All systems go for Portland's JELD-WEN debut
PORTLAND, Ore. – JELD-WEN Field made a spectacular first impression on members of the Portland media, the team and other guests assembled Tuesday for a luncheon at the refurbished stadium.
Work crews attended to some of the final details while the small gathered crowd took in the bright green expanse of turf and the gleaming new features of the stadium, including the KeyBank Club Level.
Excitement for the Timbers’ arrival as an MLS franchise is probably higher this week than it was for the season-opener at Colorado. On Thursday night, the Timbers and their fans will usher in a new era for the city.
“For me, it means we’re realizing the potential of the game in this city,” said technical director and general manager Gavin Wilkinson, who came to Portland 10 years ago as a player.
“It’s a culmination of many things. It’s the growth of the organization, it’s the ownership, the business side of it, the Timbers Army, the fan base in general and the improvement on the playing side. To see everything come together, it’s exciting.”
The Timbers brand has been built around the idea that Portland can offer something in the way of fan experience that is unrivaled in the US. On Thursday, with the Chicago Fire in town, that talk will be put into action on an entirely new level (8 pm PT, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
This much is certain: The Timbers Army will sing the national anthem and fans will swish their scarves over their heads as they do it.
For players such as Mamadou “Futty” Danso, who played with the second-division Timbers before moving up to MLS, the first home game brings a chance to compare and contrast with what was in place before.
“All they’ve been talking about for two years is MLS in 2011,” Danso said. “Now that 2011 is here and the home opener is two days away, you have this feeling inside you like, ‘Oh my God, it’s finally here.’ If you had never been here before and you saw this you’d think it was a new stadium. For guys who have played here before but haven’t seen it since our last [home] game, they are like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s a really big difference.”
The players came into the stadium to see their new locker room and workout facility on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the team conducted its first practice on the new turf.
JELD-WEN Field features a new east-side grandstand, new locker-room facilities and wide range of renovations and upgrades. It is the latest in a series of improvements to an athletic field that has been a gathering place in the city for almost 120 years.
“Thursday can’t come soon enough, because I know everybody’s excited about it,” said midfielder Jeremy Hall. “We just want to get a win. That’s the most important thing right now. We want to show that we’re going to be a tough team to beat his year, especially at home.”