Ryan Johnson Continue reading #9
In the 10th minute of the match against Chivas USA on 12th April 2014, the Portland will cross the 10,000 minute barrier for regulation time played in MLS (including postseason). Continue reading The Road to 10K
The off season lumbers on with the owner poking at a wound that fans thought had scabbed over, but it turns out might still be a little raw underneath, and the league patting itself on the back with an awards season that even Grammy organizers think is getting a bit too niche. The players are all off doing whatever it is they do when they’re not kicking a ball about most days and the fans are entertaining themselves in the only way they know how when there is no football to focus them: stoking the drama fire to keep out the cold.
The backroom staff will be working though. The work for 2014 doesn’t begin here, those wheels have been in motion for a long time, but it certainly ramps up a notch as Caleb Porter and, yes Merritt, Gavin Wilkinson start to push pieces across the table, charting the march to silverware liked generals in an old World War II war room. Continue reading Evolutionary, My Dear Wilkinson
To fill the long months before the Timbers are back in action, and since it’ll give me an excuse to write about something other than the inevitable drama and rumormongering that will fill timelines in the absence of some kickball, I’ll be doing an occasional series on certain goals or passages of play that sum up what was 2013 for me.
I’m still weighing up whether the site will be able to run in 2014. Finally settled in Southern Oregon, it’s back to school for me which brings all kinds of drains on time and finances that would make it hard to run the site as I hoped to. Still, I do have ideas of how it could return for next season in a format more geared towards longer-form pieces that don’t necessarily have to follow the “who’s injured this week/trade rumor” news cycle. Having writers like C.I. DeMann (buy his book, seriously – it’s better than buying him a beer since you both win this way, though you could do that too) and John Lawes covering the teams from game to game took a lot of the load off me and made it a bit more fun for me, and I’d love to get some of the talented writers and watchers of the game that follow this team of ours on the site now and then to wax lyrical, and long if they want, about the topics that matter to them.
That’s all for the new year though, so let’s bring on the the goals. Continue reading Off Season: Goals
The Timbers go into the second leg of the Western Conference final knowing that they need a huge performance to turn around a two goal deficit to Real Salt Lake. That this is not the first time that Portland have faced adversity should give Timbers fans some hope, and Kevin Alexander goes over three previous occasions where the Timbers have had their backs to the wall, and come out fighting.
14th April 2011, Portland Timbers vs Chicago Fire
The difficulty here wasn’t so much in the strength of the opposition – the Fire picked up one point in six trips to the west coast in 2011 – but in the occasion. This was the home opener, the first MLS match in Soccer City, and the fans were beyond ready for it to get here.
This was despite an indifferent start that had seen the Timbers outscored 2-6 in the opening three road games. Coming into the home games, they were being forced to make changes at the back with key players still missing.
So, injury troubles, tough road trips and a keyed up home crowd. This should all sound pretty familiar.
Jake Gleeson was making his second start, and in front of him Futty Danso was making his MLS debut after a David Horst ankle knock. All these guys are still around the club, in some shape or form, but this curtain raising team is noticeable more the guys who’ve moved on:
- Eric Brunner, the one solid part of a shifting and unsettled defense;
- Steve Purdy, the dependable full back soon to be adjudged to be less good than Jeremy Hall;
- Jeremy Hall, the ineffective right winger adjudged to be of less harm in defence;
- James Marcelin, the non-soccer specialist and Keeper of Secrets;
- Jorge Perlaza, the striker who ran a lot and didn’t score;
- and Kenny Cooper, the striker who fell a lot and did, but not enough.
Troy Perkins, who would’ve started had he been fit, and whose trade is turning out to be the greatest trick Gavin ever pulled.
James Marcelin replaced Peter Lowry for the draw against New England, and he held onto his place alongside Jack Jewsbury in the heart of midfield for the visit of Chicago.
Now, I mean no disrespect to either guy (both of whom have a bunch of MLS appearances and goals under their belts), but read that sentence again:
James Marcelin replaced Peter Lowry for the draw against New England, and he held onto his place alongside Jack Jewsbury in the heart of midfield for the visit of Chicago.
How far we’ve come in terms of player quality and depth since 2011.
As for the game, well, the heavens opened and 29 minutes in Jorge Perlaza delivered the first MLS goal to Portland. Rodney Wallace doubled it eight minutes later. Perlaza added a third after the break before the Timbers were pushed back by two late Chicago goals. An own goal off a Jewbury corner restored a two goal cushion and sealed the win.
It was a win which kickstarted the season, and the terrific home form was almost entirely responsible for the close run at the making the playoffs.
