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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
The Seattle Sounders beat the Portland Timbers 2-1 at Providence Park on Friday night, avenging their loss to the Timbers at CenturyLink Field a month ago, and ensuring against the odds that the Cascadia Cup will remain in Washington for another year.

It was a typically entertaining, spirited contest between American soccer's greatest rivals. Seattle center back Xavier Arreaga, playing in his first derby, collapsed to the ground in front of the Timbers Army in exhaustion and exultation when the final whistle sounded, the Timbers' Jeremy Ebobisse kicked the air in frustration.

The result mattered. It always does. But on this night, the result, the soccer, was secondary.

The night's main event took place in the stands, where, for the first 33 minutes of the biggest game of their season, the Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters, and Gorilla FC protested Major League Soccer's ban of the antifascist Iron Front symbol as loudly as they could — by falling silent.

It was an action a long time in the making.

In March, MLS instituted a new Fan Code of Conduct banning "political" signage in stadiums around the league. The Iron Front, a symbol of opposition to fascism and oppression dating back to the Nazi era in Germany and long flown by the Timbers Army and other supporters groups, was specifically blacklisted.

A number of those supporters, in Portland and Seattle especially, objected — concerned that the arbitrary elimination of a visible antifascist symbol would make their stadiums less safe for people historically targeted by fascists, people who do not have the luxury of ignoring the political, at soccer games or anywhere else.

The Timbers Army had been speaking out against the new policy all month, on social media, with boycotts on in-stadium purchases, and with the provision of Iron Front merchandise before their club's game against Vancouver two weeks ago.

Then, on Monday, the Timbers front office released a 1,000-plus word statement affirming its support for the league's decision to ban large-scale displays of the Iron Front at games — reigniting opposition to its stance.

It quickly became clear that, with Seattle coming to town at the end of the week, the supporters were ready to take their resistance to the next level.

On Friday afternoon, a mere five hours before the match was set to kick off, the Timbers Army released its plan: for the first 33 minutes, a nod to the year 1933, when the Nazi Party banned the Iron Front, the Army would be silent. No drums, no flags, no capos, no singing, no tifo. Seattle's supporters would do the same.

It worked. Aside from a handful of scattered, brief "Let's go Timbers" chants from the upper reaches of the North End, the stadium was filled with nothing but the low hum of white noise. Even when Christian Roldan scored to give Seattle the lead, the celebrations in the away sections were muted; the Sounders fans back in their seats within a minute.

It was eerie. It felt as though the game hadn't really started — that the drama was unfolding around the field, where thousands were waiting patiently, watching the clock.

The explosion of noise in the North End and upper right corner of the stadium when the clock hit 33 minutes and one second felt like a warm embrace. The multitude of Iron Front flags, flown by both sets of supporters, in defiance of MLS, felt like a fist thrust to the sky.

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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
In the following minutes, the Iron Front was everywhere — on two sticks, on banners, and on massive flags being waved at the forefront of both supporters' sections. Those flags flew for the rest of the half, accompanied by the Timbers Army belting out its version of the Italian antifascist anthem Bella Ciao.

It was, in many ways, the best kind of protest: a disruption of ritual, disciplined and serious, then joyous and uplifting.

Bella Ciao didn't die out until the last Timbers player walked down the tunnel. Agree with the protest or not, it was a show of force. ESPN addressed it detail on its national television broadcast, while the two clubs printed up pennants decrying fascism and racism and had their players pose with them before the game.

The fact that the Timbers Army could successfully execute this particular kind of protest, on short notice, was a show of force in its own right — a tribute not just to the organization's leadership, but to the bar the Army has set for atmosphere and pageantry over the last nine years in MLS and in the USL before that.

Without that atmosphere, without that pageantry, Providence Park felt like a baseball stadium. One of the club's most zealous boosters reportedly suggested postgame that the Army's silence cost the Timbers the match. If so, there is no bigger compliment supporters can receive.

This, of course, has been the argument of a number of supporters over the last several days: that these clubs, and the league as a whole, need them more than they need any other fan who might be affronted by the presence of an antifascist symbol in a stadium.

MLS may see it differently, but it's sure going to be tested along the way — and not just by the supporters themselves.

Zarek Valentin walked into the stadium in a Timbers Army-produced Iron Front shirt. Jeremy Ebobisse entered in an all-black Colin Kaepernick jersey. Several players swapped jerseys on the field at halftime of game in support of the protesting fans; Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei saluted the Army after it was over.

Even Seattle manager Brian Schmetzer, a Washington native who has been a Sounder for the better part of 40 years, tweeted after the match that he "love[s] the traveling fans who made a statement."

He gets it. Many of the players do too. Around the world, for decades and decades, this is what soccer has been: a platform for citizens to build community, to broadcast their values, to, in Timbers Army parlance, tell the world where they are.

That means standing for human rights. That means politics. That sometimes means protest. The American club soccer scene is still young, but this action was a grownup moment: supporters rallying together in common cause to keep their stadiums, their communities, free of hatred, violence, and oppression.

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Neither set of supporters has won any lasting victory yet. Should MLS decide to stick to its policy and attempt to ride out the backlash to it, we may well be in for another protest action next week when the Timbers host Real Salt Lake.

Another protest, likely a bigger protest, is not what anybody wants. But if you didn't realize that the Timbers Army means business on this issue before Friday night, you should certainly know it by now.

They have decided that opposing fascism is their number one priority. They're a credit to themselves. They're a credit to their sport. And they're a credit to their city.