It’s been a strange year for fans of the Portland Timbers and Thorns, as the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt to so much of the in-person fan experience.
Last month, The Oregon Health Authority announced guidelines that allow 25% capacity at outdoor live sporting events, meaning a return to Providence Park for soccer supporters.
OPB’s Paul Marshall sat down with Gabby Rosas of the Rose City Riveters and Darren Lloyd of the Timbers Army recently to talk about how the pandemic has changed the game – and what they think comes next. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player at the top of this story.
Paul Marshall: For someone who has never been to Providence Park, how would you describe the fan experience before the pandemic?
Gabby Rosas: Wild, passionate, loud, probably chaotic to people who don’t see that. We’re actually trying to pull some strings on the back side. It can be chaotic, even when we’re trying to pull strings. But it’s a party.
Marshall: And what has the last year been like?
Darren Lloyd: Watching it on TV, where the seats are empty or just being outside the stadium, it just doesn’t sound the same. You don’t hear the buzz and murmur.
When there are 25,000 people here, you just get that murmur. So (during the pandemic) you walk by the park, and there’s a game on, and all you hear is a whistle and maybe some shouts of players on the field. Normally can’t hear because everything is turned up to 100%. So it was rough not being able to be there, not being able to get together with your group of people,
Marshall: The Oregon Health Authority announced guidelines recentlythat allow 25% capacity at outdoor live sporting events, which means Timbers/Thorns fans would be allowed into Providence Park. What was your first reaction to the news?
Rosas: Probably a little sigh of relief ... that we’re actually making steps in that direction, but also concern. Because even though the park is open air, you still have to go inside to use the restroom and to have concessions. It’s still a lot of people to be in an old stadium, not a modern stadium by any means. I think there was a breath of relief but then just a lot of concern and worry about, ‘OK, now what does this mean?’
Marshall: The experiences for both the Timbers and Thorns is so wrapped up in standing in close proximity to other people, to that shared connection. How different will that be now?
Rosas: At the end of the day, I think being allowed to roam and being allowed general admission-type of setting in the (stadium’s) north end is really what helps give it the character that it has. You can be in the lower bowl or in the upper bowl or in the sun or in the shade. You can be near the drums or far away from the drums.
I don’t think it’s going to feel like a normal match until we get back to free flowing admission, where you can kind of choose your own adventure and whatever it is that you’re feeling like for that match now. Whether it means you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, who knows if that’s ever going to come back?
Marshall: Can you walk me through how it’s going to work with limited capacity, the “pod” system?
Rosas: The Timbers and Thorns front office is releasing seats in pods ... The idea is that you buy tickets for your pod. If I’m a single person, and I want to go to a match by myself. I will buy a single person pod. There will not be any other people seated around me within 6 ft. That’s how they’re able to get at that 25% capacity inside the stadium. People are literally going to be spread out all throughout the stadium.
Marshall: Are you worried about attending games now?
Lloyd: As someone with a toddler, my wife and I are both going to be fully vaccinated before we’re going out into larger groups and interacting with folks who aren’t in our own bubble. As I’m aware, (my toddler) won’t be able to get vaccinated anytime soon. There’s something to be said for a hot summer evening in Providence Park with 5,000 of your closest friends. And, you know, maybe that’s where we get to. We don’t know, right? It’s just kind of taking it one step at a time.
Marshall: How do you think it will feel being inside a live sporting event?
Rosas: I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry! I’m pretty sure I’ll be a little emotional at the onset. I’m really hopeful that it’s that positive energy. ... The clubs are fantastic. I’m a season ticket holder to both clubs. It’s magical. To be in the presence of that type of energy, I’m hopeful it will not only lift my spirits, but the spirits of other people who need some hope right now and need that boost.
Marshall: What are you worried about as fans come back?
Lloyd: Eventually, we’d love to see the pod structure go away .... For some people, there is that ‘I always want to go and be in that spot over there, because that’s where that’s where I was for the double post penalty kick game in 2015.’ I think that’s the question: Will the pods kind of break up some of the energy that we would normally have? That’s a concern. Maybe that starts to go away as we get more people in.
Most of my concerns - are we continuing overall? Not just within the stadium, but are we trending in the correct direction? Are we still staying socially distanced, wearing masks, all of that stuff that has been so important in this last year? It’s less about being inside. It’s more that we’re doing everything so that we can keep it going the correct direction so that we can be back to 100%.
Marshall: Will your behavior change?
Rosas: Full disclosure: On match days, I love to drink and have fun and hang out with my friends. And I honestly don’t know if I’m gonna do that again, because you kind of throw caution to the wind when you’re in that environment and that party environment. I’ve spent a year, 13 months, being really cautious. I do think that will take some adjusting, but hopefully we can get back to the ruckus where people are feeling it’s healthy and it’s OK. It’s OK to throw your beer cup up in the air. People aren’t feeling like, ‘Oh, that’s contagious, that’s a bunch of contagion.’ My palms just got sweaty thinking about the beer cup situation in today’s reality.
Lloyd: I think in the immediate future, it’s not going to be quite the same. Part of my job is to kind of echo and start what chant we’re doing to the rest of the drums so that they know where we’re at and where the beat is. That behavior probably doesn’t change. By the time we’re back up to speed, there’s lots of pieces of that that will be back to normal. My fingers are crossed, and we just have to take it all one step at a time and get comfortable with it.
The Thorns played their first home game of 2021 last Friday, beating Kansas City 2-1. The Timbers played at Providence Park on Tuesday, beating CD Marathón, 5-0.