Jeff Arnold has been a soccer fan since almost as far back as he can remember.
In the 1980s, the California native attended North American Soccer League games at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, and he remembers later attending San Jose Clash games in the early years of Major League Soccer.
Yet while Arnold has always considered himself a fan of MLS, what he had lacked was a strong identification with any one American soccer team.
That all changed in 2013.
That August, Arnold, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla. but whose in-laws live in the Portland area, traveled into town for the annual Hood to Coast marathon. Having arrived a day earlier than the rest of his team, the lifelong soccer fan decided to attend the Portland Timbers match that weekend.
Arnold had seen Timbers matches on television before. He knew about the rivalry with the Sounders and about Timber Joey and his chainsaw. But what Arnold didn't anticipate was the full sensory experience of standing inside the Timbers Army, chanting and singing for the full 90 minutes of what proved to be a wild 3-3 draw with Real Salt Lake.
“I loved the stadium, how intimate it felt because of its design,” Arnold recalls. “[I loved] the volume of the fan base and signing from beginning to the end. I [lost] my voice by the end of the game because of how much I had been screaming and yelling. The national anthem with the scarves was a lot of fun.
“I just thought, 'This is an incredible experience.'”
Arnold may have considered it just a fun day in Soccer City U.S.A. were it not or the friendly supporters that he met in the Army that day.
Because of them, Arnold became a fan for life.
“I just loved the knowledgeable fans that were there that were telling me some of the inside scoops of what was going on within the stadium itself,” Arnold says. “I felt like they were very kind in bringing me up to speed on what was going on. I just fell in love with it.
“I came back to Florida and started watching every possible Timbers game on TV that I could.”
This past December, just days after the Timbers defeated Columbus Crew SC to win its first ever MLS Cup championship, the Floridian traveled with his family to China and he made sure to take an absolutely essential item along with him.
“Part of my attire that went everywhere with me – because it was freezing – was my Timbers Army “No Pity” scarf,” he says.
“Going to the Great Wall and other iconic places in China, it felt like we were representing the Timbers along the way.”
Arnold, whose Timbers jersey features the words “Rose City” on the back, was even spotted by a pair of Portland residents while he was out exploring Hong Kong, leading him to marvel at how he could run into other Timbers fans, even on the other side of the globe.
And despite the nearly 3,000 mile distance from his home in Jacksonville to the Pacific Northwest, Arnold has still managed to catch two Timbers home games and is currently planning on representing his favorite team at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on April 3.
“It'll be worth it,” Arnold says about the 2 ½ hour drive from Jacksonville to Orlando. “It's better than driving thousands of miles across the country!”
Arnold, though, says that sometimes Portland can feel so close yet still so far away.
“It's funny that I'm several thousand miles away, but in some ways it feels like, you know, hop on a plane and you could be at the game the next day.”
“I just have to fork over a few hundred dollars to fly there!”