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What a difference a year makes

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Portland Thorns FC defender Marian Dougherty, scoring a goal vs. Seattle, has been impressive this season, says General Manager Gavin Wilkinson.Things have not always gone smoothly for Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson.

After the Timbers finished the 2012 season with a record of 8-16-10 (34 points), Wilkinson was heavily criticized for his role in assembling the side.

This year, though, Wilkinson has hit the jackpot, with both the Timbers and the Portland Thorns FC, the women’s team he helps to oversee.

The Timbers (7-1-9, 30 points) are in contention for the Supporter’s Shield, which is awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record.

The Thorns (8-3-2, 26 points) are near the top of the National Women’s Soccer League and figure to be a strong title contender.

The Portland Tribune caught up with Wilkinson on Tuesday to find out why everything he touches is turning to gold.

Portland Tribune: Last season, fans were calling for your job, if not your head, for the way the Timbers played. How satisfying is it for you to be overseeing two of the best clubs in the MLS and NWSL?

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Gavin Wilkinson, Portland Timbers general manager, has helped put together one of the strongest teams in MLS, while keeping an eye on the contending Portland Thorns of the National Womens Soccer League.Wilkinson: I’ve been around the sport long enough to know everyone is entitled to an opinion.

I’m delighted that the organization has turned a corner and is heading in the right direction. To appreciate those times, you’ve got to go through some tough times. It’s just the nature of life, I guess.

I don’t do my job to keep the masses happy. I do it to help the organization be successful. We have a tremendous fan base, they’re entitled to their opinion, and I appreciate their opinion.

Tribune: How much have you learned about being a technical director over the last three seasons?

Wilkinson: When there’s reflection, there’s always bound to be a level of improvement, and when there’s honesty with that reflection, it can only serve to benefit the individual.

Working under (owner) Merritt (Paulson), there’s constant feedback. Not all of that is positive. Professional sports is honest. What you see is what you get. I appreciate that honest relationship I have with the boss here. There’ve been learning curves.

There’s been a level of confidence that the job could always be achieved and be done, but it’s a continual learning curve. I have learned a lot, but I’m sure I’m going to learn an awful lot more.

Tribune: What are the similarities and differences in your roles with the Timbers and Thorns?

Wilkinson: The things in common are dealing with player contracts.

There’s a lot less on the scouting side with the Thorns. But I’m still working on the business side — the contracts, managing the staff, the little incidental things like travel.

The Timbers are our main business. Bringing the Thorns on this year, it’s been a bit of an experiment. There are a lot of crossovers, but they’re two different business models.

Tribune: How much have you had to learn about women’s soccer to be able to oversee the Thorns?

Wilkinson: The game itself doesn’t change. For me, most of it has been about managing staff, getting the right people in the right places, having the infrastructure to manage players.

As far as what I’ve had to learn about the women’s game itself, it’s more coming up to speed with the nuances and the differences within the sport. A lot of that learning has come from (coach) Cindy (Parlow Cone).

Tribune: You had high expectations when you hired first-year Timbers coach Caleb Porter. Has he exceeded those expectations?

Wilkinson: He’s met them. He’s exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, but he’s met ours. That also means we’re very, very happy with the job he’s doing, because the expectations were high.

Tribune: What has made the Timbers’ roster work so well together this season?

Wilkinson: Caleb and I took a lot of time toward the end of last year in developing a road map for the club — the culture, the philosophy, the principles of how he wanted to see the team play.

You can have players who have the ability. A lot of it comes down to how do you get the most out of them on a day-to-day basis. That’s where Caleb has done a tremendous job.

Tribune: Who are some of the players who have impressed you on the Timbers and the Thorns?

Wilkinson: I could mention every single player.

On the Timbers’ side, I feel great for Rodney Wallace. He’s maturing and continuing to develop. I feel great for a player like Will Johnson, who was traded and has shown his worth in this organization very quickly.

On the Thorns’ side, there’s the couple of superstars (Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair) who are the first to be mentioned. Then there are players like Marian Dougherty, who’s a local girl, continues to work for Nike and pursue a career while fulfilling a great need with the Thorns.

There’s a lot of players on both the Timbers and the Thorns who you can’t help but pat them on the back and also kick them in the rear end to keep them going.

Tribune: From the beginning of the season, the expectation for the Thorns was that anything less than winning the NWSL championship would be a failure. Is that unfairly high?

Wilkinson: I don’t think so. It’s just professional sports. There has to be that ambition, there has to be that determination to succeed.

Tribune: From the beginning of the season, the outside expectations for the Timbers were that making the playoffs would be an enormous success. Is that expectation now too low?

Wilkinson: We’re halfway through the season. It’s been a good half.

Is it better than where we were last year? One hundred percent yes.

Have there been significant improvements? Yes.

But we’ve got a lot left to achieve.




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