Tag Archives: Seattle Sounders

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.

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Six Degrees: Breaking Bad

breakingbad


1) No big surprise, yesterday’s loss has me in a bit of a funk. This column definitely has the potential to slide off the road and into an icy ditch of despair. I’ll do my best, though. Both hands on the wheel and all that.

I’ll just start with the big picture: going into the game yesterday, everything was against us. We had tons of injuries. We had a key suspension. We had some gimpy old guys in the starting lineup. And we did it all in front of 67,000 self-congratulating-but-not-all-that-noisy fans.

Lesser teams would have folded. Our boys didn’t and we can be proud of that. They went in there and gave Seattle everything they could handle.

2) But to be honest, we gave it to them a whole lot more in the first half than in the second.

To my eyes, these were probably the two most different halves of the entire season. We looked great in the first, we looked awful in the second. At the end of the first half, I was supremely confident. At the end of the second half, I wanted to break stuff.

What happened? A number of things. For starters, they completely eliminated Diego Valeri as a factor. He was dominant in the first half, he was invisible in the second.

Things also shifted when they put Mauro Rosales into the game. They banged in the opening goal a few minutes later and we were pretty much worthless for the rest of the game.

We’ve become used to Caleb Porter making brilliant halftime adjustments, but it seems that in this game, he was outdone by Sigi Schmid and his enormous belly. Whatever he said in the Seattle locker room at halftime worked. The balance of play shifted completely.

3) For the game this weekend in Salt Lake, we’ll be getting Diego Chara back from suspension, but I have a feeling that when the MLS disciplinary committee looks at the weekend’s game film, they’ll be giving a brand new suspension to Pa Modou Kah. Did he intentionally knee Eddie Johnson in the head? I’m not sure, but my instinct tells me that MLS is going to sit him down.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure I mind that much. I don’t entirely trust Kah. He just seems a little crazy, you know? I like the intensity, I like the passion, but I’m constantly worried he’s going to step over the line, that he’s going to kick someone in the face (oh, wait… he already did that…) or knee someone in the head (oops… that too…) or maybe start a bench-clearing brawl (hasn’t happened yet, but it’s not out of the question, is it?). He’s just a red card waiting to happen.

I’d love to see Futty Danso come back from injury and take that starting spot next to Beast. He may not be as fast as Kah, but he’s better in the air, he’s got veteran wiles, and he’ll just restore a little sanity to the back line. Sorry, Kah. There’s a lot I like about you, but I can’t take the crazy anymore.

4) I feel terrible even saying it out loud, but what the hell is going on with Donovan Ricketts? He was our rock. Our foundation. He was the one guy on the field we could count on, fully and completely. These last four or five games? He’s been a shell of his former self. Suddenly, he’s old and stiff. He’s allowing rebounds on shots he’d have gobbled up earlier in the year. After going the whole season as the team’s MVP, he now feels like a weak link.

Maybe it’s injury, maybe it’s fatigue, but I’m really wondering if it’s time to bench him. (God, I feel awful saying that…) Maybe he needs to sit for a few games, let all his injuries heal, get good and rested, then come back for the last few weeks. Milos Kocic is a pretty good backup. Let’s put him in there. Could he be any shakier than my man Donovan’s been?

And you are still my man, Donovan, I swear. I just don’t want to see you like this. I want to see you healthy and energetic and dominant. Take a month off, okay? I think it’s for the best.

5) Some player quick-takes:

Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe – Absolute superstars.

Ryan Johnson – I’ve had your back all season, bro, but that wasn’t the best game for you. Come back strong against RSL so all the haters will shut up.

Kalif Alhassan – You absolutely killed it, supersub. You’ve earned more playing time, I think.

Alvas Powell – After four games, I’m convinced. You’re the real deal. Let’s make this loan permanent.

Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle) – You sir, are a thug. Did you beat up Nagbe after the game, too? Mug him in the parking lot? Take his wallet?

Clint Dempsey (Seattle) – It’s a shame you didn’t get into the game Sunday. Oh, wait… you DID? Sorry. I missed it.

6) The rest of this season is going to be a slog. Players are already breaking down physically. The psychology of a playoff chase is going to be tough on them, too. For the rest of the year, every game will feel like a must-win, and that can be exhausting. I know it’s wearing me out. I’m a mess.

We have nine games left, only three of them easy: Toronto at home and two road games at Chivas (I’ve been thinking of those as sure-fire wins, but then yesterday the Goats beat New York, so maybe it’s not automatic after all.)

Regardless, those three are pretty much our only easy games. The rest of the schedule is nothing but playoff teams. Real Salt Lake. Colorado. Los Angeles. Vancouver. Seattle. Real Salt Lake again.

This time last year? I wasn’t all stressed out like this. The Timbers sucked and had no chance at the playoffs. This year, they’re good, they’re in the hunt, and I’m an emotional wreck. Funny how that works.

After Seattle: Tactical Adjustments, Rodney Wallace and Defending Cascadia

I wish I’d been there. But instead I was in the front room of my apartment watching the game. I miss the chanting. I miss the excitement. I miss my friends. I miss the TA. But there is one advantage to watching at home…  you get to see the whole game. Let’s be honest, by a show of hands – OK so your probably in your underwear sitting in bed or something but you can at least nod along appreciatively- who has missed an important incident at a game because they were: tetrising, looking at their capo, talking with their neighbour, distracted by an incident in the crowd, had their view obstructed by a flag, scarf or other such object. We all have. It’s fantastic and much better than sitting at home watching a stream. But that’s what I have to do. I also may have lost any competitive analysis advantage I gained by the fact that it was 3am and I was sleepy. So if these are inaccurate please take your concerns up with someone who cares, like Kevin.

