Walking onto the field before the game. Hearing the roar of the crowd from the tunnel. And to know that it was for my son…
– Bert Dupre, father of Atticus Lane-Dupre
Today, nearly a year after he became a hero in the Rose City as beloved as the players he adores, Atticus Lane-Dupre still loves to go to Portland Timbers matches.
He loves to watch Diego Chara, and listen to the Timbers Army, the club’s famous supporters group.
But the experience is a little different for Atticus now. People know him.
“Are you the Atticus?” they ask.
Yes, he replies. He is the Atticus.
The one who got kidney cancer when he was eight. The one who asked, as part of the Make-a-Wish Program, if his youth-league team could play the Timbers. The one who scored the winning goal against the Timbers in front of more than 3,000 fans. The one who reminded us that this beautiful game is about more than just 22 people running around kicking a ball.
“It’s odd to look back,” Atticus’s father, Bert Dupre, says now. “It’s dreamlike. We often wonder, ‘Did all of this really happen?’”
A year after undergoing treatment for cancer and starring against the Portland Timbers, Atticus is healthy and "a normal kid," says his father, Bert Dupre. (Photo couresy of the Lane-Dupre family)
On May 1, 2013, Atticus was like a lot of eight-year-old boys living in Portland – shaggy-haired, quick with a smile, obsessed with soccer, and a huge fan of the Timbers.
But he was also different: He had been diagnosed with cancer. Over the winter and early spring of 2013, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor and had chemotherapy, losing lots of weight and all of his hair in the process.
It was during those dark days that Atticus made his now-famous wish: that his rec-league team, the Green Machine, could take on the Portland Timbers.
“Usually kids just choose to go to Disneyland with their family or getting something," Atticus said at the time. "I chose something that lots of people could do.”
From there, things snowballed, as the Timbers and the local soccer community embraced the project. The match was scheduled to be played in the Timbers’ stadium. Portland head coach Caleb Porter agreed to take the reins of the Green Machine. Captain Will Johnson signed up to lead the Timbers side.
And the Timbers Army, the club’s famous supporters group, decided to trade allegiances for a day, choosing to support Atticus and his Green Machine teammates. They made tifo banners and composed chants, and on matchday, 3,000 members of Timbers Army showed up.
“It was pretty intense,” Dupre, recalls. “Intense enough that one boy tried to back out.”
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A framed team photo of the Green Machine still hangs in the Timbers' offices at Providence Park. (Courtesy of the Portland Timbers)
In the end, no one backed out. The Green Machine took the field and went toe-to-toe with a Timbers side made up of Johnson, Mamadou "Futty" Danso, Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Ryan Kowaluk and Sebastian Rincon. It was an open, high-scoring affair. And a nail-biter.
With seconds to go and the score tied 9-9, Atticus himself proved to be the difference. He went on a Nagbe-esque solo run, dribbling past three defenders and slotting home the match-winner through the legs of Rincon.
Not surprisingly, Atticus went national. Media outlets from USA Today to The Huffington Post picked up the story, and the Emmy-nominated MLS Insider series profiled the memorable day in Portland. His winning goal was No. 1 on ESPN’s Top 10 plays and was the subject of a special installment of the "Anatomy of a Goal" series on MLSsoccer.com.
But Atticus was always a local Portland kid, and part of the Timbers community. He visited with the team three or four times during the season, and was a presenter during the club’s year-end season awards banquet with Mike Golub, the Timbers' chief president of business operations.
"It still really resonates with everybody," said Golub, who added that an autographed photo of the Green Machine still hangs in the Timbers' offices at Providence Park. "You mention the name Atticus to anybody in the Timbers orbit, and it brings back all those good feelings from that day. He's become an enduring part of the family."
Atticus (top) undergoes scans every three months to ensure his kidney cancer isn't a threat, and his father says he sometimes chooses to style his hair like soccer icons David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. (Photo couresy of the Lane-Dupre family)
A year later, Atticus is doing great. He’s “a normal kid,” his father says. And he is, for the most part, in the clear health-wise. He has scans every three months, but doctors say there is a very low chance of his cancer recurring.
He’s regained all the weight he lost. And he’s still playing soccer, although no longer for the Green Machine. (He is with the local club Portland City United.)
His hair, which was long and shaggy last May, is today trimmed and neat, modeled on Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘do.
“He used to hate haircuts,” Dupre says, “so when all his hair grew back, we told him, ‘It’s yours from now on.’ I think he grew it because he had it again. Now he brings in photos of his favorite pro soccer players, like young Beckham and Ronaldo.”
Looking back at what happened last May, the Lane-Dupre family can’t imagine things coming together any better than they did. Atticus had just completed his treatment and then the match happened.
“He had to go through a lot of crap [during his treatment],” Dupre says. “He lost weight and all his hair. So [the wish] was super exciting. We could celebrate at the end of a rough period.”
A few weeks ago, Atticus and his father went to the Timbers' match at home against the Seattle Sounders. The match was almost as high-scoring as the Green Machine-Portland match, finishing 4-4 when the Sounders scored two late goals to earn the draw.
The Lane-Dupres were as disappointed as anyone at the stadium that day. But then again, disappointment is all relative these days.
“We thought there was a real danger that he would always be the kid who got cancer,” Dupre says. “Now he’s the kid who had this awesome wish.”
Greg Lalas is the editor in chief of MLSsoccer.com.