Portland Timbers in Talks with AIK and Hammarby Over 2013 Pre-Season
Though the tournament is not yet complete, the success of the Portland Timbers’ 2012 pre-season tournament is undeniable. Though the non-Timbers games have not been as heavily attended, the two Portland matches to this point have drawn 16,118 and 15,195, respectively. With conference rivals in San Jose Earthquakes and Chivas USA in town, Portland has been able to play matches against teams it will play three times in the regular season. That preparation will no doubt be useful in learning how they stack up as the 2012 season looms. Yet it is the appearance of AIK that gives the tournament a different feel. The appeal of a European club, and one with which the Timbers are now aligned, has helped drive interest both for local fans and onlookers around the league.
According to Timbers Technical Director Gavin Wilkinson, other MLS clubs have already communicated a desire to possibly be involved in another tournament in future pre-seasons. That interest domestically and the continuing growth of the relationship between Portland and AIK has Wilkinson planning toward a similar arrangement in 2013 and perhaps beyond. “I’d like it to become a yearly event, to be honest. We’re bringing these teams in, we’re treating them well and we’re treating each game with great importance. I think the crowd drives the intensity of the game, it drives the expectation of it. I think AIK will agree to come back,” Wilkinson said in his office on Thursday.
The Timbers’ hopes are for a new version that would include AIK, provided they agree to return, a different MLS club and a second foreign club. In the case of 2013, Wilkinson has at least one club in mind to drive interest: “I’ve already spoken to Hammarby, with Gregg Berhalter. There’s an expressed interest from him that he wants to be part of this next year.” That Hammarby might be inclined to spend part of its pre-season in the United States would not be particularly surprising, given the appointment of Berhalter, the former US international and LA Galaxy defender. He has already brought an American influence to the Bajen in signing Baggio Husidić from Chicago Fire and plucking Billy Schuler from the collegiate ranks. The club is partially-owned (49%, the maximum allowed by outside investors) by the Anschultz Entertainment Group (AEG), the same group that owns both LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo in MLS. Hammarby visited the United States as recently as 2009 with a series of matches in California while other Swedish clubs, including BK Häcken and Malmö, spent time in Florida this February.
When contacted for comment, a spokesman for Hammarby said the club are focused on the upcoming 2012 season and that decisions on the next pre-season are usually finalized after the summer.
From AIK’s side, though no announcements have been made to indicate they will return, the sense from staff and players is that they have enjoyed being in Portland and see it as a valuable part of their own pre-season preparations. Said AIK Chefscout Björn Wesström, “For us to do this, it’s a good experience. We agreed there could be some kind of test on how things work. So far everything has gone smoothly. It’s very good.” Icelandic midfielder Helgi Daníelsson agrees: “It’s great accommodations and training facilities. Everything is top class here. I think that’s why teams like to go here. I think for us being here, we’ll probably come again.”
Regardless of the opponent, Portland have hit on a concept that works well for the Timbers and for its opponents. Again, Wilkinson: “We’ve looked at it from the business side and from the competitive side and both of them have come together. I think we’ve planned it very well and it’s got great value for season ticket holders.”
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