O Captain, My Captain

In what has been a busy week for the Timbers, what with trades and new team name unveiling going on, Ives “Soccer By” Galarcep broke the rumour that the Timbers were looking to tie down the signing of Norwegian-born, US-capped midfielder Mikkel “Morning Star” Diskerud.

The move makes a lot of sense in the wake of the club’s manoeuvring up the Allocation Order, or the “Because Why Not Make Things More Complicated Than They Have To Be? Order”, as I believe it was originally called. They are now second only to Toronto and one would suspect that part of the trade with TFC included a gentleman’s agreement on the issue of the Canadian side passing should “Mix” leave Rosenborg, while one of the Toronto executives dropped a paint can and another swung round with a large plank of wood to smack him on the back of the head in the slapstick fashion that I imagine Toronto officials live every day.

With Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Eric Alexander and Darlington Nagbe all in consideration already for the, as most assume, three midfield spots that Porter will seek to fill (though I suspect Nagbe will be played further forward, perhaps as an inverted winger/forward), throwing Diskerud into the mix (pun count: 1) leaves one glaring question…

What about Captain Jack?

Jack Jewsbury leads the club into so many categories – goals, assists, minutes, starts, even shots. You name it, chances are Jewsbury holds the record (record/disk, eh, i’m claiming it – pun count: 2).

It should come as no surprise given that only Darlington Nagbe played more minutes than Jewsbury in 2012, but the passing matrix recently released on MLSSoccer.com, and analysed by the Stumptown Footy guys, also showed that no player had made more passes than Jewsbury. I don’t doubt a similar matrix for 2011 would give the same results.

You would think, adding all this up, that there would be much gnashing of teeth and grumbling of tweets over the increasingly distinct possibility that the club captain may be getting spun (spin, another record/disk one, pun count: 3) out of the frame, and yet there’s not.

2011 was certainly a banner year for Jack Jewsbury. Emerging from the doldrums of the Kansas City bench, he was installed as Timbers captain and quickly garnered a reputation as a set-piece specialist as he racked up assist after assist from dead balls.

He also ran Kenny Cooper close for top scorer, finding the net seven times – the same number of goals as he had in the four previous years with the Wizards.

To put Jack’s contribution in perspective, of the Timbers 40 MLS goals in 2011, Jewsbury was directly involved in 15 of them.

But even as 2011 wound to a close, following his inclusion in the MLS All-Star squad, there was a sense of diminishing returns from Jewsbury, and that seemed to be the case through much of 2012.

The numbers dropped – from 7 goals to 3 and 8 assists to 4 – as the team struggled. The blockbuster numbers of 2011 perhaps masked that, underneath it all, Jewsbury was, not to be rude (Diskerud, rude, okay, I’ll stop now, but still, pun count: 4), no more than a functional, workmanlike and honest midfielder, but not a game changer and as the club struggled, there was never the sense that Captain Jack was going to be the man to lead the team out of the dark.

There were moments of course, important goals at key times, but it never seem quite enough to justify the hefty salary and seemingly untouchable place in the team.

With the club seemingly intent on making big changes to how the club plays, his position within the team seems less and less secure. Indeed, John Spencer’s words before the 2012 season have never seemed so ominously prophetic for Jack.

Jack Jewsbury, as long as I’m here, will captain the Portland Timbers.

Say whatever you will about Spencer, but he wasn’t lying there!

The trade of Troy Perkins was a big indicator that the club would not shy away from making the Big Moves. Big enough that I felt the need to capitalise the words. No-one, regardless of how important you may be to the club, would be assured of a place on the roster, let alone in the starting XI.

Jewsbury turns 32 in 2013. He was paid a base salary of $180,000 in 2012. It’s hard to see who in MLS would take that burden on, regardless of how impressive the goals and assist numbers may look at a glance. Jewsbury chafed when he found starts hard to come by at Kansas City, so it’s doubtful he’d be all that happy at the thought of being a back-up where once he was a leader but he may have to suck it up under Porter’s regime. By all account, Jewsbury is a popular and highly-regarded guy in the dressing locker room, and if he were to make no secret of any upset or anger at such a demotion it would be interesting to read its effects on the squad’s harmony and ability to quick foster a sense of unity and togetherness that will be so crucial to Porter as he looks to mould almost a new team together in the full glare of fans and media.

