Thorns and Timbers Took the Field Together in Ukraine-UNICEF Fundraiser
From the start, this was not a normal night of Portland soccer. The teams—one Blue, one Yellow, each made up of both Thorns and Timbers players—entered from beneath a “Слава Україні” banner at the field’s North End. The anthem was Ukraine’s, not the US’s, and all the starters and officials turned to face a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag that had replaced the usual Canadian one in the park’s northeast corner.
The head referee, Sergii Demianchuk, a Ukraine native who said before the game that his children worry about being able to see their grandparents, who are currently safe but that “you never know where the next bomb will land,” held his hand over his heart. Demianchuk and the other officials were all volunteers.
Tickets were free, but donations were encouraged, benefitting UNICEF programs in Ukraine and neighboring countries, as well as partner aid groups. Inside, people could buy “Stand with Ukraine” shirts at the team stores and other T-shirts, tote bags, and signs at tables run by the Ukrainian American Cultural Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington and the Ukrainian Foundation, though plenty of stadium-goers were happy to put their cards into the Square reader just as a donation, no merch needed.
“We’re so impressed with all the details: the uniforms, the flags, the Ukrainian singing the anthem,” says cultural association’s Tatiana Terdal, who was selling shirts and showing samples of the field tourniquets in the medic kits the group was buying to send to the war zone. “This is what helps people stop bleeding. They can be put on with one hand,” she adds, wrapping her right hand around her left arm, “which is very important.”
After the anthem, the teams mingled for a joint pregame photo. It was different in the packed stands, too. All seats were general admission, except for some areas reserved for the Ukrainian American Cultural Association. While there were a few “You Knew” shirts in the crowd, a reference to the teams’ handling of allegations of a coach’s sexual coercion and allegations of a player’s domestic violence, there were none of the now-standard chants of those words, no purple smoke to show support for victims of domestic violence, no “On Wednesdays, we smash the patriarchy” signs. Tears for Fears’ “Sowing the Seeds of Love” played over the PA at halftime.
Then there was the game itself. Nine seconds in, Blue captain Kelli Hubly made the first interteam pass to Larrys Mabiala, and history was made. Nine minutes in, Thorn Madison Pogarch’s cross to Timbers2 player Nathan Fogaça for a header was the first interteam goal.
“It’s been a long time in the making. The fans have really wanted this game,” Portland Thorn and US National Team star Crystal Dunn, on maternity leave from play but putting in time in the broadcast booth, said before the game. “Since the Thorns were announced in 2012, people have been thinking about what this would be like, if the two teams could come together, to play a match together,” fellow commentator Jake Zivin added.
More goals would come from Hannah Betfort, Yimmi Chara, Fogaça again, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Selmir Miscic (T2), and Vova Kubrakov, a 17-year-old Timbers Academy player originally from Ukraine. The Yellow team won 4–3, and there was some disappointment things didn't end in a draw and penalty kicks.
The game was largely a passing clinic, without a lot of contact. Both teams have league games this weekend, and no one wanted an injury to deplete the rosters any further, especially with players out already due to “health and safety protocol” (assumed to be a euphemism for COVID absences), including Blue team cocaptain Diego Chara, denying fans a Chara vs. Chara showdown. A yellow card was issued to the Yellow team (which got a chuckle from the crowd), but it was for diving, not any aggression. Timber Joey fired up his chainsaw for every goal, and those who scored received the Timbers’ traditional log round as a trophy at the end, but with the Thorns’ traditional prize for goal scorers, a long-stemmed rose, attached to it. There were so many subs it was hard to keep track of, and at one point Bill Tuiloma put on David Bingham’s pink goalkeeper’s jersey while the keeper took to the field in pink shorts.
The last five minutes of the 60-minute match brought a bench-clearing scramble in which more than 40 players, some long since subbed off and wearing their warm-up pants and sneakers (not cleats), took the field to try to net a last goal or two for their team. “There are no more rules, I think. The entire Yellow roster is on the field,” Zivin declared from the booth. Timbers coach Gio Savarese, officially the Yellow team’s coach, got an assist on a goal called back for offsides. By that point, the number $435,000 had already flashed on the big screens as the figure raised, to the biggest cheers of the night.
The $435,000 (which includes $100,000 from the Timbers and Thorns organization) is not the final total. In addition to what was raised on site and before the game, an online auction opens Friday morning at ptfc.givesmart.com, where people can bid on game-worn jerseys, captain’s banners, Timber Joey’s chainsaw bar, and other items.