Tag Archives: John Spencer

Backs To The Wall

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.


Welcome Home?

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.

The Core

The Core


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.

Players Minutes 111213

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.

Timbers XI

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.

Timbers XI 2011

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.

Timbers XI 2013

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.

Timbers XI 2012

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.

Timbers XI 2012 B

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.

Timbers 100: Part Three – Defensive Axis

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 50. Eric Brunner vs Chicago Fire

20th May 2012

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When is a defender not a defender? Is it when he’s scoring goals, or when’s he failing to prevent them? Taking a look at Portland’s rocky relationship with ‘the big guy at the back’, and what a defender means to them then and now.


Watch The Goal Here

Eric Brunner fired home from four yards after a corner by Franck Songo’o was headed back by Hanyer Mosquera and flicked on by Kris Boyd.

It was Brunner’s first goal of the season, and put Portland on the road to a 2-1 victory, helping put a run of four defeats in five games well behind them.


Brunner’s goal against Chicago was his fourth, and final, goal for the Timbers before leaving the club at the end of the 2012, just as Songo’o, Mosquera and Boyd did too.

It was also his first goal scored with his foot for the club. His first ever goal grabbed all three points against his old club, Columbus Crew, after a quick corner. He rubbed salt into LA’s wounds with the third in a 3-0 win, again from a corner, and his last goal of 2011 got the Timbers all the points against Chivas USA. Yes, with a header from a corner.

The common factor in all of Eric Brunner’s goals is that they came from set plays, which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise when you think that it’s on corners and free-kicks that the big guys can get forward.

With a concussion sustained in the net match, Brunner’s career with the Timbers effectively ended and with his passing went what had been one of the team’s key scoring threats.

Jack Jewsbury’s exceptional set piece delivery in 2011 was the defining feature of the season, and it was from his boot that the ball was delivered towards the likes of Brunner, Futty Danso and Kevin Goldthwaite (via the head of, uh, Eric Brunner).

100 Def Head GoalsEven though the Timbers recorded fewer corner kicks than the league average, they scored nine headed goals which doesn’t count goals scored with the the foot, like Brunner’s last hurrah.

Given this bounty, you can’t really blame Spencer for doubling down on set piece or crossed goals. In 2011, 10 of the Timbers’ 40 goals were scored by defenders (25%), compared to 6 of 45 (13.5%), which is the league average. Almost double what the rest of the league were averaging.

2012 saw Spencer bring in Mosquera, an imposing presence; a heavyweight Futty. Danso scored three in 2011, including the last goal of the year against Real Salt Lake, so it would stand to reason that Mosquera would score more. Fast forward to now and neither guy has scored for the Timbers, but only one of them is still in Portland, and it’s not the “upgrade”.

That year saw only four goals from defenders, which meant that our tally matched the league average of around 11-12%.

100 GFD LA

No goals from defenders this season, yet, but that could be due to the upheaval in defence and the fact that the team have attacking players now with aerial threat that’s been missing at times, along with the ability to cross a ball.

100 Goal Chart

The goals from defence, in proportional terms at least, were replaced from midfield but you have to account for the six fewer goals the Timbers scored in 2012 which would point to an over-reliance on set-play situations as a part of the plan which suffered through poorer delivery from Jewsbury and Songo’o, as well as weak crossing from the likes of Mike Chabala and whoever else got stuck at full-back.

With no goals from defence this year, the Timbers have seen the goals previously scored by the likes of Futty Danso off a corner kick, scored by Ben Zemanski on a late run forward or Will Johnson after attacking pressure draws a penalty. It’s a different kind of attack, an while we’ll still see balls lofted in for people to attack, this side are more concerned about it being as part of live play than from a dead ball an that changes the emphasis to attack.

That’s not to say we’ve given up on defenders pitching in as a team with Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah on the roster will inevitably score some along the way as the Timbers attack increases pressure, drawing free-kicks and corners.

The fact is, while it’s good to get the big guys up and throw the ball into the mix, the defenders aren’t primarily there score goals, and the move for Mosquera was as much about plugging the defence as beefing the attack.

A clean sheet is the most valuable asset in soccer. More so than a goal, I think. A goal could mean anything, really. It could be the last minute winner, or the 1 in a 5-1 thrashing. A clean sheet has actual value. In fact, if you were to discount consolation goals and goals that weren’t result critical (ie goal #3 in a 2-1 win), only 27 of the Timbers 40 goals in 2011 actually mattered. So, only a 2 in a 3 chance that a goal will mean anything, whereas every single clean sheet your team get is worth, at the very least, one point. Guaranteed.

Obviously it’s not as cut and dried as that as every goal matters as they change the game, but it’s serves to underline the point that the teams that top the league are generally built on solid foundations at the back. It’s something that I think is often overlooked by teams who concentrate on the headline figure who’ll put the ball in the net. The Timbers certainly did this, going big on Cooper and Boyd, but it was only after John Spencer left that they made a move that seemed curious at the time – signing Donovan Ricketts in exchange for Troy Perkins.

That trade left a bitter taste in the mouth that has been steadily washed away by the taste of Ricketts’ [this metaphor got away from me and it’s probably best it remains unpublished]. The fact his contract has been renewed only weeks after his 36th birthday is testament to what he’s done this season behind a defence that has been in a seemingly constant state of flux. The Timbers paid more for someone who looked older, and played olderer but it worked. It was the right call.

Flawed though the method of working out goals that count is, if you were to carry it on to 2012, you’d find only 23 of the 34 goals counted which pretty much mirrors season one. 2013 though sees 21 of 28 having a direct effect on the result, a rise to 75%.

The reason behind this jump is the Timbers much improved clean sheet record which has seen them register 8 clean sheets in half a season, compared to 9 and 5 through the whole of 2011 and 2012. Of the 9 shut-outs in 2011, the Timbers won 8, giving it a value of 2.8 points. That dropped to 2.2 in 2012, but is back up to 2.5 this season.

Despite great value from their shut-outs in 2011, the flip side is that the Timbers were shut-out themselves too often, meaning of the 9 times Portland failed to score, they lost 8. As with so much of that first year team, it was either the sublime or the ridiculous.

2012 saw the Timbers fail to net 12 times, earning 2 points. With half the season gone, the Timbers have failed to score twice in 2013 but they’ve drawn both these ties. When you can still get points on the rare occasions you don’t score, then it’s going to be that much tougher for others to slow you down.

The Timbers are making their goals count, and have put to rest one of the team’s great weaknesses under previous management; the late game collapse.

100 Goal Agg TimeThe Timbers are winning the second half for the first time in MLS after it being their Achilles Heel through ‘11 and ‘12.

The figures can paint the story of the years. 2011 saw the Timbers start games slowly, but go into the break with a fighting chance before falling just short as the second half wore. 2012 was never good enough; chances are, whenever you tuned in, the Timbers were losing. 2013 has seen some slow starts, but big comebacks and a couple of blow-out wins, judging by that ridiculous second half score.

Brunner wasn’t the only big casualty at the back.

The fact that the Timbers have the third best defence on 0.94 goals per game defies conventional wisdom when you look at the way that Caleb Porter has had to adapt it to account for a laundry list of injuries.

Keeping this figure below 1.00, guaranteeing those cleans sheets, is what gives the team it’s forward momentum up the table. It’s not unreasonable to think that other teams are going to start finding answers to the questions Porter has posed them in attack so far, so keeping it closed down at the back becomes ever more important, especially moving into the offseason.

Whether Caleb Porter can keep all the balls in the air remains to be seen, but with the season halfway gone, you’d have to say he’s doing a pretty fucking good job so far.

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Goal 53. Kris Boyd vs Seattle Sounders

24th June 2012

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There are no sure things in football, and the transfer market provides no greater example of this. A team is only as good as its ability to recognize talent, something that few in Portland seemed to possess, until now.


Watch The Goal Here

Steven Smith and Franck Songo’o combined down the left, before the Scot fired a low cross into the path of Kris Boyd to put Portland 1-0 against their great rivals.

The Timbers would go on to record a win, with David Horst scoring the important second goal. The three points helped the team on their way to Cascadia Cup glory, salvaging something from a year of miserable soccer.


Kris Boyd was a gamble. A million dollar gamble. When you put those kinda wagers on, you run the risk of losing fingers if it doesn’t come off for you so perhaps John Spencer is lucky to have just lost his job.

Truth is that Spencer’s gamble wasn’t on Boyd alone, but on leveraging his knowledge of and contacts within the English and Scottish leagues to put together a side to succeed half the world away.

Boyd was joined by Steven Smith, ex-Rangers teammate, with Franck Songo’o picked up after a spell bouncing around England and Spain, and they were linked with many more British-based players as Spencer sought out the familiar.

This little clique was not the only georgraphical grouping in the team. Five Colombian players – Diego Chara, Hanyer Mosquera and Jorge Perlaza, Jose Valencia and Sebastian Rincon – all started the 2012 season in Portland, though only three remain this year.

And then there is New Zealand, that footballing powerhouse. Jake Gleeson looked like the future of the team at one point, but looks less so today now that he’s, at best, third choice. Cameron Knowles is an ex-Timbers player and current-Timbers defensive coach, a job title akin to Chief Deckchair Arranger on the Titanic at times. And then there’s Ian Hogg, whose existence is only marginally better attested to than Sasquatch.