Should it come to pass that Jewsbury time as a mainstay of the Timbers XI is over, then it raises the question of captainship.

The previous two popular suggestions for potential captains – Troy Perkins and Eric Brunner – have both left the club, so it’s a toss-up as to who could step in to the role if Jack were stripped of the armband. I threw the question out on twitter, and Horst seemed to be the most popular suggestion with other shouts for Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe also getting a couple of tweets.

Of course, there’s no reason why the captain must play, and there’s a theory that the guy with the armband on the field holds little sway and that a club leader is a club leader regardless of his official status, but the symbolism seems to matter to some. With Jewsbury being moved on looking unlikely, there’s still a chance we’ll have at least one more year of Captain Jack, but given the tear-it-down-build-it-again approach Porter and Wilkinson seem to be taking to much of the Timbers roster, a new man being given the armband may be the perfect symbol for a new era in Portland.

Where does Jack fit in in 2013, and who do you feel should replace Jewsbury as captain, if he even needs replaced at all?

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12 thoughts on “O Captain, My Captain

  1. There is always the potential that the fullback situation falls through and/or we plan on using him at RB, with Harrington on the left. In which case, the armband is still his more than likely.

    But, in the essence of discussion… I think one thing about the armband is it should go to a player who will consistently be on for the full 90 (honestly, from that “symbolic” standpoint, I’m always just a little irritated when a captain is subbed out). This leaves a few people out already. I would probably go with Chara, who I think has worn the armband once or twice before. If not him, I would say probably Horst or Nagbe. I just don’t know enough about W. Johnson and how he will fit into the mix to throw him into the mix (hahahaha. sorry. had to do it) just yet. And if we even would be willing to consider him, why not consider Diskerud even, provided we land him. But seriously, the guy has consistent Euro experience, played in Euro continental competitions, and has USMNT experience…

  2. JA ck tended to step up when the rest of the team was faltering and needed help. With more talent on the roster, this may become less necessary in the future. It’s going to be hard to justify including him in a XI of Johnson, Nagbe and Diskerud are in form. Sad for Jack, but he could be a victim of success on other fronts.

  3. I’d love to keep Jack on the roster as a sub in late games when we need defensive help. Chara is likely to miss a few games due to cards, so Jack can fill in there as well. Plus, he could fill in at RB, if needed.

    Chara, while he plays like a captain, doesn’t speak the language of a captain in MLS. I think Chara and Nagbe are just too quite to be the man. Horst seem like a logical choice.

    1. I’ve often wondered if Jack would be a good choice to fill that hole at right back. Permanently fill it. Anybody have thoughts on this?

      1. My memory of Jack’s time at right back was that he was quite solid and dependable, particularly when he was paired with a midfielder who tended to stray. He actually seemed to be the most reliable option compared to anyone else at that position. He’s not gonna bomb up and down the flanks, but I’m not sure if that’s necessary in Porter’s system. The Timbers could use a defender who doesn’t forget to cover people at inopportune times.

  4. I believe that having Porter in Portland will make Captain Jack more likely to continue on in Portland and on the field.

    (1) In the college game, senior leadership is even more important than in the pros. Porter has consistently praised his senior leaders and emphasized their influence on the team.

    (2) Precisely because there are so many changes, a strong strain of continuity will be required to avoid sending the Timbers back into expansion mode. I suspect that he will be seen more as a defensive midfielder, shrinking his operating range (and reducing the physical toll on his body) but he wil be there, in the middle. Porter says he loves chemistry. Chemistry is Jack’s thing. Porter wants to be loved by the fans–he stated that in his Akron interview–and so is much less likely to make the kinds of controversial moves we have seen this year. There would be a steep price to pay for throwing Captain Jack out.

