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September 13, 2012 at 2:42 PM

Timbers GM/interim coach Gavin Wilkinson on the rivalry, the Cascadia Cup and more

Portland Timbers Logo.jpgLocal reporters got the chance to speak with Portland Timbers general manager/interim coach/technical director Gavin Wilkinson on a conference call Thursday afternoon. He covered all sorts of topics from the rivalry with the Sounders, to the Cascadia Cup, to Saturday’s network broadcast on NBC, to his relationship with the Timbers Army, to Roger Levesque and more.

Here is the transcript:

* * *

(Opening statement…) “Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy day to ask questions. It’s been a great week’s training. The Colorado result was something that we got over fairly quickly and I think the players have worked extremely hard and are focused on Seattle. They know what’s at hand. They know the atmosphere is going to be incredible, they know the game itself is going to be an exciting one for fans, and they know what is at stake for us.”

(Can you remember a time either as a player, coach or fan that you’ve wanted to win a game more?) “No. You’ve summed it up quite well, so thank you. It’s an important game. You look at the two organizations, and Seattle are a class organization with class people and doing well on the field. For us, there’s no doubt that we have class fans, it’s a class organization, and we need to repay them a little bit. So for us the Cascadia Cup in general is very, very important, and this game itself is extremely, extremely important for the players, myself and everybody involved.”

(What does it mean to you and the franchise to have the league’s first network broadcast in four years in Portland?) “I think it’s a reflection, first of all, of the league and I think the rivalry itself. I think Seattle and Portland attract a lot of interest. Both have tremendous fan bases, and the atmosphere in Portland is second to none. I think it captures the rivalry. I think it captures the best fans in the league. For me, it’s a very, very exciting game. It’s one that Seattle can climb to the top of the table if they win and, for us, we can win the Cascadia Cup. I think it’s great timing. For me and the organization, it means a lot that the business side of the organization is being rewarded for a lot of hard work.”

(How does this game differ from the first meeting? It seems like there’s been a lot of change.) “I think it’s going to be just as interesting. I think when you came into the first game, there were a lot of unknowns about the two organizations coming into that game — how they would approach it, what they would do. I think it adds to the level of excitement. I think that is going to be there again. For us, it’s going to be a very competitive game. I think when you come into a rivalry situation, especially between Portland and Seattle, you can throw the records out the window, and the placing and the standings in the league out the window. But they’ve had a lot of changes, they’ve made a few additions, they’ve changed things there and are on a high right now. For us, we’ve made one or two changes and we’ve had a big coaching change. We’ve appointed our coach, so there are a few things to look forward to for us as an organization. But I think it’s going to add to the excitement. I think coming in and we won the first game at home — this is the second game in Portland — and our expectations at home are extremely high. But we understand that Seattle are a very talented team that have made some good moves and good acquisitions and are doing very well in the league right now. I’m sure that’s going to add to the excitement.”

(How are things different after the Caleb Porter announcement?) “I think everyone’s focused on the now, so there’s not been a lot of change. I think the players understand who they’re going to be answering to next season and it gives them a little bit of direction, but right now they understand what’s at stake. So with Caleb Porter, I’m sure some of the players are doing a little bit more homework; they’re probably following Caleb just as much as he’s following them. But for an organization, they know what the expectations are in this game, they know what the expectations are moving forward and for the players on hand, the players that are doing well, the players that are going to be here next year, I’m sure they feel very, very excited about the direction and the appointment of Caleb Porter. It also adds to the level of accountability in performances and responsibilities of the players within each and every game. It’s nice to have a head coach appointed. It’s nice to know that we have got somebody else looking at the performances, judging the players and making decisions that are relevant to next season. I’m sure that holds players a little bit more accountable in their own minds.”

