Portland, Ore . - Amidst all the fireworks, both literal and figurative, at Providence Park Wednesday night in the MLS All-Star's 2-1 win over FC Bayern Munich, it was a memorable evening for Portland Timbers Diego Valeri and Will Johnson.
Memories were made even before the first whistle. As the All-Star squad gathered in the North End tunnel to make their way out for pregame warm-ups, they told Valeri to lead them out first.
The Argentine star sprinted out, full of energy, only to find that the rest of the squad remained behind leaving Valeri a man alone, if only temporarily. What started as a friendly joke though, turned into a special moment.
The Timbers Army faithful recognized their own and began applauding the talented midfielder as he applauded back. It was a moment that gave recognition to a player who has meant so much to the Rose City.
A clearly touched Valeri was emotional in talking about the crowd's reception after the match.
“How can I explain that?" he said. "[I’m] really grateful about our fans. Just let me say thanks because they are amazing every game but I didn’t expect that.”
The mutual admiration carried over elsewhere in the game as well. Timbers team captain Johnson, normally wearing no. 4 for Portland, made his first appearance in the match at the start of the second half with no. 75 on the back of his jersey--an ode to the original NASL Timbers' founding year of 1975. With nearly forty years of club history leading to this MLS All-Star Game, Johnson said he chose it as a way to recognize the city that's given him so much.
“I just wanted to represent the city, Timbers Army specifically," said Johnson after the game. "They always have my back. Just going into this game, I wanted to try to bring as many people with me because I knew I’d need them. It was just a little tribute to them.”
MLS players all week sang the praises of Soccer City, USA as hosts and LA's Landon Donovan was no different.
Donovan, who deposited Valeri's 70th minute cross into the back of the net--a ball that ESPN's Taylor Twellman called "ridiculous"--was quick to recognize what the evening meant not just to his All-Star Portand teammates, but also to the league at large.
In an arrangement agreed upon prior to the match, Donovan was only set to play approximately twenty minutes due to the Galaxy's pending game Friday against San Jose. When he came on during Thierry Henry's classy subsitution in the 47th minute, Henry handed Donovan the captain's armband--an armband designed with the Timbers crest colors. Moments after his goal, Donovan was subbed off and transferred the armband to Johnson.
It was a decision Donovan pondered just moments before he scored the game-winning strike.
“About a minute before the goal, I had thought about it and I thought it would be nice for Will," said Donovan. "He’s been great this week. I know how excited he was to be here and play in this game."
Continuing, Donovan said the massive praise the Portland players and their city received throughout the week was well earned.
"I think [Will] deserves it, their fans deserve it, I think Diego Valeri deserves it. Liam Ridgewell was great. As much as it’s a week to celebrate the league, it’s also to celebrate Portland and what it means to our league and how they’ve elevated the level of everything in our league.”
And after a week that saw Portland embrace and showcase its Soccer City, USA identity to new levels, Wednesday's match will be one long remembered by players and fans alike.