    (3) Porter is all about passing. remember “Death by a thousand passes?” Yeah, I wasn’t all that impressed with the video either–let’s hope it wasn’t really representative. Point is, Porter would much rather field someone who can pass effectively than a player with superior athleticism who doesn’t connect well with the rest of the team. As you convincingly point out, passing is his forte’. Seems like a good fit for a Porter system, especially for a 2-4 year transition from full-time player to player/coach.

    (4) Portland is painfully young. One of the biggest mistakes of a rookie coach? Not integrating with the existing leadership of the team. Porter is going to be more creative about picking his mistakes.

    I believe that if Jewsbury were to be gone this year, he would have been gone about when Perkins was traded. I don’t know, but perhaps the Perkins move was about chemistry. But Porter is not going to come into the Rose City expecting a hero’s welcome (he knows the size of his own ego) and then trash the most popular player.

    I think Jewsbury is–apart from Nagbe–the safest bet on the squad. Porter is going to need Jewsbury and they both know it. There will be a lot of change, and professional athletes are really good at shaking their head “yes” then doing “not-yes”. Caleb Porter described as his favorite moment at Akron the scene after their National Championship, with players crying on the field. He has a framed image packed up and ready to hang in his new office.

    If there contine to be the PR catastrophes over this next year, then we can say that the front office is not going to let anyone be the coach. They just want a puppet. Porter may make some awful mistakes, but running head-on into the Timbers’ Fans will not be one of them.

    1. Excellent, thoughtful, and convincing comments. I hope you’re right in your high opinion of Porter’s sense of diplomacy. GW had none whatsoever. I hope Porter does.

    2. I just read Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments about the evolving role of Carlos Bocanegra on the Men’s National Team. I believe this is smart managing; I believe it is the perspective that Caleb Porter will bring to Portland. While Jack Jewsbury’s role will inevitably evolve, his leadership and the glue he brings to the club will become even more important. What Bocanegra has been to the USMNT, Jack Jewsbury has been to the Portland Timbers. http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/12/breakfast-with-united-states-coach-jurgen-klinsmann-todays-topic-carlos-bocanegras-evolving-role/

  5. I love Dave Horst’s energy, but I sometimes question his judgement. That doesn’t seem like a good fit with the armband. My guess is that perhaps one of the other senior players; either Ryan or Will Johnson? Or possibly Ricketts? With the degree of flux the team is in I’m sure we’ll end up being surprised by whoever end up with it.

    And I have to add this; I will miss Jack when he’s gone, and I think that we will see him no more than another season at best. He gave us some wonderful moments, he seems like a good man and a player who gives his best on and off the pitch.

    But to me he’s the living embodiment of how a lack of self-knowledge and studying your profession can hurt you.

    Contrast him with another slightly better known midfielder; Beckham. Now I yield to no one in my loathing for Old Spice for his Galaxianity and his scoring against us. But here’s a guy who has adjusted his game to extend his career and done it rather brilliantly. He has managed to parlay the combination of tactical nous and terrific accuracy from distance into both a personal longevity and team success.

    Jack had a hell of a season last season, and had he been able to sustain it I’d have looked to him to become the Becks of Portland. But I think what we say this season is much closer to the “baseline” Jewsbury; a guy whose wheels are gone and who lacks the ability to read the game well enough to anticipate and contribute more than a journeyman’s workday.

    I don’t like to say that, but I can’t see any way to see anything more positive here…

  6. In my opinion the only position for Jack if he does stay with the Timbers is at RB. If we do run a 4-3-3 I don’t see how Jack maintains a starting position as a result of all the trades his lack of speed and stamina and at $189,000 last year I doubt that we would see him riding the bench, he’s just too expensive. Even in a 4-2-3-1 which has been thrown around as a possibility I think his best position is still RB using his positioning to close down the counter attack. I remember Jack having to make the professional foul to prevent the break so many times this year because his wheels were just gone. His contribution on set pieces is always appreciated and I felt that we always had a chance when he was taking the corner kicks instead of those floaters that the rest of the team seemed to send in. If he stays with the Timbers at RB I say let him keep the armband but if he rides the bench or stays in the midfield I think we have problems bigger than the captaincy.

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