Category Archives: Comment

One Hundred And Forty Four

One hundred and forty four seconds of mayhem saw the Timbers and Whitecaps trade three goals, and ended with the teams splitting two points in a game where both would’ve had their own particular reasons for preferring all three.

One hundred and forty four is a special number, a magical one even. It’s a Fibonacci number, it’s the square of 12. Camilo’s second equalizer was the 77th goal in a Timbers MLS match this season, 77 of course being half of 144. And the sum of the Timbers players jerseys for this game? Well, it’s not 144 (blame Gambia) but you thought it might’ve been, right? It’d’ve been better if it was.

There’s a reason I’m waffling on about numbers and that’s because those one hundred and forty four seconds pretty much broke a part of my brain, and when that happens I retreat to numbers.

75:30, Camilo strikes the ball 35.1 yards out, and strikes the ball at 65 mph* and beats Ricketts low down. Not an uncommon occurrences for the big guy, whose ability to stop shots from the knee up is still, thankfully, sharp enough to see us out of Dodge, while the attack was still firing wildly into the ceiling as we went.

This puts the Caps level after Nagbe drew his name out of the annual “Score a Screamer in BC Place” hat in the first half and Jewsburied it past David Ousted.

63 seconds after the ball crossed the line to make it 1-1, Will Johnson struck the ball on the edge of the Whitecaps box after a cut back by Nagbe, and it was 2-1.

mental78 seconds and it was 2-2 and Camilo ended the scoring in the only way which was appropriate for such a ludicrous spell of football – seriously check out that chalkboard cos that is EVERYTHING in those 144 seconds – with a fucking overhead kick, because full-on Shaolin Soccer would’ve been a step too far.

More analysis will be forthcoming from CI DeMann, I’m sure, but for now I think my brain needs to rest.

Football is a helluva drug.


* distances taken from the MLS chalkboard (OPTA) adjusted for the size of the Whitecaps pitch. Times taken by me – three times, averaged out (as good as it gets)

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Who’s The Bastard In The Black?

bastardinblack


Seeing as how I haven’t written anything here for a while, I really should be working on getting that idea for an article fleshed out but instead I happened across a tweet about referees, linking to this article about the terrible standards of refereeing in MLS and how a Designated Referee would be the solution to this self-diagnosed problem.

I read it, and as soon as I could stop by eye balls from rolling around their sockets, I got to writing these words: Please Don’t Talk Such Shite.

Why can’t we have games that are decided by the play on the field with consistent calls?

Why can’t a foul on one end of the field be a foul on the other end?

Why can’t a yellow card offense be a yellow card offense regardless of which team does it?

Why can’t a referee set clear boundaries that apply to both teams and make sense to anyone watching the game?

Gross exaggeration. They are in the overwhelming majority of games.

Because it’s very unlikely that both fouls were identical or seen in the same way by the ref.

See previous answer.

They do, and it does in the overwhelming majority of games, though I may prefer a ref to take a harder/softer line at times.

Obviously there is work to be done on improving standards of refereeing in the States. I’m not going to use this article to excuse refs getting it wrong, but I am getting rather tired of this “ref’s a shit” circlejerk that is launched any time a set of supporters perceive a slight against their team.

You simply aren’t going to fix things by buying in talent, just ask NYRB or Toronto FC management about that one.

How many times do we have to watch EPL/La Liga/Bundeliga/Serie A/SPL/Ligue 1/UEFA Champion’s League/ World Cup/ Euro Finals/MDX/any other league on this planet and think “why can’t MLS have refs like this”?

A lot less often than I watch those leagues and think “man, this ref is terrible” or “that was an awful decision”. Ask fans of those leagues for their opinions on their domestic referees and the conversation there will be much the same as the one we’re having about ours. Besides which, interpretation of the Laws of the Game can vary wildly across federations such that a “good” ref in Brazil might be an absolute nightmare in England or vice versa.

No, the way to fix things is by better training and education so that there is a talent pipeline that will sees standards improve from within. It takes a special kind of person to pursue a career as a referee. The job doesn’t pay particularly well, but demands a high degree of fitness as well as a skin thick enough to deal with the kind of abuse that comes with being the “bastard in the black“. There are few kids growing up who dream of awarding a penalty in a World Cup Final some day, even fewer who have the will to hold onto that dream after taking more than few game’s worth of abuse. No-one likes ’em.

