PORTLAND, Ore. — There was something sweetly poetic when the Timbers Army broke into song in the final minutes of the Portland Timbers’ home opener Thursday night, filling their new home with a swooning rendition one of the greatest love ballads in pop history.
Fitting, perhaps, because the 1961 hit “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” was originally crooned by none other than Elvis Presley, who four years before recording that track first wiggled and writhed his way into Portland’s hearts at Multnomah Stadium, which sat on the current site of the sparkling new JELD-WEN Field.
Presley pulled up to the stadium that night in 1957 in a white limousine, a fact fondly recalled on a series of plaques that line the walls at JELD-WEN recalling all the eclectic past heroes of the stadium: Satchel Paige, President William Howard Taft, Norm Van Brocklin, Clive Charles.
The Timbers Army didn’t arrive at the stadium Thursday in a stretch limo, but rather by foot, bicycle and light rail. More than a few female fans were smeared in celebratory green eye shadow. The men chiseled their facial hair into mock-Horstaches and painted their faces, and then diligently took their place in a line that wrapped around the stadium hours before the Timbers even considered opening the gates.
They sang, they chanted, they loitered and they littered, happily smudging their fingerprints all over maybe one of the most electric nights at Morrison St. and 18th Ave. since the King reigned over rock n’ roll.
By the time the chorus of the Army’s song arrived, it was clear. This was truly a love song from a soggy but satisfied troop to the ears of the ones they adored, who by the 88th minute had all but sealed a 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire and given their fans plenty to love.
“I don’t think you’ve seen an atmosphere like that in American soccer history,” Timbers coach John Spencer said. “Ever.”
Thursday was an exercise in catharsis for the fans and certainly for the Timbers, who for the first time this season took when the getting was good. They weren’t always pretty – they saw a 3-0 lead cut to 3-2 in the 81st minute before the Fire fumbled away a decisive own goal four minutes later – but they didn’t necessarily have to be perfect to win this one.
They were opportunistic, scrappy and bullish when they had to be, capitalized on more than a few Fire miscues and practically muscled the last goal across the line as the Army just about spilled from the stands in glee.
“Apart from my wife giving birth to my children, it was the best feeling that I’ve ever experienced,” said Spencer, the wonderfully candid Scotsman who played with Chelsea in the 1990s, among other clubs. “I wanted to win this game tonight more than I did the FA Cup in 1994.”
Spencer and the Timbers left the locker room doors open as the rain fell and the crowd filed in Thursday night. They wanted the players to understand what they were getting into, what sort of sonic boom awaited them when the time finally came, what it was like to be serenaded by lyrics like “We are mental, we are green, we are the greatest football supporters that the world has ever seen.”
And every last gasp, every ebb and flow of a crowd on the edge had nowhere to escape. The Timbers’ new field is delightfully built below street level, trapping most of the noise and giving MLS perhaps its loudest and most authentic atmosphere on any coast, in any time zone.
“We were expecting it, but it was still very, very special,” Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “Everybody claimed that we thought that we had one of the best environments, but this was incredible.”
Will this one win turn the Timbers’ season into a surge to the MLS Cup? Who knows. They showed more than a few flaws on their big night. They’ll lose probably as much as they’ll win this season if the majority of MLS expansion tradition holds true, and they won’t always get to celebrate the way they did at the end of this one.
But for at least one night, they seized the moment when it came, gave their fans a reason to fall in love and, most importantly, wrote the first lyrics of a song they’ve only just begun to sing.