Sarah is crying. We were waiting for a green light at Prescott and 33rd Avenue, returning home from The Big Short. Dan, my roommate glances over and can’t hide the pity, mouthing the words, “I hope she’s okay.” He alerts his partner, who holds his hand in solidarity. They stare for a second or two, remembering the days when sports made them cry.
I’d only seen her cry over a sport one other time: the night the Oregon Ducks lost yet another college football championship. She refused to talk to me during the long trip from Salem to our home in Portland. Not out of anger but emotional fatigue.
This, the second time Sarah has cried on my watch, is because the Timbers have abandoned Maxi Urruti to Dallas FC. I think about consoling with “we knew it was coming” and “his contract, it was his contract!” I respectfully remain quiet. Nothing sucks more than reason in the time of emotion. I don’t want to be that guy. That guy sucks.
So I keep it mellow, grab her some water and check the television for something lighthearted. Suddenly, in a single moment, I realize why Chicken Soup for the Soul is like a billion dollar industry.
While I empathize with Sarah and love her to death, I’m secretly delighted. She cares like I do. She really cares. I think about snapping a photo but she hits hard so I reconsider. She’s watched every game since we started dating and she’s read every piece I’ve ever written, shudder. I mean I could have assumed she cared, and I did, but you don’t know until you know, you know? It’s not that important for your significant other to love the things you do, in fact with Timbers stuff it’s nice to find some people untainted with the submersion of the whole thing. The thing is, I know Sarah is capable of it, she’s a Ducks maniac and exhibits the same kind of non-compromising commitment to that football team as I do my futbol club.
I don’t quite understand college football. I’ve casually followed teams with players who were projected to be top professional players but I’ve never really had a team of my own. I was adopted into the Ducks when Sarah and I entered the “meet the parents” phase of our relationship. Suddenly, I was chest bumping Mariota touchdowns. It proved to be temporary though as a down year for the Ducks in 2015, caused my attention to wane. I could feel the doubt she glanced with her eyes, she wants me to “care like she does.”
She took me to a Ducks game in 2014. For your information, I love American football. I’ve cried over football, I was baptized in the failure of my football team. But college football, isn’t like professional football. The reasons to be there are quite different, it feels more like familiar pride than the cold-blooded desire to see one man dominate another with a combination of brute force and superhuman speed. It’s brutal, I know, which is why someday it might just end altogether. A fate I’m fine with actually, as much as it breaks my heart to see my childhood memories erased, it’s far better than having young kids’ actual childhoods wiped away in a single moment of poor technique or misfortune.
Ducks fanaticism is more like soccer than other professional sports. There is more community in it than just box seat billionaires, and it’s chalk full of sayings that sound like inside jokes, like: “It never rains at Autzen Stadium.” The only drawback is that football is a game better displayed on television and despite the consistent buzz of ducks fans, it’s difficult to sustain through television timeouts. Whereas the soccer city atmosphere is significantly better in person. Of any sport I’ve followed, soccer stands above the rest when it comes to feeling like you are a part of the story.
I assumed Sarah would fall hard for Valeri, Chara, or Nagbe. First, because I could never anticipate that 2015 would be a transformative year for us all. Most of 2015 felt like a typical Timbers season: love and frustration, rinse and repeat. In some ways, the thought of her “caring like I do” seemed more like a jail sentence than a desirable activity. For a casual fan, it would seem one might drift to the faces on the billboards. Imagine my surprise when Sarah crankily yelled at Gaston for a lack of effort and he was immediately subbed off for a golden- haired archer. “Who’s that?” The answer was Maxi Urruti who took no time to make his presence felt darting around the field like a man with restless leg syndrome. “I like him, I want to get his jersey!” She was hooked. There was no going back.
Then 2015 happened.
She grasped the game quicker than I did. Despite assertions of humility, her hot takes were spot on, often saying things we were all thinking but unable to assert for fear it was true. I’ll never forget a moment sitting with Chris Gluck (creator of possession with purpose) and Matt Hoffman (Former Goat Parade and current Prost Amerika writer). We were discussing the Timbers scoring woes and the conversation turned her way. After protesting against giving her opinion, she said, “It’s absolutely ridiculous that Urruti doesn’t get more playing time.” Urruti started 4 out the next 5 games and the Timbers won 5 straight games.
Seeing the game through her eyes is refreshing. There is no baggage. I’ve tried to explain to her why the MLS is being MLS and her response is always just, “that’s stupid.” Then she’s over it, no frustration just unwavering belief in the very little logic it took to decide the obvious. When Adi caught fire and overtook Urruti for good, she remained nonplussed, “Why didn’t he always try so hard.”
After the Double Post against Kansas City, I couldn’t wait to find her in the spot we always meet. I needed someone to share the hair-raising feeling I still cannot describe. There she was, eyes welled refusing to unload, I can honestly say I’ve never seen her that happy- not ever. Her first words, “Urruti saved us!”.
So Urruti’s going to Dallas… man.
I tried to warn her. I tried to prepare her: “I’ve heard some rumblings about Urruti. Someone said something about his contract being weird and Adi has really become one of the best strikers in MLS.” She wouldn’t hear it. She gave me the death stare. I watched the whole thing happen like an innocent bystander. This is going to hurt.
I felt that way about all the Urruti fans, as well as the Will Johnson tribe and I purposefully hid my own feelings about Jorge Villafana whose transfer was known just hours after the MLS cup. The Timbers Army’s love of their players has always had a certain type of purity to it. With a constant fear of being co-opted, or their culture being paved over to usher in a nice shiny fan base, many of the TA bow their necks and bristle at Merritt, MLS, Adidas, and Nike but the players, they are sacred. No one understood or gave back more than Will Johnson and we knew he was leaving months before the season ended.
Why would anyone submit themselves to this kind of heartache? I’ve got a partner spilling tears into my pillow, as I rub her shoulders and scoop her ice cream. Then I remembered that sports aren’t a romantic comedy or a hip-hop video; the protagonists don’t always win. Life is a series of moments… wait, that is someone else’s speech. Sports like life and Game of Thrones is not a series of uninterrupted narratives. Despite protestations, the highs are high and the lows are low and that is just fine.
She cares like we do and it’s beautiful.
This piece is an homage to one of my favorite Bill Simmon’s pieces of all time. It’s also dedicated to my good friend Dan Adams and his daughter, you can’t make her love the Timbers but you can make her hate the Sounders. May she care like we do.