Two Into One Won’t Go

I’m sure Caleb Porter would have been happy to ignore the issue of who would be the club captain after the last guy to guarantee that particular role to Jack Jewsbury was most recently spotted at a Blazers game, quite pointedly not being Caleb Porter.

As the extent of the changes to the roster and playing style became clear, it was hard to see what role Jewsbury, Captain Jack, still had. Will Johnson adds more to the midfield, and the signing of Valeri left Spencer’s unshakeable midfield duo of Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury in a monkey-knife fight for the final spot.

Fate intervened, with Jewsbury deux-ex machina-ed out with an injury in preseason that eased any immediate selection pressure, and the front office promptly set about adding more depth in midfield in Ben Zemanski and Michael Nanchoff who happened, by pure Seinfeldian coincidence, to have played for the Akron Zips under Caleb Porter. The continued trading right into February would squeeze the cap a little tighter, and so Porter’s seemingly no-more-than-feint admiration for Danny Mwanga, who only renegotiated his hefty salary in December, put the striker on the chopping block. Mwanga left, sending a SuperDraft pick to Portland into the bargain, and Frederic Piquionne joined on, I’m sure, more favourable terms for the Timbers.

With a battle to earn a spot on the field ahead of him, some raised the question of his suitability for the captaincy. The captain is the guy with the armband and Jack clearly can’t wear it if he’s not playing (or, at least, it’d be weird if he did). And the front office responded by telling everyone that Jack Jewsbury was still the captain, but Will Johnson was also the captain, but a different kind of captain because Jack is the “club captain” and Will is the captain captain. All clear?

It’s all completely unnecessary, only marginally less so than 1562 words on the subject would be, because it’s doesn’t matter. Not really. Why not just say, “Jewsbury is still captain and if Jack doesn’t start, then the decision is made based on who deserves the armband”? There’s no need for all this two captains bullshit.

If Jack’s your guy, Caleb (and Gavin, and Merritt and whoever), then he’s the captain. Period. It’s not a big deal. You’re not crowning new a pope here, it’s the captain of a soccer club.

Yes, it’s important within the fabric of the game. It does matter, on some level, as it serves two purposes; he’s the guy who leads the group in the dressing room, the guy who rallies the team despite of, or on behalf of, the guy in charge; and he’s also the bridge between the fans and the players, more significant perhaps as the days of a truly “local” XI are mostly gone at top clubs. He is “one of us” out there, leading the way on the front line.

Some people make a big deal of captaincies, like British journalists who preside over the candidates for the job like the jury of a medieval witch trial that’s been without a good dunking in a long, long time.

Really, it’s just another of these little deceptions and lies about the game that we allow ourselves to believe because it makes this game much more fun to follow, especially with a habit that is eating into the time we could be doing things like studying and getting a job because it turns out moving halfway round the world is exactly as cheap as I never thought it would be.

For example, there’s the fact that it’s actually pretty boring, most of the time. Right? It is. Well, sometimes, at least.

So, who wears an armband doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The leader in the locker room is still the leader. The captaincy is just a symbol, and one that wouldn’t be diminished by just letting Will Johnson wear it during game days that Jack isn’t playing in, of course. Just generally not wasting time doing something when nothing needed doing.

Will Johnson, I assume, didn’t get the captaincy because his name was drawn out of hat. He’s the guy that Porter sees as being the leader of the squad, which has, it’s worth pointing out, changed greatly from the one that Jack Jewsbury had built a long relationship with. This is, as much as it’s still a dream life for most fans, just another workforce, clocking in every day, doing their jobs and undergoing regular public evaluation. That, as well a coaching change, would naturally give the group a different chemistry, and if Will’s the man to lead Timbers 2.0 into game one, then he wears the armband. Easy.

But if Jack’s back, whenever that may be, then everyone lines up behind him. Doesn’t changed the routine, if it’s working, in the dressing room, so everyone’s listening to the same voice, and Jack adds a wealth of his own experience to the mix. Win, win?

