Tag Archives: 100 UP

Timbers 100: Part Four – Endurance

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

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 61. Sal Zizzo vs Toronto FC

15th August 2012

Banner 100 7

Hodophobia, fear of travel, is something Timbers fans would be familiar with after one wearying disappointment after another on the road. For Sal Zizzo the toughest journey he’s faced so far has been from the bench to the field.


Watch The Goal Here

Steven Smith’s corner was met by David Horst at the back post. The ball fell into the path of Zizzo, who took a couple of stabs at getting the ball home.

It remains Zizzo’s sole goal in over 60 MLS appearances, but he made up for a lack of goals with four assists in the latter half of the season in his most productive spell in Portland.


121 days, 718 minutes of play, had elapsed between the Timbers last road goal and Sal Zizzo poking the ball over the line in Toronto.

Kris Boyd had been the last Portland player to enjoy scoring on foreign soil, way back in April when he put the Timbers 1-0 up on LA.

Zizzo and Boyd’s goals were the only times that year that the Timbers had taken the lead in eleven road games, and the ten previous to Toronto had seen the Timbers draw two and lose eight. Nagbe’s equalizer against Dallas was the only other goal the Timbers had scored on the road in 2012.

The strength of Portland at home during their debut season, including one run of five straight wins and another of four, only threw their road form into even sharper focus. Only 12 of the team’s 42 points (29%) were earned on the road in 2011, and that dropped to 7 in 34 (21%) in 2012.

Neither Boyd nor Zizzo’s goals would count towards the Timbers first road win on 2012, and it’s a curious stat that of Boyd’s 7 goals, 5 were to put the Timbers 1-0 up, and the Timbers lost 3, drew 1 and won only once.

100 Road Games

Getting the first goal is often crucial, on the road arguably more so, and the Timbers haven’t been able to consistently do so. Their overall tally stands at 41-39 in favour of the opposition, but their away record is poor, going behind in almost two-thirds of games.

100 Road PerformanceGiven their poor record in scoring first away from home, and a consistent inability to get points from those games, it’s little wonder that the Timbers were among the poorest road teams over 2011 and 2012, performing well below average.

By way of comparison, home form was reasonably good with the Timbers getting the first punch in more often than not, and converting those 1-0 leads into a minimum of 2 points a time.

100 Home Games

A number of lost leads in 2012 cost the Timbers crucial points, but a back of an envelope calculation shows that even if they’d only performed only averagely well on the road that year they would’ve earned 10 more points and nudged Vancouver out of the playoffs.

Five wins in 43 matches is nowhere near good enough, and it’s a telling that four of those wins involved the team keeping a clean sheet on the road, something the Timbers have only managed seven times in total.

Two of those shut-outs have come in the Timbers last three trips, and Porter’s side have yet to taste defeat on the road as part of a run that stretches back to a 1-0 win in Vancouver.

Jack Jewsbury’s ripper of a strike won the Cascadia Cup for Portland and gave Gavin Wilkinson a positive note to leave center stage on.

Sal Zizzo played in that match too, and he came to be one of the defining figures of that strange period between head coaches which is not something you’d expect of a guy who made the most appearances off the bench in 2011 with 16. He still managed 4th with 8 in 2012, but 11 of his 12 starts came under Wilkinson and he struck up a very fruitful relationship with Bright Dike.

Between the two of them we got a glimpse into a facet of Porter’s gameplan that many hadn’t given much consideration to before he arrived, which was his direct game. It’s easy to get caught up in talk about possession and quick passing, and forget that the best teams know when and how to do things “the easy way”.

Dike’s ability to bully defenders and be a target man allowed the team to fully exploit the natural width that Zizzo gives you, which they did to some effect. Frederic Piquionne plays the same way when the team break quickly, able to offer an aerial threat if a cross comes in but adds a better close control and awareness than Dike which is perhaps what let the attack down at times.

Given the resources at his disposal, Wilkinson did the best he could in putting out a team that fit the blueprint agreed with Porter. Clearly there was no way the Timbers could play then as we do now, as there was no Valeri figure back then to corkscrew the attack around, but they could take a look at players within the context of one facet of Timbers 2.0 and use that as a base to judge who stayed and who went.

Zizzo’s impact clearly did enough to earn him a spot ahead of Eric Alexander or Franck Songo’o, but we saw him used as a wing back at times which seems to have been an acknowledgement that while Zizzo did well executing this kind of gameplan, that wasn’t the Porter’s Plan A. You could see how a pacy wing-back with the ability to swing in a ball to the head of your big striker could be a real benefit to any team, especially one built to very exacting specifications Porter and Wilkinson had in mind.

Dike and Zizzo have seen their chances to play their way into Porter’s Plan A hampered by injury, and both have seen other guys come in and own their role.

Zizzo, in particular, has the toughest route into the XI. Nagbe, Wallace, Valeri, Alhassan and Valencia are his competition in attack, and Jewsbury, Harrington and Miller bar his path in defence.

He’s been here before though, as has Dike, and I wouldn’t put it past another Zizzo-Dike combination on the scoresheet before 2013 is played out.

