How we got here, part 2 (of 5)
With the Timbers going to the MLS Cup Final this Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, I thought it would be fun to give a rundown on how we got here. And not just a basic rundown of the 2015 season, or even the five years in MLS, I wanted to give a 15 year rundown of the re-emergence of the Timbers in 2001 to how they got to MLS in the first place, and how many times the team almost didn’t continue on to the following season during that time. It’s been 15 seasons since that rebirth, so I’ll do three seasons per day all week. This is part 2 of 5:
After another offseason not knowing how the ownership issue would sort out, the Pacific Coast Baseball League took control of the Timbers (along with the Portland Beavers AAA baseball team) and while the arrangement seemed odd, it did at least stabilize the ownership issue for awhile.
But on the pitch, the Timbers got off to an amazing start, winning their first seven matches. But the trend of losses in the Timbers family that had begun in 2003 continued in August when Timber Jim’s daughter Hannah was killed in an accident on Oregon Route 18 near McMinnville. Though the Timbers would win the Commissioner’s Cup as regular season champions, the end of the season had many parallel issues as a distraction, including talk of demolishing PGE Park to make room for Major League Baseball, goalkeeper Josh Saunders being charged with a DUI, in addition to the continuing grief over Hannah Serrill. But Fadi Afash’s “Sunshine goal” (I shot this video, by the way), a backheel that clinched the Commissioner’s Cup, still goes down as one of the most memorable Timbers goals ever.
This season also featured Alan Gordon’s “Chainsaw Massacre”.
The momentum from the regular season did not carry over into the postseason, as the Timbers were eliminated in the first round by Seattle.
Another year, another new owner for the Timbers. In April, it was the “Portland Baseball Investment Group”, headed by real estate developer Abe Alizadeh and long-time Portland baseball owner Jack Cain that took over. By this time we had gone through so many owners, we had lost track and only hoped the ownership issue would settle down, someday.
A mid-season exhibition against Sunderland of the English Premier League, drew over 15,000 to PGE Park and started a close relationship between the fans of both clubs, which resulted in 31 Timbers fans going to England in early 2006 to see Sunderland play at Manchester United, and at home against Newcastle United.
The Timbers rallied late in the season to secure a playoff spot, but once again made no playoff progress as they were once again knocked out by Seattle in the first round.
A few weeks after the playoff disappointment, Timbers coach Bobby Howe was fired and General Manager Jim Taylor stepped down.
In December, former coach and GM of the USL’s D3 Utah Blitzz, Chris Agnello, was announced as both GM and Coach of the Timbers for 2006. John Cunningham took over as Team President.
Oh boy, this next season summary is gonna be painful…
I should have seen the writing on the wall when John Cunningham cornered me at the USL’s Annual General Meeting in Tampa in late 2005 and told me, in no uncertain terms, that he wanted all the negative statements about him (and Chris Agnello) on the (sadly departed) Talk Timbers message board to stop. I refused. The next morning, I was kicked out of the meetings that the USL GM had personally invited me to. I wonder how that happened?
(Addendum: I was invited back the following year, John Cunningham was not).
The Timbers went winless in 11 matches through a tough summer and finished at the bottom of the USL table.
I would also add that by this point, reporting on the Timbers in the local media was almost non-existent. Even matches vs. Seattle didn’t get a writeup. At times I was the only reporter covering the matches at all, and was even sending photos to the team to use on their official website as they had no official photographer.
Chris Agnello and John Cunningham left soon afterwards, with Timbers defender (since 2001) Gavin Wilkinson taking on the GM and Coaching role for 2007.
Let us never talk of this season again.
Up next, 2007 and things are about to change, dramatically…