Editor's Note: The Portland Timbers returned to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League this year for the first time since 2013. Last week marked the club’s first-ever trip to Costa Rica as they traveled to play Deportivo Saprissa. To help tell the story of the trip to San José and “The Monster’s Cave,” the club invited Timbers Army supporters Stephan “Stephanzy” Lewis and Whitney Tuttle to help write and document the journey. This is their story.
Photos by Whitney Tuttle
Long before the Timbers were MLS Cup Champions, long before the MLS Cup was even a goal, we have dreamed of this moment. This moment is why many of us that have been around since the USL days cherish the U.S. Open Cup. For a decade, it was our one way to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League. To get there we repeatedly faced incredible odds as we worked our way up the table to ultimately lose, frequently to teams with single players making more than our entire squad. Despite this, Our Boys would give everything they had and more for the Badge above their hearts as we would drive them on with every ounce of intensity and civic pride we could muster in an effort to get to this moment. I say all this because, there were very few discussions about CCL that did not include the dream of a Costa Rica Away. It has often been injected into a simple mention of the tourney as a common parsing within the Timbers Army nomenclature. How could it not be the top of any list of countries to travel to in CONCACAF?
This year, myself and Whitney Tuttle—a frequent photographer for the Timbers Army—were invited to join the team on their trip to Costa Rica to play Deportivo Saprissa.
After flying in with the team and an anxious night in their hotel, we rolled up on Hotel Presidente, the base camp for the traveling Timbers Army. We found the TA starting to amass from their flights and, more frequently, the forested mountains of the countryside. Listening to the stories of sloth hunts, monkeys in the trees outside their windows, and the plans to kick it on the coast for a few days after matchday. We knew traveling with the team on a short trip wasn’t doing the trip justice.
As we broke off to explore different parts of the city and meet its people the way we do, we really got a chance to see, feel, and experience Pura Vida. Pura Vida has been the nation’s mantra for generations. It permeates the culture and is evident everywhere you go. While it directly translates to “pure life,” from my brief experience there, I translate it as a passion for living well. For no matter how bad things get for you, there is always someone who has it worse so, we all need to be here for each other. As a result, they value family, friendship, their relationship with nature, and believe in living a simple, uncluttered life while doing so with passion. For life is short so, Pura Vida. Personally, I found a lot of parallels with the pride we take in what makes Portland, and Oregon, different from other cities and states in the U.S. and reminded me we could be doing much more.
There are many ways to measure the effects of Pura Vida on the population. They have a higher life expectancy than we do. They have better access to health care and education. Every one of the many large public squares I walked through was bustling with people living with Pura Vida. It’s visible in their local street art with the innumerable beautiful murals, intricately stylish graffiti, the ubiquity of the Costa Rican flag in all forms, in their friendly faces and open hearts, in their pride of place and support for Los Ticos, and in San Jose, Deportivo Saprissa as members of the Nación Morada.
The Costa Rican people were as welcoming as their reputation would have you believe. One of the greatest things about Pura Vida is the willingness to share it with others. The people were very approachable, helpful, and friendly. However, after people discovered we were there to support Our Club against their beloved Saprissa, they took great comfort in the strength of their team and the support they give them as the environment created by not only the Ultras Morada but, the Nación Morada as a whole which is what makes their stadium the “Monster’s Cave” (a translation even those with the most broken English would remind us of). All made sure we knew it was a place to be feared. Fear not for our safety as much as, fear for our emotional wellbeing. They were confident in their ability to break the spirit of teams that play there and the supporters that follow them. This support, the way they make the entire stadium bounce and the lack of results from teams that play there, is one of the things I was looking forward to the most. They are very proud of this reputation, just as we are of the environment we create in support of the Rose City. Defending our indomitable spirit, the way we do, some started referring to us as, "los gringos mas locos que hay.”
