Editor’s note: This is the fifth part of a fictional series by Matt Pentz about the two American Cascadia Major League Soccer clubs.
Place: A black hole of an apartment on Hawthorne
Time: Depressingly late in the afternoon.
The shades, forest and maize, were permanently shuttered. Duct tape around the edges – a single sliver of intruding light meant instant agony.
Clive hadn’t even ventured outside in weeks. The annual retreat of the seasons-long rainy season was a joyous occasion for the rest of his city, but it was bad timing for a man who had adjusted the brightness on his television in a vain attempt to end the pounding in his head.
“A thumping like those off the class boot of the one and only Valeri, hark the herald angel of the new era, the embodiment of all that is good about the new rulers of MLS,” he grunted into his empty apartment. His colorful speeches that once – he told himself, this, at least – charmed the masses was wasted on a humid, slightly odorous 400 square feet.
Clive hadn’t ventured outside his increasingly filthy hovel since April. Half-eaten Ramen noodle cartons, a discarded hump of clothing that would take a fortnight launder, a scattered array of empty Vladimir vodka bottles. Isolation was beginning to take its toll.
Clive rolled himself over with as much effort as he had mustered in 48 hours, raised a crusty eye at the Vladimir on his end table – an accusing reminder of his newly acquired vice, as well as his status as a former 4-4-2 soccer bar employee – then at the lime-numbered clock that read 4:33. P.M., that is, 16:33 to those accustomed to military time.
“Aarrrrg. How the modestly mighty have tumbled from their middle-runged perch. Once an irreplaceable source of encyclopedic knowledge to a bottomless well for the Eastern Bloc’s shittiest devil swill.”
His Portland Timbers museum had turned into a mausoleum. Once a daily reminder of Clive’s great passion, the collection seems to audibly taunt his disarray, the NASL-era programs in particular.
Clive was going through the defining breakup of his life, and not handling it at all well.
The romance had been pieced together from the shards of his first heartbreak. Cara.
“A beauty unparalleled. Honeycomb hair like the setting sun, eyes the crystalline blue of the steamy Caribbean. Like looking into the sun — don’t get blinded. You’ve never craved an eye patch more, boys, let me tell you.”
Had Clive only funneled his eloquence her way, it all could have ended differently. But what 17-year-old boy can look a 17-year-old girl in the eye and have the balls to say something like that? Not him.
That’s not to say he didn’t try. Her ex-boyfriend had been a club rugby player, so Clive tried out for the intramural team at Tigard High. His days as a fly-half numbered six. A broken hand, a meaty foot and metal Nikes, came on the first game Cara showed up to, aquamarine eyes filled with enough sympathy that Clive could convince himself it was affection.
The gestures grew more desperate. This wasn’t the teen-comedy, she-never-noticed-me-until-too-late love story, but one far more damaging.
Clive gave it his best shot. Cara just didn’t feel it.
“The towering inferno in my belly, steam coming out the ears, was nothing more than a flickering pilot light in hers. I laid myself as bare as an unswaddled newborn, naked before the masses, and the most she could muster was a shrug,” Clive half-moans into his apartment.
This situation is rapidly deteriorating.
He could still replay in it his mind, Cara letting him down easy. Sticky linoleum, the bang of closing lockers silent the moment she spoke. Sunflower perfume and the weight of finality.
It was the spring of 2001. Two days later, the Timbers franchise made its Lazurene return after a decade-long hiatus.
The rejection caused a shift in the tectonic plates of Clive’s mind.
The ambitious junior who was on the fast track to Stanford became the flaky senior without a direction. He never missed a game at PGE Park but was rarely seen in class.
Clive tried Portland State for a few weeks, but it didn’t take. Having come up short in the greatest pursuit of his life, he ensured that he’d never get shut down again by simply not giving a shit.
Well, besides the Timbers. It was a one-sided love, yes. Even Clive knew that. But the win-loss record wasn’t important to him. It was a constant, something that couldn’t be taken away.
The Portland Timbers were Clive’s religion, and he was a fundamentalist.
Then his body began rejecting his team like poison. Or, closer to Clive’s current circumstances, like his stomach refusing more than a half-bottle of vodka.
The more wins Portland piled up, the worse it got. He vomited in the Section 104 aisle in the 3-3 come-from-behind draw against New York, fainted face down onto his coffee table after the late draw in Seattle.
Clive knew what he had to do.
He had an addictive personality, couldn’t quit cold turkey by choice. He purposely plotted his own demise.
The morning of the home tie against Houston, Clive walked into 4-4-2 for the final time. The owner, Dino, wasn’t surprised to see him on an off day. “No freebees today, my son. You’ve been drinking us out of business.”
“Don’t fuss, Dino, I just want to surround myself with the greatest of all games. Four continents on the flat screens, one common, all-binding tie. The solution to world peace,” Clive said, Dino turning back to the Serbian league game in the corner before he could finish. “On second thought, hit me up with a Wolves shot, you know I’m good for it.”
Dino waved him off without even turning around, half-disgust, half-hearted approval. Clive felt the lump rising out of his stomach, couldn’t even risk enjoying the surroundings one last time. He slipped his resignation letter out of his back jeans pocket and onto the bar, tilted the shot down the hatch in one smooth gulp, walk-raced out without looking back.
The unseasonably warm Saturday brought the Army out in mass for some afternoon tailgating, but Clive needed to be alone. His handle of Vladimir was significantly lighter by the time he snagged a bus to the Alphabet District.
Clive could hear the roar as soon as he opened the door. The outdoor Mexican restaurant was standing-room only as he shuffled by, laughter obvious to his pain.
He turned past the McDonalds on the corner of 21st and there it was.
“Glory of glories,” he’d called it in better times, and despite it all, the memories still took his breath away.
Head down, Clive handed over his season ticket and struggled through the turnstile. He shouldered past the usher as the color and sound overwhelmed him. It was still scoreless, but years of experience told him this was a happy crowd, that the Timbers were on top.
A heaving blur of green and white around him, the blue-white-green flags throwing off his equilibrium. Clive stumbled down the aisle, no hesitation, the field was upon him. He lurched over the railing, hit the ground with a thud, was muscled off the field past Timber Joey’s log.
The crowd seemed to barely register the disturbance.
Clive took one last glance over the shaved head of the bouncer-built security guard latched to his triceps, the otherworldly green of the field under the lights.
As the headed down the tunnel, his captor confirmed what he already knew.
Portland hasn’t lost since. San Jose, Sporting, New England, Dallas, Chivas, Vancouver.
Clive had no idea. Post-Cara, the soccer schedule has been his reference point. Without it, he was unmoored. Six weeks or six years? Clive couldn’t allow himself to confirm that he was better off without the Timbers, has ensured that he feels terrible every day with his new go-to beverage.
He’d always had a way of self-preservation, if that’s what you could call this.