Meet The Neighbors
24 June 2012, Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders
A little less than a month had passed since Cal FC had hammered what would later prove to be biggest and shiniest nail in John Spencer’s head coaching coffin. The visit of the Sounders was the Timbers’ first match at Jeld-Wen since that night, but having lost in LA the previous week Portland went into the derby match with more than just local pride at stake.
Spencer replaced Hanyer Mosquera, suspended, with Futty Danso, and Mike Chabala was replaced by Steven Smith, who had been spared playing in LA in mid-June. Ex-Sounder Mike Fucito made his first start for Portland, replacing Danny Mwanga alongside Kris Boyd.
Again, that last sentence should underline the difference in quality and depth from then to now. There are times we’ve been stretched by injuries or call-ups, but I’m happier knowing that there is an Alhassan or Valencia to step in and not, well, Fucito or Mwanga. That kind of depth is worth points here and there, and makes the difference over 34, or more, games.
Meanwhile, Franck Songo’o, Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan were the three attacking midfielders, with Diego Chara given the work of two men to do on his own, as usual. It was a formation that, in retrospect, seems designed to bring out the worst in his players: Chara has so much to do that at times there’s no option but to foul, even if it’s right on the edge of his own box; Songo’o, the mercurial winger and creative attacker, Barcelona and all that, was asked to defend; Nagbe, the young and inconsistent player was given a role where his tendency to drift out of games left a gaping hole right in front of the (patchwork) defence; Alhassan, who borrowed a bit from both Songo’o and Nagbe in his nature and aversion to the kind of kick-and-rush high intensity football Spencer wanted to play.
And yet, despite these glaring deficiencies, magic happened, as it does in Portland from time to time.
There was no getting away from the plain fact that Seattle were the better team, and looked set to finish the job that Cal FC had started in ending Spencer’s time in the top job. He must surely have known he was living on borrowed time, and aware that a bad result against Seattle could bring about the end.
Spencer put his trust in his striker, another man unaware his Timbers career was all but over. Kris Boyd delivered the opening goal after only a quarter of an hour, set up by Smith and Songo’o.
This would be John Spencer’s last hurrah in Portland. A couple of bad results on the road ended his stewardship, a 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake the last time we saw him prowling the touchline. He went out fighting though, and his team delivered a 2-1 win that was the foundation for a run towards the Cascadia Cup in 2012 – the green shoots at the end of two long, barren years.
From Boyd’s “I can’t hear a thing” celebration, to his confrontation with Fredy Montero, and the explosion of noise when Portland’s least favorite Colombian was shown red in injury time, this match provided many of the great MLS Timbers moments for fans,despite it coming during a time when Spencer’s coat was, to borrow a Scottish phrase, on a shoogly peg.
So, John Spencer won this battle, despite having already lost the war. If nothing else, he went down fighting, and took down the nouveau douche lot from up the road on the way.
This Was Not In The Script
30 March 2013, Colorado Rapids 2-0 Portland Timbers
Fifty minutes in, the Timbers were in a distressingly familiar position – they were losing.
That had been the case at this point in the previous three matches (1-3 vs New York, 0-1 vs Montreal, 0-1 vs Seattle) but they could take some heart from coming back late in two of those matches to grab a couple of points, losing only to Montreal having still mounted a fightback.
Caleb Porter’s arrival had certainly brought goals, but far too many of them were at the wrong end. With 50 minutes gone in Colorado, the Timbers had been outscored 5-8 in a little under 4 games, with the home doubleheader against New York and Montreal accounting for 5 out of the 8 goals against. The introduction of Jack Jewsbury as the deepest lying member of a three man central midfield in Seattle had seen the hosts held a 1-1 draw, with Jack sweeping up behind Diego Chara and Will Johnson. Those three remained in place for the trip to play the Rapids, with the defence patched up by replacing Mikael Silvestre with David Horst.
Fast forward to fifty minutes in and the Timbers were two goals down and had been outshot by 11-3.
The charge of the white brigade was led by The Captain who headed home Ryan Johnson’s cross, Johnson-to-Johnson resuscitation. Will’s header halved the deficit before the hour was out, then a corner in the Rapids box with 20 minutes to go earned Portland a handball call; there was never any doubt that The Captain would take care of the penalty himself.
Though Portland would have to content themselves with another hard-earned point on the road, unable to find the killer third goal, the way the team fought back in these two road games set the tone for the season to come: 2013, the year where the final whistle was merely a minor inconvenience that got in the way of a Timbers win now and then.
