Sunday, March 27, 2011

Colorado Rapids -- Portland Timbers FC (19-03-2011)

I have never anticipated the start of a new soccer season as I did the MLS 2011. There was no way I was going to miss the first ever MLS game of my Portland Timbers (PTFC), particularly as I can’t make the first home game as I am abroad. So, on Friday me and Ms Grondhopper left for the Mile High City for a couple of days of Spring Break and witnessing history.

We arrived at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park more than two hours before kick-off, parked our (rental) car on the big parking space, and made our way to the tailgate. We had heard that the Bulldog Supporters Group (BSG) of the Colorado Rapids was throwing a special tailgate bash for the Timbers Army(TA) in the VIP parking lot.

When we arrived, some 1,000 people were already enjoying the food and drink; later at least two more buses of TA would arrive from downtown. Timbers and Rapids fans mingled as one happy family with some occasional friendly banter (i.e. some singing). I later heard that it was the biggest tailgate the BSG had ever organized, with 7 kegs (instead of the usual 2) and a whole pig on the smoker. Great party, thanks guys!

About an hour before kick-off we went into the stadium, walked around a bit, had some snacks (high quality snack at DSG!), and then joined the almost 500 (!) Portland Timbers fans in sections 100-101. Yes, almost 500 fans had made the more than 2.000 km (1.250 miles) from Portland, Oregon to Commerce City, Colorado – although several TA fans came from outside of Oregon, including D.C. and Texas.

From the beginning the TA was singing and dancing, as if the game was played at PGE Park, oops, Jeld-Wen Field (really?!). As always, the fans were colorful and diverse, ranging in age from 1 to 70, with many women and bearded men. The most impressive fan was this little guy, who was bouncing on the back of his mother in the first half and of his father in the second.

DSG Park is a soccer-specific stadium with a capacity of 19,680, which opened in 2007. The alleged turnout was 17,139, but I am certain there were many more than 2,500 empty seats in the stadium. Kind of disappointing, as this was the opening game of the club that won the championship last season. Much of the atmosphere was organized, as the club had put flags on all chairs. The ‘ultras’ who had been so visible on the tailgate were almost invisible (and inaudible) in the stadium.

After the showing of the cup and the national anthem, history was finally made, and the first MLS game of the Portland Timbers kicked-off. The first minutes showed that the Timbers defense was either nervous or incompetent, as mistake after mistake was made. In the 8th minute PTFC was punished, in part by poor goal keeping, and got its first goal scored against them: 1-0 Rapids. This didn’t stop the Timbers Army from singing, however.

The following fifteen minutes the Rapids dominated the game and the Timbers created only one chance, which was lobbed over the goal. But then, as I was walking around the stadium to get some extra pictures, disaster struck: in both the 29th and 30th minute the Rapids scored: 3-0 after 30 minutes.

The amazing thing is that, while the Rapids were the better team, they had shot only four times at the Timbers goal, but scored three times. At the same time, the Timbers probably shot five times at goal during the first half, but no shot was threatening. The newbies got a lesson in efficiency. But the Timbers Army didn’t care, this was a historic event, and we kept on singing. Half time: 3-0.

The second half was much more of the same, although the Rapids pushed even less hard. In fact, while the hosts were the better, and particularly more experienced team, they were far from impressive. That said, the Timbers played weak, naive and very predictable.

The most important thing was, however, that the Timbers didn’t give up and kept pushing for a goal. And, in the 80th minute, they and the fans were rewarded with a good goal by who else than striker Cooper, who scored Portland Timbers’ historic first goal in the MLS. Time to party!

The last ten minutes didn’t change much, with the Timbers trying and the Rapids easily controlling the game. Hence, the 3-1 victory of the hosts was never really in doubt. In the end, the result was perhaps a bit inflated, but clearly reflected the difference in quality between the champions and debutants. Both fans seemed happy though, as the home fans has their first victory and the away fans had their first MLS game.

After the game, DSG Park emptied quickly, except for sections 100 and 101, where the Timbers Army kept singing and were applauded by the players. I do hope they realize what great fans they are playing for, as no team had ever brought so many away fans to the Rapids as the Timbers Army.

Clearly, this report is not about the Colorado Rapids, which I had visited before (see here). It is about the historic first MLS game of my Portland Timbers. It pays tribute to the 500 Timbers Army fans who made it to Denver to support their team, as well as to the many Colorado Rapids fans who made us feel so welcome. Thanks to all for making this historic game a highly memorable one!

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