This is the 18th part of a series in which we introduce Orlando City fans to the teams our Lions will be facing in 2015 when the team starts play in Major League Soccer. Today we take a look at the Portland Timbers.
What are the three most important things Orlando City fans need to know about the Timbers?
William Conwell: First, the Timbers are hard to beat at home, having only lost four times in Providence Park since Caleb Porter took the reins at the start of the 2013 season. The road has been a different story over the last two years, however, with the Timbers losing ten times away from home. So, basically, with the trip from Portland to Orlando being one of the longest in MLS, hope that the Timbers are headed to you rather than the other way around.
To get to know where the Timbers are now, you also need to understand that they took a big step backward this year after struggling through some offseason injuries and new signings that needed a while to click with the rest of the team. Just one year after finishing two points back from the Supporters Shield winners, the Timbers finished one point out of the playoffs in 2014, which sucked. Long-time Timbers fans will often tell you that this is the club’s modus operandi: to look good but ultimately fall short before regressing to the mean the following season.
Despite the team’s struggles, feelings are generally optimistic around Portland, largely thanks to the way the team finished the season: fighting for every point. After the Timbers’ really, really bad start to the season (five points from the first eight games), they won points at a rate higher than anyone except the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy, and finished the year with a record of 5-1-3 in the last two months of the season.
Finally, and this is the defining characteristic of the Timbers, the club’s fans are the best in MLS. Everyone is going to say something along those lines, and some might even try to make a case, but Timbers fans are passionate, ever-present, and unwavering, even in the face of a season like 2012, which is a time you should probably not bring up to any Timbers fans you meet. It is a bit of a sore spot.
Actually, let’s throw in one more.
The fourth thing to know about the Timbers is that the rivalry with the Sounders is the most bitter rivalry in MLS. Nothing can touch it. LA-Chivas? Rapids-Real? Any of the mess that is the Eastern Conference rivalries? They have nothing on Timbers-Sounders.
What nicknames, chants and slang are unique to Portland, and can you please explain them if they aren’t readily apparent to the outsider?
WC: Any introduction to the culture surrounding the Timbers has to start with the Timbers Army. A group that formed in the North End stands of PGE Park in 2001, the Timbers Army has grown over the years from a small crowd of fans into the massive beast that fills Providence Park (same stadium, new name) for every home match. As far as chants go, the Army are rarely silent and have plenty of chants to fill the time, which range from the historically significant and sentimental “You Are My Sunshine” to the wildly popular “All I Really Want is Goals,” to the celebratory “Tetris.”
Of course, the TA are not the only facet of the culture surrounding the team worth knowing. Timber Joey, an actual lumberjack, is the team’s mascot and roams the stadium revving his chainsaw to get the fans fired up. He also cuts off slices of a large log kept next to the pitch each time the Timbers score, presenting the slabs to the goal scorers after each game.
What are the can’t-miss things to do when Orlando City fans visit a Portland Timbers game?
WC: Portland is chock-full of excellent bars and restaurants, so it would be difficult to list them all here. With breweries, pods of food carts, and some mighty fine restaurants all over the city, you should be able to find something to do in Portland. Plus, it is the Pacific Northwest, so there are outdoor activities to keep you occupied as well. (The default? Hike Multnomah Falls.)
As far as match-day traditions go, there is no “march to the match” coordinated by the team marching band here. Go to the bar. Take a nap. Tailgate. Come to the game ready to stand and cheer for victory.
Timbers fans used to be famous for standing in line and getting drunk on the sidewalk while waiting to be let in to the general admission Timbers Army area of the stands. Now, thanks to a wrist-band system, the fans spend significantly less time standing in line to grab a good seat.
Who are the key players on Portland we should know about?
WC: Diego Valeri is the Timbers. Since his arrival in 2013, Valeri has been killing it in MLS. Nicknamed “The Maestro,” Valeri pulls the strings to the Timbers’ ridiculously potent attack and, for two years running, has led the team in both goals and assists. The Timbers are a team very much built around getting Valeri into the best possible position to do damage, whether that is in the center of the park to break the defensive line with pinpoint passes, out wide on the right to whip in crosses, or even occasionally on the left just to mix things up. Valeri is the Timbers’ catalyst.
Of course, Valeri is not alone in the attack, and players like Darlington Nagbe, who only scored a single goal this year but was still vital to the attack, and Rodney Wallace, who missed the first half of the season while recovering from an ACL tear, make the system work.
If Valeri defines the Timbers’ attack, then it is Diego Chara who defines the defense. The shield in front of a constantly injured or just plain suspect back line, Chara has been one of the league’s most underappreciated holding midfielders since joining the league with the Timbers in 2011. “Quantum Chara,” as some call him, tends to pop up all over the field, covering absurd amounts of ground and winning the ball just about everywhere. Even when he gets beaten, Chara has an uncanny ability to recover and either take away the ball on the second try or make judicious use of the tactical foul to stop the play. Such is Chara’s facility with fouling that although he tied the MLS single-season record for fouls this year, he only picked up eight yellow cards—four fewer than the league leader.
Which Timbers players do you think might get exposed in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft?
WC: The Portland Timbers are a team with some depth and should yield at least one good pickup in the expansion draft, if not two.
There should be several veterans available from the Timbers’ roster. Michael Harrington and Jack Jewsbury both lost their starting spots at fullback earlier this season and could find their way back into the lineup of the proper team. Harrington, who will be 29 at the start of next year, still has plenty left to give as either a right or left back, although he may benefit from a system that does not require quite as much bombing forward from its backs.
In the midfield, the Timbers also have several potential players that could provide a creative spark for the team that picks them up. Michael Nanchoff and Kalif Alhassan, both of whom have been fringe first-team players for the last two years, could step into an attack-minded midfield spot with ease. Alhassan in particular has a remarkable creative drive but seems to have stalled out in Portland, often trying to do too much when he does get the ball or doing too little when he does not.
The Timbers will also definitely leave at least one veteran centerback exposed in the expansion draft, although which will be available is still anyone’s guess. Norberto Paparatto and Pa Modou Kah both had disappointing seasons with the Timbers this year as the team’s defense struggled before the arrival of designated player centerback Liam Ridgwell, and either or both could be left exposed. If they are, they could be an intriguing pick-up as both are hard-nosed defenders with plenty of bite.
Finally, there are several Timbers who have played important roles for the team over the last two years who are currently the subject of much debate.
Donovan Ricketts has been the Timbers’ keeper for the last two and a half years. After winning the Goalkeeper of the Year award last season, however, Ricketts just did not have the same magic in 2014, leading many to wonder if it is time for the Timbers to move on from the now 37-year-old keeper. He managed to put on a show in the final weeks of the season, however, making several fantastic stops to keep the Timbers within reach of the playoffs, even if they did not ultimately make it.
Even more controversially, some have been calling for team captain Will Johnson to be left exposed. Johnson is coming off a broken tibia and fibula suffered late in the season that will likely cause him to miss the first few matches of the season. Combined with Johnson’s rough season in the center of the pitch and Ben Zemanski’s emergence as a viable option at defensive midfielder, some think it would not be so bad to lose Johnson and his long, large contract. (I think that is crazy talk.)
We’d like to thank William for giving us the skinny on the Portland Timbers and we’re hopeful that our Lions can keep Timber Joey’s chainsaw quiet when we visit.
Previous “Meet Our New Foes”:
Columbus Crew SC
New England Revolution
New York City FC
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City