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Talking Timbers with Portland owner Merritt Paulson


Photo by Jose M. Romero


CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson was once a casual soccer fan who got most fired up for World Cups. As he got deeper involved in the game, he found the live soccer experience to be one of the best in sports.

He follows the NBA, too, and found that the atmosphere at games was generated through music and in-game production. But in soccer, such an atmosphere was generated organically through fans, and Paulson calls it "infectious and electric."

Paulson hopes the Timbers can have a similar effect on fans in the Rose City in the club's inaugural season. Soccer by Ives caught up with Paulson in Arizona recently, and he took the time to chat:

SBI: The season's almost here, are you getting excited?

Paulson: I'm excited. It's been fun watching it come together. I think we've made some progress on the field and off the field, and we've got some more ground to cover in both areas as well. 

SBI: Is this fun?

Paulson: For me, it's kind of like everything. We worked so hard to get here and went through so much to actually looking at our guys out there, playing teams like Kansas City or Houston and moving from the second division, it's very, very exciting and rewarding, and sometimes you've got to pinch yourself to make sure you're not in a dream. It's been fun putting this team together and we're working hard on our (stadium) renovation and selling tickets and all that kind of stuff. There's a lot of hype in the city of Portland and it's a special time right now.

I feel like marketing-wise, I'd put our effort up there with anybody. It is the right message for the city, I think that's the key. 

SBI: Update in season ticket sales?

Paulson: We're almost at a cap. We're flirting with it now. We had a really good week last week. Half-seasons (ticket packages) go on sale Monday.

SBI: What's the season-ticket cap?

Paulson: 12,000 full. We might go a touch over but not much. Our sellout (capacity) is something like 18,600, so we need to have some buffer in there for groups.

We have the ability to open up a couple of more rows that we're not selling on the north end (of PGE Park). We can get another 3,000 people in if we want to, but we want to see how the building stands stress before we make those decisions.  

SBI: What kind of soccer do you want the Timbers to play?

Paulson: We're on record there. There's no question about it. We're trying to build a team that pushes the ball and plays an exciting, aggressive, offensive brand of soccer. An entertaining brand of soccer. It's what I like. I love Spain, the Spanish national team and Brazil. I think you can win and you can still be entertaining and Coach (John Spencer) happens to agree. So we've put a lot of emphasis on guys who can put the ball in the back of the net. But the notion that we've ignored our backline would be off. I feel pretty good about our backline. I think we're one of the strongest teams in Major League Soccer at goalkeeper.

We have some areas we'd like to fill out a little bit, especially in the middle (the club just signed MLS veteran Jack Jewsbury), but up top and on the wings right now I think we're in pretty good shape. 

SBI: Why does soccer work in Portland? 

Paulson: It dates back to 1975 and the NASL years, and it got the bug. It wasn't just Portland, the whole region kind of got the bug. It grew through the ups and downs of the various 'iterations' of second- division soccer. It retained the bug in a bigger way… we supported second-division minor-league soccer much more than Seattle did. These guys (fans) are hardcore. They're true-blue. We could put a team out there that doesn't put the ball in the net and embarrasses itself, and they're going to show up. But that's not something we're going to take advantage of. I'm from Chicago and I watch the Cubs and we don't want to be the lovable losers in Portland with faithful fans that doesn't have a winning team. It's very much about winning and doing it in the way that we should.

SBI: Is this your vision for the club?

Paulson: In terms of the product that we've got on the pitch right now, I would say that we should not look like an expansion team… You look at how many new components we have right now and we'll need a tweak and we'll need to add. I would say that there's a couple of clear positions that we'd like to add a big-name guy too. But we have some time to do that. We may be active in the next several weeks with a potential signing. You may see us in the summer transfer window make a move. And then I think at the end of the day, we're hopeful this team is going to be competitive. The goal is certainly make the playoffs, but you want to build from that and be in a position where you've got a core foundation next year that we can began to take off from there. 

Nobody's writing this year off as an expansion year. There's definitely an expectation to win, starting with our coach and certainly with me. But I think we've got to be realistic, too.


  1. Kejsare, I trust that you will dutifully harass all the new Timbers fans that show up during the MLS season. It is also very impressive that the Timbers fan base grew from 6,000/game (2001-2007) to upper 9,000/game after MLS expanded to the PNW despite you and your fellow “hardcore” Timbers fans harassing all those new people who showed up. Heck, I bet you even harassed yourself the first year you showed up to watch a game.

    For the record, the Sounders grew from 3,000/game (2001-2007 … 2008 would have been insane for D2, but the FO moved the team to a small suburban stadium after the home opener even though we already had 20,000 MLS deposits) to 36,000/game. All are welcome at our games, and the whole city is behind us. Of course, we don’t have the burden of a slimey crook owner who shafted the entire country and spitefully sold off a 100+ year-old baseball team when he couldn’t shaft your city as much as he wanted to, so it’s understandable why most Portland citizens despise the Timbers.

