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Timbers Offseason Off-Field Storylines

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With the Portland Timbers and Thorns off the field for the winter, it’s time to take a look at some of the off-field storylines to watch in the offseason.

Providence Park Expansion

There won’t be great visuals or anything worthy of a webcam, but the east-side expansion of Providence Park is officially underway. The work this offseason is of the unglamorous sort, as it will focus on improving the east-side foundation to support the towering addition. But it’s a necessary step in an expansion that will raise capacity to around 25,000 and bring the stadium up to the level of newer soccer-specific stadia in MLS. In the near-term, however, it will also cause the Timbers to start 2018 with several games on the road.

Sport Science and Training Program Overhaul

After two seasons hampered by major, repeated, and/or lingering injuries, there’s too much smoke surrounding the Timbers’ sport science and training programs to not think there’s fire. The Timbers and former head trainer Nik Wald already parted ways midseason, but it’s clear the issue goes far beyond one trainer. The Timbers are, simply put, due for a comprehensive evaluation of the medical and sport-science programs serving the first team.

Don’t expect this to be a public process. It’s overwhelmingly likely this process will take place (and is likely already taking place) behind the scenes in the bowels of Providence Park. But don’t mistake the private nature of these sorts of changes for a lack of importance.

Training Facility Renovation

On Timbers in 30 last week, club owner and president Merritt Paulson indicated Providence Park wasn’t the only club facility undergoing a facelift this offseason, as the Timbers training facility is also going undergoing a major renovation this winter. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s Paulson’s Timbers in 30 spot, all of which is worth a watch:

The tentacles of an upgrade of the training facility reach into virtually every aspect on the Timbers side of the club from better training, dining, and recreation spaces for the first team, to more offices for club operations, and expanded facilities for the academy. As Paulson points out, the Timbers training facility — once among the better set ups in MLS — has quickly faded into among the more spartan set ups in the league. A revamp, in other words, is due.

Potential MLS Rule Changes and TAM Infusion

Paul Tenorio at FourFourTwo has been busy working the MLS HQ beat, and has indicated there could be two major developments out of New York City this offseason.

First, last week Tenorio reported MLS is considering giving teams added incentive to sell players by, among other things, raising the limit on general allocation money that a team can derive from the proceeds of transferring a player outside MLS. As to the Timbers, this is significant as it relates to Darlington Nagbe, for whom the Timbers have received reasonable offers in the past. Because Nagbe has not been a designated player, however, any transfer would leave the Timbers with limited salary-cap resources to replace him due to the $650,000 cap on allocation money that the Timbers could draw from the transfer fee. If that limit increases substantially, the Timbers’ reluctance to move Nagbe could wane considerably if another offer comes their way.

Second, on Monday Tenorio reported MLS is considering giving teams the option of obtaining up to $2 million in targeted allocation money this winter. Such a TAM infusion, if it comes to pass, would be a game-changing development for the Timbers this year with potential ramifications at multiple positions including centerback, defensive midfield, goalkeeper, and fullback. What currently looks like an offseason in which the Timbers will have to carefully prioritize their offseason acquisitions could turn into a much broader overhaul of the Timbers’ defense.

Much of this (and, it appears, the next two expansion cities) will be decided when MLS owners meet a week after MLS Cup. Watch closely.

Viability of Portland State Football

It’s well-known that Vikings football is the nail in the coffin for a grass surface at Providence Park. Yes, the field has other challenges like drainage for a field below the water table and limited sunlight due to the west- and soon-to-be east-side grandstands. But those are challenges that can be overcome. The Vikings, and the wear that a football team causes for a grass surface — to say nothing of a grass surface with the aforementioned inherent challenges — in the fall, is the reason Providence Park doesn’t have a grass surface.

By every metric the Vikings are a failing program. In the last decade the Vikings are 33-67 and, far more importantly, have seen attendance fall through the floor. The last time Portland State averaged more than 10,000 fans was 2007. The Vikings drew 4,126 on average in 2017, which was less than one-quarter of the Portland Thorns average home draw. Portland State’s 20,678 total attendance over five games would have been the Timbers’ least-attended single game of the regular season. And all this is in spite of Providence Park undergoing a 2011 renovation that significantly improved the stadium for purposes of Portland State football.

All the while, the lack of a grass surface at Providence Park holds back what would be one of the premier soccer-specific stadia in North America. Post-expansion Providence Park would be a near-annual stop for at least one of the U.S. Women’s or Men’s National Team, and would be a frontrunner to host World Cup qualifiers and other major competitions.

Vikings football has now been through multiple reboots since the glory days of the late-1980s and early-1990s, with turnarounds on each horizon that turned out to be mirages. We’re at the point, therefore, where Portland State has to consider putting the program to the sword and the City has to consider the significant opportunity cost involved in keeping the Vikings in a facility that is far beyond Portland State’s proven capacity to utilize.