Sounders beat Timbers amid fan protest of MLS ban on political displays

Aug 23, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers fans send a message to the Seattle Sounders in the first half at Providence Park. The Seattle Sounders won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. — The vibe was different in the stands at Providence Park.

It was also different on the field: The Sounders actually beat their bitter rivals.

Raul Ruidiaz’s goal shortly after halftime held up as Seattle won 2-1 to claim the Cascadia Cup amid a fan protest over Major League Soccer’s new ban on political displays.

Three major independent MLS fan groups followed through on their word to stay silent during the first 33 minutes of Friday’s match, including the Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC.

While there were sporadic cheers and chatter, the customary chants and drums that have given Providence Park and other MLS venues such a distinct atmosphere was absent.

“Yeah definitely, it’s noticeable,” said Timbers defender Zarek Valentin. “But I’m not a fan of excuses.”

Aug 23, 2019; Portland, OR, USA;  Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan (7) celebrates with forward Raul Ruidiaz (9) after scoring a goal during the first half against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Sounders goal scorers Raul Ruidiaz and Cristian Roldan celebrate on Friday at Providence Park. (Reuters)

Jordan Morris set up the Sounders’ first goal midway through the first half, on a cross that pinged around before falling to the feet of Cristian Roldan.

Morris then orchestrated the eventual winner in the 47th minute, beating Valentin down the left side and cutting back to an open Ruidiaz, who made no mistake:

Diego Valeri pulled one back for the Timbers in the second half on a deflected free kick, but they couldn’t find an equalizer despite numerous chances.

This marks just the second time the Sounders have beaten Portland in six meetings over the past two regular seasons and in the U.S. Open Cup. The Timbers also knocked Seattle out of last year’s MLS Cup playoffs.

But the biggest story centered around the ongoing controversy over the MLS political signage ban. According to a flier distributed to fans seated in the Timbers Army sections, Friday’s protest lasted for 33 minutes in reference to 1933, the year the anti-Nazi paramilitary organization Iron Front was disbanded in Germany.

The Iron Front’s symbol, three arrows aiming down and to the left, has been a flashpoint in this debate. As detailed in a story by Yahoo Sports’ Caitlin Murray, fans believe the MLS ban is effectively lumping together people who stand against fascism and racism with fascists and racists themselves. Moreover, it could be argued MLS only amplified the controversy by issuing the ban in the first place.

That said, the league tried to clarify its position to Murray, including explanations for specific recent incidents. The Timbers released their own statement on Monday outlining their stance, which was met with criticism.

“Listen, I’ve been on this club for four years now, and I know the ideals of the Army and of the team very well. They align,” said Valentin, who wore a shirt with the Iron Front symbol before and after the match. “I understand what they’re going through, and it’s tough as a player because at times, we get caught in the crossfire.

“The front office and the TA align in their thoughts. That’s the bottom line, and I look forward to seeing a resolution as quickly as possible.”

At the 33:01 mark of Friday’s match, regular service resumed and Sounders-Timbers took on its trademark cutting intensity:

For their part, both clubs had the starters join together at midfield before kickoff and expressed their stance against fascism and racism on social media:

“I believe that we can erase some of that stuff that’s out there in the world,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, “and I was proud of the guys to do that little ceremony before the (game).”

This controversy doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon.

The Sounders, meanwhile, are going home with the Cascadia Cup, a trophy contested annually between them, the Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps in a table format.

Portland’s defense has been leaky in recent games, and that disorganization played a part in Roldan’s goal. Seattle has had its own defensive struggles, too, and sat deeper for much of the match.

The wide players like Morris used their pace to launch quick counters against the Timbers, who have now lost three of five in league play and could spend the week out of the playoff field in the Western Conference if FC Dallas gets a result against Houston on Sunday.

“We need to be better,” said Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese, who took blame for the loss. “But it has nothing to do with tactics. It’s more about attitude.”

After the game, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson reportedly got in a shouting match with some supporters, and The Oregonian’s Jamie Goldberg asked him about it:

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