Refs don’t help themselves, of course, with some composing themselves in such a haughty manner as to give the impression that the game is all about them, but I’d rather have a bull-headed, arrogant ref than a weak-willed, indecisive one cos I know which one is the more dangerous out there. And it would be nice if contentious decisions could be better explained, or refs owned up to making mistakes, but they aren’t helped by the fact that their every error is highlighted in unflattering slow motion for the benefit of the watching public.

It’s easy to sit at home, watch a replay and scoff at how badly a ref got it; much harder to spot it at the time, and I will be honest and say that, at a guess, I maybe get 60-70% of as-it-happens decisions correct, and that’s largely thanks to having a nice TV angle which refs don’t get. Oft times there are bodies or legs in the way, and when things are moving at full speed and players are happy to cheat to get a decision their way, the job becomes a lot more difficult than the replays would have us believe.

As an aside, would video evidence be a solution? I’m not sure as I don’t think every decision warrants a call-back, and I wouldn’t want the game becoming any more stop-start than it already is. I can’t imagine many athletic or fitness coaches would be too keen on the game slowing to a halt every time the ref is less than 100% sure or accurate either, nor broadcasters who would find that 45 minute window of (virtually) dead advertising space extended even further (no doubt leading to “innovation” in that field).

The biggest problem the refs face, and it’s one I’m guilty of being a part of, is that we fans think we know more about the rules than we actually do. By all means, go take a test and see how you do, then take that test again while it’s all happening around you at a pace that can only be truly appreciated at pitch level.

Of course referees should be better than Joe T. Public, as this is their job (though you’ll find msot refs, even in top leagues, are part-time) and this is what they’ve trained for and worked at for many years, but much of the time listening to fan’s complaints about refereeing decisions is often like listening to Jenny McCarthy’s brainleaks expert opinions on vaccinations.

So, in conclusion…

Yes, the refs here aren’t great, but…

No, they’re not than much better elsewhere, and in some places they’re worse.

Yes, it should be better, but…

No, buying in refs won’t fix anything in the long term and, as any fan of the game in this country who has even the vaguest notion of its history here would know, short-term thinking isn’t going to get the game anywhere.

These kind of knee-jerk, over-the-top reactions and public flogging of officials aren’t going to do anything except turn more people off the idea of becoming a referee. This is still a pretty young nation in soccer terms, in the modern sense at least, and it is getting better and more assured as it matures. As tough as it is to watch refs blow a call and cost your team we have to understand that, just as the game itself is growing here and domestic talent levels are steadily increasing as, so the funding and training available for potential new refs will see better officials emerging in future.

But, above all, it’s never going to be perfect regardless of the passport of the man in the middle.

From her own wings: Thorns FC seen from the north end

Once again my compa Chris Singer is there “fustest with the mostest,” so I won’t add anything other than a recommendation to read his match report from Portland Thorns FC’s first ever victory, the 2-1 win over the visiting Seattle Reign this past Sunday. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also direct you to the by-now-indispensible JonannaW’s report over at Stumptown Footy.

Having been in the North End for the match I thought I’d just add some of my own observations from Section 109.

In the stands:

The numbers.  The last time I recall seeing the old Civic Stadium this full for a women’s match was the last time the U.S. women’s national team played here. in 2012, and that crowd was less raucous and less partisan than Sunday’s.  I can understand how the Thorns FC players and coaches were impressed.  While I don’t expect the stands to continue to be quite that packed, I think we showed our colors as Soccer City, USA, and those colors were bright red and white.

The overall sensibility inside the Shed was very different from a Timbers match.  I think the effect of the large general admission seating section (the entire lower bowl all the way around to Section 110) and the smaller size of the Rose City Riveters supporters group had the effect of diluting the fervor of the North End.  I think that this will sort itself out over the season, as louder and more vertical will gravitate towards 107 while the quiet sitters will move away.

One effect of “early days yet” seems to be that there was some confusion on where exactly “general admission” was located.  The event staff was quite definite; all the 100 sections ending at 110.  But the couple behind us at the west end of 109 had reserved seats for that section, and so did another group of five sitting where we first sat.  We had no trouble finding other seats, but hopefully Thorns FC and Jeld-Wen work this out quickly; having supporters dueling over places to sit or stand won’t help anyone focus on the match.

