Scoff if you must, but soccer suits Portland

Commentary: Greg Jayne

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PORTLAND — You may scoff if you must.

You may scoff at soccer, scoff at the lack of scoring, scoff at the ethos of the game, which demands patience in place of instant gratification.

But first you should talk with Abram Goldman-Armstrong.

“It’s not a spectator sport per se,” the Timbers Army mainstay said. “You’re participating.

“It’s the excitement of the game, the pace. If you look away, you’ll miss something.”

In a nation that is addicted to commercial breaks, the attraction of soccer might sound like anathema. Yet as Goldman-Armstrong spoke, two hours before the Portland Timbers played their inaugural home game as an MLS club, his words rang true.

That is, if you tend to believe somebody who is a 32-year-old mountain of a man and works in deconstruction (tearing things down) and gets paid to write about beer and is wearing a kilt (“I break it out for special games; it felt like the right thing to do tonight”).

If that resumé doesn’t make you think that Goldman-Armstrong might be the coolest person on earth, then maybe soccer isn’t for you.

But a lot of people find it irresistible, which explains why they packed Jeld-Wen Field on Thursday. Which explains how Portland arrived at a moment in history when it has no professional baseball team and one major-league soccer team.

The “major-league” designation can be debated, as the TV ratings for MLS remain minuscule. But in a land where the Kardashians can dominate the television schedule, can ratings really be regarded as an arbiter of taste?

So, scoff if you must. But first you should understand that perhaps no city in America is as suited for an MLS team as Portland.

Think about it. Portland is utterly determined to remake itself as a European city. It is addicted to building light-rail tracks, has a penchant for bike paths, and thinks it’s cool to have bumper stickers that read, “Keep Portland Weird.”

There’s no better fit for soccer.

“Portland is very trendy,” said Brian Berger, host of Sports Business Radio. “It’s very hip and cool to be a Timbers fan. When your fans hold the torch for you, it can grow your business. Portland is young, and it’s tech-savvy.”

And so they came Thursday, lining up by the thousands hours before kickoff. They came with painted faces and Timbers shirts, and long Timbers scarfs. Lots of scarfs. Trust me, if you’re smart you’ll invest in a scarf-making company. And they sang their songs and chanted their chants.

“It’s just the excitement of going up to the next level,” 25-year-old Bobby Klein said of Portland’s arrival in MLS. “The connection of soccer is that when the original Timbers came to town, they did a great job of setting up youth soccer. I’ve been playing soccer my entire life.”

Therein lies the secret. Soccer has a stranglehold on the youth of America, and it’s not about to let go.

So scoff if you must. But be aware that the MLS is going to be a huge hit in Portland.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne