Timbers ready for MLS home opener
The Portland Timbers finally get to play in front of their hometown fans as a Major League Soccer team on Thursday night when they host the Chicago Fire.
While they're obviously excited about the gala opener at their newly refurbished stadium, the expansion Timbers are also anxious to get that first victory.
Three games into the season, a win has eluded Portland, which is 0-2-1 with losses at Colorado and Toronto, and a 1-all draw at New England.
''At the end of the day, the fans can't kick the ball into the net for us,'' said team captain Jack Jewsbury. ''We know we've got to get it done.''
This week the Timbers practiced for the first time at renovated Jeld-Wen Field. At the same time construction workers buzzed about adding finishing touches, like painting upper level bleacher seats.
The stadium, until recently called PGE Park, underwent $31 million in changes and improvements for the Timbers' leap to MLS this season.
A new grandstand rises along the stadium's east side, once the outfield when the facility was home for the Triple-A Portland Beavers.
The field is covered with brand new turf, and a new video scoreboard looms over the south end.
''There's a lot of emotions coming to a head in a great way,'' Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said as he surveyed the field.
Paulson, the son of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, bought the Timbers and the Beavers in 2007 and soon thereafter began a campaign to lure an MLS franchise to Portland.
While he won over MLS, he was unable to persuade area leaders to build a new ballpark for the Beavers, the minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The Beavers were sold last year to Jeff Moorad, an owner of the Padres, and moved to Tucson, Ariz.
Major League Soccer at the outset appears to be a good fit for Portland, which has been home to the Timbers in one incarnation or another since 1975. The Timbers were born that year as part of the North American Soccer League and they were successful at the start, advancing to the league's championship game.
Because of the excitement surrounding that team, Portland was dubbed ''Soccer City, USA.'' The moniker has seen a revival with the arrival of MLS.
The Timbers sold out their season tickets earlier this year and now there's a waiting list. The single game tickets are mostly gone, too.
The Oregon House of Representatives jumped on the bandwagon on Wednesday by declaring Thursday ''Timbers Day'' in Oregon.
The Timbers Army, the team's independent fan club which occupies most of the north end of Jeld-Wen Field, is preparing to sing the national anthem at the opener.
''The excitement and hype around this game is unbelievable,'' said goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. ''It certainly has surpassed my expectations.''
Gleeson, a 20-year-old from New Zealand, will have to wait to see whether he will start in goal for the Timbers against the Fire. He started in Portland's last two games, a U.S. Open Cup victory and a regular season game at New England, because veteran Troy Perkins and backup Adin Brown have both been nursing injuries.
Perkins is close to a return, but coach John Spencer said he won't decide between his two options until game time.
Spencer said it is important that his team keep perspective amid all the hoopla on Thursday night.
''For me, you step on the field - it's a beautiful arena to play in,'' the coach said. ''But ultimately that's not what matters - it's how the team performs.''