brian fernandez

Timbers, Thorns made some memories

Portland got an entertainment overload this year
By Cliff Pfenning

In early May, Brian Fernandez arrived at Portland International Airport and was greeted by an anonymous person, who stood next to him, lit up with a big smile and had someone take a photo of them together. 

Fernandez, a 24-year-old Argentinian, had just been signed by the Portland Timbers from his team in Mexico’s Liga MX, wore a long-sleeve shirt, faded jeans, and hat and had a guarded look on his face as if to say, “who are you? And are with the team?” 

Then more people showed up for photos, and then more. As the photos progressed, Fernandez seemed to figure out these were fans and he just landed in a hotspot of soccer fandom - and his face lit up, too. Soon, Fernandez started showing up on social media with a beaming smile when anyone noticed him and asked for a selfie. And, why not? Portland loved him and he performed.

Fernandez had one of the all-time great introductions to a new team starting slightly more than a week later. Having arrived on May 6 after the team paid an estimated $10 million for his rights, he scored his first goal May 15 after being inserted late in the match at Houston. Then, he scored again - twice - in the next match, and again in the next match. Fernandez scored in this first five Major League Soccer matches, something that had not been done since the league began in 1996, and added scores in two US Open Cup matches giving him nine goals in his first seven appearances in a Timbers kit.

Portland vaulted from being just a team to a contender for another trip to a league final, something it did just last year. But, then all the optimism came crashing down. Fernandez stopped scoring in every game and ended the season in substance-abuse rehab. Emotional sideline outbursts lit up social media, as did rumors of contract negotiations. And, of course, there was the Iron Front, which led the Timbers Army into a national discussion of civil liberties. That was the Timbers.

The Thorns, the women’s side of the franchise, were equally dramatic starting with the Women’s World Cup. The team had four players on the winning US side, which vaulted into nation attention for its success and dispute with USA Soccer over equal pay with the much-less successful men’s team. 

Portland led the National Women’s Soccer League for much of the season and seemed headed for another trip to a final and third league title when suddenly it stopped scoring, and closed out its season with a half-hearted loss in the first round of the playoffs.

Both the Timbers and Thorns lost their first playoff match and had their seasons close out this past weekend. As the playoffs head toward crowning league champions, Portland fans will only be able to follow from afar. And yet, it was not a boring year. 

The 2019 season might have been the most memorable, at least in terms of story-telling, since the franchise initially arrived in 1975 and led fans to claim the monicker of “Soccer City, USA.” In fact, that 1975 team was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in September.

If the goal of a sports team is entertainment, the 2019 season for the Timbers and Thorns might be the most entertaining for any team that’s not going to win a league title. Fernandez arrived, Diego Chara finally played in a league All-Star Game, Diego Valeri reached the 70-70 mark and Steve Clark played stellar in goal in a season that started with 12-straight road matches. And the Thorns had the thrill of the World Cup and an early-season rise to the top of the league in spite of all those road matches only to slide in a historic level.

And, there was the Iron Front.

It all started March 2 in Denver, where so much snow landed on the field the second half had to be stopped to dig out the lines so everyone could see where the field ended. The match started at 18 degrees - the coldest in league history. Portland led 3-2 and had a man advantage in extra time, but the Rapids scored to force a 3-3 draw leading Timbers fans to snap their fingers and think what could have been with just a little more defense. 

The Denver result was a huge missed opportunity because the team lost its next five matches and was at the bottom of the league with just one point after six weeks.

The switch to Clark in goal seemed to start a turnaround. Portland won its next three matches as rumors of the Fernandez deal swirled across the land. Then he landed and the franchise really took off and the team rose to as high as No. 5 in some weekly power rankings. And then they started playing at home after the $85 million expansion of Providence Park finally finished up. Fans in the Timbers Army began arriving at the stadium half a day ahead of matches to be allowed in an extra 30 minutes early, continuing the city’s love affair with the franchise. All those home matches, though - 17 of the remaining 22, led to a thought of the players becoming complacent. The Army wasn’t complacent.

With politics sweeping the nation ahead of the 2020 Election, the league’s ban on political signage hit the Army due to its support of a symbol from 1930s Germany. The Iron Front, three arrows pointing downward diagonally, represented a group that opposed facist Nazis until 1933. The symbol, being waved on flags across the North end of the stadium, drew the league’s ire, especially after politicians in Washington starting deeming anti-facists as terrorists because of the violence that often erupted when they showed up to events organized by White Nationalists.  