Jewsbury took up his place at right-back in the next match, and Wallace was restored to the starting line-up as the Timbers record their first win, and then the second, and the third…
Colorado has never been an easy place to go to, and the Timbers have had some real nightmares there, so 2-0 down with 40 minutes to play would have signalled game over in previous years, but they fought back and put another point on the board. Changed days.
France provided a great example of the value of a strong home second leg performance, overturning a two-goal lead to qualify for the World Cup. The Timbers won six of their regular season games by at least two goals, almost half, and would’ve added a couple more big wins against Seattle for late rallies and lapses. They’ve fought back time and time again in the past and there is no reason to think they won’t do so here.
Mirriam Webster defines belief as “a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone” and that pretty well sums up my feeling going in the game. I believe because I trust in every guy that takes the field on Sunday night to put in a performance that is worthy of the honor of playing for this club, in this town. My belief isn’t blind faith in happy endings; RSL are a really good team and they hold the upper hand going into the game, so I don’t expect a fairytale end as much as I hope for it. It may happen, there is certainly a chance of that because we have the ability on and off the pitch to make it happen, but if it doesn’t, my belief is unshakable that every single person in attendance will be in no doubt that there was no more that this team could do and they had already achieved more than most could’ve dared to dream for.
Kevin Alexander wonders if the Timbers greatest defensive strength is also the root of their downfall against Real Salt Lake.
Confession time. I had Real Salt Lake as my pick to win the West from long before the Timbers made a late run towards first (I had us down for 4th or 5th, so shows what I know), and even Portland’s triumph didn’t shake me of my belief that Jason Kreis’ side was the best team in the league. Continue reading Strength
As fans and players await the second leg of the playoff tie with Seattle, Kevin Alexander writes about the changes the Portland Timbers face both on and off the pitch.
At three hours, this two-legged tie between Seattle and Portland is appropriately epic in length, with the potential for going even longer on a night where the away goal rule is not in effect. By the time the final whistle blows on Thursday night, and fat ladies everywhere begin to sing, the skies over Jeld-Wen Field will be black, and it is not hard to imagine, given this is Portland in November, that they will have opened for the denouement of what the noisy majority will be hoping is merely part one of a forthcoming trilogy of blockbuster performances. Continue reading A New Hope
After a 1-0 victory against Douchey Clint & the Cunt Bunch, the Timbers moved to within 180 minutes of filling the temporary Cascadia Cup-shaped hole in the trophy room with a Supporters Shield. The win wasn’t a swashbuckling display of their superiority over The Team That Don Bought, but was marked out as another tough win ground out, at times, in a manner that’s coming to define “Porterball” as much as any of the stylish attacking football that we do still see in fits and starts deep into October, which is no mean feat when you play with this intensity on dreaded turf.
Just as well the pitch is so small here – saves energy for these late season runs. Nice out-of-the-shoebox- thinking, guys.
Despite only scoring once in four of the last five matches, the Timbers have defied the odds by winning three of those and drawing the other, because we don’t do losing anymore it seems. The last four matches have seen changes to the starting XI made in the case of injury or international duty, with Porter putting a lot of faith in a small core of trusted players. This is a marked difference from the team of last season, which should come as no surprise given how that year played out.
30 players have played over 50% of MLS minutes for the Timbers in their respective seasons, and they’re pretty evenly distributed across the years, with 10 in 2011, 9 in 2012 and 11 this year so far.
The real differences start to reveal themselves as you look at who the teams relied on most by setting the bar a bit higher, to 75% of minutes across the whole year. This gives you an idea of the team’s “core”. When you looked at this number, you noticed a big shift to 6-3-6 players across the respective seasons.
There is a chicken-and-egg scenario at play here: do teams do poorly because of inconsistent selection, or is selection inconsistent because of poor play? Probably a bit of both, on balance, with each feeding the other in a viscous cycle. Nevertheless, that the majority of teams that reach the playoffs do so while relying on a core of 6-7 consistent performers while the sides down the bottom tend to have only 2 or 3 regulars.
This year is the first that you could theoretically pick a “best XI”, or at least, “most available XI”, and if you wanted to stretch it further then the bench would consist of (in order from most minutes to least) Alhassan, Danso, Zemanski, Piquionne, Silvestre (yes, still), Valencia and Kocic (since we need a keeper). That’s a pretty deep bench, just a shame we’ve never had it.
On paper, the numbers of the 2011 and 2013 squads are similar: 6 “core” players made up of a solid keeper, defender, two hard-working midfielders and a couple of attacking players. So why did Spencer fail in ‘11 doing the same thing with his team as Porter in ‘13?
