COLUMBUS, Ohio – The scent of champagne and Heineken, sprayed on and drying sticky on nearly every visible surface, hung heavy in the Portland Timbers’ locker room. Drake song after Drake song banged through speakers.
Players deeper in the bowels of the room erupted in a singalong to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” before the music selection eventually gave way to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Others donned their home country’s flags as capes and sarongs in celebration.
And in the middle of all of this, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson soaked it in. And while he said the victorious scene in front of him was “surreal,” he also said he had quietly predicted it.
“After the Kansas City game, I had a feeling like I’ve never had before, after the game,” he recalled. “I didn’t talk about it a lot, but I had just a sense that we were going to be winning the Cup this year. And we did.”
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Perhaps Paulson felt extra ebullient after his reception on the field. After the Timbers themselves made a victory kick-line in front of the visiting Timbers Army section, he ran out to pretty much equal reception. The owner made a victory lap around his team’s 2,000-plus fans, as they, too, broke into a chant of his name.
It seemed miles away from some fans’ feelings about the team much earlier this season.
In retrospect, in the locker room, Paulson said he never let any of that get in the way of his optimistic outlook on the team.
“At the end of the day, the attitude in our office was, if you watched the games, there was no reason to panic. This team was attacking; we led the league in shots,” he said. “It was an anomaly that we weren’t scoring more. We were the best defensive team in the league. There was no doubt in our mind that it was going to come around.”
So what's next, in Paulson’s mind?
“Win another cup, you know? Hopefully, Champions League. We just qualified for CONCACAF Champions League the hard way,” he said. “So we’ve got a lot more to do. We’re just getting started.”