100 join fix

Goal 74. Bright Dike vs San Jose Earthquakes

27th October 2012

bounceback

From matches in front of a few hundred people in Southern California to the brink of Africa Cup of Nations glory in South Africa, via the Pacific Northwest, Bright Dike’s story is one of being the right man at the right time. Has his time run out already?


Watch The Goal Here

Eric Alexander gets a foot in to deflect the ball towards Bright Dike in the San Jose box. The striker’s first shot is saved, but he finds the net with his second and fires the Timbers level in a largely meaningless end of season game.

It was Dike’s fifth goal in under 900 minutes, and it was fitting that it was he who scored the goal that brought down a year that promised bright things for the soon-to-be Nigerian international.


Timbers fans attentions were diverted from round the clock, 24-hour Porterwatch for a time after the curtain fell on the 2012 season by Bright Dike’s improbable run at making the Nigeria squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

A debut against Venezuela in Florida was followed by a goal against Catalunya that makes up for its shady existence as far as the official FIFA records are concerned with being a goal against a defence with freaking Pique and Puyol in it. Three touches and it’s in.

He didn’t make the squad in the end, and Nigeria didn’t seem to miss him on the way to winning the cup, but that was the least of his worries after injury forced him to miss preseason.

A bitter blow for a guy that had been forced onto the sidelines while money was thrown at players to do the very thing that Dike showed he could do under Gavin Wilkinson – score goals.

They weren’t always pretty, as his very first MLS goal shows, but Dike’s sheer athleticism was a thing of beauty on its own at times too.

It was exactly the kind of dynamism that was missing in the previous custodians of the “number nine” role. Sure, a case could be made that both guys were and are better than Dike, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dike did more in those last few months of 2012 to remind Timbers fans what a striker was than his highly paid teammates.

There’s a reason why Dike’s name has been verbicized by Timbers fans and why to be Diked doesn’t mean to be beaten by a sublime piece of skill, but no-one has ever pretended Dike is something that he’s not.

The same can’t be said about Kris Boyd, though it’s perhaps not the Scot’s fault. He’s never made any secret of the fact that he’s a penalty box striker, and that’s what he likes to do best. In his own way he is every bit as limited as Bright Dike in that they both have a fairly narrow skillset that are geared towards one particular style of play. For Boyd, it was looking to get on the end of passes in the box while Dike went out to earn his name, and score goals along the way.

As it happens, Dike’s style fits Porter Swiss Army attack because it works, given the right circumstances. As poor and disjointed the Timbers were in 2012, even moreso after Spencer’s sacking, Dike found the net five times in under 900 minutes.

100 Striker MPG

His first came in the match after Zizzo’s goal, when he put the Timbers 1-0 in New York, off a Zizzo assist.

It wasn’t long before he had number two, scoring the only goal against Colorado before the consolation against RSL, and equalizers against DC United and San Jose.

As Dike was rounding off 2012 it seemed like a long time since Kris Boyd had last scored, grabbing two in a 5-3 loss to LA in July.

The writing was already on the wall by the time for Boyd. Spencer was gone and there was no getting away from his penalty miss against Cal FC no matter how many journalists you refuse to speak to. Player and club mutually fell out of love with each other, and Boyd spent most of the tail end of 2012 on the bench after having his starting spot Diked from him.

The move for Boyd was always a gamble and in the end the guy with a poor record outwith Scotland continued to have a poor record outwith Scotland. Having played few games since leaving Rangers, and with an aborted spell in Turkey behind him, Boyd had joined the Timbers as a player short of fitness and out of sync with his teammates.

Never one to make the list of a club’s fittest players in the first place, Boyd always looked a little short of sharpness and hustle that could’ve been the result a lessening of desire and focus as much as tired legs struggling to meet the demands of a league populated by proper athletes. We’ll never know.

Since his time in Portland, Boyd has returned to his old club in Kilmarnock, and scored at a moderate rate before seeing another coach who made a big deal about signing him sacked months after signing him. Where Boyd goes from here is a mystery, with Killie now under new management and with a war brewing with the fans over ownership of the club, and Rangers seemingly not on the cards.

In many ways, Dike is at a similar crossroads, but it’s one he’s been at many times before. Strikers have come and gone, failing to provide the answers the management sought, yet Dike endured on the sidelines until, with a change at the top, he got his chance to shine.

It’s hard to see a way past Johnson and Piquionne into the starting XI for Dike as it stands, with the Nigerian on the comeback trail, but that’s been said before and he’s still found his way to goal if he’s got to Dike someone to get there.

Back to top

Advertisements

Timbers 100: Part One – The Island of Misfit Toys

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

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 1. Kenny Cooper vs Colorado Rapids

19th March 2011

A BIG NAME

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.


Watch The Goal Here

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.

100 join fix

Goal 23. Eddie Johnson vs Toronto FC

30th July 2011

GHOSTS

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.


Watch The Goal Here

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.

The First 49
The chart above lists all of the players who have got on the field for the Timbers according to which seasons they’ve played in.

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.

Back to top