PORTLAND, Ore. – Gavin Wilkinson’s description of his first MLS win at the helm of the Portland Timbers was straight and to the point.
“It’s a lot better than losing; a lot better than tying,” said Wilkinson, who suffered through a seven-game winless streak after taking over for the fired John Spencer before Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps at JELD-WEN Field.
Translated: one big sigh of relief.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time. With the negative results piling up, coupled with some unpopular personnel moves, Wilkinson has emerged as public enemy number one among many Timbers supporters.
“Obviously, he’s seen some of the things people are saying, we all have,” Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury said. “At the end of the day we all try to go about our business as usual. We’re all professionals, and we all get heat at certain times. He’s someone who I think everyone in this locker room respects and are glad that he’s here. I don’t think anything is necessarily going to change, but I’m just happy to get three points for him tonight and hopefully take a little bit of the pressure off.”
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Wilkinson, who will return to his general manager duties when a new head coach is named, said the victory was especially satisfying considering a string of positive performances that he felt weren’t properly rewarded. The Timbers were coming off a two-game road trip in which they scored two goals in back-to-back games for the first time in the club’s MLS history – albeit in a 2-2 tie against Toronto FC and a 3-2 loss to the New York Red Bulls.
“You can see the camaraderie in the group, you can see what it meant to them to win this game,” Wilkinson said. “I think it’s good for the organization, and I think it repays the fans for some of the pain they’ve gone through.”
The Timbers also showed fortitude that they may not have possessed earlier this season when Vancouver evened the score at 1-1 right before halftime on a Kenny Miller goal. A controversial call rewarded the Whitecaps the corner kick that led to the goal.
“I think as a group we’re starting to mature, we’re starting to take responsibility for what we’re doing,” Wilkinson said. “And I think that’s a positive. The guys responded very, very well.”
It also helps to feature players like attackers Darlington Nagbe and Franck Songo’o, who are coming into their own under Wilkinson. Nagbe has scored three goals in the last three games and has six on the season, while Songo’o netted his first goal as a member of the Timbers on Saturday on the heels of a handful of solid performances.
“I think when you start to look at the way in which we’ve been playing, trying to keep the ball, trying to move it, trying to create chances and dominate games, I think getting a win tonight solidifies what we’ve been trying to do,” Wilkinson said. “It’s been a lot of work to get to this stage.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.