Dutch champions Ajax to get a taste of Portland
PORTLAND, Ore. — Wednesday’s international friendly between AFC Ajax and the Portland Timbers brings together one of the game's historic blue bloods and one of Major League Soccer’s youngbloods.
It is a celebration of sorts. There is a chance for a new audience to enjoy and appreciate the 111-year history and tradition of Ajax. And it is also an opportunity for the Dutch soccer giants to experience the unbridled enthusiasm generated at JELD-WEN Field (7:00 p.m. PT streaming online, and 750 AM The Game & La Pantera 940 AM (Spanish) on radio).
“I can’t imagine what other teams think when they hear chainsaws go off in the stadium,” said Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who has two years of experience playing Europe. “It’s a little awkward at first, but it’s something really special here.”
The sound of chainsaws revving may be a first for the club from Amsterdam. Throw in the chorus of Timbers Army, and Ajax are in for something new.
“They’re going to think it’s a circus, to be honest with you,” Perkins predicted. “Europeans are very stuck up about their football, and things have to be a certain way. And the Dutch especially.”
But perhaps a fresh perspective, and a good look at one of MLS’ new hot spots, comes at a good time for Ajax.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal detailed the club's efforts to re-capture some of its former glory. Despite 30 domestic championships, de Godenzonen have stagnated over the last decade and have not been able to keep pace with other storied giants such as Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Legendary Ajax player Johann Cruyff has repeatedly expressed his disappointment at how far the club has fallen from its heyday in the 1970s, when it pioneered Total Football and won three consecutive European championships. He has criticized the team for resting too long on its laurels.
Ajax had gone seven seasons without winning the Eredivisie title before conquering it this year, but last won the Champions League in 1995 and have rarely been a major player in Europe in the intervening 16 years.
Timbers forward Kenny Cooper, who spent time playing in Munich, said he still regards Ajax as one of the elite clubs.
“They have had some amazing players come through their club,” Cooper said. “They have an incredible history. When I think Ajax, I think of Bayern Munich, Man United, AC Milan — one of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s great to have an opportunity to play them [on Wednesday].”
AFC Ajax defeated D.C. United — Portland’s next MLS opponent — 2-1 on Sunday in RFK Stadium.
The travel roster features nine of the 11 starters from Ajax's Eredivisie title match on May 15, as well as two of their top scorers, Siem de Jong (12 goals) and Miralem Sulejamani (eight goals), from the 2010-11 season. Also making their way to Portland are Ajax’s Dutch internationals, including goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and defender Gregory van der Wiel, who both played in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The Timbers will likely substitute liberally in order to rest some starters, but they say it is a game they want to win.
“They’re just like us,” Perkins said. “They’re players. They’re people. At the end of the day, you step on the field saying there’s not that big of a difference.”
The name Ajax still conjures associations to soccer royalty. But the Timbers — and their chainsaw-wielding mascot — intend to make their presence felt, too.
“We’ve been good here at home and we want to continue that,” Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury said. “We don’t want to have a lull just because it’s a so-called friendly.”