These were the three wells the Timbers dug in 2011 and 2012, and they kept going back to them long after they came up dry. A failure to recognise the problem saw a whole bunch of guys deemed surplus to requirements before Caleb Porter set foot in Portland.

Boyd, Songo’o, Smith, Mosquera, Perlaza, Hogg. They all flopped to a greater or lesser degree and have been swept away so that Caleb Porter could start with a fresh slate.

In one sense, looking for value in Colombia makes sense. The league there isn’t rich, but is good enough to be of a standard to produce good MLS players while not so good that it’s as yet on the radar of most of European powers, driving up the price and shallowing the talent pool available to the rest.

In 2012, there were 30 Colombians in MLS, ranking them just behind USA in representation. This year it is down to 20, with the likes of Fredy Montero and Juan Pablo Angel joining Mosquera and Perlaza in leaving the league.

This year the Timbers didn’t add to their Colombian collections, nor their Scots or Kiwis, as they cast their nets a bit wider. Silvestre and Piquionne had a history in the UK, but added experience at the top level in other countries, while the likes of Kah and Valeri have added cool heads where they’re needed in defence and attack.

This season has seen the Timbers use fewer American players than ever before, even when the team seemed to be composed of a Scots-Colombian confederation.

100 Foreign PlayersThough players like Dike and Purdy count a foreign players despite being born in the States, and Nagbe more likely has US caps in his future rather than Liberian, but it illustrates a consistent reliance in buying in talent, something that has only increased over the three seasons.

The African contingent, of which Nagbe and Dike can count themselves, has stayed steady, with an Umony being replaced by a Songo’o, which in turns is replaced by a Kah, who is counted as African for the purposes of this, and as homage to CI DeMann’s “Great Wall of Gambia”.

The biggest variation in South and Central America, where 2012 saw a big jump as the Timbers went big on Colombia; a bubble that seems to have popped with the 33% reduction in representation this year, caused by a whole bunch of MLS teams scouting the country for the same bargains. Diego Chara is the one South American to have played in all three seasons, and stands alongside Rodney Wallace and Jack Jewsbury as the best trade/expansion moves the Spencer/Wilkinson brain trust ever pulled off.

The European contingent has also undergone a big change. The 4 Europeans who played in ‘11 and ‘12 are all Brits – Moffat, Boyd, Smith and Eddie Johnson – but none of the 3 Euros in the 2013 roster are, being replaced by two Frenchmen (Silvestre and Piquionne – yes, I know, New Caledonia and Martinique.) and a Serb, Milos Kocic.

Despite bringing in more foreign players, Porter has added MLS experience in the likes of Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Kocic and Ricketts, but it does leave the places for “homegrown” talent at a premium.

Darlington Nagbe and Andrew Jean-Baptiste have featured as SuperDraft picks, with Brent Richards seeing time here and there. Beyond that a number of players orbited the first team but never made the pitch, like Chris Taylor or Ryan Kawulok.

It’s to be expected that only a few will ever make the grade. There’s a reason why the big clubs have yearly intakes that can field numerous teams through the age levels, and why tags like “ex-Barcelona youth” don’t mean a great deal on their own.

Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, their sole 2013 SuperDraft pick, and Bryan Gallego may yet have a future, and there are some in the U-23’s or reserves that could take the step up, but for now it’s hard to see the Timbers breaking their reliance on buying in talent.

The days of gambling on bringing in players with impressive resumes from abroad clearly aren’t gone, but we’re putting it on guys with impressive international experience rather than experience of toiling around the second or third tier of English football.

By no longer fishing in three same pools, only one of which has really given us any sort of meaningful return, and widening our vision to places like Scandinavia, the Timbers are finding more value and MLS-ready players. Diskerud, Miller and Kah are or have been playing there, and the latter looks like the proverbial rock at the back.

Just as Spencer inclined towards the UK and Europe as the place to get the best players, and Wilkinson shopped at home and where the rest of MLS were heading, so Porter’s “backyard” is the States. The Timbers took a few punches on the transfer front over the first couple of years, regularly coming out the arse end of one trade deal after another, but are finally starting to land a few haymakers in return.

The two Johnsons, and the Zemanski and Harrington deals are absolute steals. Criminal. Illegal in nineteen States. For the grand outlay of “a bunch of allocation cash” the Timbers have added thirteen goals and eight clean sheets. Even more importantly they’ve signed guys who can bridge a divide that had opened last season between the players and fans.

Will Johnson will likely never have to buy a beer in Portland for the rest of his life, while guys like Harrington are getting involved with the fans on twitter. The days of fans demanding jerseys from players are a thankfully distant memory.

There’s a connection to these guys that was never quite there with the likes of Boyd, Songo’o or Mosquera. We wanted to love Boyd, but dammit he just didn’t score enough. We’ll always have the Monstero Death Stare [Monstero was a typo, but I’m not fixing it]. And I wanted Songo’o and Mosquera to get it right because they both had the tools to be good players, but it just never quite fit.

A squad is a constantly evolving thing, and we’ll see the front office make further moves to improve and strengthen the side. Signing a Jamaican defender, Alvas Powell, was the team’s first move of the summer, so perhaps we’re replacing Wee Glesga with Little Kingston. Right now, we seem to be in a consolidation phases with the club getting a number of players tied down to longer contracts but that doesn’t mean that enquiries aren’t be made all the time.

The new regime’s record is pretty good, but as many previous managers have found to their cost, you’re often only as good as you’re last couple of deals.

John Spencer found that one out the hard way.

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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.

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Depth Charge

There’s no hiding the love affair that is currently blossoming in the city of roses between Caleb Porter and the Timbers faithful. Cautious optimism has given way to a sense that this team will find a way through, no matter the opponent or obstacle.

The table doesn’t lie, and with a little over a third of the regular season gone the Timbers sit 2nd in the West, with the 4th best defensive record.

That latter fact is arguably the most remarkable of the two considering the constant changing around Porter has done at the back. It’s not been tinkering for tinkerings sake, most of it has been enforced, but it’s a testament to Porter’s eye for depth.

Buying depth isn’t as easy as it sounds, because if it was, I mean, you’d just pay for four good guys instead of two, right? Except there’s a salary cap, and we’re not NYCFC, so finding those four guys is a bit trickier than just going out and getting the best available, and paying them what they want.

Pa Modou Kah became the fifth player to start at center back for Portland, and Rauwshan McKenzie may be the sixth after joining recently as the Timbers have weathered a barrage of misfortune.

The coach said at the time of Kah’s signing that he didn’t see the Norwegian-Gambian defender as a replacement for the injured Mikael Silvestre, leading the backline, but he saw the Kah-Silvstre partnership as his ideal pair.

That would seem to indicate that it wasn’t in the script for Jean-Baptiste to be so heavily featured at this point. The exposure will be a great benefit to the youngster in the long term, and the Timbers have got through what could’ve been a clusterfuck of misfortune in defence without many dents in the body work, but it remains to be seen who of Jean-Baptiste, Kah, McKenzie and Futty get the nod from Porter from here on.

It’s not just in defense where Porter has added to the squad wisely, and found great value for the club’s outlay. Piquionne’s four goals against Wilmington will live long in the memories of Timbers fans, and we have Ryan Johnston, Jose Valencia and a returning Bright Dike in the hunt for goals. The addition of Will Johnson, and the reinvention of Jack Jewsbury adds depth to center of midfield and the full-back positions, and Porter continues to get the best from guys who’ve tended to underperform under previous coaches.

Without Porter and his team’s ability to find guys who can step up when needed, or offer variety or flexibility in changing the complexion of matches, we’re settling in for another one of “those years”.

A good example of the change, not just on the pitch but off it, from then to now is to look at the guys on the bench. These are our game-changers, the guys who might have to make a difference.

Rewind to 2011, and the Timbers lost their 100% home record with a 3-2 loss to DC United. Of the seven guys on the bench for the Timbers that night, three of them would’t play MLS football in 2012: Adin Brown, Eddie Johnson and Ryan Pore.

The midfield was covered by James “Non Soccer” Marcelin and Adam Moffat. Moffat would get on for a whole six minutes, and would be playing for the Dynamo in less than two months.

The final two, Darlington Nagbe and David Horst, are still on the roster, but it’s interesting to look back and note that despite being 2-1 down from the 75th minute, Nagbe didn’t get on. In the event Spencer only used two subs, something he did fairly often which seemed like a quirk of his at the time, but can be read retroactively as a sign that even he didn’t have faith in his back-up guys.

If you give Spenny another year to build his squad, then you arrive at the 1-1 draw with the Whitecaps in late May 2012. The bench this time was better, in that Horst, Rodney Wallace and Sal Zizzo all wouldn’t look out of place in or around the Timbers XI today.

However, it also had Lovel Palmer and Mike Fucito who definitely were Timbers players, I’ve seen the pictures, but I’ll be damned if my brain isn’t trying to wipe that knowledge out altogether.

Joe Bendik was back-up to Troy Perkins, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve upgraded there.

Franck Songo’o fills out the bench that night, and he’s swapped that for a couch this year, unless he’s finally found a club. Perhaps he and Steven Smith are out there, walking the land together.

This year, as we beat DC 2-0, because that’s who we are now, we had Kocic, Miller, McKenzie, Zizzo, Alhassan, Zemanski and Valencia.

Ryan Miller brings a lot of experience from abroad, and despite a grounding the States, seems to be taking a bit of time to adjust back into the groove over here, but he’s a solid back up to have. McKenzie adds depth to defense, while Zizzo, Alhassan and Valencia have been with the club since before Porter.

