CEO and owner Merritt Paulson answers questions from Portland Timbers and Thorns FC fans on Facebook

Merritt Paulson, Timbers vs. AIK, 2.4.13

Portland Timbers and Thorns FC CEO and owner Merritt Paulson took to Facebook for a lengthy Q&A with Timbers and Thorns FC fans covering all sorts of questions from on-the-field to off. Take a read through and get prepped for the 2015 season.

Ron Peck - Can you give us your outlook for the stadium for say the next 5 years? Terraces, grass, any hope for significant expansion to the stadium/concourses.

MP: Here is the summary: adding where we can and where infrastructure works. South End has a lot of potential. Starting a detailed analysis now. But won’t be “significant”. Would like to go from current 20,500 to around 23K or so…but only comfortably.

Maurice Amar - With all of the DP signings the Timbers have made, why haven't we ever signed a "name" guy like Gerard? Will we ever?

MP: This answer is not aimed at Gerrard, who is still very much a world class player, specifically.  Personally, I do not believe MLS 3.0 benefits from signing aging superstars in their career twilight who come to America for a last big payday. We are no retirement league. That said, some teams have also won with guys like that. I do very much like the fact MLS allows clubs flex for different DP philosophies.

We currently have 3 quality DPs…I have an increased appetite to spend (even from currently High level relative to other MLS teams) and there are ways to create a slot opening if needed.  Timing and personnel needs to be right though and therein is the rub. My staff has a green light to sign a guy on $5M or less a year at their discretion (and more if I approve)…but getting the right one is the trick…they don’t grow on trees and it’s not just quality on field we look for. With the added pressure to win comes added pressure to DPs to perform. Down the line we very well may get more of a “name” guy. But it probably won’t be a 34 year old or older….but I have also learned never say never in this business. Every case is different.

We are one of the better capitalized teams in MLS from an ownership and a business perspective. We invest a lot in the team already – more than most fans probably realize. We haven’t hesitated to buy out expensive contracts when we miss. I feel no need to sign a guy for marketing. But we need to win and, now, more than ever, the right DP is a big part of that answer.

Josh Bredy - Hey Merritt, I'm a security guard and I cannot stand when people come into my store wearing a Sounders jersey. What's the best course of action to deter a Sounders fan?

MP: Point outside and say “look a marching band and confetti!!!” They will quickly pursue with glee (I jest, I jest ECS folks).

David Been Gone - Can I get tickets I support my Portland Timbers I've never been to a game even if it's 1 ticket I love that we have another pro team for Oregon

MP: Sure – send your address

Christian Joseph - What is the plan for grass?

MP: A year ago I would have said there was a good chance we would be grass by 2016…now I am not so sure.  I won’t get into all the factors but it’s something we will always look at. 

In the meantime we take a lot of pride in our unique, soccer-specific artificial field which gets limited use…by far best in league and one of best in world.  Ask Thierry Henry!  ;)

Mark Fahey - Do you think signing more speedy wingers would increase your ability to create scoring opportunities coupled with adept strikers?

MP: Yes – Asprilla is that and some real pace on the wings will be on T2 as well.

Jesus Rodriguez - Will you give Timbers Army a MLS title this year?

MP: Will try.

Kristen Gehrke - Rumors are circulating about a possible offseason loan for Ridgewell. Any truth here?
MP: As I am writing this – yes. Not done yet though.  Any loan would need to get him back by last two weeks of preseason. He would be fit and sharp from the loan and injury risk exists in preseason anywhere.

Jarrett Civelli - I guess this is maybe more of a Caleb Porter question, but last season we started pretty slowly, with changes eventually made to right the ship, so to speak. Outside of signings, what other steps are being taken to ensure that the 2015 campaign starts off on the right foot?

MP: It’s all talk until it happens.  We have been active.  Let’s see how we start…

Rick Fitzgerald - If you aren't going to do anything about the long bathroom lines, could you at least add TVs so people can watch the game while waiting?

MP: Bathroom lines will get better…we are adding urinal troughs to the men’s bathrooms.  Also adding TVs.

We make do on the west side with narrow concourses and improve where we can…less than ideal but wouldn’t trade Providence Park for all the tea in China.

Mike Hodges - Can I have twenty bucks?

MP: Sure – send your address

Barnacle Brian - Hi Merritt! Has anyone dropped a #GWOut yet?

