Soccer

Timbers star makes grass-roots pitch at Go Fourth

2014-07-02T20:30:00Z 2014-07-03T17:47:53Z Timbers star makes grass-roots pitch at Go Fourth Longview Daily News

World Cup hysteria swept the United States once more.

Game watches packed stadiums, lunch breaks came with contingency plans for extra time and face-paint purchases surged throughout the country.

Even after the US national team bowed out of the competition with a 2-1 loss in extra time to Belgium on Tuesday, commentators anointed it a turning point for the sport in the States.

What that means for Major League Soccer remains to be seen.

“You can connect the two a little bit,” Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson said, “but it’s not as much as you’d think.”

The quadrennial bursts of soccer enthusiasm have proved fleeting after past World Cups.

Ties like the ones Johnson was building Wednesday at the Dick Hannah Dealership tent at Lake Sacajawea last longer.

The Timbers captain signed autographs, posed for group pictures and played pick-up games with a small but enthusiastic group of local players, most of whom barely came up to his hip.

“We try to get out into the community as much as possible,” Johnson said. “... It’s definitely in the culture of the (Timbers) to get out into the community and do things like this and see good people.

“I’m fortunate to be part of a club that believes in that.”

The season hasn’t been an easy one for Johnson and the Timbers.

Portland reached the Western Conference finals last season under first-year head coach Caleb Porter. With the bulk of the key contributors coming back, even more was expected of the encore.

Instead, the Timbers are in seventh place in the West and out of its five playoff spots at the halfway point of the campaign.

Big-picture signs have been more encouraging.

“This sport was played in NFL stadiums with 10,000 in the lower bowl with most of the tickets given away,” said Johnson, who began his career with the Chicago Fire in 2005. “Now, it’s a real club feel in each city, a community feel. Everyone’s got their own stadium. It’s a lot more professional.

“I think that makes the fans and communities a lot more supportive of their own soccer team instead of a soccer team playing in Soldier Field on a Sunday afternoon because the Bears are out of season.”

Portland has sold out every MLS game since the franchise’s league entry in 2009. Throughout MLS, numbers from attendance figures to television ratings have been on a steady, gradual rise.

“I think we sensed the shift even before the World Cup,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to translate that, because it’s such an awesome event, to get those people to follow MLS. That’ll come over time.

“It starts with kids being interested in an early age, being able to look up to people on their team.”

Matt Pentz covers prep sports for The Daily News. ​Reach him at 360-577-2527 or mpentz@tdn.com.

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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