Ben Zemanski is a versatile player, a footballing Swiss army knife, who covers a lot of bases for a relatively bargain basement price.

This ability to fill out the squad with guys who represent great value is the key that has allowed Porter to do more than build a good first XI; he’s built a squad.

The average base salary of the benches under Spencer were $66k in 2011 and $70k in 2012. I couldn’t pull up figures for McKenzie, but I really doubt he’s going to be pulling the 2013 average of $65k significantly upwards.

It may be the heady cocktail of success and silky soccer getting to me, but I look at Porter’s bench and feel confident in flat-out saying it’s better than any bench we had under Spencer. And this is with key players out. Porter has done that, while still spending less than Spencer did to stock up on square pegs.

That’s not to say the squad is perfect, and I wonder how long we carry six central defenders when they’re all fit, but it’s certainly better than it has been in the past.

That is probably the most impressive thing about Porter’s reign thus far, and it’s this ability to build a squad that can all positively contribute that will do more to put Portland on track to silverware than all free-flowing football in the world.

The Four Axemen

As the dust settled on a convincing 3-0 victory, four players more than most would have had an extra reason to want to bask in the moment.

Rodney Wallace, the confounder of low expectation; Darlington Nagbe, maturing with every match; Jack Jewsbury, essential now more than ever, without the armband; and Diego Chara, no longer our little secret.

No other players had logged so many minutes in a Timbers kit as these four before 2013 kicked off, clocking a combined 18,000 minutes of football for Portland.

Their combined start against Chivas USA was their 25th, stretching back to a 1-0 win against San Jose in April 2011. In fact, all four of the Timbers wins in 2013 so far have come in the six matches the four have started together. In those six games, the Timbers have earned 14 of their 18 points.

It’s a sign of Porter’s exemplary use of experience to alleviate the turnover of the past ten months or so. Under John Spencer, the club very much placed themselves out there as a young club, that would work harder than everyone else. The average age of players bears this out, in that first year at least: the Timbers average age was 24.9 against a league wide average of 25.6, and a play-off average of 25.8.

On first glance the Timbers 2012 average age of 26.8 would seem to indicate that they had taken care of any issues with inexperience, but that includes the signing of Donovan Ricketts (post-Spencer) and ignores one crucial factor – the marquee signings of Kris Boyd, Hanyer Mosquera, Steven Smith and Franck Songo’o were all very impressive, but the one thing they shared in common was having never played a minute in MLS.

In 2011, the players that took the field for Portland averaged 31 MLS appearances, pre-Timbers. By 2012, even allowing for players having built some experience the previous year, that figure had risen only to 39.9 appearances before their first appearance in a Timbers kit. Take out Ricketts and Kimura, and that figure drops to 35.

The four guys mentioned above brought experience at a reasonable level in Europe and South America, but all would take time to adjust to soccer in the states. That carries an efficiency cost, and when you’re taking hits in key areas like attack, and central defence, you’re going to run into problems.

None of these guys will feature under Caleb Porter, but that doesn’t mean that Porter has shied away from buying in experience from abroad, the difference being that in Mikael Silvestre, Diego Valeri and Frederic Piquionne we have guys with French and Argentine caps, as opposed to Scottish and Cameroonian.

The experience of playing in the best leagues compensates for some of that footballing culture shock as you generally don’t build up long careers in the best leagues without having to work well in various different styles and formations.

Rather than back up his building of Scots-Colombian axis in the north west with established MLS campaigners, Spencer made a mess of it.

Jack Jewsbury and Troy Perkins stand apart in this regard, as two guys who brought a ton of MLS games, 294 between them, to the team and made them count. Neither of the next three guys with most MLS games in 2011 would be still on the roster in 2012 – Cooper, Goldthwaite and Brown.

2012 saw him bring in three guys who’d kicked a ball in MLS before suiting up for us: Eric Alexander, Danny Mwanga and Mike Fucito. I’d say that was three clean swing-and-misses.

Those guys had a pre-Portland total of 130 MLS games, and combined for 54 in 2012, only 24 of which were starts. All have gone for 2013.

Caleb Porter, while doing much the same as Spencer before him in that half of the guys making debuts for the club are also making their MLS debuts, has added some quality MLS experience.

For Kevin Goldthwaite, Eric Alexander and Mike Fucito, read Michael Harrington, Will Johnson, and Ryan Johnson. Porter’s three had 421 MLS appearances between them, and have have all featured in every match so far, giving freedom to guys like Diego Valeri to adjust and settle in, and bringing out the best in Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe.

Rodney Wallace

Wallace has been the story of the season so far for Portland. In a way, his story has often mirrored that of the club. He started the first 19 matches in 2011, but only 3 of the last 15 as the club’s early optimism ended in what looks in hindsight like the final couple of hurdles, but in reality was killed in a horrible run from May to July.

His 2012 was disrupted by injury, never quite getting started before hitting another bump in the road, just like the team as a whole.

Thus far in 2013 he’s started in the sidelines, and forced himself into the limelight just as the team has really started blossoming into something potentially very special.

If he can stay fit, and continue his good work then there’s no reason why this can’t be a breakthrough year for Wallace. He came into the season 6th in the Timbers All-Time minutes played, and has overtaken Brunner into 5th, but is still 1500 minutes behind Nagbe in 3rd. There’s no reason for him to see that gap widen as Porter seems to have found the ideal role to get the best out of him on both sides of the ball.

Wallace ZoneHe never convinced me at full-back or as a winger, but Porter has him playing out of a zone, rather than with a defined role. Zonal attacking, if you like. This allows him to go outside or in, or switch sides with Nagbe, all safe in the knowledge that at least one of Harrington (or Jewsbury), Will Johnson or Chara will have his back.

Playing with the brakes off, which isn’t to say he neglects his defensive duties as he’s one of the teams most effective players in closing down.

The main axis of Timbers defensive actions, running from Wallace to Jewsbury
The main axis of Timbers defensive actions, running from Wallace to Jewsbury

Wallace isn’t the only player Porter has taken the brakes off. Darlington Nagbe, while still frustrating, is showing signs of maturing.

Darlington Nagbe

Nagbe crossed over 5000 minutes for the Timbers this year, and into 3rd overall ahead of Troy Perkins and has started 42 of the Timbers’ last 45 games, so even though he will be only 23 in July, he’s already a key part of the team and has a wealth of experience under his belt.

With Wallace on the bench, Nagbe started the season on the left, cutting in onto his natural right foot but he’s shifted to the right side to make room for Wallace.

This move gives the Timbers guys in wide attacking roles who have more options of what to do going forward. With Nagbe on the left, 99% of the time he’s going to cut inside, and defenders will know that and expect it. Wallace can go round the outside as well as cut inside, forcing defenders to hesitate or wait for the attacker to make the first move – a great advantage to quick guys with lightning feet like Wallace and Nagbe.

Nagbe will still naturally comes inside more, but this means he can exploit any space created by opponents putting someone on Valeri, who’ll pop up on either flank throughout the game, or by the movement of Ryan Johnson up front.

Getting the best out of Nagbe was a puzzle that stumped John Spencer. We saw him played all over midfield and attack, rarely settling on one role before being move to plug another hole somewhere else. The problem wasn’t so much that Spencer was a bad coach who couldn’t find Nagbe’s role within the team, as it was that Spencer was a poor team builder who didn’t put the bodies around Nagbe that would allow him to naturally find his role.

Nagbe, more than most, benefits from being able to play without having to think about it too much. Under Spencer he was put under the constraints of a narrowly defined position, and it asked Nagbe to do more thinking than playing.

With a guy like that, you want him to go out and there and just let it happen. Know what you should be doing when the other guys have the bal, sure, but when we have it, you want him working on instinct. It’s no coincidence that if you were to list the top five Nagbe moments, they’d all be instances where he seemed to do things that surprised himself as much as anyone else. At the other end of the scale you’d have the bad misses, or the flubbed final passes that came when he’d be given too long to think about it.

With a solid base behind him, and the right group around him in attack, we’re starting to see a more confident looking Nagbe. Even in games where’s he’s not having a great night, he’s not hiding or letting his head drop.

Jack Jewsbury, similarly, didn’t let his head drop when the captaincy was given to Will Johnson and he started the year injured. His return to the XI had coincided with an upturn in the club’s fortunes.

Jack Jewsbury

Number one in minutes played, Jewsbury became the first player to reach 100 on-field hours for the Timbers. He also leads the club in all-time goals and assists, and has over 260 MLS appearances in total.

Making Jewsbury the captain made perfect sense in 2011. He was the guy with most league experience, while Perkins and Cooper were both coming back to the league after a spell in Europe.

A stellar first half of 2011 was followed by a less than stellar 2012, and I wasn’t the only one who wondered where Jack fit in this year. The debate was still going only a month ago.

The answer is wherever Caleb Porter needs him, be it midfield, full-back, or filling in at centre-back if needed. Despite the perception that Porter’s arrival would see the team look towards youth, in this early phases at least, the opposite has been true.

The average age has risen slightly from 26.8 to 27, with only two of the Timbers top ten in minutes played under 26 years old (Nagbe and Jean-Baptiste). The average age of that top ten is 28.4.

Porter knows the value of experience, and recognised a gold mine in Jewsbury. He’s shown himself adept on either side of the defence and his steady head on the back line has helped the team cope with a rotating cast of characters in the centre.

