Ahead of the Portland Timbers' 3-0 win against the Colorado Rapids on June 25, Timbers and Thorns president of business Mike Golub joined Timbers GM/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and defender Justin Rasmussen for a pregame Q&A with 50 Annual Members. Below are some of the key questions and responses from the event. The questions and responses below have been edited for clarity and some have been combined from multiple related questions or responses.
You were a midfielder in college, how has it been to transition over to being a defender in MLS?
Justin Rasmussen: "Playing at the club level and then also in college, I was always more of a versatile player, so I played a lot of positions. During my freshman year, I actually played left back, so I had a little bit of experience. Like anything, the repetition helps with getting comfortable. There's been a lot of learning moments and a lot of lessons already, but I feel like I'm getting the hang of it pretty quickly."
Did you have any role models growing up on or off the field?
JR: "I've been a Liverpool fan my whole life, so growing up my favorite player was Phillipe Coutinho, he was such a magician on the ball. But when it comes to role model for me, it's my Dad, he actually raced jet skis professionally. Then there’s my mom, she claims to hold the record for most interceptions for flag football at UNLV. So, I guess athleticism runs in the family, just not necessarily soccer."
What was it like scoring in preseason?
JR: "Yeah, that was my first moment to feel really good about being here. To be able to get the minutes in preseason against a professional team was just, you know, amazing. There was just a rush of emotions, I just kind of realized like, "oh my gosh, where am I? What did I just do? Who did I do it against?" If you watch my celebration, I kind of run in one direction and then another. The guys love to mess with me, and were like, "Justin, you need to stick to one celebration." Ever since I can remember, it's been a dream to play at this level and play on this stage and to achieve something like that was just icing on the cake."
On AppleTV, Leagues Cup, South End, international friendlies and fan experience
On the new MLS TV deal with Apple, starting in 2023
Mike Golub: "As you may have heard, Major League Soccer announced a new television deal with Apple for next season. We hope this will have a really positive impact for Timbers fans as all MLS games will be available on Apple TV. The great news is that every Annual Member will get an account to have access to this subscription for no additional cost. Every MLS game will be available through that service, from any device, anywhere in the world. You won't have to have to Apple TV+ or a smart TV, just the access to the internet. We'll have more details in the coming months, and we can walk you through it when the time comes. It’s a really exciting development because some fans couldn’t get ROOT and other fans couldn’t get a stream and others don't have a cable package. We've had these challenges along the way with our local broadcasts, and we think this deal will help smooth a lot of them out."
On Leagues Cup, the new competition starting next season between MLS and LigaMX
MG: "Another thing for next year, which you're going to hear about it in your renewal information, is Leagues Cup. Next July, we won’t have any regular season games, and every MLS team and every Mexican first division team will compete in a “World Cup” style tournament with groups and then a knockout round. We know that we will have at least one game here, which will likely be included in your Annual Membership. This will become annual tournament, so lots more information to follow, but it will be a very exciting new competition."
Would the club get involved in creating a new supporters group in the South End, if there was interest?
MG: "No, while it’s true that some teams have multiple supporters groups, we've only ever had the Timbers Army and they’ve done an amazing job. Even though the relationship has been bumpy recently, it’s still been great over the years. The Army does so many great things in the stadium and around the community, the experience of going to Timbers game would not be the same without what the Timbers Army does. We didn't create the Timbers Army, and it’s not the Front Office's role to help create supporters groups. That all just has to happen organically."
Gavin Wilkinson: "I think football should be enjoyed and loved by all, no one has ownership over it. That's my personal opinion. I would love for us, as a community, to support the players on the field. That becomes the best recruitment tool that I have had at my disposal. It’s this community, where every single fan who turns up to every single game, gives the players that support. The players will tell you this club is unlike any other, and that they can feel it. There's a reason we've been able to keep some of our players for as long as we have. It's got nothing to do with me, or the crest, it's because of the community. Everyone is empowered to act, how they want, I just want us to be aligned on why we're here. We want a team that wins, on and off the field."
What happened to the club hosting international friendlies on a regular basis?
GW: "I love them because you get to make connections around the world. It's bridging the gaps in football, it's like continuing education for the coaches and players as well as in depth scouting. There is always a debate about championships or cups vs. friendlies. In my opinion, one doesn't happen without the other. Those matches are a unique experience, and offer a learning opportunity for a lot of the players. For me, I'd love to bring some back. The preseason tournament is very much appreciated by the players as we do try to get international teams involved there. I still remember the Sunderland game as one of my favorites."
What are we doing to improve the fan experience when you go to concessions and bathrooms? When I'm watching the game, I'm never going to leave, because I'm not going to risk missing something.
MG: "We love our stadium because it is so unique and creates a great match environment. But, it's also a challenging stadium because our concourses are so tight. What we have done, is that part of the expansion project in 2019 was actually adding more points of sale throughout the facility, including the North and West concourses because those are the ones that are under the most stress. We have also added mobile ordering, which about 20-25% of fans are using. With that, you can see what's around you, order from your seat or even outside stadium while you are in line, and be able to pick up your order quickly. We do have TVs in most of our stands, but it’s an area we’re looking at improving. To your point, we want fans to miss as little of the match as possible, while buying concessions or using the restrooms, etc."