September 16th, 2012 by Kelly McLain
No doubt even casual sports fans have heard of the amazing atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field on a Portland Timbers matchday. It’s loud, passionate, and electric. It’s the kind of place that reminds people why they go to live sporting events. Saturday’s 1-1 draw with rivals Seattle Sounders was no different. In fact, there was a slight hint of bedlam on top of the normal organized chaos.
In a sense, a “perfect storm” was brewing: the Timbers had a chance to clinch the Cascadia Cup in the midst of a disappointing season; the Sounders have played well of late with their sights set on the playoffs and a possible MLS Cup run; the teams, the cities and the fans don’t like each other; it was a glorious, sunny, late-summer day with kickoff just before 1:00 in the afternoon. And perhaps the icing on the cake was the national television audience, tuning in on broadcast tv—no fancy, expensive cable packaged required; regular-season MLS action available nationwide, on a Saturday afternoon, at the beginning of college football season.
It was… frantic.
Not to say the action on the field wasn’t exciting—shots off the post, fouls, cards, Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts leaving due to injury and being replaced by Joe Bendik, Seattle forward Freddy Montero scoring on Bendik 30 seconds later, Rodney Wallace netting the equalizer in the 78th minute… the game had enough action to please most any soccer fan.
It just couldn’t quite match the hectic atmosphere surrounding it.
In the moments before the match started, Portland Timbers GM and interim manager Gavin Wilkinson looked across a throng of photographers, cameramen, television crew members, various team and league employees, VIP’s and special guests, and field security towards the visitors bench. There was a look, then a pause, then a sigh. Wilkinson decided to delay the customary greeting of opposing coaches.
“Too many people,” he muttered.
And he was right.
Had Wilkinson attempted the perilous 20-yard journey he may not have made it back to his bench in one piece. It really was that crazy down on the field. Finally, as the players took their spots on the field and the media masses dispersed, fleeing to various corners of the pitch (and sending Fitness Coach John Ireland’s cones strewn about in their wake), Wilkinson weaved his way through the remaining trainers, medical staff personnel and referee coordinators. He side-stepped past Olympian Galen Rupp, Star Spangled Banner performer Kyra Smith and various field workers, and quickly shook hands with Sigi Schmid and his staff. There were still plenty of obstacles to maneuver around on his way back, but he got a quick handshake from NBC analyst Kyle Martino, the only person in the immediate vicinity who seemed aware that there were in fact coaches and players around who were about to play a game.
Eventually the match of course took place, but every once in a while there is so much hype, so much anticipation, so much passion, that sometimes the spectacle can almost drown out the game. Almost.