Here are a few quick points that I noticed in the game. Some positive, some not so positive.

1. Caleb Porter. Did you see that John “4-4-2” Spencer??? That’s called a tactical adjustment! Good job Caleb. Now in order to highlight why the tactical adjustment I need to say something complimentary about Seattle. It hurts to say this but Seattle are a good team. They’ve qualified for the playoffs every year since 2009. They are hard to play anywhere, but especially at clink. Porter saw that and made a tactical adjustment from the rough 4-3-3 we’ve been playing. This is something that very rarely happened under Spencer or Gavin. Porter has now shown he is not afraid to adjust tactics in game and for tougher matches. Until Portland becomes a dominant MLS force this is a very wise move. In this game the adjustment was semi successful. Jewsbury added a lot of support to the defence and was a big help in coping with Seattle’s potent attack. There were some not so positive things but we’ll talk about that a bit later. I’m just excited to see a manager willing to try new things and adjust to teams!

2. Rodney Wallace. There are certain things that elevate your status among supporters. Scoring against rivals is one of them. Scoring a late leveling goals is a big one. Do it twice… well in my book that’s pretty instant legendary status. Forever. Nothing Wallace does on the pitch takes away the fact. Only thing that can take it away is something really bad happen off the field (e.g. Gavin Wilkinson, Andrew F’in Gregor etc.). I’d also like to publicly say that I always liked Rodney Wallace, even when you didn’t. He is actually my second favourite Rodney Wallace ever. Sunday morning he became my favourite Rodney Wallace ever. I think Rod become a bit of a scapegoat for a team that was in general poor, particularly down the flank. But I think he has attributes that will continue to serve the team well.

3. Andrew Jean Baptiste. He literally looked like he was going to get shredded to pieces by Eddy Johnson for the first half hour or so. He did on the goal (by no means the only person at fault here). Again when he was deservedly booked for hauling Johnson down.  But he responded impressively with maturity beyond his years. On a yellow card, facing a prolific and pacey attack AJB handled it with class and was a key part of an impressive second half defensive display from Portland. There was one highly impressive piece of work when Johnson was trying to connect with a through ball. He’d gotten the wrong side of AJB and was potentially one on one with Ricketts. AJB did everything that could be considered legal to keep Johnson out. Really making his presence felt physically, but without giving the ref any reason to give a pk. Of course Johnson tried to claim that penalty, but to no avail. It was really an impressive recovery from a poor start by Jean Baptiste. Of course, his night ended spectacularly with a beautiful assist for Wallace.

4. Lack of Shape. This was the hiccup in Caleb’s plan. For much of the night the midfield seemed a little shapeless. Other than Jack playing deep. Valeri continually drifted to his natural central role, this often forced Chara or Johnson out wider. Neither of them looked comfortable out there, so in turn they would drift back in. Thus, we didn’t really have any width. Nagbe provided some, but ultimately he is a right footed player playing on the left with the intention of drifting in and playing through balls or taking shots (PLEASE SHOOT MOAR NAGBE!). Width, of course, isn’t the be all and end all of football games. But it is a huge help in opening up space and creating chances. Creativity and passing have improved on the Timbers this year but we are still going to have difficulty in passing the ball through teams without using and creating space out wide. In turn that width will actually create more space in the middle. It’s also were our one goal against Seattle came; a cross from the brilliant winger Andrew Jean-Baptiste.

5. Freddy “Hernandez” Piquionne. Of course it was a small debut for the big man from West Ham (please note the West Ham is pronounced West ‘aam … it’s a cockney thing). But I was impressed with a few things. First, he is big and he knows what to do with it. He won several aerial challenges I don’t think any other Timber would have won. Second, his assurance on the ball. He was calm in possession always. I see this as a key sign of a player that has been there and done that. It’s a great attribute to be able to bring into the game. He didn’t look like he was going to let up the league and he may not be a huge headline setter but I believe Freddy has a few key things to bring to this Timbers setup. Sometimes off the bench and maybe sometimes from the start.

6. Staying in the fight. Again. It happened. Conceded first again and thought for a draw. 3 games in which we’ve been behind, twice by two goals and we’ve never looked down. It’s like the opposite of 2011. It’s brilliant.

7. Defend Cascadia. Well an away draw is a pretty good way to start the defence of the cup. The circumstances of it were of course brilliant. But in reality if we win our home Cascadia matches and draw away we will be in a great chance of retaining. If we can win at home and pick up one away win we will contain. And it is our house, in the middle of BC.

Believe

I made my first road trip last weekend, as one of the Timbers Army that marched (or more accurately, bussed) deep into darkest, fishiest Mordor, past the Black Gates of Tacoma to face a team that have done the seemingly impossible by getting rid of Fredy Montero and still managing to be even more unlikeable this year than last.

Though a little bemused by, or completely unaware of, the local orcish tribe who seemed so taken by the notion of fire that they were burning scarves just so as to gaze into the hypnotic flames. Their fervor can be the only explanation for why they were so quiet during the match, since even their own fellow customers complained of not being able to enjoy their Groupon-ed Entertainment Experience™ in their customarily gentle corporate lull.

The biggest noise from the home crowd came when Eddie Johnson scored, though even then the hubbub wasn’t enough to remind Eddie that they were present as the striker chose to celebrate in front of the traveling fans, most of whom could only see him on the Jumbotron from their acoustically-beneficial position in the clouds.

Despite the second half taking the shape of one of those all-too familiar “been here, done that, sacked the coach” situations where the Timbers would limp out with a moral victory, a metric thus far unaccounted for by short-sighted MLS administrators, but no points on the road, and a loss against them.

