Tag Archives: 2013 Season

Six Degrees: Glorious

RSL denied Portland their Cinderella Story, which was all very sad, but rather than wallow for too long C.I. DeMann takes a look back over a glorious year in Soccer City USA and reminds you just how good it was to a Timbers fan in 2013.


1) It’s been a wonderful season for Timbers fans, a season with many wonderful memories, many wonderful days.

Sunday was not one of those days.

Down 4-2 in the aggregate goal count, going up against our nemesis, our boogeyman, our kryptonite, we knew going into this game that the Timbers needed things to go pretty much perfect. We’d need our best offensive performance AND our best defensive performance. We’d need to come out hot and start scoring goals early.

But if we COULDN’T score goals early, we at least couldn’t give up the first goal.

But if we COULDN’T score goals early and we DID give up the first goal, we knew we couldn’t lose both our striker and our left winger to injuries in the first half.

But if we COULDN’T score goals early and we DID give up the first goal and we DID lose both our…

Well, okay… you get my point. Sunday wasn’t our prefect game, it was our perfect storm. Our perfect shit storm.

2) I’ve written many times about Real Salt Lake and how they confound us, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. I’ll just say that, after playing them six times this year, there’s only one conclusion to make: RSL’s just the better team. Maybe this time next year, we’ll be the better team, but not yet.

If I could use only one adjective to describe RSL Sunday night, that adjective would be “disciplined.” They were always in the right position, on both offense and defense. Always making the precision pass, always stepping into the right spot to break up our passes.

At times on Sunday, I felt like I was watching one of those crappy movies where the bad guys are firing machine guns, spraying hundreds of bullets everywhere, all without hitting a thing. Meanwhile, the movie’s hero is picking them off one at a time, every bullet he fires a kill shot.

I wish I could say that in this analogy the Timbers were the movie’s hero, but we weren’t. We were the inept bad guys, spraying bullets around. It was RSL who was picking us off, one by one, every bullet a kill shot.

There are a thousand ways Sunday’s game could have gone better. Piquionne and RFW could have stayed healthy. Futty’s two goals could have counted. Valeri could have done better with his two shots around the 20th minute. And his two shots around the 56th. The team could have done this, could have done that. I could try and break it all down for you, but I won’t. I don’t want to. It was too unpleasant. I’ll just say that right now RSL’s the better team and they deserve to go to the MLS Cup.

And instead of using my last column of the year going over a miserable Sunday evening, I’d rather dedicate myself to celebrating this glorious season we just had. And oh, what a glorious year it was.

3) Oh, What A Glorious Year, Part One: Highlights From The Year.

February 17. Preseason tournament. Portland 3, San Jose 3. Our first view of Porterball. Ryan Johnson scores a hat trick. Portland fans think we’ve got the next Lionel Messi. My buddy Gene just happens to be in town for this game and says it’s the most exciting soccer game he’s ever seen.

March 3. Opening day. Portland 3, New York 3. The Timbers fall behind, then show their fans that this is NOT the same old Portland Timbers. Through sheer force of will, we get a draw. And, oh yeah, Diego Valeri scores his first. One of the prettiest goals I’ve ever seen. Anywhere.

April 27. Portland 3, Kansas City 2. Our first road win, and it was against one of the league’s best. This was when I really started to believe it was real. That the Timbers were actually good.

July 7. Portland 0, Columbus 1. The end of our monumental 15-game unbeaten streak. We played almost the entire game a man down because – and I’ll never get tired of saying this – Kah kicked a guy in the face.

July 13. Portland 2, Los Angeles 1. Andrew Jean Baptiste scores in the final seconds of stoppage time. In my entire life, I’ve never been part of a crowd losing its damn mind like we did that night. It’s entirely possible I pooped my pants. I’ll never say.

October 26. Last game of the regular season. Portland 5, Chivas 0. We become the first team in MLS history with four nine-goal scorers, which I think speaks volumes about our team’s identity.

November 2 and 7. Our first-ever playoff series. Portland 5, Seattle 3. Best. Nightmare. Ever.

4) Oh, What A Glorious Year, Part Two: Players Completely Exceeding Expectations.

Will Johnson. He was respected in Salt Lake. People knew he was good. But no one expected nine goals. No one expected his bulldog personality to become the team’s personality. No one expected his free kicks to turn into David Beckham 2.0.

