Place: Southeast Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, Ore.,
Time: Far too early.
Clive awakens to an unseasonal burst of sunlight with a splitting headache.
Seems like this has been his wakeup call for months now. It first came on last fall, symptoms ebbing and flowing.
Clive has been downplaying it with his usual humor. Been calling it “Porter fever” after the new coach of his beloved Portland Timbers – or, in Clive-speak, “the future ruler of MLS, the man to lift the greatest club this blue marble has ever known to its rightful throne atop the league.” Clive is longwinded. Was, at least, until this flu, whatever it is, settled in.
Clive fights his daily battle with will power, wins, rolls out of bed. His studio apartment could function as a Timbers museum. Game programs date all the way back to the inaugural season in ’75 – “City and team, falling in love at first sight. Such a natural match that a first-year team, should-be scrubs, are lifted all the way to the Soccer Bowl,” Clive orates. Scarves from every company of the Timbers Army. Signed jerseys – green white red — from the dregs of the NASL days to the present.
15 minutes later, he tramps the short trek up the hill to his day job. Thai restaurant on the left-hand side of the boulevard, antique store – the Portland most outsiders picture, all the stereotypes crammed into a converted garage – on the right.
A few years back, Clive landed a coveted spot as a bartender at 4-4-2, the city’s premium soccer bar, to those in the know. A dream job to him – soccer all day, every day, draws tips for his encyclopedic knowledge of Timbers history.
The frontal assault on his senses as he enters the door hasn’t dulled since his first time visiting the “The Mecca of all that is beautiful, the shrine to the game of the exalted, where European beer flows in currents more powerful than the mighty Multnomah Falls.”
The sizzling of Cepavi, an import of the Bosnian owners. The disorienting blend of English and Spanish from the bar’s four TVs. The memorabilia, draping every available swatch of wall and ceiling. Jerseys: Manchester City, Inter Milan, FK Saravejo, Sunderland. Flags: Ghana, Bayern Munchen, Barca, Ethiopia. Scarves: Millwall, Pohang Steelers, Timber Joey, Pride of the South Coast.
Clive barely has time to regain his equilibrium. Mr. Hoban, the most regular of the regulars, starts every workweek with this inquiry about the past weekend of soccer. “Only thing that matters on an off week, the darkest time of the season, blacker than an eclipse at midnight, is that those rave-green-wearing, those-who-shall-never-be-named-or-so-help-you-god rivals of ours lose,” Clive replies, “so you can’t beat this one.”
Hoban grunts in agreement, a tremor through his jowls. He fixes Clive with a sideways glance, a cotton-white eyebrow raised. “Whasamatter with you?” he spits. “You look like shit.”
Clive sidesteps it, cat uncharacteristically grabbing his tongue. He mumbles something about not getting enough sleep. That “Porter fever” stuff is played out, anyway.
Privately, though, he’s starting to wonder.
Opening night at Jeld-Wen, Clive’s Christmas.
The minute he hits the tunnel, he’s home. Section 104. The Timbers Army is in full voice: Ohhhh, Rose City! / Soccer City / Score a gooooooal / Whenever you are playing we will always follow you / We are the Timbers Army and forever we’ll be true. Flags are always waving, stories high, scarves already aloft, arms length: Green blue white yellow.
Emotions reach a fever pitch. Clive breaks out in fever-induced cold sweats.
He had been improving for months, but as the season approached, the maladies returned. As Portland swept the white marble around in sweeping arcs in the early minutes, Clive is overcome by such nausea that nearly heeded urge to rush down the aisle, shoving bodies, spilling Timbers special edition Green-and-Gold Kölsch.
Mikael Silvestre spares his blushes with a red-faced mistake of his own.
Right in front of the Section, a back pass turns into 1-nil New York. On the other side of Diego Valeri’s bounce-bounce-pop wonder goal, another Silvestre mistake. Some more clinical finishing and, suddenly, it’s 3-1 Red Bulls at the break. Clive’s heart is sinking along with his temperature, back to a steady 98.6.
