TUCSON, Ariz. – “This is rubbing it in Seattle’s face as much as possible, more than anything,” Matt Walls, one of the key members of the TA Desert Corps says, when asked to describe the group’s Wednesday tifo. The display, unveiled ahead of the Portland Timbers’ 2-1 preseas victory over the rivals Seattle Sounders FC in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup, spanned the better part of a section at Kino Sports Complex’s North Stadium.
“When you get to knock them out of the playoffs in their house, in a shootout,” Walls adds, “you’ve just got to remind them.”
The southern locus of the TA (Timbers Army) Desert Corps may reside nearly 1400 miles from Portland, Ore., but in so many ways, the southwestern regional supporters group embodies so much of what the team’s fanbase is about. Taking shots at a rival is one way. Sharing their identity through tifo is another.
The two ideas coalesced in the moments before Wednesday’s kickoff. The Sounders had plenty of fans in attendance, too – the north side of the main soccer field’s east stand occupied by a lighter green than the south – but Portland’s support at Kino always takes things a step farther. Tifo has become part of the tradition around their favorite club’s annual visit.
Wednesday’s effort will be part of that tradition’s cannon, just as the “5-3” at the heart of a bursting sun highlighted the group’s 2014 effort, honoring the aggregate score from Portland’s playoff triumph over Seattle the preceding autumn. Similarly motivated this year, the Desert Corps produced something clear and unmistakable: the results of last year’s Western Conference semifinal penalty shootout, in green checks (conversions) and red Xs (misses), reminding the stand’s north end and any who’d see the pictures of how the teams last left the field.
“The idea was to make [the message] as big, as loud and in as much color as possible,” Walls explains.
Walls has been one of the focal points of the Desert Corps since the group’s creation, helping to organize the tailgates in Kino Sports Complex’s ramblas and offering space in his house for the tracing and painting of the displays. He’s not the only key member of the group, nor is he the RSG’s only persistent presence. Henrik Nielsen, another founding member of the group, was in attendance on Wednesday, too, as were a platoon of familiar faces that, since the group’s inception five years ago, have become trademarks of the Portland experience in Tucson.
This year, that experience wasn’t broken up over five weeks. In 2018, the team spent two weeks in Arizona before a reprieve back in Portland. Seven days later, the Timbers started a second fortnight in Tucson, giving traveling fans two targets to hit last winter.
“None of [the Oregon-based fans] are coming down this time,” Nielsen lamented before the Seattle game, then, with the rivals’ annual Arizona derby scheduled for the second part of Portland’s visits. This year, though, there was only one mark to hit, allowing a number of familiar Timbers Army faces to make the voyage from Portland to Arizona.
It helped fill out the stands for what some initially worried would be a relatively unattended game. Kino Sports’ stands often fill for the Timbers-Sounders games, but in previous years, those games have tended to be on weekends, making it easier for Phoenix-based fans to undertake the two-hour trek south for the annual affair. Despite worries that this year’s Wednesday night kickoff could diminish attendance, the venue’s east side was nearly filled, even if the bleachers to the field’s west were defined by their empty rows.
For Walls, though, the night was a success, if for no other reason than it had a celebratory feel, in light of last year’s postseason result. The tifo reflected that, and as the history of the Desert Corps shows, this year’s will be far from the final display reflecting the group’s support.
“We have another one for Seattle – we’ll have to save it for next year – that’s really, really good,” Walls says, ominously. “I’m looking forward to it.”