Michael Harrington. Last year, he was a backup in Kansas City. This year, he led our team in minutes. He was the only sure thing on an injury-plagued back line. He was Steady Eddie, giving us the same quality performance every single game.

Rodney Freakin’ Wallace. Last year, he was… well, what WAS he? A fullback? A middie? No one knew. This year, we know what he is. One of the best left wingers in the league.

Darlington Nagbe. We always knew he had potential. This year, he finally starting meeting that potential. And he’s only scratched the surface.

Kalif Alhassan. As with Nagbe, though maybe on a smaller scale, Kalif’s a guy who’s finally starting to meet his potential. And like Nagbe, he can only get better.

Jack Jewsbury and Futty Danso. Did anyone really think Jack and Futty were going to play a lot this year? At the start of the season, Jack had lost his captaincy and Futty was a forgotten old man, 3rd or 4th on the depth chart. But we needed them to step up, and they did. In a big, big way.

Donovan Ricketts. Remember last year? How angry we were when Troy Perkins was traded for Donovan? How Ricketts looked old and creaky and definitely NOT an upgrade? Well, looks like we were wrong and General Manager Gavin Wilkinson was right.

And as long as we’re talking about Gavin…

5) Oh, What A Glorious Year, Part Three: Gavin Wilkinson Turns Into A Genius.

Donovan Ricketts. Michael Harrington. Will Johnson. Diego Valeri. Ryan Johnson. Mikael Silvestre. Pa Modou Kah. Maximiliano Urruti. Oh, and a little guy I like to call CALEB PORTER.

And those are just the signings from the last year. All those other guys on the roster who you like? Nagbe? RFW? Diego Chara? Gavin signed them, too.

I will admit, I had just as much fun as you, ripping Gavin. But this season has shut me up, perhaps for good. I’ll just have to find a new hobby.

6) Oh, What A Glorious Year, Part Four: What The Future Holds.

Off seasons are always fun. We spend the winter obsessing about our team. Arguing with each other about who the team will cut, who they’ll sign. Debating our strengths and weaknesses. Creating fake trades. Making predictions about what other teams will do. What the standings will look like next year. Who the Timbers will play in the 2014 MLS Cup. And, above all, bad-mouthing Seattle.

But this off season will be a little different, because this time, it won’t be empty hope. It won’t be “Belief Beyond Reason.” This off season, we’ll know that our team’s actually good. That they’ve got a good coach. A good personality. A good front office.

We can start to imagine a future where we aren’t Team Dysfunctional, but instead are the organization every other city envies. The team with the great young coach. The team with the suddenly brilliant GM. The team that players want to get traded to. The stadium other fans wish they could visit.

And one thing I personally will be looking forward to? Figuring out how to beat RSL. Because we’re going to the playoffs again next year. And we’ll probably have to go through them. And this time next year, I want to be writing an entirely different column. A column where I’m all geeked up about our big win and looking forward to our first MLS Cup. Which we’ll play at home
.
You can’t stop us. We are the Rose City.


7) And for the first time all year, I’m adding a SEVENTH Degree, simply so I can say goodbye. It’s been a good season, I’ve enjoyed writing these columns, and hopefully Kevin will have me back next year. (EDITORS NOTE: If Slide Rule Pass returns for 2014, it will return with Six Degrees.)

If you’re looking for something to read this long, cold, soccer-less winter, may I suggest my new book? That’s right, I’m finally published! Woo-hoo!

It’s a young adult novel called “A Punk Rock Love Song” and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Timbers, soccer, or Portland. But your teenager might enjoy it anyway. Hell, maybe YOU’D enjoy it.

Here are some links:

Amazon
iTunes
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords
Good Reads

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Look Ahead: Home Sweet Home

Whoever takes the field for the Timbers in the home opener, it’ll be a very different team to that which saw out 2012 in front a battle-weary Timbers Army. I expect only 4 players will remain in the starting team from then: Donovan Ricketts, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe. Of the other 11, 3 are gone, 2 are injured and Danny Mwanga and Sal Zizzo are unlikely to start.

Mikael Silvestre will, depending on fitness levels, start. Considering the lack of game time, and even training that the 35 year old has missed, that seems like a risk, but perhaps reflects Caleb Porter ‘playing safe’ with the established international defender partnering a much less experienced Jean-Baptiste or Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, rather than the two rookies who started together against AIK.