There might be something about seeing “the captain” starting on the bench, or sitting out entirely when fit, that doesn’t feel right for something, but the twenty-two on the field are what matter, and if Will passes on the armband to Jewsbury when if he comes on alongside, it’s a nice show of respect to a guy who’s done a lot for this club, on and off the pitch, and is responsible for at least one of the Top 5, maybe even Top 3, favourite MLS memories for just about every Timbers fan. Sure, he may not be the guy you build the club’s playing future around, but even if history doesn’t win you a place in the team, it does grant you a certain position within the club where that guy can still, and will still be the captain, even if the leader on the park is the guy the fans are chanting for now.

It’s all a silly fudge. While concerning yourself with this, even for a minute if that’s all it took to sketch out this David Brent-ian solution, you weren’t doing something duh-obvious like naming the annual preseason tournament. Jack’s the captain, Will’s doing it now, big deal, next question.

I guess marketing concerns and the league’s seeming need to constantly attempt to artificially generate buzz with like whatever this Fashion Week thing is, it means that any opportunity for a ceremonial press release/news story should never be passed up, so blah-blah whatever something. Oh, and they do this all the time overseas, so it’s no big deal, bro, I don’t even know why we brought it up.

It’s just so silly to me, coming from a UK culture, because the captaincy is, like the papacy, usually only something you give up when the big man upstairs, or wherever it is Gavin nests, decides that you’re time is up. And I don’t mean to insinuate that Jack Jewsbury lives in a castle with 40 nuns now.

While this doesn’t feel like a full on NC-17 stripping, being more of the PG-13 where you might have caught a flash of sideboob level, it does feel like a bit of put down, a subconscious sidelining of a player taking a reasonably big bite out of a tight salary. I mean, if both guys are in the team, who wears the all-important armband? If Jack, then why bother with this fudge, and make an issue of Jewsbury’s status at all? If Will, then man-up and say Will is your guy and stop pussyfooting around it.

The captain over here in Scotland, or I should say over there now, if he’s the kind of guy who’s led the club through thick and thin, would bleed (insert club colours) and is beloved by the fans, he stays the captain even if they’re out the team whether through injury or simply being a guy with maybe a couple of top-flight years left in him as a squad guy.

That may or may not be relevant in Jewsbury’s case. He might think he’s got another 5 years of 30+ start seasons in him. Or maybe, at 32 by the season’s end – and believe, as someone mere months younger than Mr Jewsbury, I’m very conscious not to say he’s too over the hill – maybe by then he’s looking beyond playing. Jack has worked closely with Curt Onalfo, John Spencer, Gavin Wilkinson and, now, Caleb Porter -all guys with experience of playing MLS (or some level in the US), none of them were big “stars”, and all turned to coaching in their mid-thirties (injury accelerating Porter’s progress by a few years). It would be hard to not see the pattern and where Jewsbury may be influenced in taking the next couple of years.

Fans get that, I think. Jack’s not the hero to some that a two-year captain and scorer of important goals may expect, albeit without the vitriol aimed a previous club captain who’s hung around Portland when he not scouting in the South Pacific, but he’s the guy who’s been the face of the side since joining MLS. I don’t think everything done by Spencer was wrong and while I questioned Jewsbury’s place in the team when he wasn’t playing so well that doesn’t mean Jewsbury isn’t the right guy to still be the captain and figurehead for the players.

One Team, One Town, One Army, Two Captains.

One of these is not like the other.

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2 thoughts on “Two Into One Won’t Go

  1. Spot on, Kevin. If we want a championship side, we’ve got to show the players and prospects elsewhere the values of our owner and leadership, and they should include honesty, trust and respect. So far, they’ve stunk up the place and ground through a full team in 24 months. So to the FO, please give us the leadership behavior that the players and community deserve. Just be honest and make a decision that will show us that you’re learning.

Wise Men say...

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