The results from our second game of the season were disappointing, no doubt, after we had reveled in our inspired, unstoppable attack in the 2nd half in week one.
The start to this season appears worse than our start last year (win at home, loss on the road in 2012, compared to a tie and a loss at home in 2013).
But let's put things in perspective. To borrow a sentiment from Kevin Alexander, we are starting over right now. This is essentially an expansion team again. New coach. New set of players. New system. Timbers 1.0 didn't work, so we try again with version 2.0.
Fans like me often talked about our work in the 2nd half of last season, hoping that it would help us hit the ground running in 2013. But given the number of player moves we made in the offseason, and the fact that 7 of our starters this year are new to the team, it really is a complete restart.
What this team needs is time. And patience. A LOT of time and patience.
So what can we do as fans to help our team stay the course and keep the faith in the face of mixed early results in a brand new system with brand new players? How can we do our little part to help avoid a repeat of the wild tactical and player shuffling, and eventual scrapping of the system, we saw with Timbers 1.0?
Here are five points of support I think we need:
1. Demand a competent attack, refuse to accept conservatism: MLS is a conservative league, but the quality of our players is rapidly on the rise, and with that, the ability of attacking football to succeed is increasing. We can either be ahead of that curve or behind it. We should emphasize this forward-thinking approach OVER the desire to WIN GAMES NOW. Patience with a competent attacking system WILL pay dividends in the future, if not by the end of this season.
2. Grow a THICK SKIN and be patient: prepare yourself, mentally, to stomach difficult losses. They are going to happen along the way, and they may happen even more at home for awhile than we've been accustomed to. Hopefully that will partially be offset by better form on the road, but those wins are not as fun for us, the fans. Accept it. That doesn't mean bad results won't hurt. It ALWAYS hurts. There's no way to get rid of that sick feeling in your stomach after a loss. But it DOES mean we weather that feeling, find ways to get over games and get ourselves back up and back in the stands week in and week out.
3. Pretend this is our first year in MLS: even in the face of tough losses, we must support our players and our coach. We did this well at first when the team joined MLS. With time, expectations have grown. This is fair, but reality hasn't kept up. And we're not the first team that has had to scrap our first plan and try again. We have to power through, show up and sing our hearts out to the end, even when the results are lacking. It's hard, but we have to get back to the mindset of a fledgling expansion team trying to put things together over the course of a first season, because in practice, that is sort of what we are. In most MLS markets, the fans start disappearing after the kind of reset and initial struggles in phase 2.0 that we are experiencing. But we're not most MLS fanbases. Are we?
4. Refuse to become negative and condescending: it's fair to go on comment boards and vent our frustrations, but in the stands, we need to support our players and our coach with unwavering persistence. And as far as possible, let's focus our criticism on execution instead of targeting the system itself in these early stages.
5. Apply the right kind of pressure: we buy the tickets and go to the games. As the customers, we DO apply pressure to our players, our coach, and our ownership. We DO influence their thinking, even if they like to think we don't. Let's recognize the value of the way this team is currently set up and put the right kind of pressure on everyone. This SHOULD NOT be pressure to make big changes every time we under-perform. This SHOULD be pressure to be persistent and believe in our new plan and system. To believe that time will put the pieces together, if we can power through the tough lessons and tough results in the short-term.
Swansea City is an ancient Welsh club that had never made it to top flight in English football. After decades of floating around in the lower divisions, things REALLY began to unravel and the Swans were facing dissolution.
But the supporters loved their lowly team, and refused to let that happen. They stepped in and formed a trust to bail the club out and craft a new technical plan. The Swans began to slowly rebuild with a clear identity and playing style. Gradually they worked their way up through the divisions in English football. Coaches and players came and went (often getting stolen away by wealthier teams) but the identity remained the same and the team slowly, slowly climbed. In 2011-12, they rocked the premiere league by finishing in the mid-table in their FIRST-EVER season at the top level. And they did it playing a competent, attractive, possession-based game.
The odds to success that Swansea City faced in the English Football Association were FAR greater than anything we face in MLS. But the Swans did it, in part, because they had a patient, dedicated, and intelligent fanbase that supported them without pause over a decade as they SLOWLY built their system into success.
It's not going to take a decade for the Timbers to find success, even if our plan is one that will take a little longer to start seeing the results than a more conservative approach. But if the Swansea City fans can wait nearly 10 years just to win promotion to the top flight, don't you think we can wait a season or two to get to the MLS Cup playoffs?
If we pay attention, resolve patience, educate ourselves on the game we love to root for, and share our hopeful sentiments and rationale with our fellow fans whenever possible, I think we can keep this fanbase together in a way that supports our team and powers them forward, rather than tearing them apart.
And the results WILL come. It's just a matter of time.