If Silvestre plays, Jean-Baptiste would start as Mosquera and Horst are still injured, and Danso seems to be about as welcome in the starting team as a fart in a spacesuit. © Billy Connolly


newyork

vs New York Red Bulls

Sun 3 Mar, 16:30

The Timbers kick off their third season on Sunday, facing New York Red Bulls. It’ll be the second time Thierry Henry has played at Jeld-Wen, with his debut in 2011 ending in a red card after a goal in a 3-3 draw that was also my first ever live match at Jeld-Wen, which I attended through a fog of jet-lag and as such I remember next to nothing of.

New York are one of a group of clubs that have most shaken up their rosters this offseason and, like Portland, they enter 2013 with a new head coach, Mike Petke.

Petke became the 7th head coach still under 40 in MLS this year, reflecting a trend towards a younger head coach/manager as compared to other top flights around the world.

The average age of all current, permanent head coaches/managers in each top tier league, against the current average length of each manager's current employment
The average age of all current, permanent head coaches/managers in each top tier league, against the current average length of each manager’s current employment

Petke takes over a club he’s been long associated with, and one who have yet to really get a return for their investment in high-profile players.

Henry, Tim Cahill, Fabian Espindola and Juninho Pernambucano are all guys who would expect to be on a successful team in MLS, while Dax McCarty, Jamison Olave and Heath Pearce add defensive solidity.

There are a couple of familiar faces on the New York roster this year. Eric Alexander has featured for New York this offseason, but will struggle to hold off the returning Dax McCarty from the spot alongside Cahill in midfield. Another year of waiting in the wings for a chance to impress seems to await for Alexander.

Kosuke Kimura never really found a home in the Timbers defence, but he may well start for New York at right-back. Given his struggles last year, and what the Timbers coaching staff saw of him in training every day, it may be interesting to see whether Porter looks to exploit Kimura’s lack of positional awareness by playing Harrington with more scope to go forward and beyond Kimura. This would allow Nagbe to push inside and ask questions of the New York defence by picking up the ball with 30 yards to goal rather than 50.

New York went winless in the Desert Diamond Cup, losing three of four, and seem to be struggling to find the right mix under a rookie coach – sound familiar? – but the ability of their star players means that you write them off at your peril. I think this is a winnable game, but just as we can hurt New York, the worry remains that we still have a glass jaw when it comes to defence.

If Silvestre plays, I’d expect to see us play a little deeper than we otherwise might in a home opener. It may stretch us out, and New York have players who thrive on find space between the line, so much rests on the full-backs and central midfield two to step up and put in a real shift to be both solid in defence and the link to Valeri and the forward three.

The Timbers failed to score first in each of the pre-season tournament matches, but finding the net first here would really help settle the team down and allow them to concentrate on playing a patient passing game as opposed to trying to chase down another first goal against.


montreal

vs Montreal Impact

Sat 9 Mar, 19:30

Six days after facing New York, the Timbers Army will reassemble to welcome Montreal Impact, and to see 2-0 loss in Quebec last season avenged.

Troy Perkins will, if fit and selected, play in front of his old fans for the first time since a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last August. Seems safe to bet that Perkins will receive a more favourable welcome than that for Mike Fucito

Montreal have also changed head coaches, with Marco Schällibaum giving up the glamour of life as a coaching instructor in Qatar and Mongolia to take his first head coaching job outside of Europe.

Schällibaum inherits a squad that has added to its experienced Italian core of Nesta, Ferrari and Di Vaio with the experienced winger, Andrea Pisanu.

For as bad as the Timbers were on the road last year, and they were bad, it’s worth noting that the Impact earned only 2 points more than Portland, and lost on both their 2012 trips to the West Coast.

Despite this poor away form Montreal would’ve been right in the play-off hunt until the end were it not for a late season collapse that saw them pick up only 3 points in the last 6 games. Improvements on the road are a priority this year and they can set the right tone early on as they begin the season with a Cascadia double header, opening up in Seattle before traveling down the I-5 towards fresh air.

In contrast to New York and Portland, the new coach hasn’t been busying himself building a new team so the roster remains largely unchanged, which means that they still rely heavily on the 36 year old knees of Macro Di Vaio not giving out at all.

Most likely Montreal would line up in a 4-5-1 with, fitness allowing, Di Vaio up top, Mapp and Pisanu wide, and Bernier, Arnaud, Felipe and Wallace fighting it out for the three central positions.