Well, putting aside how they did things differently on the pitch, we can look at the “best” team from the first year and see what it tells us.
Chara quickly, and rightly so, establishes himself as a fixture in the team, a constant across all seasons, joined by Jewsbury for the first two, and Will for the latest. Brunner and Perkins at the back were pretty solid, as it goes, but the problems arise when you look at who we were relying on in attack.
Kenny Cooper flopped and Alhassan hadn’t yet developed beyond the idea of what a good player should be. That’s not an attack that instills fear in the hearts of of opposing defence. Of the rest, Perlaza didn’t score enough, Wallace was at least forty yards too deep, and Nagbe was sparking into life here and there, but lacked guidance on the pitch at times and could disappear from games. The balance wasn’t right from the start with too much placed on a big name striker returning to the league after some years in Europe (what could go wrong there?), and a bunch of players who were new to MLS.
This year’s team is a pretty good XI, actually. I wouldn’t mind seeing that one take the field anytime soon. Harrington is the first fullback to feature in over 75% of minutes, and if he sees another 25 minutes over the last two games, he’ll blow past Eric Brunners single year record for minutes played (2795). There’s a good chance Ricketts and Nagbe will also pass Brunner’s total this year.
Looking at the “core” attack this year it’s potential player of the year Diego Valeri and a much more comfortable and assured Darlington Nagbe. Never underestimate the value of timing, something Caleb Porter would understand from having to build teams with a high turnover and range of ability, and he’s walked into a job with a bunch of young players like Nagbe and Alhassan as well as Valencia and Jean-Baptiste all hitting that point where they are maturing into the footballers we hoped they could be as well as an owner and front office that were eager to set two years of effort right whatever it took. Take nothing away from the work he’s done with these guys, but a keen eye for talent and squad building such as himself would’ve known there was a potential bounty to harvest in Portland if he managed it right, and you can see more and more why he waited for the right job, and why a struggling Portland ticked the right boxes, before stepping up to MLS.
As much as this season was shaping up to be the the Year of the Centre Back, with defenders dropping like flies, the fact is that here we sit with two games between the Timbers and the Supporters Shield, and the last thing on most people’s minds is the horror show in defence. Four clean sheets in the last six, with each one hard fought for and Donovan Ricketts taking the lion-in-zion’s share of plaudits for a string of saves that pretty much raise a middle digit at medical science, given the sense that the big man is, at times, only just held together by the collective intake of breath of the North End late in games these days.
No, in fact 2012 was the year where it all went wrong at the back, and that was despite signing Hanyer Mosquera to solve our problems.
2012 sees no defenders at all register over 75% of minutes, with Brunner going down with a long injury and nipping a potential partnership with Mosquera in the bud. Also, never underestimate the value of luck in this game, and 2012 saw the Timbers in short supply of it.
Despite seemingly being the guy to mould a stout defence around, Mosquera failed to hit the 75% mark (68%) and though Perkins would’ve got over that mark if he’d, you know, still been here by the end of the year, it’s telling that no defenders saw consistent time that year. Luck played its part, and key injuries certainly didn’t help matters, but bad planning was also a factor as the Timbers failed to build on the previous year’s pretty solid foundation. Cooper aside, 2011 hadn’t gone that terribly, and we nearly did make the playoffs in the end, but when it came to building on what he had, Spencer opted to raize it all and start again, albeit with the same blueprints.
It was Gus Vant’s Psycho, a worthless shot-for-shot remake, only with Kris Boyd cast in the lead as Kenny Cooper, with support from Franck Songo’o as Kalif Alhassan and Steven Smith as company for the million dollar striker. Things duly failed again, and we all know how that turned out.
It could’ve been different. It didn’t have to fail. Boyd is better than Cooper, by a margin, and Songo’o
took a holiday at trained at Barcelona, so possessed some decent skills. And I’d’ve taken Smith at left back in February this year if you’d offered him, but Harrington is pretty nifty so I’m happy all the same.
Valeri has been a standout for the Timbers this year, to the surprise of pretty much no-one, and the role of creative midfielder is one fans and writers have been calling out for from day one of MLS Timbers, but was left unfulfilled till Caleb Porter finally brought 21st century soccer to Portland. Eric Alexander could’ve been that guy, but he never fit in here at all, and no-one else was ever really given the job beyond a game here or there, and it left Boyd exposed. Partners came and went, never giving the Scot a chance to build the rapport he needed, and when his own form suffered, his coach responded by lumping more responsibility on him, never once thinking to help his star player by adjusting to play to his strengths. Boyd was never a runner, so it made no sense for Spencer to play a game that stretched play and left penalty-box strikers like Boyd isolated, but that’s what he played, emphasising the wings over players in the centre who could feed the striker balls to feet.
