Timbers look to future after season of disappointment

Timbers look to future after season of disappointment
Sounders' Eddie Johnson, right, scores a goal on Portland Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, left, as Timbers' Mamadou Danso (98) watches in the first half, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — While it was a disappointing second season for the Portland Timbers, there is reason for hope.

Portland will soon see the arrival of new coach Caleb Porter, who is wrapping up his seventh season as head coach of the University of Akron. Porter was hired by the Timbers in August, after the dismissal of coach John Spencer.

The Timbers also claimed the Cascadia Cup, which goes annually to the winner of the three-way competition with the rival Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Portland finished up the season 8-16-10, ranked second-to-last in Major League Soccer's Western Conference and falling far short of the team's goal to reach the playoffs. The year was capped by a 1-1 draw with the playoff-bound San Jose Earthquakes this past Saturday.

"Of course it didn't go the way we wanted," forward Bright Dike said about the season. "But if you look at how we faired against San Jose, the best team in the league, we have a win and two ties this year. So this team is not really far off. I hope next year we can grind out better wins against teams we should have beat."

Porter will be the first step. This season he has guided the second-ranked Zips to a 13-1-2 record with two matches remaining. Akron has already clinched its eighth straight Mid-American Conference regular season title.

Porter, 37, led the Zips to the national championship in 2010, in the second of back-to-back appearances in the College Cup.

While Spencer was popular with the fans, the Timbers dismissed him on July 9 and replaced him for the remainder of the season with general manager Gavin Wilkinson. At the time, owner Merritt Paulson insisted that the decision was not purely record-driven, characterized the issue as "some fundamental philosophical differences.

Wilkinson joined the Timbers in 2001 as a player when the team was part of the USL First Division. He was coach of the second-division Timbers from 2007-10 and was an assistant with the Houston Dynamo for five seasons before coming to Portland.

Wilkinson's stint as interim coach this season did not yield a team turnaround. Sprinkled in the crowd at home games were signs reading "GW Out."

But in the end Wilkinson said the team will learn from the struggles they've had this season.

"There are a lot of lessons. As a club and organization, we are continually trying to manage the character of the group. The mentality of building on that is something we will look forward to," he said. "This team had a lot of diversity with this season, but winning the Cascadia Cup and coming back for the draw really puts this club at the top of what they can be this year."

Portland claimed the Cascadia Cup with a 1-0 victory over the Whitecaps in their second-to-last match. Captain Jack Jewsbury scored in the 39th minute.

It was the Timbers' first victory on the road and ended a six-match losing streak.

Portland finished 3-1-2 against its Pacific Northwest rivals to take the fan-created Cascadia Cup competition. Seattle was 2-1-3, and Vancouver 0-3-3.

"It's tremendous for the fans," Wilkinson said. "They thoroughly deserve it, everything aside it's something that they thoroughly deserved. It's been a long season for them and it's been a long season for the organization, and while this doesn't remove some of the things that have happened over the course of the season, it's a positive and it's something we can take into next season."

As for those fans: The Timbers' supporters have not lost their fervor for the team. Paulson said that there's a 96 percent season ticket renewal rate for next season. Portland currently has a waiting list of about 7,500 fans for the 14,750 season tickets.

The team handed out its final awards at a banquet on Sunday. Midfielder Diego Chara was the players' player of the year as well as the supporters' player of the year. Kris Boyd won the Golden Boot as team's top scorer with seven goals this season.

Midfielder Eric Alexander won the team's Unsung Hero award, while defender David Horst was the team's community player. Jewsbury's goal against the Whitecaps was the play of the year.