Once again, Montreal lack a bit of pace at the back, and it would be interesting to see what a dynamic front three of Nagbe, Trencito and Ryan Johnson could do against them, with Valeri providing the ammunition.

Chara and Will Johnson would have to match up, and push their opposite numbers on to the back foot and isolate Di Vaio, who is still capable of flashes of his old brilliance, but can be kept quiet by an organized and mobile defence.

Starting the season with 2 home matches gives Porters team a great chance to make put points on the board early on. Seattle, in Seattle, await after Montreal, so there is every imperative to hit the ground running before going in search of a debut MLS win in Groupon country.

Finn’s Five: Now The Real Work Begins, Part Two

Yesterday we looked at five questions the Timbers have to answer as the season begins, and today we’ll look at the five things that excite me about the 2013 Timbers.

1) The Valeri/Nagbe/Alhassan (or Valencia) trio.

We saw mouth watering glimpses of football this pre-season that I’ve never seen in 13 years watching the Timbers play. Moar please!

2) Will Johnson leading our midfield.

Jack Jewbsury is a hell of a nice guy but we should have traded him the minute he became an all-star in 2011. He was playing above his capabilities (and a simple look at his 7 year journeyman career in KC could confirm this) and the past year and half of back passes has been tough to watch. I’m excited to have a captain and midfield presence with some bite and on-field leadership.

3) El Trencito.

He’s going to be one of the breakout stars of MLS in 2013. The most exciting thing about him other than his footballing ability is he’s clearly bought into Porter’s system on both sides of the ball.

4) Watching our “Kids” grow.

It’s going to be fun (and painful at times) to watch our younger players blossom. Nagbe, DTG, Baptiste, Alhassan, Valencia are all going to get real minutes this year. For all the talk in the first two MLS seasons about committing to a youth project, the truth is that when the chips were down Spencer and GW went with lesser talented veterans. If the pre-season is any indication, Porter is going to actually walk the talk in this regard.

5) The Porter System.

Games will not be boring this year. We are going to lose some bizarre ones and our GAA is not going to be pretty but we are also going to have 3 and 4 and 5 goal wins. Hang on folks!

Alhassan’s Creed

Kalif Alhassan has emerged as the story of preseason for me, in a playing sense at least. It’s hugely encouraging to see the likes of Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Dylan Tucker-Gangnes being given ample playing time, and a hat-trick against San Jose was a perfect way for Ryan Johnson to take his first bow before the Timbers Army. Michael Harrington, Will Johnson, Ryan Miller and Diego Valeri have come in and look to have improved the team in key areas.

I don’t think Ryan Johnson or Valeri have made the biggest splash this preseason. With Valeri I think it’s because my sense of relief that he’s as good as we dared hope has overshadowed the fact that he’s been really pretty good. Having gone so long without a creative attacking midfielder, I was worried that when we did finally sign one, he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, live up to two largely miserable seasons’ worth of pent-up expectation, but there are signs enough that Valeri will, though any verdict in that regard could only be taken in the winter, and certainly not before a competitive ball is kicked.

Alhassan has been a source of frustration thus far in his MLS career. The flashes of undoubted talent we’ve seen from the Ghanaian only serve to underline the myriad times when he’s seemed too lightweight and utterly inconsequential to the outcome of a match. His 2012 season was beset by injuries, and I wondered whether his presence on the roster was going to be one indulgence too far for the Timbers.

As it was the similar, in both style and effectiveness, Franck Songo’o who wouldn’t be returning to Portland, not even, it would seem, to the visiting locker room. A victim of increased demands, and a perceived lack of value for that not insubstantial outlay, Songo’o has gone and, with his untidy departure, Alhassan had one more obstacle to playing time cleared away.

Alhassan was promoted from the presumably lesser regarded “second half team” in Tuscon, just in time to help the Timbers to victory against Seattle in the third match. He was still in the starting XI when the Timbers played their first home game of the preseason, providing a pin point cross for Ryan Johnson’s first goal, reminiscent of another cross almost a year ago that served to introduce Kris Boyd to the Timbers faithful.

He sat out the second match against FC Dallas, as a largely second string team lost by a single goal, but played the full 90 against AIK in a line-up that will, with a couple of tweaks, likely be the team that takes the field in front a full house against New York on Sunday.

2013 is a big season for Alhassan. His raw talent has got him this far, but if he wants to develop into a top-flight player, he has to start showing more consistency into both fitness and form. In his favour, he’s still only 22, something that can easily be forgotten as his status as one of the few who span the USL and MLS eras, albeit briefly, would seem to mark him out as one of the old guard.

