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Timbers' Crystal Ballroom fans have a ball

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Timbers fan Gabriel Anaya cheers with the crowd at Portland's Crystal Ballroom during Sunday's match against Dallas. The ballroom was packed with soccer fans who watched the match on a large screen.The Crystal Ballroom’s sprung wooden dance floor seems tailor-made for Tetris, the Timbers Army song and dance that follows every win. On Sunday, the wood heaved and roiled as the crowd erupted with joy at the end of the team’s Western Conference final game in Frisco, Texas.

At the final whistle, the Timbers supporters, watching on the big screen in Portland’s venerable music venue, went wilder than they had dared let themselves all afternoon. They danced and pogoed and hugged and high-fived, with incredulous looks on their faces. They’re still not used to this from the Timbers: breakneck starts, cool heads, dogged defense and, ultimately, winning.

They have been getting used to it in the last two months, with the Timbers unbeaten in their last eight games and hitting their stride just in time for the fall playoffs.

But Sunday afternoon’s roller coaster ride was different.

The Crystal usually holds 1,500 for gigs. On Sunday, this was capped at 850, and by kickoff the place was full, the line operating on a one-in, one-out basis.

Timbers home games are like two-hour rock shows. At 2 p.m., this felt more like a brunch crowd. Half of the main floor was taken up by large, round tables. In the front were a few rows of chairs with uncharacteristically sedentary fans. On the sides and at the back was a sea of standing fans. A mini-version of the Timbers Army held the center of the floor — two drummers and a handful of lusty singers trying to lead the crowd. But watching on TV can take the wind out of a fan’s sails, keeping the louder emotions in check.

Goudarz Eghtedari was standing at the back, enjoying himself at halftime. He’s a Timbers Army, North End regular.

“The atmosphere is great, it’s reminiscent of the stadium. I’d say we have 60 percent of the possession, and I think they’re playing pretty good,” he said calmly.

That’s how the first half went. Leading 3-1 from the first leg, the Timbers came out fast and aggressive. Dallas tried to do likewise but had few shots on target, and Timbers goalie Adam Kwarasey was on form. Fears of an early Dallas goal turned into fears of a Dallas second-half goal, which was a lot less worrisome.

Fans Joey Rose Cardoso and Colby Mills were perched on the bottom stair in their Timbers tops, doing a crossword before the game. By halftime, they were also feeling good. Confident, even.

“I think we’ll do it,” Mills said confidently.

The two twentysomethings sit on the side at Providence Park and sometimes watch games from the Multnomah Athletic Club terrace, but on Sunday they just had to be around other fans, for the atmosphere.

“This is the only place to see this game,” said Cardoso, her eyes wide.

“I’ll go to the final,” added Mills, thinking ahead to Sunday, Dec. 6 and the MLS Cup title match, now against the Columbus Crew.

Rocky DeSantos was on his first visit to the Crystal Ballroom. He was flying a blue green and white flag which someone had handed to him. He described himself as an Army regular, when he can get tickets.

“It might be close, but we’re going to win it out in the end. I don’t think we’re going to have any issues,” DeSantos said.

Would he go to the final?

“Absolutely!”

Jacob Grove came on his own. He was sitting down the front, like many quietly confident at halftime.

“I don’t get to go to a lot of matches, so it’s nice to be here with a bunch of Timbers Army fans,” he said.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Timbers fans were in full Providence Park cheer mode during Sunday's viewing party at the Crystal Ballroom.He wanted just one goal from the Timbers to feel absolutely sure.

He got that in the 54th minute. Fanendo Adi gave Portland the lead, creating a goal out of nothing. The crowd let loose for the first time, leaping around, strangers hugging each other, checking back on the screen to see if it was really a goal. A 4-1 lead felt bulletproof, and everyone in the room joined in the chant which is sung after every Timbers goal, “Hey, Portland Timbers, we salute you!” The chandeliers shook and the drop-down screen wobbled.

So did Portland.

Dallas made a frantic push and tore the Timbers defense apart with goals in the 68th and 73rd minutes. With more than 15 minutes still to go, it did not look like the Timbers would hang on. The old Timbers, in their early MLS days, were guilty of giving up late goals. But the new Timbers, vintage 2015, are made of sterner stuff. They were actually passing their way out of trouble in quick, text-ook perfect triangles, instead of lunking the ball out of play or upfield. They were playing with swagger. Actual grace under fire.

The crowd was still nervous, and seeing five minutes added on for stoppages made the room quieten down. But then in the 94th minute, expensive Designated Player Lucas Melano, who has been stylish but unreliable this season, rounded the Dallas goalie and scored from an acute angle, falling over in the process.

That was the signal for the room to go wild again. There was no coming back from that for Dallas, and the Timbers fans in the Crystal Ballroom knew their team was going to the MLS Cup final in a week’s time.

Dallas had one last chance, into the side netting, and the game ended with a red-and-white jerseyed player resting his head sadly in the net.

Then the celebratory Tetris began, fans on the sprung floor jumping sideways while singing the Russian theme music of the classic video game. On the TV screen, Timbers fans in Texas did the same thing on the concrete steps of Toyota Stadium. Many people had the same look on their face, as if to say, “So this is what winning feels like.”

Fans posed for group photos more than solitary selfies, and there was another giant cheer as Diego Valeri was presented with the trophy in Texas. Save for the traveling Timbers fans, the stadium was almost empty. Which is reminiscent of 2013, when the Timbers lost the Western Conference final at Jeld-Wen Field to Real Salt Lake, who paraded the cup up close and personal with their fans.

A flushed Colby Mills was back on her stair perch. “I feel amazing, I’m so proud of them. They played a great game, kind of fell apart a little bit, but I always knew they’d do it. I think (Nat) Borchers has really helped them,” she said, referring to the ginger-bearded defender who blocked a third Dallas goal at a crucial moment.

Timbers fan Paul Regan, who was at the heart of the singing, finished the day elated.

“It felt like we were unbeatable,” he said of the team.

That could apply to the fans, too.

“The TA (Timbers Army) is passionate fans who understand the game, and they’re always behind the team, win, lose or draw,” said Regan, who wants to go to the final. “Maybe Merritt (Paulson, Timbers owner) will let us use the plane for a while?”

Fifteen minutes later, the ballroom had emptied out, with fans disappearing into the cold sunset. Because, after all, this was just a conference final.

The next one, as Timbers coach Caleb Porter said after the game, is the “big one.”