Timbers, Sounders fan groups stage silent protest against MLS ban on political displays

Portland Timbers fans may watch games in silence. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP)

UPDATE (9:35 p.m. ET): The Timbers Army, a major independent group of supporters of the Portland Timbers, will go silent for the first 33 minutes of tonight’s match against the arch rival Seattle Sounders, according to Yahoo Sports contributor Caitlin Murray.

The group is protesting Major League Soccer’s recent ban on political displays at games. More information can be found in the original story below.

A flier being distributed among fans seated in the Timbers Army section at Providence Park was photographed by author Jules Boykoff and shared on Twitter:

The flier says the Timbers Army is teaming with two independent Sounders fan groups, Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC, to remain silent for the first 33 minutes, which means “no chants, drums, capos or flags.”

At the 33:01 mark, the Timbers Army will start singing “Bella Ciao.” The flier explains further:

“The end of the 33rd minute (33:01) is in reference to 1933, the year the anti-fascist Iron Front was disbanded by the Nazis. Bella Ciao is the WWII Italian anti-fascist anthem.”

ORIGINAL STORY (11:51 a.m. ET): Supporters of the Portland Timbers feel as though their voices aren’t being heard. In order to drive that point home, some of the team’s most passionate supporters may go silent during the team’s next game.

The Timbers Army — a group of avid, long-time Timbers fans — hinted that they might go silent as a way to protest Major League Soccer’s new code of conduct, which bans political displays at games.

The issue heated up after MLS banned the Iron Front symbol from games, which was used by the anti-Nazi paramilitary organization during World War II. The symbol — which features three arrows pointing downward — has been adopted by antifa. MLS believes that association is enough to ban the symbol. Timbers supporters have disagreed, arguing the symbol is used to denounce fascism.

In a post on the Timbers Army Blog, one supporter railed against the team and league, saying the Timbers are neglecting their most passionate fans by banning the symbol. The fan, Mike Coleman, cited comments made by MLS president Mark Abbot, who told Yahoo Sports the decision to ban political signage was done to please all the team’s fans.

“The prohibition on political signage is in place to support the overwhelming majority of MLS fans who come to our stadiums to enjoy a great soccer game,” MLS president Mark Abbott told Yahoo Sports in a statement. “All of our fans and supporters are important to us and we will continue to engage with them to ensure that we deliver an incredible experience for all.”

Coleman believes that neglects some of the team’s most dedicated fans. He believes those supporters who have helped boost the Timbers the most are being cast aside in favor of sponsors and local businesses. Coleman argues those casual fans attend games to not just watch the action on the field, but to bask in the atmosphere the loyal fans have created at Providence Park.

If Timbers fans suddenly go silent in protest and no longer contribute to that atmosphere, Coleman thinks the team will suffer. The experience of going to a Timbers game won’t be unique, and people won’t want to shell out massive amounts of money for what Coleman calls a “homogeneous corporate sporting event no different from any other league in this country.”

Based on the messaging coming from the Timbers Army, fans may put that theory to the test tonight. Unless the Timbers or MLS makes some drastic changes, the usually boisterous Timbers fans are going to go silent to make the loudest statement they can.

Yahoo Soccer editor Joey Gulino contributed to the story.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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