The second half ratchets them both back up.
The Timbers dominate, in the style Clive had in mind when he told anyone who would listen that “Porter is going to incorporate a style so sexy, you’re going to need a cold shower. Tiki-taka, Total Football rolled into one, soccer’s natural ascent into the heavens, taking the City of Roses into the Pantheon of the greats.”
Nagbe-Alhassan-Valeri-Nagbe. Touch-touch-shot-rebound. 3-2. Shot off the back of a defender, 3-3. Mayhem in the Army. Clive vomits into well between the rows of seats. Portland should have pushed on to grab all three points, but has some mercy on Clive.
Elated and sick as a dog, the trip back across the city on the TriMet passes by in a blur.
A week later, same Section.
Montreal is in town, and the Army is abuzz with the extra hours of Widmer-Brothers beer drinking a night kickoff allows and, especially, Porter-inspired hope. It’s a subject Clive could’ve written a thesis on since the hiring was announced. Yet, much to the increasing worry of the section regulars – Mick and his famed South African Makoya Makaraba hard hat, Kasey and his tagalong girlfriend, the aging Mr. Winters and his ageless adoration of profanity – Clive doesn’t offer a peep.
It’s the kind of night hand-crafted for his hyperbole, the old stadium coming alive.
The reflection of the flood lights off the one-of-a-kind, wooden overhang that protects the Army (“A fitting tribute to the masculine, unadulterated brawn that made Portland what it is, the sweat of the ‘Jacks carving out the greatest Metropoli in history,” as Clive once put it), the preserved concourses that allow visitors to step back in time (“to the prehistoric ages when MLS inexplicably overlooked our seething passion”), the pregame buzz in the air (“enough to fuel rocket ships to that last frontier, that mighty Red Planet that has captured our imagination for centuries”).
Tonight, though, none of that. Clive is unmoored, his body screaming out in protest where his voice cannot.
The optimism emitting from everybody but him bursts on 30 minutes. Hassoun Camara buries an overhead kick. Montreal’s 89 minutes of stout defending and a moment or two of brilliance’ style claims another victim. Impact 2, Timbers 1.
Clive, being a good-humored yet most importantly rational man, seeks answers in science.
Yet doctor after doctor can summon no physical diagnosis, this after a half year of headaches nausea fevers fatigue. And there’s no denying, as much as he has tried to, that his body shuddered with relief when Camara’s graceful effort bulged the net right in the Army’s collective face.
Clive is getting more desperate. His moment of truth is approaching.
Seattle-Portland. The rivalry match he once boasted “was more heated than if you threw the rest of the world’s so-called derbies into a pot and put it on boil for an hour and a half. How hot can El Clasico be when the cities are half a nation apart (showing a remarkable blind eye to the realities of politics and persecution)?”
Clive dares not take his usual journey up I-5 with the rest of the Army’s finest soldiers. He will fight this battle alone, only his game-worn Sal Zizzo shirt for company.
A careless giveaway at the midfield stripe. Steve Zakuani flying down the flank, the Portland defense no match for his pace and intricately designed haircut. A pinpoint, curled cross and the Sounders are in front early.
The next 75 minutes aren’t much better. Seattle is on top and, with what Clive sees as an inappropriate garishness, throws on its fancy new striker Martins in a moment of blatant disrespect.
But, but. 90 minutes on the dot, Rodney Wallace loops home a header off a broken free kick. So many emotions raging in the Timbers section tucked in the upper reaches of CenturyLink Field. So many forces simultaneously enforcing themselves on Clive.
Clive jump off his couch in pure jubilation. Light-headedness overcomes him, and one small leap for the Timbers ends in a fainted heap on the floor.
Porter fever, it’s a powerful thing.
Next time: Meanwhile, up in Seattle…