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Making The Case – Poo Poo-ing Portland’s Pong (and anyone else like him)

Last night's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup upset of the Portland Timbers by fifth division Cal FC will be etched in American soccer fans' memories for a long time. Indeed the third round of matches where Major League Soccer teams were introduced resulted in eight “can you believe it?!?!” wins by lower division sides and earned it's own Twitter hastag: #MayMadness.

While soccer journalists and bloggers will comb over, pick apart, debate, celebrate, or fear the rise of the Eric Wynalda-led Cal FC and their run through the Open Cup, we're concerned with an incident that followed the match.

Throughout the match the Timbers Army and the rest of the fans that went to JELD-WEN Field that night bemoaned the missed opportunities of their beloved Timbers. Thirty-seven shots, 15 on goal and a 79th minute missed penalty by Kris Boyd left you wondering if it just wasn't going to be their night. Five minutes into the first overtime period that feeling became a reality when Cal FC's Artur Aghasyan broke through the Timbers' defense to put home the game's lone goal.

The Timbers Army, creative as ever, voiced their displeasure.

“Care like we do.”

“This is MLS?”

“This is bull sh*t”.

“You deserve it.”

Honestly you can't fault the frustration of the Army. It's been a rough season for the second-year MLS outfit and sinking out of the U.S. Open Cup to an amateur side certainly doesn't take any of the sting off.

As the team was leaving the field, one fan, “Pong” took to demanding the players give up their jerseys. The scene was reminiscent of a recent match in Italy when “ultras” demanded the shirts off the backs of Genoa's players. The difference being the Portland incident being the action of one, deranged fan and not mob mentality.

Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury took offense to the notion and exchanged words with Pong, only to be restrained by others.

We're not here to paint a broad brush over Portland's fans and the Timbers Army. Pong's response (and his alone) to his team's loss is downright embarrassing.

There's no doubt that Pong is a passionate fan and a committed one to the Timbers' cause. His righteous anger was probably representative of many of his fellow supporters. The team's effort, as demonstrated by the result, easily pushed him over the edge to unfortunately lash out.

As soccer fans in the United States we've taken a beating from all corners for loving this sport. Naturally we're sensitive, defensive, and sometime hostile.

But, Pong's actions Wednesday night signal a trend that we're worried about. That this game is bigger than everything else.

Don't get us wrong our love for soccer is unconditional, but at the end of the day it doesn't define us. Soccer fans are men and women, young, and old, married, single, divorced. Blue-collar, white-collar. We have kids and pets and jobs and hobbies that all define us more than just the color of our jerseys and scarves.

“Blanky-blank Til I Die”? Booing a team performance? Sounding off on blogs, talk radio, and the like? Those are perfectly acceptable sentiments and worthy ones, but we're not assholes.

We're American soccer fans. We're not England's hooligans, Italy's Ultras, or Latin America's barra bravas (despite having a similarly named supporters group in D.C.). We should pride ourselves on passion and commitment to our teams and our sport, but not to the point that it leads to outrageous actions like Pong's.

As fans we've got to be the best of what soccer has to offer and not its worst. American soccer has come too far and still has too far to go for the fan culture to slink into the gutters of what global soccer has already shown us.

For 90 minutes care about nothing but for your team then take a step back and consider what is really important.

Players like Jewsbury and the thousands of other guys trying to make it a go in this league don't deserve this. Most of them make less that your average firefighter or cop. Reserve league guys might as well be teachers for their pay. The show up at hospitals, grocery stories, youth tournaments and bars. They're you and me with a much cooler day job.

When they blow it we're pissed. When they win we're euphoric. Games can make and ruin days, but we move on. There's always next game and there's always next season.

No one wins “fan of the year” by being more “hard” than the others. Harassing the most opponents or rival fans. Pretending that we're all in “Green Street Hooligans” doesn't earn us better seats at the next game.

We've got to stop this sort of behavior before it comes to define us. It's not just Portland or Pong. It's the guy who lights the smoke bomb at the U.S. game when those get all of the American Outlaws in trouble. It's the Houston fan that launches the flashlights at the Galaxy. It's trying the LA fan trying to pick a fight with Beckham. It's the odd beer can or cup that makes its way toward a player. It's the jingo-ism, racism, sexism, or homophobia in our chants.

We're better than that. We tailgate and post-game and trade scarves with traveling fans. We shake hands with people of other nationalities when they walk into our bar for the U.S. game. We gush over players when we seem them outside the stadium. We tell them “good game” even when we don't really mean it.

In your team's darkest days don't you want to think that this is when you should try and hold your head the highest? That when your team needed you the most you were there to support them?

We should be decent. And should be rational. That's what American soccer fans should aspire to. It's the way we grow the game.

Portland sucks, Seattle sucks, LA sucks. New York sucks, Dallas sucks, Houston sucks, Your favorite team sucks. Our team sucks. OK. Good. Heard it. Got it. Let's move on.

Let's go have a beer. 

Tags: Making The Case

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