Spencer also failed to solve the right back problem, which was the one position absent on 2011’s “best XI”. Porter has seen to this in both short term – with Jewsbury – and long – with, potentially, Powell – with the likes of Zizzo and Miller in reserve; either guy would’ve improved previous year’s teams, but are mostly kicking their heels this year.
Postseason is imminent. We’ve talked about this moment, and a few of us have probably planned our lives around potential match days, but this is when shit gets real. The coaches and staff all know this, as plenty of them have been over the course at various levels. Carrying momentum in results into the postseason, especially this kind of gritty, hard-to-beat rhythm the Timbers have going right now, is key to going long in the cut-throat knock-out competition that MLS thinks is the best way to crown the year’s best team but even more importantly, Porter knows his team.
Guys like Maxi Urruti have come in and given the team a fresh impetus in attack, and Porter has rested Jean-Baptiste over the run-in to give playing time to the more seasoned Futty Danso, but for the most part his XI is pretty settled. This kind of consistency gives the players a confidence in each other that has been sorely lacking over previous years, and it’s that sense that is providing a platform for Porter’s team to succeed.
Who knows what the team would look like if Portland hadn’t been beset with injuries, but I sense that running with a big squad is not a part of Porter’s agenda and we would be seeing similar playing time numbers all the same. The postseason will ask further questions of the Timbers depth and ability to think on their feet, but so long as Porter has his “core” there’s a sense that he will still find a way to keep it fresh, and to make it work.
I’ll begin with the moment that we’re probably all thinking of: an injury-time header against last years MLS Cup champions, a team who thoroughly out-classed the Timbers on their last visit to Jeld-Wen in a 5-3 rout that saw the Galaxy net 4 in 9 minutes and then coast through the next 60 minutes at a canter. Andrew Jean-Baptiste was a stalwart on defense all through the game, showing again how he could handle Keane and Zardes with his strength, speed, awareness, and presence. ESPN’s match summary reads…
Once again, stoppage time wasn’t kind to the Galaxy, as Portland stunned the champs with a late goal. L.A.’s veteran back line wasn’t to blame this time, either. Instead, it was youngster Gyasi Zardes who was victimized by Jean-Baptiste.
Funny that Jean-Baptiste and Zardes are both 21, but only one is a youngster. This is perhaps accurate though, he has been learning, changing, improving in leaps since he was drafted at the beginning of 2012.
06/19/2013 At LA
Here he is paired with Pa Modou Kah
for the Gambian’s first start, and one could be forgiven for worrying that this debut pairing would look like his debut with Silvestre against NY at home. Instead and the two of them looked near-unbeatable. His speed kept him blocking the counter-attacking passing lanes that LA have exploited for years, he blocked runs, his deft touch nicking the ball from Robbie Keane in style. Jean-Baptiste and Kah held a Donovan, a Keane, and a blazingly fast Zardes all on the field and the Timbers looked, except for two sharp shots on goal, in safe hands. Keane is nothing if not quick and clever in both drawing penalties and sneaking behind or in front of defenders, ghosting free to link up with Donovan but neither of those happened in LA. We were all left to wonder if this centerback pairing may look like the future of the Timbers backline that had seen 3 futures already this season.
05/08/2013 At Dallas
In Dallas and Jean-Baptiste is paired with Futty, replacing David Horst, gone for the season with an ACL tear, doing admirably. Small errors here and here, but steady and solid until the 75 minute, when he yanks the jersey of Blas Perez, who begins to fall. Jean-Baptiste inexplicably tries to hold him by his jersey. If you watch the replay, Perez is leaning back away from him and Jean-Baptiste is whipping him around 180 degrees, trying to hold him upright. Whether he thought Perez was going to slip behind if he let go or if he worried he’d have a penalty called if Perez hit the ground, a more seasoned defender would have let him go earlier. He did not, Juan Guzman gives him a yellow and a penalty, Kenny Cooper slots in the penalty, and the Timbers walk out of Dallas with a single point instead of three. Perhaps he’s not directly at fault, but he’s implicated, and for a defender such an implication is not a good thing.
