"As professional players we know that trades, cuts and trialists are part of the business. But I can't fully describe how agonizing it feels to know that trades are looming, cuts are pending and trialists inbound. Yes, this is all part of playing professional sports, but this is the shitty part. Knowing that in the blink of an eye, your destiny can change."
- Peter Lowry, The Lowry Lowdown
It's hard to leave a club, leaving your teammates and friends (and in some cases, family) and moving to a new city. It's even harder after considering the significant emotional investment a player makes in a club to begin with.
In this era of fan blogs, video games and fantasy leagues, it can sometimes be easy to forget that emotional commitment, how much of their lives players devote to their club, community, teammates, and coaches. It's easy to ignore just how much of a toll roster changes take on players, as well as teams and ultimately the league as a whole.
To get a better handle on these issues, we talked to some former Timbers -- Mick Hoban, Peter Lowry, and Steven Smith -- about the clubs and communities they lived in during their careers. We asked them what it takes to get comfortable in their temporary hometowns, what effect transfers have had on their careers, and what lasting impacts they had on their clubs and their clubs had on them.
For Part 1, I asked players to share their experiences upon first joining the Timbers.
"Players convince themselves that a new coach will like them. We make ourselves believe this. We believe that we will be the ones he will lean on but the scary truth is that there is just as much a chance that he will kick you out the door as he will embrace you as one of his guys."
- Peter Lowry, The Lowry Lowdown
When Steven Smith left Scotland and signed with the Portland Timbers, he didn't know much about the club, other than it was where his good friend, Kris Boyd, played.
"The transition wasn't too difficult - Kris Boyd's presence here made that a lot easier," says Smith. "The biggest adjustment was being away from my young family for long periods of time."
Committing himself to the club, being the professional that he is, was quick. But he didn't really know how temporary the club's commitment to him could be.
Former Timbers midfielder Peter Lowry had been playing in MLS for a few years before joining the Timbers, so he was well aware of the tenuous nature of his position. He was lucky enough to have learned all about that from his older teammates in Chicago.
Brandon Prideaux was one of those elder teammates in Chicago and had plenty of experience with getting comfortable with new teams, having also played in Colorado, DC, and Kansas City. Lowry says Prideaux told him, "You have to act like you're going to be there for a long time, and figure out how to be as happy as you can."
"You naively have to believe that," Lowry says. "Whoever you're playing for, every day should be about the same thing -- you're there, doing your job."
"But at the same time you have to root yourself to be happy."
"We're a little delusional," Lowry admits. "But it helps cement where you are."
Fortunately, Portland has some qualities that make getting comfortable a little smoother. A temperate climate, good food, a fairly low cost of living, and fans.
"It's easier in Portland, because everyone's a fan," says Lowry. "There's pride in the shirt, because people show up to support it."
Many Timbers fans are tired of hearing about it at this point, but you can't talk about getting comfortable with playing in Portland without talking about the Timbers Army.
"These guys are murdering themselves on the field for the Timbers Army," says Lowry.
"It is insane how effective the Timbers Army is," says Lowry. "It's that strong connection where you're like, I'm not gonna let these guys down. On the road, we sucked - there's no doubt about it - but at home we just didn't want to let you down.
The thought of playing in front of the Timbers Army still gets Steven Smith all riled up.
"If it's support you're looking for, they don't come much better than the Timbers fans," Smith says. "They are honest people, and if you give them 100 percent commitment that's all they ask and will never complain."
Nothing soothes uncertainty and reinforces the concept of "home" like thousands of singing supporters.
In Part 2 of our story, we'll take a look at the transfers themselves, and the effect they have on players.
Many thanks to Steven Smith and Peter Lowry, for their contributions to this story. And an extra shout out to friend-of-the-blog Peter Lowry and his fascinating blog, "The Lowry Lowdown." There are many more fascinating insights to be found within.