Timbers Knocked Out By Vancouver But Look Ahead to 2011 & MLS

Soccer has a quixotically eloquent way of moving things forward.

In the post-game gathering of a dark, cool Portland night, the words of Portland Timbers Head Coach and Technical Director Gavin Wilkinson took on a particular strong meaning. “I think when you say you’re only as good as your last game—and you look at these two games as one game—we lost. It’s going to take quite a while to get over this.”

Portland had just won the second USSF 2nd Division playoff leg against the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0, but certain soccer rules being a special kind of frustration, this score merely meant that Portland failed to beat Vancouver on aggregate having lost the first leg of this round 2-0. The bitter taste of finality certainly could be felt in the air as coaches and players began to let the end result of their 2010 USSF 2nd Division season sink in.

Floating alongside Wilkinson’s statement in the crisp fall evening air however, was a considerable amount of Timbers history. The game itself was played on the University of Portland’s Harry A. Merlo Field—a university benefactor who also happened to be one of the NASL-era Timbers first owners. Moreover, the field sits within Clive Charles Soccer Complex—a former UP head coach and an NASL Timbers legend whose retired number hangs in the rafters back at under-construction PGE Park.

Taking that history into account, if we are to really look at Wilkinson’s statement of “you’re only as good as your last game,” then it is possible to see a wider, and potentially deeper and more optimistic meaning. The Timbers played last night’s game like they have for much of their history—be it NASL or USL/USSF 2nd Division eras—with passion, flare, drive and tenacity. These are the hallmarks of Portland soccer.

Despite what was certainly an ending of an era Sunday, the 2010 season had great successes with a Golden Boot winner in Ryan Pore, new player revelations like Bright Dike, excellent matches such as the U.S. Open Cup game against Seattle, friendlies with Manchester City and Boca Juniors and exciting drama throughout.

Yes, last night was still a loss. And yes, it will still take a while to get over it. But soccer also has a quixotically eloquent way of moving things forward. Hope springs eternal with the 2011 season and the great leap towards Major League Soccer. If the Timbers are “only as good as [their] last game,” and that last game epitomized attacking and spirited quality Timbers soccer, then they are also in pretty great shape. We’ll remember our past and get ready for the future. It’s going to be a great ride forward.

Photo:  Michael Stringfield