(How will this one be different for you on the bench?) “I’m the interim head coach and it’s something I understand. I actually look forward to getting back to my general manager position and looking forward to continuing to help this organization build and grow. So for me it’s a chance where, yes, it’s going to be the last game I ever coach against Seattle at home and want to do well. Personally I want the players to do well. I want the players to do well for the right reasons, for themselves and for the organization and the fans in general. For me, it’s no different. The staff in general and myself have been working extremely, extremely hard. We’ve had some positives and we’ve had some negatives and we’re looking forward to a positive.”

(How much focus has there been on the Cascadia Cup and your first chance to win it with all three teams involved?) “For us, it’s very, very important. The chance for the playoffs for us is extremely remote and this is a something that we can try and wrap our arms around. It’s also a chance for bragging rights in the Northwest. The Cascadia Cup is something that is a fan-based competition that also means an awful lot to the organization and the players. I have to go back to the fact that we do have tremendous fans and the Timbers Army is one of the best supporters’ groups in the country. I think they deserve a lot of recognition and this is one way to give them the recognition I think they deserve in the amount of the support they give this team in trying times and good times. It means an awful lot. For that to happen to this organization, it’s just another box we can tick off to say, ‘Yes we’ve done that. Now we can move forward.’ I’m sure everyone in the Northwest understands the importance of this competition. Everybody outside of the Northwest will get to see a glimpse of it very soon.”

(So you talk a lot about it with the players?) “From the start of the season. Last season. The Cascadia Cup is second on the list behind MLS Cup, and making the playoffs is something that is probably out of reach right now and the Cascadia Cup will hopefully be a little bit of a positive going into the end of this season. But it’s something we need to remain competitive with and we need to get a good result against Seattle. It’s something that we do speak to the players an awful lot about. The players also understand it because we have a very active fan base and the players are very involved in the community, so they can feel it and sense it.”

(Would winning Cascadia Cup help in repairing what’s been a difficult relationship with Timbers Army this season?) “When you talk about the relationship, it’s easy to point the finger at person. The one thing about that is I understand that they’re extremely passionate and they care an awful lot, and that’s no different than the way I feel. For them, I can understand their sense of frustration, I share it, but as far as relationships, there are a lot of people within the Timbers Army that I have tremendous relationships with, that I speak to on a regular basis and that I think do tremendous things in the community — and we try to support that. The Timbers Army deserves an awful lot of recognition for what they do, the level of support, the passion that they show on the regular basis, so I don’t think that relationship is sour in any way from my standpoint. To repay them with a Cascadia Cup would be tremendous, and that’s not for me personally, it’s for them. I hope that they know how hard we work and how much they mean to us and it’s a chance, like I said, for us to repay them for their belief in the organization, for the passion that they show on a regular basis, and they are a tremendous group of fans.”

(Do you have a sense for how Portland’s animosity for Roger Levesque started heading into the first rivalry game without him?) “Perception is everything. Just for me, I can understand both sides. Roger Levesque, for those that know him, and you’ve got the Scot Thompson’s in the world, the Lee Morrison’s, who think he’s just a class person and a class act, and I’m no different with that. But Roger Levesque on the field is a competitive individual. When you support your home team, you can look at it in several different ways. For Roger Levesque, the perception that is shared by the fans is that he disrespected them and that he disrespected one of our players, and with our fans being as passionate as what they are, they shared in that and they took offense to it, and rightfully so in many ways. But there was a time when he put on a Timbers jersey and helped us out of a difficult situation and played a game for us. He is a classy individual; he’s no longer involved in this game, so his name can’t come back to haunt us right now, but he’s a decent person and for our fan base, I absolutely love what they do and how they treat it. The truth is probably somewhere in between.”

(Have you had any discussions as to how the Cascadia Cup trophy might change hands this weekend?) “I’ve not been involved in those. I’ve got enough on my plate. I think the fans and the front office will take care of it. In the past it’s been well-orchestrated. It depends how optimistic the fan bases are, from our side anyway. So none whatsoever, sorry, that I’m aware.”

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