Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.
Part 1: The Island of Misfit Toys
Part 2: Everyday Magic
Part 3: Defensive Axis
Part 4: Endurance
Part 5: Maximum Impact
Goal 1. Kenny Cooper vs Colorado Rapids
19th March 2011
Kenny Cooper arrived in the Pacific Northwest with the hopes of a city on his shoulders, and a big name on his back; he left with eight goals and a couple of extra syllables.
With ten minutes remaining in their MLS debut, the Portland Timbers got their first goal when Kenny Cooper rifled home a long range free kick. By this point the Timbers were already well beaten having lost three goals in the first half hour, and Cooper’s strike marked the first, and only, shot on target that the visitors would muster through 90 inauspicious minutes.
Timbers fans celebrated the goal with gusto though, and most chalked the result down to a slow start; something that John Spencer would surely put right in good time.
The German language is renowned for its Bandwurmwörter, “tapeworm words”, where compound words can stretch to ridiculous lengths, so it’s fitting that the guy who spent a couple of years playing in Munich would see his name turned into a Bandwurmwörter of its own among the Timbers faithful: Kennyfuckingcooper.
He earned that moniker despite his eight goals earning him top goalscorer in the Timbers’ first MLS season. The problem was that eight goals wasn’t really enough considering the hype and bluster around the creation of the team and signing of Kennyfuckingcooper to spearhead the attack. The Timbers fell just short of the playoffs, and Cooper fell just short of winning the kind of place in Timbers fans’ affections that the club’s first MLS goalscorer should hold as the only common thread through his increasingly inconsistent performances was his ongoing and never-ending battle with the forces of gravity.
A feature of Cooper’s time back in MLS has been the way he’s found goals in burst, which isn’t uncommon for strikers, but when you’re the main guy the attack is supposedly building to, it becomes a problem.
At Portland, Cooper scored goals two and three within 41 days of his first, and the goals five, six, seven, (a beauty), and eight within 33 days towards the season’s end. In the 136 days between these two scoring bursts, he found the net once.
This pattern continued after Cooper left Portland after one year for New York. Backed by talent like Thierry Henry, Cooper streaked to 11 goals within 73 days before going on a 58 day drought. He returned to familiar ways, scoring patchily and generally underwhelming, before finding himself on the move to his third MLS club in three years.
Generally that kind of movement isn’t a good sign, especially considering he scored a very respectable 26 times in 67 appearances. Only Thierry Henry (29 in 51) and Chris Wondolowski (43 in 62) outscored Cooper through ‘11 and ‘12, yet New York were happy to let him go for allocation money.
In Dallas Cooper has landed back where he had his greatest success as a pro, scoring 40 in 90 appearances before a less than productive spell in Europe.
Cooper’s hot streak at the start of 2012 was salt in the wounds for Timbers fans, who watched their team struggle to fit another big name striker in to the puzzle. There’s no doubt that Cooper could’ve, should’ve, been handled better but he never seemed like a good fit for the big guy/little guy style John Spencer was looking for in his attack.
Caleb Porter’s style would probably suit Cooper better than Spencer’s was ever going to, but I don’t think Kennyfuckingcooper would suit Porter’s style so much. His movement, good touch and threat in the air would all be a benefit to the Timbers now, but too often you got the impression that he was playing for Kenny Cooper rather than the team. His constant flopping would only break-up the rhythm of the attack, and it’s that ability to step up the tempo and push opponents back that’s vital to getting the kind of results from our attack that we were promised when we signed Kenny Cooper.
Goal 23. Eddie Johnson vs Toronto FC
30th July 2011
A good team is more than the eleven on the field, or the eighteen in the squad; it’s about the entire roster. Portland Timbers have used 49 different players in 85 matches, with a host of players making only fleeting on-field cameos.
With four points from their previous nine matches, the Timbers faced Toronto FC at home, where Eddie Johnson’s goal in the 23rd minute got Portland off to the best possible start.
Jack Jewsbury would add a second, but the Timbers ended up with only a point after throwing away another lead late in the game. Johnson swept the ball home from the edge of the box for his first MLS goal in only his second start after being among the “first four” signed by the expansion club, and the only one from outside the USL Timbers.
Eddie Johnson, Adin Brown, Adam Moffat. Freddie Braun, Brian Umony, Brent Richards. Kevin Goldthwaite, Mike Fucito, Peter Lowry. Joe Bendik, Jake Gleeson and Ryan Pore.
Twelve guys, of the 49 MLS Timbers, who clocked less than 400 minutes on the field during their time in Portland, not including the 2013 debutants.
Gleeson and Richards could yet add to their time and whittle the group down to ten, but there’s no chance for Eddie Johnson to add to his time on the field.
