Tag Archives: Will Johnson

Six Degrees: So Near

sonear


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.

6degreeswilljohnson

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.

Advertisements

Six Degrees: ‘Til You Finish The Fight

1) Yes, yes, I know. Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote how I was sick of all the ties. I also know we should go into every game wanting three points. But I have to be honest, as many games as we’ve had lately, as banged up as our team is, and as up-and-down dangerous as the LA Galaxy have been lately, I went into this game fearing a loss. And the game’s first 15 minutes did nothing to allay my fears. We looked horrible, didn’t we? No possession, no flow, and, most importantly, no urgency. To be honest, it didn’t even look like our team our there. It looked liked the very worst of last year’s squad. We looked utterly lost. But then, somehow, we turned it around. I don’t know if we flipped our switch “on” or if LA flipped their switch “off,” but at roughly the 20 minute mark, Portland had 37% possession. By end of game, we’d bumped it up to 53%. And that, to me, tells the story of the game.

2) I’m a little amazed how solid our back line looked. Particularly centerbacks Pa-Modou Kah and Andrew Jean-Baptiste. If you’d asked me before the game, I’d have told you Kah hadn’t been here long enough or looked impressive enough to earn my trust. And Beast? Well, he’d sort of LOST my trust, what with his hand-wrestling in the box, and his guaranteed one or two bone-headed plays per game. But after their performance last night, I really wonder if we’ve found our ideal pairing. They were brilliant. Did they earn starting positions for the rest of the year? Is Footy Danso stuck on the bench from here on? We’ll have to wait and see, of course, but wow, I couldn’t be happier with what I saw. And strictly for comedy’s sake, how fabulous was that play late in the game where Keane was heading straight for goal and somehow, this 20-year old kid picked his pocket. Keane looked around like he wasn’t sure what had happened. Like the ball had just disappeared. Absolutely hysterical.

3) Also fantastic? But honestly, why should I act like this is some special announcement? Of COURSE Donovan Ricketts was fantastic. That’s just what he does. He came to town last year, replacing the beloved Troy Perkins, and did absolutely nothing to endear himself to Timbers fans. This season? Oh, my lord, has he been great. It’s gotten to the point where Donovan’s almost like a security blanket for me. All hell can be breaking loose in front of the goal, but as soon as I see that big, 6’4” Jamaican racing out from his goal, I relax, because I know everything’s going to be okay. In earning his league-leading seventh shutout, he had so many great plays. I’ll only mention two. At the 55 minute mark, when Sean Franklin hit the post? Yes, my heart stopped there, as did yours, but did you notice how Ricketts got his hand on that ball? Not before it hit the post, but AFTER. It would have bounced right back in front of goal, where Landon Donovan was waiting, but Ricketts just gave it a little punch. Enough to send it out of harm’s way. Beautiful. And then later, around the 83 minute mark, LA had a great counter going, with a long pass to Robbie Keane, and he’s racing for it, Kah trying to keep up, and once again, our man Ricketts races out of goal and beats both of them to the ball. You can relax, Portland. Ricketts in on the job.

4) I feel like I should say something about our offense, but what do I say? There kind of WASN’T any offense, was there? LA had 10 corner kicks to our one. We had a four shots on goal, same as LA, but for some reason, none of ours seemed terribly dangerous. And I’m not sure any of them qualify as close range shots. I can’t tell you for sure why we were so impotent last night, but I’m inclined to give two reasons. One, we had tired legs. Valeri and Nagbe both seemed to be moving at half-speed. Ryan Johnson had a few decent moments, but when Piquionne came in, he didn’t do a thing. All my strongest memories from the game happened on defense. The offense? Well, they were just kind of there.

The second possible explanation? Maybe LA’s just good. I mean, after those first 20 minutes, we did a nice job with possession, and we had a few times where I saw 15, 20, 25 straight passes, all over the field. Well, almost all over the field, because as soon as we tried to take it into LA’s final third – you know, that place where goals happen – then everything just fell apart. So perhaps it’s LA’s fault. Maybe they just shut us down.

5) I know this is silly, but I feel like I have to dedicate one entire talking point to that late-game almost-fight between Will Johnson and Robbie Keane. I mean, how fantastic was that? If you didn’t see it, trust me, it was quintessential Will Johnson. I don’t even know what started the argument, but suddenly there in front of our goal are Will and Robbie jawing at each other, right up in each other’s faces. And you know how Will is, he’s got the total Will Johnson face on, the same face we saw in the San Jose game, when he and Alan Gordon were going at it. So the ref steps in and separates Will and Keane, but they’re still jawing, so then some teammates separate them and they both start jogging up the field. But here’s the best part: they didn’t want to be separated. They’re jogging up the field, sure, but they’re still jawing at each other, and the cameras are following them, because this is way better than the actual game, and they’re getting closer and closer, until they’re finally right up in each other’s grills again. And I’m watching this in a bar and everyone there’s howling with laughter, and then – new best part – out of nowhere, Pa Modou Kah comes sprinting up, wedges himself between Johnson and Keane, and SHOVES them away from each other. Well, as you can imagine, this pisses Robbie Keane off, especially since he and Kah kind of got into it earlier in the game, so then he’s jawing with Kah AND Johnson and the cameras are still on them, and I’m at the bar, watching all of this, just laughing my ass off. It was priceless! Will Johnson rules! And Kah? You’re pretty fantastic, too, pal. Welcome to the team. If there’s anyone reading this who has some sort of video editing mojo, put this fight on Youtube. You’ll be a Porland hero.

6) Okay, last point. If you include US Open Cup matches, this was our 4th game in 12 days. We’re utterly exhausted. But, hey, no problem, right? We’ve only got two more games in the next week. Almost like a vacation, isn’t it? Fortunately, nobody was hurt last night. Well, unless you count our goalie and our centerback colliding full-speed with each other, both rolling around for a few minutes in pain. Oh, and there’s that little issue of our left back, Michael Harrington, being carried off the field on a stretcher. We finished the game with 10 men. Did you know that?

