Timbers crowd mixes together bit of everything

Commentary: Brian T. Smith

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Always trust the ticket scalper.

When you want to know the truth or feel the pulse, the scalper is the source.

And the scalper spoke with passion and pride Wednesday, while holding up a cardboard “I want tickets” sign outside PGE Park in downtown Portland

“It’s beautiful,” the scalper said.

And it was.

Buzzing green-and-yellow clad Portland Timbers fans streamed into the stadium, buried in soccer scarves and buoyed by a wave of excitement and anticipation.

There was a clear sky. A fading but still bright sun. A light breeze. And it wasn’t baseball or football or basketball that drew the constant beating of footsteps and the ceaseless chatter of conversation. It was soccer.

Soccer that had beaming small children dressed from neck to toes in all-green gear. Soccer that had skinny-jeans kids and tie-dyed adults singing the same song and shouting the same cheer.

The Timbers tied Minnesota 2-2 Wednesday during a United States Soccer Federation Division 2 Professional League match.

But, ultimately, the score and the outcome were absolutely meaningless. The only number you need to know: 15,418. That’s how many children and adults, hardcore Timbers Army devotees and first-timers set foot inside PGE. And that’s how many people it takes to create an atmosphere that more than once sparked and soared.

Ten minutes before the ball first crossed midfield, the Army stood strong. Drums beat. Banners and flags waved. And thick-tongued, at times indistinguishable chants washed through rows of plastic seats and well-worn concrete.

Nothing was at stake. Nothing was even happening. But the Army sang.

By 7:05 p.m., the walk-up line for game-day tickets was 10 people deep. Minutes later, the non-Army side of the stadium had joined the cause. Seated, yes. More reserved, certainly. But eyes still followed the ball and hands still quickly clapped in approval.

Nothing about it felt nor looked like what good, old-fashioned Americans once knew as “soccer.” It was more like college basketball. Even more like the thrill and occasional chill that is felt while taking in Friday Night Lights.

“Over there it’s so quiet. Over here it’s a riot. Walking along, singing our song, singing in a Timbers wonderland,” sang the Army.

And, by God, did they sing.

At the 60:37 mark, the Timbers got a break with a penalty kick.

“Penalty kick?” asked an Army supporter, whose conversation with a fellow comrade caused him to miss the action.

“Yeah,” replied an Army brethren.

“Woo hoo hoo!” said the first, who quickly began dancing around in a circle, pulling off something resembling an off-key Irish Jig.

Then the kick sailed through the air and dashed into the far left-corner of the net. It was 2-1, and the party was on. The Cameron Crazies, Rip City at its finest and your all-time favorite neighborhood bar rolled into one. The Army jumped skyward and clapped in unison. A much-too-enormous flag was passed over reaching hands. And during what technically was just another minor league soccer game, an undisputable celebration of all things momentary, brief and overwhelmingly joyous broke out.

It was thrilling. Energizing. Catching, contagious and sometimes crazy.

It was an event. Something to witness and definitely something to feel.

It was soccer. In Portland.

And it’s just the start.

“I can’t wait til next year,” the scalper said.

Brian T. Smith is a sportswriter for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or brian.smith@columbian.com. Read his Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter