AFTER A MONTH-LONG season-starting roadie, the Portland Timbers return home in glorious fashion for their Major League Soccer (MLS) home debut on Thursday, April 14, against the Chicago Fire. With just two goals in three MLS matches, they may not return as conquering heroes, but that'll hardly matter to fans who've clamored for this moment since MLS awarded Portland a franchise in March 2009. The atmosphere around the Timbers' home pitch is sure to be electric, and to prepare you for the shock of it all, here are 26 facts to know—conveniently presented in alphabetical order:
A—Army, as in Timbers Army: As in the most ravenous, infamous fans in MLS. The "TA" takes themselves as seriously as they take the beautiful game, and regardless of what happens on the field, the team's 3,600-strong official supporters' group/political movement could very well be the biggest storyline of the season.
B—Big Leagues: Movin' on up to Major League Soccer makes the Timbers Portland's second big-league professional franchise, with the Blazers looming largest in the city's sports-media landscape.
C—Cascadia Cup: Beating rivals Seattle and Vancouver, BC (who join Portland in MLS this season) is at the top of most Timbers fans' priority list, no matter what happens during the rest of the schedule. The series involving the Northwest teams is sure to draw the biggest, rowdiest crowds at each stadium.
D—Darlington "Diesel" Nagbe: The Timbers' top pick in the MLS SuperDraft (second overall) is a Liberia-born former University of Akron star. He could be the most talented player to ever don a Timbers jersey. Sidelined by a sports hernia at the start of the season, Nagbe should challenge for a starting spot at midfield.
E—Expansion Team: The Timbers prefer not to be labeled as such, seeing as their history goes back to 1975. Call them a "promoted team," if you know what's good for you.
F—Football: Portland may be known as "Soccer City, USA," but Timbers coach John Spencer makes a point of calling the beautiful game "football"—like nature intended.
G—Gleeson, Jake: The 20-year-old keeper and original third-stringer earned a clean sheet in his first start against Chivas and became an instant fan favorite for his aggressive style. If he keeps it up, Glisan Street may call for a spellcheck.
H—Horstache: The nickname for defender David Horst's mustache, this immaculate conception of burly facial hair has its own Twitter account (@Horstache) with hundreds of followers.
I—International: Of the 28 players on the Timbers roster, 11 were born outside of these United States. So if you happen to spot flags from Ghana, Gambia, New Zealand, England, Mexico, Haiti, Scotland, Liberia, Colombia, Uganda, or Costa Rica in the stands this season, you'll know why.
J—Jim, Timber: Portland's original chainsaw-wielding mascot, Timber Jim Serrill gained his reputation as soccer's best high-wire act by climbing snags, beating drums, doing forward handsprings, and leading the TA in cheers from 1971-1978 and 2001-2008. Current mascot Timber Joey now carries the legacy of "cutting the round" after each Portland goal.
K—Kenny Cooper: The big, strapping Texan and former MLS All-Star was arguably the team's biggest offseason signing and a smart bet to lead the Timbers in goals this year.
L—Lack of Logo Love: Talk about pushback. The initial version of the Timbers' MLS crest was panned by fans (who called it "cartoonish") and booed at an unveiling ceremony during the World Cup. Slight tweaks were made, and two weeks later, a new new logo was unveiled to less fanfare, but more approval.
M—Marketing: From giant attention-grabbing billboards to painted airplanes, the Timbers ran their marketing campaign under the slogan "You can't fake this" all offseason—a campaign lauded in MLS circles for its fan-centered authenticity.
N—"No Pity in the Rose City": Has a nice ring to it, right?
O—Offside: Don't be offside!
P—Pane, as in, House of Pane: The unofficial nickname for Jeld-Wen Field, which underwent a $31 million renovation to make it Major League ready.
Q—Quote of the Offseason: Courtesy of Timbers owner Merritt Paulson: "You're not going to see marching bands and confetti here. It's more do-it-yourself here... you don't want to say Seattle is manufactured because that's disingenuous. It's just a different vibe here. I think it's going to be a little bit louder and more intense."
R—Rose City Red: The Timbers alternate road jerseys are neither green nor yellow (the team's official colors), but they are completely awesome.
S—Sounders: The assholes from Seattle are better known as "Flounders." Hate them with a passion. Starting yesterday.
T—Tickets: Have yours? Season-ticket sales roared past 12,000 and less than 500 seats remain for each home game.
U—US Open Cup: The Timbers won their first official match under the MLS badge during a play-in game against Chivas USA at University of Portland's Merlo Field. They'll take on San Jose in the next round, date TBD.
V—Victories: How many will the Timbers manage this season? Well, last year's MLS expansion team, the Philadelphia Union, won eight games and managed 31 points, a reasonable goal for Portland to chase.
W—Wilkinson, Gavin: The former Timbers player (2001-2006), head coach, and current technical director has a fiery personality to match his red locks. Known as a tough defender and fierce leader for the New Zealand national team during his playing days, he's spent the last 15 months jet-setting around the globe and building the current roster.
X—X Factor: Since nobody on the team plays the xylophone or has X-ray vision (that I know of), the trend that will make or break the Timbers season will be cohesion. The sooner this team gets comfortable with each other on the pitch, the sooner they'll find success.
Y—"You Are My Sunshine": A favorite tune of the Timbers Army sung in honor of Timber Jim's late daughter, Hannah, and often accompanied by hundreds of sunflowers being held to the heavens.
Z—Zizzo, Sal: The oft-injured midfielder may very well be the Timbers' Greg Oden, which is to say he's tremendously talented but typically sidelined. Signed by Portland in February, the 24-year-old former UCLA star could be Portland's breakout performer this season if he can stay on the pitch.
Who: Portland Timbers
What: Opening homestand vs. Chicago Fire (Thurs April 14, 8 pm) and FC Dallas (Sun April 17, 3 pm) Where: Jeld-Wen Field, 1844 SW Morrison Why: Portland's very own MLS team takes to its freshly renovated home pitch for the first time. How: The home opener is sold out, and only "obstructed-view" seats remain for Sunday's match. Visit portlandtimbers.com/schedule for ticket info. Also read Brian Gjurgevich's weekly Timbers updates and game recaps on Blogtown