This offseason has seen Porter concentrate on bringing in experienced, established players, filling the vacuum left by an outgoing of the largely disappointing and under-used. There are still prospects in the side to look out for. Tucker-Gangnes looks like one who has all the tools to make it at this level, especially if he can glean as much as he can from the top-level experience of Mikael Silvestre while they share a pitch. Darlington Nagbe continues to promise so much, and if he can find a groove with his old coach Caleb Porter, it could prove very beneficial to the Timbers play-off hopes. Jean-Baptiste, Steven Evans, Jose Adolfo Valencia; all can probably look forward to more game time in 2013 with which to flourish.

Alhassan joins this group of young players who will seek to benefit from working with coach Porter, with early signs that Kalif is currently best placed to make early strides towards fulfilling his potential in a system that makes more sense of Alhassan’s talents than any other has thus far.

He often found himself stuck out on the flanks under John Spencer. It’s a move that makes sense as Kalif can cross as well as, if not better than, anyone at the club and his close control allows him to escape from positions that other players couldn’t. Yet, he never really fit out there, peripheral in every respect, and lacking the desire to put in the required defensive shift he often left the poor sap behind him cruelly exposed.

When he did drift inside, as he was predisposed to do, it unbalanced a team that was built on a “traditional” British style, that expected things in as direct and functional a manner as possible. The “get it wide, throw it into the box” approach of 2011 and much of 2012 simply wasn’t suited to a roaming wide midfielder, so rather than be the guy the club could depend upon to provide a touch of magic in the final third when needed, racking up both assists and goals, both he and Songo’o more often became the place where attacks went to die, running themselves into dead ends, and trying too hard to do too much alone.

Though he’s been mostly played wide under Porter, the change is that his movement and roaming are now absolutely a part of the plan rather than counter to it, and integral to both his and the club’s success this season. Though it’s clear that Valeri will be expected to do much of the heavy lifting in the creative sense, it would be foolish to lay all our hopes at his feet as other teams would get wise to that very early on, and set about negating his influence by fair means or foul. The movement and spontaneity of Alhassan, and Nagbe for that matter, are crucial in giving opponent’s something else to think about, and keeping the Timbers attack from becoming too predictable and two-dimensional.

Alhassan stands a good chance of the being the only player who took the field in Portland’s first MLS match to line up at the start of their third season. The fact he’s shown such staying power despite never really holding down a first team spot for any great length of time shows that his ability is clearly held in high regard by the Timbers coaching staff, but now it’s time for Kalif to start rewarding that patience with tangible, on-field returns.

What Now 2: Electric Boogaloo

Okay. I’ll admit it; I’ve always wanted to write a blog post with “Electric Boogaloo” in the title. I was young in the Eighties. Sorry.

Anyway.

So; here we are.

The Portland Timbers are coming off a pretty ragged season with a team in some disarray and no head coach. The next time we’ll see the Boys in Green on the pitch will be in the spring, when – we hope – the new coach Caleb Porter will have brought some calm and order to the House of Pane, shattered by poor results on the pitch and broken by hard feelings off the pitch between the most hardbitten supporters and the interim coach/long-term general manager Gavin Wilkinson.

There has been talk of a wholesale housecleaning.

But in my opinion that is all it is; talk.

Given the approach that this team management has taken in the past, and what we’ve seen on the pitch this season and last, I cannot believe that who we will see run out on the pitch next season will be all that much different, either in form or in function, from what we have seen up until now. We will not suddenly see a side full of crafty veterans leading enthusiastic youngsters, all bursting with soccer skills.

As we talked about in the preceding post, we are likely to see many players of fair-to-middling grade MLS abilities… but many of them will have one or more limitations, ranging from trivial to significant, in their skill-set. And we will see a smaller but significant group that is better skilled – when they are at their best – but prone to maddening reversals of fortune, drifting in and out of matches, or in and out of the roster as their touch ebbs and flows.

That’s who we seem to be, that’s who Gavin and Merritt seem to find to stuff the Boot Room with. So that’s what we need to work with. That’s how we need to go forward.

We’re not going to be Spain. Let’s abandon the notion that we will ever have the quality to play “Timber-taka”.

We’re not going to be Germany, or France, or even Holland.

So.

We need to be Finland.

You say; OK, smart guy – how can we win as Finland?