So who the hell’s starting Sunday versus Colorado? I bet you Mikey’s out, so that means Ryan Miller and Jack Jewsbury as our outside backs. What if Kah’s busted up? Is Futty healthy yet? The rookie, Tucker-Gangnes has a concussion, so he can’t go. McKenzie, maybe? If there’s anyone reading this who can play centerback, please contact Caleb Porter. He may have a job for you Sunday.

On offense, I don’t know what to say. We looked tired, all over the field. Maybe give Nanchoff a start? Zemanski? Zizzo? Dare I say… El Trencito?

Whoever we throw out there Sunday, I hope our defense continues their great play and our offense gets their groove back. But, most likely, Sunday’s game with Colorado will be an ugly slog. Then next Wednesday in Dallas? I can’t even imagine how ugly that’s going to be. But hold it together, boys. After Dallas, we get a week and a half break. And man, will we need it.

Six Degrees – Blowout

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA.

1) I gotta tell you, after all the ties we’ve been having, it was nice to see a blowout win. Our first blowout of the season. The team looked great, not tired at all, like they did against Dallas. Sure, Harrington was gassed there at the end – I’m glad he didn’t cost us a goal, because for awhile there, he couldn’t keep up with his man – but otherwise, we looked sharp and on the front foot. Maybe that’s a result of our boys sleeping in their own beds, or maybe Chivas just makes everybody look a little better.

2) Chivas really didn’t look very good, did they? Lots of grabbing and holding. Very few threats on offense. Too many threats on the Portland ball boys. Their goalie’s the only one who had an impressive day, and he’s not even their regular starter. Aside from him, Chivas bears no resemblance to the team that was 2nd in the conference earlier this year. They look like a team in free fall. I’ve been reading that their owner is to blame; that he’s not interested in fielding a winning team, either here in the US or with the original Mexican League team in Guadalajara. It might be time for MLS to step in and do something, for the good of the league. (Don’t ask me what should be done about DC United. They’re horrendous. Chivas would pound them.)

3) Speaking of playing on the front foot, did you see how high our line was? A few times, the entire back four was across the centerline. And how about Futty Danso and Jack Jewsbury? Both of them had genuinely dangerous chances on goal. Maybe Jack was playing more offensively because Harrington was tired, but that doesn’t explain Futty. I think Futty just had goal fever. Maybe he’s trying to cement his position as the Alpha Gambian before Pa Modou Kah shows up. (That’s gonna be fun, isn’t it? Having two Gambians at centerback. The Great Wall of Gambia!)

I guess as long as I’m talking about the team pushing forward, I should compliment Chivas’s back four on how many times they got Ryan Johnson offside. In fact, there were so many offsides called against us that when Valeri finally got his goal, no one sitting around me quite believed it was real. We were all cheering sort of half-heartedly, eyes on the sideline ref, waiting for his flag to go up.

4) I want to say three words to you. Just three words. Rodney Freakin’ Wallace. What is going on with this guy? He’s a changed man this season, isn’t he? I hear people calling him the best left winger in MLS and I think they might be right. He’s just a force these days. Huge energy all the time. Great passing, great scoring. He can play inside or out. He’s good with both feet. And his head. Last week, I declared Diego Chara to my Timbers MVP, but if we keep seeing this kind of play from Rodney Freakin’ Wallace, he could be collecting some hardware at the end of the season. (My MVP trophy is pretty impressive, too. It’s one of those old jelly jars with a Looney Tunes character on it. You know the ones? First-class all the way. I think I’ll give the winner either Bugs or Daffy.)

5) Right now, our offense is tied with Dallas for most goals per game, and if opposing defenses want to shut down our main threats, they’d better bring a lot of guys, because we have five, coun’t ’em, FIVE main threats. Ryan Johnson – 4 goals. Will Johnson – 4 goals. Nagbe, Valeri, and RFW – 3 goals each. And if the opposition has all those dudes covered, well, we’ve still got my boy Chara, who’s turning into a hell of an assist man. And then there’s Futty’s goal-scoring headbone. And Jack Jewsbury’s rocket shots from distance. Am I forgetting anyone? Oh, yeah, the subs! Piquionne and Alhassan looked great yesterday, didn’t they? (I especially liked Freddy’s gorgeous almost-assist to Will Johnson.) So, all in all, we’re a dangerous team, with many different threats. You might stop one, but it’ll be hard to stop them all.

6) Now we get to the crazy-prediction part of this column, and remember you heard it here first: yesterday’s victory was the first of four straight wins. Not ties. Wins.

You think I’m nuts? Tell me how I’m wrong. We’re going on the road, sure, but we’re playing some very beatable teams. And, let’s be honest, with the way we’re playing, EVERY team is beatable. So I’m calling it now. We go to Vancouver next week: win. Then to DC against the worst team in the league: win. Then to Chicago: win. That’ll be four games, four wins, and 12 points.

And that’s when it gets a little tougher, because we’ll be facing first-place Dallas. Except we’ll be at home. And they might not be the first place team anymore. After four straight wins, it might be us.

Six Degrees: The Flip Side

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

1) Two game winning streak. Third place in the Western Conference. These are all good things, right? So why am I feeling so uncertain? Last week, after we pounded Houston, I was over the moon. This week, I don’t know what I am. But I’m pretty sure it ain’t good.

You know what I think it is? It’s the way we won. We won it ugly. Against Houston, we looked like a juggernaut. This week, against San Jose, we looked like a heavyweight boxer who just won by a split decision. Our face is all puffy, one eye is swollen shut, and we may have some cracked ribs. We won, but we didn’t look all that good doing it.

So here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna get all these negative thoughts out of my system early, then I’ll spend my last few points bringing back the optimism. Maybe by the end of this column, I’ll have talked myself back into a good mood.

But first, a couple slices of bad…

2) Man, we couldn’t buy a shot on goal, could we? We had tons of possession, we were constantly in their half of the field, but we just couldn’t make their goalie sweat. Hell, Donovan Ricketts was the one making all the saves. Why couldn’t we bother their guy?

Possibly, they just have a good defense. It felt like a brick wall most of the night, especially after they went down a man.

