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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers will play their first competitive soccer game in more than four months tonight, when they face the LA Galaxy in an empty stadium in Orlando.

Perhaps you'll watch. Perhaps you're eager to see familiar faces, to take in a soccer game and to escape, if only temporarily, from the monotony of life under quarantine in a country unwilling to contain or even corral the virus responsible for the worst pandemic in a century.

Of course, very little about tonight's game will truly be normal. To play this tournament, MLS has pulled players and coaches away from their families and attempted to create a coronavirus-free bubble at a resort complex in the middle of one of the most coronavirus-riddled states in the country.

It hasn't worked. Two teams have already been sent home from the tournament because of positive COVID-19 tests. Other games, involving other teams, have been postponed. The league's most valuable player opted to skip the tournament entirely.

But the show is going on regardless, no matter that the competitive integrity of the tournament is shot and no matter that healthy MLS players are getting COVID-19 tests and results daily while countless people across Florida and throughout the country either cannot access tests at all or are waiting weeks for results.

There is and will be soccer, however dystopian it looks.

If you've watched any of the games preceding this evening's clash, you know that it looks fairly ugly. There are no fans in the stadium, for obvious reasons, but there is also a big Adidas logo in the center circle and more advertising everywhere you turn.

The tournament has given players a platform to speak out powerfully against the murder of George Floyd and stand up for Black lives, and the organizing work led by the likes Portland's Jeremy Ebobisse has been a highlight. The soccer has been a sideshow at best.

So yes, the Timbers are back in action tonight. They'll field their best available eleven and play to win. But even for those of us who would watch these players compete on a slab of concrete, this event is a reminder of how detached we are now from what makes sports so meaningful.

I have had my moments of panic and outrage and even joy over the last four months. But in between those moments, in the heavy space that has filled so many days and promises to grimly fill many more, I have felt awfully stuck.

It is difficult in a closed off world to be together and express ourselves in ways that make us feel fully alive. The ongoing uprising against police brutality has been one vitally important way to do that. But soccer has always been a gateway for expression, personal, shared, and civic, on the field and in the stands.

The Timbers Army has produced a number of wonderful tifo displays over the years, but my favorite is the one that preceded the club's home opener in 2014 against the Philadelphia Union: a huge display of the Portlandia sculpture, the female figure's trident stretching up towards the wooden beams that support the stadium's old roof.

The official dedication poem for the sculpture was written by a great Northwesterner named Ron Talney, who was born in British Columbia, grew up in Portland, practiced law, traveled to the border to represent asylum seekers, and wrote.

"She kneels down, and from the quietness of copper reaches out," the dedication poem reads. "We take that stillness into ourselves, and somewhere deep in the earth our breath becomes her city. If she could speak this is what she would say: Follow that breath. Home is the journey we make. This is how the world knows where we are."

That night in 2014, on either side of Portlandia, the Army lifted up green-and-gold banners inscribed with that last sentence: This is how the world knows where we are.

The sky was pitch black. It was lashing down rain. It was perfect.

The Timbers and Union tied the match that followed 1-1. It wasn't a particularly impressive Timbers performance; Gaston Fernandez scored the equalizing goal off of a corner kick in stoppage time.

After the final whistle, I walked to meet my dad and my brother beneath the luxury suites where the backstop used to be when Providence Park hosted baseball. When we found each other my dad looked at me, and, with great reverence, told me, "The Army scored that goal."

He was referring to the roar the Army gave before that corner was taken, and I thought that he was exaggerating its importance. But I have an equally esoteric memory of turning reverential in that stadium. In August of 2017, the Timbers were leading a game against the New York Red Bulls 1-0 late in the second half when Larrys Mabiala was sent off.

The Red Bulls had a free kick just outside of the box facing the Army, and the noise from the fans behind the goal, trying to lift the players below, willing them to rally, was ear-splitting. I stood amidst it, in awe, and thought, 'How did I get so lucky as to be born a Portlander?'

This may be, in part, why it is draining to watch soccer being played in what is an essentially placeless place: this resort complex in Orlando with no fans and no distinct characteristics, awash in corporate advertising, a particularly American hellscape.

What I miss about soccer, what I miss about the Timbers, is the stuff that cannot be replicated anywhere but here. I miss watching the MAX rumble around the corner from Morrison onto 18th St. on matchdays, ease into the Providence Park stop, and then empty completely, the platform full.

I miss standing at the south end of the stadium an hour before kickoff, the scoreboard just away to my left, fans milling about, music blaring from the loudspeakers, gazing out at the distant Army — full, imposing, waiting to erupt.

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I miss the smoke. I miss the scarves. These days I badly miss the familiar rhythm of summer, the calendar piled high with matches, intrigue building as the season turns from the freshness of spring to the high stakes of fall.

I love that when you step into the stadium and open your eyes, you are in league with countless people, past, present, and future who have shared in telling the world where we are — people like Ron Talney, who passed away in August of last year.

The Timbers return to the field tonight. But I will sit counting the days until they — and we — can truly come home.