This week we're giving a Glass Slipper to the Portland Timbers. With a 1-0 win over their brutish rivals, the Seattle Sounders, the team climbed into first place in the Major League Soccer's Western Conference—and, with only two games remaining in the regular season, they are poised to clinch a playoff berth for the first time.
It is a reversal of fortunes from a year ago—and what's more, they have achieved their turnaround with the poise and class that truly makes the team a collection of role models and the embodiment of the pride sports can provide for a state.
They shoot! They score. GOOOOAAALLL!
A year ago, the then-beleaguered Timbers struggled along, despite a devoted and passionate home crowd, and eventually fired head coach John Spencer after a 0-3 loss to Real Salt Lake. The squad went on to finish its second season in the MLS 8-16-10—only one other team did worse.
But what a difference a year makes: The Timbers have thrived under the leadership of the University of Akron's former coach, Caleb Porter. A former collegiate and pro player, Porter developed the Akron men's team into a perennial force, twice capturing Mid-American Conference titles and, in 2010, won the NCAA Division I National championships.
The Timbers' transformation can best be explained by the implementation of Porter's exciting offensive style, one that relies on possession time, precise passing and constant pressure. Clearly, it's working. It's not uncommon for Timbers players to record 40 or even 50 successful passes in a game, and goals usually follow a long sequence of crisp passing—as the team did with the winning goal in Sunday's game.
But what makes Sunday's victory—and the rise of the Timbers—important is that it fills a void in Oregon's psyche. For decades, Oregon has lacked a worthy professional sports team. While nearly every other state in the union (excluding the Dakotas) boasts a team to pull together state pride and provide a rallying point devoid of politics, Oregon has not experienced such (favorable) tribalism since the Rip City Trailblazers of the late '70s. (And, yes, we recognize and congratulate the Portland Thorns, the professional women's soccer team that won the first season of the National Women's Soccer League; but we also must acknowledge that, in its first year, the women's league simply doesn't yet have the reach to translate into statewide patriotism.)
For decades, the Portland Trailblazers were the only professional sports franchise representing the state; but, it has been three decades since they displayed class worthy of emulation, and 15 discouraging years since the team showed any muster as contenders, not to mention a recent string of criminal behavior (Ruben Patterson charged in 2001 for attempted rape of his daughter's nanny; three marijuana arrests in 2003 for Damon Stoudamire; Qyntel Woods' dogfighting during the 2004 season, etc.) and disappointment (wasting a number one draft choice on Greg Oden, who blew his knee out during his first pre-season).
Even the Ducks, who are admirable for their smart and innovative style of football, only represent a fraction of football fans within the state. Think about it: Each season, they are pitted against the Oregon State Beavers in a Civil War, a rivalry that doesn't promote state patriotism, but splits allegiances. In a state already naturally divided—geographically and politically between the wet and liberal Willamette Valley, and the high and Republican desert—shouldn't we find one team we all can agree on?
The Timbers are that team. They have made great efforts to collaborate with nonprofits in the region and their players visibly volunteer in the community. Earlier this year, they took on a peewee team as part of one of the 9-year-old player's "Make-A-Wish" requests. After surviving a massive cancerous tumor, the young kid asked for a match against the Timbers; 8,000 fans showed up for the mid-day "exhibition" game. It was enough to melt even the most stalwart cynicism about professional athletes.
On Saturday, the Timbers play one of their final two games of the regular season. Join the rest of the state in cheering them on! (Watch the game at Sidelines, 1020 NW Wall. Kickoff 7:30 pm.)