The Timbers are not good, a point which at this time is inarguable. There are 19 teams in the MLS and only 2 have fewer points, 1 has a worse goal differential, and none have been as inept as Portland on the road. They’ve fired their coach, hired a relative unknown, and have completely changed philosophies in the wake of a nightmarish 2012 campaign.
And their owner appears fed up.
Twitter can be a beautiful thing. Players can interact with the fans, fans can interact with each other, and owners … well … they can rebuff personal attacks, chastise unruly fanatics, and get medieval on ex-national team members/media members/well-known antagonists popularly known for critiquing coaching and player personnel moves of teams they know little about. And that’s what Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has been doing … a lot. Since the unraveling of the season best forgotten, the one-time toast of Portland’s sports-scene-town has been on a slow burn towards a Chernobyl-esque meltdown. Beginning with a late game collapse versus Salt Lake, moving to unprecedented levels following a home defeat to a Cal FC team made-up of part-time fútballers, and culminating with ongoing criticism from fans and contemporaries in, as well as out of the “MLS World,” Mr. Paulson seems lately to be operating under a very short fuse.
One needn’t be Tommy Smyth (with a Y!!!!) to recognize the disarray this franchise is currently in. What started last season as the textbook definition of an expansion franchise launch has deteriorated to a place normally reserved for franchise misfits the likes of the modern-day Raiders, pre-2011 Clippers, and Major League’s Cleveland Indians. Only this organization has no championships, lacks cross-town competition, and appears to have an owner interested in winning opposed to purposely running it into the ground. And let’s be clear about that; no one is more passionate about winning than Merritt Paulson. But wanting to win and knowing how to do so, are two entirely different things.
I’m not an expert regarding the construction of an award winning franchise, nor do I play one on the radio, but recent developments have me questioning whether Merritt’s passion is working in his favor, or if he’s potentially getting in the way?
I enjoyed hearing from him following the Cal FC loss and appreciated his ownership of the issues regarding the team’s success (or lack thereof), but since head coach John Spencer’s dismissal a couple of months ago, Paulson’s been spewing more lava than a hyperactive volcano. Twitter has become his hammer and those questioning his tactics are the nail. And no one is exempt. If you’ve got a bone to pick with the Timbers owner, I assure you he’s got one to pick with you. He’ll defend his team, its personnel and his tactics regarding it, against any or all comers.
Following last month’s hiring of Akron’s Caleb Porter, former U.S. National Team member and current interim head coach for the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks Eric Wynalda, crushed Merritt Paulson via Twitter with the following:
“Is it just me or does Caleb Porter resemble Lane Kiffin at USC? Lotta similarities there. Or maybe Merritt Paulson reminds me of Al Davis.”
Paulson quickly responded with the following:
“Should I be worried that Eric Wynalda is obsessed with me? I have had one stalker ex-girlfriend but Eric is crazier than her.”
“I feel dirty even dignifying the guy. That’s it from me Eric. Tweet away and enjoy the attention.”
Wynalda has garnered attention in recent years for his strong opinions regarding the U.S. National Team, as well as the MLS. He also – coincidently – skippered the same Cal FC team that came into Jeld-Wen Field earlier this season and embarrassingly defeated Paulson’s Timbers in the 3rd round of the U.S. Open Cup. He’s widely known as an antagonist by those involved in the game, and often appears agenda-driven based on his childish remarks. But the fact remains; should the owner of a professional sports franchise participate in such games? And if not, where’s the line drawn between acceptable interaction and no-win-situations?
Since former Coach Spencer’s firing nearly 2 months ago, Paulson’s gone to bat for his General Manager and Interim Head Coach Gavin Wilkinson in the midst of a Twitter barrage aimed at Wilkinson’s alleged ineptitude. He answered his critics with the following tweets:
“Gavin hasn’t been perfect. He – like all of us – has made some mistakes. I’d like to see some perspective.”
“When we win a cup I hope the same morons starting this movement line up to kiss Gavin’s ass.”
“What I see is a whole bunch of idiots embarrassing themselves. GW’s not going anywhere.”
Whoa big guy! Attacking an analyst and rival coach in defense of the organization is one thing, but directing your frustration at the very people who support your team via name calling and insensitive directives…might be flirting with immaturity. This isn’t The Oustiders, Westside Story, or Grease, you won’t find Greasers or Soc’s, there are no Jets or Sharks, and thankfully the T-Birds are nowhere to be found. So be gone with your Twitter-Stiletto Mr. Paulson, and heed the advice of one of our golden rules; If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. At least when it comes to your fans.
The Timbers are in disarray and in desperate need of leadership, but playing “Fight Club” with your critics and unruly fans is not the recipe for this year’s disaster. The owner of the team needs to lead by example, and while I respect the passion behind Merritt Paulson’s defense of he and his, there are better ways to back your franchise and more professional ways to attack your critics.
Is Merritt Paulson a great owner? I’d say yet to be determined. Is he a loose cannon? Possibly. But what I can say for certain is that he means well, his heart’s in the right place and he desperately wants to win. All characteristics of a great owner, just one that appears fed up.