"If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere."
Benjamin reflects on the opening day
Benjamin Kowalsky
Mar 23rd 2011

It’s the day for which I’d been waiting with bated breath through the long winter months: the Colorado Rapids’ First Kick. O Tempora! O Mores! O eagerly anticipated alcoholic and porcine oblivion!

But before we get to that, I want to introduce you to a group of people I met the night before the game.

I was just as excited to see some of my favorite Bobbies, some of whom I’d only got to see briefly at the ill fated (though still fun) Avalanche game. I also saw some of my favorite hooligans from the Pid Army and some of the great people from Class VI. But unlike the many pre-game parties I had attended before, at this party I wasn’t surrounded just by the familiar burgundy and blue. No, I was enclosed on all sides by the deep green on the shirts of countless Portland Timbers fans. Though, at the end estimation, I think there may have been about 300.

There’s not much one can’t say about the Timbers Army, but suffice to say that as far as I was concerned: I was impressed. The night wore on and honestly, not even the combined might of Class VI, the Bobbies, and the Pid Army was enough to drown out the deluge of sound pouring out of the Timbers Army. The night proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt: the Portland Timbers aren’t just some expansion club. They came ready made with a long history, and a long standing fan base. Look out Seattle, I think someone may be gunning for your spot as the fan-darlings of Major League Soccer.

Incidentally, watching these Portland guys try to outdrink Coloradoans was a rare treat. It didn’t work, by the way. One of the interesting effects that altitude has on a body is that it lowers alcohol tolerance. Let this be your first and friendliest warning from your friends at the Bulldog Supporters’ Group: when you come to Colorado with delusions of grandeur—thinking you may be the one to drink these mountain-folk under the table—I would urge caution even before moderation.

Walking into the Bulldog that morning, it was a similar scene from the night before: many Timbers Army members packed the place out. But slowly I began to see more burgundy pop in as the morning wore on into an easy afternoon. We sang back and forth, in a preview of the showdown to come. The buses arrived and took us to the stadium, where the party continued at the BSG tailgate. Some of the Bobbies had gotten up early, just like at our Playoff tailgate against San Jose, and slow cooked a pig in a giant oven.

The same atmosphere from the night before, and from that morning, carried on through the entire afternoon into the evening. The Timbers Army was loud and cohesive, and many of the Bobbies were still working out the cobwebs. It’s understandable though: Rapids fans had been waiting for their MLS season to start for but a scant few months; the Timbers fans had been waiting for their first MLS season to start for decades.

This is about where things get a bit blurry for me, and my memory starts to become a bit thick with alcohol and pork, so I’ll do the best I can to get out the various scenes that make up my firsthand experience of the game. First, when the call was put out for the Bobbies to go marching in, I was on the ground staring up at the big Colorado sky and trying to take in as much of that wonderful moment of anticipation as possible. It was then I got hit in the face with a tumbleweed.

No, I’m not kidding you. I was hit in the face with a huge tumbleweed. This thing was straight off the set of Fistful of Dollars. Right in my face. It took me at least a minute to process this, and then at least five to stop my uncontrollable laughter. By that time, the Bobbies had already made it into the stadium, so I had to go chasing after them.

And no, I don’t know what became of the tumbleweed. I don’t want to get any emails about this.

Anyway, we get into the park in time to watch the opening ceremonies, and then made it down into the terraces. Where I proceeded to make it my mission to antagonize the Timbers Army as much as humanly possible. I don’t know when I became such a jerk, but they were such awfully good sports about it, and it’s rare that one gets to heckle such a responsive crowd. It was like being a terrible comedian with a captive audience--eventually people just have to make the best of you.

It couldn’t have been more of an impressive debut for the newly crowned Champions. I’d give you technical rundowns, but I think there are better places for those sorts of things. Suffice it to say, the Rapids have made it at least into the top four of almost every Power Ranking conceivable. And from that game it was easy to see why: the Rapids showed skill, confidence, and the guts that earned them their Championship Cup. They won, and I don’t think anyone can claim that they won dirty. It was good attacking soccer for more or less the whole stretch, but the Timbers weren’t exactly playing the greatest game of their lives. I felt almost as if they had gone into the match a bit over-confident (which is understandable, given the hype), and then got their hands slapped.

The standout performances of the night had to go to Omar Cummings and Jaime Smith. Rapids fans know very well the kind of player Omar is, and how exciting he is to watch, but this was a special treat from the Jamaican. He displayed speed, strength, and keen intelligence both on and off the ball. Jaime Smith was a surprise. Jaime, to me, has always been a player whose cleverness never quite translated into real physical ability—perhaps due to injury or ill fitness. But tonight endeared him to many Rapids fans when he unleashed a cracker of a shot from 30 yards out. One touch. Then he tried to do it again later in the match, but the Timbers keeper had prepared himself for the shot, and got fingers to it.

All the Rapids looked great (even young Quincy Amarikwa showed a much more refined edge and maturity to his play), but those two performances from Omar and Jaime stuck out most in my mind. It was a great gift of soccer from the Rapids to their faithful fans.

Though with a winner, there must also be a loser. And with a 3-1 drubbing, regardless whence it comes, must come questions. The Timbers did not live up to their hype, and much of that could be due to the poor defending on the night, and the lack of midfield direction. The only bright spot on the night was goalkeeper Adin Brown’s many athletic saves and Kenny Cooper’s rallying late to score a consolation goal. Other than that, the Timbers seemed smothered and out of ideas for long stretches of the game as the Rapids swirled around them.

Though one question that will not be asked, and should never be, is regarding the support of their loyal Timbers fans. They have certainly endeared themselves to me, and a team with a fanbase that deep cannot help but hope for great things in the future.

But as for the Rapids fans, one of the most wonderful sights I have ever seen is the sight of our home park being filled with the MLS champion flags. the 2010 Champions banner emblazoned above us, and the park itself filled with more fans than have been seen in a home opener in years. As a fan of soccer in America, and in Denver (one of the most crowded and fickle sports markets in the country) you allow yourself, in those perfect moments, to hope that this may be soccer’s moment to shine in the Mile High City.

And as Frank Sinatra said (then of New York, but it applies equally well here), “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.”

Mountain Roads… Take me home…

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