Possibly, it was slick turf. It seemed like there were a lot of passes last night that were just a little too long. Just past someone’s foot, just shy of being turned into a shot on goal. I’ve heard people suggest the field was fast, but I really don’t know. Maybe our passes were just off.

Whatever the reason — and maybe Kevin can give us more insight — the attacking third was a little frustrating to me. Lots of almost-shots, but not enough of the real thing.

3) The last ten minutes drove me absolutely insane. What the hell, boys? We finally get a goal and you decide to bunker? We’re a man up and you decide to go all Spencerball 2.0 on us? Kick it deep? Hope for the best? Horrible. I hated it. I was so anxious at the end, when the ref finally blew his whistle, I couldn’t even enjoy the win. I felt like that battered and bruised heavyweight, just happy to have survived.

Remember my column last week, when I said how great it was to watch Portland play with a lead? How they put the pedal to the floor, hoping to win by 2 goals? Or 7? Or 35? Well, that sort of blood lust was completely absent this week. Instead, we turtled. We’ve got a man advantage, and yet it’s San Jose who’s dominating possession for the last 5-10 minutes? I was in the stands freaking out, having flashbacks to last year, when we’d give the game away in the waning moments. It was awful.

Am I the only one who saw this? Was I the only guy who was curled in a ball, sucking my thumb, desperate for the ref to have mercy and end the game?

I really hope Caleb Porter saw it. And I hope it never happens again. I can’t take the stress.

Okay, that’s it for the negative. Let’s bring the happy!

3) Hold me closer, Futty Danso! What a game, big fella! This time last week, when Horst went down for the year, everyone was in a state, wondering if we’d need to bring in another CB. And lemme tell you, people were not kind to Futty. “He’s useless,” they said. “Too old,” “not MLS quality,” “why do we even have him on the roster?”

I’d say all of you owe Mr. Danso a big apology. The man played a nearly perfect game. He was calm, not even the least intimidated by San Jose’s dirty, nasty forwards, and as usual, he won everything in the air. He even stayed within himself as a passer, content to swing it back and forth amongst the back four.

And while we’re on the subject, how about that back four? Two straight shutouts, baby! And we did it with both Horst and Jean-Baptiste going down with injury. This defense has found its identity. They are calm, they are patient, they are masters of maintaining possession. All those early-season hiccups are forgiven. We will not give up a goal the rest of the season. You heard me correctly! Not one single goal! We will set a world record for consecutive shutouts! (Hey, I’ve got to have at least one ridiculous statement in every column, right?)

4) I really can’t decide who to have my fan-crush on.

Should I have it on Diego Chara? The little guy is everywhere. Anytime San Jose got a little movement forward, who comes racing up to stop them? Diego. Sadly, he’ll miss next weekend’s game, but I still think we should honor him in song. He’s short! He’s hard! He’s got a yellow card! Di-ayyyyyyyy-go Chara!

Or perhaps Mikael Silvestre? He’s been nearly perfect the last few games. He’s got that defense running like a Swiss watch. His passing has laser precision. Plus, he got up in Alan Gordon’s face while his mouth was gushing blood. Oh, Mikael… you had me at “gushing blood.” You had me at “gushing blood.”

But then there’s Will Johnson. The goal was so beautiful, I’m not sure it needs comment here. Instead, I’ll focus on his feisty-ness. When he and Gordon were jawing back and forth? Absolutely priceless. And how about when Chara was on the ground, writhing in pain, but play continued? Johnson said, Hell with this, then kicked the ball so far out of bounds, I thought it was going to hit a trolley on 18th street. Then he races over to the ref and absolutely freaks out. And zing went the strings of my heart!

5) On the offensive side of things, it was a tough slog, and I’ll give a lot of the credit to the San Jose defense. They were tough. But there were still some nice bits from our guys.

As always, Ryan Johnson had a motor that wouldn’t stop. He’s an easy guy to root for and was oh-so-close to sending a few shots on target.

I thought Darlington Nagbe did a very nice job filling in for Diego Valeri. He completed 88% of his passes and had four of our seven shots, including one on goal.

Rodney Wallace and Kalif Alhassan were both solid, if not spectacular. I will say that a couple times in the first half, Nagbe, Alhassan, and Ryan Johnson had some quick-touch, give-and-go pass combinations that were just exquisite.

I hope we see Valeri back next week — partially because it will give San Jose something new to deal with — but if he’s not, our front four will be up to the task.

6) I think I’ll close by turning a negative into a positive. Remember how I compared our victory to a bruising heavyweight split decision? Well, sure, that’s stressful and ugly to watch, but the plain truth is, we won. We’ve proven a lot of things this young season, and Sunday night we proved we could win ugly.

Now it’s time to prove we can win on the road.

Balance: Timbers seek balance in 2-2 draw with Rapids

Four games into the 2013 season and the Timbers have been behind by two goals in three of them, coming back to snatch a couple of points from the jaws of defeat.

The Timbers have also been behind by a couple of goals on their previous three trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and had shown none of the determination to get back into the game that Caleb Porter’s team did this time around. Rather than go to the customary 3-0 defeat, the Timbers rallied to draw 2-2 thanks to two goals from Will Johnson.

There’s something to be said for that kind of resilience. I’m not sure we’d get it in previous season, and I certainly don’t think we’d get the tactical changes by Caleb Porter that have, mostly, worked to turn a match around in Portland’s favour.

But, there’s also something to be said for not gifting teams a couple of goals head start before trying to reel them in. The Timbers have been schizophrenic this season, with two almost entirely different sides seemingly starting and finishing the games.

To underline the disparity, if points were awarded for winning individual halves the Timbers would have zero from all the first halves, and a goal difference of 1-6, but would have won three and drawn one of the second halves, outscoring the opposition 6-2.

Losing five goals in the opening two matches, winning only one point from a home doubleheader, seems to have chastened Porter somewhat. The return to fitness of Jack Jewsbury has allowed the coach to adopt a strategy that stays true to his fundamental beliefs in ball retention and tactical flexibility while looking add a bit more defensive protection by playing the club captain as a deep lying midfielder.

