- Olivia Schelly
- A group of kids play a game of pickup soccer on Bless Field, a 9000-square foot turf pitch in New Columbia dedicated on Saturday by Timbers Army-affiliated group Operation Pitch Invasion.
You're in the New Columbia neighborhood of North Portland, looking over an empty lot. You see patches of grass and dirt, a few ruts, maybe some rocks. But if you're a kid, you see a place to play. So you grab a ball, round up a few friends and enlist your bikes as makeshift goals—World Cup dreams alive and afoot.
Of course, if you're Operation Pitch Invasion board member Josh Barrett, you imagine even more.
"We stood out on a curb here a couple years ago and could sort of see the future, of what it'd be like to have a field here," Barrett said on a cloudy Saturday morning, looking over newly dedicated Bless Field, a 9,000 square foot, all-weather soccer pitch filled with dozens of running, occasionally yelping kids. "A year ago April, we had zero dollars—and now we're done."
Bless Field is OPI's biggest venture to date. The 501(c)(3) charity—launched in 2011 by Timbers Army financial mitochondrion the 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107ist)—builds, revitalizes and maintains soccer fields throughout metro Portland so "players of all ages and skill levels have high-quality and safe playing surfaces to enjoy the beautiful game."
Bless—named in memory of TA legend Hartmut Bless (AKA "General Timber Howie" AKA the guy on one of Timbers Army's mainstay banners)—is OPI's first capital project and cost $200,000. It's smaller than the pitches being played on across Brazil this month, but with modern FieldTurf and clean, white lines, it looks just as fresh. Located a punt away from both the Boys & Girls Club and Rosa Parks Elementary, Bless will officially open to the public in early July after new grass surrounding the turf is allowed to take hold.
Standing beside a goal after the dedication, OPI/107ist board member Fernando Machicado says it may sound "super cliché," but for him, the field's fruition is nothing less than "a dream come true." As kids ranging from tike to teenager chase the ball and celebrate goals in front of him, "Nando" (as he's better known among TA), says he's especially excited about what the pitch offers a community located within Oregon's most diverse census tract—where 1,200 children from 22 countries speak 11 languages.
"Everybody speaks the language of soccer, especially in this neighborhood," Machicado said. "This is what builds a neighborhood. It builds community, and it builds skill level for different players."
Which is also part of OPI's master plan. (More after the jump!)
After all, Timbers Army are PTFC fans first, so along with giving kids a new place to kick it, they hope their efforts may well seed future homegrown Timbers and Thorns.
"If it's a Timber, I hope it's a center back," joked (kinda) 107ist president Scott Swearingen, whose group donated $50,000 toward the project. The Portland Development Commission chipped in $40,000 more, while the Timbers front office played matchmaker with corporate sponsors and offered financial support of their own. Others stepped up, too, from the landscape architect who offered a free assessment of the empty lot, to the family of a recently deceased Timbers Army member (who donated the pitch's goals), to countless Army rank and file who stuffed singles into jars at fundraising events.
Timbers COO Mike Golub, who during the dedication announced the team's partnership with OPI to help fund similar projects every two years going forward, said it's all part of growing the game.
"We think more of these are not only possible," Golub said, "but made more easy when we're joined at the hip."
And like other TA undertakings, any and all institutional knowledge gained during this project is ready to be put into action for the next. Barrett said his biggest takeaways were clear: "Starting earlier, starting earlier, starting earlier"—especially with a permit process that "has its own pace."
He also said he learned a lesson in balancing the interests of those who want to help with the progress of the project itself.
"One way is to stop and ask and get consensus and check in," Barrett said. "But at some point, you just need to move the ball forward. Good ideas have good support and you can't wait around for everybody to check in."
Which is something the kids playing atop the new field might agree with.
As Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman read from his prepared remarks, a loud "OOOOOOOH" rang out from the bustling pitch. One of the bigger boys had just smashed a shot off the post from past midfield, a howler that even a few of the parents watching Saltzman's speech turned their heads to see.
Saltzman continued. The parents looked back to the stage. The kids just kept playing.