBI Staff writer Jose M. Romero was one of the thousands of Portland natives who braved the elements at Jeld-Wen Field last Thursday to take in a historic night for Portland soccer. Here is his account of that unforgettable night.)

By JOSE M. ROMERO

PORTLAND, Ore. — Yup, that's me above, waiting to get into Jeld-Wen Field Thursday night for the Portland Timbers' inaugural home game in MLS. It was pouring rain, and the rain never stopped.

But what a night, and one I didn't want to experience as a media member but rather as a paying customer soaking it all in. The only crowds that loud I've ever experienced in my home state of Oregon are at University of Oregon football games and Portland Trailblazers basketball games.

This was different, however. Completely organic and fueled by a passion for soccer that quite honestly, I never knew was so strong after living away from the city for the past 12.5 years.

Back in my youth, soccer was just something for kids to play. I was too young to get into the NASL TImbers of the 1970s and early 1980s. There was no soccer to watch on TV except the weekly Bundesliga game on Oregon Public Broadcasting, and the World Cups every four years. 

I was a baseball, basketball and football fan; soccer was fun to play but I had no favorite team. Until 1986 when Mexico made a good run in the World Cup they hosted. 

Over the years living out of state, I began to observe the Timbers from afar, and in doing so taking notice of the kind of support a lower-division team was receiving in my hometown. Then I saw Timbers games in person on vacation breaks and covered an amazing atmosphere for the U.S. Open Cup third- round match between the Timbers and then-first year MLS club Seattle in 2009, and realized that soccer meant something to so many in Portland.

That is now more clear than ever. And new converts are getting on board. I overheard the following on the train home: "Now that I've seen them (the Timbers) in person, I can feel more a part of them."

The Timbers got so much right Thursday night. Allowing the crowd to sing the national anthem. Playing well on the field and winning. Keeping some traditions from USL and A-League days. And giving away slabs of wood to commemorate the event.

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Jeld-Wen Field, in all honesty, is too small. There isn't enough space for 18,627 fans getting there at about the same time. The concourses were so packed and lines for concessions, souvenirs and just to get into the stadium were horribly long. It looked so nice, so much cleaner and sharper than when I was a kid going to Beavers minor-league baseball games at old Civic Stadium (what the facility was called two names ago) and I'll always love the stadium for its location and its look. But big crowds have always been an issue, and they were in the rain on Thursday.

No one seemed to mind though. Everyone was so happy to be witnessing history.

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I saw a civic pride in the stadium and around it, and even on the light rail train to the match, that one doesn't see much. The placards that read "Rose City 'Til I Die.' The ubiquitous green of those in A-League, USL and MLS jerseys. The fans not in the TImbers Army section (I was outside of it) chanting right along with them. 

Portlanders are often branded as a bit offbeat, an easy label to pick up when there is a message painted on a building wall near downtown that says "Keep Portland Weird." But we are a devoted bunch. We love our sports teams, our roses, how other cities "go green" for a little while but ours does that all year; our bike paths and public transportation system, our parks, our Voodoo Doughnuts and our local bookstores. But soccer is not weird in Portland. It's as if the city was made to have a major-league franchise. The spirit of the sport seems to go hand-in-hand with what Portland the city is all about. 

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Before the match started I looked across from my seat at the new sections of seating that had been built. I couldn't help but smile seeing the word "Portland" painted into the seats. It filled me with some pride. 

I'm pretty sure a lot of people who were there felt the same. Which is why the game will work in Portland for a long time to come. I'll miss the baseball that has now gone away, forever perhaps, but I know that there will always be a summer sports event in town and that people will go see it. 

That's the best thing about soccer. It brings communities, people, neighborhoods, together. Which might have been a more beautiful thing to see than any of the six goals scored that night.

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