We just won the league! We just won the league..
Instead of a simple match report (which is pretty meaningless since everyone reading this would have seen the match, in person or on TV), I am going to document what the entire day was like, as the entire experience from start to finish was a magical culmination of my 15 years following the Timbers, from the first USL game in 2001 to finally taking the cup this past Saturday in Columbus.
First of all, I never had any doubt the Timbers were going to win this game. Any fans I talked to this week can attest to the fact that I told them this. The Sporting Kansas City match was the only playoff matchup that scared me, I thought it was a tossup and this proved to be true. The Vancouver series I knew was over before it started, especially since we had two home games. The Dallas series scared me a bit, I thought we had a 60-40 chance of winning but had little doubt after Nat Borchers scored the third goal in Portland. But I never thought for a second the Timbers were going to lose the MLS Cup Final, so for me, the entire day was a celebration of what was going to happen, and then later in the day, of what did.
Driving down Interstate 71 from Cleveland to Columbus on Sunday morning was like driving I-5 north on a Cascadia match weekend. At every rest stop there were Timbers fans around, and I saw several (rental) cars pass with Timbers fans in them, or scarves in the window, or flags hanging out the window. When I got to the stadium at about noon there were probably 1000 fans at the gathering in the parking lot. By 1pm I’d say there were 2000, by the time I went into the stadium at just before 2, I’d say there were 2500 at least.
Despite the fact that the huge gathering meant there were long lines for everything, it was an amazing experience for me just to meet so many of the Timbers fans who were there in 107 ten years ago, when the momentum for the Timbers support really started to uptick, after several years of hard times when the team was getting so little attention that even the Oregonian stopped covering them. Seeing all these familiar faces, many of whom I had not seen in years because they had moved to other parts of the stadium during the MLS era, or now lived in other parts of the US and even overseas, was a very special part of the experience and there were lots of hugs all around.
I got my press pass and went into the stadium at just after 2 and spent the next two hours wandering the stadium, talking to lots of Timbers fans, and many Crew SC (don’t call us the Crew) fans who were very accommodating and were great hosts.
When Diego Valeri scored 27 seconds into the match I didn’t even see it. I looked down after the passback was fiddling with my camera settings when I heard the Timbers Army behind me roar and the bench off their feet and the Timbers running to the corner to celebrate. After taking a bunch of celebratory photos I waited for the replay board in the stadium to show the reply. They never did.
Then seven minutes later (after the assistant referee went momentarily blind) the Timbers doubled their lead when Rodney Wallace laid out fully for a devastating header. The roar of the Timbers Army made it feel like a home game and then when Wallace headed to the corner in celebration (which happens to be in front of the Nordecke, the Crew SC supporters group, beer cans and bottles rained down on the pitch.
Once again the replay was not played on the scoreboard. They don’t do that for road teams, apparently.
When the Crew SC pulled back a goal in the 17th minute, the scoreboard did replay the goal, several times, and it made for a nervous last 73 minutes but the Timbers never allowed another shot on goal, and after four minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew as Adam Kwarasey boomed a goal kick into the middle of the pitch, and the Timbers had finally claimed their first major trophy, in all four of their incarnations, and were the 2015 MLS Cup Champions!
I tried to snap as many photos as I could of the elation that was in the stands and on the pitch. I snuck out onto the pitch during the celebration and was promptly kicked off the field by security. 20 seconds later I was back on the pitch and saw Timbers COO Mike Golub who I congratulated and hugged and he told me he wanted me on the pitch taking photos when I told him I had been kicked off. Two minutes later I was kicked off again, then back on the pitch 30 seconds later. I found and congratulated Merritt Paulson, Gavin Wilkinson, Sean McAuley, Chris Metz, Cameron Knowles, Adin Brown, Nick Mansueto, Marc Kostic, and many others I don’t remember. I didn’t have a chance to congratulate Caleb Porter but he was always busy and I really don’t know him, but to be in the middle of the celebration was a special moment. Cameron Knowles even used my camera to take a picture of myself holding my TA scarf in front of the traveling fans.
I got kicked off the pitch one more time but was back on after 30 seconds and never got kicked off again.
I also gathered up some of the green and yellow confetti that went off at the end of the game and it will be a treasured memento of the night. If I had been thinking more clearly and had the chance I would have gathered a trashbag full and gave a piece out to each Timbers fan leaving the stadium later that night.
To those who’ve been with the team since 1975, and to those of us who’ve been around since the founding of the USL team and the Timbers Army in 2001, to those who joined along the way in the USL days, to those who came on when we went MLS, to those who have joined since, and to those dear fans we lost along away (including my mom, who had become a huge Timbers fans but passed away in July), I can only say..
We did it!!!