Jewsbury played his part in the Timbers’ draw in Seattle, so his inclusion against Colorado came as little surprise. It seemed to make perfect sense in terms of Porter’s strategy in playing at altitude. Keeping the ball, and making the Rapids players hustle after it was a part of it, and the team played a little deeper and pressed less, presumably to conserve energy.

Chara Johnson Pressing

The problem was that we never really made Colorado work all that hard without the ball. Part of the reason was that our passing was so poor at times we simply gave them the ball back, and let them control the tempo of the game.

passes per minuteKeeping the Passes Per Minute up would’ve worked the Rapids defence and midfield hard, and the Timbers had the likes of Alhassan, Trencito and Piquionne on the bench to go after tired legs late on.

The two halves against Colorado see the Timbers record their lowest PPM this season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the passing accuracy against the Rapids was also at an all time low. Colorado never managed a PPM of over 5 either, as the game was played at a much slower tempo than either of the home matches this season.

While much of the Timbers’ passing woes were self-inflicted, the Rapids also did a good job of pressing the Timbers backline. Porter quickly had to adjust the way the team brought the ball out of defence.

ricketts

Clearly, after seeing the pressure the Rapids were putting on in the first ten minutes, the signal went out to Ricketts to go long. A subsequent attempt to play out from the back also led to the opening goal for the Rapids in 17 minutes.

Colorado Goal 1

It’s easy to criticise Jewsbury here because he’s the guy who’s nearest, but not near enough, to the shot from Powers, so the initial question is “why didn’t he close the shot down?” Chara lending himself to harrying after the ball in the corner left Jewsbury with two players to keep an eye on, and he does what he can to close the shot down but it was a helluva strike. Do this play over again and Jewsbury gets a block in, or the ball is ballooned over the bar.

I don’t even think it’s Chara’s fault. He was doing his job in a system that asked him to be something different from moment to moment. Played in the middle with Will Johnson and Jack Jewsbury, the way the team were set up with attackin width from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, Chara also had to cover across to the right-side as Valeri doesn’t bring a great defensive game to an unfamiliar position on the right flank.

He was doing that there, looking to help turn the ball over in a dangerous area. The problem is that despite recognising the need to add some defensive steel to the team, Porter hasn’t yet found the right blend.

To accommodate Jewsbury in the centre, we’ve sacrificed Valeri out wide. He’s played there for a bit against Montreal and Seattle already, and not really shown his best side in the role. The quandary for Porter is that Valeri’s ability makes it tempting to rely on him too much, and that to do so would make the team too one-dimensional and risk teams developing strategies solely to “deal” with Valeri. So we want to find ways to utilise his ability in ways and areas that make it much harder for opponents to adjust to, which makes sense, but as we do so we lose much of what he brings to the attack in the meantime, with no guarantee that Valeri will ever be suited to play the wide role in an attacking three.

There have been long spells in the past couple of games where you wouldn’t have known Valeri was on the pitch. In order to get involved in the play he has to come inside, and this leaves the team unbalanced down the right, pulling Chara across.

shotsIn the last match, this made it difficult for us to carve out decent chances at goal, in the first half especially. Since switching from the 4-2-3-1 to the 4-1-2-2-1, we’ve closed up the defence a bit but lost some attacking thrust. Though we picked up a bit in the second half against the Rapids, it was still only half the number of shots we got off in the second half of the New York match.

noattacking support

Part of the problem is that Valeri isn’t a natural striker, and 26 goals in over 170 games before coming to Portland suggest he’s not the guy to make those runs. He works best in the “hole”, making the passes that pick out those attacking runs, but we’ve been unable to get him there in the past couple of matches.

It leaves Caleb Porter a selection headache and that headache’s name is Jack Jewsbury.

Part of the reason I questioned Jewsbury’s spot in the team was that I couldn’t see any way to fit him in that didn’t hurt us in some way. I put him behind Will Johnson and Diego Chara for a spot, but that’s not to say he doesn’t add to the team when he’s selected – a passing accuracy of 85% against Colorado is way above the team average, so in terms of circulating the ball well, he does okay. And I don’t blame him for the first goal for the Rapids.

However, in the 135 minutes that Jewsbury has played in the last couple of games, the Timbers have scored one and conceded three. In the 45 minutes he’s been on the bench, the Timbers are two-zero.

Clearly that’s far too small a sample to conclude anything major, and those 45 minutes have been when the Timbers a chasing down a single goal deficit, so you’d expect some more attacking play – hence Jewsbury’s removal for more attacking options of the bench.

In correcting for over-balancing in attack in the first couple of games, it seems we’ve slipped a little too far the other way. The problem, as far as I can see it, is that in fitting Jewsbury into the midfield three, we’re inevitably going to lose some of our attacking threat by asking them to do jobs they’re not best suited for.

Valeri out wide on the right didn’t work. Porter adjusted, adopting a diamond formation. Chara went right, and Valeri came back into the centre. Though this seems better designed to accommodate Jewsbury and still play Valeri in his best position, it then asked Nagbe to play a role he’s not suited to.

We’ve seen Darlington used in a variety of positions as Spencer tried to figure out how best to use him. For me, Nagbe’s key area is that area left of centre, 30 yards from goal. That’s where you want to see Nagbe getting his head up, with the ball at his feet, and running at defenders. You don’t want him 50 yards from goal, linking up play, though he can do that, and I don’t think you want it spearheading the attack. As I said, he’s a guy I want running at players with the ball, not timing runs in behind them.

If anyone knows how to get the best out of Nagbe, it’ll be Caleb Porter. He’s put him out left thus far, asking him to make those diagonal runs at goal. Somewhat underrated is Nagbe’s defensive game – he works hard out wide, and his tracking back is night and day to that of the Timbers’ other mercurial wide attacker, Kalif Alhassan.

He’s not a striker though, and Piquionne isn’t here to watch Nagbe play that position ahead of him too often this season.

Valeri OptionsAs well as playing Nagbe out of position, the diamond doesn’t really offer Valeri as many options around him as the 4-2-3-1 does.

