Of course, this week I’ve been watching the replay of last week’s Timbers match, and have been doing so intermittently rom the moment the torrent finished downloading, four and a half hours after the match ended last week. I’ve been doing this with every Timbers match since at least September, roughly once a week lulling myself to sleep after attempting to soak up every single detail of this highly improbably Cup run by my beloved Portland Timbers.
I’ll admit that typing this out makes me feel horrendously juvenile; it shines light on an uncomfortable, loving, devoted, at times one-dimensional relationship I have to a corporate entity that happens to share my hometown and my favorite colors. But I’m pretty sure we all see through this elaborate ruse to blithely dismiss the relationship I have to the local institution that has, for better or worse, neatly reflected the last ten years of my life. I rode the MAX from Beaverton to stand in the half-full section of 107. I sat in my college dorm watching a buffering internet stream while the team managed to find another way to woefully lose to the Seattle Sounders. I studied abroad, walked a kilometers through a Cape Town township to find an internet café that could tell me all about the team’s official announcement they were moving to the MLS. I returning to Portland after college, and spent my first Real Paycheck on a season ticket. I traveled to New York, DC, Vancouver, (three times), Seattle (nine times, at least), and beyond to join friends and families at Away Game performances. I’ve had a date on my Google Calender every other week to drink local beer, stand with my friends and family, and wear the same fan-designed scarves and hats I once snuck into a bar to buy from a dude I met off the internet. I carry my Timbers Army scarf with me as a totemic symbol, a secular rosary, a pacific northwest amulet of all I love about my city, my family, my friends, and the life I’ve been attempting to mete out for myself. And so, after years of mediocrity and heartbreak and under performing, the crummy little team that used to play in a baseball stadium is on the doorstep of an MLS Cup, at the exact moment that it feels like Portland is suddenly a Big League Town and everyone in my life is grappling with all the emotional tension of the uncertainty that rising rents, changing landscapes, and growing up entail.
There’s this brief moment caught on camera where Darlington Nagbe gives a most exuberant, stunned, proud back slap to Dairon Asprilla amidst the smoke bombs, flags, and celebrations in the second half. Asprilla had just scored the grandest, most absurd volley from outside the box, and incidentally, it was only feet from where Darlington Nagbe had scored *his* first goal on a similarly tremendous volley over four years ago. The curling strike put the Timbers in the drivers’ seat as they rolled towards a 3–1 victory in the Western Conference Finals, ninety minutes away from a birth in the MLS Cup. Asprilla, a twenty-something kid from Colombia who doesn’t speak much English and has ridden the bench a continent away from his home for the past season waiting for his chance, was thrust onto the big stage after yellow card accumulation to the two players ahead of him on the depth chart brought him onto the pitch, and he turned a minor defensive lapse from the opposition into maybe the Greatest Timbers Goal Scored All Time.
The team tries to mob him in jubilant celebration, but he holds them off, instead opting to call over Diego Chara, his diminutive, feisty Colombian compatriot, to join him in dancing the cumbia, the traditional dance of their shared background, and are joined by the Nigerian Target Forward, the Mercurial/Pretty Boy Argentinian Striker, and the Scrappy Mexican American leftback who got his MLS start from a reality television show.
After showing the replay of the goal dozens of times, the cameras pan back to Dairon. Daintily jogging up field wearing a look of emotional overload, Dairon grabs at the trim of his forest-green shirt to wipe away the tears streaming down his face.
This is the very moment where he runs past Nagbe, and while we’re at it, a few words on Darlington. The Timbers #6 is as humble and gracious and earnest as a generational athlete can be, his maddeningly reserved demeanor a point of frustration for Timbers fans who have waited for years to see a more flagrant, rude, cold-blooded player that capitalized on his graceful ball control, his serene, nimble agility. This is Darlington Nagbe, the first player the MLS side chose out of the inaugural draft and one of only four players that’s been with the club for the highest highs and lowest lows through the entirety of our run in the big leagues. He’s been on the pitch for virtually every Seattle match, every last second goal, every fuckup with our Centerbacks. His explosive potential, his clear uncertainty with how to grapple with his raw skills, his obvious lack of comfort of playing the role of the leader of the squad but his undeniably deadly precise ball handling and passing skills the wonder of the league. He’s grown up with the team, moving his girlfriend out to Portland when he was signed, proposing to her on top of Council Crest, posting incessant photos of their perfect daughter and growing family on Instagram. His surging performance in the new position drawn for him on the team led him to get a call up for the US Men’s National Team Qualifier, meaning the Liberian-refugee child that found himself in Akron Ohio might be on his way to representing the stars and stripes in the next World Cup, and he’ll have made a name for himself in the friendly confines of the same stadium I’ve attended soccer matches since I was 15 years old.
But this moment with Asprilla! There’s this knowing glance when Nagbe gives this proud, playful shove to the sobbing Dairon Asprilla, as they soak in the moment they’ve created, the latest cliff-hanger episode of the best televised soap opera you could ever want to follow. And Asprilla points to the sky, wipes his tears, and looks out at the fans. The Timbers Army are in furious meltdown, with billowing clouds of green smoke dispersed by the frantic waving of flags. And incredibly varied and different of lives as Misters Nagbe, Asprilla, and myself may have lived, at that moment, we’re all in that stadium together, we’re all giving or receiving back slaps to our friends that we’re watching succeed and grow up, and we’re all wearing that same forest green color synonymous with this club and with the west hills that blanket the stadium and this city we call home.
Anyway, I hope the Timbers win today. Onward Rose City. #rctid