On a practical level, it's difficult to argue that Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to the Portland Timbers reserves accomplished anything for Newcastle United. Steve McClaren's concerns about the artificial surface at Providence Park made the match useless even as a fitness-strengthening exercise. So why bother with it at all?
Honestly, the same could be said for the entire US tour from a preparation standpoint. The travel for the players and coaches was extreme. The matches, in various ways, didn't remotely resemble the Premier League conditions this squad will be contending with in a couple weeks. Splashy new striker signing Aleksandar Mitrović was left adrift as his new teammates toiled halfway around the world. For a club that normally toes a comically frugal line, the experience was oddly wasteful and unnecessary.
Yet from a fan's perspective, standing as part of a Toon Army in a stadium for literally the first time in my entire life, it was hard not to get wrapped up in the moment. It made me reflect on the very strange trip it's been over the past eight years, from the day I more or less picked a Premier League club to follow at random, to standing on the other side of the country, next to a best friend I hadn't even met in 2007, screaming and chanting until we went hoarse while watching a match that didn't even count.
About my friend: I think her experience as an honorary Geordie wannabe Tuesday night exemplifies what NUFC can be in the United States with a bit of effort. She absolutely loved it, reveling in the terrace songs and camaraderie just as much as I did. And even if she didn't already have some sympathy for the Toon because of me, I think she would have come away a fan. I suspect that at least some of the Timbers supporters may have developed an affinity for Newcastle for the same reason. (The ones who got the humor in our incessant mockery of them, at least.) Whatever the score, we had a lot of fun, and it's hard not to want to be a part of that.
While it's impossible to justify a tour like this on sporting grounds, it's also something that needed to happen to create some amount of goodwill. You can look back at this blog's history to see what happened over the last year. We lost interest, and justifiably so, after multiple directionless seasons. (Call it Ashleyitis.) And if it happened to us, it undoubtedly happened to many others in the States as well.
Now, I'm not naïve about the situation. There are still plenty of problems at NUFC, starting with the man who signs the checks. But for the first time in a long time, I felt proud to support this club on Tuesday. (Seriously! Even while watching our undermanned defense get smoked by the legendary Timbers 2.) I wonder how many others in attendance in Portland, and in Sacramento and Milwaukee, said the same thing.