We saw a bit more attacking from him against Chivas, largely let down in the final third by his crossing as only one of his six attempts were successful, but his steady passing in the opponents half made up for. Discounting crosses, 9 of Jack’s 12 passes were successful.

Valeri Jewsbury

Getting the ball into Valeri’s feet is crucial to the Timbers, something Chivas tried to counter by putting a man on the Argentinian, and Jewsbury is good at doing just that. No surprise to see Valeri log so many actions close to Jewsbury’s busiest areas.

It made sense, and it forced the Timbers into more cross balls than was ideal, but it didn’t stop them from picking holes in the Chivas defence to lay the ball through as Chivas failed to compensate for the speed that Portland can play at, often turning defence into attack in seconds.

At the heart of this ability to transition so quickly is Diego Chara.

Diego Chara

Everyone knows about Chara’s defensive exploits, and there are probably a few guys who could show the physical evidence of it. But he’s more than an engine to gather yellow cards, he’s shown this season that if he’s given the chance, he can add value to the attack.

CharaBrk1

Every bit as solid a passer of the ball as Jewsbury, Chara hasn’t really had the chance to show what he can do in attack as he’s been seen as the defensive enforcer in midfield. Will Johnson and Chara are both able to play as the holding player or the going one, and as they play together more their reading of each other will only get better.

Chara finds himself, for maybe the first time in his MLS career, closer to the top of the assist table (joint 4th, or 2nd if you want it to sound even better) than the foul table (5th). He’s still putting in a great defensive shift every game, but he’s had some of the burden taken off him by Will Johnson alongside, and the way Porter expects everyone to contribute to defence.

The rest of the league are starting to take notice of Chara now, as much more than “that guy who fouls a lot”, and I’m sure there are a few Timbers fans who are only starting to realise just how good Chara can be as the guy who drives attacks from the back.

As with Nagbe it’s about more than simply getting the player to play “better”, it about putting guys around him that allow him to play more naturally, and we’re seeing that from Chara now.

These four guys will likely end 2013 as the top four in the Timbers all-time minutes played table. As it stands, Wallace needs only 700 minutes or so to pass Perkins.

For all Spencer’s mistakes, he actually had the core of a really good team all along, he just didn’t know how to use it. His loss is Porter’s gain as the new coach has been able to lean upon their collective experience as he sets about redefining what soccer means in the Soccer City.

Good Times, Bad Times

Timbers fans who tune in to the Rapids – Sounders match today may see a familiar face as John Spencer attends the game. Spencer’s links to Colorado run much deeper than those to Portland, or Houston.

Portland gave him his first opportunity as head coach, and it was in Houston he had mentored under Dom Kinnear for four years, but the Rapids had been the Scot’s first port of call in the US and it’s a place where he is still held in high regard.

Enough time has passed now for Spencer to have cleared his head and depressurised after an eighteen month run in the north west that had promised much, but had delivered far too infrequently. No doubt he’ll be looking to get back in the game. Soccer is his life, and the States are his home, it seems.

I half expected him to turn up on his half-brother Billy Davies’ staff at Nottingham Forest, giving him a foothold in England where his relative failure in MLS wouldn’t have garnered much attention. A fresh start. Who knows it may still happen, but by all accounts Spencer is still based Stateside, and I’m sure by now the itch is there to get involved in the game again. I don’t think he’d expect another head coach job, and I doubt he’ll want to do it at a lower level, so getting back into coaching seems like a natural move for Spencer who was, by all accounts, a very good coach at Houston.

Colorado would be a natural place for him to find his footing. Oscar Pareja has been in charge there for a year, and from his previous time as player, and then assistant, in Dallas, he’d know Spencer pretty well, and I’m sure the fans wouldn’t mind the return of a club legend.

I don’t know whether Spencer still harbours ambitions of being a head coach in MLS again, but it may be that his strength is in being an assistant. There’s nothing wrong in that; it might not carry the glamour of the top job, but neither does it put him under the microscope and the skill of working with the guys on a daily basis is one that many managers don’t possess.

In almost two years in Blackburn, playing almost 30 games more, there was another coach with a fine reputation taking his first steps into management. Steve Kean replaced Sam Allardyce in 2010, taking over Rovers during a period in the club’s history that is brought to you by the Benny Hill theme. Venky’s, the club’s new owners, tinkered with their new toy, in many ways handicapping Kean, before the situation became untenable last September.

That contrasts dramatically with Spencer’s position at Portland which, if anything, afforded him too much power and a hands off approach. Well, except when giving him line up suggestions.

Kean’s reign ended with a 28.4% (1.07 PPG) win rate, a shade lower than Spencer’s 31.1% (1.2 PPG), but the prevailing sense was that both men were out of their depth.

Kean’s reputation is more poisonous in the UK than Spencer’s is Stateside. There’s a sense that Spencer was just a good, honest coach who gave it a go but, due to a variety of factors, it never worked out for either party. The way Kean got the top job, his drunken meetings with fans and the poor performances of the team he took down have left a sour taste in the mouth, and it’s hard to see any fans warming to the idea of him on the training ground. And what manager would want him standing behind him after what happened to Big Sam…?

But Kean can travel. He’s worked in Spain before, and is a fluent Portuguese speaker, so he could always take his talents to Europe, as Spencer could, or to the UK at least.

If Spencer were to take a job back in MLS, photographers would be ringing the first time he’d be on the opposite bench to Caleb Porter on their calendars. It’s probably a distraction neither man would particularly welcome, but it may be one that’s on the horizon sooner rather than later.

Porter, like Kean, is someone whose playing career is a footnote to their achievements in the coaching sphere but, unlike Kean, he brings to his first “big” job an experience of being the head coach at college and youth international level. In this regard he differs Kean as he has very little in common with his predessecor in the Rose City.

The name that comes to mind when I think of Caleb Porter, in the way that Steve Kean does when I think of John Spencer, is Roberto Martinez.

Injury didn’t curtail Martinez’s playing career as it did Porter’s, but he never played at the top level. The bulk of his career was spent at Wigan Athletic, then in the third and fourth tiers of English football, but he earned a reputation as a big favourite and stand-out player.

His first steps into management were in the third tier, with Swansea City. A straight line can be traced back from team currently playing in the Premier League to what Martinez did in his 28 months in Wales. He left with the Swans comfortable in mid-table in the Championship and took over from Steve Bruce at Wigan in the Premier.

Interestingly, or not, his 29.2% win rate (1.14 PPG) is in the same range as Spencer’s and Kean’s, though if Porter were to repeat Martinez’s 50% win rate at Swansea, he win more games this year alone than Spencer ever did.

Martinez took over from Steve Bruce, and it would be fair to say that there is a bit of a difference in style between one man and the next. One, the ex-player who plays some unashamedly old fashioned football, and the other younger guy who brings a philosophy on how the game should be played and looks to get his team playing beautiful, but effective football, limited resources be damned.

Sound familiar?

Porter has an advantage over Martinez in that the gap from bottom to top in terms of finances is much less in MLS than it is in the Premier League, and I would hope, and expect, Porter to hiave a higher win percentage than the Spanish manager. We’re just in that period of the season where Wigan attempt a great escape from relegation, though results today weren’t kind to them. Martinez has had opportunities to move away, and up, from Wigan but has stuck with the club, completing his fourth season in charge, in much the same way that Porter stuck with the Zips when DC United came calling.

It’s hard to see how Martinez could take Wigan any further than he has. It’s not a football town in truth, with rugby being a bigger draw. He’ll always lose his best players to bigger, richer clubs, and the best he can hope for is a day out at Wembley now and then, or to go into the last stretch of the season in comfortable mid-table for a change.

The opposite is true for Porter. Portland is very much a soccer town. It’s “Soccer City USA” is more than a catchy phrase, it’s a way of life for many round here. And though the Kris Boyd experiment didn’t work out last year, Merritt Paulson and the Timbers front office have shown themselves willing to bet big on their man, even if there’s a sense that, for now at least, things have been reined in a bit in that regard.

Comfortable mid-table is the least Porter will be looking for. The nature of the playoff system means that mid-table is often enough to secure the silverwear at the end of thhe season, but Porter’s entire system and philosophy doesn’t accomodate settling for “just enough”.

With Martinez I get the sense that we’re only at the start of what will be a fine managerial career, just as I do with Porter. I’m excited that it will be in Portland, and a silverware-laden three or four years would suit both parties just nicely, should Porter wish to take his career on to a different stage. And just as the DNA of what Martinez started in Swansea is clearly evident in that team today, so I hope that what we’re seeing is more than just here and gone when the next guy inevitably comes in at some point. If you spend four years eating sirloin steaks and kobe beef every weekend, going back to Big Macs is going to be a bit of a culture shock.

With Martinez, Spencer and Kean, we can only wait to see what their next move is, but Porter is only at the start of his journey, and it’s one we all get to ride along with. Where it takes us no-one can know, but at least there’s a sense that we have a road map this time.

The Match

thematch

1:07pm – The gates are open at Jeld-Wen Field


It promises to be a special day for Timbers fans as two versions of the team face off against each other.

John Spencer returns to the place where it could’ve all gone so right what seems like so long ago. He takes charge of a team plucked from his time as head coach, while current head coach Caleb Porter will put out his XI.