The diamond really limits your wide attacking options, and puts a lot on the full-backs to do the leg work. Ryan Johnson will also drift wide to add to the threat, but with the 4-2-3-1 the opposition have to deal with runs either side of the full-back and a mobile striker.

To be fair, it was from Johnson (Ryan) drifting out wide that the Timbers got back into the game, after a somewhat questionable penalty decision had put the Rapids up 2-0. Johnson (Ryan) crossed a sweet left-footed ball to the near post, where Johnson (Will) lost his man to head home.

A case could be made that the value of playing a designated sitter in Jewsbury is that it frees Will Johnson and Diego Chara to be a little more forward thinking and spontaneous, but I didn’t see enough of this from either player to compensate for losing the extra attacker to play Captain Jack.

The problem is that despite being there to add defensive steel to the team, as long as there are issues behind Jack, goals will be lost despite him.

David Horst started in place of Mikael Silvestre, the only change from the Seattle game. Horst’s game is a little different to Silvestre’s, and perhaps not as suited to the possession style Porter wanted, especially as the Rapids harried the backline.

silvestrehorst

The natural assumption to make would be that Horst is 3rd in line, and that Silvestre will resume duties alongside Andrew Jean-Baptiste. That makes sense as Jean-Baptiste has started the season fairly well, and has most to learn from playing alongside Silvestre. There are still moments where his relative rawness is all too apparent, such as the lead up to Colorado’s second goal.

Colorado Goal 2 AJB header

It’s a bit of rash play from a rookie defender, though I wonder if he does that with the Silvestre guiding him. The next time a similar ball comes across, I’m sure he makes the right choice. That’s part of the learning process, and it can be cruel at times but as long as they’re all new mistakes, and not the same ones over and over, then at least you’re learning from them.

Mosquera’s leave of absence puts a large question mark over his future, and Futty Danso looks to have fallen behind Dylan Tucker-Gangnes. I can’t help but bring to mind the scenes of David Brent in The Officfe specials, turning up at the old office uninvited when I think of Futty. *sadface*

So, a veteran, a couple of rookies and a host of guys who served time on one of the league’s worst defences last season. It’s not rich pickings, and finding the right balance and system that minimises our defensive deficiencies without also sacrificing our attacking verve isn’t going to be done in a few games.

Is Jack Jewsbury the answer? I’m not sure he is, but the fact is the Timbers return from two tricky road trips unbeaten. Can’t say that’s been the case too often. That we’re still doing things the hard way is concerning, though. It may be that until we settle on a back five, and they start to find a rhythm together, we’ll see more performances like this.

It comes as no real surprise though. I wrote before the season that I thought we’d see a more pragmatic approach from Porter early on. It was easy in those days to get carried away with videos from Akron and speculation about what Porter would bring to the Timbers.

As Caleb Porter himself has noted, it’s a results business at the end of the day. I don’t think the Timbers would be over the top in their expectations for this season given the scale of the turnover, but there’s no reason why they can’t find themselves in contention for being one of the five best of nine Western Conference teams.

These early months will see a lot of tinkering and experimentation to find the right balance, but if the Timbers are to reach the playoffs, they need to stay in contention through a very tough schedule. The next four matches see the Timbers play 2012 playoff teams. If the Timbers have grind out some wins through the next eight games or so, there’s no reason why they can’t push on as the schedule eases up through the run-in.

With two home matches coming up, Caleb Porter has the chance to spend that extra bit of time with the players on some issues. How Porter lines up will tell us a lot about how far along the coach himself feels the team are. We could see Jewsbury start, and give the diamond another go, or perhaps at the expense of Diego Chara who has been at about 85% of his old Chara-ness for me – still better than most, but just a little down of his usual standards. Perhaps we’ll see Alhassan recalled, or Piquionne start with Johnson going wide, and we revert to the 4-2-3-1.

I suspect what we’re seeing right now is the very reason Jack Jewsbury is still on the roster. He’s not the future of the team, and his presence is somewhat awkward is some respects, but he can help with the transition towards the team that the Timbers will be.

The Porter era was labeled “Timbers 2.0” by some, but really what he have right now is more a pre-release Alpha. Timbers 2.0 will actually be launched sometime during Q2 or Q3 of 2013.

It’d be nice to win, and damn entertaining, to win 4-3, but right now I’d take a scrappy 1-0 with the ball cannoning in off a defender’s knee as long as it represents a step towards a bright future without having to sacrifice results.

Six Degrees: From out the jaws of defeat…

Joining Jeremy as a “Quick Shots” contributor, C. I. DeMann presents his first “Six Degrees” look back at the game. Enjoy.


1. I honestly think this might have been Portland’s worst-looking game of the season. Worse even than the loss to Montreal. Perhaps it was the altitude, perhaps it was the wind, perhaps it the was the pre-game locker room margaritas, but I felt Colorado was the better team for most of the game. Sure, we were better in the second half, but not to the same degree as we were against NY, for example. Missed passes, bad clearances, poor communication, we got to see the whole spectrum of weak soccer.

2. All that being said, we came away with a point, didn’t we? In fact, we’re undefeated on the road this year, so maybe we should think some happy thoughts about that. Even better, for the first time in our MLS history, we gave up less than 3 goals to the Rapids. Not too shabby, considering how bad we looked. In fact, forget all that stuff from point #1. Let’s just think happy thoughts, what do you say?

3. Is it just me, or is Diego Valeri looking a little lost these days? He had a few nice almost-passes yesterday, but for much of the game, I barely knew he was on the field. Now, it’s very possible I’m just expecting too much from him. After his performance in the pre-season and then against NY in the first game, I was fully expecting him to be the league MVP, to take Portland to a 30-win season, and then to cure cancer and fart candy canes. But since then? I’d be happy with just the candy canes. Come on, Diego! We know there’s magic in those feet of yours! Let’s see it! We believe! We believe!

