Soccer City PDX

May 17, 2014: Portland, Ore.

Portland Timbers 3, Columbus Crew 3

It was a weird, but wonderful birthday present.

Get out of town, my wife said. Go see a soccer game in Portland.

So I did.

Now I’m not a Portland Timbers fan. But I am a soccer fan. And I am a fan of Portland. And the two go very well together.

A lot has been written about the fan experience in Portland. The Timbers Army, et al. It’s pretty much true, and I won’t repeat it.

 

Timbers Army -- European style tifo, without the fascism.
Timbers Army — European style tifo, without the fascism.

 

 

What really pushes the experience over the top, and where Portland and its soccer team got a little lucky, is the stadium.
I first set eyes on what was then Civic Stadium in 1990, the first time I visited Portland, and I was enchanted even then. It was a baseball stadium, but something about the way it was tucked into the Portland street grid connected with me.
But I’d never seen a game there until now.
The Timbers owner persuaded the city to pour some money into the old stadium help induce Major League Soccer to town, and part of the former outfield has been converted into a modern stand on the west side.
But the rest of the stadium is delightfully (unless your view is obstructed) retro.
The layout of the stadium combines with the raucous Timbers fan base for a spot-on live experience. Nirvana for a soccer fan.
The game itself was quite entertaining, with a mix of over-the-top fouls, spectacular goals, and gutsy comebacks.

When all was said and done, though, I wasn’t sure how much of a deep impact the Timbers have made on the larger community. Was this support deep, but narrow?
I think I got an answer the next morning, when I stopped at an industrial size breakfast operation, out in the suburbs near the airport, far from the yuppies of the Pearl and the Portlandia characters in Southeast.
I had my Sunday Oregonian open to the sports section, reading about the game, and the server started chatting about the game, and how the Timbers were struggling this year.
I don’t think that would even happen in an eatery across the street from the San Jose Earthquakes’ stadium
On that basis, I’ll say the Timbers have broken through.

Hard proof not everything was updated when Portland renovated the stadium.
Hard proof not everything was updated when Portland renovated the stadium.

The Bad Side: After Powell’s brutal foul, had to spend the next hour listening, over and over, to the bozo behind me complain to his friends about how the ref had blown the call and was biased against the Timbers. This is why Portland supporters are the Vancouver Canuck fans of Major League Soccer.

Postgame Quote of the Year: Portland’s Will Johnson: “We have the heart of the lion, but the brain of goldfish.

Game report here.

Monsters of Ice

Nov. 8, 2013: Fresno, Calif.
Gateway Ice Center
San Diego Gulls 6, Fresno Monsters 5 (2OT)
My unplanned meandering through the lower levels of North American competitive hockey has already led me through Canadian Major Junior and Junior A and U.S. Tier II.
At this point I ought to close the circle. That leaves Tier I and Tier III, but since I had a short weekend to work with the process of elimination led me to the Tier III Fresno Monsters of the Western States Hockey League.
Which may lead readers to the same question I asked myself — what the heck is Tier III? A question I asked again after watching the Monsters play their season opener at what is basically a recreational ice rink without a grandstand.
How do they support a team that was able to play cohesive well-coached hockey, with trappings that include a mascot, without much capacity to sell tickets?
Turns out the answer is simple — the players pay to play.
I didn’t figure that out until after the game, which is just as well as it might have clouded my thoughts to think that these kids’ parents are paying so much to chase what for most will be an elusive dream of a college scholarship. Never mind the NHL.
It was the home opener for the Monsters who were riding high in the standings after several weeks of road games and they played a very disciplined game against the last-place Gulls.
But it was the Gulls that came out on top of the see-saw contest.
A couple things made a difference for the Gulls — differences that highlight some of the factors that have these players in Tier III.
Number one — goalkeeper Brody Cavataio played a terrific game for the Gulls. I almost said ‘played over his head’ but that wouldn’t be nice because, well, he’s not tall, a factor apt to limit his advancement despite his evident competitiveness, reflexes and positioning. Indeed, the Monsters potted their third goal over his shoulder.
X-factor two was the Gulls’ massive Latvian defenseman Kalvis Ozols, who had come over from Europe less than three weeks prior. His uniform was lettered for a guy named Peterson.
Ozols was a man apart in a way I can’t recall ever seeing in competitive hockey. He didn’t really speak to his teammates on the ice, during warmups, or waiting for a whistle.
He basically had only one play: gather up the puck, storm up the ice, cross the blue line, and fire it – hard – at the Monsters’ goal.
And he was terrifically effective, with an assist and two goals, including the overtime game-winner. His raw speed and skill level — despite basically not being able to integrate his play with
his teammates — was an indicator how far they would need to go to rise beyond Tier III.
Hockey Nights in Fresno:
Recent years have been full of bad news about hockey in Fresno and it was far from clear the Monsters would get to play this season.
First Time Experience: Instead of a shootout, after the first overtime the game went to 3-on-3 second overtime. Thanks to Mr. Ozols, there was no need to find out what happens after that.
Nice Touch: The freshly built beer garden at one end of the rink.
My Wife Will Be Happy to Read This: There were no fights.
She Will Be Happy to Read This, Too: Moves are afoot to ban fighting in US junior hockey, according to this New York Times story with a dateline from Fresno of all places.
Odds & Ends: Fresno game report;box score.