PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers played the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park Friday night, in one of their biggest games of the season. But when both teams took the pitch, the Timbers Army went relatively silent for the first 33 minutes of the game.
“It didn't feel like a Timbers game,” observed Timbers fan Christen Valmer. “It was pretty odd.”
No chants, no drums, no flags for 33 minutes. The Timbers Army hoped Major League Soccer heard them loud and clear.
“We're hoping to get the league's attention,” said Timbers Army member Matthew Shields.
Shields and his fellow demonstrators were protesting a new MLS rule that bans political signs at games. That includes the Iron Front flag, which features three downward-facing arrows. It's a symbol of anti-fascism and has been a regular part of Timbers games.
MLS president Mark Abbott told the Associated Press that the league worked with all of its teams to create the policy.
"I think it was the belief of the league and the clubs that fans are at our games to enjoy the game,” said Abbott. "There is a place for third-party political organizations or groups to express their views, but that place isn't within our stadiums.”
Before Friday’s match, the Portland Timbers took to Twitter and posted the words "Hate is not welcome here," along with a picture of pennant that read "Anti-fascist, anti-racist."
“Personally, I don't really care,” said Timbers fan Danny Salgado. “I'm here to watch the game. It's interesting, but whatever they want to do, more power to them.”
The 33 minutes of silence was a nod to 1933. That year, the Nazis disbanded the anti-fascist Iron Front.
“We thought, you guys are banning the exact same symbol [Hitler] did, so we're thinking 33 minutes of silence is a good way to remind you of what the history of this is, and what it is you're banning,” said Shields. “Think—is this really what you want to be remembered for? Is this really the side you want to be on?”
When the game clock hit 33:01, the Timbers Army erupted in cheers and began waving their flags, including at least one with the Iron Front symbol. They also sang Bella Ciao, the World War II Italian anti-fascist anthem.
For their part, a small contingency of Seattle Sounders fans also observed the first 33 minutes of silence. In the end, Seattle beat Portland, 2-1.