As the Chainsaw Turns
GAVIN WILKINSON couldn't help but clarify his position.
Following the Timbers' 0-1 loss to Chivas USA on July 28, the man tasked with righting Portland's ship was asked what he, as head coach, thought about the multitude of missed opportunities that led to the club's fifth straight Major League Soccer loss. Before the reporter finished the question, however, Wilkinson interrupted.
"Interim," he said.
As in "interim head coach." Or "temporary caretaker." Or, perhaps more accurately, "reluctant leader."
Wilkinson clearly isn't the Timbers' long-term solution. When John Spencer was dismissed on July 9, owner Merritt Paulson made it clear that the search for a new gaffer would take place outside of the organization. Wilkinson would usher the team through the rest of the season, Paulson said, and moving his general manager down to the pitch would allow Wilkinson an even closer look at the team he assembled.
"When Merritt [Paulson] put me into this position, he said, 'Start to try to find out more about the group,'" Wilkinson said. "For us, it's a matter of wrapping your arm around them and trying to get them to keep going in the right direction."
But as the Timbers falter—they're 0-4 in MLS play under Wilkinson while being outscored 12-3—some fans insist Paulson didn't go far enough in firing Spencer. Wilkinson's relationship with some supporters has cooled since, as a first-year minor league coach, he suggested the Timbers Army tone down its language to make matches more attractive to families and younger fans. And now that he's stepped into the spotlight previously occupied by the fiery Spencer, Wilkinson faces scrutiny for both his tactics and talk, particularly after the team faceplanted to a 5-0 defeat at Dallas on July 21 and Wilkinson said he thought the Timbers "quit."
These days, with the team he helped build in the MLS basement, already edgy Portland fans are chanting foul about a Wilkinson reign—however long. A Twitter hashtag calling for his head (#GWOUT) has become a not-so-subtle rallying cry for his detractors, and after the Chivas USA loss on July 28, Wilkinson was peppered with boos from the North End as he walked off the pitch.
"They shouldn't be happy—we're losing," Wilkinson said. "What [the fans] don't see is that I care just as much as them. There's a reason I'm working as hard as I am to try and fix it: I value them very, very highly."
The feeling may not be completely mutual, but if Portland can find a way to win the coveted Cascadia Cup—a fan-created competition between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver that's lauded by supporters and currently led by the Timbers—all the criticism Wilkinson faces may be described the same way as his current post: interim.