BY TYLER NGUYEN
The Timbers Army was in full voice on Saturday night, but they left most of their colors at home.
The ongoing dispute between Major League Soccer and the Timbers Army over the league's policy designating the antifascist Iron Front symbol as an inappropriate political sign had its third televised episode in the Timbers match against Sporting Kansas City.
The normally colorful North End of Providence Park featured no flags and no goal smoke in protest of three game bans handed down to supporters who flew Iron Front flags at the Timbers' previous match.
On August 23, the Timbers Army, along with its Seattle counterparts Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC, staged a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of their rivalry match in recognition of the 1933 banning of the Iron Front in Nazi Germany. The move had a significant effect on the famous Timbers atmosphere and provoked a response from Merritt Paulson, who had a heated exchange with fans after the game.
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Then on Aug. 31, against Real Salt Lake, the Army cheered as normal but produced several Iron Front flags, again at the 33rd minute.
This week, the league issued three-game bans issued to those identified as waving the flags. One of the banned? Abram Goldman-Armstrong, the owner of Cider Riot, the bar where Patriot Prayer members attacked antifascists in a riot that led to the felony indictment of Joey Gibson and five associates. (The Oregonian first reported Goldman-Armstrong's ban earlier Saturday.)
Goldman-Armstrong, a longtime supporter of the Timbers, has previously been featured in Timbers marketing material in the past, including a billboard outside of the stadium.
In response to the bans, the Timbers Army issued a statement saying, "Timbers Army will fly no flags of any sort or deploy any smoke for goal celebrations this Saturday." Instead they announced that they would be meeting "members of Front Office [along] with several social justice organizations that specialize in protecting marginalized communities in Oregon. We welcome a discussion of the bans, as well as the larger issues we are concerned about — namely, how to ensure that the stadium and the streets are safe and welcoming for marginalized groups." (This included hosting a guided tour at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education on Saturday a few hours before the game.)
Tonight the North End, typically adorned wall to wall with banners celebrating the players, was relatively sparse but for a large display proclaiming "YOU CAN'T STOP US," a proclamation in support of the MLS Players Association, and a banner with three raised fists holding axes with the caption "IRON WILL, UNITED FRONT."
MLS has previously warned the Army that variations on the Iron Front would be considered in violation of the policy, after fans flew a banner of the Portlandia statue holding a spear whose tip bore a resemblance to three downward pointing arrows at an away game. While Merritt Paulson allegedly confirmed to fans present that he had no issue with this particular variation, MLS may rule otherwise.
The Timbers Army has maintained that their dispute is not with the Timbers but the league. Choosing visual protest tonight, instead of keeping quiet, seemed like an olive branch toward Paulson and the front office.
Despite some atypical quiet in the prematch preparations, the noise proceeded as normal once the Timbers hit the field, with the Army belting out their rendition of Bella Ciao, a song sung by Italian antifascist partizans in WWII, in the 33rd minute. A late winner in stoppage time turned the crowd up to maximum volume.