With time running out, and home customers by this point more anxious about beating traffic than their greatest rivals, a ball was thrown into the box by future US defender (the needless hype starts here, cos that’s always healthy) Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and Rodney Wallace rose unmarked at the near post to send the remaining customers into a mild sulk.

Away fans celebrated with gentlemanly handshakes and backslaps, and threw their hats into the air with a raucous cheer (or lost their shit entirely, one of the two), and the Army left having seen the team earn a point, kicking a dent in Sigi Schmid’s assertion that this year was Seattle’s turn to win the Cascadia Cup because they have two of the three derby games at home.

I’m sure I’ll get round to watching the game again soon, and probably writing a thing or two on the game and what we’ve seen from Porter’s Timbers so far. There are two weeks to fill till the next game, after all! When standing in a crowd of drunk lunatics (and I mean that in the very fondest sense) it’s sort of difficult to really follow the game in any great depth, so it’ll have to wait for now.

It was clearly also difficult for the Jumbotron to follow what was going on, with the Timbers new signing “Hernandez” coming on late in the game, cunningly disguised as Freddy Piquionne.

As an aside, I assume the Jumbotron has gained or will inevitably gain sentience like Skynet and will soon see what has been obvious to fans around the country since their club invented football, that the Sounders fan base is worthless and compel them to commit mass suicide as part of the turgid half-time “entertainment”.

That Jean-Baptiste and Wallace had combined to both earn, and make, a big point on the road got me thinking of when the two last shared the park last season. Early season injuries had put Jean-Baptiste in, and Wallace had started Spencer’s second season as first choice left back. Almost exactly a year ago the Timbers led 1-0, thanks to a Boyd goal, at home to Chivas USA when Wallace was subbed out at half-time. They lost 2-1, not because Wallace was subbed out or that Mike Chabala came on, but because Fucking 2012™, that’s why.

That match and the one that followed in LA, where Boyd scored one of the best goals of his career only to see it ruled out because Fucking 2012™, were the blows that knocked much of the early season optimism, and remaining belief in coach Spencer, out of fans

The Costa Rican international was a big part of Spencer’s vision for football in Soccer City, such that he willingly gave up Dax McCarty and allocation money to get him. The small group of players that played more minutes in 2011 than Wallace makes for interesting reading: Brunner, Jewsbury, Perkins, Cooper, Chara, Alhassan, Perlaza and Futty. Four those are gone, and only two took the field against Seattle.

Despite being a big part of Spencer’s plans, though the signing of Mike Chabala indicated that at least someone had their doubts about Rodney at left-back, Wallace played 700 fewer minutes in 2012, dropping behind the likes of Smith, Songo’o, Alexander, Palmer and the midseason experiment in catastrophe failing to trump likeability, Kimura.

He’s made sub appearances in all three of the Timbers matches this season, and a goal makes a compelling case to give him a chance to earn a bigger place in Caleb Porter’s PTFC 2.0. It would be a big turnaround for a guy whose name was often followed by “and Palmer” by fans as a prime example of the clubs very visible failure to get the best out of the full-back position, and in finding value in players with MLS experience.

For every Jack Jewsbury or Eric Brunner there’s a Lovel Palmer, Kenny Cooper, Eric Alexander or Adam Moffat. Troy Perkins – can the Timbers even claim to have gotten the best of the him now that he seems to be more solid behind a couple of old Italians?

Yet, clearly (or at least I hope) John Spencer and Gavin Wilkinson had an overarching vision for this group of players. It got me thinking about what kind of team we’d be watching if all those guys had clicked in 2011.

The direct football in that first season, with the rush of goals from Kenny Cooper negating the need for a costly experiment in importing goals from Scotland for 2012, would’ve only emboldened John Spencer to further build a team in the image of his particular Dr Frankenstein, Dominic Kinnear.

In a strange way, I’m sort of glad it didn’t work. Not that I like losing. I’m a very bad loser. I don’t even let my kids beat me at Candyland. But I have to say there were times that I didn’t really like watching the actual football over the past couple of years. I much prefer watching what we’ve seen thus far from Caleb Porter’s team. And it is his team as much of the house that Spencer built has been cast away.

The changes go beyond those of style or formation, or even all the new faces to get used to; the whole atmosphere is different. Different in good way. There’s a real sense that there’s some substance to the fan’s customary early-season optimism now, much of which comes from the new head coach.

Caleb Porter seems like more of a Portland Timbers head coach than John Spencer, who was a Portland Timbers head coach, if the emphasis makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, what I mean is I get the feeling that the reason things feel better is that Porter gets it.

He gets us.

And most importantly, he gets football.

John Spencer may get another chance to take charge of a team but it’s hard to shake the belief that he’s one that group of managers who make much better coaches. Believe me, as a Scot and a Killie fan, I’d have loved to see Spenny and Boydy light it up in 2012, but it wasn’t to be and though it’s very early for Porter, I’m impressed at the start he’s making in Portland.

The roster is flexible enough now, and deep in some areas, that the team can fluidly move in the 4-3-3 shape, going from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-2-2-1 (sorry, numbers. I can’t help it) and back, or even morphing from 4-3-3 to a 2-up top diamond as the situation demands.

Aye, it would be nice to win a game or twenty. Two points from three games, and six goals conceded, doesn’t make for the greatest record though it did take Gavin Wilkinson six games to get two points, and his team conceded fifteen on the way. There are concerns, but it still doesn’t dampen the belief that we’re on the right path and that’s it’s surely only a matter of time before the Timbers are gearing up for cold November nights of post-season soccer under the floodlights.

