A look back before moving forward

The Timbers have a hectic and exciting off-season in front of them, but before discussing the future it’s best to take a moment to remember the past—especially the roller-coaster year that was 2010.

The Timbers have a hectic and exciting off-season in front of them, but before discussing the future it’s best to take a moment to remember the past—especially the roller-coaster year that was 2010.

From the franchise’s North American Soccer League days in the 70s and 80s to its “modern era” rebirth in 2001, the Rose City’s passion for soccer has been slowly building, leading to Commissioner Don Garber’s March 2009 announcement that the Timbers were officially being promoted to Major League Soccer beginning in 2011. Fan support for the Timbers was at an average attendance of 8,567 in 2008, and by the 2010 season it had reached 10,727—with a record-setting 15,418 fans watching the final home game at PGE Park last month.

It was a bittersweet 2010 for the Timbers. The spotlight from the media was growing brighter, and after a record-setting 2009, which saw the team go on a 24-match unbeaten streak, the expectations and pressure to win had never been higher. Although the team failed to bring Portland its first Division-2 championship, the players did show determination and focus by bearing the weight of the future on their backs as they pushed their way through 2010.

Portland finished in fourth place overall in the final 2010 league standings—a solid result, especially considering the team had to overcome an early rough stretch which saw them go winless for nine straight matches.

All season, the Timbers persevered despite adversity. Mandjou Keita, Portland’s leading scorer in 2009, struggled to find a connection and parted ways with the team early in the summer. However, other players stepped up to capitalize on the opportunity. Rookie striker Bright Dike was one such player.

Dike exploded, making 10 goals in 23 matches and with most of those goals coming in the second half of the season. Midfielder Ryan Pore achieved prestigious individual accomplishments as well, winning the Golden Boot award for most goals in the league with 15. Pore also led the league with 35 total points.

There were special moments both on and off the field in 2010. Portland won the Cascadia Cup for the second straight year, beating their northwest rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps with a record of 2-0-2 during the regular season. The Timbers honored current player and seven-year team veteran Scot Thompson for his work throughout the community, and also remembered past legend Jimmy Conway by hosting a testimonial match in his honor.

The final regular season match at PGE Park against Puerto Rico provided a truly epic moment. The Timbers Army had all brought sunflowers to the game, and during in the 80th minute, fate had set the stage: With the North End leading the way, fans across the stadium began to hold their sunflowers up in the air, a gesture that not only commemorated the final home match, but also honored one of the most significant and special moments in Timbers folklore, the “Sunshine Goal” of 2004.

While the stadium was filled with a sea of sunflowers, and while fans were singing “You Are My Sunshine,” the tension and intensity of the match built with the score knotted at 0-0. Then, in the 83rd minute, amidst the ballad of all the Timbers fans, a cross was sent into the box and Pore headed the ball into the back of the net for what would prove to be the game-winning goal. It was a special moment on a special night, and one of the most memorable goals in franchise history.

As the Timbers’ last season in the lower division wound down to an end, the team rallied to play its best soccer, finishing the season on a 10-match unbeaten streak. Though they entered the playoffs as the league’s hottest team, Portland struggled in the postseason and eventually lost to Vancouver in the first round.

The team does not plan on dwelling on the past, however, as plans for MLS have already been put into motion. When asked, after the team’s last match, when the front office would start thinking about next season’s roster, Timbers coach Gavin Wilkinson simply said, “That happens tomorrow.”

“We have to go back to the drawing board and analyze the players,” Wilkinson said. “Then it’s a matter of sitting down and looking at the contracts for those players, and then [deciding] which players we want to bring in for next year.”

The season may be over for the Timbers, but really things are just getting started. Renovations at PGE Park are well underway and the new soccer-specific stadium will not only have a new look, but also a fresh sponsorship and a new name. John Spencer, a tough-talking Scotsman and long-time assistant for the Houston Dynamo, has already been named the head coach for 2011 and has spent time getting acquainted with the franchise this past month.

At the Nines Hotel today, before a small group of season ticket-holders, the Timbers will hold a press conference to announce the first handful of players to make it on their 2011 MLS roster. A select group of players from this past season will be signed to MLS contracts, with likely inclusions Pore, Dike, Steve Cronin, Mamadou Danso and Ian Joy.

It’s expected that a few other players could make the Timbers’ MLS roster, or will at least have the opportunity to fight for a spot as the offseason moves forward.

The Timbers and the Whitecaps will participate in an expansion draft near the end of November, where the teams will get to select from a group of unprotected MLS players to fill out their rosters. Also, the league’s Super Draft for incoming rookies is scheduled for early 2011. The Timbers will have the first pick in the expansion draft and the second overall pick in the Super Draft.

Portland will have the opportunity to sign a designated player during the offseason as well, a contract that does not count against the team’s salary cap and therefore offers a chance to sign a higher-profile, more expensive player. Past designated players for the MLS have included David Beckham, Theirry Henry, and Rafael Márquez—a fact that allows Timber fans to dream big.

With an offseason that is likely to be just as busy as a regular season, Timbers fans will have plenty of moments to relish and fantasize about an exciting, soon-to-arrive future. ?