Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In Which the Timbers and Sounders Go Head-to-Head in Game-Day Experience

It's enough that they thought this looked good EVER.
Someone actually noticed that I never posted a review of the Portland Timbers death-bed win over the Colorado Rapids (which somehow convinced me that my funeral might not be a total bust). I didn't post because I was out of town this past weekend, in Seattle, actually, for a Sports Weekend. That said, thoughts on Colorado v. Portland will sneak into something going up mid-week...not that anyone’s holding his/her breath...

To get back to Sports Weekend, the Seattle Mariners lost the weekend's first game – which I didn't like – while the Seattle Sounders won the weekend's second game – which I also didn't like. So, close the New York Red Bulls. So close...

During the Sounders game, I spent most of the time comparing/contrasting what I saw, heard, and smelled at the Sounders' CenturyLink Park with what I see, hear, and smell at multiple Timbers' games at Providence Park. Out loud, often as not, and for an audience that started wondering by, oh, the 12th comparison why the Hell I insisted on answering a question no one was asking. Turns out I speak "eye-roll" (Pro-tip: the fifth eye roll warns of impending violence.)

Since I can no longer bombard them with my opinions - they're in their respective cities, while I'm in mine - thank god I've got Conifers 'n' Citrus! Welcome, few readers, to one fan's analysis of the Cascadia battle forever percolating under the surface: Seattle Sounders' Game-Day v. The Portland Timbers' Game-Day. Below, I pit one fan-base/club/stadium against the other across five categories; may the best club win. And, of course, my thumb belongs on one side of the goddamn scale. Stop asking questions....

1) The Stadium: Access and Environs
Solid win for Portland.
First, not only do better bars/restaurants surround Providence Park, they are more of them and they're closer in. It's a longer walk from the bars/restaurants around Centurylink and they're generally worse, in that they feature more of a "high-fiving jock" vibe. Sure, there's Pioneer Square up the road, but that's a longer walk and, at night, full of assholes. The security is tighter at Centurylink as well: every fan gets a metal detector waved across his/her body on the way in with raised arms being mandatory – e.g. with zero, I mean no, sensitivity to those who may or may not have pit stains (ritual humiliation, Seattle? Is that what you do?). Providence Park only asks that fans to open their bags for an inspection that is closer to friendly curiosity about your interests than an attempt to find weapons/bombs/booze (e.g. "Oh, you’re reading that, too?"). It's also no contest aesthetically: Providence Park is cozy* with some clever flair – see the stuff above the east stands, in particular – while Centurylink looks like what it is, e.g. an NFL stadium, with that league’s "flair" for smart style.

2) Convenience
Seattle, and so very, very far from close
In spite of all the upsides laid out below, Providence Park combines the worst aspect of Disneyland with the teeming madness of a third-world capital. Fans wait in line for everything: drinks, food, toilet, The Unknown. Kudos to whomever (finally) installed troughs in the men's rooms, but that's like putting a water fountain in the desert and declaring the whole damn thing habitable. The people pouring the drinks and taking the money at Providence Park seem confused about every aspect of their job, which causes the lines move slowly, and the narrow concourse means that people constantly jostle through and across the back of every single line. In other words, by *"cozy," I mean cramped, tangled, confusing, a little shove-y, and full of people doing the potty-dance. Again, third world...except the stuff about the potty-dance. By contrast, Centurylink was pretty full the day I went, but the drink lines are short and fast and I walked straight to a toilet every time I went. You could park a dozen Escalades across the main concourse...which I think is some kind of reference to a rap song about parking cars on a woman's vastly large booty. Or was it Tahoes? Anyway, tons of room, no lines...so, yeah, solid win for Seattle. Getting around is a snap up there.

3) Spectacle
Portland, by a (big) nose.
Sure, some ritual attends every team's entrance onto the field, but only Seattle's has whiffs of Nuremberg around their entrance (hat-tip on the description to a long-time friend and Sounders fan): the long procession to the field ends by passing through a row of flags; the fans clap in cold, precise unison, arms raised to stiffly the heavens. Apparently, the Sounders have a guy who sings the anthem almost every game, but he was replaced last Sunday in favor of some American Idol/The Voice contestant (maybe; wasn't totally sober at this point), and I suspect his performing of the anthem softens the martial mood a little. The whole thing ends with, again, fireworks firing out of the scoreboards, etc. another card straight out of the NFL playbook (yes, I think the NFL is an aesthetic nightmare). By contrast, the Timbers players just walk out with the opposing team and, famously, regardless of who sings the National Anthem, the Timbers Army (and the stadium as a whole) sings along. This is so ingrained in my head that I no longer hear the National Anthem without a "whoosh!" between every verse. After that, there's the tifo (sometimes, which Portland does better) and the flag-waving and the noise – which I'll pick up below – and, well, all that just looks better in Portland. This is the upside to that small space: the Timbers crowds feel more like an unruly mob straining to get onto the field to join the fight. The way Centurylink opens up to the sky allows too much energy to float away.

4) Noise/Chants/Atmosphere
Portland, again (but small nose this time)
To give credit where it's due, Sounders fans make a hell of a lot of noise. Not constantly, and it sometimes feels, for lack of a better word, regimented, but, given Portland's major advantage of a roof to keep in all that noise, Seattle's fans do a helluva job with the noise. And that is, frankly, goddamn impressive, hats off to them for it. Their chants, though - and this picks up on that adjective "regimented" - generally feel less loose and, I guess, clever, less pop-savvy, than the Timbers Army's. "We're the Timbers Army" or "I Want to Be Rose City" co-opt traditions outside the game and, in that sense, they feel larger and more playful. Sounders chants – especially the clapping – sound a wee militaristic; the call-and-answer stuff for the starting line-up and after a player scores a goal (e.g. Loudspeaker says, "Marco!"; you say, "Pappa!") just says...sports. Again, I blame the NFL (and for everything that I can’t blame on FIFA). And, yes, the roof gives Portland a huge advantage in not just volume, but also the intensity of the sound. Centurylink went pretty goddamn nuts when Clint Dempsey scored the winner on Sunday, but the concrete feels like it’s vibrating under one's feet when the ref dishes a yellow card at Providence Park. The advantage is built-in, but it is no less real for it.

5) Just...Fun
Portland. It's Just Better.
Portland fans are drunker (not that I advocate that...in all cases), rowdier, more tuned in, and more eclectic and interesting to look at on just about every level. Simply put, it's a livelier atmosphere and I think a ton of that has to do with the shape of the stadium; that said, a little credit belongs to who goes. We own "quirky" down here; Seattle, as a city, has priced that shit out of the market. Providence Park's design puts the focus on the field in several ways (e.g. roof, configuration) and the overall...tightness makes the whole thing seethe quite nicely. There's just an edge to a Timbers game that Sounders games lack. Maybe it's something to do with a Sunday game...but I doubt it.

Well, that's it. Yeah, yeah, yeah just a little biased. There was, however, one funny end-note to all this. Just before the game the relationship between Seattle and Portland came up, particularly in terms of the little-sibling resentment that Portland has when it comes to most things Seattle (and if you think that's a myth, you either haven't lived in Portland long enough or you dip a little biscuit of delusion into your morning coffee). I'd never thought about it before, but I think that whole thing evaporates when it comes to the Timbers Army. Every supporters group claims they're "the greatest football supporters that the world has ever seen," but I think the Timbers Army has internalized that to such thorough degree that they don't really view, say, the Emerald City Supporters, or anyone else, as peers.

Take that as you will. Looking forward to getting back in the swing. Hope to post a couple things on Portland before the New England game.

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