But it may not be this year. There are still spots in the roster that need work, and it’s unlikely that Porter’s going to hit on the magic combination straight off the bat – how many “classic” teams were the very first starting XI put together by a head coach/manager? I’m going to bet very few, if any. There’s some tough time ahead, no doubt, but all we can ask if for more good times than bad.

And the Cup. The Cup stays. That is not up for negotiation.

In 2014 we’ll be a year further into Jean-Baptiste and Nagbe’s development, Jake Gleeson will have been mentored into a top MLS goalkeeper, Diego Valeri will have had a year to wrap his head around MLS refs and Caleb Porter would’ve thoroughly drunk Mike Petke’s milkshake.

In short, this is only the start. The open beta. Some guys will pass through like Silvestre and Piquionne but, unlike with Kris Boyd and Franck Songo’o, this transience is entirely part of the design and not a symptom of the problem.

Porter is blending experience with youth, and looking to get more out of established MLS players than his predecessor. Will Johnson, Michael Harrington and Ryan Johnson all look like solid acquisitions, and despite the whole captain/club captain thing there’s little doubt that Johnson is the guy that founds the new Timbers. He’s the lynchpin in midfield and though Valeri is the guy that drives the attack, Porter’s Timbers are much more in the image of Will Johnson than Diego Valeri. It presses, works hard, and looks to play tidy passes to control the game.

Guys like Wallace, or Alhassan; Nagbe or Chara; these players are throwbacks or carry-overs from the old regime, but now they all have the chance to stake their place in the Timbers’ future. For Wallace it’s been a fleeting glimpse, with only 22 minutes across the three games, but he’s given his chances of more minutes the world of good now. In the spirit of renewal, it seems only fair to give him a fresh start.

I’ve not been his biggest fan, and been pretty critical on occasion, but I always felt he gave reasonable value as a versatile squad player coming in off the bench. It may be the ultimately that is his role at the Timbers, but the change in philosophy could be what the player needed too.

I don’t want to get carried away too early, but last season we lose that game with, no doubt, the “28 year old” Sounders debutant scoring a late goal to set off more fireworks, a tactic designed to rouse the locals from their gentle slumber for a half-hearted round of applause and Jumbotron led chant/weak-ass flash mob dance moves. The TA leaves sickened, twitter turns blue and Merritt Paulson’s is a blur of tweet-and-delete popcorn fodder.

Rinse and repeat.

The comeback against New York, the near-comeback against an increasingly impressive looking Montreal, and now a point at the death in the Clink all speak to a new spirit in the team, so I’ll take these moments and hold on to them even as the defensive slips or failure to score first yet tug at me to start worrying because I truly think that it’ll get fixed.

Teams are already wary of the Timbers new style.The second half against New York sent out a signal, and while it’s too early to say whether Montreal played so defensively because of who they were playing or just because that’s just who they are, rarely do you see Seattle, at home, look so willing to just ride out a match at 1-0 with so long still to go.

Maybe it was fatigue having played midweek, because fuck knows 4 early-season games in 14 days is a horribly punishing schedule for professional athletes, or maybe it was because the Timbers simply aren’t going to accept defeat and controlled the game in the Sounders own backyard.

If we can only close the door at the back, we could turn these points into three. The Timbers now have a couple of weeks to work (mostly) together on the training field before they travel to play the Rapids in a couple of weeks. After that comes another two home games.

The trip to Colorado will be the fourth time the clubs have met at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. 1-3, 0-3, 0-3 reads the record of the first three games and having won and lost only 1-0 at Jeld-Wen, there does seem to be something about playing at altitude that didn’t agree with Spencer’s and Wilkinson’s teams. The next match is another test for Porter’s boys, but they can at least take comfort in the fact that it’s the only visit there on league business in 2013.

Houston Dynamo and a home/away double-header against San Jose Earthquakes follows and from there the Timbers have only 2 home matches in the next 7. By then the season will be 14 games old, and we’ll have a good idea how things are going to go in 2013.

By that stage Spencer had amassed 18 and 15 points in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and Wilkinson’s side had earned 11 points in the first 14 games of his interimship. It’s hard to put a figure on what the Timbers will have in 2013 by that stage as so much remains a work-in-progress, but anything in the Spencer range would put the team in a good positions down the stretch, where they have a run of three home matches in a row, and will play four of the last six at Jeld-Wen Field, all against Western Conference rivals.

The old football cliche is that it’s the hope the kills you, but it what makes the success all the more special when it finally does come. I was fortunate enough to see my local club, Kilmarnock, win two cups in my lifetime. This is a club that I can still recall playing in the lower leagues so I know how those fans who were TA before there even was a TA would feel to see their club lift some silverware.

My mood was best summed up by another fan on the bus home – “we got a draw that felt like a win”. The wins are coming.

We don’t just hope, we believe.

#RCTID

Finn’s Five: There Are No Friendlies

The Timbers dominated in a 1-0 win today over The Price is Right FC that could have been a larger margin had the Timbers finishing been a little bit better. Lot to be happy with today, a few things to keep an eye on as we go forward.

Let’s get to the Five.

1) Was it nice to win? Yes, but perspective please. The first half featured 8 or 9 out of 11 probable Timbers starters vs a Sounders side with just 4 regulars and even fewer in the second half. What mattered was play of the Timbers and at times that was very good.

2) Width? How the outside midfield position is played greatly impacts Porter’s scheme. If you go back to the Colorado game I could count on one hand the number of overlapping runs by Miller and Harrington. In this match with Nagbe and Alhassan ostensibly lining up in the wide midfield position in the 4-2-3-1 system but doing anything but stay wide our two new outside defenders ran that open channel a lot during this match to very limited effectiveness. Endless overlapping crosses to a Dike covered by 3 defenders is not possession football.