With the team, somewhat incredibly, banning fans from matches, all manners of protests were tossed about on social media, from just not showing up, to walking out, to not purchasing concessions. Eventually, it turned into a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the Aug. 23 match with rival Seattle, which included Seattle fans. Being televised by FOX, the stadium had never been as quiet. 

A month later, the league relented and eased its policy on fan support to allow for the Iron Front.

The protest received national attention, but it also received on-field attention as the team lost 2-1 and social media lit up because owner Merritt Paulson apparently cussed the fans out - linking the protest to the loss. 

The Timbers were potentially headed for as high as second place in the Western Conference, but a late-season collapse halted that dream. Portland finished the season with one win and three draws in its last six matches - just six points of a possible 18, and missed second place by just seven points, falling all the way to six instead.

A 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake ended the season, Oct. 19.

Still, Chara, perhaps the team’s most revered player, played in his first All-Star Game in his ninth season in the league.

Valeri, the league’s MVP just two seasons ago, reached the level of 70 goals and 70 assists, becoming only the ninth player in league history to accomplish that feat. 

And, Clark, who started the season as the back-up to Jeff Attinella, had two entries on the online Save of the Year ballot - the lone keeper to have two entries.

The original Timbers, the 1975 squad of 17 primarily British players that reached the NASL final in its inaugural season, received a spot in the Hall, Sept. 24. The five members on hand for the ceremony at the Multnomah Athletic Club, noted the season was highly memorable for the fan support - two playoff crowds topped 30,000 fans, and the length of the season - 10 weeks by their memories. The regular season actually lasted 14 weeks, May 2 through August 9 for a 22-match schedule. To save money, the team’s East Coast road swing lasted nine days: four matches in nine days, including matches in Hartford, Conn., and Boston on consecutive days (played before crowds of 2,582 and 1,518, respectively).

The Thorns set an attendance record for their 2019 campaign, closing with an average of 20,098 fans per game - better than more than half of MLS teams. The World Cup buzz might have had something to do with that as four of the team’s starters: Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnet and Adrianna Franch, helping the US win the Cup, closing with a 2-0 win over The Netherlands, July 7. 

The Thorns had five other players in the tournament as well, including team captain Christine Sinclair.

Portland opened the season with its bevy of international players and scored eight goals in its first three matches before the World Cup called for talent at the start of May. The Thorns had three wins, a pair of draws and just one loss in the six road matches it played before opening at home, June 2, with a 3-0 win over Chicago. With 11 of its remaining 17 matches at home, the team was on fire.

When the US starters returned for a July 24 home match with Houston, magic erupted in a 5-0 victory before 22,329 fans. The Thorns closed out August with a 3-0 home win over Chicago and had 10 wins, six draws and only three losses for the season. Then, the goals ended. 

Over the remaining six weeks, the Thorns scored just one goal and managed to rack up only four points in the standings from a potential 15. Meanwhile, North Carolina, the defending league champion, won eight of its final nine matches, a stretch that included a 6-0 win over Portland, and finished first in the league standings for the third consecutive year.

With a 1-0 loss at Chicago, Sunday, the season came to a halt, leading into much-needed discussion of the future of the women’s game. In the NWSL, that includes league sponsors (Budweiser became the official beer sponsor), media rights and expansion franchises, one of which is due for Louisville, Ky., in 2021. And, the US women’s team salaries.

Put altogether, FC Portland had a truly memorable year, without winning a title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Timbers energize the Rose City

It's a 3-2 loss to LAFC, but Portland shows off to the world
Staff report

After three months and 12 games on the road, the Portland Timbers finally played in front of home fans and didn't disappoint other than on the scoreboard.

With mid-season signee Brian Ferenandez scoring his fourth goal of the season, the Timbers pushed Los Angeles FC all the way to a sideline rumble during second-half added time before dropping a 3-2 decision before 25,218 fans at remodeled Providence Park.

Fernandez scored on a bicycle kick in the 84th minute in front of the Timbers Army as the team rallied from a two-goal deficit for the second time. Cristhian Paredes scored Portland's first goal in the first minute of the second half to cut a 2-0 deficit in half. LA then scored in minute 54 to advance to 3-1.

Carlos Vela opened the scoring in the sixth minute, taking an errant pass from Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella and firing it past him for his league-leading 16th goal of the season. LA added a goal by Diego Rossi in the 34th minute.

The match was the second victory for LAFC between the teams, although the first one finished off 4-1 in March in LA. With Fernandez leading the effort, the Timbers appeared as a different team, especially playing from behind.

Portland has 11 days off before its next contest at Seattle in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. The Timbers play at home again June 22 against Houston.

 

RSS feed