Tag Archives: Playoffs

Six Degrees: Glorious

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

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

Sunday was not one of those days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as long as we’re talking about Gavin…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some links:

Barnes & Noble
Good Reads

A New Hope

As fans and players await the second leg of the playoff tie with Seattle, Kevin Alexander writes about the changes the Portland Timbers face both on and off the pitch.

At three hours, this two-legged tie between Seattle and Portland is appropriately epic in length, with the potential for going even longer on a night where the away goal rule is not in effect. By the time the final whistle blows on Thursday night, and fat ladies everywhere begin to sing, the skies over Jeld-Wen Field will be black, and it is not hard to imagine, given this is Portland in November, that they will have opened for the denouement of what the noisy majority will be hoping is merely part one of a forthcoming trilogy of blockbuster performances. Continue reading A New Hope

Six Degrees: So Near


I) Saturday’s 0-0 result versus Real Salt Lake was a tough draw to take. I really really REALLY wanted the win. Why? Not just because we should ALWAYS win at home. And not just because we needed three points to make the playoffs. (We didn’t. We made the playoffs anyway.) It think this draw frustrated me for two reasons.

One, I’d gotten myself REALLY geeked up about the Supporter’s Shield. I’d spent the past week looking obsessively at the standings, looking at New York’s schedule, Kansas City’s schedule, figuring out what two straight wins meant for us, convincing myself that this was really going to happen.

My second reason for frustration is because Real Salt Lake feels like our boogeyman. Including the US Open game, we’ve played them four times and we still haven’t beaten them. Even worse, they’re the only team this year who’s truly kicked our asses (August 30th’s 4-2 loss in Utah).

It would have been nice to slay our dragon, just once. Just so we’d know we could do it. If we end up facing them in the playoffs, I’ll go into it very anxious. Like I said, they’re our boogeyman.

II) That being said, we’re pretty damn good, too. My main reaction to the game was that these were two very good teams going toe-to-toe. On Saturday night, both teams were organized, skilled, composed, and driven. Portland may not have won, but there’s no doubt we’re a great team, a true contender.

I’ve bitched many times about us starting games slowly, but I was very happy with the attacking spirit Saturday night. We got after it right from the first whistle.

The defense? These guys are unconscious. I told you we don’t lose when Futty plays. Never doubt me again. My powers are legend. I called the Futty thing. I called for Seattle’s epic collapse. Who knows what I’ll call for next? Maybe a functioning national government.

Jokes aside, I’m quite happy with the team right now. We’re getting hot just in time for the playoffs. How will we do there? No telling. This is uncharted territory. But could the pressure of the playoffs be any worse than the pressure of the last month? We’ve had a string of playoff-atmosphere games and we’ve come out on top. Definitely a good omen.

III) Okay, enough of all those happy thoughts. Let’s get back to my specialty, agonizing shifts of emotion followed by snot, tears, drool, and fetal positions.

How many almost-goals did we see Saturday night? It was horrible. Truly a game of inches. I’ve got two almost-goals from Kalif Alhassan, one or two from Valeri, at least one from Trencito, Piquionne’s header in the 90th, then the two in stoppage time from Will Johnson and Sal Zizzo. Maybe there are others I’m forgetting? It seemed like non-stop heartbreak. So agonizingly close all night long.

So, CLEARLY, the man of the match was RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The bastard.

But if I were to pick someone in Timbers green, I’d suggest the entire back four. RSL held 56% of the possession, but they got almost no truly dangerous shots. Rimando was the one under siege, not Donovan Ricketts. His shutout came a lot easier, and I think that’s because of the four horsemen in front of him. They’ve been so tremendously solid for the last couple of months, it makes me feel very good about the playoffs. Yes, we’ve been having trouble scoring, but when you don’t give up any goals, you’re guaranteed at least a point.

IV) A few quick player notes.

Donovan Ricketts – How great was he in the 28th minute when Robbie Findlay got behind the defense and was running down a long pass? Ricketts came racing out of goal, then out of the 18-yard box, chested the ball, collected it on his feet, then bopped it upfield like he’s a fullback or something. Beautiful. His best play on an otherwise quiet night.

Jose Valencia – I’ve gotta tell ya, I’m starting to come around on the Little Train. I think he might be turning into the real deal. He’s pretty remarkable with the ball at his feet, isn’t he? Yes, he sometimes tries to much, but oftentimes, he pulls it off. His 42nd minute ball across the face of the goal was glorious and ALMOST found Kalif’s foot. So close, so heartbreaking.

