Seattle Sounders stun Portland Timbers after fans stage silent 'Iron Front' protest

Portland's Providence Park was usually quiet on Friday night. First in protest, then in shock.

In a match that decided the Cascadia Cup, the Timbers fell to the rival Seattle Sounders, 2-1.

Portland only needed to tie to win the Pacific Northwest trophy but the struggling Sounders, winless in their last four games with 11 goals conceded, jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz and rather convincingly held on for the confidence-boosting win.

The Sounders jumped from fifth place to second with the win and moved six points above the red line in the Western Conference playoff race. The Timbers would have overtaken the Sounders with a win.

But the match was followed intently by MLS watchers for what took place in the stands.

The Timbers Army, the Portland supporters' group, organized a protest against the MLS policy that bans the use of the the Iron Front symbol as a violation of its new policy prohibiting political signs and displays at matches.

Two Seattle supporters' groups joined in the silent protest in the first 33 minutes of the match, which aired on ESPN, where the derby is always one of the best-watched MLS matches on television.

The emblem of the Iron Front, an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization in Germany in the early 1930s, features three arrows pointing downward. The Iron Front was banned in 1933, hence the 33-minute protest. But MLS has banned the emblem on signs and displays in stadiums as political signage as part of a new fan policy instituted in 2019.

What protesters want. The Timbers Army, along with Rose City Riveters, the NWSL Thorns' supporters' group, and the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC, both Seattle groups, issued a statement earlier in the week asking three things:

-- MLS rescind its ban on flying the iron front flag.
-- MLS remove the word “political” from its fan code of conduct as it is inherently arbitrary.
-- MLS work with international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code of conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination.

The protest -- no chants, no drums, no capos, no flags -- lasted until the end of the 33rd minute when Timbers Army fans started singing “Bella Ciao," an Italian protest song. Flags bearing the Iron Front emblem were visible in both Portland and Seattle sections. As they are permitted, fans wore shirts with Iron Front emblems on them, as did Timbers defender Zarek Valentin.

MLS's stance. Major League Soccer's view is the Iron Front symbol is political because it has been co-opted by Antifa, the collection of militant protest groups opposed to fascism and other extreme right-wing ideology. The league had been criticized and continues to be criticized for what groups considered the slow response to the presence of pro-Nazi ultras at Yankee Stadium, NYCFC's home.

The protest was organized after the Timbers issued a statement declaring their steadfast opposition to fascism but supporting the MLS policy banning the Iron Front symbol, which Portland fans displayed without issue in previous years at home games. Before Friday's match, both teams posed with pennants saying "anti-fascism, anti-racism" (photo).

The ban on "political" statements or images on banners or flags is unique to MLS among U.S. pro sports leagues. Fans of teams in other U.S. pro teams generally don't display flags or tifos in the stands like soccer fans do, and MLS's most passionate fans are generally younger, hipper, more urban, more diverse -- and more politically active.

Paulson's statement. After the game, Merritt Paulson, the Portland Timbers owner, issued a statement to the Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg, saying he gets and appreciates the issue the Timbers Army has with MLS and the Timbers "care deeply about human rights causes, like fighting racism and fascism -- just like our supporters do." But he added, "I was upset about the game and I don't believe a silent supporters section helps our home-field advantage. The idea I am driven by money is farcical. I am fortunate to have some with or without the Timbers. But I do care about our team winning and I like to think our supporters - who are the best in the country. "

The country's political issues won't go away, nor will the opposition to MLS's stance on political displays.

Friday's game was the fourth game of the Timbers' unprecedented 10-game homestand. Portland in seventh place in the Western Conference but will drop below the playoff line if FC Dallas wins or ties on Sunday.

How Portland fans mobilize over the next six weeks at Providence Park will be watched as closely as how the Timbers perform in their drive to the playoffs.

Western Conference:
1. *LAFC, 61 points (26)
2. (+3) Seattle, 43 points (27)
3. (-1) Minnesota United, 42 points (27)
4. (-1) LA Galaxy 41 points (26)
5. (-1) Real Salt Lake, 40 points (26)
6. San Jose, 38 points (26)
7. Portland, 37 points (26)
8. FC Dallas, 37 points (27)
9. Sporting KC, 34 points (27)
10. Houston, 31 points (26)
11. Colorado, 27 points (26)
12. Vancouver, 27 points (27)
Note: In parentheses are games played.
*Clinched playoff berth.

Photo: Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

9 comments about "Seattle Sounders stun Portland Timbers after fans stage silent 'Iron Front' protest".
  1. frank schoon, August 24, 2019 at 8:05 a.m.

    How can a ref allow this game to be played. Look at the uniforms . As Ships stated “all this game needed was a green ball.”  Look at  this picture ,it is not of one team but both.
    The MLS needs to ban the color green. A coach who picks green as the jersey color does a disservice to his team, for that is not the most optimum and most effective color  to play with in many ways.  

  2. Jim Ngo replied, August 24, 2019 at 1:02 p.m.

    Sometimes you see what goes on in the MLS and all you can do is just shake your head.

  3. Bob Ashpole, August 24, 2019 at 10:51 a.m.

    Used to have a lot of problems with Red vs. Orange. In peripheral vision colors wash out to gray, and if the colors are too similar the shades of gray look the same. I imagine those two greens are indistingishable unless you look directly at them.

  4. frank schoon replied, August 24, 2019 at 11:07 a.m.

    Bob, so true about the shades but green to me when playing on totally green surface is Unspeakable... When I ride to the gym in the mornings ,from time to time I see a biker going through the neighborhood sometimes wearing dark colors, like black the other day. I tell them how can you ride on a black asphalt, wearing something dark, in addition going through shaded areas of the street and not realize the increase chances of getting hit .
    It is the same thing playing soccer on a green field wearing a green stupid can one get not to realize the possible disadvantages.   

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, August 27, 2019 at 2:30 a.m.

    Somebody sell them a green ball!

  6. beautiful game, August 24, 2019 at 11:26 a.m.

    Ref Marrufo, king of swallowers.

  7. John Richardson, August 24, 2019 at 12:13 p.m.

    What happened to white jerseys

  8. Wooden Ships replied, August 24, 2019 at 6:49 p.m.

    John, for the enlightened youth of the northwest, white jerseys might be more than they can stomach. 

  9. R2 Dad, August 25, 2019 at 4:55 p.m.

    The City of Portland is to blame, for allowing the Anarchists vs Proud Boys protests/counter-protests to fester for so long. Timbers management is smart to try and dodge the issue, which has turned Portland on its ear and has the potential to drag those protests into the stadium.

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