Playing their Major League Soccer home opener last night, the Portland Timbers were easily recognized in their green and yellow.
But everything else last night at newly christened Jeld-Wen Field seemed newer and larger than ever in the context of Portland's long soccer history. From the heavy downpour and the banners to the national telecast on ESPN2 and the high scoring in Portland's 4-2 victory over Chicago, the Timbers didn't just break ground in MLS—They threw a party.
The Timbers Army justified its allotment of 16 sections—more than an hour before kickoff, only a few nosebleed seats remained.
Many fans in the standing-room crowd stuck out the deluge in Timbers ponchos. Festivities began with ceremonial banners of each MLS team being displayed on the field, with Portland's leading the lot. Fireworks were shot off and the Timbers unveiled an elaborate three-piece banner spanning the Timbers Army seating. Backdropped against a yellow sky in the banners were pictures of the Steel Bridge, Mount Hood and the Fremont Bridge.
"I don't think I've seen an atmosphere like that in American soccer history," Timbers coach John Spencer said. "I thought it was tremendous."
Spencer said the team kept its locker room doors open during pregame to let players acclimate to the sound of the stadium. The team feared such a boisterous crowd might rattle the players at the start of the game.
Instead the Timbers attacked early and often. Home fans were let down in the 12th minute by a re-called goal from Kenny Cooper off a corner kick from Jack Jewsbury. But Portland capitalized on a slick field and the speedy Jorge Perlaza, who broke into the open field and scored the first MLS goal in Jeld-Wen Field history in the 29th minute. Taking its first lead of the season against the Chicago Fire.
The Timbers followed up with a second goal off a deep shot in the 37th minute by defender Rodney Wallace, who used a thicket of players in front of the goalie to obscure the shot and prevent a save attempt.
By halftime league commissioner Don Garber was holding court in the press box discussing his surprise at Portland's instant success. The fan support, passion and—most of all—attendance will help strengthen not just the Timbers franchise but teams across the league, according to Garber.
Perlaza scored his second goal less than four minutes into the second half to give Portland a 3-0 lead. But then Chicago tightened the screws, with the Fire's Marco Pappa dashing Portland's clean sheet in the 65th minute and Chicago ratcheting up the pressure with a second goal in the 80th minute.
But No. 1 Timbers draft pick Darlington Nagbe entered the game in the 82nd minute and revitalized the crowd. Mere seconds later Mamadou Danso was credited with a goal in a scrum at the goal line to put Portland up 4-2.
The Fire couldn't manage a threatening attack after that, and a still-packed stadium erupted at game's end. After clearing the field the Timbers squad returned, acknowledging all sides of the field and and receiving a standing ovation.
(Photo by Natalie Behring)