Chris Wingert – Complete Douche. Why do I hate this guy so much? It’s not just that he’s out there mugging our guys, it’s that he does it while looking like a high school popular-kid bully. Or a frat boy. (And, really, what’s the difference?)

V) A few numbers to throw at you.

We’re unbeaten in seven games. Five of those have been shutouts. Not bad form, heading into the playoffs.

We held RSL to zero shots on goal. ZERO. That’s the first time we’ve done that in 101 games as an MLS side.

Last year, we had 34 points for the entire season. This year, we had 38 points AT HOME. Aww yeah…

Finally, I have not given up on this Supporter’s Shield thing. Here’s what we need: we need a loss from both NY and SKC. A tie would be good enough from LA. But all of these scenarios require a Timbers win against Chivas. Three points, nothing less. If we win, and NY loses a game, SKC loses a game, and LA loses or ties a game, we win the Shield. We win the damn shield.

I will now begin obsessing about this for the next week.

VI) Last thing. This past week, like many of you, I went online and cast my vote for the Timbers Army 2013 Supporter’s Player of the Year. Also known as “the People’s Champion.” With its oh-so-perfect-looking boxing-style championship belt.

It was a tough decision.

I considered Diego Valeri, who was the perfect conductor for Caleb Porter’s new style of play and who’s in the discussion for MLS Player of the Year. I considered Diego Chara, who’s possibly my favorite Timber, always where you need him, his engine never slowing. I considered Darlington Nagbe, who’s had his best season as a pro, and who seems to have made “the leap.” I considered Donovan Ricketts, who’s only been the best goalkeeper in MLS, who’s got 13 shutouts, and leads the league by a healthy margin in “oh dear Lord, that was going in, he just saved us a goal” plays.


But in the end, it was Will Johnson who got my vote, who got everyone else’s votes, and who raised the championship belt Saturday night. I can’t speak for everyone else who voted for him, but for me it came down to the change in this team’s attitude. The 2013 Portland Timbers absolutely REFUSE to lose. When we’re down a goal, we turn up the intensity to almost homicidal levels. And if we get a goal to draw even, we don’t celebrate. We grab the ball out of the net and RACE back to the center line, eager to get started on scoring the go-ahead goal. Losses are unacceptable. Draws aren’t good enough. Getting three points is all we care about.

This attitude did not exist twelve months ago, but now, everyone has it. Clearly, Caleb Porter’s the biggest reason for the change, but I couldn’t vote for him, so I voted for the guy who personifies him out on the field. The scrappy gamer whose personal attitude has become the TEAM’S attitude. Who’s always in the ref’s ear, who gets into scraps defending injured teammates, who cracks me up on a regular basis by irritating opponents or mocking inept referees or just basically giving us the “Will Johnson Face.”

I’d congratulate Will on his victory, but I know what he’d say to that. We all do. “We haven’t done anything yet,” he’d say. “There are still a lot of games left to play and we’re gonna keep working hard and staying focused. We won’t be satisfied until we’ve won the whole thing.”

And that’s why we love him. That’s why he’s the People’s Champ.

Thorns FC: Level One Complete


The regular season is over and Thorns FC will play in Kansas City next weekend.

This is because the Thorns ran their season record over the Seattle Reign to 4-0 on Saturday, and because FCKC couldn’t hold off Chicago ninety minutes on Sunday, long enough to win the league and go top into the playoffs.  Instead Western New York took the top spot with their win over Boston the day before.

Can we agree that this has been a turbulent and rather intriguing August for the NWSL?

As for Thorns FC…

Well, the match in Tukwila wasn’t exactly the dominating performance I’d hoped to see out of PTFC going in to the postseason.  The defense was caught asleep in the third minute and Megan Rapinoe began what turned out to be a 90-minute schooling of the right flank of Portland’s backline by skinning Kat Williamson  – with Marian Dougherty pulled out of position – and slotting the ball past Karina’s outstretched leg and inside the far post for the 1-0 lead.

Let me say for the record; Rapinoe is a hell of a great player and I wish we had her.  She’s one of those players who look liable to score nearly any time that they have the ball at their feet, and she did that all night on Saturday.

