Playoff Loss Just the Beginning for Portland

High hopes at end of 2013 much different than mood previous year
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, November 28, 2013

Taylor Fugate Photography - Portland Timbers, MLS

The noise was deafening at the end of Sunday’s match. All of JELD-WEN Field seemed to be shaking.

“PT-FC!” “PT-FC!”

The chant was as loud as it could be, even as the season for the Portland Timbers was coming to an end. And when the final whistle blew, confirming Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 win over the Timbers (5-2 on aggregate) to win the MLS Western Conference Final, the chant became even louder.

“PT-FC!” “PT-FC!”

As RSL celebrated their triumph, Timbers players were taking a lap of honor around JWF. The Timbers Army serenated them with a rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”, a song that the TA has sung late in matches for many years. But this time, the feeling was stronger, and by time the players got back in front of the Army, the emotions were at a peak, both on the field and in the stands.

What a difference a year makes.

Of course, the mood was much, much different at the end of 2012. The future looked uncertain for the Timbers, who had sacked John Spencer as coach during the season, were waiting for Caleb Porter to finish his season with the University of Akron before he could head west to take over in Portland and were deflecting calls for the ouster of General Manager/Interim Head Coach Gavin Wilkinson. Outside of winning the Cascadia Cup, there was little to be hopeful about as 2013 loomed.

At the end of the final game of the 2012 season, a 1-1 draw with San Jose that saw Chris Wondolowski tie the MLS goal-scoring record, the mood was more relief that the season was over than a celebration of the team.

The future looked bleak. And what could Porter, who has so much success but failed to get the US U-23 team into the London Olympics, possibly do to change this?

But, as is well known now, the wheels were already spinning for the changes that would trigger the stunning season that 2013 turned out to be. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was already in the fold, coming over from Montreal for Troy Perkins in a deal that was hotly debated in 2012 but turned out to be, in a sense, the first move of the Porter Era.

That would be the beginning of the signs of the Timbers’ revamp. In trades came Will Johnson from RSL, Michael Harrington from Sporting Kansas City and Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic from Toronto. From Argentina came Diego Valeri, on loan from the club he won a title with, Lanus (Portland later signed Valeri on a permanent, Designated Player deal in August). Frederic Piquionne arrived February, along with Ben Zemanski. Pa Modou Kah was signed in May, soon after Mikael Silvestre (who was signed in February) was injured.

Then in August, Maxi Urruti came to Portland from Toronto for the talented, but often-injured, Bright Dike. That almost could be seen as the first move of 2014, much like the Ricketts-Perkins trade was the first real 2013 trade for the Timbers.

The list of players who left is also quite extensive. Kris Boyd, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer, Steve Purdy, Freddie Braun, Mike Fucito, Eric Alexander, Franck Songo’o, Danny Mwanga and Kosuke Kimura were along the long list of players who became ex-Timbers, mostly by trade or options being declined or, in Boyd’s case, the termination of a contract.

All of those moves, along with a drastic change of the internal culture of the Timbers, set the stage for the amazing season 2013 became. The 15-match unbeaten run, Valeri’s wondergoals, Ricketts’ amazing saves, making the US Open Cup semifinals for the first time, becoming the top seed in the Western Conference (which might lead to an appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League), beating Seattle in the playoffs – that all became part of a season that no one thought was remotely possible one year ago.

Yes, the end of Sunday’s match was not a time to be down. Instead, it became a time to celebrate a season that went beyond anyone’s imagination. A time to celebrate what Porter, Valeri, Johnson, Ricketts, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, Kah, Futty Danso and the rest of the Timbers had done.

It wasn’t an end of a season, in a sense. It was the end of a beginning, with the next chapter beginning in 100 days as the Timbers host Philadelphia to open the 2014 campaign. But unlike the last opener, the optimism for what lies ahead will be high, as will, for the first time since the latter part of the USL years, expectations.

And, cutting through the late winter night, the Timbers Army will pick up where they left off.

“PT-FC!” “PT-FC!”

NEXT UP: March 8 – Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. 10:30 p.m. EST, TV TBA.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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