MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2013, running Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. Each day, they're handing out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS including, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 30, the Moment of the Year.
Portland Timbers beat writer Dan Itel continues the series with a look at the Supporters' Tifo the Year, which goes to the Timbers' Army and their season-opening work back in March. The Tifo was a tribute to – of all things in Portland – the rain.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Rain. In so many ways, it captures what the Rose City is all about.
Its people. Its micro beers and coffee. Its connection to nature. Whether it’s welcome or not, every Portlander in one way or another embraces the rain. They’re kind of forced to, considering it’s, well, always raining.
The rain captures soccer in Portland, too.
Of all of the iconic images of JELD-WEN Field, the home of the Timbers, the chances are a driving rain, steam rising up from the in between the green-and-yellow-clad fans, are what you remember. The wet stuff not only makes for perfect soccer weather, but in the Rose City, it galvanizes fans and, with hope, the team to encapsulate the hearty resilience the club’s logging moniker invokes.
Nobody curses a rainy game day at JELD-WEN – at least not out loud.
It was with this in mind that the Timbers’ support group, the Timbers Army, set about constructing the first Tifo of 2013, for the regular-season opener March 3 against the New York Red Bulls. And what they came up with – a giant “Umbrella Girl” banner modeled after the iconic Morton Salt image, complete with hundreds of actual umbrellas held by fans and blue streamers serving as rain – so impressed MLSsoccer.com that it was voted Best Tifo of 2013.
“We've had so many opening days in Portland where it's completely pouring down rain,” Timbers Army board member Garrett Dittfurth told MLSsoccer.com. “We sort of expected that again this year. … The thought process was that we wanted to do something that showed we're rain-or-shine supporters and will be there no matter what.”
Keeping in mind that the Timbers' season kicked off to much uncertainty, the club’s loyal support was paid off in kind throughout a memorable season that ended one step away from the MLS Cup.
But this was March, just more than four months after Portland closed the books on a difficult 2012 season. Dittfurth said despite that, the Timbers Army wanted to send the message to their club that they were behind them, no matter what.
And like all the Tifo to be unfurled at JELD-WEN, it was impressive in stature and required the usual dedicated effort.
Dittfurth said it took a special bulk order to secure all the umbrellas. He said the hardest part was finding all the blue streamers, which were thrown from the 200 level to simulate rain.
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It’s an effort, game in and game out, that’s not lost on the club.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest coach alive to have the fans that I have here,” Timbers first-year head coach Caleb Porter said after the Timbers were eliminated by Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship. “To be able to coach a group of guys in a stadium like that and a community like this that cares as much as they care, I count my blessings every day.”
Dittfurth also noted that while the Army expected the Tifo that early March evening to be augmented by real rain, they were greeted by an unseasonably warm and clear night. Perhaps a sign of the figuratively sunny days to come.
“We wanted to have a bright and fun display even if it was pouring down rain,” he said. “It just so happened we got really good weather and a really great season.”