4. Man, I wish I knew what to say about Jack Jewsbury. Is he helping us or hurting us? On the plus side, when he starts, we’re undefeated on the road, and that is no small thing. On the negative side, the offense seems pretty dead, doesn’t it? And it’s not like his presence is stopping those early-game mistakes. We nearly gave up a 4th minute goal yesterday. Two of them! I’ve heard people suggest dropping Chara back into Jack’s spot and bringing in Kalif or Piquionne. There’s also talk about Jack only starting on the road, when maybe we could use a little help on D. Personally, I don’t know. Is the offense dead because of Jack or because both games have been on the road?

5. You want more complicated questions that I can’t answer? Let’s talk about our CBs. When I saw Horst in the starting XI, I almost swallowed my teeth, thinking Porter had decided to bench Silvestre. Turns out it was just an injury substitution, but it was still a shock, not just for me, but for the entire Timbers defense. Can we blame those 4th minute almost-goals on everyone getting to know each other? Personally, I blame the pre-game margaritas. Regardless, our defense has been an adventure all season and, personally, I’m sick of it. I want a nice, boring, we-know-what-to-expect defense. Is that so much to ask? And now I will spend the rest of the week lighting candles for Mikael Silvestre’s gimpy abductor. Who starts next to him? I say we let Horst and Beast fight it out, professional wrestling style. Put a cage around the ring. Last man standing gets the start next weekend. And this is why I’m not coaching the Timbers.

6. Negative, negative, negative. Do I have anything good to say about our beloved Timbers? You bet I do! New coach, new players, new playing style. This is essentially an expansion team. And how are we doing? A hell of a lot better than anyone has a right to expect. We’ve lost one game, people, and it’s to the best team in the league. Twice we’ve gone on the road and twice we’ve broken the other team’s heart. Would we have done that last year? Absolutely not. And best of all, we’ve got TONS of heart. Nobody on this team gives up. Nobody. And that definitely wasn’t the case last year. Yes, I’ve got complaints about yesterday’s game. Yes, I’ve got complaints about the back line. Yes, I’ve got complaints about the lack of candy canes produced by Diego Valeri’s farts. But all of that is secondary to my feeling that this team will be in every game this year. They are a team nobody will want to play. They will frustrate us, then they’ll come back and thrill us. And, most of all, they will be a team we’ll be proud to support.

Never Say Die

When the whistle blew for half-time, it was met with mix of shell-shocked bemusement and anger. Bemusement, as the Portland Timbers had controlled so much of the game, with over 60% of possession, and yet it was New York who held the 3-1 advantage. Anger because they were the architects of their own downfall.

Despite that possession advantage, the visitors had gotten more shots on target and had made it count, helped by the fact that the Timbers defence, and Mikael Silvestre in particular, had had an absolute shocker.

NYlineupsSilvestre had been pitched straight into the starting line-up days after flying in from France to join up with his new teammates, and looked every bit as jet-lagged as you’d expect. The details of the cavalcade of calamity that unfolded in front of the Timbers Army in that first half will be better summed up by others, but suffice to say that, as passes went astray and runs went unnoticed, it seemed to me that this was a team that was crunching through the gears.

During that first half I felt a sense of nervousness and tension about the Timbers play, which is understandable with so many new faces on the field, as well as a new coach on the sideline. It’s not so far off being an expansion team again, and it’s against that measure that it may be best to judge these early months as there is clearly much that is still a work-in-progress.

The biggest problem I saw in the first half, aside from the defensive lapses, was the failure to bring the attacking players into the game. Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri never felt connected to the rest of the Timbers play for long spells.

Caleb Porter had a big job on his hands during the break at 3-1 down. Many coaches would’ve hooked Silvestre off but Porter stuck with his man, and Silvestre had the courage to put a torrid half behind him and face the music again.

Aside for the Silvestre issue, there was the fact that the tactics just weren’t quite working in the first half. Yes, they had seen more of the ball, but the truth was they weren’t really threatening New York with it. Yet it was not so broken that it needed a entirely new game plan. With a few tweaks to the system the Timbers were transformed in the second half. It was not a dramatic shift – it was the same players, playing broadly in the same shape – but it was enough to bring some bite to back up the Timbers’ first half bark.

SilvestreAJB

I thought that if Silvestre played, the club may have to play a little deeper to compensate for the veteran’s relative lack of pace, and that seemed like the case in first half. And, individual errors aside, New York never really threatened too much in that first half, so on one level the deeper line worked.

Silvestre deserves some time to settle before leaping to judgment, and his improved second half showing seems to point to the first half as being aberrational. Silvestre’s distribution highlights what the Timbers have long been missing at the back – someone comfortable with the ball at his feet. I’d worry about playing him if the club were under the kosh, or faced with a pacey front line as I feel playing deeper to cover his lack of pace leaves the team a little too stretched out, but in matches like these, home games or matches where you would expect to be in control, he adds a lot to the backline.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste was the stand-out on the defence though. Thierry Henry was kept very quiet by the young defender, though there’s a tendency to put the blame on Henry for having a bad game than giving recognition to the guy who made life difficult for him. Jean-Baptiste still has a bit to learn when it comes to what to do with the ball, but he looks like someone Porter can build a defence around.

Both outside backs had solid, if unspectacular games, but I think Timbers fans will take that over what we’ve had for much of the last two years!

Where the deeper line hurt the team wasn’t on the defensive side, but was in stretching the space between defence/midfield and attack.

Nagbe

The issue with Darlington Nagbe is that you don’t, as a general rule, want Nagbe doing the bulk of his work 50 yards from goal. You want him picking it up 30 yards out and driving toward goal. The first half graph shows Nagbe doing a lot of work in deep midfield, but in the second half he was “off the leash” and playing a much more attacking game. It’s no surprise that both the Timbers second half goals benefited from Nagbe picking it up 30 yards or so from goal and running at defenders, as well as Diego Valeri’s preternatural ability to ghost unseen into spaces in key areas.

ValeriSpace

The problem in the first half was that Portland were struggling to get the ball to Valeri in the areas where he can do the most damage.

