Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Portland Timbers’ 2015: The Unexpected Inevitable Run to Glory

It's a rough approximation, but a fair one.
[Author's Note: This will be the last post on Conifers & Citrus. It seems fitting to leave things here, as this blog becomes one story about how the Portland Timbers won MLS Cup. There'll be more about the move at the end. For now, though, let's talk Timbers and 2015.]

I'm not sure how I expected to feel about winning the league. What I do know is that what I did feel is hard to explain. And probably a little unsatisfying.

First, I've been here before, sort of. I fell in with DC United after Major League Soccer's inaugural season, drawn, at least in part, by one of MLS's few non-ridiculous team name/uniform combos (e.g. Dallas Burn, Tampa Bay Mutiny, San Jose Clash; times were not good, and the uniforms, worse). I had moved to DC in 1997, in search of a place to fit (as it happens, I fit DC as snugly as a hand in a shoe). One thing hadn't led to another, at least not directly, but I still bought season tickets and took in just about all the games. Seeing a team win with that kind of consistency was something, at least until it wasn't. All that winning, for lack of a better word...well, it bored me. 1997 wasn't so much a campaign as a coronation: it had all the suspense of a Tom Cruise movie. (Does he win in the end? Of course he does.)

As the Portland Timbers' run went from encouraging to the, uh, motherfucking championship, I assumed that I'd experience something different, something more powerful. I never knew bad times with that DC (there, sniff....wasn't time). Also, it's not truly love till shit has got, however briefly, real – which, here, means continuing to watch a team, even love them, after you've spotted some warts, a trio of stray nasal hairs, and breathed into the reeking pit of halitosis that is your beloved's mouth. When you can look past all that and lay down every night next to that person, maybe even make sweet, sweet love, that's when you get to call it love. Anyway, with those warts, maybe your team, say, failed to reach the post-season one season and then didn't look a whole lot like clearing a lower bar to reach the post-season for much of the following season...stop me if you've heard this somewhere before...

Timbers fans all know what comes next: Portland's players bouncing like sugar-high toddlers in a big bouncy-house (or stadium) in central Ohio with fireworks shooting skyward behind them. They weren't alone, of course, not with 2,000 – 3,000 of friends bouncing right along with them. Meanwhile (roughly) 2,000 miles west, tens of thousands of Portlanders spilled out of bars and other ad hoc venues (e.g. the Crystal Ballroom and Revolution Hall) to raise their voices to the clouded heavens. I sang with some people for a while. And it was good. When Timbers fans stumbled out of the bar across the street, we sang at them a while. And that was good, too. Everyone looked very happy. Social media feeds rattled with disbelief and elation. The best description here is Hemingway-esque: it was good.

As I walked away from the bar that afternoon, hints of that old 1997 boredom followed me all the way to the train and rode with me over that long trip home. All I could think was, why don't I feel as excited as everyone else looked? Did it have something to do with the game?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Columbus Crew v. Portland Timbers: MLS Cup Primer, Enemy Edition

Shh...he's trying not to hear me, so's as not to worry.
I had more research time planned – tonight was to be the day to go deep on the Portland Timbers – but with work buzzing like an angry hive all week, and me spending more time than usual in the office, something had to give. Work pays the bills, this doesn’t, etc. (In its defense, my job benefits include daily reminders of my own, and humanity’s general insignificance. Keeps me grounded...)

Then again, I know these guys, the Timbers. Gods know I’ve spent enough time staring at them, writing about them, and talking about them over drinks. Then there are those spare hours spent spying from the bushes into the Nagbes’ kitchen, the days laying beneath Liam Ridgewell’s deck, listening to him contemplate life, soccer, and Lake Oswego (the lake, mind, not the town, which he does not care for), or the hidey-holes I have in Rodney Wallace’s walk-in closet and Diego Chara’s pantry. Close observation, people: it’s our specialty here at Conifers & Citrus. (What? Disclaimer? We don’t have a legal department, Randall.)

I did a couple mini-games tonight, and fond memories, including last weekend’s massive draw against FC Dallas and the September 26 win over Columbus Crew SC – and, crucially, in Columbus. Such a lovely trip down Memory Lane…more on that later, obviously...

As for Columbus Crew SC, the Timbers’ opponent in MLS Cup 2015…wait, again, HOLY SHIT!! Even with several friends making the pilgrimage to one of the Holy Places of American Soccer, my head’s only two-thirds of the way around this particular reality. Bear with me.

I didn’t have the time I wanted for Columbus, either (I worked late last night, Judy; you saw, you were here…yes, ice cream when I’m done typing.), but I did manage to take a long (90+) minute look at their MLS-Cup clinching win over the New York Red Bulls, plus the three preceding mini-games (just...look it up if you don’t know; there’s a lot below) I feel like I got a fair amount out of all of that – I’m sick to death of the color green right now, if nothing else (e.g. soccer field color) – but I’ve got what I’ve got and, uh, here it is . (I know, Judy; sell myself; I remember the self-confidence seminar…I am affirming every day. OK, most days. The offseason, Judy; I’ll get better then.) Firstly...