One log, 2,600 miles: Portland sends slice of home to Atlanta for MLS Cup
At MLS Cup on Saturday evening, upwards of 70,000 screaming fans will support home team Atlanta United, a second-year club in its quest for a first league championship. The Five Stripes' red, black and gold color scheme will dominate the sight lines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But the visiting Portland Timbers will have their own support. They'll have Timbers Army, the raucous supporters' section that traditionally spreads out from section 107 at their Providence Park home. At least 1,300 members are making the trek to Georgia for the match. They'll be outnumbered, but if history is any indication, they'll be vocal.
"We will be a smaller number in stature," the group's co-president Mike Coleman says, "but we will be loud as hell."
The Timbers will also have something else inspiring their side. They'll have a log.
The Victory Log, which normally sits in front of Timbers Army at Providence Place -- a slice cut for each goal or shutout and presented to the scorer or goalkeeper -- will make the roughly 2,500-mile journey from the Pacific Northwest to Atlanta. It's a reprise of 2015 when the log traveled to Columbus, Ohio, where the Crew officials refused to let it inside MAPFRE Stadium during MLS Cup. The Timbers won anyway.
The log left Portland on Friday, and Timbers officials expect it will reach Atlanta sometime on Tuesday, carried on the back of a Western Star 4900 that "got its start in British Columbia in the logging industry," according to Western Star Trucks president David Carson. The log tradition itself has roots in the timber industry, dating to 1978 when lumberjack Timber Jim first approached the team about bringing a log into the stadium. During the intervening 40 years, the importance has only grown.
"Having the noise of the chainsaw, the smell of the two stroke, the smell of the sawdust adds another visceral component," Coleman says. "It's a lineage that means something."
Timber Joey, who replaced Jim after the 2007 season, offered a less theatrical take. "We're going to ship it off and hopefully cut some log slices for some goals," he says.
For Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, the log will be a welcome sight in Mercedes-Benz. "It's expensive. It seems like a lot of money to send a piece of wood," he says with a laugh when asked about his first thought after hearing the log was heading to Atlanta, an odyssey that likely will cost more than $1,500 in fuel alone. "But it's cool. It'll be a little piece of home to have out there with us. The cool thing about Timbers Army is that no matter where we play or how important the game is, they are always there with us. It really doesn't matter what stadium. There's going to be a Timbers Army section there."
The log, after all, means as much to the players as it does to the fans. In late September, Attinella injured his hamstring in the final stages of a match against the New England Revolution and had to come out of the game. It was his 30th birthday, a day that should have been a time to celebrate. Instead, he found himself in the training room, unsure of his future. Out on the field, his teammates finished off the shutout, then presented him with the log slice, an event that raised his spirits considerably.
"Personally, I was at a low with the injury but the slice gave me some motivation to get back out there," he says.
On Saturday night, the log could play a large role in the proceedings. It will certainly have a prime seat. If logs could talk, this one would be excited. But, of course, they can't, so Timber Joey will have to do. "For us to be in this big a stage, in this big a game, it's really special to be able to share that with the world," he says.
Coleman, a veteran of the 2015 Cup, understands the experience of being the visitors in an unfriendly stadium. The small fraction of Timbers fans promises to make themselves known.
"I think it will be a battle in the terraces that will match the battle on the pitch," he said.