MLS excitement has already gripped Portland, but many current Timbers know they may not follow.
Michael Stringfield

Era comes to close as D2 Timbers play last game

PORTLAND, Ore. – All season, the Portland Timbers tried their best to stay in the moment.

As many citizens of the self-proclaimed “Soccer City, USA” expressed giddy excitement about Portland’s addition to Major League Soccer in 2011, the current Timbers focused on 2010.

They wanted nothing more to close this era of the organization with a USSF D-2 championship. Instead, Portland again tasted playoff disappointment after beating Vancouver 1-0 on Sunday, but losing 2-1 in a first-round two-game aggregate series.

Reality hit hard in the Timbers postgame locker room. While decompressing from a physical match, they knew many wouldn’t be around for next year’s historic season.

“Obviously everyone wants to be here for MLS,” said midfielder Ryan Pore, who won the league’s scoring title. “Transitioning to MLS, there was a lot of pressure for most of the guys when the spotlight was a little bit brighter.”

Pore acknowledged that it was difficult for the Timbers not to view the season as a tryout on an individual basis. They knew they were being closely scrutinized every step of the way. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson watched Sunday’s game from a box with John Spencer, who will coach the Timbers next season.

“Most likely a lot of us aren’t going to be playing with the same guys out here,” Pore said. “We want to be, but realistically, if we’re lucky we’ll get 10 to 15 guys on the team next year. We don’t know what the future is and we have a tight group in the locker room.

“I try not to envision [next year], but it’s going to be great. It’s only going to get bigger and better.”

It was tough not to notice the future and present mixing on Sunday. As a sellout crowd of 4,884 settled into the University of Portland’s intimate Merlo Field, a Timbers employee walked through the aisles with a clipboard in hand.

“Buy your Timbers MLS season tickets,” he said, discussing options with fans.

Nearby, “Timber Joey” revved up the Timbers Army with his traditional chainsaw. Joey Webber, 31, finished his third season as the team’s crowd-pleasing mascot.

As with the players, Webber said he did the best he could to keep his attention on this season. In his role, he has grown so attached to the players that he doesn’t even want to think about many of them not returning next year.

“I think every one of them deserves a chance,” Webber said. “This is something really special because those guys and these fans are really tight, with some even having dinner together. It’s going to be really sad to see them go.”

That bond made Sunday's final game all the more emotional for the Timbers and their supporters. Defender Ian Joy, who assisted on James Marcelin’s header for a goal in the 49th minute, said he’ll need a few days to think about the next phase.

“We knew what was coming after the season,” Joy said. “There’ll definitely be changes. There’s no doubt about it. We want to be successful in Major League Soccer and we have to bring in the right guys to make sure we do that.”

Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson, who coached his final game Sunday, didn’t say one word about MLS to his team afterward. Wilkinson said the team could take Monday off before reconvening for a 9:30 a.m. PT team meeting Tuesday.

Wilkinson, who will be the Timbers’ technical director next year, said it would be awhile before he got over a second consecutive playoff defeat to Vancouver. But he knows there’s not much time to look back when there’s so much to look forward to in MLS.

“That has to happen tomorrow,” Wilkinson said. “We have to go back to the drawing board, analyze the players that did do well in playoffs and players that did step up and the players who can honestly say, ‘I should be here next season.’ We have to rebuild.”

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