Editor’s note: Absolom Hagg is a friend of E Pluribus Loonum, but as you will read he was not our friend on Friday night when the Loons squared off against Portland Timbers. We are excited to share his story, photos, and experiences from seeing Minnesota United’s first MLS match in person. Enjoy!
I was born in Marshall, MN, where both my grandmothers still reside, and spent my formative years in Two Harbors. I’m currently writing this on a laptop with a Lake Superior decal over the Apple logo. I’ve played street hockey, gone ice-fishing, snow-shoed, cross-country skied, and know where “up north” is. I’ll never eat the last piece of cake or take the last beer. I get an inordinate amount of pleasure knocking the dirty snow from my wheel well. I play Duck, Duck, Gray Duck. I own an original Homer Hankie and the 1987 World Series Wheaties box. Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is and always will be the greatest baseball game ever played (with Game 6, Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, and Game 163 of the 2009 baseball season as runners-up). The North Stars is the greatest name a hockey team ever had and the North Stars logo is the pinnacle of logo design. I refuse to acknowledge that there is a hockey team in Dallas. I owned a Timberwolves t-shirt before the Timberwolves ever played a game (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I preferred Polars to Timberwolves. I was 100% wrong about that.). I remember the Les Steckel debacle and the Jerry Burns profanity. I derive pleasure from every Green Bay Packer loss (the more devastating the loss, the more pleasure I derive). I am still haunted by Darrin Nelson’s drop and Gary Anderson’s missed field goal (less so by Favre’s interception, but that hurt too).
I tell you this so that you know that I am one of you. I’ve been beaten down and built up by the same moments that beat you down and built you up. I love the same teams you love. I love the same state you love. But this weekend, in Minnesota United’s first MLS match, I rooted, and rooted hard, for the Portland Timbers.
When I grew up, soccer barely existed in Minnesota. There were no youth leagues, professional soccer leagues were, at best, an afterthought, and the most we talked about the sport was to make fun of it. With the U.S. Men’s unexpected run to the round of 16 in the 1994 World Cup and especially the Women’s team’s 1999 World Cup win, soccer started to make some headway into the American consciousness, but the MLS carried about the same cultural cache as the Arena Football League (maybe even less since Arena Football was at least American Football). This is not to say that there were no passionate soccer fans during these dark times, just that most Americans had no idea they existed. I certainly didn’t.
My first inkling that soccer was something special was in 2006. I happened to be in Germany with my brother and cousin during the World Cup (this was completely by accident. We didn’t realize the World Cup was there until we got there), and, as none of us spoke German, the only thing we could watch on TV was soccer. It was the first time I’d ever watched multiple matches over a short span of time, so it was the first time that I began to understand the rules and strategy and craft of the game. It was also the first real taste of how much this sport meant to the world outside of the US. When Germany won their match against Sweden in the round of 16, and the entire city of Augsburg partied throughout the night, I got swept up. When I got back home, I was going to become a soccer evangelist. I was going to read every soccer book I could get my hands on. I was going to join a soccer league. But, as often happens, my enthusiasm waned when real life set in, and I did none of that.
Then, in 2010, I moved to Portland. I had heard about Portland’s love affair with soccer and the Timbers and had even watched bits and pieces of a couple Timbers’ matches. By now, you’ve probably already heard about how Portland is Soccer City and how Timbers’ fans are crazy mad for their team and how the atmosphere at Providence Park is like that seen in the EPL, and you’ve probably heard it so much that you’re entirely sick of it. Honestly, I’m a Timbers fan, and I get sick of it. But I wasn’t prepared for my first Timbers match. It really was unlike any sporting event I’d ever attended (and I bet United fans who were there last night would, begrudgingly, agree. Which is not to say that Timbers fans are better fans. Just that a Timbers match is not like other matches). By the end of that 90-plus minutes, the traditions, the crowd camaraderie, and the singing, oh, the singing, had turned me into the soccer evangelist that the 2006 World Cup couldn’t (I still haven’t joined a league though), but more it had turned me into a rabid Timbers fan.
Through an incredible stroke of luck, I became a season ticket holder a year later, and since then have spent countless hours (well, technically, I suppose I could count them up, but I’m not going to) in section 110, row H, seat 10 cheering and singing and hanging out with old friends and making new ones. I was there when Diego Valeri, the best Timbers player and one of the nicest people in the league, scored from an angle that I would call sinful:
I was there to see every stupid goal that Clint Dempsey scored for the hated Sounders (to imagine the Timbers-Sounders rivalry, take the Vikings-Packers rivalry and add more beards, coffee, IPA, and rain). I was there for what may be the greatest goal I’ve ever seen:
I was there to watch Nick Rimando make ridiculous save after ridiculous save and break our hearts time after time. And I was there in 2015 for the greatest sporting event I’ve ever witnessed live, the knockout round playoff win against Sporting KC when this happened (seriously, watch the whole video. You won’t be disappointed. Also, keep in mind that all this happened after Portland took a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute only to have SKC equalize in the 87th. And then SKC took a 2-1 lead six minutes into extra time only to have Maxi Urruti score with less than two minutes left to send the match to penalty kicks):
About a month later, at a huge viewing party after the Timbers beat Dallas (no matter the sport, beating Dallas always feels good) to go to the MLS Cup, I was randomly pulled aside by a TV interviewer and asked to describe how I was feeling. I said something to the effect that I hadn’t been that nervous or excited in 20 years. I had gotten married two weeks before. (Editor’s Note: We found a link to said news piece, but unfortunately the link is broken, if anyone works at KGW in Portland that can help us out, that would be great.)
The Loons will always be my second-favorite MLS team. I will root for them against every other MLS team. Even this weekend, I found myself pulling for them to make a good showing (which they did until the wheels fell off very late). But the Timbers were my first soccer love, and we all know how sports love works. We can’t quit it even if we want to (as all us Vikings fans can attest). Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed your first MLS match. I hope that those of you who came to Portland had a great time and were treated well (excellent turnout, by the way). And I hope that your first soccer love brings you the same joy and jubilance and companionship that the Timbers have brought me (just not at our expense). RCTID.
Here’s a gallery of shots from section 110, row H, seat 10:
Wait, sorry, one last reason I have to root for the Timbers. I’m on the side of the stadium.
Did you enjoy Absolom’s piece as much as we did? Follow him on Twitter (@absoloj) and let him know!