Here’s how;

1. Play smart, not hard. OK, yeah, play hard. BUT play smart, too.

I heard a lot of talk on the ‘Net about how the 2012 Timbers lacked “heart”. How they didn’t play “like they cared”. How the team would roll over and die like a possum on the interstate when things went wrong.

But when I watched the team I didn’t usually see that.

OK, Dallas away? Yeah, crap, I saw it then.

But what I usually saw was a team that was tossed out onto the pitch without a plan. Without a through understanding of their opponents. I saw a group that had been given some vague instructions on what their coach wanted them to do, probably some offhand suggestions on how to cope with the opponents’ strengths, and then told to go play and see what happens. Not surprisingly, when our opponents then went through us like a dose of salts the guys got frustrated and confused; they felt like they had been out-coached and couldn’t win – from the stands that looks a lot like jackin’ it. But in my opinion it was pure coaching laziness; an approach that says, we’re just gonna go out and kick the ball around and hope for the best.

If you’re Spain, or Germany, or San Jose… you can get away with that. You have such dominant skills – even if those skills are the skills of a Lenhart; deep-dyed evil flopping and thuggery – that you can impose them on your enemy.

The Timbers can’t. Finland, remember, the plucky little guy?

For teams like us, teams with a thin roster and limited skills, each match has to be approached as a new challenge. Every opponent is a new day, a new plan. The team; the tactical plan, the roster, the communications, the discipline, needs to be adjusted to every match – and then constantly assessed during the match to re-adjust to the opponent’s moves.

Gavin, as a coach, was flat-out awful at this. Spencer seemed to pick this up from him; his “tactics” never varied. His starting XI seemed to be “whoever played well last match”.

We can’t win that way.

Merritt is going to have to give Porter the resources to do an extensive scouting and preparation for each match next season and the next on ad infinitum. And Porter will have to be constantly assessing both our team and our opponents to find the most advantageous matchups he can find. And then use his substitutions to counter their counters.

It will be nerve-wracking. It won’t always work. But I believe that it can work better than the past two season’s lassiez faire approach.

2. Play disciplined: you aren’t the dinosaur, you’re the small mammal that eats their eggs.

The 2012 Timbers were among the least tactically disciplined – and sophisticated – teams I have watched outside Vancouver away this past October and several U-12 sides in North Portland.

It showed in all aspects of our play. It showed in our backline the most; our repeated inability to catch attackers offsides, in our failure to mark and cover each other, in our backline/keeper communications. But it also showed in attack, in our inability to put together strings of attacking passes, or an attack that didn’t consistently breakdown inside the 18. It showed in out wasteful finishing, and our failure to get repeated chances on goal from an attacking series.

It even showed in something as simple as our throw-ins. I can’t be sure, but I’d think that we had the poorest ratio of throws to possession-from-throws of any team in MLS. We were just terrible at throw-ins.

Oh – and corners and free kicks! Gah! We were so good at that in 2011! The hallmark of a team that is dangerous from set-pieces is that the team will place the free kick where it wants to, and the players will get to the ball before the defenders. We took a huge step backwards there; our set-piece discipline was terrible in 2012.

See the theme here? We were either careless or wasteful on the pitch, and it cost us.

Overtalented teams can be wasteful. There will always be another chance, another shot, another corner.

Finland – sorry, the Timbers – can’t afford to be wasteful. They can’t afford to be careless. That shot has GOT to be on frame. That corner has GOT to be on a Timber’s head. Because it might be the one chance you get all half, or even all match. You HAVE to make it count.

Teams with good but limited skills can succeed with on-field discipline; hell, look at the entire history of Italian international football.

If Coach Porter can succeed in instilling that sort of discipline in this team, I think we should see some real improvement on the pitch in 2013.

3. Quantity has a quality of its own, but it’s a lot better and more fun to have quality instead

In my opinion, infusing more intelligence and discipline in our coaching and our play can take this group of players – or someone like them – further in 2013 that we have come so far.

But the problem is that to go further, we STILL have pieces that aren’t there.

Remember; the Soviets won in the end. Pluck, smarts, and discipline can only take you so far.

We still need someone who can create from the center of the midfield; someone who can provide service, start attacks, and provide a threat that will negate the current problem that if you take away the flanks the Timbers cannot generate attack.

We still need a right fullback who can be relied upon to shut down that wing.

