We imagine that the celebrations from Portland’s MLS Cup win have rolled right into the holidays. For a temperature check on the football-mad Rose City, we turn The Oregonian’s Timbers and Thorns beat reporterJamie Goldberg. In this issue’s Three Questions, we ask her what it was like to live and breathe all things Timbers as they marched to their first MLS Cup, how other cities can replicate the Thorns’ fan experience, and where to eat in PDX.
MiB: Take us back less than two weeks ago. How excited was the great city of Portland when the Timbers secured the MLS Cup. Paint us a picture. Was there one moment of ebullience that surprised even someone like you, who covers the team and understands its unique relationship with its fans?
Goldberg: There are fans that have been following the Timbers since their inaugural season as a North American Soccer League team in 1975 and have been waiting 40 years for a championship. There also haven’t been too many championships to celebrate in Portland over the years. The Blazers won the NBA Championship in 1977 and the Portland Thorns won the inaugural NWSL championship in 2013, but in terms of professional sports, that’s about it. So, there was a ton of excitement.
I wasn’t too surprised by the reaction of the fans, but it was amazing to see thousands of supporters show up at the Portland International Airport to greet the team, even though it was pouring rain and the club’s flight was delayed. Thousands of fans then turned out for a downtown parade and a rally the next day, despite more rain. I think there were two moments that really stood out to me. The first came at the parade. The police had told fans to stay on the sidewalk, but after the club passed in a giant truck, the fans took to the streets and the police allowed thousands and thousands of Timbers supporters to march eight blocks behind the team. They serenaded the club the entire way. Later that night, the club held a rally at Providence Park. More than 9,000 fans showed up for the event. The rally was supposed to last just half an hour, but when Timbers broadcaster Jake Zivin tried to bring the event to a close, the team stopped him. For the next thirty minutes, the team continued to hang around and celebrate with the crowd, singing off-key renditions of “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “We are the Champions.” It was really cool to see professional athletes wanting to keep the celebration going with their fans as long as possible.
MiB: Talk about the struggle to maintain objectivity as a beat writer. You travel with the team. And, by the nature of your work, get to know them as people. In the game’s dying embers, with the Timbers winning 2 – 1, what were your emotions?
Goldberg: At times, I think it is really hard to stay totally objective. I do get to know the players and coaching staff and when players sustain injuries or get traded, I sometimes have an emotional reaction. Still, this is my job and I think on a day-to-day basis it is pretty easy for me to take a step back and cover the team from an objective standpoint. My emotions definitely aren’t tied to the results like they would be if I were a fan and I think that allows me to stay more impartial in my coverage. That said, it is a unique experience to cover a playoff race and I couldn’t help but feel excited late in the game when it seemed clear that the Timbers were going to win the MLS Cup. It’s a lot of fun to cover a championship and to be in the locker room during the celebration. I got to see a very different side of the players and coaching staff than I usually see after games. My postgame interview with Liam Ridgewell turned into a Justin Bieber dance party. From a journalistic perspective, I couldn’t have asked for a better playoff run to cover. There were so many ups and downs during the season, but the team came together at the right time to go on a magical playoff run.
MiB: How is covering soccer in Portland different than covering it in other MLS cities?
Goldberg: Portland has only two professional sports teams in the Portland Trail Blazers and the Timbers and the Timbers obviously have a large and dedicated fan base. So, I am definitely writing for a large community of readers that will quickly respond and react to anything I publish. I think it just drives me to want to put out the best content that I can. While I do plenty of game coverage, my favorite stories to write are features on the players or fan base and stories that explore issues around the league.
MiB: Which MLS/NWSL stadium has the best food for media?
Goldberg: Portland has pretty great food in the press box. It’s definitely one of the best options for food in the league, but at the risk of upsetting some Timbers fans, I have to go with Seattle. They have a Starbucks barista and build-your-own salad bar at every game. That’s tough to beat.
MiB: The Thorns have built an incredibly special fan culture. During home games, Providence Park is cauldron that many Premier League teams would be proud of. What lessons can other NWSL teams learn from Portland?
Goldberg: The Thorns are unique in women’s soccer worldwide. The fans in Portland come to games to watch good soccer and support their team and they’ll come out whether they are going to see Alex Morgan or a lineup of lesser known players. The fan base is made up of people of all ages, not just young girls and their families. The fan base in Portland in unique and this isn’t something that other markets can easily replicate, but if women’s clubs want to build their fan bases, they need to find a way to market to both men and women and fans of all ages.
MiB: Best restaurant in Portland. What are we ordering to eat and drink?
Goldberg: This is hard question because the Portland food scene is incredible. I have a long list of favorite restaurants and am always discovering new places. If I had to pick one restaurant, I would have to go with Pok Pok, which as many people know is one of Portland’s most popular restaurants. It serves Thai street food. I would recommend going in a big group and ordering a bunch of dishes to share. The fish sauce wings are amazing, though I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tried on their menu. They have a long list of great cocktails or for a non-alcoholic option, the drinking vinegars are worth a taste.