In 2002, I saw my first professional soccer game live when I went to watch the San Jose Earthquakes play against the New England Revolution at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
As a 12-year-old, I didn’t really know what to expect but my coach at the time said that it would be a moment I would never forget and a good opportunity to pick up some tips.
He was right on both counts.
After 90 minutes of excruciatingly boring play which resulted in a 0-0 draw, it was certainly a game in which I have never, and will never forget.
The passing was horrendous (long balls seemed to be the only thing the teams had actually mastered in practice), the players acted like a bunch of spoiled brats and the fans (despite the stadium being about 85 percent full) didn’t have a clue about what was going on on the field and frankly didn’t care.
In terms of tips, I did pick up a few good ones courtesy of the one and only Landon Donovan.
Such as how to actually pass the ball to the player standing open in front of the goal instead of trying to take on the six defenders who have parked themselves in the six-yard box. I also learned that if you don’t work on your weak foot, expect to send easy tap ins 15-feet over the crossbar.
Yes, it was a game that I have never forgotten and completely turned me off to all things MLS.
However, when a friend offered me the chance to see the Portland Timbers in action this last Thursday, I thought why not? It has been nine years since my last MLS match so things have got to be better than they were in ‘02.
I agreed to go but I was still skeptical about what I would see. My friend spent a majority of the car ride and the time before the game telling me how it was going to be an incredible game. I wasn’t convinced.
Everyone had talked up the Earthquakes game and it turned out to be one of the worst games I have ever seen and left a lasting impression for all the wrong reasons.
So in that 4 1/2 hour car ride up to Portland, I kept myself in the balance between an optomistic mindset and a skeptical one.
I would give the MLS one more chance, but just one more chance.
If the Timbers game turned out to be another Earthquakes, my interest in MLS would be killed for good.
From the minute we turned onto Burnside St., I knew that this game was going to be different.
Despite the drizzly weather, fans were out in full force wearing scarfs, jackets and anything else sporting the Timbers’ green and yellow axe logo.
The game itself was levels above what I saw previously although still boring at times (long balls can get old after a while).
While the game itself was not all that bad, nothing could compare to the atmosphere within Jeld Wen Field.
In a stadium jam-packed full, the “Timber’s Army” were the ones who took the game from being simply good to fantastic.
I had expected the excitement given that it was the Timbers first season as a member of the MLS, but I never expected much passion… especially in the United States.
From start to finish, supporters did nothing but encourage their team with powerful cheers, urging their team on to victory.
Most intriguing was Lumberjack Joey, who had a busy night with the chainsaw cutting off four pieces of timber, one for each of the team’s goals, which he then held up to the roar of the crowd.
Such passion for a team completely new to MLS blew me away.
While it didn’t come close to rivaling matches in Europe, it raised the bar in the United States to an astronomical level.
The game ended in a 4-2 victory to the Timbers over the Chicago Fire, giving the team their first home victory in their debut MLS season and putting the icing on an already incredible night.
Personally, Thursday showed me that MLS has most definitely taken significant steps in the right direction since that dismal Earthquakes match.
The play was better, the players were better (although some were a little light on their feet) and the fans… I can’t even find words to explain other than they were phenomenal.
In my eyes, MLS has redeemed itself for the most part.
So next time someone offers me the chance to see the Portland Timbers play, you better believe I’ll be going. And I won’t take two days to make up my mind.
Note: While it is the Timbers first season in the MLS, the team name has actually been in existence since 1975. The Timbers competed in the NASL from 1975 until 1982. The Timbers returned to Portland between 1989 and 1990, competing in the Western Soccer League, lead by former NASL midfielder John Bain and University of Portland players Kasey Keller and Scott Beneditti. The Timbers did not return to Portland until 2001 when they joined the United Soccer Leagues in the A-League. The Timbers were accepted into the MLS franchise in 2009 with the 2011 season set as their debut season. The team followed their win against Chicago on Thursday with a 3-2 win over the New England Revolution on Sunday. The Timbers are currently fourth in the Western Conference of the MLS.