Merritt Paulson/Paul Allen Mad Libs
Kristin Leichner is driving toward the unthinkable.
She’s been attending Trail Blazers basketball games since 1996, when her family used earnings from its trash-hauling company to buy season tickets at the Rose Garden. She added her own seat five years ago.
But last weekend, Leichner found herself driving up Interstate 5, all the way into Canada, to watch a game—not her beloved basketball, but soccer.
Last year, Leichner purchased season tickets to the Portland Timbers, the city’s ascending Major League Soccer franchise. Those tickets don’t include games out of town, of course, but her growing passion for the Timbers inspired the five-hour drive to British Columbia to watch her new team’s Oct. 6 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I used to look at Timbers games as a social event to fill the months where there were no Blazer games,” Leichner says. “Now I’m going to root on my team.”
For more than four
decades, there was no question which professional team owned Portland.
The Blazers were the core of any local sports fan’s identity.
WW Asks: If you could have one free ticket to a Portland sports game,
which one would you choose?
Bill Walton, Bill Schonely, Clyde the Glide: These legends gave the city a rallying point, and offered a place on the national stage. (They were often the only thing outsiders knew about Portland.) Even the low points—the Jail Blazer arrests, the bad draft picks, the calamitous injuries—were misery shared with company.
The Timbers? The soccer team was an eccentric interest that crested now and again, in a series of leagues too obscure to take seriously. Sure, the rambunctious Timbers Army made things interesting—if you liked circuses and sing-alongs where the sporadic game might break out.
But this fall, as the basketball and soccer seasons overlap, a funny thing has happened: The Timbers have overtaken the Blazers as Portland’s hot ticket, and are poised to usurp the title of Stumptown’s signature sport.
Soccer just seems hipper. The oddities of the game—its Eurocentric flavor, its reliance on crowd participation, its appeal to mustachioed baristas—dovetail with the rise of a young downtown culture.
And most importantly, the team is really good. Coach Caleb Porter has taken the players’ strengths—the acrobatics of Darlington Nagbe, the scrappiness of Will Johnson, and the reliability of Donovan Ricketts, to name only three—and forged a high-octane powerhouse.
Meanwhile, the Blazers are entering another rebuilding season, still trying to rebound from the double whammy of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s wrecked knees. (Top draft pick CJ McCollum has already broken his foot.) The basketball arena may have a new name—the much-derided Moda Center—but everything else, from the uncertain quality of the team to the suburban cheesiness of the McMuffin giveaway, feels deflatingly familiar.
Portland now has two major-league teams. We have other sports—the Winterhawks can point to their junior-league hockey championships, and the minor-league-baseball Hillsboro Hops are adorable. But for sports that bring national networks to town, the choice boils down to basketball or soccer.
The fight for the hearts—and dollars—of Portland fans is now a legitimate contest.
In the articles linked at the top and bottom of the article (or collected here), we look at the teams represented by Blaze the Trail Cat and Timber Joey. WW has asked some of the city’s most passionate fans to make the case for their sport’s supremacy. We’ve analyzed the contest by the numbers. We’ve compared the fat-cat owners. And we concluded…well, we’re not going to give away the final score.
As for Leichner, she’ll still pick the Blazers over the Timbers every time.
Unless the Timbers are in a playoff match.
Then it’s a whole new ball game.
Merritt Paulson/Paul Allen Mad Libs