MP: Hi Brian!  Nope, but I have seen a couple #BarnacleBrianOUTS.  They are full of it though.

John Nyen - In the 8 seasons since you purchased the Timbers they have never had two years of increasing points totals. (2007 - 51, 2008 - 31, 2009 - 58, 2010 - 49, 2011 - 42, 2012 - 34, 2013 - 57, 2014 -49) What is being done to stabilize the team to prevent the yo-yo effect that is one of the defining characteristics, on the field, of your first 8 years of ownership?

MP: You are really reaching here, in my opinion.

First of all drawing links from USL to MLS (on field) is apples and oranges. That said, both the USL Timbers and the MLS Timbers have gotten much better with time. Does that always equate to point improvement for a regular season: nope. Plenty of low seeded teams have won MLS Cup.

I had zero to do with the 2007 Timbers. I came on in late May of that year when decisions had been made. In 2008, I allowed our two best players by far (Josh Wicks and Bryan Jordan) to leave the team to LAG right before the season despite being under contract (and for next to nothing) because it was the right thing to do for them and their careers. In 2009, the team set all kinds of records in excellence (including points) and was the first USL team that had a consistent, attractive attack. Short a Cameron Knowles career ending injury we would have won league. 2010 we were also very good playoff team near top of table but we had many individuals only focused on making MLS roster so that hurt a bit in the postseason.

In MLS, we had fundamental issues during our first two years, including a lack of any identity. More points in 2011 vs 2012 says very little. I take responsibility there. We addressed the issues. 2013 we were a game away from a MLS Cup. Going forward measuring league success is a product of making the playoffs and hardware more than just regular season points. (Obviously a SS would be great though) In 2014 we had a bad start and righted the ship missing the playoffs by a point. But the team progressed offensively and in terms of road performance and clearly has an identity and vision. Overtime that will equate to what we all want (even you, right?): trophies. You can wait two more seasons to test your ping-pong theory…until then enjoy 2015!

Randy Kilwag - Any chance of getting the TV cameras switched to the other side to show packed stands instead of sparsely populated Key Club seats?

MP: KeyBank Club is sold out and represents the highest demand section on the stadium. But the restaurant there impacts butts in seats sometimes around halftime. All games are shot the same way but we do a great job of highlighting our atmosphere on broadcasts.

Daniel Higgins - How's the consulting business going?

MP: The fact I will even answer a question like this should be your answer.

Taylor Ross - How do you feel the movement of sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo to the western conference will affect the Timbers 2015 season #RCTID

MP: West was already much better than east and now it’s even better with two of the better eastern teams now playing with the big boys. Welcome to the” first division” SKC and Dynamo! (With time the imbalance will even out and for now it makes us sharper)

Randy Kilwag - Ducks and Beavers gear all over PDX airport, Timbers should be prominently placed!

MP: We are last I checked but can always do more. Remember there are 40 plus years of Blazers and while we had the NASL Timbers for 8 yrs we have only had MLS Timbers for 4.

Janet Potter - Are you willing and able to add hydration stations to the stadium????

MP: Yes – we already have one of more generous policies regarding allowance of personal containers and we are adding a fountain to the North end this offseason

BJ Clark - What happened to all the teams "calling" about Kalif Alhassan? If there was so much interest why'd we release him for nothing? Follow up question: Why do you lie to supporters on Twitter?

MP: Mr. Sunshine Committee President:

1) Early in Kalif’s MLS career there was a lot of interest in him…in MLS and internationally.  Things change.  Hopefully he will get back on track…he has talent in spades.  If he works hard he will.

2) I may be more direct that some care for (and certainly have my faults), but lying is something I never do or have done.

Thanks for such a respectful question.

Henry Caizero - Why Portland Timbers don't get players like Dempsey, Kaká or Villa? Don’t think money is a problem, full house every game for 3 seasons. Real fans deserve a championship!!

MP: All are world class-players but has Dempsey, Kaka or Villa won a MLS Cup?

Casey Smith - Is Didier Drogba on your radar?

MP: There is a unique guy who despite his age is uniquely skilled to clean up in MLS.  The league almost signed him a couple years ago and I know my coach would love him to be a Timber but I highly doubt it at this point.

Alan Moore - What have you learned from your first 4 years in the MLS that you are applying going forward?

