Ajax is closing its practice trip to the U.S. on Wednesday with a friendly match against the Portland Timbers. The North Western club and city are the polar opposite of DC United and Washington, where Ajax began the week. Its unique character can be summarized by lots of green, tree trunks, circular saws and interesting nicknames.
There’s no shortage of humour among the Portland Timbers. In the city, whose slogan is ‘Keep Portland Weird’, an eccentric club like the Timbers is only fitting. For example, the locker room. If you can imagine that the temporary name plates, made of tape, are gone, you could almost think that Justin Bieber is a football player, with Disco Disco as the stay player. English player Eddie Johnson’s nickname (Prince William) shows that the Timbers value a good, informal atmosphere.
Materials man Sam Younie proudly tells one story after another. The 25 year old kit man serves up tales as if he’s been around for decades. But in truth, he’s only been with the club for eighteen months. He talks about the ambitions and ‘newness’ of the 36 year old Major Soccer League rookie. Thanks to stadium renovations (costing roughly 25 million euro), the Timbers now have an extremely modern facility which can accommodate almost 20.000 spectators. The locker room is thus, as can be seen when Younie allows a peak into the area, the best of the best for the football club.
Back at Jeld-Wen Field, an enormous tree trunk rests behind to goal, in front of the Timbers Army stand. The tradition is that the mascot saws off a chunk in front every time the home team scores. In the locker rooms, across from the Axe Stand, the silence bears witness to a successful start in the MLS. Ajax’s host is unbeaten in their new home arena, and, judging by the number of sawed off pieces of wood, are scoring a significant number of goals. “And after a slice is sawed off, it’s always passed through the crowd, sort of like a trophy.”
The references to lumberjacks and nature are fitting for Portland, the greenest city in the USA. The same features are also seen on the green home jersey. In addition to the large axe in the logo, the team’s sponsor is Alaska Airlines. And there’s a nice story behind this. The kit man shows photos on his iPhone of a massive Timbers airplane in Alaskan Airlines’ fleet. “They sponsor us, so they have quite a few fans there. The flight personnel even wear our shirts when we have to play there.” The second shirt is just as clear. The red colour alludes to ‘Rose City’, the city’s nickname thanks to its famed rose garden, which is also honoured in the name of the basketball arena (Rose Garden), home of the Portland TrailBlazers.
The MLS team can count on a full stadium for Wednesday’s game against Ajax. On Sunday, they will meet DC United, against whom Ajax played their first practice match last weekend. Sam looks forward to it. “The MLS is new for me, too. I travel throughout the U.S. and see many great stadiums.” As a true host, he turns the conversation back to his own stadium. He points to a giant billboard where people holding axes and circular saws stare out threateningly. “They’re all our supporters. The images were posted all over the city. It shows how connected we are with the fans. We may be a small club, but we have great ambitions, and we have the Timbers Army.” You’d almost want to grant Portland’s pride a goal against Ajax, if only to see the mascot with the saw do his thing. If you listen to the great stories for long enough, you’ll feel like reaching for that axe yourself.