Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chicago Fire – Portland Timbers (16-07-2011)

My wife and I had been looking forward to this game for months. We had actually invited many of our colleagues and students. In the end, just three came, but it was quality over quantity, as they became part of the Timbers Army within minutes. After a bit under 3 hour drive, we arrive at Toyota Park, in Bridgeview, Illinois, 13 miles (21 km) southwest of Chicago.

After forking out $15 for parking (not cool!), we went to the ticket office to buy tickets for the away section 134. The tickets were $28 each, even though the Timbers Army had sold them for $20 before the game. Moreover, despite the fact that the section was far from full, our students were told that section 134 was sold out and got tickets for section 133.

We walked a little bit around the stadium, as there was still an hour until kick-off, where there were various organized activities as well as spontaneous tailgating. I was most struck by the large presence of Hispanics – the stadium even has a Section Latino.

It was a warm summer evening, hot and humid (ca. 90F/32C), and there was an official attendance of 16.419 in the 22.000 capacity soccer-specific Toyota Park. Among them, the boys from Section 8, who had a special banner for their friends of the Timbers Army.

The Timbers Army had initially wanted to come out in full force, but was hit by very high plane prices. In the end some 75 TA were in attendance, several like us from the Midwest, and we song during the whole game.

Both the Fire and the Timbers had lost many of their past games, so there was much at stake for this game. It was soon clear why both are at the bottom of the table, as the level of play was poor, to say the least. Both tactically and technically mistakes followed mistakes, but both teams played with great heart. In the 25th minute the Timbers got a break, after a striker was tripped, and Jewsbury buried the penalty: 0-1 TIMBERS!!!

The play didn’t change much after the goal, although the Timbers started to defend deeper and deeper. The Fire had most of the ball, but created very little chances. Only their left-wing attacker was really threatening, but the final ball was often lacking. In addition to a free shot at the crossbar, the Fire challenged the Timbers goalie a couple of times, but the half time score remained: 0-1.

The second half was much of the same. Timbers defending too deep, Fire unable to create real chances, and the Timbers Army singing. While both teams worked their butts off, the quality of play was low… very low. Halfway the second half Section 8 decides to put on a fireworks show, which creates some nice pix.

Not much later, a Fire player gets his second yellow card, after a dumb foul in midfield, which should have wrapped the game up for the Timbers. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and the Fire created more chances with 10 men than with 11. This included yet another powerful shot at the crossbar, and some saves by the Timbers goalie. Moreover, the Timbers again stopped playing in the 87th minute, instead choosing to waste time (which they suck at, so it only means that rather than perhaps scoring a second goal, and tying the game up, they waste a couple of seconds and then lose the ball and have to defend again). Fortunately, we kept our lead: 0-1, first away win in MLS history!!!

As I could finally breathe again, coach John Spencer came over to thank the TA fans. Classy! A bit later the players came over too, and were passionately thanked for their great performance. I wonder, do they ever discuss how lucky they are that they have such fans?

Ok, this trip was not so much about the Chicago Fire (see my earlier visit here). But the Fire has a nice stadium and a good group of supporters. It’s a shame Toyota Park is so far outside of the city and the Fire has to compete with two baseball teams (Cubs and White Sox). The Timbers Army again showed that they are the premier traveling football fans. Can’t wait to see them again soon, somewhere in the country!

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