3) Dike. Everything good and bad about Dike was encapsulated in one play in the 47th minute. Valeri plays a great ball over the top, Dike runs his ass off to get there, beats two central defenders and then… blasts the ball as hard as he can straight at the keeper when he could have simply slotted it home. I love his heart but I question his brain.

4) Silvestre. Today was his best day as a trialist and most of that was down to his passing. There’s a reason he played at some of the biggest clubs in the world. But I still maintain with the high-line defensive system Porter is playing, a guy with the turning speed of a cruise ship is going to do us a lot of harm over the course of the season.

5) Michael Nanchoff. Apart from be able to deliver a great set piece, I have been impressed with his play overall. Tidy, clean, doesn’t try to do too much. It didn’t work out in Vancouver but he went #8 in the draft for a reason and Porter is very familiar with him.

Oh and a final mention for Flounder Zach Scott – I have been watching this hack kick the hell out of Timbers since he welcomed Alan Gordon to his first professional game with a elbow to the head requiring stitches in 2004. It’s time Dike pulls a Dike on this clown.

Monkey Jesus

With the Cascadia Cup up for grabs, 1500 Timbers fans made the trip up the I-5 into enemy territory with hopes high that they would be returning to the Rose City with silverware. A draw would’ve been enough to secure the title. In the end those same fans would make the return trip having seen their side lose 3-0 in front of an (official, if not actual) 66,452 crowd. Closer to 66,500 if you include the Timbers playing and coaching staff, who spent much of their time spectating in any case.

The absence of Hanyer Mosquera from the back line, as well as the return of Diego Chara to midfield, forced our Gavin Wilkinson to make changes.

Now, you and I in our n00bishness may think that if you’re missing a crucial piece from your defence in such a big match, that would seek to make sure you keep changes to a minimum at the back, right? WRONG! What you do is change the full-backs and goalkeeper too so that you have change 80% of the back line. That is the right thing to do.

And the attack that has hardly been striking fear into defences? Well, you make no changes there and you most certainly do not, under any circumstances, start your team’s leading assist provider. That would be the actions of a madman.

So, into defence came Futty Danso, Lovel Palmer and Rodney Wallace. I got up at 1:55am for the game. I checked twitter and saw the line-up at 1:58am. The temptation to go back to bed at 1:59am was strong. It wasn’t so much that I feared the worst as I expected it.

Wallace’s spot in midfield was taken by the returning Chara, with the rest of the midfield and attack as it was for the 1-1 draw with DC United last week.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but after doing a bit of research on Seattle and watching a few games – those are hours I will never get back – I’d identified what I thought were pretty obvious patterns to the Seattle attack.

1 – They would look to overload the right with Rosales/Evans, Tiffert and Johansson. As such we would need a left-back who could make the right choices, as well as having a left midfielder who would track back and help out.

2 – They lacked a left-footed player on the left side, and Gonzales doesn’t get forward nearly as much as Johansson, so we had to expect that they would look to come inside and ping the ball diagonally to the back post for Montero or Johnson to attack.

3 – Johnson’s aerial threat meant that there was no way we would win every duel, so we had to make sure that the players were alive to the second ball and that we won that.

Given all that, here was the line-up I’d have gone with – Bendik/Ricketts; Kimura, Horst, Futty/Brunner, Smith; Jewsbury, Chara, Alexander; Nagbe, Mwanga, Songo’o

My reasoning? As I said, I felt continuity (as far as possible) at the back was crucial, though I wouldn’t be adverse to Jewsbury starting ahead of Kimura (with Nagbe back to midfield and Zizzo starting).

My thinking is that, since Seattle offer less threat down their left, Kimura – who I don’t particularly rate highly, but still think is better than Palmer – could be given a set of simple instructions of “keep tight, don’t let them come inside and stay on your feet”. Ditto if Jewsbury subs in there.

If we play with Nagbe, I’d play him a little off the wing rather than as a winger. Here I’d want Nagbe to look for space and, in the process, either pull Gonzalez narrow (opening up space for the overlap of Kimura/Jewsbury) or force Alonso to drop in and mark him, opening up space for Songo’o to come inside from the left, with support from Alexander (and Smith on the outside).

Mwanga is up top because I felt it would be pointless to play long ball football as the Seattle central defence would eat that up all night long. Rather, playing Mwanga would emphasise movement and passing over physicality or “lumping it into the mixer”.

The help out Smith on the left, since Songo’o isn’t the greatest defender in the world, Alexander would be given the job of playing left of centre, and to shuttle across to back up the Scot. He’s shown, when he subbed for Chara earlier this year, that he can play this disciplined, defensive role if asked to, and between the three – Smith, Alexander and Songo’o – I feel we’d have the numbers to match up and nullify much of Seattle’s threat.

That’s what I’d have done.

What Gavin did was put Wallace in at left-back. The reasoning seems to be it was because Wallace is more “athletic” than Smith. I’d back that line of thinking if the game was only one part of a heptathlon, but it isn’t, it’s the main event and you just put someone on the back line whose best attributes sure as hell aren’t his defensive ones. Wallace has looked decent in the last few matches playing in midfield, where his lapses in concentration aren’t directly punished by having an opponent go clean through on goal.

Maybe Gavin thought Wallace’s “athleticism” would get him forward, and push Seattle back and win the battle down the flank that way. Well, that worked a fucking treat, eh? Because, as you know, that slovenly Smith never gets up and down the line.

The decision to drop Smith was a strange one – references to a Wilkinson quote “player health” abound on twitter, but at the time of writing they aren’t being reported. Smith has a case for being the Timbers most improved player over the past few weeks. He had a really rocky spell earlier in the season, but as his fitness has improved and he’s become more attuned to the league, he’s settling in very nicely.