03/16/2013 At Seattle
In Seattle, there he is in the 15th minute, paired with Silvestre because David Horst is still injured, bumping Eddie Johnson from behind, sprinting to catch him after Silvestre steps too far forward and Johnson finds a clear path into the empty box with only Jean-Baptiste in any position to defend. He’s lucky to not be sent off, the Timbers are lucky to not give up a second goal on a dangerous free kick. In the stands we groan and worry. It’s a tactical foul, and one done prudently, but it’s naked enough to referee that it’s dangerous, the sort of thing that can lead to a red with an uncharitable referee and leave a team 75 minutes to try to catch up a man down. And then there he is again, redemptive: in injury time, with a delicate cross into the box 10 yards out that Rodney Wallace tucks into the corner with his head and silences most of CenturyLink, leaving the visitors all alone in the empty cavernous 300’s singing.
02/17/2013 Preseason San Jose
Barely 2 minutes in, here he is with his left arm ever so slightly out-stretched as he tries to mark Mike Fucito, who misdirects a first time cross into the aforementioned arm. Just like the end of the season in 2012, Wondolowski tucks the penalty away in front of the North End. Two minutes later Ryan Johnson loops a glancing header over Jon Busch. Jean-Baptiste runs the length of the field to embrace him. I wonder, watching as I am alone from a conference room in Texas, whether he’ll be off on loan again, assessed as not quite ready for MLS for another year yet.
10/29/2012 San Jose
Here he is back after his loan spell at LA Blues, for his first start since the season opener against Philadelphia, bookending the promise of the beginning of the season with a promise of the next season. San Jose is in punishing form, Supporters Shield winners already, Lenhart and Gordon imposing their physicality, throwing themselves into defenders fearlessly and somehow still controlling deft flicks to one another and Wondolowski. ESPN is watching this game because Wondolowski is chasing Roy Lassiters record for most goals in a season and the porous Timbers defense looks like the backdrop for a record-setting. Wondo has 26, Lassiter 27. And then there is Jean-Baptiste, 6’2, 210 pounds, punishing Lenhart, blocking out Wondolowski, chasing back, logging 20 clearances against a team that played almost exclusively in the air. His passing and distribution are varied and intelligent, his speed and strength plainly obvious. He looks like the future and he looks as if he might be given the chance to be so.
There he is in the 51st minute, watching Gabriel Gomez’s free kick sail towards him, tick off of his head in a half-hearted attempt at a clearance, then turning to watch it fly past Troy Perkins. Originally recorded as an own goal, it was given to Gomez, mercifully. And then, again, there he is 3 minutes later meeting a free-kick with a perfectly timed leap and guiding it to the far post where it sneaks under Zac Macmath on the wet turf of Portland in March. And that’s the thing of Andrew Jean-Baptiste: his mistakes are almost always followed by his redemptions. We don’t see this that year though, Baptiste goes to the LA Blues for further development, not to return until the end of the season, Mosquera, Horst, and Futty preferred for the rest of the season. Perhaps it was that initial error or perhaps that was the plan all along, but the pattern one can see there in his first start is the pattern one can see again and again, a learning mistake and a fiery focus born of the need to make amends.
From my limited experience here is how it goes as a defender: you make painful errors that lose your teams points and pride and faith in you and then you have two options: to center, focus, redouble your efforts and carry on, or shrink from the job and vanish. Strikers can score once or twice to retain their place, defenders need but err once or twice to lose theirs. He’s not immune to errors and until very recently he was quietly dreaded for them as much as his raw talent was admired, but as we see more of him, we can he has that tenacious absolute drive that seems to snap him into the right places in games, making crucial blocks and clearances, delivering passes, slipping away from his marker to catch a header.
According to a Merritt Paulson tweet last year, Andrew Jean-Baptiste is the second fastest man on the team, second only to Nagbe. For a man built like a linebacker or rugby player this is no small talent but that is all that is, a talent. That talent though, seems to be matched by a growing intelligence, confidence, and ability to shape not only a backline but a game. I have a theory as to why this seems to be happening so quickly. The thing of the Porter Timbers is that their style and objectives, defined with the kind of clear-eyed conciseness that Porter displays everywhere, allow players to learn and grow because there is a sense of how things are probably going to be that limits the number of wrong moves the team will make or an individual will make within the team. “Style is in limitation” as Helenio Herrera said. The Ricketts of 2012 and Ricketts of now, the Nagbe, the Rodney Wallace. None of these players looked confident in their system, where their team-mates would be, how to anticipate the number of myriad ways things could and would go wrong. With a system, with a style, you have a basis for growth and so you see these players, the younger players in particular, growing and blossoming together, becoming better because they have a structure and confidence in one another in which to learn. And so Andrew Jean-Baptiste goes from a promising player out on loan to now a promising solid defender in the backline, and after Saturdays game, the catalyst of an indelibly ecstatic memory. Will he err again? Almost certainly, but if there’s one thing we can have learned from watching him thus far, it’s that he’ll make amends with all the speed he can muster.