His goal against Toronto was followed a few weeks later by a season-ending concussion in his next start, and that season-ender became a career-ender for the striker.
Given the way that the team struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, it’s little surprise that you can identify five attacking players in the dirty dozen, as the front office looked for a solution.
Between those five they logged a little under 1200 minutes, or 13 matches, managing to get a whole six shots on target. Johnson’s goal was the only success for this misfit group.
If you discount Gleeson as being still on the roster, of the eight players who only played in 2011, four of them were attackers – Umony, Johnson, Cooper and Pore. In 2012, ignoring Richards and Braun, it’s four of eight again – Boyd, Fucito, Mwanga and Songo’o.
The first couple of years were marked by constant upheaval in attack. Fourteen attackers played for Portland in 2011 and 2012, and only five appeared in both years – Nagbe, Alhassan, Perlaza, Zizzo and Dike. You can’t turnover so many players and hope to find any consistency.
Instead of taking a Spencerian “rip it up and start again” mentality, Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson concentrated on bolstering the defense with an entirely new back five, and cherry picking the right guys to help the attack, even if that meant enduring a messy and public break-up with Mix Diskerud (remember him?) to get to Diego Valeri, or raising eyebrows by signing the 34-year old Frederic Piquionne.
This year, with ten debutants (excluding Valencia), only three attacking players have made their debuts – R. Johnson, Valeri and Piquionne. Of the ten players who played here prior to Porter’s arrival, three are attackers (Alhassan, Nagbe and Zizzo). Wallace has been converted into a more attacking player, not to mention Chara having the shackles taken off him and Dike likely to feature in some way once he gets fit.
The refreshing thing about the squad as it currently stands is that there is greater depth, yet less bloat. The attacking options available now all look likely to score, which wasn’t always the case in the first couple of years. It’s a very different prospect to be looking to Ryan Johnson coming off the bench than Mike Fucito or Brian Umony.
The four attackers “cut” by Porter have all been replaced, or upgraded, from within or by a good trade. For Mwanga, Boyd, Fucito and Songo’o, read Johnson, Piquionne, Valencia and Valeri. You could even thrown in Cooper to sweeten the deal in favor of the ex-Timbers, but I still prefer what we’ve got, sans Dike.
It’s impossible to say where Eddie Johnson’s career could’ve went if it hadn’t been cut short, but given the way that Spencer never really utilized him, or seemed to know how to get the attack to do what it was they were doing in his head, where it all worked so well.
It’s noticeable that, for all the turnover under Spencer, nothing really changed. The attack was the same regardless of who was playing, and that’s why you can’t lay it all at the individual’s door. Fucito and Mwanga have been picked up by other MLS clubs, so there’s something there, and a whole host have moved abroad or taken a step or two down the US soccer pyramid. There are a few who no longer play professional football, injuries or age being the most common reasons, while others like Umony have embarked on an adventure to Vietnam and Tanzania.
The same tactics were rolled out, such that the Timbers became reliant on having very particular players in set positions, like the target man “number nine”. Poor acquisitions, with seemingly little thought beyond the short term, left us with half a functional team that fell down entirely when one of it’s key players had a bad game. It never seemed to occur to the coach that the problem might lie with him, not when he could just swap one big-but-not-a-target-man striker for another big-but-not-a-target-man striker-who-gets-paid-like-crazy-money and hope that it would all fall into place.
Even though we’re carrying fewer strikers under Porter, albeit with Dike on the comeback trail, the system is flexible enough to adapt around the man up top. Given how injuries left the Timbers defense looking like a Stark after a Frey wedding, it’d be foolish to tempt fate by crowing about depth in attack, but even with fewer bodies in place, I’ve never felt more secure in our attacking options that I have this season, and these past few matches especially.
The revolving doors at Jeld-Wen Field also saw a number of defenders and midfielders come and go as well, with guys like Mosquera, Smith and Goldthwaite giving us a single season, and Alexander, Chabala and Palmer hanging around for at least part of two before being moved on within MLS. With their busiest offseason yet, it should follow that the team would be in an even bigger state of flux and instability than usual, but it feel like there’s much less instability this year.
The reason for this, I think, is that much of Porter and Wilkinson’s job was to sweep out the mistakes of the previous regime, so that they could rebuild around what Spencer and co had got right. So we have the familiar faces of Jack Jewsbury and Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan, and we’ve lost a bunch of guys who never fit in anyway.
The guys who have come in have found out that that way to a fan’s heart is through the back of the opposition net, and they’ve bought into what it means for the fans to play for this team.
There will be bumps along the way, and other guys won’t fit in and will be moved on, but even these guys will have all played their part, however fleeting it may have been. Some left with a fond farewell, others with a cold stare, but none are ever forgotten.