Valeri

Valeri was doing much of his work on the right flank (unsuccessfully, one might add) as he sought to get involved. This was corrected in the second half, and we started to see Valeri getting on the ball centrally, where he could really hurt New York.

Porter was able to affect this change by pushing Nagbe on, which gave the New York midfield a new puzzle to solve, as well as closing up the defense and midfield behind him, allowing the team to play shorter, sharper passes and get the ball moving with some purpose and zip.

JohnsonChara

Will Johnson and Diego Chara were both terrier-like in the engine room, with Johnson looking every inch the natural captain. The two dovetailed beautifully, with one going and one staying as required, and it was one of the few times I’ve seen Chara play where I didn’t think he was taking the weight of covering his defence all upon his own shoulders as Johnson’s all-action presence beside him freed him up a little. Johnson and Chara complemented each other very well, and between them they ensured that Portland won the midfield battle. There will be few teams that are able to out-muscle or out-hustle Portland in midfield with these two players, that’s for sure.

As you can see, both players were pressing in New York’s half early on, but it never felt focused. After the break both players played with a more deliberate strategy, still giving no quarter but adding some consistency to their pressing game. There’s more to pressing than simply haring after the ball all over the pitch, you have to press at the right time lest you leave a gap behind you and that’s what we saw more of in the second half.

As well as their defensive work, both guys are comfortable on the ball, and displayed some solid passing through-out the match. Both hit over 80% accuracy and they occupied two of the top three spots for players with most passes (Harrington being the other). In fact, 12 of the top 13 were Timbers players (taking in by passes per minute), once more underlining Portland’s dominance of the ball.

Having course corrected during the interval, the Timbers shot figures improved across the board in the second half, and once they had got the second it was only a matter of whether time would run out before they got the equaliser.

This never-say-die attitude was best summed after the Timbers had made it 3-3 when the ball was promptly fished out of the net and returned to the centre spot. To be fair, it was not entirely one-way traffic in the second half, and New York had chances to exploit space on the counter as Portland camped out in New York’s half, but I don’t think anyone could’ve complained about the result had the Timbers won the match in true Hollywood fashion with Ryan Johnson’s late overhead kick.

Possession figures weren’t much changed from the first half to the second, going from 60.6% to 65.5% with accuracy also rising by a single percentage point, yet the Timbers brought a greater purpose to the second half. The shot count rose, and the key players were able to influence the game where it matters.

It took 45 minutes for Portland to find their rhythm, but once they had it was all New York could do to hold on. They weren’t simply stroking the ball along the halfway line and racking up the numbers, they were playing the game in the New York half and that is reflected in the Timbers playing more passes in the opponent’s defensive third than any other club on opening weekend.

New York were hemmed in for long spells, looking to hit on the break. However, such was Portland’s territorial dominance that only Montreal made fewer passes in the opponent’s defensive third than New York.

There have been so many changes around the club this offseason that a few teething pains are to be expected. I don’t think Silvestre, five games into the season, makes the same mistakes as he did, and as the defence build up a better understanding of each other and their roles, someone like Olave isn’t going to go walkabout in the six yard box, completely unchecked by anyone in green.

As well as the fluid football, what was also encouraging to me was, even though it wasn’t quite working in the first half, Caleb Porter was able to tweak it and get a result. The fact that he and his players were still disappointed after their fight back speaks volumes.

The Timbers are here to win, and the rest of the league had better get used to it.

Welcome to Porterland.

RCTID

Two Into One Won’t Go

I’m sure Caleb Porter would have been happy to ignore the issue of who would be the club captain after the last guy to guarantee that particular role to Jack Jewsbury was most recently spotted at a Blazers game, quite pointedly not being Caleb Porter.

As the extent of the changes to the roster and playing style became clear, it was hard to see what role Jewsbury, Captain Jack, still had. Will Johnson adds more to the midfield, and the signing of Valeri left Spencer’s unshakeable midfield duo of Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury in a monkey-knife fight for the final spot.

Fate intervened, with Jewsbury deux-ex machina-ed out with an injury in preseason that eased any immediate selection pressure, and the front office promptly set about adding more depth in midfield in Ben Zemanski and Michael Nanchoff who happened, by pure Seinfeldian coincidence, to have played for the Akron Zips under Caleb Porter. The continued trading right into February would squeeze the cap a little tighter, and so Porter’s seemingly no-more-than-feint admiration for Danny Mwanga, who only renegotiated his hefty salary in December, put the striker on the chopping block. Mwanga left, sending a SuperDraft pick to Portland into the bargain, and Frederic Piquionne joined on, I’m sure, more favourable terms for the Timbers.

With a battle to earn a spot on the field ahead of him, some raised the question of his suitability for the captaincy. The captain is the guy with the armband and Jack clearly can’t wear it if he’s not playing (or, at least, it’d be weird if he did). And the front office responded by telling everyone that Jack Jewsbury was still the captain, but Will Johnson was also the captain, but a different kind of captain because Jack is the “club captain” and Will is the captain captain. All clear?

It’s all completely unnecessary, only marginally less so than 1562 words on the subject would be, because it’s doesn’t matter. Not really. Why not just say, “Jewsbury is still captain and if Jack doesn’t start, then the decision is made based on who deserves the armband”? There’s no need for all this two captains bullshit.

If Jack’s your guy, Caleb (and Gavin, and Merritt and whoever), then he’s the captain. Period. It’s not a big deal. You’re not crowning new a pope here, it’s the captain of a soccer club.

Yes, it’s important within the fabric of the game. It does matter, on some level, as it serves two purposes; he’s the guy who leads the group in the dressing room, the guy who rallies the team despite of, or on behalf of, the guy in charge; and he’s also the bridge between the fans and the players, more significant perhaps as the days of a truly “local” XI are mostly gone at top clubs. He is “one of us” out there, leading the way on the front line.

Some people make a big deal of captaincies, like British journalists who preside over the candidates for the job like the jury of a medieval witch trial that’s been without a good dunking in a long, long time.

Really, it’s just another of these little deceptions and lies about the game that we allow ourselves to believe because it makes this game much more fun to follow, especially with a habit that is eating into the time we could be doing things like studying and getting a job because it turns out moving halfway round the world is exactly as cheap as I never thought it would be.

