What a kick! Timbers' future looks bright
My View • Major League Soccer becomes a comfortable fit for Rose City
The Portland Timbers stepped onto the pitch for the first time in 1975.In a sports nation governed by Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL, the North American Soccer League was a long shot.
The Timbers joined the NASL as an expansion team, and the city quickly earned the name 'Soccer City USA.'Thirty-six years later, the flares are still flying, the Army still cheers, and the drums beat louder than ever.
The Timbers' inaugural MLS season has come to a close.The team finished with only 11 wins and 14 losses, and allowed a playoff spot to slip from its hands in the final week of the season. But the first season was anything but a failure. The first season was a success.
The road has been rocky and complex.Soccer's history in the United States is one of complex legal entities, dreams of bringing the sport to the nation's attention, and seeing the dream too unprofitable to continue.
The original Timbers franchise lasted only seven years and reemerged three years later in the Western Soccer Alliance.After becoming the Western Soccer League in 1989 and merging with the American Soccer League to form the American Professional Soccer League in 1990, the APSL collapsed after the 1990 season, taking most of the clubs down with it; like the NASL days, hopes were high, profits were not.Portland was left without a professional soccer club.
A remnant of the American Professional Soccer League called the A League (becoming the United Soccer League First Division in 2004), emerged in 1995. In 2001, Portland joined and the Timbers once again took the pitch.The fans and the city were once again treated to the game they came to love in 1975, and in return the Army became an entity of its own, filling the north end of PGE Park for every match and cheering on Timber Jim with a savage intensity as he raised his roaring chain saw above his head and sliced chunks of timber from a massive log after each score.
This time, the road did not end.Merritt Paulson, son of a wealthy, conservative investment banker, an unlikely figure to step into the Timbers' timeline, purchased the team through an investment company in 2007.The legal complexities and dealings that have operated behind the curtains once again sprang into motion as Paulson, through some questionable dealings with city officials in tow, brought the MLS to Portland by making the Timbers an expansion team in 2011.
The Portland Beavers, a minor-league baseball team that previously shared the stadium with the Timbers, exited the stage.PGE Park was renovated and renamed. Ticket prices went up. Jersey prices went up.Billboards splashed the town. Anticipation spiked.
Soccer fans in America know the feeling of uncertainty.For decades, while football and baseball fans have worried only about free-agent signings and lockouts, soccer fans have feared the collapse of their entire league.Timbers fans have seen their team dissolve before their eyes as they gave as much support as they could muster.But the times have changed.
Talk will circulate about the team's success in its first MLS season.Should the Timbers have made the playoffs?Did they underachieve or overachieve?But all the chatter will miss the point.The MLS looks strong.With the ink still wet from a recently signed deal for television rights between the MLS and NBC, the Army just might have to wear shades because the future is looking bright.
So, regardless of the playoff situation this year, it was a success.Are the tickets too expensive?Yes.Are the concessions too much?Yes.Were there shady business transactions and questionable legal maneuvering?Probably.
Those are the realities of professional sports in America.
Is soccer stronger than ever in Portland?Yes.Will kids grow up as Timbers fans?Yes.The club will have new players, coaches will change, financial control of the team will swap hands in ways most won't understand, but the club will always be Portland's Timbers.
There is a buzz around the stadium on game day that begins early in the morning and continues long after the final whistle.Whether they're heading to the game, the pub or tuning in at home, Portlanders are throwing on green jerseys for game day.
It's the Portland Timbers.It's Portland's Pitch.It's back and it's here to stay.
Gary Gray ofSouthwest Portlandis a soccer fan and a third-year law student at Willamette University College of Law.