The coaches met at a public “auction” for those players that significantly overlapped both regimes a few days ago, when it was decided by way of weighted ballot that Jack Jewsbury would play for Spencer’s team, while Darlington Nagbe would play for Porter, being a former protege of the young coach. That left Diego Chara’s status up in the air, but both sides came to an agreement that he would play one half for either team, beginning with Porter’s team.

We’re waiting of final confirmation of teams, but will update as soon we get it.

2:01pm


Club owner Merritt Paulson tactfully ducks the question of who he’ll be supporting. The atmosphere around the ground, building steadily, is positive. There are a few Scottish flags out there, wonder who they’ll be supporting today?

2:08pm- The teams are in


Porter’s XI – Ricketts; Harrington, Silvestre, Jean-Baptiste, Miller; W Johnson (c), Chara*; Nagbe, Valeri, Alhassan; R Johnson

Subs: Zemanski, Piquionne, Wallace

Spencer’s XI – Perkins; Smith, Brunner, Mosquera, Purdy; Alexander, Jewsbury, Palmer, Songo’o; Boyd, Cooper

Subs: Zizzo, Perlaza, Marcelin

2:12pm


Little surprise in Porter’s selection. Looks like a 4-2-3-1. It’ll be interesting to see how the change when they lose Chara at half-time.

Spencer’s team looks like a 4-4-2. Alexander’s inclusion possible thanks to a late deal to trade Wallace to Porter in exchange for Zizzo. Looks like Lovel Palmer will be given the man marking job on Valeri… That could be interesting.

2:56pm


Players leave the field. Even the old guys getting a good welcome back.

Spencer has the Timbers’ two top scorers in 2011 and 2012 in attack, so expect them to go direct and get them involved, but whether they can see enough of the ball to do anything is the big question. There’s not a lot of mobility in Jewsbury/Palmer in the middle.

1 min


The anthem has been sung, and “PT – FC” reverberates around the ground as Kenny Cooper and Kris Boyd get this extraordinary match underway.

6 mins


A cagey start so far, with Porter’s team dominating possession but finding it hard to penetrate the two banks of four that Spencer has set up with. Perhaps frustrated by lack of action near the box, Valeri wors a one-two with Nagbe, ghosting past a half-hearted Jewsbury challenge before unleashing a shot towards Perkins’ goal under pressure from Eric Brunner. The shot rises half a yard over the bar, with Perkins stranded.

9 mins


The pattern is set. Porter’s XI get the ball, build up patiently, but run out of space and time in the final third. Spencer’s XI are looking to get Boyd or Cooper in from a quick ball out of the back, with support from Songo’o or Nagbe. Neither having much joy in the final third so far.

12 mins


Drama! Harrington gets in down the left, released by a Will Johnson pass. Purdy is out of position, and Palmer, covering back, looks to foul Harrington right on the corner of the box. Harrington goes down, but the ball breaks to Nagbe, who takes a touch to steady himself before getting a shot off that is parried by Perkins, then cleared by Mosquera with Ryan Johnson poised to pounce.

Was it a penalty? It would’ve been mighty close. Caleb Porter doesn’t look pleased, but he should be – his team are in control here.

14 mins


Spencer’s team are having real trouble getting the ball going down the flanks. Alexander is drifting infield to compensate for the team’s lack of numbers in the middle, and Songo’o has been wasteful in possession so far. Boyd looks like he’s seen this before. Cooper is working hard, but is chasing shadows right now.

16 mins


A Perkins goal kick is returned by the head of Jean-Baptiste. Valeri and Palmer compete over the ball, with the Jamaican emerging in possession. He feeds it to Jewsbury and his diagonal pass into Boyd’s feet draws a clumsy foul from behind by Jean-Baptiste. Boyd’s down, could be hurt. Looks like an elbow on the back of the head.

18 mins


Boyd will continue, but is off the field for attention when Jewsbury takes the free kick. In all the confusion it seems Jean-Baptiste was booked. Jewsbury hits an inswinger to the back post, where it is met by Brunner. The ball thunders off the bar and over.

20 mins


Spencer’s team are starting to get some possession in the opposition half, but when Cooper tries to feed in Boyd, the pass is cut out by Silvestre. After some neat one and two touch passing, the ball finds it’s way to Alhassan on the left. He bamboozles Smith, leaving the Scot on the turf, before hooking a fantastic ball to the far post that drops between Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri. Mosquera’s header falls right into the path of an onrushing Will Johnson, but he volleys it into the ground, and it bounces clear over the bar.

26 mins


The match has slowed down a bit. Porter’s team took the game by the scruff of the neck early on, but Spencer’s team have come battling back. They’re outworking Porter’s boys right now, disrupting their passing, but haven’t managed to get Boyd or Cooper involved enough.

29 mins


Chances have been few and far between. Porter’s boys have had a couple of sights st goal from distance, but Perkins hasn’t had to work. Boyd had a shot that was blocked by Jean-Baptiste.

30 mins – GOAL!


No sooner do I bemoan the lack of clear cut chances and then Diego Valeri conjures one out of nothing. The ball is chipped into him, with Palmer tight to his back. He holds Palmer off, and fends off the attentions of Jewsbury to lay the ball into the path of Nagbe. He drove past Palmer and rifled a low shot towards the far corner that was saved by Perkins, but the rebound went straight to Ryan Johnson, who reacts in time to push the ball over the line from ten yards. 1-0 to Porter’s Timbers.

32 mins


The goal has livened the place up a bit, and it’s no less than Porter’s team deserve. John Spencer is patrolling his technical area like a caged animal. He’s not happy with what he’s seeing, and no wonder. Despite having a spell on top, Porter’s boys have still had 64% of possession – and they’re outshooting their predecessors too. You have to fear for Spencer’s XI right now.

34 mins


2-0! No! But, it should’ve been 2-0. Ryan Johnson profited from a slip by Brunner to get through on goal and score low past Perkins, but it’s pulled back for offside. Replays suggest that Johnson was in line with Purdy when Jean-Baptiste had launched the ball forward.

38 mins


Some signs of life in Spencer’s team. Songo’o seems to have woken up, and he’s been giving Harrington a torrid time in the last five minutes or so. With a better delivery into the box, he could’ve got Spenny’s boys back into this, but his crossing has been poor so far.

42 mins


It’s all about Franck Songo’o right now. He turns Harrington inside-out, dumping him down before dropping a shoulder and going past Silvestre. His shot is blocked by Ricketts, but Jean-Baptiste clears the ball off him, the ball rebounding agonisingly wide of the post.

43 mins


Caleb Porter is the Timbers coach most looking forward to the break right now. His team are struggling to get their rhythm going, and Silvestre is almost caught out by Kenny Cooper when they tried to play it out from the back, but Jean-Baptiste was across to cover and clear the ball before Cooper could get it under control.

45 mins


Into injury time, there won’t be long, with both teams seemingly counting off time till the break. Spencer’s boys really picked up the pace after the let off with Johnson’s offside “goal” and pushed Porter’s team onto the backfoot.

45+3 mins – HALF TIME


The half-time whistle blows before Jack Jewsbury can take a free kick. It’s been a nervy affair. Both teams have had chances, but Porter’s have been more clear-cut, and they’ve taken one of them.

3:49pm


Given the way that Porter’s team were unable to really make their numerical supremacy in midfield count, they may use the enforced loss of Chara to change their shape a bit.

Spencer will mostly likely want to start the second half as they finished the first. Chara for Palmer seems the logical change, and may even give them that little extra drive in midfield that they need.

3:52pm


Rodney Wallace is out warming up. Looks like he’ll be replacing Diego Chara in Porter’s line-up. No word on who is out for Spencer’s.

3:57pm


The teams are returning to the field. Palmer is one of the first out for Spencer’s team.

3:58pm – SUBSTITUTIONS


Chara off, Wallace on (Porter’s XI)
Purdy off, Chara on (Spencer’s XI)

46 mins


Purdy sits out the second half. He did a decent job in the first half keeping Nagbe quiet, but didn’t offer much in attack to support Songo’o. Palmer slots in here, so we’ll see if he does any better. Chara and Jewsbury in the middle.

Porter’s XI look to be playing the same shape, with Wallace alongside Will Johnson.

49 mins


Darlington Nagbe picks the ball up right in front of the technical areas, and drives past Chara. He works a one-two with Valeri, and get the ball back on the edge of the box. With Palmer all over his back, he gets a shot off, which is saved, but goes down under Palmer. Is that a foul? The ref doesn’t think so, but Nagbe doesn’t look happy.

53 mins


A Jack Jewsbury free kick from the right is stopped from going out by a tenacious Steven Smith. The Scot curls a delicious ball into the area, but it’s too high for Boyd and Cooper’s attempt at a spectacular overhead kick puts the ball out for a throw-in. Cooper is claiming a push from Silvestre, to no avail.

56 mins – SUBSTITUTION


Alhassan off, Zemanski on

Porter makes his first unenforced change, putting on Zemanski to replace Alhassan, who has drifted out of the match in the second half.

58 mins


Yellow card for Songo’o. I’d almost forgotten he was on the field until he went diving recklessly in on Wallace. Wallace is fine, but Porter doesn’t look pleased with the Colombian at all.

59 mins


Porter’s XI continue to dominate possession (63%, stat fans). They’ve switched Wallace into the left forward role, with Nagbe going to the right and Zemanski in the middle with Johnson.