We need Coach Porter to recognize this, and to insist that the team move the heavens and the earth to find and bring those players here.

———–

So here’s what I think is our bottom line:

We need a coach who understands the game, and how individual players, groups, and tactics can be tweaked to get the most out of that game. If I understand this correctly, Caleb Porter appears to be such a coach.

We need a group of players willing to be coached in such a way, and willing to adapt their game to take advantage of their strengths, minimize their weaknesses, and work together to do that. We will see whether our players will be such a team.

But – to me most important – we need an owner and a general manager that understands that this is how a team like Portland moves forward.

I’m not sure whether Merritt and Gavin are such a management.

But we’ll see, won’t we?

————–

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put 2012 behind us and warm up the songs for 2013. RCTID- Onward, Rose City!

The Questionable Seven

With only 180 minutes left of the 2012 season, the thoughts of Portland Timbers fans are already turning to 2013. A huge job awaits Caleb Porter when he flies west in December as the squad needs some urgent surgery if it’s to be in any shape to challenge for a playoff place next year.

Players like Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and Hanyer Mosquera can feel pretty secure in their positions within the team, while guys like Lovel Palmer and Mike Fucito may be starting to pack up their belongings in an old canvas sack as I type. For a large majority of the roster, though, this offseason will be one of great uncertainty.

Porter may decide that continuity is important to the team, and look to retain a large core of the squad, with a few additions and alterations here and there, but I suspect, in an ideal world, Porter would much to prefer to rip it up and start again, largely from scratch. There are precious few guys in the current roster who you would say fit into the mould of guys who can play the way Porter wants his teams to play, with quick, accurate passes and incisive movement.

With that in mind, I’ll take a quick look at seven of the guys I’d put into that “questionable” bracket and try and guess whether they’ll be back in Timbers green in 2013.

[learn_more caption=”Kalif Alhassan”]
2012 Record: 15 Appearances (10 Starts), 2 Assists, 1 Goal

Kalif Alhassan joined the Timbers in the twilight of their USL days with a view to progressing into MLS. Had a big role to play in 2011 with 6 assists in 27 starts, and on his day he is capable of creating a bit of magic out of nothing. 2012 has been something of a washout for the Ghanaian however, as he’s missed much of it through a series of niggling injuries.

Reasons to keep: He’s still young and can, hopefully, put the injuries behind him. With some disciplined coaching, could reign in his rather anarchic approach to tactical instruction and become a key component in Porter’s 4-3-3.

Reasons to cut: Injuries have curtailed his development at a crucial time, and when he does play he is inconsistent and tactically naive. Perhaps a little too similar to, but lacking the finesse of, Franck Songo’o.

Verdict: He doesn’t command a great wage, and is still pretty young, so he’ll be back. Next year will be the biggest of his Timbers career. Make or break time.

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[learn_more caption=”Jack Jewsbury”]
2012 Record: 31 Appearances (30 Starts), 4 Assists, 2 Goals

Captain Jack came into 2012 as an MLS All-Star following a tremendous debut year for Portland. However, he has rarely even threatened to live up to the standards of that first season with some fans questioning his seemingly unshakable place in the first XI. He’s far away the player with most on-field time for Portland in MLS with almost 800 more minutes than Chara, the club’s #2.

Reasons to keep: He’s clearly popular with the squad and respected by the coaching staff. His position as club captain has rarely been in doubt, and he has shown versatility in filling in at right back during an injury crisis.

Reasons to cut: Lacks the tenacity and awareness to be a regular defensive midfielder, as well as the craft and creativity to play further forward. Always a sense that wherever he plays, he’s the second best option there. Turns 32 next year, so is unlikely to improve.

Verdict: He’ll be back but whether he’ll be the first name on the team sheet any more is up for debate, though, considering he left Kansas City when she spent much of the back-end of 2010 on the bench, will he accept a squad role next year?

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[learn_more caption=”Kris Boyd”]
2012 Record: 26 Appearances (22 Starts), 1 Assist, 7 Goals

Kris Boyd set records for goalscoring in the Scottish Premier League, but after an undistinguished spell in England, and a short stint in Turkey, he came to Portland with expectations riding high that he could recapture his old form and fire the Timbers towards the playoffs. Like his predecessor, Kenny Cooper, he found it hard to adjust to the Timbers style and, despite leading the club in goals scored, he has failed to live up to his hefty price tag for many fans.

