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: