Editor’s Note: This piece continues our extensive preview of the 2011 MLS campaign. Our first three MLS preview pieces are linked below:
For the 2011 season, the MLS has added two former USL sides to the Western Conference, the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. While no one in their right mind is expecting playoff appearances from
either of these two squads, they both promise immense fan support, as Jeff Carlisle documents here, and both will have the potential to surprise some opponents early in the season. Before each side takes the pitch for their first regular season MLS contest, let’s take a closer look.
First Match: @ Colorado Rapids, March 19th
Outlook: The 2011 season for the Timbers will be that of any expansion team, growing pains. It is going to take some time to figure out exactly what starting 11 and formation best suits the player personal. However, general manager Gavin Wilkinson and head coach John Spencer have used an interesting strategy when assembling this squad. Both men are of the old NFL saying “best player available” regardless of position. The goal seems to be to collect as much talent as possible and see where the pieces fall. This strategy has resulted in a Portland squad that is built to score goals. Former/sometimes USMNT forward Kenny Cooper has the ability to score dramatic and timely goals. The drafting of Akron star striking force Darlington Nagbe with the second pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft has only added to the team’s offensive power. Unfortunately, Nagbe will miss the beginning of the season due to hernia surgery, but will be looking to make a huge impact upon his return. A good season from Nagbe should hopefully fast track his U.S citizenship progress. When examining the Timbers roster, it is clear that there are some serious questions at the back. Eric Brunner and Kevin Goldthwaite are the only two defenders with extensive MLS experience, and goalkeeper Troy Perkins is years away from his 2006 MLS goalkeeper of the year form. Recognizing these holes, Wilkinson has made of couple very prudent moves. First, he traded USMNT midfielder Dax McCarty to D.C United for the young talented defender Rodney Wallace and a future 4th round pick. And just last week, he made the strong move of acquiring Jack Jewsbury from Kansas City in the hope of solidifying up his defensive midfield. Even with these moves, I think it’s safe to say that the Timbers will not be winning many games 1-0 this season. Any victories will probably look a lot more like 3-2.
Supporters Groups: The Timber’s Army is the dominant supporters group for the squad, and have been around throughout their USL days starting in 2001. Since their inaugural season the Army has strived to create a European like atmosphere at each Timbers match bringing drums, flags, and their own unique chants to the stadium. The group has dealt with controversy due to the use of profanity in their songs. While some have described the group as no more than, “bunch of angry white guys tanked up on liquor”; I say to hell with that, and think they sound more like a hell of a time.
Why to Love Them: Whoever works in the promotional department for the Portland Timbers is an absolute genius. Since MLS announced the team’s inclusion in the 2011 season, the city has been covered in hilarious promotional billboards and posters. Pictures of random people and children
using traditional Paul Bunyan tools was a great idea. Check out some of the images here, and here. The rest of the MLS could learn a thing of two about promotions from whoever works in this department. There certainly is “No Pity in the Rose City”.
Why to Hate Them: The city of Portland. To be honest, Portlandia is an awesome show and my hatred has more to do with a jealously that the city is one of the greenest in the country. At the same time, I cannot forgive the green city in the Pacific Northwest for the invention of men’s “skinny” jeans and pretentious black frame glasses. Whenever I think of the city of Portland, I imagine a room full of white people sipping 9 dollar cups of coffee discussion the latest “film” or book to his the scene.
First Match: Home vs. Toronto FC, March 19th
Outlook: The Vancouver Whitecaps seem to be taking a completely difference approach than the Portland Timbers when assembling their 2011 MLS squad. Former Spurs executive director Paul Barber and head coach Teitur Thordarson have taken the logical approach to build the squad from the goal mouth forward. This approach makes sense for an expansion team because while you won’t win very many games with a defensive approach, it’s also difficult to be blown out and find yourself in the middle of a lengthy losing streak, which is absolutely essential in any professional soccer league. The Whitecaps have made some great moves bringing in defensive talent to accompany the six players from last year’s USL side still remaining on the roster. Most notably, USMNT Confederations Cup and World Cup center back Jay Demerit has made his return from the English Championship to captain the side for the 2011 campaign. Demerit will be joining defensive veteran John Thorrington and goalkeeper John Cannon as the leader of the team on and off the pitch. It is important to note that Cannon has picked up a couple knocks in preseason action and may not be healthy for the start of the season. Whitecaps fans should be encouraged however by the play of backup Jay Nolly between the pipes. While the Whitecaps appear to be strong defensively, their real problem will be scoring goals. With the first pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft the Whitecaps shocked the MLS fan base with the selection of USMNT U20 star Omar Salgado. Salgado’s potential cannot be questioned, but at only 17 years old he will miss the great majority of the 2011 MLS season. A little known FIFA rule stipulates that players under 18 can only play professionally for a country of their birth. However, because the Whitecaps are a Canadian team, Salgado will not be able to play in any Whitecaps contests (other than training and friendlies) until his 18th birthday on September 10th. This may work well for his overall development, but it leaves the Whitecaps searching for offensive firepower. This leaves the majority of the goal scoring burden on MLS veteran Atiba Harris. Without a ten goal season from Harris, the Whitecaps will struggle to win games. The Whitecaps do have the distinct advantage of playing five of their first seven games at home which could go a long way for the confidence of this club.
Supporters Groups: The Vancouver Southsiders are the only supporters group currently acknowledged by the Whitecaps organization. The groups started rather organically, as many fans came to the stadium early in the USL days to and gather at the stadium’s Southside beer garden. Over the years, the group has felt underappreciated by the organization, and protested in 2003 by tossing empty beer cans onto the field. It would appear the distinctively blue collar ploy worked—since then the group has become integral to the team’s promotional efforts.
Why to Love Them: JAY DEMERIT = BADASS. This man is one of the toughest sons of bitches in the sport. If I see Demerit walking toward me, I cross the street because I am afraid that one look from him and the air will be sucked out of my lungs. Demerit will forever have a special place in my list of favorite soccer players for his unbelievable work during the 2009 Confederations Cup. Get on the bus people.
Why to Hate Them: Many people in Vancouver think the name of the team is classic, but personally I think it just sucks. The Whitecaps, really? You named the team after some snow covered mountains. There has got to be something better, or at least a little more creative. At best, you named the team after some oceanic turbulence on the surface. Lame. The same thing goes for the team logo. All you are going to give me is three triangles to represent mountains. At least work a little bit, don’t draw me a few shapes and expect me to be fucking
Hopefully, this piece has got you interested in checking out these new expansion squads, I certainly know I will.
Puck Is the Pop Culture Guy For The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @PuckLovesPBR.