Reasons to keep: Goals. Boyd will score them if given the chance, but those chances have been too few and too far between. His link-up play is generally good too, and he will lead the line with passion and force.

Reasons to cut: He carries a hefty wage – 10th highest player in MLS – that doesn’t match up to his return in goals. Perhaps not suited to the way Caleb Porter seeks to play. Seemingly not rated by Gavin Wilkinson.

Verdict: Unlikely to be back in Portland in 2013, though it’s not clear cut. There is talk of a potential return before the season is out

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[learn_more caption=”Eric Brunner”]
2012 Record: 12 Appearances (10 Starts), 0 Assists, 1 Goal

Eric Brunner was a solid part of the Timbers defence, and everything was going well for the ex-Columbus man until a concussion sustained against Vancouver in late May. He’s struggled to get back into the team since, making only two subs thanks to a subsequent knee injury, with David Horst – young, cheaper – having improved.

Reasons to keep: Still, arguably, the Timbers best defender, or 2nd behind Mosquera, if you’re a fan of the Colombian. Solid, reliable and fiercely committed.

Reasons to cut: Such a long lay-off with concussion is a big worry, and the knee injury doesn’t help matters. In his absence, Horst has stepped up and shown he can do a job at a fraction of the price of Brunner.

Verdict: He’ll be back, assuming there aren’t deeper, thus-far-unspoken concerns among the coaching team about his injuries. If anyone gets cut from the defence, one suspects it will be Futty Danso. Whether he can dislodge David Horst, only time will tell.

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[learn_more caption=”Bright Dike”]
2012 Record: 10 Appearances (7 Starts), 0 Assists, 4 Goals

When Dike was sent out on loan to LA Blues earlier this season, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that his Timbers career was over. After netting 10 times for the Timbers in their last year in USL, he didn’t make a single start in 2011, though he did still find the net once. Since his return from LA though, Dike has score 4 times – only 3 fewer than club leader Boyd.

Reasons to keep: Goals – the man has scored them. 4 in only 731 minutes. He’s scored from the start, and as an impact sub. He’s a handful to play against and a willing and hard worker. Has got the goals in the new system. Even with his obvious deficiencies, he has the scoring habit, and that’s a good habit to have!

Reasons to cut: He has a pretty poor touch, and lacks the more “all round” ability of his attacking colleagues. He’s a rather one-dimensional player, which is great when it works but leaves the team bereft in attack when it doesn’t.

Verdict: He’s certainly earned a 2013 roster spot, but I’d fear for the team if he’s back as first choice. A good weapon to have in the arsenal.

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[learn_more caption=”Rodney Wallace”]
2012 Record: 18 Appearances (14 Starts), 1 Assist, 1 Goal

Wallace joined the Timbers in exchange for Dax McCarty befoer the start of the 2011 season, but has never really convinced in the left-back role he seemed to be earmarked for. Despite that, he’s racked up over 40 appearances for the MLS Timbers meaning only four current Timbers have logged more on-field minutes than he.

Reasons to keep: Can play all up the left-side and has turned his hand to a central midfield role too. He’s chipped in with a few goals and assists, and is still relatively young at 24.

Reasons to cut: Lapses in concentration can, and have, cost the Timbers dearly in defence and he simply isn’t as good as the other attacking options available. Commands a salary that is out of sync with his role as a squad player.

Verdict: Will be back, but only if the Timbers can’t find a taker for him.

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[learn_more caption=”Eric Alexander”]
2012 Record: 23 Appearances (13 Starts), 6 Assists, 0 Goals

Eric Alexander joined the Timbers from FC Dallas towards the end of the 2011 season in exchange for Jeremy Hall, but has failed to nail down a starting spot, with only 16 starts in his time as a Timber. An industrious and tidy midfielder with good range of passing.

Reasons to keep: The clubs leader in assists, despite being on the fringes of the starting XI. It wasn’t so long that he was on the fringes of the USMNT. Showed his game has steel when he subbed for Chara and acquitted himself well in a more defensive role. Still only 24, and not a big earner.

Reasons to cut: Assists fudged by at least a couple of those assists having more to do with Nagbe creating something out of nothing than Alexander’s work. Unable to impose himself on the team when he’s been given the chance. Had his work rate questioned by management.

Verdict: Trade bait. Underutilized, under-appreciated and seemingly unwanted by an organisation that can’t seem to find room for him in midfield.

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What do you think? Who goes, who stays, and whose place is up for debate?