MP: Too much for a pithy answer. I have learned a lot and still have much to learn. One thing I still need to work on is thick skin. Passion and patience often don’t mesh well. But I have hired around my weaknesses where possible and my skin is thickening too.

Randy Kilwag - How much control over Timbers merch design does the club have? Are design and materials driven by Adidas, MLS, or the club?

MP: Decent amount on kits. Less so on merch but we are changing that. adidas is a great partner though

Jonathan Everett - If MLS allowed a 4th Designated Player and the Timbers had an unlimited budget, who would you pick between Zlatan and Cristiano? Why?

MP: Not even close call.  Messi and Cristiano is the right question.  There are a dozen guys or more I would pick before Zlatan…spectacular as he might be.

Brian Dettling - When is the new kit coming out?

MP: It’s a set kit release week league-wide in early Feb.

Ian James Dodge - Are there any long-term plans to update the partial roof of the stadium to remove the obstructed views of the field from many of the seats and make it more soccer viewing friendly like the smaller stadiums in Europe?

MP: We have very, very few obstructed views.  Sounds like you have one but my President of Business Ops, Mike Golub, is a sightline dictator.

Sam Murray - Who is your favorite Portland band?

MP: I embrace most of PDX…have to say I am not a huge Indie local band guy though.  Like Storm Large and a couple Decemberist /Shins tunes; also hear Blizen Trapper & The Thermals are good.  Even worse, I like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Nirvana (but plenty of non SEA music too…)

Ryan Andrew Ring - Anymore transfers coming before the start of the season or are we going to look to utilize La Gata as a CAM until Valeri is back?

MP: This is a CP/GW question but my opinion is CAM is arguably our deepest position. Gata would start for almost every MLS team, Nagbe also plays CAM extremely well.

Edmundo Dantes - Why aren't our scouts looking for players out of La Liga teams? Seems that is the best source, more now that the US Dollar is poised to pair up to the Euro.

MP: We had a La Liga forward lined up when we signed Adi. Adi’s loan worked out well and it made sense to get the sure thing but we would have signed the La Liga guy otherwise. We will at some point I am sure.

Pete O'Farrell - Please rank the 2015 priorities: Supporter's Shield, US Open Cup, MLS Cup, Cascadia Cup

MP: All are very important and they aren’t mutually exclusive.  Hope we add to the Cascadia Cup with others soon.

MLS Cup, SS/USOC (same), CC

Mike Pacific - As a league owner, how do you feel about the Lampard situation and now NYCFC/MLS has handled it? After the Camilo debacle and now this, does this league need to do more to firm up player deals?

MP: I would hate another team or owner weighing in my business.  So this answer is not a direct answer but rather only my take on only how this situation is viewed in terms of team vs league, as its getting a bunch of attention.  Whether you understand or don’t like the situation, I don’t believe it is reflective of MLS as a league one way or the other.  While our single entity is unique, teams have a lot of autonomy and flex which is a great thing.  Just like an EPL team could sign a guy and then loan him to La Liga, this was a club decision and should be viewed in that context.

Alex Moore - Can you comment on player recoveries regarding Valeri and Johnson?

MP: Last I heard Valeri is ahead of schedule and Will is on schedule.  Both are doing very well.  Always subject to change.

Jeremy Wright - Every year the MLS players union releases a list of salaries and every year you caution that that list is not accurate. Do you support the league releasing an accurate list of player salaries so that fans can understand where their team is in regards to the salary cap?

Along those same lines do you support the commissioner’s pledge of increased transparency in 2015? What does "increased transparency" mean to you?

MP: Both good questions.  2nd one first:

Yes – I agree with Don that MLS needs better transparency.  I also see a commitment to making that a reality that should show through with time.

The issue mostly starts with the fact our rules are too complicated and are tough to communicate and understand.  Often decisions are very innocent, but raise public suspicion due to the complexity involved. I believe there will be a simplification of league competition rules and I will be part of that process.  Player signing rules is one area I expect to be a lot more transparent.  In terms of release of allocation $ amounts, I see both sides of argument.  There are multiple reasons a player move might be made, and not releasing allocation amounts is helpful in some cases from purely a club standpoint.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed too though.

On salaries, unfortunately I cannot give you the detailed answer you want other than to say all player contract terms are not public, per league policy.  Not sure that will, or should, change (in my opinion anyway).

