PORTLAND, Ore. – It was a level of joy that usurped any other at Providence Park this season; and, perhaps, in the way it happened, it was a type of joy the Major League Soccer Portland Timbers haven’t been able to enjoy on home ground, before.
To this point, the MLS era’s most memorable scenes have happened in Columbus, Ohio, where the team clinched its 2015 MLS Cup league title, or in Frisco, Texas, where Portland sealed its first Western Conference title the week before. Huge rivalry wins against Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are regular events in Goose Hollow, while moments like Fanendo Adi taking Timber Joey’s chainsaw in a win over Seattle have carved out their own indelible places in Timbers lore.
Aside from the Timbers' 2015 "double-post," MLS Cup Playoff win in penalties over Sporting Kansas City, Portland fans had not enjoyed the unique kind of euphoric, emotional release they did on Saturday, one born from the anticipation they had built from moments before kickoff.
That’s when it became known that Saturday would be Adi’s final game as a Timbers player, one that couldn’t have ended in a more memorable way. Entering a 1-1 game against the Houston Dynamo in the 75th minute, Adi found his way onto a clear chance in the 80th minute, scoring from close range to give the Timbers a 2-1 win that ran the team’s MLS unbeaten streak to 14 games.
More importantly, the goal gave the best striker of Portland’s MLS era a game-winning, Sunshine Goal, seeding an eruption whose magnitude was memorable even by Timbers Army standards. The thunderous release, the celebration in front of the North End as they sang "You Are My Sunshine", the sense of inevitability to it all – it was the perfect way to cap Adi’s triumphant, five-year Rose City run.
“I try not to cry, but today, the tears were almost falling down,” Adi said post-match, pulled into a press conference that is usually reserved for head coach Giovanni Savarese, alone. “It was just amazing. [Savarese] told me I was going to score. All the players told me I was going to score.
“It was just a great feeling to be on the pitch and compete, give my last effort to the team, today. I’m just very happy with the three points for the team. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
The anticipation around the goal started well before kickoff, when the crowd cheered their departing star as his name was announced pregame. The crowd was louder when Adi walked from the locker room to the bench in the minutes before the match, and louder still when the public address announcer read off his name at the 75th minute substitute.
When his touch from inside Houston’s six-yard box crossed the line, the tension that had built over those preceding hours burst, ricocheting from the North End off the Multnomah Athletic Club’s deck and back to the celebrating squad.
“It was the way he needed to leave the club, right?” Diego Valeri asked, rhetorically. “By scoring a goal, because he’s a scorer. We’ll miss a guy who gave us a (MLS Cup-winners’) star for this club. Maybe it’s time for him (to leave) – he thinks it’s time – but we’ll miss him.”
That emotion was clear after the match, whether it be in the final log slice Adi lifted before the North End – and the trip into the stands that came with it – or the emotions of players like Alvas Powell, one of the teammates Adi is closest to, or Diego Chara, who was the last to leave his teammate after celebrating the match’s game-winner. The three points Portland took were much needed for a team that had experienced a series of recent, close-call draws, but even in the wake of a result that vaulted Portland two places in the conference (from fifth to third), Adi was the team’s only thought.
“He’s been a tremendous and important component of the growth of the Portland Timbers,” Savarese said, to open his post-match press conference, before addressing Adi directly. “In these past five years, you’ve done so much for this club … I was proud to be able to coach you.”
The pride on Savarese’s face was effusive. Like the rest of us, he had been part of history, witnessing a moment that will carve out a distinct place in Timbers lore. The news of his departure. The late-match sub. The game-winning goal. It all led to one of brightest moments of unadulterated joy Providence Park has ever known.
“I came (to the Timbers) as a young boy, but now I’m a man …,” Adi said. “There comes a time in life where, sometimes, you move on, but the Portland Timbers will always be a family, to me. I’m just grateful for everything I got from the organization.”