Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Rowdies travel to soccer-obsessed Portland

TAMPA — During home matches, a bearded man wearing overalls, a hard hat and a Portland Timbers jersey bounces from section to section wielding a gas-powered chainsaw.

When the Timbers score, the burly lumberjack revs the saw, cutting a circular wood slab off a gigantic log situated behind the north goal.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies will spend their trip in Portland trying to avoid that sound.

Timber Joey, as he is known by Portland fans, is one of the most unique mascots in American sports, the face of a soccer franchise among the world's most celebrated for its unwavering fan support and incomparable game-day atmosphere.

After each Portland score, Timber Joey saws off a wood slice and presents it to the goal-scorer following the game. A clean sheet from a Timbers goalkeeper is also worthy of a wooden memento.

"I'm hoping I don't witness that chainsaw being done and a log being cut the whole trip," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said.

Today, in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, the Rowdies continue their tour of the best teams the Pacific Northwest has to offer. After defeating Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders two weeks ago, the Rowdies face another MLS side.

There, they'll be confronted by Timber Joey and the rest of the 20,000 fans that make it, arguably, the best game-day soccer environment in North America.

"Nothing compares to the atmosphere in the Northwest," said Rowdies midfielder Keith Savage, who played with Portland from 2009-10. "They get big crowds and they're loud and they're passionate and they sing and they fight and it's awesome."

Need more proof?

• In the 80th minute of every game, sunflowers are passed around to all the Timbers Army members while the crowd sings You Are My Sunshine, a tribute to former mascot Timber Jim, whose daughter died in a car accident in 2004.

• Chanting along to the theme from Tetris, fans pogo alternately to the left and right, shifting entire sections of the stands in unison.

• Before a game four years ago against the rival Sounders, a 30-foot banner replica of the Space Needle was hoisted in front of the stands, then cut down by an even-taller banner featuring the Timbers mascot.

"It was really neat being a part of that tradition and seeing what soccer's like up there," Savage said.

For the Rowdies, the challenge will be to tune out the sideshow while overcoming the absence of a trio of key defenders. Takuya Yamada reinjured his groin in practice. Daniel Scott is still sidelined with back issues, and Jordan Gafa is serving a one-game Cup suspension for a red card hand ball against Seattle.

"Whether there are 50 people or 50,000 people in the stands, it shouldn't have any impact on what we do on the field," Hill said. "All we have to concentrate on is going out, imposing ourselves and doing the job to the best of our abilities without being distracted or attracted or whatever the case may be to what's going on around us."

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