Lance Cummins - Is it really true that those German style terraces are going into the TA section? If so when and if not why not?

MP: This is something we explored for many months but ultimately we didn’t get approval from the city and, as we shared with the 107ist, if we made 104-107 (4 sections) terraced as proposed, we required a change of two sections (202&208) from GA to reserved from which the 107ist objected to.  Lastly we have some added capacity concerns for the North End with terracing even with just 4 sections.

Ryan Stauffer - I have been on the wait list for 4 years....how about a little help? Cheers

MP: Stay patient!  We are working hard to keep giving the STH wait list benefits.

Holly Duthie - Watching the LAFC press conference, I was struck by how much money they appear to be spending on all aspects of the team. In contrast, the Timbers/Thorns/T2 feel like more of a mom-and-pop organization. I don't get the impression we're spending much on things like scouting and marquee players. It feels like the league is moving on to the future, but we're staying back in a USL mindset. Don't you think we're going to get crushed by all the other teams who are splashing out financially? How can we compete on the top level?

MP: The Timbers spend is in the top third in MLS.  May not fit your narrative but that’s a fact.  Our “USL mindset” didn’t show too much in 2013 nor in most of last year.  Also, how many MLS teams have launched or plan to launch their own USL PRO squad?  We are well poised now and for the future.

Kevin Halterman - Can we get another kit tease?

MP: Yes – follow the Timbers twitter feed.

Can we land a U.S. Men's National team player? Like Mix?

MP: Hopefully.  With Mix been there done that.  We tried and had we landed him Valeri wouldn’t be here (I make that trade any day of week and twice on Sun).  There is a USMNT guy on our radar now.

Charlie Hamilton - When will T2 players be announced and will there be any exciting additions??
MP: Now that Jay is on board expect some announcements.


Paulson also took questions from Thorns FC fans on that Facebook page as well:

Mike Pacific: How do you feel that NWSL is progressingas a league? Do you feel that it is following a sustainable growth path?

Merritt Paulson: Couldn’t be more pleased with our progress locally and the league itself is invery early stages.

I feel the NWSL is generally progressing well but still has a ways to go. Hopefully in a couple years it will be clear to all it is sustainable. Already we have surpassed WPS…but not sure that’s the bar we are aiming for.

One area I would like improvement is clear standards with regard to team facilities.  Many NWSL teams face a lot of local challenges and many don’t have access to MLS standards, but it is difficult to communicate professionalism to the media/public playing in some of places we are currently in.  That’s no slight to anyone in particular; everyone wants improvement.

Anthony Thurston: What can you tell us about the new uniforms? Any juicy teasers?

MP: We will have the first custom kit in NWSL in 2015!  Like always, we will tease a bit prior to launch.  We will make a bigger deal out of kit launch this year as it’s not simply from the catalog.

Col Meechan: Happy New Year!.....Can you keep your great fans happy....in a World Cup year??

MP: Happy new year to you!  I think a WWC year has some challenges, but also some great opportunity league-wide.  Here in Portland I am not worried any year. ;)

J.d.Commando:Merritt, thanks for the great ownership. My question is: What do you think the biggest need position wise isfor PTFC going into this season? Also, will we see a preseason women’s tournamentfor Thorns? #baonpdx

MP: First of all thanks for the thanks…nobody on the Timbers side said that this time :). I think, like with the Timbers, the Thorns D needs some help. Getting Kat back is agood start.  Thorns also need to play better at home (also like theTimbers).

Tom Long: Can you tell us if any international teams will be coming to Portland for friendlies this summer? If so, can you say who?

MP: We had some plans but not sure it is happening.  Hope to do this for Thorns in future.

Wendy Goodyear: What's Vero's status for this next season?

MP: Trying to ensure she returns at least for the second half of the year. Optimistic.

Jason Hammonds: Are the Thorns going to make the trip to Arizona again for preseason? We all really enjoyed that last year.

MP: This will be a unique preseason with World Cup, so don’t think so.

Rob Polivka: How are we going to approach the absent players vs. the roster cap? Will we build with the draft, pull from amateur players, or see a lot of changing positions?

MP: We won’t have any 2015 NWSL draft picks after a trade we are just completing but we will have made quite a bit of roster moves prior to season start and hopefully we will be in good shape.  Having Tobin all season will help…even with WWC.