On Sunday, roughly 20,000 people will file into Jeld-Wen Field with scarves draped around their necks and vocals chords ready for a 90-minute workout; ready to kick off the Portland Timbers' third season as an MLS team.
With a new coach, new roster and new jerseys, the Timbers are hoping to wipe the bad taste of last season from their lips and start anew this season.
The Timbers brief time as an MLS team hasn’t exactly been full memorable moments, at least not many that weren’t directly due to their fans’ support. A beat down of David Beckham and company in the LA Galaxy's first ever trip to Portland, a dazzling goal from Darlington Nagbe and capturing the Cascadia Cup in 2012 are about the only on-the-pitch memories of the MLS-era.
The rest of the Timbers’ shining moments and the bulk of the national attention have come due to the wildly loyal Portland fan base. The Timbers Army's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the MLS home opener was a display that will give almost any sports fan chills and the displays of intense fandom (and Tifo) have only continued to impress since.
Whether in unrelenting rain, scorching heat or anything in between, the Timbers' fans have remained passionate and impressively vocal despite the poor quality on the pitch. The wins have been few, the losses have been many, but surprisingly the ugly 19-30-19 overall record over the past two seasons hasn't deterred the fan base at all (the team is averaging a 96.5 percent season ticket renewal rate).
However, at some point, the performance on the pitch must start to resemble the performance in the stands or support will begin to fade.
To the delight of the fans, the lack of on-field success hasn’t come due to a lack of effort from the Timbers’ management. Owner and President Merritt Paulson is doing the right thing by desperately trying to put a winning team on the field. It just hasn’t worked yet.
After an up and down inaugural MLS season, the Timbers made some drastic changes in attempt to improve upon their 12th place finish. They dumped their highest scorer, Kenny Cooper, and landed the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, Kris Boyd, to replace him. The move proved to fans that ownership was willing to shake things up when needed and willing to spend money (Boyd's contract was worth roughly $1.5 million).
The move didn't work as the Timbers' offensive struggles continued and so, so did the drastic changes. Former head coach, John Spencer, was fired midway through last season and the team's big offseason signing was short lived as Boyd (the team's leading scorer in 2012) was let go in the offseason. In addition to parting ways with Boyd, the Timbers also either traded or waived 14 other players this offseason.
The Timbers have also brought in twelve new faces to try and turn the on-pitch results around, including longtime member of Manchester United, Mikael Silvestre. After being ranked 18th (out of 19) in goals for and 17th in goals against in 2012, the Timbers have made much-needed moves to improve themselves on both sides of the ball.
Adding defensemen like Ryan Miller from Halmstads (Sweden), Michael Harrington from Sporting Kansas City and Silvestre will bring some much-needed experience to the spotty Timber back line. Newcomers Ryan Johnson from Toronto FC, Diego Valeri from Lonus (Argentina) and Jose Adolfo Valencia from Santé Fe in Columbia (Valencia was on loan to Portland last season but was out with a knee injury all year) will make for a much faster and much more athletic attacking front as well. The idea of an athletic front is a welcomed thought after two years of having a larger and much slower striker who couldn’t create his own chances and instead relied on being fed the ball in the box.
While it is impossible to tell whether the new players will mesh and whether that will lead to more wins, at least Paulson and his staff are visibly trying. As a fan base, what more can you as for?
With so many drastic changes in such a short amount of time, nobody truly knows what to expect from the 2013 Timbers squad.
The expectations aren't too high at this point however, so fans will warmly welcome any improvement. Considering there has been a noticeably large gap between the Timbers' performance on the field and that of their fans, the hope is just that a new coach and a new roster will finally start to tighten that gap.
Vince Tushner is on Twitter. Follow him at @SportsVince21