Exceptional Community Contribution: Operation Pitch Invasion

Unleashing the power of organized fandom on soccer’s grassroots

By Margaret Seiler October 23, 2014

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Operation Pitch Invasion—a program orchestrated by Portland Timbers fans through the nonprofit 107 Independent Supporters Trust—has funneled the Timbers Army’s rabid energy into unloved park and school soccer fields since 2011. This summer, the group “invaded” some 40 soccer fields on a single Saturday to paint all of the goalposts. The group also cut the ribbon on its first major capital project: Bless Field, a patch of FieldTurf in North Portland’s New Columbia community that took $200,000 and countless volunteer hours and partnerships to build. Opened in June, the kid-size field already abounds with neighborhood soccer prodigies. How did a new nonprofit with no budget secure the permits, assemble the materials, build a field, and pledge to maintain it? As with any victory on the pitch, it was a team effort.

The Strikers: A lot of cash comes from the Timbers franchise, which promised community contributions in exchange for renovations to the city-owned Providence Park. Meanwhile, the dues-paying members of the 107ist have become their own economic force. 

The Midfield: In the stands, the Timbers Army looks like an unbroken sea of scarves, beer, and green smoke. But “they have a little bit of everything,” says OPI board member Shawn Levy: an arborist, a grant writer, a landscape architect, a copyright lawyer, an irrigation contractor, all willing to donate time and expertise.

The D: Donations from the Portland Development Commission, Providence, Widmer Brothers, Adidas, and others formed the project’s financial back line.

The Keepers: Bless Field isn’t a city park, but OPI’s cred with Portland Parks & Recreation helped make it happen. For the group’s weekend work parties, parks maintenance and irrigation crews help identify fields that need help. Moreover, PPR volunteer coordinator Steve Pixley “has had his gloves on and a shovel from day one,” Levy says.

The Hall of Fame: The field is named for Howie Bless, a Timbers Army stalwart who died in 2009. Funds for its goalposts came from the family of Duane Graf, an Army member who died last year.

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