Now, I’ve nothing against Wallace. I think he’s perfectly functional (if a tad overpaid) as a squad player, questionable as a starter and downright objectionable as a defender. You almost can’t get mad at the guy whose known to make mistakes when he makes mistakes, instead you should direct that ire at the guy who put him in what I felt was the key position on the field to make those mistakes.

The first goal came about as, surprise, Seattle overloaded that flank.

Rosales, Tiffert and Johansson are all out there on the right. Wallace is trying to marshal Tiffert, while keeping an eye on Rosales, as Johansson bursts forward. Songo’o fails to track his man.

The Seattle midfield has narrowed, negating the Timbers 3v2 advantage in the middle, as Zizzo stays out wide. The ball forward by Alonso is missed by a diving Wallace, and Johansson runs on to it. His pass into the centre is aimed towards Montero, but Danso gets there first and directs it past a helpless Ricketts.

Fucking. Textbook. Elementary. Football.

The second goal followed soon after as the Timbers were in disarray. That is, more disarray than is usual.

Here we have Danso following Montero out of defence (a). Tiffert (d) will slot into the space left by Danso (d) as the ball goes left to Evans. Now, there’s only place Evans wants to go here, and it’s inside (c). Palmer’s job here is to get tight, and force Evans onto his weaker left foot, and down the side (b). Instead, Lovel stands off Evans (e), letting him get his head up and measure the cross to Johnson, who is making a customary back post run (f) to finish the move, and the Timbers hopes of a result here, off.

Taking a leaf from the seemingly half-arsed way Wilkinson prepared the team for this match, I’m not even going to bother going over the 3rd goal in any detail, except to say we failed to win the second ball when Johnson got a flick-on because Wallace was asleep at the back post, which was fine cos he was only marking Fredy Montero. Equally, I’ll give the substitutions as much thought and consideration as Wilkinson seemingly did. There, done.

Sure, there were chances for Portland. Songo’o had a couple of sites of goal, Wallace had a free header from a corner, Dike had a sniff, as did Nagbe. Nothing that would overly worry Gspurring, the Sounders keeper.

I went to bed last night, knowing that I would wake up to gold from Wilkinson and the Unsackable One didn’t disappoint.

Those two [David Horst and Futty Danso] haven’t played together an awful lot.

Who picks the team, and who hasn’t been rotating the squad? Look, I get that defensive consistency is important (as I said earlier), but by my quick reckoning Wilkinson has set out the same back four in 7 of the last 9 matches. You can’t have it both ways – you’re either trying players out and seeing what you have, or you’re picking a settled team

They had a lot more mobility in the midfield. They had a lot more freedom and kept the ball moving. They caused problems.

We (supposedly) outnumbered them and yet you’d think Seattle had the extra midfielder. As I said before the game, quick movement of the ball was vital. We did none of that. Seattle did. They won.

(That’s what happens) when you’ve got mature players that understand the game and understand what is expected, and we had problems solving it.

A good coach is supposed to help players “understand the game” (hint: coach). A good coach is supposed to make sure that a player “understands what is expected”. A good coach is supposed to identify problems on the field, and solve it p- not just sit back and blame the players for not understanding. You see something going wrong – fix it! Change it if you have to. Shuffle players around. Relay instructions to the guys on the field. You see it happen all the time in matches all over the world. That’s your job.

Then there’s this…

I have no words.

In a big environment you want players to play well and sometimes when things aren’t going well, one or two players start hiding a little bit. That’s not a go at the players, it’s just the environment.

Just like you know when someone starts a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” it will be followed by the most egregiously racist statement, so “that’s not a go at the players” will, when utter by Gavin Wilkinson, inevitably be preceded by him having a go at the players. Have the courage of your convictions, Gavin. If you want to blame the players, do it. Rev that bus up, crank up the Whitesnake, run them over and back up if you feel like it. Don’t fob us off with crap about “the environment” because you fool no-one but yourself.

We learned a little tonight about certain individuals. It’s going to be an evaluation process through to the end of the year. It was important to see a few players in different positions so we could go into the offseason making the right decisions.

First off, players in different positions – what did we learn about Wallace and Palmer at full-back that we didn’t already know from the many times they’ve played full-back before? That they are as mediocre as everyone already knew? Well, good job Captain, sorry, General Manager Obvious in underlining that point on the biggest fucking stage of the year. I’m giving you the world’s slowest hand clap over here.

Second, and this maybe just my interpretation of what Wilkinson is saying, but it sounds to me that he thought this game was just another experiment. Another attempt to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. He used the biggest game of the season – the chance to salvage something worthwhile from a Wynaldian trainwreck of a season, in the backyard of our greatest rivals no less (YES, THAT FUCKING GAME) – as an EXPERIMENT? Fuck off with your “it was the players fault” bullshit, if anything they were only taking their cue from you. 1500 fans paid hard cash in good faith to watch Wilkinson tinker with stuff to prove some vague point about players that he should not be allowed to wriggle out of responsibility for signing in the first place.

I wouldn’t put Wilkinson in charge of a McDonald’s franchise, let alone a Major League Soccer team.

Look, as much as it pains us to admit it, we all know Seattle are a better team, with a better head coach. If it wasn’t for the rivalry aspect, there would be no great embarrassment in going there and losing (though the manner of said defeat may be good cause). We know that. So the very least we expect is that the head coach, the general-fucking-manager, takes it seriously and approaches it in the proper manner.

You certainly don’t use it as an excuse to tinker with things. And if the front office did any work at all in scouting Seattle, it was either woefully produced or completely ignored by Wilkinson.

