PORTLAND, Ore. – What began as a dare became a bet; then a movement; then a cause. All in the space of roughly 24 hours. Come Saturday night when the Timbers host Sporting Kansas City at Providence Park (7:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS), that cause will culminate in Portland left back Zarek Valentin taking to the pitch with a ribbon in his hair, and hopefully making some money for a good cause along the way.
“Let’s just put it this way,” Valentin cautioned about the tweet that set it off. “If I ever made any more bets, it’s going to be a lot more retweets than 10,000. It’s going to be a lot more. I’ve learned my lesson with the soccer community.”
It’s a lesson that started with a challenge from a Rose City Riveter, someone Valentin had seen multiple times but who he declined to name. The fan, seemingly always adorned with a Thorns FC Hayley Raso jersey, repeatedly challenged him to wear the Australian international’s trademark ribbons.
“Low and behold, after the third time I ran into him, I said, ‘Cool, we’ll do so,’ and crafted up a tweet,” Valentin explained.
That’s when Thorns left back Meghan Klingenberg got involved.
“I was just there when Zarek mentioned it and [he] said, ‘I think I’m going to throw out this tweet tomorrow,’” Klingenberg remembered, about her catalyst’s role. “I said, ‘100 percent text me. I need to know. I need to retweet this. I hope you have to play Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) with a bow in your hair.’”
Retweet it, Klingenberg did. She quote-tweeted it, too. Lindsey Horan got involved, as did the Australian Women’s National Team, who amplified the message from their own Twitter account.
Despite having less than 10,000 followers of his own, Valentin’s tweet was sprinting toward his unlikely benchmark, with people like Klingenberg having made his mission into their cause.
“He tweeted it out the next day, and I was like, ‘Zarek, you don’t even have 10,000 followers. How are you going to get 10,000 retweets? I’m going to help,’” Klingenberg remembers. “I thought it was amazing how fast it picked up steam. I love how Zarek turned it into a charity opportunity. That was really awesome, of him.”
All the while, though, the inspiration for the bet was barely involved.
“I didn’t actually know what was going on and only found out because I got tagged in the tweet,” Raso admitted, bemusedly. “A bet was made between him and a fan? But I think a lot of people think the bet was made between me and him. We’ve kind of gone with that and made it like we made a bet, and he lost.”
And with that defeat, Valentin gets to take up a tradition Raso adopted long before she arrived in Portland. Over the course of her career, the every-present ribbon, tying her hair above her shoulders, has become a trademark, with “Ribbons” becoming a nickname she carries across continents.
“Initially, I just used to wear the ribbon growing up, when I was much younger,” Raso remembered. “And it kind of became a trademark thing, where people started knowing me for it.
“When somebody starts knowing you for something, would you really get rid of it? I don’t think I ever will.”
After less than 24 hours or retweets last week, another member of the Portland soccer family will forever be linked with ribbons (or, “RibbonZ,” as he’s already being called). Five days later, Valentin and Raso were at Fanladen, along with a number of volunteers, tying the bows which will be sold on Saturday in support of New Avenues for Youth. Three days after that, with a little more help from Raso, RibbonZ and his ribbon will take the field at Providence Park.
“For me, in terms of preparation for the game, it’s a minor aspect,” Valentin conceded. “[Sporting Kansas City is] a very good team. I have bigger things to worry about than tying on a bow. I have to be aware and be cognizant of their attack. They have some incredible players.”
Still, in exchange for something as simple as a ribbon, Valentin could potentially play a major part, with Saturday's fundraiser bringing something more from a Riveters' dare of a Timbers' mainstay.
“(One), it’s exciting we can be part of that,” he said, about his opportunity to work with the 107ISTs to give back to a local cause, “and two, if every person just gave a buck, hypothetically, in the Army, that would be $6,000. If everyone in stadium gave $1, that would be $20,000 to go make humans feel more comfortable when society doesn’t necessarily make them comfortable. That idea blows my mind.
“The New Avenues allow the LGBTQ community to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, with people that are similar to them … . That’s exciting, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”