Here's something you should know, especially if you plan on visiting Portland any time soon. They have a soccer team. And a real soccer team, at that. Not the jive-ass minor league, playing-on-Astroturf-with-baseball-dugouts-in-the-background sort of team, but an actual MLS squad with a big-name corporate sponsor emblazoned across the chests of its players and a real-life mascot who actually cuts logs in half on the sideline with a chainsaw.
They're called the Timbers and Portlanders love them. A lot. And unlike in other U.S. cities equipped with MLS teams, Portland fans actually watch their team. The games are sold out and last Saturday I couldn't find a bar that wasn't equipped with an audience of beer-in-hand, eyes-on-the-screen fans, many of whom were draped in the Timbers' yellow-on-green jerseys. Given that Portland is essentially a European city masquerading as a well-read mid-market American settlement, this enthusiasm fits well with their bicycle lanes and efficient mass transit.
My comrades and I saddled up at a table and selected beers from a hop-heavy, Northwest-only menu and soon realized that any sort of casual conversation would be interrupted by intermittent cheering from our fellow green-clad bar patrons. And this was fine, because I'm a whole-hearted supporter of cheering aloud to televised sports. In fact, bar cheering may be one of my favorite manifestations of crowd participation. If a bar crowd were to start the wave, I would likely join in. I might even initiate the damn thing. Also, I was actually starting to buy into this Timbers thing. Sports fandom in Portland is a sexy mix of fierce team loyalty, indie -rock and fashionable athletic apparel, and I like all of those things.
But the problem is, I, as a fair-weather soccer fan at best, know how the game is played and how there are 11 players on each side and that the players are required to wear shorts revealing their offensively fit legs, but that's where my knowledge ends. Thus, half the time, I didn't know what we were cheering about, but I of course pretended to get it, with a little help from the guy to my left, who by game's end seemed to be a candidate for my next Facebook friend invitation.
While this guy was clearly a die-hard Timbers fan, this didn't stop him - like every other MLS fan I've ever encountered in the Northwest - to declare, "This is fun to watch, but it sucks compared to the European leagues." No matter how devoted a Timbers or Sounders fan declare himself or herself to be, they will likely want you to know that they're real soccer fans and that this MLS business is merely a temporary fix for their soccer jones. Apparently, it's like digging into the cooler, finding the pale ales already consumed and settling for a refreshing but somewhat disappointing PBR.
When the game came to a close, the Timbers held on to beat Salt Lake City 1-0 (you're supposed to say this "one - nil," by the way) and when the referee blew the final whistle, everyone applauded. So did I, because over the past half-hour, I'd learned how to pretend to be a soccer fan in the city of Portland, Oregon.
Next week: How to pretend to be a baseball fan in Seattle, Washington. Step one: Learn the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" and then express unwarranted disappointment in every player except Ichiro.