I was 100% on board with the idea of writing off the season, and using the time to see what we had for 2013, and what we needed to get. It made sense. But I don’t think we’ve got that, despite Wilkinson mentioning it whenever he gets a chance. What we’ve had, as far as I can see, is the same small group of players, sometimes playing in different roles, but generally playing in the very positions where we already know exactly what to expect from them. The fringe guys don’t seem to be getting a look in. Eric Alexander gets pity minutes here and there. Danny Mwanga can’t get a run of games together to build some consistency or confidence. Fucito is granted a farewell tour of Seattle (and, with any luck, top flight football) while Richards, Jean-Baptiste and Kawulok can’t get a look in. What are we supposed to be learning, exactly?

When you play a team that are, and the league doesn’t lie, better than you, in their home ground, you adjust your tactics accordingly. You seek to nullify their strengths, and exploit their weakness. You don’t send out two full-backs who aren’t up the task and then resort to lumping the ball forward to Dike who had more success drawing blood from Seattle defenders than he had drawing saves from the Seattle keeper. That is just sloppy.

Gavin Wilkinson’s management of the squad post-Spencer puts me in mind of Cecilia Gimenez, the 81 year old amateur fresco artist from Spain. Both have sought to repair something that, while hardly a masterpiece in the first place, certainly needed a bit of work to bring out it’s best features but their cackhanded attempts have rendered the result a laughing stock. At least the Monkey Jesus is proving popular though, so Cecilia has that over Gavin.

Sure, he never wanted to be head coach and he’s only there to fill in before Caleb Porter gets to add his rut to the wall John Spencer presumably spent 18 months beating his head against. The thing is, I don’t think the guy who has watched Wallace and Palmer (sorry to keep picking on these two – they weren’t the only non-performers out there by any stretch) in training for weeks, months even, and still hasn’t recognised that neither of them are top flight full-backs should be in charge of scouting and signing players. It’d be like hiring Stevie Wonder as an interior decorator or Abu Hamza as a juggler.

Despite this result, the Timbers can still salvage the Cascadia Cup by beating Vancouver next week in the final road match of the season. Winning the trophy after this omnishambles, in our first road victory in our last road match, would be so Portland.

#RCTID

Scouting Seattle

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but real life has a habit of getting in the way sometimes!

It’s a big week for the Timbers. The Whitecaps’ 4-0 trouncing of Chivas USA finally took Portland’s play-off hopes out the back and put a bullet in its head before coming back inside to tell little Merritt that they had gone to a better place. But the week can still end with celebration as the Timbers take a road trip to Snake Mountain to face the Sounders knowing that a draw would be enough to secure the Cascadia Cup.

A crowd of over 60,000 is expected for the match putting a lot of pressure on the Jumbotron operator to tell them what to chant.

I prepared a scouting report than started out a short overview of Seattle and grew into something that even I thought was too long to put on the site, so here it is in PDF format if you want to read or download it. I’ve seen far too much rave green over the past few days. It’s not good for you.

[gview width=650 file=”http://sliderulepass.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Scouting-Repor-Seattlet.pdf”%5D

Short version: Seattle will seek to play at a high tempo; Rosales and Montero and key to the creativity going forward but they will also use Johnson’s height as a weapon, so winning the second ball will be crucial; they’ll push their wingers and full-backs high, so we should look to hit them on the counter here; quick, crisp passing is the key to unlocking the Seattle midfield and defence; set plays (both defensive and attacking) will be very important.

A battalion of the Timbers Army will make the trip north to support the team, hoping to put the Cascadia Cup to bed before the match against Vancouver next week. The team will be without Hanyer Mosquera through injury, though hopefully Diego Chara will be back to give some drive to the midfield.

It’ll hopefully not be so long between posts in future but things are getting hectic at home so no promises. As always, if you want to write something just get in touch!

Bring home the Cup!

#RCTID

180 Minutes

Well, that was quite a weekend, wasn’t it?

The second leg of the bizarre three-legged I-5 Corridor Derby (the Cascadia Tripod?) concluded Sunday with the Timbers Reserves holding off the Sounders Reserves for a 3-2 win. The Big Sides, however, played to a 1-1 draw the day before so the issue of Whose Cup will be decided – unfortunately for the Timbers, whose record abroad resembles Italy’s; the army, not the team – in Seattle and Vancouver in October.

I went to both matches, the first with hope and trepidation, the second with a lovely lassitude and pure curiosity (would we see the fabled “Trencito”? We did, more of which in a bit) and my son, who at nine considers a pretzel, cotton candy, and orange soda to provide enough atmosphere to make the reserves at Jeld-Wen Field to be just like watching Brazil.

At any rate, my observations of the matches – in order of date but in other no particular order.

Saturday, 15 SEP 12 POR 1 – 1 SEA

I hoped that the first team would run out with a) energy and b) a tactical plan to carve into the poorly-dressed visitors from the Emerald City.

The first? Yes, and more than yes. The team hustled for the full 90, and showed impressive energy and spark.

The second? Mmmm…not so much.

The problem was that Sigi Schmidt showed his metal as a rotund student of the beautiful game. He’d clearly watched the films and recognized that Portland really has no go-forward options in central midfield other than Darlington Nagbe. Shut down Nagbe and the Timbers are back in SpencerWorld, running up the touchlines. And the pie-gobbling rascal had planned for that too; he knew that if you fronted Franck Songo’o he would turn inside where you could force him to make a poor pass. And Sal Zizzo just had to be smothered. So he set Gonzales to just obstruct Zizzo’s runs long enough for a midfielder to track back and help out. He used his central midfield to harass Nagbe all match. And, sure enough, Franck kept turning the ball into the traffic jam inside and getting his pocket picked.

