Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kitsap Pumas – Portland Timbers (09-06-2009)

With only two weeks left in the Northwest, I try to take every opportunity to see a game, particularly if it involves my new team, the Portland Timbers. So, when I found out that they played a game in Bremerton, Washington, on a Tuesday night, I took the day off and drove up to the most northwestern part of the USA. Normally you would drive the roughly 450 km in 5 hours, but because of horrible traffic it took me over an hour longer (excluding stops).

Still, having left Eugene before noon, I arrived at the Bremerton Memorial Stadium, part of Bremerton High School a good twenty minutes before kick-off. I even had time to look at the fan stand of the home team, the Kitsap Pumas. While the stand itself was not very professional, the choice of merchandise was the best I’ve seen for a PDL team.

As the weather was glorious, I paid $7 for a generic ticket that gave me access to the whole stadium except the small covered stand. As I entered, I made my way to the hamburger stand (i.e. a woman, a table, and a home bbq), as I was starving. I walked around the stadium, which looked like a fair.

I don’t think I have ever been at a football game where there were clowns making dogs from balloons and where they sold cotton candy. Welcome to Kitsap Count(r)y! A couple of minutes before kick-off the players came out of the high school building and made their way to the pitch, preceded by the local Washington State champions.

So, this game was between the Kitsap Pumas, a new PDL team, and the Portland Timbers, an established USL team. The occasion was the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, a competition open to all clubs affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation. Since 2008 this competition has attracted the attention of the major US teams, as the winner has the right to play the CONCACAF Champions League.

Although the Kitsap Pumas were founded only a year ago, they have had a great start to their first season, not losing a game so far (of 7 played). The also had a very decent crowd, roughly 500-600, including some boisterous youngsters. The Timbers Army arrived to the stadium around kick-off time, no doubt delayed by the horrible traffic, but it took them a good 10 minutes to enter the stadium (don’t ask me why). I estimated that they were roughly 75 men, women, and kids strong – not too bad for a Tuesday evening game (and a 277 km drive!).

As a European, who has been around some tough crowds, I find it very funny how some people in the US react to the Timbers Army; as if they are the Chelsea Firm. J Around me various people got worked up over the few provocative songs and curses that the Army threw around.

As a groundhopper, and loner, I kept my space among the home fans and waited for the Timbers to make me cheer. And this almost happened in the first minute, when the Pumas goalie bravely saved a good chance for the visitors. Little did I know that this would be the best Timbers chance of the first half.

The hosts reacted swiftly, having their first header (somewhat) on goal the next minute. After that the chances would become fewer, as most of the game was between the two penalty boxes, with the lower-ranked Pumas easily holding their own against the fairly lame Timbers. There was little pressure on the ball and players, which obviously helped the Pumas, while the passing of the Timbers was sub-standard. I guess this game wasn’t very high on their list of priorities, or they simply assumed they could win in without much effort. Hence, a well-deserved 0-0 half time score.

As the Timbers Army used half time to change sides, in the hope to be behind the goal where the goals would be, forcing the home fans to switch too, I got myself a chili dog and found the memorial of the stadium, in a corner, commemorating those Bremertonians fallen since WW I. Nice that this can be respected in a football stadium.

Like the first half had, the second half started with a vengeance. Before the Pumas even knew they were back on the pitch, the Timbers had scored the 0-1. It all looked very easy and made me wonder why they hadn’t done this before. The Timbers directly sat back, but it took the Pumas almost 10 minutes to overcome the shock. In the 54th minute they had a good attack, but the goal was canceled because of offside. Just two minutes they had an almost identical attack, but this time it was shot wide.

Although the Pumas were the busiest team on the pitch, the Timbers did have the better opportunities to score. Most were screwed up either at the stage of the end pass or of the finish. Some were stopped by the loud, but skilful goalie of the Pumas.

As I was already heading over to the scoreboard to take my picture of the final score, a Pumas defender headed the ball too softly back to his goalie, and the Timbers striker got between them and coolly lobbed the ball over the unfortunate goalie: 0-2 in the 89th minute. Barely one minute later, in extra time, a frustrated Pumas defender makes a rough tackle in the box, although there was no pressure on the goal, and the referee gave a penalty.

Even though 0-3 looks like a clear victory, I must say that I was rather impressed by the Pumas and disappointed by my Timbers. Sure, they didn’t try hard, and the Pumas are clearly not an average PDL team, but a team like the Timbers, who want to play MLS in 2011, should play much better against this type of opposition. I saw very few good combination or attacks, and overall a lame performance. Fortunately, the players did come over to thank the Timbers Army for coming out to support them.

The Kitsap Pumas are definitely worth a visit if you are in the Northwest. There is something authentic about them, even if the small-town fair atmosphere is a bit odd at a football game. Be prepared to drive for a long time, however, as Bremerton is in the ass end of the US. I was back in Eugene at 2 AM, tired but quite satisfied.

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