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A night to remember at Jeld-Wen Field

It's wet and wild as Timbers score historic victory
by: JENNIFER HARDIN Mamadou Danso exults after scoring the Portland Timbers' fourth goal Thursday night in a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Fire at Jeld-Wen Field.

Thursday was party night at Jeld-Wen Field, Mardi Gras and New Year's Eve and Your Horrible Neighbor is Moving all rolled into one festive occasion.

It was the Timbers' first home MLS game, and the lads put on a show in a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Fire.

The weather didn't cooperate, but the sellout crowd of 18,627 had precious little else to complain about.

There were fireworks shot off before and after the game, and the Timbers provided some, too, during the 90-plus minutes in between.

Ignoring a downpour that continued from start to finish and left the pitch drenched by game's end, the Timbers ran a Fire drill at the visitors' net, leaving little to Chicago goalkeeper Sean Anderson's imagination.

The Timbers (1-2-1) doubled their goal count from their first three games combined, and it could have been more.

If anyone besides the Fire had anything to complain about, it was the neighbors surrounding Jeld-Wen Field. Their ears are surely still ringing from the volume of noise created by the packed house, in particular the Timbers Army.

Portland coach John Spencer, a Scottish native who played top-level European soccer for years, was moved by the vocal support and the scene surrounding the historic occasion.

'I don't think you'll see an atmosphere like that in American soccer history - ever,' Paulson said. 'It was electrifying.'

It didn't just start from the opening drop. At 6 p.m., thousands waited in lines outside the stadium. Members of the Timbers Army were already in full force, chanting and cheering and carrying on. Once inside the stadium, the volume only increased.

'Before the game, we deliberately kept the doors open from the locker room to the field,' Spencer said. 'Just so the guys could hear it, so when they went out there it wasn't a culture shock.'

It was also the unveiling of the newly named, newly renovated park that will be home to the local MLS side.

The $31 million renovation tab seemed to cover mostly three items:

• The new FieldTurf artificial surface, by all accounts state of the art.

• The east grandstands, with the KeyBank Club in the middle and a roof covering the premium seats. It's beautifully done and gives the stadium a completed look.

• The new video scoreboard, plenty big, readable and another welcome addition.

The existing concourse and the rest of the stadium's seating look exactly the same. Same with the press box (Fix those tiles in the walkway, folks; it's a lawsuit waiting to happen).

By 7:30 p.m., a half-hour before gametime, the concession lines were long, especially at the beer stands. Timber fans like beer. The line at the souvenir shop wound out the store and around the corner. Timber fans like Timber gear. The only short lines were at the stands serving wine. Timber fans evidently aren't into wine.

At 8 p.m., who else but the Army was collectively given the honor of singing the national anthem. The several thousand partisans made it through the song just fine.

Once the game started, the Timbers carried the play to the Fire (1-2-1), Jorge Perlaza becoming an instant cult hero by scoring two of the local side's goals.

When Perlaza tallied his second one to push Portland ahead 3-0 in the 48th minute, it appeared the rout was on.

Not so fast. The Fire got on the board with an own goal by the Timbers, then scored again in the 84th minute, and suddenly it was 3-2. The Jeld-Wen denizens were sweating, not to mention the home team's coach.

'I was crapping myself,' Spencer said with a grin. 'I was like, 'My God, this is not happening.' I could just imagine (Timbers owner) Merritt Paulson up there saying, 'We should fire this guy.' "

Won't be necessary. The good guys regained their composure, and the coach's job is safe at least until Sunday's 3 p.m. game against FC Dallas.

As the final minutes counted down, Timbers Army soldiers waved the ceremonial green and white and yellow flags to celebrate the glorious occasion.

In the media room, Spencer was caught up in the moment, too.

'Apart from my wife giving birth to our children, it's the best feeling I've ever experienced,' Spencer said. 'I've played for some big clubs in my career. I wanted to win this game tonight more than the F.A. Cup final in 1994.'

It was a wretched weather night in which all those Timber parkas and scarves came in handy.

For the hardy fans and for the players they hail, the long wait was worth it.