"Kalif! Kalif! Put your hands up!"
It's a chant that longtime Portland Timbers fans may remember that was directed at a lightning quick midfielder from Ghana, Kalif Alhassan. Yelled loudly usually during pregame warmups from the north end Timbers Army, Alhassan would always oblige, putting his hands up and recognizing the crowd's admiration.
First signed to the club in 2010 in the club's USL era as a 19-year old from Accra, Ghana, Alhassan scored a memorable golazo in his debut on a rainy night in Puerto Rico. He then became part of the inaugural Timbers MLS roster in 2011, making 32 appearances, sitting second on the team with six assists and was on the MLS Team of the Week in Week 5. In 2013, the Ghanaian had three goals and three assists and was a key part of the team's first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs run. All told, Alhassan played in over 100 matches for the club across all competitions.
Since playing for the Timbers, Alhassan spent some time in the North American Soccer League appearing with Minnesota United, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and even spent a season with the New York Cosmos under then-head coach Giovanni Savarese. Most recently, the former Ghana youth international played professionally in India.
But the Rose City made a huge impact on Alhassan and it is where he has put down roots, having gotten married here in 2014 and since started a family with two kids. Still in Portland after the onset of COVID-related quarantine, Alhassan has been busy providing private soccer training as well as spending time with his family all while he looks for his next team.
He chatted with us about his time in the Green and Gold, discussed that chant, and talked about some of his favorite moments.
You spent five seasons in Portland with the Timbers, including a portion of the 2010 season before the club joined MLS. When you think back on your time in the Rose City, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of every moment I spent with the club and the city. I mean, I loved my time being with the team and the city. My family loved it. That’s why we moved here. I would say every moment … every moment.
This year marks the club's 10th in MLS. You played in more than 100 games for the club. Think back to that first home match on April 14, 2011. What do you remember of that night?
That first home game was the moment, I would say was the biggest one. It was a rainy day and the Timbers Army showed up with their numbers and they supported us from the first minute to the last. They didn’t give up on us. I was happy we were able to get our first win, also – our first MLS win. And I was able to get my first assist also as a Timber, in that year.
What are two other games or moments that stand out to you; stories you share about your time with the Timbers?
My best two moments would be … scoring my first goal with the club; that was in 2010 in Puerto Rico. Everybody was talking about that goal. [laughs] My second moment would be the first [MLS] home game, because it was the biggest moment, not just for Timbers, but also for the Army and the city.
You had 12 assists in league play over four MLS seasons - FIVE of them were game-winning assists. What was your favorite assist as a Timber? Do you remember the play?
I remember all of it. I can give you all the names, too, if you want [laughs] against the teams.
I would say our second home game against FC Dallas in 2011. I think it was my second assist of the game. I had the ball and, I think, I dribbled past five or six Dallas defenders, and then Rodney [Wallace] out of nowhere came in and scored a goal. But then Rodney was celebrating and I was celebrating my assist, too. I think that was probably the best one, I would say.
The chant. You heard it before every home game as the team warmed up, "Kalif, Kalif, put your hands up!" What did it mean, for you, to have the supporters have a chant for you and one that became a pre-game tradition?
“Put your hands up…” When they see me around town, after I left the Timbers, or whenever I’m in town or at the stadium, whenever they see me, they just say, ‘Put Your Hands Up. Put Your Hands Up.’ Even when they meet me at the store or I do private training, some of the parents or some of the kids … I think the kids get used to it, so once they see me they be like, ‘Put Your Hands Up, Put Your Hands Up’, and I take it as a proud moment. I love the chant.
Not just me. Because, I remember there was a game we were doing a warm-up and it took a while for [my teammates] to realize the Army hadn’t done chant yet. And everybody was like, ‘Are they going to sing? Are they going to sing?’ And I’m like, ‘Ah, don’t worry, they’re going to sing.’ And we keep going on with the warmup and still with the Army, and I was down and everybody was down, and [my teammates] were like, ‘Ah don’t worry, they’re going to sing it.’ And once they started singing, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it.’ Everybody was like, ‘There we go.’ I remember that. I think that was the best, best chant, because I let them go on for a while before I lifted my hands up. I love that chant.
It means a lot. Like you said, not every player gets a chant from their fans. For them to recognize what I do for the team not just on the field, but off the field also. I’m very proud and very honored the Timbers Army had a chant for me.
Which team was your favorite to play against? Or what player or match-up did you look forward to? Why?
I would say, Seattle for sure. Anytime we play Seattle, it’s like a cup final. Both teams are prepared for that game. For the fans, it doesn’t even matter if you’re losing or in bad shape, bad form, but that particular game, it matters for them the most. We, the players, also know that. So when it comes to games like Seattle, everybody is ready for that. Everybody is looking forward to that game.
If you had to pick your favorite Portland-Seattle game that you played in, is there one that sticks out?
In 2013, we won, 1-0, and I scored a goal. I think that would be my one pick.
Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Timbers
Playoff wins. Notable goals that were Goal of the Week. The first-ever Timber to be named the MLS Player of the Week. How do you hope the supporters remember you and your time in Green & Gold?
I hope they will remember me as Kalif, the kid that came from Ghana. The kid that fell in love with the city and with the team. As the “Jazz Hands,” they called me.
They have a drawing of me with my hands up; it’s reaching … Jazz Hands. I think it is in section 111; one of my favorite sections. I hope they remember me as Jazz hands and my footwork, also.
Photo: Ethan Erickson / Portland Timbers