Some of us had been interviewed for a live video pod for the Nación Morada. The intent was to learn about us as supporters, our organization through the 107 Independent Supporters Trust, our rivalries, and gain some insight into Our Boys. They were surprised and honored to learn what Costa Rica Away has meant through the history of the Timbers Army. They were also highly intrigued by our matter of fact claims that the Rose City Riveters lead the world as supporters of women’s soccer. When asked which of our players they should keep an eye out for, we mentioned the beautiful play of Diego Valeri as our maestro and waxed on about how much we were going to love their frustration with Diego Chara.
Once we were actually in the stadium on matchday, we got a taste of what they do. Their song book was full of familiar tunes that span Central and South America and they did them well. They didn’t blare out their chants as much as truly sing them with a unique melody all their own from a passion deep in their hearts. I found myself dancing to many of their songs. Especially, the many that captured the entire stadium in unified song. While we tried to counter in song when we could, we were frequently drowned out in a battle for the terraces we were never going to win.
Caleb Porter had mentioned that we were going to be coming out strong and Our Boys started the match with spirited, fearless pressure. It was obviously unexpected in the Monster’s Cave as the crowd empowered to their team to elevate the intensity of the match. When our early pressure resulted in Valeri’s goal in the 5th, we were overcome with an immeasurable joy and a bewildering feeling that we could actually pull off a result here, where so few could. Porter had made comments earlier about them being frustrated with Fanendo Adi’s size and this frustration culminated in them actually taking swings at him in the 20th. From our section we couldn’t tell most of what was happening on the other side of the pitch. All we really knew was that the crowd was not pleased with goalkeeper Jake Gleeson as they whistled whenever he touch the ball and even counted up to catorce on a goal kick. And, just as we had told the Nación Morada people who interviewed us, Chara’s play frustrated the entire crowd.
As the ball found the back of the net for them, we were pummeled from all directions with an intensity that Seattle fans will never have. It felt like half the stadium was giving it to us in the Timbers Army section. Part payback for our early celebration and antics, everyone you could see was having a go. All we could really do in drink it in while we waited for “RCTID” to be heard past the immediate few around us.
All in all, it was a beautiful night for some footy. There was a mist that lingered under the lights giving everything a surreal quality. Shortly after someone mentioned the great weather, we got just enough of a sprinkle to sing and dance “Let it Rain, Let it Pour, Let the Portland Timbers Score, Nana-Na-Na, Na-Nana, Na-Na.” Unlike others, this one went over with actual fanfare from the rest of crowd and I’m sure it helped to solidify our reputation as, "los gringos mas locos que hay.”
As the match started to enter the final moments, a few of their fans started to head to the exits. We gave them a couple rounds of “We Can See You Sneaking Out” to mixed fanfare, as always. This was the tip of the iceberg, as the final whistle blew and the exodus before us began, the constant flow offered constant reminder of the 4-2 score in their favor and their passion with everyone using the exit next to us giving us a go now that they could see the whites of our eyes. That intensity waned, for the most part, as we pelted them with invites to come to Portland, a cacophony of exclamations of “PURA VIDA!” with all the passion we could muster as TA, followed by an exclamation of our plans to go to the beach through a chant of “Vamos a la Playa, Oh Oh-Oh-Oh.” How could you be mad at that?
There’s been one other time I flew back on the same plane as Our Boys and that was after Captain Jack lifted the Cascadia Cup in Vancouver. This time was completely different. Say what you will about the inability of refs from Cuba to call a match of this magnitude. Say what you will about the physical play in CONCACAF. I’m proud of the heart and spirit Our Boys brought onto the pitch in the Monster’s Cave. Scoring two goals in that environment is no easy task. In my eyes, we stood our ground against an opponent that knows what it takes to be multiple time CCL Champions. Just as the second half slaughter of the LA Galaxy last year propelled us to the title, I believe, this match was a late turning point in this season. The passion; the fearlessness; the heart; the chemistry; let’s ride this thing. They’re coming to our house next. Let’s show them how we do what we do.