Chara and Jewsbury are doing well to choke the ball when it gets near the 18 yard line, but it’s leaving the two strikers ever more isolated.

60 mins


Valeri gets one on frame from 30 yards. He was looking to bend one into the far corner, but he didn’t get enough pace on it and it was easy for Perkins to get to.

64 mins – GOAL


Out of nowhere, we have an equaliser. Both teams seemed to be cancelling each other out when a loose pass by Valeri was pounced upon by Chara. He drove forward, riding the challenge of Zemanski before poking the ball in to Boyd. The Scot does well to get the ball out of his feet, and gets a shot off. The flight seems to catch Ricketts off guard and he fumbles what looked a relatively straight-forward save right into the path of Chara. It’s 1-1. and Chara’s got the goal.

67 mins


The goal seems to have stung Porter’s boys into life. The ball is moving noticeably faster along the ground, and they’re starting to push Spencer’s team back.

69 mins


Will Johnson should’ve made it 2-1. A Valeri free-kick wasn’t cleared by the defence, and in the melee the ball fell to Johnson on the six yard line, but he got his boot under the ball, and it looped up into the arms of Perkins.

71 mins – SUBSTITUTION


Cooper off, Perlaza on
Songo’o off, Zizzo on

73 mins


A decent shift by Cooper, though he didn’t manage to get a shot on target. Balanced surprisingly well with Boyd, but they were starved of the ball by Porter’s team. He gets a good ovation going off, and applauds the North End.

Songo’o had the spell before half-time, but has been very quiet otherwise.

75 mins


Perlaza had a chance to make it 2-1 for Spencer’s team, but he screwed his shot wide of the goal. Porter’s team had been caught up field when Jewsbury took a quick free kick. A long ball put in Boyd behind Silvestre, and the Scot laid it back for Perlaza on the penalty spot, but he fired wide with Jean-Baptiste closing him down.

78 mins


Porter’s team are getting a bit anxious on the ball. The final pass is being rushed, or overhit, and Silvestre looks to be feeling the pace out there.

80 mins – SUBSTITUTION


Boyd off, Marcelin on

Kris Boyd sees a shot from 25 yards blocked by Zemanski, and that’s his last kick of the ball as he’s withdrawn for James Marcelin.

81 mins


Both teams lining up in a 4-3-3, but Spencer’s team are much more towards the 4-5-1 end of the scale. Marcelin is stuck to Valeri like glue. Seems like Spencer is settling for the draw here.

83 mins – GOAL


Wallace and Harrington combine down the left, with Wallace outstripping Palmer to the byline. His cross is met by the head of Ryan Johnson, who had lost Mosquera, and Perkins is beaten. 2-1 to Porter’s XI.

84 mins


Spencer’s team almost equalise straight from the kick-off. Perlaza holds off Silvestre, and lays the ball into the path of Jewsbury, His first shot is blocked by Will Johnson, but he’s first to the loose ball, and manages to roll a pass into Alexander. His shot has Ricketts beaten, but it rolls just wide of the far post, with Harrington almost getting a touch on it for what would surely have been an own goal.

87 mins – GOAL


Another goal, and this time it’s game over. 3-1 to Porter’s team. A sequence of corners culminated in the fourth, swung over by Valeri. Perkins hesitates on coming for it and it drops perfectly onto the head of Silvestre, who makes no mistake. It’s been coming, but still, Spencer will think back to the Perlaza and Alexander chances and think of what may have been.

89 mins


Forty-one passes. I counted them all. Every one of Porter’s team touched the ball at least once. It began with Ricketts and ended with Ryan Johnson firing over from 20 yards. And that looks to be Johnson’s last action…

90 mins- SUBSTITUTION


R Johnson off, Piquionne on

90+2 mins


Two minutes into the minimum of three indicated for stoppages, and it’s almost 4-1, and what a goal it would’ve been. A careless backpass by Marcelin puts Perkins under pressure. The keeper’s hasty clearance dropped to Will Johnson in the centre circle. He took a touch and sent it arcing back towards goal from fully 50 yards. The ball dropped a couple of yards wide of the left hand post, and Johnson gets a consoling pat on the head from his opposite number, Jack Jewsbury.

90+4 mins – FULL TIME


The ref blows for full-time. Spencer and Porter exchange handshakes, jerseys are swapped on the field. Porter’s XI have won 3-1, and while that would be a fair result, it doesn’t tell the whole story of a match that could’ve gone very differently.

4:57pm


A special log slice presentation in front of the North End sees each of the players presented with a slice of their own.

Porter will feel the 3-1 result reflects the extent of his team’s control while Spencer may feel that things could been so different with a bit of luck here or there. In the end, the better team won.

5:13pm – Goodnight


Thanks for joining us on this special occasion. Two teams faced off today, but there are only one Portland Timbers. Players will come and go; some will leave positive impressions, some won’t. They same is true for coaches, but not for fans or the club itself. They remain, if you pardon the pun, rooted so that whatever the season, whoever wears the shirts, they’ll be there.

John Spencer leads his team out of Jeld-Wen Field tonight, for the final time. Though some may return from time to time, their work is done.

The Pragmatist

Once Arsenal is in possession of the ball, the right and left backs automatically become wingers. It’s almost like playing with two wingers on each side. That’s the way we’re going to encourage our guys to play –when we get the ball, get forward and attack. Attack in numbers and defend in numbers.

John Spencer promised to bring direct, attacking football to Portland when he was hired as the club’s first MLS head coach, and that is, for the most part, what the Timbers fans got.

It was certainly direct. The ball would be cycled from defence to attack in as few passes as was necessary (often only one).

The team were also pretty attacking, even if it was often toothless. The Timbers would get the ball forward quickly, run into a dead-end or give up possession tamely, and then be caught out of position at the back.

In a way, Spencer sowed the seeds for his own destruction. By emphasising a direct style, he was leaving his full-backs cruelly exposed, which in turn would stretch the space between centre-backs and leave the team vulnerable to breaking runs from midfield as well as being exposed down the flanks.

spenny

When Spencer would adopt a defensive posture, such as against Sporting Kansas City, the team showed they were capable of grinding out results against good teams, but at the expense of pretty much any attacking threat. Or attempts to play football. This ugly style didn’t really fit the pre-season promises of attacking, exciting football, but Spencer never seemed able to square-the-circle and find a way to combine his style with the players he had at his disposal, and balance defence and attack. It was either one or the other or, on occasion, neither.

After Spencer’s dismissal, Gavin Wilkinson stepped in and changed the side’s 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, preparing the ground for Caleb Porter. Porter himself confirmed that he and Wilkinson had been in a constant dialogue even as the new coach was guiding his Akron Zips through the NCAA Championship.

The announcement of Porter’s hiring had some Timbers fans drooling at the prospect of “Timber-taka” after watching Akron’s “Death by 1000 passes” video, but Porter himself seemed keen to temper those who were expecting Cascadia’s answer to Barcelona to rock up when New York visit on March 3rd.

I am realistic, I’m not naive. I don’t think that we are just going to throw the ball out and play beautiful soccer and automatically pass the ball around and beat the New York Red Bulls on March 3rd.

There’s no doubt that Porter will seek to instill a change in the footballing culture of the Timbers, but in the short term I suspect we’ll be seeing a more pragmatic approach from the new coach.

They brought in a couple veteran guys like myself and Will Johnson, guys who have been around and been around successful teams and been in successful locker rooms and kind of know what it takes to win in this league. So it sounds to me like this year is all about bringing those pieces together and winning.”

Michael Harrington was signed from Sporting Kansas City, obstentibly to replace Steven Smith, who departed after becoming one of the Timbers most dependable and consistent players over the home stretch of 2012. After spending much of their first two years stumbling in a slapstick manner from one full-back catastrophe to another, there was something inevitable about the team finally seeming to lock down on of the positions at least, only for that player to up sticks and leave.

I don’t know a great deal about Harrington, but I haven’t heard many anticipating exciting wing play from him. Rodney Wallace seems, at times, to suffer from Jeremy Hall Syndrome, forgetting whether he’s a winger or a full-back. I thought he played his best football in the centre of midfield, but I don’t think there’s room for him there now, and I’m not sure he’s the guy to play as the left-sided attacker as that’s where I expect Nagbe to play next season.

Under Spencer, the full-backs were pushed on, acting like wingers as the team looked to get the ball in from wide positions, despite never signing an out-and-out targetman. To go back to the 1000 Passes video for a moment, the first thing you notice is, not surprisingly given the title, the number of passes being made by the Zips.

The attractive way they pass and move together is certainly eye catching, and you can see why it draws comparisons with Barcelona’s tiki-taka style, but what is more relevant to the Timbers is the way they use the possession to dominate the field.

They won’t simply content themselves with knocking it across the back a few times, as they seek to use possession to pin their opponents back into their own half. The old adage that you can’t concede a goal if the opposition can’t get the ball is true, and by keeping the ball the Zips are able to conserve their energy.

Domination of the field and conservation of energy were not the team’s forte under Spencer. The direct style Spenny wanted his team to play resulting in a side that eschewed possession for attacking thrust and ceded the ball to the opposition in over 70% of games.

The relentless athleticism also led to issue with late game collapses. As the system changed under Wilkinson, undoubtably in consultation with Porter, and there was less emphasis on the full-backs getting up and down the line, the number of late goals conceded started to drop. The hiring of a new fitness coach as well as an increased emphasis on modern alaytical techniques – something you never felt fit with Spencer’s up-and-at-them old school style – will, one would hope, allow the team to up the tempo without running out of gas in the final 15 minutes.

