The Philadelphia Union were a brand new club last year and suffered heavily in the tables because of it. Not since the Chicago Fire in 1998 has a true expansion team performed well in their first season. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
In the lead up to the 2011 season this year, you've no doubt read quotes from various pundits and officials around the league and, in particular, the Portland Timbers FO that have mentioned our team as being "promoted" rather than a typical "expansion" team. As many of our daily readers are not long term soccer or MLS fans I thought it would probably be helpful to know the difference and why there's even a distinction between the two verbages.
And just so you're aware, before I even kick this thing off, when I say "promoted" I am in no way referencing the common act of promotion and relegation from soccer leagues around the world. As we all know, MLS doesn't have a promotion/relegation system and has no plans to implement such a system for the foreseeable future. Make no mistake, however, for all intents and purposes the Portland Timbers are a promoted team.
Expansion vs. Promoted
This might come off as a little confusing, but it's really based on the connotations that MLS fans have put onto the word "expansion" in the past that makes it disingenuous to use for the Timbers. Essentially an expansion team is a brand new franchise created for the intent to be in MLS. Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia Union, Chivas USA are all expansion teams. Each was created out of nothing and was born into MLS. While the Portland Timbers are new to MLS and thus "expanding" the league, in this sense we aren't an expansion team.
As such, our front office and head coach, John Spencer, has termed as as being a "promoted" team. Like the Seattle Sounders before us, our club isn't simply being spawned in MLS, created out of nothing. We have had a club, players, staff, etc. for a decade before as a solid club, even longer before that in various iterations of American soccer dating all the way back to 1975.
It's because of this history and the established nature of our club that brings a point of contention between traditional MLS clubs and a "promoted" club like ours.
Does It Matter?
Honestly? Not really. What we term our club as it makes its way into the upper echelons of the American soccer pyramid is really just semantics. Semantics that most people won't even remember next year. However, when using the term as a justification for grading and judging our team perhaps there is an argument to be waged.
There's a lot of work that goes into establishing a new club like the Philadelphia Union had to do last year. You've got to hire new staff, built a new stadium, inform new fans of a new team, buy new equipment, find new managers (club, stadium, concessions, etc.), and, of course, find at least 24 new players. When you add all that up, the chances are everything is going to work out smoothly in just a few months time of preparation are pretty minimal. This is largely why teams like Philadelphia Union, Chivas USA, and Real Salt Lake had such abysmal first years (often trailing in their second and third year as well).
The Timbers, however, are not a new club altogether, no matter what MLS would like us to believe. We will be playing in the same stadium (albeit a newly made-over stadium), our former head coach is still playing a pivotal role in the club's development, our owner is still the same Merritt Paulson we've had since 2007 and we have just one new assistant coach. On top of it all 10 of our current 2011 team are coming from either our D2 team or our U-23 team.
It's because of this that I'd liken the Portland Timbers as being more similar, in terms of development, as a team going from the English Championship league to the English Premier League. Some new players are bought, a new coach is brought in, but otherwise most other things remain the same. It's this kind fo stability that allows teams to perform better than an expansion team.
The End Result
Like I mentioned above, this is only a point of contention for this year alone, next year I'm sure we'll hear people babbling about the same thing for Montreal, but Portland will be old news by then. The only end result to this is that soccer pundits around the nation are consistently ranking us as being a poor team in 2011 due to being a "new" MLS team. But is it really fair to judge us on the same level as Philadelphia last year? I'm not so sure.
Nobody can truly predict an MLS season, given the parity, but I have a hard time believing we'll fair as poorly as true MLS expansion teams, regardless of what term we are used to be described.
Still, I hope this cleared up the verbage a bit. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about this in the months ahead.