Season of disappointment for the Timbers

While it was a disappointing second season for the Portland

Timbers, there is reason for hope.

Portland will soon see the arrival of new coach Caleb Porter,

who is wrapping up his seventh season as head coach of the

University of Akron. Porter was hired by the Timbers in August,

after the dismissal of coach John Spencer.

The Timbers also claimed the Cascadia Cup, which goes annually

to the winner of the three-way competition with the rival Seattle

Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Portland finished up the season 8-16-10, ranked second-to-last

in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference and falling far short

of the team’s goal to reach the playoffs. The year was capped by a

1-1 draw with the playoff-bound San Jose Earthquakes this past

Saturday.

”Of course it didn’t go the way we wanted,” forward Bright

Dike said about the season. ”But if you look at how we faired

against San Jose, the best team in the league, we have a win and

two ties this year. So this team is not really far off. I hope next

year we can grind out better wins against teams we should have

beat.”

Porter will be the first step. This season he has guided the

second-ranked Zips to a 13-1-2 record with two matches remaining.

Akron has already clinched its eighth straight Mid-American

Conference regular season title.

Porter, 37, led the Zips to the national championship in 2010,

in the second of back-to-back appearances in the College Cup.

While Spencer was popular with the fans, the Timbers dismissed

him on July 9 and replaced him for the remainder of the season with

general manager Gavin Wilkinson. At the time, owner Merritt Paulson

insisted that the decision was not purely record-driven,

characterized the issue as ”some fundamental philosophical

differences.

Wilkinson joined the Timbers in 2001 as a player when the team

was part of the USL First Division. He was coach of the

second-division Timbers from 2007-10 and was an assistant with the

Houston Dynamo for five seasons before coming to Portland.

Wilkinson’s stint as interim coach this season did not yield a

team turnaround. Sprinkled in the crowd at home games were signs

reading ”GW Out.”

But in the end Wilkinson said the team will learn from the

struggles they’ve had this season.

”There are a lot of lessons. As a club and organization, we are

continually trying to manage the character of the group. The

mentality of building on that is something we will look forward

to,” he said. ”This team had a lot of diversity with this season,

but winning the Cascadia Cup and coming back for the draw really

puts this club at the top of what they can be this year.”

Portland claimed the Cascadia Cup with a 1-0 victory over the

Whitecaps in their second-to-last match. Captain Jack Jewsbury

scored in the 39th minute.

It was the Timbers’ first victory on the road and ended a

six-match losing streak.

Portland finished 3-1-2 against its Pacific Northwest rivals to

take the fan-created Cascadia Cup competition. Seattle was 2-1-3,

and Vancouver 0-3-3.

”It’s tremendous for the fans,” Wilkinson said. ”They

thoroughly deserve it, everything aside it’s something that they

thoroughly deserved. It’s been a long season for them and it’s been

a long season for the organization, and while this doesn’t remove

some of the things that have happened over the course of the

season, it’s a positive and it’s something we can take into next

season.”

As for those fans: The Timbers’ supporters have not lost their

fervor for the team. Paulson said that there’s a 96 percent season

ticket renewal rate for next season. Portland currently has a

waiting list of about 7,500 fans for the 14,750 season tickets.

The team handed out its final awards at a banquet on Sunday.

Midfielder Diego Chara was the players’ player of the year as well

as the supporters’ player of the year. Kris Boyd won the Golden

Boot as team’s top scorer with seven goals this season.

Midfielder Eric Alexander won the team’s Unsung Hero award,

while defender David Horst was the team’s community player.

Jewsbury’s goal against the Whitecaps was the play of the year.