The Portland Timbers have been plagued by an unusual number of injuries over the last two seasons.
Portland failed to overcome mounting injuries in 2016 as it finished in seventh place in the Western Conference standings and missed playoffs by one point. The Timbers then managed to start their top lineup just three times in 2017 due to injuries, but persevered to earn the top spot in the West. Still, Portland's season was cut short after it suffered six key injuries in the span of two weeks and fell to the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference semifinals.
The ongoing injury issues have prompted the Timbers to take a hard look at their sports science and sports medicine departments this offseason and the club will be making sweeping changes in both areas.
"I think we have to take our fair share of responsibility," Timbers President of Soccer and General Manager Gavin Wilkinson said. "With that, there was a careful review done in the whole sports science and sports medicine departments. That's not targeting two departments, it's just relative to the injuries that we suffered. There have been a lot of discussions and, like I said, a careful review. There will be changes made."
Portland plans to hire a new head athletic trainer ahead of next season. Former Timbers Head Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Medicine Nik Wald resigned in July and was replaced for the rest of 2017 by then-T2 Head Athletic Trainer Taichi Kitagawa.
The Timbers have already identified several potential candidates for the head athletic trainer job.
"I grew up on country music. It was the first music I sang, listened to and wrote as a child, and I'm especially stoked to be collaborating with Old Crow Medicine Show," says Kesha. "I've always admired early country artists such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Gram Parsons, and Loretta Lynn, and the outlaw attitude of some of those early country artists who helped create rock and roll. To me, Old Crow Medicine Show epitomizes that attitude and wildness while also being amazing songwriters and performers."
The Timbers will also be adding a physical therapist to their staff for the first time. While players have had access to a physical therapist in the past, Portland has never had a physical therapist on its staff.
"We're looking to bring in a different head athletic trainer," Wilkinson said. "We're looking to bring in a proven, experienced physical therapist... We're also looking to create more seamless staffing relative to the doctors and the physical therapist and the folks on the performance side with the sports science."
The changes come following a season where the Timbers not only dealt with a significant number of injuries, but struggled to get injured players back on the field in a timely fashion.
Timbers captain Liam Ridgewell missed 19 games due to multiple injuries in 2017. And he played just 89 minutes during a 14-game span from June to September after injuring and then re-injuring his quad -- an issue that first prompted the Timbers to start considering changes to their sports science and sports medicine programs.
Timbers forward Fanendo Adi missed the last 10 games of the regular season and both playoff games with a lingering hamstring injury. Adi didn't start to make significant progress in his return from injury until October when the club sent him to a specialist in Los Angeles.
While every club in MLS has to confront injuries throughout the long season, Portland's injury problems have clearly been unusual.
Heading into next season, Wilkinson said he is hopeful that the changes to the sports medicine and sports science departments will help the club stay healthier throughout the long year. But he also said that it will continue to be a "work in progress."
"I think with greater care of the athletes integrated with the on-field side of it from the sports performance part, I think we should start to reap the rewards and have a healthier organization and more of our key players available for more of the season," Wilkinson said.
"Old Crow is so excited to be working with Kesha on this project," says band member Ketch Secor. "Through our nearly 20 years of performing together our band has enjoyed many different kinds of musical collaborations, but this will be our first time working together with a pop star. We love Kesha's style and we're all looking forward to what we'll come up with together."