  2. Every team has way too many idiots in the comment section?
    Are you talking about the Premier League or MLS? I didn’t know “too many fans” was a problem…

  3. “we don’t want to be the lovable losers in Portland with faithful fans that doesn’t have a winning team”

    35 years of history to overcome there Paulson. Have fun in the basement!

  4. There was talk of the stadium holding about 24k at true full capacity, now that appears to be over 21k. I had hoped it would’ve been on plus 20k side. Oh well.

    Can’t wait to finally watch them play again, but in MLS! RCTID

    [Thanks to all others who have lifted and supported MLS all these years. It has allowed us fans to join your happy throng. Thanks for blazing the trail.]

  5. Roth is finding ways to limit out of town fans from attending his matches, ergo, he despises organized supporters groups.

  6. Thanks for your utterly worthless response. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Paulsen’s got more going on than you do.

  7. So far so good. But given his pedigree, rather than a whole sale endorsement, ill be cautiously optimistic: after all, Paulson is in the business of business. Go Timbers. Go MLS. Go World.

  8. I’m talking about the owners, not some idiot in a comment section(every team has way too many of those). When do Hanauer or Roth say anything about the Timbers or their fan support?

  9. “Also, all rhetoric aside, let’s be honest and acknowledge that the Timbers are going to suck this year.”

    Oooo, you’re so smart Pepe. I have much to learn about futbol from you.

    Care to expand on your expert analysis or are we going to hear the same tired line about their midfield? before they’ve even played a game.

    I’ll concede they might struggle on the road. But they’ll play better at home than some people think, their home-field advantage will be that good.

  10. Seattle “doesn’t bring up Portland”? I’ve got some beach front real estate on the moon I’d like to sell you.

    But assuming they don’t bring up Portland much – ahem! dubious – they don’t have to because Seattle fans do it for them by trolling on just about every Timbers story out there.

    There is this guy commenting on the MLS website all the time… Phillip or some guy… looks like a pale and skinny Mickey Rourke and dresses like a mortician… anyway, that guy is an obnoxious Sounder troll and he’s not the only one.

  11. You have to remember that this is the owner backing an aggressive style of soccer, not just the coach.

    Yea I agree, a lot of coaches talk up how they will play offensive and attractive but they don’t necessarily have the backing of the owner who most likely DOES just want to win no matter what it takes. Spencer will have the blessing of the owner to play this brand of soccer which I believe will help him tremendously.

    Whether or not this will actually be successful I have no idea. They could come out and have an awful first year. It is exciting though to know that they are going for it and won’t put their whole squad behind the ball every match.

  12. Yeah, there’s something to be proud about.

    Guy got his money to own a pro sports franchise off the backs of working people. Yeah, that’s smart.

  13. what coach ever comes out and says we want our style to be un-attractive and defensive, playing whatever style it takes to win.

    Every coach talks like their try to play attractively and they are going to have a strong passing game etc. Few actually do though. Seen plenty of coaches from different leagues talk like this.

  14. Well, buying billboard space in Seattle is one. Act like you have been there before or belong, instead of trying to build yourself up by knocking others.

  15. I hope Portland is successful. Portlandians (?) will have that place rocking and rolling. Looking forward to getting up there this summer for their game vs. LA.

  16. “There’s no question about it. We’re trying to build a team that pushes the ball and plays an exciting, aggressive, offensive brand of soccer. An entertaining brand of soccer. …I think you can win and you can still be entertaining and Coach (John Spencer) happens to agree.”

    Love his thoughts on the team’s play. Good to have someone like that behind the scene. Time will tell. It may not come at first, but if that is what they are truly shooting for, in time they’ll get there.

    I’m really looking forward to these NW rivalry games! And judging by snide intenet comments on both sides, the only thing that could get in the way is city-centric fan pride combined with one too many adult beverages leading to an off-the-field-Old-Firm-style incident (and for the sake of US soccer in general and everyone else involved, I really hope it doesn’t)

    Good luck to Portland, except on Seattle game days.

  17. Interesting to hear that they’re going to be more attacking strategically. I would’ve thought that Spencer would follow in the footsteps of his mentor Kinnear (who himself followed Yallop) in pursuing a more defensive strategy.

    Also, all rhetoric aside, let’s be honest and acknowledge that the Timbers are going to suck this year.

  18. Of course he has to bring up Seattle. Seems like they always a side comment about Seattle.

    Vancouver doesn’t bring up Seattle or Portland in that way. Seattle doesn’t bring up Vancouver or Portland in that way.

    Quite a little brother comment.


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