And I think that he, and the rest of the league, has figured out Dike. The man just doesn’t have a good touch; if you throw a body at him he will cough up the ball, or lay it off, or take a forced, poor shot. Without anyone else to help out up front that was pretty much that.

The backline woes continued, but in something of a minor key. Kimura was beaten soundly by Zakuani several times, but Rodney Wallace played perhaps his best match as a Timber in two seasons (including scoring the equalizer…). He pretty much neutralized Zakuani on the left side, Mosquera and Horst did enough to throttle Johnson, and so, with Alonso and Nagbe wrestling to a draw the only weapon the intruders had as Montero. Sadly for the Green and White Faithful he fired his looping bullet just after Ricketts had gone off (with what appeared to be an arm injury – the very thing I worried about when we traded Troy for him; the fragility of that arm…) and caught a jumped-past-Jake-Gleeson-on-the-keeper-depth-chart-for-some-reason-I-don’t-quite-get Joe Bendik off his line for the initial goal.

Taken altogether I’d have to say that it was a deserved result for both sides. With a passing sneer at the man in the middle, again, honestly, MLS, how bad does the boy Salazar have to be to get assigned to the U-12 development league? His calls really didn’t benefit either side (other than the Chara foul, which I didn’t see as quite as automatically-PK-worthy as many, but your mileage may vary on that question) but it went a long way towards making the match as ragged and ugly as it was for long stretches.

Other than that, I think that Coach Porter needs to look hard at a couple of issues.

1. Communication. I loved the energy and the hustle Saturday. I hated the looking-like-we-played-together-just-the-past-week. How many times did Dike play a through ball to Zizzo…who wasn’t running for it? Three times? Four? Or the “Franck-Songo’o-square-pass-to-nobody”? Hanyer Mosquera marking space while pointing to a nearby unmarked Sounder? I agree we have individual talent out there. I’m not sure why the coaching staff seems unable to make it play as a team.

2. Throw-ins. Are we the worst team in MLS West with throw-ins? It sure seems like it. The secret to gaining possession from the Timbers seems to be to force them to boot it into touch and then wait for the throw; the Timbers will stand there marked into oblivion and then throw it right to you. This doesn’t seem like a difficult play – why do we seem to have such difficulty with it?

The one other thing I wanted to see Saturday was a coaching staff with a tactical plan to attack Seattle; instead it seemed like Gavin (or Sean, or whothehellever is marking the chalkboard now) didn’t really have a notion of where they could find an advantageous matchup. I want to think that these guys can figure out a way to go to the House of Astroturf and stonewall the Sounders for 90 minutes and the away draw.

Seems possible. Let’s see if we can actually DO it, though…

Sunday, 16 SEP 12 POR 3 – 2 SEA

More than 8,000 people showed up for a meaningless reserve match on a lovely sunny Sunday.

Think about that for a moment.

Are we “Soccer City USA”? I think we might be.

The Sunday match was an odd affair, with Portland running out with a side full of unused starters before giving way to the bench players, trialists, and the youngsters. Seattle, on the other hand, fielded mostly their regular team bench until late in the match. The difference showed immediately, as Portland scored an improbable three goals inside fifteen minutes.

One huge factor was the play of Alexander and Alhassan in midfield. In particular the second goal was created by a lovely sliderule pass from Alhassan to Boyd who then chipped Ford in an almost Cantonaesque fashion. Lovely piece of work. The new left back, Ian Hogg, also contributed with a good run that led to the first goal by Mike Fucito.

Kris Boyd…he’s a Sounders killer. Why didn’t we sub him in Saturday..?

Hogg looked decent at left back, making several studly blocks on crosses that should have swelled Gavin’s little Kiwi heart; the man is hard, no error. Several other of the Timbers reserves showed well, including Cam Vickers and young Mitch North, who was thrown into the fire when Jake Gleeson got cleated in the right hand (Are you SURE you want to trade away Troy Perkins, Gav’…never mind…).

Charles Renken came on after halftime and helped settle the midfield defensively.

Brent Richards is looking much tougher on defense that he did at the beginning of the season. He scored a lovely goal, turning on a loose ball in the box and settling it before lashing a rocket past Ford. He also has a terrific throw (remember where I was bitching about throw-ins? This kid should take every one, and anytime we get a throw inside 18 yards of the opponent’s goal he’s almost as good as a corner!) and he can still outjump pretty much anyone else on the pitch. Lots of good stuff there.

Still, the typical Timbers lack-of-communication-and-coordination issues surfaced as the team let off the pressure in the second half and the Sounders’ midfield began to exploit the space between the Boys’ midfield and backline to claw two goals back. And the backline itself looked like a rat-scramble at times. Eric Brunner, while showing why he is so badly missed with the first team, also showed that he’s not really match fit yet, and Futty played his typical 95% steady 5% WTF!? match.

Sigh.

The Little Train?

Clearly the man Valencia has potential. He’s big, for one thing, and he looks comfortable with the ball at his feet. He wants to score, and shows some ability to put the shots where he wants them. He had a brief outing, and his last and only for the season unless everything goes sideways for the Big Side. But he looks like he’s a promising piece of lumber in the overstocked Timbers Forwards Woodshed.

Two matches, two days; one fraught with the tensions of this season, the other, perhaps, a hint of sunnier days ahead.

All that was no matter to my little man who skipped happily, full of soccer and candy and sunshine as we walked back to the car after the match on Sunday. I envied him a little; he has no worries for cups and coaches and coming seasons; when the Timbers win all is good and right with the world, and he can skip along without the cares of those of us who have peered into the abyss at the heart of the game and see it peer back with the face of Freddie Montero.

But, never despair – Onward, Rose City!

Filed by John Lawes


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