Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is clearly always thinking about two of the elements that could further enhance the Timbers brand: a real grass field and just a little more capacity for a great ground that does fall on the “limited capacity” side.
Trouble is, both are tricky, and for completely different reasons.
Speaking on the Soccer Today radio show / podcast (disclosure, a show I host along with Marc Stein), Paulson told me plans are still being explored of adding a terrace to Jeld-Wen’s North End. That would add to the 22,000-seat capacity (always packed) by several thousand.
Paulson was quite cautious in his phrasing of possibly adding natural grass (rather than the artificial turf), understanding how badly some supporters would love to see this major change. He specifically said that he doesn’t want to mislead folks on this one, but did put the chances of grass at Jeld-Wen within the next few years at “50-50.”
Even considering that Portland’s brand of faux field is the best in MLS, and even understanding that chances of real grass bliss beneath the feet are no better than 50-50, that’s still something to sit up and take notice of.
Artificial lighting could answer some of the concerns; a sunken bowl means Portland would be faced with growth issues that have dogged a few grass fields in MLS and elsewhere in the world.
But he biggest impediment, he said, are the Portland State University football games, which take place right around the same time natural grass stops growing (in the fall, of course). Paulson pointed out that his artificial turf field plays more true than some MLS grass fields once fall arrives and big American football players, plus the seasonal growth cycles, begin exacting a toll.
“Something will have to change” he said before the Portland Timbers could consider the other issue of a grass field: the shared arrangement with PSU.
Paulson had plenty to say in the wide-ranging interview, including thoughts on MLS expansion, on scheduling – and a guarded look back at the Clint Dempsey situation.