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Sounders, Timbers fans engage in silent protest

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ECS, Gorilla FC and Timbers Army are protesting MLS rules against political signage and its ban on the Iron Front flag.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

PORTLAND, Ore. — Do not adjust your television. The field mics are working just fine. You are, in fact, hearing what it sounds like when some of the most vocal supporters groups in arguably the most anticipated match of their season decide to be silent.

After singing and chanting for most of the pregame, Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC and Timbers Army decided not to display pregame tifos and did not engage in organized singing or cheering for the first 33 minutes of Friday’s decisive Cascadia Cup encounter. The action of solidarity was being taken as a protest against Major League Soccer’s ban on “political” signage in general and the Iron Front symbol in particular. Why 33 minutes? The Iron Front was banned in Nazi Germany in 1933.

Players for both teams were told by the supporters groups of the planned action on Thursday.

At the stroke of 33:00 both groups of supporters resumed their normal activities, singing and chanting for the rest of the match. Both groups also waved Iron Front flags for the remainder of the match.

The three groups are also reaffirming their call for MLS to do three things:

  • Rescind its ban on flying the Iron Front flag
  • Remove the word “political” from its fan code of conduct.
  • 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

That the supporters groups chose a match broadcast on ESPN to be the one where they made this statement was no accident.

“Ultimately, this is the most valuable ‘property’ for MLS to sell to the networks — because our groups made it that way,” ECS co-president Tom Biro told Sounder at Heart. “MLS won’t let us do what we believe is right and necessary to stand up for our members and neighbors, so we’re taking away what makes it so valuable to them.”

Although this issue has been around since at least 2017 when several ECS members were kicked out of a game in Vancouver for their “Anti-Fascist/Anti-Racist/Always Seattle” two-pole, it has come to a head this year. The last time the Sounders and Timbers met, Iron Front flags were flown in their sections. As recently as last week, several ECS members were kicked out of the LA Galaxy match for a similar sign. That drew a sharp rebuke from the league, as the three-arrowed symbol first used by a group opposing the Nazis in 1930s Germany was explicitly banned in the fan code of conduct that was released earlier this year.

Since the last Sounders-Timbers match, the Iron Front flag has showed up at various other MLS stadiums along with various ant-fascist and anti-racist signs. Reactions to the signs have varied wildly depending on the venue. In Atlanta, the signs have led to fans receiving stadium bans, while Sporting KC supporters unfurled a massive tifo with a similar message to apparently no resistance.