The role of the full-back is important under Porter’s possession-based system. With the team pushed on, the full-backs allow them to make the field as big as possible and stretching it to the sidelines. They aren’t the “almost-wingers” of Spencer, but still require sound technical ability and awareness as they’re an important part in circulating the ball and probing for space to get in behind the defence.

Providing you can get the right players in, this possession of the football acts as both defence and attack, and gives the full-backs a safety net to push forward. It would be fair to say that full-back isn’t the league’s strong point, so the hiring of Harrington, a player with bags of league experience, is a pretty solid get, if not exactly a reason to get the bunting out and rush down to get a new name on the back of your shirt.

Of course, it’s one thing to play like that when you possess the technical ace card by being able to attract the hottest prospects, it’s another when you’re a team coming off of a 17th place finish, with the 3rd worst defensive record.

mlsdefence

Even though the league has seen a general trend towards more goals per game despite an increasing in defensive spending, when the figures are broken down to level of investment vs results you can see that there is a relationship between more spending and better defences.

investvddefv2

The above charts maps all the changes since 2008 for MLS clubs, going back the official salary info that gets released. What you see is that a team will generally spend more on defence from one year to the next 70% of the time, though most changes tend to be very minimal variations up or down, and that an increase in spending tends to see a reduction in the number of goals conceded.

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Obviously it’s much more complicated than more money = better, but I think it’s illustrative all the same. Sensible investment in keys areas will bring about an improvement, and a marked improved in defence will give the team, obviously, a better chance of turning 0 points into 1, and 1 point into 3. It only takes a second to score a goal, but you need to defend for the full 90 minutes.

The likelihood of your investment returning in terms of fewer goals being conceded increases as you spend more money on that area. It’s basic soccernomics, to steal a phrase.

In the signing of Harrington, I see a “safe” pick at left back and Merritt Paulson confirmed what everyone knew, that the Timbers weren’t done with the roster, or indeed, the defence.

Two areas where GW/CP still want to make additions: creative mid and right back. Goal is to have all spots filled by start of pre-season

The tweet that also seemed to confirm the rumour of Timbers interest in Mix Diskeruud, with talks apparently stalling a few days later and Diskerud now looking likely to stay in Norway, the flirtation with Portland looking more and more like an attempt to force Rosenborg’s hand in contract negotiations than a serious contemplation of a move to the States. Since then Diego Valeri has emerged as the man the Timbers want to pick up, with speculation being that he will be signed as a Designated Player.

I have to return to the full-back position though, as I feel that is the crucial area the Timbers need to get right this year. Hopefully Porter will find the special formula to fix it. The Timbers invested in defence last season, bringing in Steven Smith and Kosuke Kimura, as well as Hanyer Mosquera in the centre, but only one of those guys will, presumably, be playing in Timbers green in 2013.

I wouldn’t expect fireworks over Portland when the, hopefully first choice, guy they have for right-back lined up actually signs as I suspect it’ll be one of those “consistent and dependable” types, married to sound technical ability and tactical nous.

Though I’d worry about his pace against teams with quick wingers, Jack Jewsbury would do a decent job at right-back, I think. He filled in last year, and though I felt it robbed the team of a bit of width in the final third at times, the football under Porter wouldn’t necessarily place those same demands on him.

As I’ve said before, it’s hard to see a place for Jewsbury in the midfield, especially following the signing of Will Johnson.

There’s no doubt the talent on that roster is there, but talent is such a small part of winning in MLS games. It’s hardly even worth talking about. It’s more about teamwork and hard work and those kinds of things, those things get you results in MLS.

Will Johnson echoed his new team mate, emphasising hard work over talent. There’s no doubt that Porter’s style will require great athleticism as lots of movement on and off the ball are essential, and Johnson brings a more dynamic presence to the centre than Jewsbury.

boydy

Porter used the press conference to drop the biggest hint yet that Kris Boyd’s time as a Timber is as good as over. Though he wouldn’t say outright that Boyd was done, he did confirm what many have suspected that Boyd’s penalty box based style isn’t what Porter himself expects from his striker.

Kris Boyd is a player that I think will have a hard time playing in the way that we want to play. And that’s no knock on Kris. He would fit in a lot of different systems but, with what I want out of my strikers, it’s going to be difficult for him to offer what I’m looking for in that position.

In a way, I find this encouraging. Not because I don’t rate Boyd as I do, and still believe he has all the tools to be a big star in MLS should he decide to, and get the chance to, remain in the league; but because it represents a change in the way the Timbers are building their team. No more is about just getting the “best” players and making them fit into a system, as it seemed to be for the first couple of years, but rather it is about putting the system in place first, and get the “right” players for that system.

The door isn’t closed on Boyd, but with the emergence of Bright Dike, the stockpiling of strikers, and the imminent announcement of a new DP, it’s hard to see Boyd hanging around for long. There was talk out of Scotland about Boyd going back to Rangers, but in the short term that would seem unlikely. Rangers are labouring under a player registration ban until 31 August but, thanks to a quirk of the calendar, that day falls on a Saturday, which means the registration (and transfer) window will be extended to Mondays 2nd September meaning that Boyd’s old club would be able to register players for the upcoming 2013/14 season.

However, even if there was gas in the Rangers talk, that leaves 9 months where Boyd would either be being paid not to play – and at 29 one would imagine Boyd would want to maximise his playing time – or a potentially messy situation where Rangers would risk the wrath of FIFA and the SFA in playing Boyd as a trialist (trialists are allowed to play in league games in the Scottish lower leagues). The likelier outcome, given that a move with MLS is a more remote possibility, would be to loan Boyd back to the UK, say to a club like Nottingham Forest who have Boyd’s ex-manager, and oft-time suitor, Alex McLeish in charge, until the end of the season, putting the player in the shop window for a potential transfer or, failing that, writing off the last few months of his contract and allowing the player to find a new club back home in the summer. This would represent the least financial loss for the club, as opposed to simply buying out the whole year of his remaining contract. We shall see.

But anyway, let’s get back on track. With much of the work thus far being done on bolstering the defence and midfield, I think it’s pretty clear where the priorities of Porter and Wilkinson have lain this offseason.

Porters looking to put some 1-0’s on the board, and win games by simply not losing them first. That sounds obvious and dumb, but it’s something we’ve struggled to do as we’ve often been our own worst enemy. Shutting-out the opponent guarantees at least a point, and all it takes is one swing of the boot, or graze off the shoulder to turn that one into three.

2011 saw the Timbers keep nine clean sheets, six of which came at home, but 2012 had only five, three at home. As this map shows, the Timbers also struggled to score, going goalless twelve times in 2012, up from nine the year before.

In their three home clean-sheets of 2012, they won two by 1-0 (Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City) and drew the other against Columbus Crew. With a bit more defensive stability, even with meagre returns from another under-performing attack, the Timbers could reasonably expect to grind out a few 1-0’s along the way, and those extra few points could be what it takes to put a side in with a chance of glory, in a league where over half the sides qualify for the post-season.

I suspect his experiences with the USMNT may have just chastened college soccer’s rising star. Where once he rejected DC United, following the disappointment in failing to reach the Olympics and the resultant somewhat-backlash against the young coach, Porter has now decided that a club at a crossroads was the perfect fit, saying he was “uncomfortable being comfortable” in Akron.

Caleb Porter will, I’m sure, seek to bring more than defensive grind to Portland as the signing of Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri speak volumes as to how Porter will look to utilise pace and craft to break through defences. Given the way the Timbers struggled in offence, closing the door at the back will only take you so far before the old attacking frustrations kick in. The Timbers have lacked a creative central midfielder thus far, with Alexander seemingly happier a little deeper, and most of the flair in the team is played out wide.

Porter expressed a desire to utilise Homegrown Players more going forward. With Brent Richards spending much of 2012 on the fringes of the team and Steven Evans announced as the club’s second Homegrown player, following a successful season with the U’23s and University of Portland, it’ll be interesting to see how and when these guys are fed into the starting XI.

While I don’t think the roster reconstruction is over, the addition of a right back and a creative midfielder seem like the last two big pieces of the puzzle. The are still questions over the attack – I love me some Dike, but I’m still not sold on him as a consistent starter – but I think it’ll be a case of one out before we get one in, as we’re carrying a lot of bodies in attack, and they can’t all play together, unless you want to turn the clock back to the early days of football when the 1-2-7 formation held sway.

I expect to see the team play possession-based, attack-minded football, but not naively so. Porter clearly has strong ideas on how the game should be played, but I don’t think he’s such an ideologue that he’ll seek to play in a way that leaves the team exposed at the back. Equally, I don’t think it’ll be exclusively 4-3-3 all the way. Barcelona can do that because they’re so much better than just about anyone else, but the Timbers aren’t. As Spencer found out to his cost, simply going out there and doing the same things every week doesn’t work so well in as league where parity rules. You need to adapt, or die.

As for how the team will shape in attack, and seek to better a record that saw only Chivas USA go more matches in 2012 without finding the opposition net, we’ll have to wait and see what the next few months bring, but I’m encouraged by the focused way that Porter and Wilkinson have been going about their business thus far.

