PORTLAND, Ore. – April 14 will always be a special day to Portland Timbers fans. This year, that special quality is two-fold. Not only does it mark team’s first home game of the 2018 Major League Soccer season, but it serves as the seven-year anniversary of the first MLS game at Providence Park.
“For me, it’s a game that I probably will never forget,” goalkeeper Jake Gleeson says, remembering back to that initial match against Chicago. The Timbers ended up winning it, 4-2, with the then-20-year-old Gleeson picking up not only his first MLS victory but also the first MLS win for the club.
“It’s probably the top game in my career in terms of my age and my experience,” he says. “I was just in awe of what Portland had done for their home opener.”
Gleeson knew, based on his previous time with the Timbers U-23s, and having seen the club during USL years, the stadium’s stands would likely be packed. Jack Jewsbury, however, had only been traded to Portland a month before, and while a former Kansas City teammate who had been with the USL Timbers, Ryan Pore, told him the city would be special, Jewsbury still wasn’t sure what the night had in store.
“At the time, we were training [at Providence Park] every day, so it was still an empty stadium,” Jewsbury remembers. “You didn’t know what it was going to feel like or what it was going to be like.”
He’d gotten a hint of what to expect in preseason, though, when a contingent of traveling support made its way to Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington, to attend a match against Seattle. Another hint came in March 29 at Merlo Field, on the campus of the University of Portland, when a capacity crowd saw Jewsbury score the game-winning goal in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game against Chivas USA.
Those hints told Jewsbury, a resident of Portland for only six weeks, that the home opener was bound to be special.
“The news said there was a line outside the stadium, so instead of coming a back way into the parking lot, I wanted to see this line people were talking about,” he remembers. “So, I drove down 18th, down Morrison to cut to the parking lot, and I was just in awe of what I was seeing. You had heard about the tents, the other things the fans would do, and now we’re seeing that this was real. The passion in the city was unlike any other.”
The line culture wasn’t quite what it is today, where years of developing best practices have led to a relatively organized wait. For the first game, though, lines extended from all the stadiums main entrances, including the one at Providence Park’s northwest corner, from which fans trailed back up the hill, toward the Multnomah Athletic Club.
Fans waited for hours amid downpour conditions and entered with their scarves soaked. Soon, however, that crowd would produce two of the night’s indelible moments, the first coming with the national anthem.
By now, the sports world is used to the ritual - the Timbers Army singing the anthem at the home opener. At the time, though, nobody knew what to expect of the hyped Timbers crowd. When the stadium audio muted and the north end broken into song, the U.S. soccer world seemed to stop, surprised and awed by the tradition it was seeing unfold.
At the time, I was working in Los Angeles for FOX Sports, occupying a desk in a newsroom while our network broadcast the game. With the feed on the newsroom’s mounded displays, my colleagues and I stopped, implored to do so by one of the staff’s senior editors. From those covering football and basketball, baseball and hockey, mouths slackened agape at what we were televising from Portland.
“That moment gave me chills,” Jewsbury said, singling it out as the dominant memory from his Timbers debut.
Minutes later, another memory emerged from the stands – another tradition that would also become a staple of the Timbers Army’s contributions. Extending across all sections of the north end, draped down from sections 201 through 211, was the first tifo of the MLS era, with the “King of Clubs” display still ranking among fans’ favorites from the 107 Independent Supporters Trust’s tifo corps.
For the Timbers, results on the field soon mirrored the effort from the stands. Jorge Perlaza and Rodney Wallace scored goals before halftime, and when Perlaza completed his brace shortly into the second half, the Timbers had their winning score. Though Chicago’s Marco Pappa would beat Gleeson between a pair of offsetting own goals, the Fire never got back to even ground, eventually entering Timbers history on the wrong end of a 4-2 loss.
When Minnesota United FC visits Providence Park for the second time ever on Saturday (7:30pm PT, FOX 12 Oregon), they will do so on night that’s become part of Timbers lore. For Jewsbury, a player who has his own, special place in Portland history, the night remains unforgettable.
“To get here and to see 21,000 people packed into the stadium, cheering the way they were, even through the rain was pouring down, it was freezing, and it was a nasty night was pretty special,” he says. “And to be able to get our first win in front of the home fans and thank them for that welcome will forever be special. For sure.”