But Saturday the Defensive Derps TM had a conscience and five minutes later the Reign were caught on a similar long ball, this one a perfectly weighted lob from Allie Long onto the feet of a running Sinclair.

Sing, oh Muse, of the wrath of Sinclair.

Christine’s fierce desire to score, and to win, were huge elements of the Thorns’ win Saturday.

Collecting the ball, Christine had a defender closing down on her and the USWNT keeper in front of her.  But…Hope Solo then made the inexplicable decision to come all the way out of her 18 and missed the tackle.  She was left chasing Christine like a Brittany spaniel pursuing a street dragster.  Sinclair went to her right, cleared the Reign players, and deposited the ball neatly into Solo’s abandoned goal.

In many ways Christine has had a frustrating and disappointing season, but every match – one way or another – she does something that reminds me what a hell of a great player she still is, and of how badly she hates to lose.

If Alex Morgan cannot return next weekend I hope Sinclair can somehow infuse that hatred into the rest of the Thorns.

Meanwhile, back in Tukwila Chris’ strike was the end of the scoring for the next seventy-odd minutes; the two teams spent the remainder of the first half and most of the second trying to create another goal and failing.

If you forced me to be honest I’d admit that Seattle had by far the better and the more numerous opportunities.  Fishlock and Rapinoe were constant menaces to Portland’s goal, and both Nairn and van Egmond had good opportunities that they either whiffed or couldn’t finish.

Seattle largely won the fight for control of the midfield, while Portland’s attack dried up; Weimer and Foxhoven were not effective most of the match and Shim was energetic but unable to create a really decent chance.

Portland’s backline was…well, Portland’s backline; controlling their penalty area and Seattle’s attack for much of the first half.  Until someone missed a mark, was caught ballwatching, or stabbed and missed.  At that point a free-for-all would break out, with panicked Thorns racing about trying to recover their marks and clear their lines.

Fortunately for Portland when Portland was panicked and out of position – Seattle was unlucky.

The Thorns defense looked more composed in the second half, and Coach Parlow Cone’s defensive substitutions – Ramirez for Dougherty at 51′, Ellertson for Williamson at 73′ – were, if not inspired, at least effective.  I had my particular doubts about pulling Williamson, who had largely done good work throttling down Fishlock, but Ellertson continued to contain the Welsh Rarebit.

No, the substitution that puzzled and frustrated me was Wetzel for Foxhoven at 82′.

For all that she hadn’t been spectacular Foxhoven had rattled the crossbar at 56′, had been doing at least no worse than the other Portland forwards, and didn’t look gassed or out of ideas.  Wetzel has not been a particularly effective attacker this season, and to me, at least, the move suggested that Parlow Cone was content to see the draw out and take the away point, a choice – if that was her reasoning – I didn’t and still don’t understand.

Yes, Western New York had already clinched the second home semifinal, so the win wouldn’t have secured a home game.  I get that.

But still…here was the final regular match, against the rival Reign, for the chance to go into the away semifinal with a victory if you can score a late goal…and you pull one of your forwards for a defensive midfielder?

I don’t get that, Coach.

Whatever CPC’s plans were, fortunately for Thorns FC she didn’t bother to brief Christine Sinclair who latched onto a long lob from Weimer – less than a minute after the Wetzel sub – and flat outran the entire Reign defense to slap the ball past Solo for the 2-1 lead.

Have I mentioned lately what a terrific player Sinclair can be?  How badly she hates losing?

Sing, oh muse, of the wrath of Sinclair..!

After that Seattle kept pressing but the defense held on, and Thorns FC ended their season with a win.

To my mind Saturday’s result in Tukwila vindicated the notion of refusing to settle for a draw whenever possible, and especially when a match is critical, whether its for league standing or team morale.

For example:

Sky Blue’s draw to Washington dropped them emphatically into fourth, while FCKC’s loss to Chicago handed Western New York the “Sahlen Meat Products Supporter’s Shield” or whatever the heck the NWSL calls the regular-season championship.

To make things worse for FCKC, Chicago’s unheralded striker Jennifer Hoy scored two of the three goals that she would score in the 2013 season in the match, including the winner deep in second half injury time.  That has to be gutting for Kansas City who enters next week’s semifinal on a tw0-game losing streak.

But…Portland’s form hasn’t been outstanding this month either.

The semifinal could be anyone’s match, and we’ll talk about what we might expect in Kansas City in the coming week.