WHEN THE TIMBERS welcome the hated Seattle Sounders to a sold-out Jeld-Wen Field this weekend, rivalry won't be the only thing that's bitter.
Timbers Army's growing frustration with its beloved club has turned palpable as the team has struggled to a slow start. After a head-slappingly shocking defeat to a fifth-tier amateur side Cal FC on May 30, the Army ripped into its heroes, raining boos, groans, and chants of "CARE LIKE WE DO!" and "THIS IS BULLSHIT" from the North End during the run of play.
As players slinked off the pitch, one capo—the ardent fans who spend matches leading the crowd in chants—demanded players remove their jerseys as punishment for bringing shame to the club. Portland captain Jack Jewsbury—face bloodied after suffering a forehead gash in the final minutes of the match—took offense and reportedly had to be restrained. In the locker room post-match, players and coaches' comments were twinged with anger, and words like "embarrassed" and "humiliated" were uttered in hushed tones.
It was a low-water mark for the Timbers as a Major League Soccer franchise, and even though the match was weeks ago, the feelings around it are still raw. So when Portland returns home Sunday, June 24, for the first time since that infamous night, the Timbers will be looking for more than victory against their biggest foes.
"Our fans will never let us forget about this one," said Portland keeper Troy Perkins after the Cal FC debacle. "Now we have to earn their respect back."
To that end, the Timbers put their heads down and used a three-week MLS-mandated international break to refocus. Framing the long layoff as a second preseason, coach John Spencer held twice-daily training sessions and emerged this past Sunday, June 17, at Los Angeles with a new-look lineup that featured recent signing (and former Jefferson High School/Oregon State star) Danny Mwanga alongside high-priced striker Kris Boyd.
The results? More of the same.
The adjustments couldn't spark Portland's offense, and again the Timbers struggled to find their forwards on their way to a 1-0 loss to the struggling Galaxy. Despite having weeks to prepare, the Timbers looked very much like a team that's currently sitting tied for eighth place out west. Spencer has acknowledged that "the games are ticking down" and the time for Portland to start winning is yesterday. He's also insisted the Timbers have the talent to succeed, which, translated another way, means Spencer fully admits he has the personnel he needs to win.
"We've got too many guys right now not producing to the best of their abilities," Spencer said after the loss at LA.
That's on Spencer and his staff, and should the Timbers again come out flat on Sunday, expect fans to increase calls for team owner Merritt Paulson to channel Game of Thrones and adorn proverbial spikes with proverbial heads.
No matter the result, Timbers Army's support for their club will undoubtedly remain strong. But the same can't be said for their patience.
Who: Portland Timbers
What: Cascadia Cup Derby vs. Seattle Sounders (Sun June 24, 2 pm)
Where: Jeld-Wen Field, 1844 SW Morrison
Why: Portland returns home for the first time since being shocked by fifth-division Cal FC to host their most hated rivals.
How: The game is sold out, but can be viewed on ESPN. Occasionally, "obstructed-view" seats are offered on match days. Visit portlandtimbers.com for ticket info.