PORTLAND, Ore. – Gavin Wilkinson, understandably, had a look of relief on his face this past Saturday night.
The Portland Timbers' season had mercifully ended after a 1-1 draw to the San Jose Earthquakes at a soggy JELD-WEN Field. Wilkinson’s brief stint as interim head coach also humanely concluded after he took over for a deposed John Spencer in early July.
Now begins the team’s long slog back to respectability, with the general manager Wilkinson leading the way.
“First, I’m going to reintroduce myself to my family,” Wilkinson joked during Saturday’s postgame press conference.
But first, Wilkinson took some time to look back. And judging by his assessment of the Timbers’ performance against Supporters’ Shield-winning San Jose, his rebuilding job may go quicker than expected.
“This team had a lot of adversity with this season, but winning the Cascadia Cup and coming back for the draw [against San Jose] really puts this club at the top of what they can be this year,” Wilkinson said. “Again, we are never going to be happy until we can win the whole thing. With that, we are constantly learning and constantly developing as an organization so we can to reach that goal.”
The Timbers finished the season with just one loss in their last four games, which included that Cascadia Cup-clinching victory Oct. 21 at Vancouver. That game also marked the team’s first road victory of the season.
“I tipped my hat to them,” Wilkinson said. “It was a tough second half to the season, and not once can I say they didn’t give it their all in training or on game day. Their desire to succeed by and large really shows, especially with the result [Saturday]. I keep saying we’re not far away. We do need some new pieces, but there are positives. We are not going into the offseason seeing a loss against the best team in the league.”
Portland’s results against the league’s top teams are another cause for optimism. They finished with a 6-8-6 record against playoff teams, which included wins over San Jose, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but we get up for the big games,” defender David Horst said. “We always have to prepare for the games next year. We have a young team, and we have to find ways to be ready for what’s to come next year. Hopefully we learn from this season.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.