Timbers fans open season
The Portland Timbers kicked off their 10th season in MLS on Sunday hoping for more than 2019's anticlimax, when they scraped into the playoffs only to be summarily dumped out. Fans filled Providence Park on a chilly afternoon to see new signings Yimmi Chara and Dario Zuparic play their first MLS games for the Timbers. A few talked to the Portland Tribune about their expectations for the season.
Jason Locken and Ken Sciulli are longtime season-ticket holders in the 112 section, the relatively active fan section in the North End corner, behind what was once the baseball stadium's home plate.
"I hope to have an even season, to make the playoffs, to make a run," Sciulli said. "That'd be optimal. I don't know if we're going to get that or not."
He wasn't impressed with any of the offseason signings and was worried about the "spotty" defense.
As for the new Chara brother, Sciulli said he "looks like a Chara, he runs like a Chara, I don't know if he is a Chara yet. He's more like a welterweight body type."
"Today's the (home) opening in March, which is good, because last year it was in June," Locken said. "That made last season very compressed at the end. There was a lot of fatigue from all the stuff that was going on with the Timbers Army and with the league and having so many games back-to-back-to-back. It was kind of tough on everybody."
Locken said he was "expecting a fresh start. I'm really optimistic, but that's just how I'm personally. I won't base the season on what happens today."
He said the defense has lacked a leader since Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers left, and was hoping Larrys Mabiala would step up, as well as the new Croatian, Zuparic.
The fans were at all three preseason games, which they described as "mellow," so they were excited for the return of the regular season.
They also complained that beer had gone up a dollar a pint to $11.50, but recommended the Toffee Club's Away Days IPA. Locken, who works for Nike, added: "That's my plug."
Doug Alford, who been coming to the Timbers for the last 15 seasons, had different hopes and expectations.
"What I hope is that they improve their defense, because it's kind of porous right now," Alford said. "Their offense is pretty darn good, and it's fun to see both the Chara brothers out there. Other than Yimmi Chara, nothing gets really me excited as far as additions on the team. What I expect is a mediocre season, struggling into the playoffs."
Having more teams in the league, with Nashville and Miami new to the league in 2020, Alford sees as a positive.
"I think it's fun. Six, seven years ago, a lot of the power was located in the Cascadia region. But I like parity. I like that anybody can beat anybody," he said.
Kevin Velasquez is a server at Warehouse 23 in Vancouver, Washington. His boss bought four tickets on OfferUp and took Velasquez and two more friends to the game. They were chilling at the top of the Duracell Deck on the East grandstand. They got their tickets from a father and son pair who have two each. "They can only go to about half of the games, so if we want to come to more they said that they would love to have us," Velasquez told the Tribune.
He estimated this was his 15th game in attendance since the Timbers entered MLS in 2011. His favorite European teams are Manchester City and Barcelona.
"I expect the Timbers to win the MLS championship," he declared. "Definitely. I think they're better this year than they were last year. I think they can take it."
He had not paid much attention to offseason changes. In 2019, he was pleasantly surprised the Timbers made the playoffs. "It was pretty rough halfway through the year, and they picked it up toward the end," he said.
It's hard to compete with the L.A. teams and with Seattle. However, "I still think Portland will be a good team this year. They always surprise people every year," Velasquez said.
Ian Burrell, who has been coming to Timbers games for nine years, had just moved this season, with his friend Darius Rucker, from the Timbers Army in the North End to the Duracell top deck of the East Stand, which puts the staid in stadium.
Burrell thought 2019 was quite good and said he hoped the Timbers would make it back to the MLS Cup Final. He was interested in seeing Yimmi Chara play, he said at halftime. Overall, he thought the 2020 Timbers team was "looking good."
In the second half, Chris Marko was up the back of the North End, in section 204, taking breaks from talking to the Tribune only to note the second-half goals by Minnesota.
He used to watch the Timbers in the 1970s and 1980s as a boy, and has been coming regularly to games since before MLS, in the United Soccer League days.
Marko was open-minded about the season.
"I think they have a good team, as they have for many years," he said. "And at the same time, they've had slow starts, so I don't know what exactly to expect. I hope for the best. I'm glad to be here for the opener."
From the offseason, he was most excited to see "the double Chara" in action. At this stage in the game, the Chara brothers had combined well a few times, with a back heel and some quick passing.
"I think the fans got pretty excited, and obviously both of them have speed," Marko said. "And of course, Diego (Chara) is a fantastic player and it looks like his brother's great as well."
Before judging, he will "wait and see and stay engaged and support the team. Obviously, Minnesota is a good team that has challenged the Timbers already. So we'll see how this game ends up and look forward to a good season. I will say I expect the Timbers to be in the playoffs."
On the night, Minnesota United performed a smash and grab on the Timbers, not once, not twice, but three times, hitting them on the counterattack and finishing with deadly force. Those goals won them the game 3-1 and sent the Timbers fans home in muted mode.
The next game is 4 p.m. Sunday, at home to MLS expansion team Nashville, a hipster town that already has 59,000 soccer fans.
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