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: Island of Misfit Toys
Part 2: Everyday Magic
Part 3: Defensive Axis
Part 4: Endurance
Part 5: Maximum Impact
Goal 88. Rodney Wallace vs Sporting Kansas City
27th April 2013
A change of style was expected when the Timbers appointed a new head coach, but the individual impact Porter has had on the players both new and old has been the most refreshing change of all.
The Timbers pounced upon a loose pass by Sporting Kansas City, with Diego Chara showing physical strength and presence of mind to play the ball into the path of Rodney Wallace.
Wallace slots the ball coolly past the keeper, notching his second for the season and the Timbers third on the night. It would prove to be the winner, and the first time the Timbers had scored three on the road.
Rodney Wallace’s goal against Kansas City was the crucial third in a 3-2 win, just as it was his goal that proved to be enough for Portland to hang on to against Dallas in early 2011 when a late breakdown threatened to see a three goal advantage wiped out entirely..
His impact in games, especially when it comes to scoring goals, is second to none on the Timbers roster. He just has a knack of scoring important goals, with every single goal of his “earning” points in someway.
Compare and contrast that record with Kris Boyd. The Scot scored a bunch of goals against LA – his three is second only to Landon Donovan’s four in matches between the clubs – which is nice, except that each and every one of them end up being consolation goals, despite putting his time 1-0 up twice.
After this goal Wallace would add winners against Chivas
USA and DC United with his next two goals, and diversified into assists by having a hand in all three of the Timbers goals against Colorado in their last match before this little mid-season break.
Over the first two seasons Wallace had struggled to put together a consistent run by confounding the previous coaches very rigid round-hole tactical system. In defence, Wallace always looked more comfortable in attack than when defending,but when played as a winger, it was his defensive cover and pressing that impressed more than his wing play.
His role, as he’s come to define it, didn’t exist then, so Wallace was destined to fall between two stools. With his new role that covers a much larger territory than Spencer’s tight lines, Wallace has finally found a role that rewards his lightning ability to change the speed of play and defensive reading of the game without relying on him to be the last line of defence or forcing him to play in a box.
Nevertheless, Wallace had to play his way into the team having started 2013 on the bench.
In the 177 minutes Wallace had played coming off the bench, the Timbers have scored four times, with all of them coming this season in under 80 minutes of late game “Wallace Time”. He scored one himself, a late, late equalizer against Seattle, and notched an assist against Dallas.
Wallace’s importance to the team was underlined when he missed three games due to international duties, a situation Merritt Paulson bemoaned on twitter.
and as long as i am airing, I get losing key player for country…but to lose a key player who is not even suited up just kills me. Kills me
— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) June 10, 2013
A tough run of games admittedly, with trips to Chicago and LA and visit from Dallas but, despite racking up five points, the Timbers rarely looked as fluid as they had done with Wallace in the team. Wallace saw his minutes limited in 2012, his standing among the fans drop, and a spot on the bench waiting for him in 2013, and he fought back with the kind of spirit that Caleb Porter has instilled through-out the team. This joie du foot is underlined by the fortunes of Jack Jewsbury this year.
Jewsbury’s move to right-back has reinvigorated the player and given him new purpose within the team, lending an experienced head to the defence and a steadying influence in the flanks. It’s hard to picture an XI without Jewsbury in it right now, though long term options are starting to pile up behind him at right-back at least.
Given the way he lost the captaincy it’s a credit to the man himself and the coaching team that Jewsbury hasn’t missed a step going into the XI, and has embraced the new without dishonoring the past – a tricky balancing act for a guy who was so inexorably linked to the old regime by talk of being “captain for life”.
Though money can, and does, skew things towards those who can pay the most, good coaching is still pretty easy to spot, and you can see it in abundance in Portland. Rodney Wallace didn’t suddenly become a great player, it just took great coach to bring it out of him.
And Jewsbury’s case is a great example of man management and smoothing over what could’ve been a delicate situation. Contrast that to publicly lambasting the club’s assist leader in an effort to get him to try harder.
All in all, it’s a marked difference for the days when players didn’t seem to know what the plan was on the field, and the atmosphere wasn’t great off it. As an aside, it’s a long held theory of mine that the time until a manager is sacked and a weight being lifted off a club is inversely proportional to the number of goal celebrations that make a point of including the manager. Just saying.
