With the Portland Timbers about to debut in Major League Soccer this evening in Denver, Colorado, it’s amazing to think of the rollercoaster ride that the Timbers and their fans have gone through in the past 10 years.

After a debut in 2001 in the A-League that was lauded by some as “The Rochester of the West”, the Timbers followed an impressive opening day crowd with an impressive first season that saw them make the playoffs, but the crowds never quite lived up to expectations that year, but a small group of loyal supporters had begun to gather in the north end of the stadium, at first measuring only about a dozen, but growing to nearly a hundred by the end of the season.

Over the next few years, the team had their ups and downs, but then a magical 2004 season saw the team win the regular season title on a backheel goal by Fadi Afash in the season finale, the famous “sunshine goal”, and the support for the team really starting to gain momentum, despite a disappointing flame-out in the playoffs that year.

After the 2005 season there was a changing of the guard, with coach Bobby Howe and GM Jim Taylor both out, and coach/GM Chris Agnello coming in. The 2006 season was truly the low point for the Timbers franchise, with the team dropping all the way to the bottom of the league, and a complete breakdown of trust between the team, the players, and the coach. By the end of the season the future of the team was truly in doubt.

But over the next few years, Timbers defender Gavin Wilkinson raised the team back up to their former glory as he took the reigns as coach and GM, taking the team within a heartbreaking home loss of the 2007 title game, and helping the team emerge as a place where players wanted to play, and a team fans wanted to support, as the Timbers Army grew from hundreds to thousands, often filling the north end of the stadium, and setting the stage for something very special to happen for this franchise.

It was the arrival of owner Merritt Paulson that started the process in motion to take the Portland Timbers franchise and their fans to the next level. At first, the Timbers were just the “other” franchise that came along with his purchasing of the Portland Beavers baseball team, but before long Paulson was caught up in the magic of the Timbers, and the growing attendance at PGE Park, with crowds often topping numbers for some MLS teams, the scene was set to take the Timbers to MLS.

Paulson and the Timbers started though tough negotiations with the city and Major League Soccer to bring the Rose City into the fold, then finally on March 11, 2009, a 3-2 vote by the city council in favor of the proposal was the final hurdle in making this dream come true, and just over a week later, the Timbers were announced as Major League Soccer’s 18th franchise.

Now, two years later almost to the day, the Timbers are going to debut in their fourth incarnation at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.While this is technically a brand new franchise, there is very little that resembles an “expansion team”. There are nine players from last year’s team on the current roster, several of whom are likely to start tonight. Last year’s coach and GM Gavin Wilkinson is now the team’s General Manager and Technical Director, and much of the front office and assistant coaching staff is the same as last year. But the spirit and energy of the last 10 years, and even back to the NASL days of the 1970’s is very much following the team onto the pitch tonight in Denver, and at least 400 Timbers faithful will be there to make sure the new MLS Timbers feel that spirit and energy when they take the pitch for the first time.

Below are some other previews of tonight’s debut (and the MLS Timbers) as they take on the Colorado Rapids to open a new era for the Portland Timbers and their fans.