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FC Tucson fans have crowd to emulate in Portland

Even someone that follows soccer has to admit that the sport is still on the fringes of the American sports psyche. There are pockets, however, of rabid fandom that rivals the enthusiasm seen at college football games.

FC Tucson midfielder Jacobi Goodfellow saw the best example of this during his time with the Portland Timbers. He played for them in 2006, when they were in the United Soccer League First Division, one step down from Major League Soccer. The team debuted as a Major League Soccer team this year, inheriting a set of decades-old fan traditions from its time in the old North American Soccer League and various minor leagues.

"The city of Portland embraces the game and the team," Goodfellow said.

"It is hands down the best atmosphere, period," he added, which is high praise from someone that also played in two NCAA championships and for the Los Angeles Galaxy reserve squad.

The Timbers have a boisterous supporter club called Timbers Army. They are die hards for the team and the feeling is reciprocated by players: Goodfellow, even years out from his time there, happily refers to them as "My Army."

Many of their antics are inspired by European fan groups: boisterous chanting, drums and hand-painted banners. They also have some unique American twists. For example, team management doesn't invite a local singer to perform the national anthem. Timbers Army leads the entire stadium in singing it.

As much as he appreciated the reception, Goodfellow admits that when he first stepped on to the field, he wasn't totally prepared for some of the trappings of a Timbers game.

"I'm trying to play, and I look up and I see some crazy dude with flannel and a beard climbing a huge log. I hear something, and it's a huge chain saw."

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The bearded figure was Timber Jim, a fan who became the Portland Timbers mascot. I've been told that the "log" is a pole referred to in lumberjack parlance as a "snag" that could be as tall as seventy feet. Jim had to stop doing that trick for insurance reasons, but his tradition of cutting a slice or "round" off of a large log when the Timbers score has been continued by his successor, Timber Joey.

Trying to match that sort of atmosphere at FC Tucson matches may be a tall order, but Goodfellow thinks fans had a good start in the two matches the local team played at the Desert Cup.

"10,000 people is amazing…fans have already developed a loyalty. I thought we'd go out there and everyone would be there for New York or Kansas City, but people were asking for our autographs and wanted to talk to us."

There will be no slicing of saguaros or any other local flora, but FC Tucson will play two games this weekend. Friday night will feature a rematch of their contest of two weeks ago with Municipio Juarez and Saturday night will be against in-state rivals Arizona Sahuaros. Both games will be at Murphy Field, 2300 E. 15th Street; tickets are $8 from the FC Tucson website.

Postscript: When the Timbers were moved up to Major League Soccer, they also switched to a bigger stadium. This meant that the stadium's then client, the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers, had to find somewhere else to go. Having nowhere else to go in the area, they temporarilly decamped to Tucson. That's right, you can thank the Portland Timbers and their fans for the Tucson Padres.

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Singing the National Anthem is a group effort for Portland Timbers fans.

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