As Kristen noted, Porter isn’t exactly one for Patton-esque stirring speeches – at least not in public, though by all accounts he has the ability to inspire players to go above and beyond – but I was encouraged by his press conference as he addressed many of the areas of concern, showing that he gets it. Learning from previous mistakes, both his own and those of others, is key to becoming a better person and a better coach, and Porter seems to have done that.

Of course, the proof will come when the season gets underway, but for now I’m pretty optimistic that the Timbers have turned the corner and are ready to start delivering some success to a fanbase that have endured two tough years, but keep on coming back and in greater numbers than before.

Identity Issues

It almost seems too easy to pile on General Manager–and widely maligned ginger super villain–Gavin Wilkinson after the abortive mess that was the Portland Timbers 2012 campaign. Most, if not every, PTFC supporter is well aware of Wilkinson’s past hits; from throwing his squad under the bus (a few times), to somewhat callously slagging off players on their way out of town. Unfortunately for Wilkinson, with each interview he grants, the hits keep on coming, usually in the form of anyone but Gavin Wilkinson being made responsible for the club’s substandard play.

And so, with the first round of #Rostergeddon behind us, and the next round rapidly approaching, Wilkinson delivered another few gems in the form of two separate quotes on Monday:

“The general manager’s job is to get the pieces for the head coach to help the success of the organization, and it’s about the organization,” Wilkinson said. “And it’s also about giving Caleb the pieces he wants to work with, the pieces he thinks will contribute the way he sees them contributing.”

“We have enough athleticism, we have enough ability,” Wilkinson said. “What we want to fix is maybe the mental side of it and bring in mentally tough guys who have been in the league and succeeded in the league.”

Critics of the Ginger Bilbo Baggins (and in the spirit of transparency, I count myself solidly in this camp) will first point to the fact that by Gavin Wilkinson’s own standards, he has been an abject failure as a general manager. They will likely point out that the last two years have not done the organization any favors, particularly the way ‘upgrades’ and releases have been handled, and short of seeing the Cascadia Cup in the Fanladen, fans are very down on the club’s ability to perform in an MLS league that ranks somewhere towards the middle internationally.

But what I found particularly interesting about Wilkinson’s latest interview is how it plays into something I’ve been saying about the club since it’s ascendancy to MLS; it quite plainly does not have a footballing identity. While it ultimately falls on the players to play the game, it is the responsibility of management to set the direction of the club, which starts with the hiring of key staff and then make sure that staff does their jobs.

In the beginning, both Wilkinson and owner Meritt Paulson tried to sell us on a strategy of bringing in footballers with athletic prowess to make a team that could out-MLS everyone in MLS with hustle and and a pure athleticism that could produce some beautiful football and ultimately solid results. This seemed odd on its face given that the club had hired John Spencer, a manager who immediately implemented a 4-4-2 system, which classically relies on a solid back four that can defend and get up the pitch during an attack, coupled with a pair of central midfielders to support the back four and initiate the attack going the other way. Under Spencer, the team rarely found themselves being able to boast of success in either area. They were ostensibly a 4-4-2 team that couldn’t take leverage any the 4-4-2 formation’s advantages, due in great part to a bevy of personnel issues.

Attempting to spell out these personnel problems in each area of the pitch is difficult, due primarily to the fact that the personnel in each area of the pitch changed around so much, that John Spencer’s famous quip that he was fitting “square pegs going into round holes” became a talking point in its own right. However, it is fair to say that forwards were often more isolated than an ascetic monk on a hilltop, waiting for the inevitable long ball from a cartoonish rotation of unsuccessful left- and right-backs, all but nullifying the supposed athletic advantages the squad was meant to be built around. The midfield was toothless and unimaginative; often featuring two defensive-minded center-mids, with largely ineffective service sporadically coming from the wings. To use a very cheap analogy, it’s as if Merritt Paulson gave his GM the chassis of a Bugati Veyron and charged him with the task of sourcing parts and a competent driver, only to find what he saw as a Bugati running like a fucking Geo Metro with an increasingly befuddled toddler behind the wheel.

Looking from our tortured MLS past, to the somewhat unclear MLS future, that toddler, John Spencer, is but a distant memory in the minds of Timbers supporters and former Akron Zips coach Caleb Porter has been brought in to right the ship. The choice is interesting, inasmuch as it seems to be both an admission that past two years of football played at the club are to be forgotten, while still remaining well within the thus-far unsuccessful MO of owner Meritt Paulson, who is always after the next up-and-coming (read: unproven) talent to build his club around. The problem here is obvious, in a rush to obscure his lack of soccer knowledge and the FO’s gross  mismanagement, it seems that he has been watching Barcelona games on Fox Soccer, and now hopes to sell us on the idea that he’s going to build an MLS Barca here in Portland, without actually holding his people responsible for the success of that massive undertaking.

If you close your eyes, you can probably imagine Paulson yelling: “Just build me a fucking Veyron this time and let me know when you’re done, so that I can go for a ride. WEEEEEEEEEE!”

It is expected that Porter will institute a 4-3-3 system, one which is favored in the modern game by teams like Barca for its positivity, but which also places a much higher premium of player technique and creativity, especially in the midfield. When done poorly it can leave the back-line isolated and vulnerable to attack, something the Timbers were quite prone to under the more defensive 4-4-2 setup. Porter seems to be saying all the right things and his clubs at the college level have played some very attractive, and very successful football, but he’s not walking into a hand-picked group of players at PTFC. This is still a club with a fair amount of personnel issues all over the pitch. And so, it seems, the identity of Caleb Porter’s PTFC  will depend largely on the direction of Merritt Paulson’s “soccer guy,” Gavin Wilkinson. That last sentence isn’t one prone to give supporters of the club much hope. In fact, you may want to call your favorite Timbers supporter now to talk them off the ledge, if you haven’t done so already this off-season.

The way “Timbers insiders” will tell it now–in a revisionist history fitting of Stalin or George W. Bush apologists–John Spencer was basically in charge of personnel decisions, directing his boss to scrounge up the squad we saw the past two seasons. While it is reasonably to expect that Spencer most certainly had sway in the process, as any manager does, it seems incredibly unlikely that this was actually the case, particularly given the sense of exacerbation with which Spencer bemoaned the lack of solid options at key positions. But this revisionism, which smacks of desperation by the FO to deflect some of the ire seen in the North End towards the end of last season, brings up management issues that many fans have quite rightly questioned. Firstly, if Spencer was essentially in control of personnel decisions, what the fuck was Gavin Wilkinson doing the past two years? It certainly wasn’t his job, even as he has described it as recently as Monday. Secondly, if he hasn’t been capable of doing his job the past two seasons, why is he being given a third? I’ve yet to hear a decent explanation for this and I’m most certainly not holding my breath.

What’s staggering is, while it’s easy to get focused on personnel, Wilkinson’s history of general managerial incompetence, when it comes to shaping the identity of the club, spans well beyond player signings. When John Spencer was hired as the first manager of the MLS Timbers, it was based on his history and reputation as a highly respected coach in MLS under Houston Dynamo’s Dominic Kinnear. And while few could doubt Spencer’s energy, passion, and ability to work day-to-day with players, it was often that case that he looked pitifully out of depth on match-day  unable or unwilling to adjust to tactical changes and woefully off-base with substitutions. Things only got worse when Trevor James, an MLS veteran, left the bank at the end of the first season. Wilkinson’s answer was as simplistic as it was incomprehensible, he doubled down on USL-era coaches and perennial ‘parts of the problem’ Amos Magee and Adam James. The results were predictable as the club struggled once again to find an identity or any points on the road for that matter. The James departure and its aftermath may seem like a small event, but it was a clear opportunity for Paulson and the man he relies on for soccer related counsel to step in and assert some control over the situation, to bring someone in that could assist Spencer in bringing the team into his system before things got so out of hand that the club was dropping games to amateur teams in front of its fans to the tune of “Taps.”

But for 2013 at least, we are going to battle with Gavin Wilkinson at the helm, and what Gavin Wilkinson is saying is that he believes that PTFC is basically set-up to allow Caleb Porter to succeed. He would have us believe that it is not, as many fans have complained, a lack of quality on the pitch– or should we say the right kind of quality on the pitch–but rather a lack of mental toughness that has held this squad back to this point. This could very well mean that we won’t see a great deal more change to the roster ahead of the upcoming campaign, not even in key areas for a 4-3-3 formation, like the midfield.

Given Porter’s track record, particularly as the U-21 coach for the USMNT, it has to be said that short of changing his mind, this is the crux of the gamble Wilkinson is making with PTFC’s future.  As noted sports philosopher Shaquile O’Neal once said, “Don’t fake the funk on a nasty dunk;” either this team actually takes on the identity of a fluid, 4-3-3 style attacking Porter team–with the players we currently have (give or take a pair here and there)–or Porter could be forced to be the face of another season of disjointed, disappointing play as square pegs are unceremoniously and repeatedly jammed into round holes without even the courtesy of a lubricant.

For supporters, whose anxiety is sure to produce some positively epic SCUSA posts in the coming days, we can only sit back and wait to see what happens with the rest of #Rostergeddon before we decide just how much to freak the fuck out. With Gavin Wilkinson at the helm we may have to be resigned to the fact that as long as we have no solidified footballing identity and as long as failure is accepted at the highest levels of this club, this is what our normal is.


Admin note: Logan has asked that a line be edited from the piece as it seemed to be detracting from discussion of the actual thrust of the article. Let’s keep the conversation on what matters, please. Thanks.