The other issue that club, supporters, and venue will need to work on figuring out is “who stands”?  On Sunday pretty much everyone across the North End over to 108 was standing.  But in our section the confusion began; several whole areas were sitting, some behind supporters who were standing.  This didn’t seem to be a big issue when the ball was 20 yards or more from the end line, but when a player worked the ball down into the near corner it forced the sitters to stand to see the play.  This jack-in-the-box jumping up noticeably increased in the second half as Portland repeatedly attacked Seattle’s goal, and I can see this becoming an issue in the future as some solid citizen objects to those yobs standing in his way.  The Timbers’ North End match supporters have worked this out pretty well; you know going in that everyone is going to stand so you either stand or move.

The Riveters did fine work Sunday, keeping the energy high and mixing in enough familiar TA (but non-Timbers specific) songs and chants with new Thorns FC material to keep the noise level up.  The Thorns FC songs were a trifle sotto voce; this, too, will strengthen with time and familiarity.  Special kudos to Sunday for her awesome Rosie the Riveter outfit; we already knew she was brilliant for her work as a Timbers capo; she was a rock on the main capo stand Sunday and she’s already bringing the heat to the visiting teams.

The title of this post, by the way, comes from the Thorns’ unofficial slogan, She Flies With Her Own Wings, which is one English version of the State motto Alis volat propriis. The Thorns season ticket holders were all about sporting a handsome scarf with that motto knitted into it; it’s impressive the diversity of scarves this club and its supporters have created in just a few months…

On the pitch:

After a shaky start against Kansas City away, Thorns FC looked an order of magnitude better against Seattle Sunday.  I thought that some of this had to do with the relative strength of the KCFC midfield compared to the less-active, looser-pressing Seattle unit.  But I think a lot of it had to do with better composure and better organization in the Thorns midfield and backline.

For all that, Portland still needed almost 45 minutes to work out how to consistently push the ball up to the forwards.  From what I could see a huge part of this was Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock, who was a complete beast both offensively and defensively.  She went in hard on every tackle, had a nasty instinct for closing down passing lanes and in attack was a pest and a caution all match.  Rachel Buehler and Kathryn Williamson, the Thorns FC centerbacks, had trouble with her all match and her persistence paid off with a 74th minute goal.

Buehler seems to help settle the Thorns FC backline, but Williamson (who seems like a decent CB but nomination for “player of the week” last week was…confusing, to say the least, given the defensive breakdown that led to the Cuellar goal) was nowhere in sight when Fishlock’s mucker Keelin Winters knocked Buehler down to free her pal up for the easy strike.  Over the course of the match the back four looked solid, but the confusion as the ball bounded about in front of goal was a nasty reminder that this unit has very Timberesque moments when soccer just flies out of the room.  Parlow-Cone is surely talking to them about that this week…

Karina LeBlanc’s bicolor mohawk was ridiculously awesome; so was her steady keeping, though she was relatively untroubled most of the match she was blameless on the Fishlock goal.

It is interesting to watch Christine Sinclair’s evolution from a Abby Wambach-style frontrunning striker into a trequartista.  I understand why Parlow-Cone has moved her back; her tackling behind the ball and her service to Morgan and Washington up front make all the difference in midfield.  Allie Long is working hard, but without Sinclair in the #10 position the midfield was overrun at KCFC.  Sinclair adds there what she did upfront; a combination of skill and muscle that stymies the opponent and frees the Thorns FC strikers.  More than ever I am awed by this woman’s gifts; she is truly a great player and it is a gift to watch her play.

In the end:

Portland has shown Thorns FC some love, and at 1-0-1, Thorns FC have returned that affection with a great start to their season.  Their next opponent is Chicago; the Red Stars drew the Reign 1-1 the opening weekend, bombing Seattle keeper Betos with 14 shots, 9 on goal.  This should be a real test for the Thorns FC organization in back.  The defenders will have to have a solid 90 minutes than we’ve had up ’til now.  But I’m confident – Onward, Rose City!

I should add this odd little tale before I go, though.

I picked up our tickets on the Saturday before the match; parked off 17th and walked down Morrison to the box office at the north face of the field.  The woman in the ticket booth glanced up over her cat-eye glasses at me when I asked what was open for Sunday and informed me in a smoker’s voice that the only reserved seats open were at the far southwest end near the visitor’s section.

“That’s terrific…” I replied, “I had no idea that the tickets had sold so well.”

“Well, yeah, that’s Portland…” she rasped, pulling off my tickets and shoving them through the hole in the window. “…but Portland ain’t the whole league, y’know.”

We looked at each other for a moment; both of us, I think, remembering all those other professional women’s soccer leagues come and gone.

And I pocketed the tickets and walked back down the street.