Tough day at the home office for Timbers
Is this the new normal?
Local rules allowed for 25% capacity at Providence Park on Sunday, May 9 for the Timbers' home game against the Seattle Sounders. That's about 6,000 fans.
Perhaps a few hundred of them were supporting Seattle, presumably having bought tickets on the secondary market. Tickets are offered first to home season ticket holders in a mad 10 a.m. scramble online.
Timbers fans Haz Jafari and Annie Borton are regulars in the North End at Providence Park. On Sunday they were sitting on the west stand. Just as the players came out for the noon kick off, they noticed how quiet it felt.
"It's usually packed for hours, it's kinda crazy," said Borton, of the derby game experience she is used to.
Jafari got the tickets from her husband via SeatGeek as a Mother's Day gift.
"I see less Seattle fans," noted Jafari. "And it's nice not having lines for beer and food."
A few blocks over were Melissa Moore and Daly Keov. These Sounders fans moved to Portland from Seattle just before the pandemic. They live in the St. Clair building next to Providence Park.
"It'd be kind of fun, we wanted to come, even if it's a Timbers game, because we love the game," said Moore, of living within spitting distance of Providence Park. "So this is our first game here (since moving.)"
The couple have been to the derby at Portland before, so they know what to expect.
"Hey, just having fans, that's all that matters," said Keov, an Emerald City Supporters group member who goes by nickname Diggety. "My voice, it echoes. I'm loud, bro."
"Just having some fans makes the difference," said Moore, who got her tickets from StubHub. The teams discourage away fan travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they had no trouble getting tickets. "It's pretty available," she confessed.
Diggety's resonant voice may have inspired the Sounders as they cruised to a 2-1 win over the Timbers. A smattering of Sounders fans applauded their goalkeeper, Stefan Frei, as he saved a Diego Valeri penalty in the 56th minute. Frei seemed to have forgotten the rule that he can move but not come off his line before the ball is kicked, and it had to be retaken. Sounders fans howled again as Valeri seemed to have forgotten the rule that the penalty taker can't touch the rebound from the post or bar before another player has touched it. Valeri hit the post then slotted home the rebound, and looked surprised when no goal was given and instead, it was a free kick to Seattle.
Minutes later the game got worse for the Timbers when Raul Ruidiaz, who often torments the Timbers, converted a penalty at the other end. He gloated in front of the North End, pointing his thumbs to the name on the back of his shirt.
The Timbers lost goalie Jeff Attinella to a freak injury and he was replaced by the 6-foot-7, 19-year-old Alaskan Hunter Sulte, making his debut. Then Portland's old nemesis came on as a sub. Fredy Montero was greeted with the chant that has followed him since 2010. Within a minute he popped up and headed the winning goal into the North End. The Sounders lashed in a third past Sulte but it was disallowed for offside, and Bill Tuiloma scored a beautiful free kick for the Timbers in the 95th minute, which raised the temperature but ultimately meant little more than a log slice at the end of the customary unvictory lap.
Although fans were scattered about the stadium because of social distancing and ticket availability, the Timbers fans were loud enough on the day to generate moments of derby day atmosphere. For instance, a 43rd minute attack into the North End by the Timbers and the subsequent corner taken by Valeri raised the pulse momentarily, as did Tuiloma's goal a minute before the end, but generally this was a bad day at the office for Timbers fans. If anyone tried, "You are my Sunshine" and "Can't Help Falling in Love" did not catch on at the usual times.
After the whistle, residents of Everett, Washington, Ross Felt and his wife Carla were quietly celebrating. They got their tickets from Seat Geek as a mother's day present from their son.
"It was enjoyable, a little bit quiet when we were leading," said Carla. They have been to this derby in Portland several times. "Normally it's such a loud noise between the two teams. Not being able to sit in our usual section of the stadium was not good." Ross Felt added, "We like to do the away games, they're more experience, Portland and Vancouver, they are the best to come to, the Cascadia Cup is the best, in all the MLS."
They said could have sat elsewhere but the cost was a lot more, and their son was paying. Could they have walked over to the Seattle corner?
"We could have but we wanted to respect the rules of social distancing of Providence Park," said Ross. His wife added, "The game was pretty fun, but I felt bad for their keeping going down. But hey, a victory to me is a victory. This put us in first place, which is exciting and fun."
10 a.m. call
Under the clock on the MAX train side of Providence Park afterwards, Timbers fans Tyler Lewis and Daniel Koberstein were quietly discussing the loss. They went to the last two Timbers home games this season, plus Dallas for the 4-1 mauling last week. Koberstein said they went to Dallas "because things were shut down here so we took the opportunity to go someplace where things were open," said Lewis. "In Dallas, it was pretty relaxed, it seemed to be more of a 'You decide' attitude."
"They skipped a couple of seats every group (in Dallas)," said Koberstein. "Not many masks being worn, very personal responsibility, if you want to you can, everyone is accepted either way, it was nice."
They sat in the North End for the Seattle game, and although the atmosphere was lacking, Lewis was still pleased. "It was nothing like normal, it'll be nice when the (Timbers) Army is there in full. It's nice to at least be back in the building with other fans, so we can have a little bit of the same type of environment."
After that second goal went it, that really deflated the stadium," said Koberstein. "A missed penalty, doesn't help things when you're a quarter full. Very different vibe. We didn't have any big Seattle away section this year, it's always fun yelling at them from across the stadium, kind of missed that one."
As season ticket holders, they made a point to be online at 10 a.m. to buy their tickets. The seat dots on the stadium map vanished with every refresh and were gone in minutes. They'll be back though. "We'll be at it again tomorrow." said Koberstein.
(Note: Fans agreed to lower their masks briefly for this story for socially distanced photos).
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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