PORTLAND, Ore. – And Kenny Cooper thought he was going to get a break.
But on a chilly Tuesday afternoon, the Portland Timbers striker found himself on the pitch again on the first official day of the club’s offseason. It’s just that his competition was a bit smaller than he’s normally used to.
Cooper helped break in a new “mini-field” at James John Elementary School in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood during a ceremony that included Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, adidas America president Patrik Nilsson, team mascot Timber Joey, among other local dignitaries – not to mention a whole lot of excited kids.
“It’s a ton of fun,” Cooper said after a quick turn against James John’s finest. “It’s a great deal. And it’s great that kids are going to be able to come out here and play on a quality field. It’s really important to show support for the community, show our appreciation. And this is a great opportunity to do that and get out here with the community.”
Through STAND TOGETHER, the Portland Timbers community relations platform, the team donated $10,000 alongside another $10,000 from adidas toward the construction of the field, which will be used by the community and AC Portland, an outreach organization that works with soccer loving communities with low student achievement, for its after-school programs. The Timbers Army's 107 Independent Supporter's Trust (107ist), the non-profit arm of the well-known supporters club, partnered with AC Portland on the project.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Paulson said. “It’s just a cool project. And we’re all about community and giving back and outreach.”
Paulson said giving back to the community is a big part of the identity of the Timbers organization, evident from one of the team’s star players who led the team with eight goals kicking the ball around with a mob of giddy children. Both Cooper and Paulson said the event was a nice escape with the pressure of the season fading away.
“The best part of is, our players want to be here,” Paulson said. “We don’t have to work at it. These guys love it, they truly do. That’s probably what makes our team so special.”
And, of course, rather than a traditional “ribbon cutting” on the new field involved Timber Joey, a log and a chain saw.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dan_itel.