Motivating hungry players like Will Johnson or Diego Chara, or firing up Andrew Jean-Baptiste or Darlington Nagbe are fairly simple tasks compared to the job Porter has done in getting some fantastic contributions from some of the more experienced signings.
Frederic Piquionne, Pa Moudo Kah and Mikael Silvestre have a combined age of 101, but there’s no sense that any of the three are just here for the cash like a score of previous such signings to the league. Generally speaking buying guys the wrong side of 30 from the middle east isn’t the way to go about building a team founded on hard-work and technique, but Kah gives us just those traits and more and doesn’t seem to be lacking in hunger. Silvestre was a joke before coming to Portland, and provided a couple of punchlines in his debut, but pre-injury he’d become the the heartbeat of a defence that was giving up very little.
Piquionne, like Silvestre, hadn’t played a competitive (domestic league) game in over a year before joining the Timbers. It had been a 4-0 defeat for Doncaster in April 2012 which wouldn’t seem t bode well, but he has added an extra dimension to the attack since joining and looks to have the energy (for 60-70 minutes, at least) of a player 10 years his junior.
Soccer fans are well accustomed to the effects of the new manager bump, or the new star striker who scores in his debut before fading away as the season goes on. all of Perhaps this is Porter’s bump and the likes of Wallace or Piquionne will fade with the team as the season wears on, but I’m not so sure. There’s a different feeling about this season. Things are being done better, on and off the field, and this breeds a cautious optimism in even glass-half-empty Scots that this not a flash in the pan.
Not all are as impressed by the Timbers, or their unbeaten run, but we as fans are allowed to get a little carried away. The clouds around Jeld-Wen Field have lifted but with this being the Pacific Northwest and all, they are never too far away.
So, let’s all enjoy the sunshine in the meantime.
Goal 100. Frederic Piquionne vs Colorado Rapids
23rd June 2013
The future’s bright, the future’s green and gold. The Timbers have started 2013 beyond most fan’s wildest expectations, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change anytime soon.
A quick free kick is taken by Will Johnson, who rolls the ball to Rodney Wallace. Wallace’s cross is attacked by Frederic Piquionne, whose header has too much on it for the Rapids keeper.
The goal was the club’s 100th in MLS, and Piquionne’s first, though he already had already set a record with four in a single US Open Cup match.
There is something fitting in the 100th goal coming from one of the new guard. Will Johnson’s quick thinking caught Colorado out, as it would do again for the Timbers’ 2nd goal of the game. Ben Zemanski’s interception started off the lighting strike move that led to Ryan Johnson adding a third.
I’ve already written about squad depth and covered a lot of what I like about the club’s trade policy this year, so this part will be fairly short.
The word that applies most to what I see from Portland is “fun”. Fun on the pitch, fun off it. There have been times during the first couple of years that it would be easy to forget that the game can be pretty damn fun sometimes.
Winning helps, of course, but more than that it’s just the joy of watching a group of guys go out there and express themselves.
The team work hard to make it seem effortless at times, with the old guys buying into the new way of doing things and complementing the fresh blood.
Of course, there is no way of knowing where this story will go from here. My performance on the Prediction League only underlines that I’m not a guy to take tips from, and I don’t think there is anything a time traveller from the future could tell us about the rest of this season to come that would surprise a Portland Timbers fan.
Our little midseason break is over, and it’s back to real soccer again. Good feelings tend to only last as long as good results do, and in a way Porter has set a bar for himself that will be harder and harder to raise but that’s a challenge the man seems to relish, or else why would he leave his place at the top of the college soccer pyramid for a spot with a team that was trending downwards.
I don’t think a defeat or two will dampen the ardor of the Rose City faithful. There’s an understanding that everything must come to an end and there will be times when luck deserts the side or we’re just flat out bad.
That’s fine. We accept that. So long as we can see progress on and off it, and players on the field that honor the badge and have some damned fun doing it, the Timbers Army will always have the team’s back through good times and bad.
We can’t know the future, be it’s gonna be a whole lotta fun finding out what it holds for us.
Thanks for reading this series of posts. It’s taken a bit of time to put them together, and I hope you enjoyed at least something in there.
I won’t be posting as much on here for the next while. You probably noticed by output has been way done. There could be another move in the near future, and simply put, it’s time to get a job and put the hobbies on the backburner for a bit.
I’ll still post things here and there when I get the time, but for the next few months at least it’ll be left to our fantastic group of contributors to bring you the kind of coverage of the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns that you’ve come to expect from the site.
Thanks again for swinging by, and if you’re new then please do stick around and see if the place is for you.