Widening JELD-WEN Reflects Portland's Style

Field’s width reflects different philosophies of Porter, Spencer
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, January 02, 2014

John Hefti Photography - Portland Timbers, MLS

One yard. Three feet. That’s all it is.

But, in a sense, it means a lot in Portland.

That 1 yard is how much wider the field at JELD-WEN Field will be for the 2014 season. Club owner Merritt Paulson confirmed on his Twitter account on Tuesday that the field would be widened next season. It will now be 75 yards wide, joining the vast majority of MLS stadiums in that width. Only Stade Saputo in Montréal is wider, at 77 yards. The narrowest field in MLS is BBVA Stadium in Houston, which is 70 yards wide.

By time the Rose City Invitational preseason tournament starts in late February, the official dimensions of the JWF pitch will be 110 yards by 75 yards. The field will still be tied for the shortest in MLS, as RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., is also 110 yards long.

The size of a soccer pitch is not a set rule. While there are minimums that a club must work with, the other aspects of a field’s size are often based on a style of play or how a stadium is built. That’s truly the case with JWF and its short MLS history.

When John Spencer was named coach of the Timbers, he was looking to introduce a physical, direct style of play that he felt would allow Portland to have a better chance of succeeding right away. As part of this strategy, the width of the JWF field was set at 70 yards, the narrowest in MLS (tied with Robertson Stadium in Houston, where Spencer was an assistant before being hired by Portland).

Numerous coaches complained about the width of the field in Portland during the Timbers’ first 2 MLS seasons. Teams often would run out of room, or get squeezed, when trying to go wide. However, teams eventually figured it out, and when Spencer got fired in 2012, it was assumed that the field would get wider.

And it did. Caleb Porter’s possession style often included developing plays on the outside of the field, and thus the JWF pitch would need to be widened to help accommodate that style. So, in 2013, the field was widened to 74 yards, closer to the MLS standard. While those 4 yards, or 12 feet, wouldn’t seem to make a lot of difference, the ability the Timbers showed in working from the outside in was vastly improved, and that helped players such as Diego Chara spread the field and allow more space for Will Johnson, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, among others, to set up the attack that would lead to quality chances, and thus more goals.

So, an extra yard will be added to the width for 2014. That extra space could help players like the newest signing for the Timbers, Gaston Fernandez. He is a player who, while usually a second striker, also likes to work from the wings in, according to soccer journalist Juan Arango, who covers South American soccer extensively. That extra width will give him more space, especially coming from the “narrow” field of Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, the home stadium of Fernandez’ previous club, Estudiantes de La Plata. That field was only 70 yards wide.

The widening of the field is just one of the changes coming to JELD-WEN Field for 2014. The stadium will also get new turf, replacing the turf that was seen as the best artificial surface in MLS (and the only artificial surface that New York’s Thierry Henry will actually play on). There’s not much room for seating expansion, though the talk of turning the Timbers Army section into a standing area, allowing for more supporters to be in the North End, comes up occasionally.

But the current changes to JWF are mainly cosmetic. With the MLS All-Star Game and Bayern Munich coming in August, it will be another chance to show the stadium off to soccer fans across the continent. The CONCACAF Champions League, also coming in August, will mean another chance to show off, though with as many national television appearances that the Timbers and JWF make in a season, there’s not much to surprise at this point.

Of course, the time that Timbers staff and supporters really want to show off is after Thanksgiving. That would mean hosting the MLS Cup, and with the expanded expectations, that is now a legitimate goal.

Expanded, just like JWF’s field.

NEXT UP: February 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, North Stadium, Kino Sports Complex, Tucson, Ariz. 9 p.m. EST, no television.

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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