2011 in Review: Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers' inaugural season in Major League Soccer was certainly worth the price of admission until the very end. The expansion club showed moments of brilliance — like an exhilarating five-game winning streak to open their new home, JELD-WEN Field — to disappointing lows, like a seven-game midseason winless streak.
Ultimately, the Timbers fell just short in a frantic, back-and-forth race for the final MLS Cup Playoffs spot, finishing four points shy of New York. But their 2011 was without a doubt a smash success. Off the field, the Timbers quickly became known around the league for their intensely supportive home crowds and supporters group, the Timbers Army. Portland sold out all 17 home games and have already sold out all 14,750 season tickets for the 2012 season.
Best Moment of the Year
The Timbers stunned eventual MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy with a 3-0 victory Aug. 3 at JELD-WEN Field, ending the Galaxy’s league-high 14-game unbeaten streak.
Mike Chabala, Jorge Perlaza and Eric Brunner all scored goals in the victory, all while effectively neutralizing LA stars Landon Donovan and David Beckham. Making the result all the more shocking, Portland came into the match riding a six-game home winless streak and were without All-Star midfielder Jack Jewsbury.
Worst Moment of the Year
Portland squandered leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in a 3-2 home loss July 10 against their archrivals, the Seattle Sounders. The defeat tarnished an elaborate and passionate effort by the Timbers Army as they watched Fredy Montero score equalizers in the 57th and 74th minutes. Seattle’s winner came off an Osvaldo Alonso penalty kick in the 83rd, extending Portland’s winless home streak to five games at the time.
The Timbers’ best goal was also voted as MLS’ top strike of the season. The goal, the video of which eventually turned viral, came on July 2 in a 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City. Rookie Darlington Nagbe controlled a clear-out punch by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen with two juggles, then unleashed a rocket into the upper 90. From the start of the play on a Jack Jewsbury free kick, the ball never touched the turf.
Portland’s top save also was high on the MLS postseason awards list. With the Timbers clinging to a 1-0 lead in stoppage time on the road in Chicago on July 16, Troy Perkins literally saved the win with a kick-stop on a Marco Pappa bullet that was surely destined for the back of the net. Perkins’ save finished second only to a four-save sequence by Sounders keeper Kasey Keller in MLS Goal of the Year voting.
Midfielder Jack Jewsbury was not only Portland’s first-ever MLS All-Star but was also a crucial piece of the leadership puzzle on the mostly inexperienced Timbers squad. The nine-year veteran was a calming force on the field as the orchestrator, set-piece genius and team captain. Jewsbury finished first on the team with eight assists and 22 points and second with seven goals. All marks were career highs.
With all members of the Timbers roster technically qualifying as newcomers, the team’s top newcomer to MLS was midfielder Diego Chara. The Colombian Designated Player steadily improved throughout the season to finish with two goals and four assists. He also became the first MLS-based Colombian to earn a national team call up in more than two years.
1. Stay consistent: The Timbers showed flashes of brilliance, most notably in beating the Galaxy in August. But there were also lapses, including losses in their final two home games that effectively ended the team’s chances at a playoff spot, in addition to that seven-game midseason winless streak.
2. Get Kenny Cooper back to scoring-machine status: When Portland’s marquee acquisition went through a horrid midseason scoring slump, the Timbers were also at their worst. When Cooper returned to form in the last third of the season, netting five goals in the final two months, they jumped right into the midst of the playoff race. It’s no coincidence why.
3. Add depth to the back line: Portland’s final third saw a handful of players shuffled in and out of the lineup throughout the season, with the one constant being Eric Brunner. Injuries to Mamadou “Futty” Danso, Kevin Goldthwaite (who has since retired) and David Horst didn’t help. Getting Danso and Horst back healthy will certainly be a boon to the defense.