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What's in a name?

Sports nicknames are both celebrated and cause celebre in America.

Mike Golub, business president for Portland's Timbers and Thorns soccer franchises, spoke about his organization's relationship with its fandom Monday at the monthly Chamber Forum.

It's a love affair germinated from seeds sewn two generations ago when the original Portland Timbers were part of the North American Soccer League, which folded in 1984.

Golub now is part of a flourishing Major League Soccer organization where goals are celebrated with chainsaws ripping into logs. He attended Darmouth as an undergrad, where the mascot morphed from Indians to Big Green, and went on to graduate school at Stanford, where Indians were discarded for the Cardinal.

"In this world where names like Redskins and Indians are coming under scrutiny, why not Timbers?" Golub asked, rephrasing an audience question at the Rogue Valley Country Club in Medford. "We thought about it a lot, and we concluded right away that not perpetuating the Timbers name and all the history that came with it was the wrong decision. There was so much history, so much legacy and so much positive association with that, we would have been remiss not to continue with that."

Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has assuaged any environmentalist angst with philanthropic efforts, Golub said.

"The environment is his biggest cause," Golub said, noting the franchise plants a tree with Friends of Trees for every goal. "We've never had any real push back, because I think people understand the history, and I think they view us as a company that does care about the environment."

Portland began playing in the MLS in 2011, winning the MLS Cup in 2015. A National Women's Soccer League was awarded to the Portland Thorns FC in 2012 and they commenced play in 2013. The Thorns have the largest regular-season attendance of any women's professional sport franchise.

Naming convention for soccer teams around the world tend to be simple add-ons, such as Lady Arsenal or Chelsea Women, Golub said.

"We wanted to eschew that, we wanted the team to have its own identity," he said. "We quickly dismissed the idea of calling them the Lady Timbers, that would've been a poor decision."

While brainstorming for a unique identity, a junior member of the organization suggested Thorns.

"There are no other Thorns around, and maybe there's a reason for that," Golub said. "We wanted something indigenous and endemic to our region, and something related to the family. It's strong, it's sharp and hasn't had much push back."

Professional soccer has a different approach to acquiring young talent than Major League Baseball, the National Football League or National Basketball Association.

The Rogue Valley Timbers are one of six affiliate clubs around the state along with clubs in Idaho and Washington. The organization now runs a Timbers and Thorns residence academy for the best age-group players in the region.

"They go to school, live in a home we supervise and hone their skills," he said.

Defender Marco Farfan, an 18-year-old Central Catholic senior in Portland, became the youngest player to start for the franchise in the Timber's 1-0 win over Los Angeles Sunday.

"He came through our academy," Golub said. "It is different than other sports. (NBA star) Kevin Love grew up in Lake Oswego, but the Trail Blazers had as good a chance of getting him on their team as any of the other NBA teams. In soccer, if we work with a young boy or girl, we will actually have rights to them. Even if they go to college, they will be affiliated with us in the future. It's an interesting model that gives us incentive to invest in soccer at every level."

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Mike Golub