You knew they'd respond. You figured they'd go big. And when the Timbers Army finally showed its card, they played it like it was an unbeatable hand.
The question is: Were the players watching?
After Seattle fans commemorated the rivalry's first Major League Soccer meeting in May with a mammoth nine-part tifo display at Qwest Cent-uryLink Field, Portland's most ardent sports zealots answered with "the King of Clubs."
The 17,000-square-foot ornate playing card and background signage ("PTFC" for Portland Timbers Football Club and "Quality over Quantity" in reference to each team's stadium and city) wasn't nearly a large as Seattle's. The Emerald City's entry showcased the Sounders' most legendary figures—through "Decades of Dominance," as it read—along with a Sounders-logo-tattooed arm crushing the Timbers' crest and a dying rose. Clever.
As if that weren't enough paint and obnoxiously colored canvas, the epic kicker arose: A towering portrait of Portland's most reviled foe, Sounders forward Roger Levesque, photo-bombing the entire thing.
Portland's response was smaller, yes, but more richly detailed. And it broadened the display's scope from merely honoring its team to paying homage to its city. The last-to-rise playing card had it all: Crowns of roses, thorns, and hops atop Kings with tiny mustaches and hipster locks, plus chevrons, axes, old-school soccer balls, and even the city of Portland's river-depicting flag.
The TA had done its part. The team? Well, that's a whole other deal. The Timbers themselves struggled to live up to their Army's adoration, squandering two leads on their way to a wrenching 3-2 defeat in the 76th meeting between the clubs. And despite the fact their team is now mired in a seven-match winless skid and sitting second-to-last in the West, Portland supporters are happy to wave their sheets to the wind.
And good thing, too. As the Timbers flounder, Portland's relentless fans have taken center stage.
"Pre-game was a super show," said coach John Spencer. "Obviously, the fans put a lot of work and a lot of time into it. Just disappointed we couldn't give them something in return."
What the club's given lately is a far cry from the first five MLS matches on the home docket (all wins), and once-budding postseason hopes are shriveling amid seven straight winless matches. Worse yet, the Timbers start the second half of their inaugural MLS season on Saturday at Chicago, and 10 of their final 17 matches will be on the road—where Portland has yet to win.
After seemingly working through some kinks (yielding early goals, allowing late goals, surrendering goals in bunches, ceding stoppage-time goals), new defensive bad habits emerged against Seattle just when the offense showed life.
"I think lack of confidence is the habit right now," Spencer said.
Well, if the team's looking for a shining example of confidence or cohesion (even choreography), they should look no further than the north end.
They better do it quick—or Portland's next card may be dealt from the bottom of the standings.