For example, there’s the fact that it’s actually pretty boring, most of the time. Right? It is. Well, sometimes, at least.

So, who wears an armband doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The leader in the locker room is still the leader. The captaincy is just a symbol, and one that wouldn’t be diminished by just letting Will Johnson wear it during game days that Jack isn’t playing in, of course. Just generally not wasting time doing something when nothing needed doing.

Will Johnson, I assume, didn’t get the captaincy because his name was drawn out of hat. He’s the guy that Porter sees as being the leader of the squad, which has, it’s worth pointing out, changed greatly from the one that Jack Jewsbury had built a long relationship with. This is, as much as it’s still a dream life for most fans, just another workforce, clocking in every day, doing their jobs and undergoing regular public evaluation. That, as well a coaching change, would naturally give the group a different chemistry, and if Will’s the man to lead Timbers 2.0 into game one, then he wears the armband. Easy.

But if Jack’s back, whenever that may be, then everyone lines up behind him. Doesn’t changed the routine, if it’s working, in the dressing room, so everyone’s listening to the same voice, and Jack adds a wealth of his own experience to the mix. Win, win?

There might be something about seeing “the captain” starting on the bench, or sitting out entirely when fit, that doesn’t feel right for something, but the twenty-two on the field are what matter, and if Will passes on the armband to Jewsbury when if he comes on alongside, it’s a nice show of respect to a guy who’s done a lot for this club, on and off the pitch, and is responsible for at least one of the Top 5, maybe even Top 3, favourite MLS memories for just about every Timbers fan. Sure, he may not be the guy you build the club’s playing future around, but even if history doesn’t win you a place in the team, it does grant you a certain position within the club where that guy can still, and will still be the captain, even if the leader on the park is the guy the fans are chanting for now.

It’s all a silly fudge. While concerning yourself with this, even for a minute if that’s all it took to sketch out this David Brent-ian solution, you weren’t doing something duh-obvious like naming the annual preseason tournament. Jack’s the captain, Will’s doing it now, big deal, next question.

I guess marketing concerns and the league’s seeming need to constantly attempt to artificially generate buzz with like whatever this Fashion Week thing is, it means that any opportunity for a ceremonial press release/news story should never be passed up, so blah-blah whatever something. Oh, and they do this all the time overseas, so it’s no big deal, bro, I don’t even know why we brought it up.

It’s just so silly to me, coming from a UK culture, because the captaincy is, like the papacy, usually only something you give up when the big man upstairs, or wherever it is Gavin nests, decides that you’re time is up. And I don’t mean to insinuate that Jack Jewsbury lives in a castle with 40 nuns now.

While this doesn’t feel like a full on NC-17 stripping, being more of the PG-13 where you might have caught a flash of sideboob level, it does feel like a bit of put down, a subconscious sidelining of a player taking a reasonably big bite out of a tight salary. I mean, if both guys are in the team, who wears the all-important armband? If Jack, then why bother with this fudge, and make an issue of Jewsbury’s status at all? If Will, then man-up and say Will is your guy and stop pussyfooting around it.

The captain over here in Scotland, or I should say over there now, if he’s the kind of guy who’s led the club through thick and thin, would bleed (insert club colours) and is beloved by the fans, he stays the captain even if they’re out the team whether through injury or simply being a guy with maybe a couple of top-flight years left in him as a squad guy.

That may or may not be relevant in Jewsbury’s case. He might think he’s got another 5 years of 30+ start seasons in him. Or maybe, at 32 by the season’s end – and believe, as someone mere months younger than Mr Jewsbury, I’m very conscious not to say he’s too over the hill – maybe by then he’s looking beyond playing. Jack has worked closely with Curt Onalfo, John Spencer, Gavin Wilkinson and, now, Caleb Porter -all guys with experience of playing MLS (or some level in the US), none of them were big “stars”, and all turned to coaching in their mid-thirties (injury accelerating Porter’s progress by a few years). It would be hard to not see the pattern and where Jewsbury may be influenced in taking the next couple of years.

Fans get that, I think. Jack’s not the hero to some that a two-year captain and scorer of important goals may expect, albeit without the vitriol aimed a previous club captain who’s hung around Portland when he not scouting in the South Pacific, but he’s the guy who’s been the face of the side since joining MLS. I don’t think everything done by Spencer was wrong and while I questioned Jewsbury’s place in the team when he wasn’t playing so well that doesn’t mean Jewsbury isn’t the right guy to still be the captain and figurehead for the players.

One Team, One Town, One Army, Two Captains.

One of these is not like the other.

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

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

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

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

2) Will Johnson leading our midfield.

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

3) El Trencito.

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

4) Watching our “Kids” grow.

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

5) The Porter System.

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

Forward the Foundation

After a slow start, the much-promised Rostergeddon got into full swing on a day that would’ve reminded many fans of English football of Transfer Deadline day. All it needed was Harry Redknapp in his car telling a reporter that David Horst was a “great lad, great lad, really like ‘im.”

What we got was five players on the way out (with another whose status is up in the air), two players coming in (and another potential) and a Breaking Bad-esque pile of allocation cash.

Chris already did a great job of going over the wheeling and dealing in his post, so I’ll keep my thoughts on the deals “brief”.

The first deal confirmed was that of Kosuke Kimura to the New York Notcosmos. Kimura had staggered around the right-back position like a punchdrunk boxer for much of his time in Portland. Whether that’s due to his own deficincies or coming into a team with no real direction, that’s up to you to decide, but whatever the reasons, the move was one that was always likely to happen.

Kimura, who also found time to fit in an unsuccessful trial in Poland since the season ended, was joined by a second-round draft pick to New York, with the Timbers getting the homegrown rights to Bryan Gallego, a centreback who just so happens plays his college soccer for Akron Zips. You may have heard of them.

Given Porter’s background and experience of the college game, no-one will have a clearer idea of who he wants in the SuperDraft, so it’s interesting to me that he’s given up a draft pick to make this deal work. Of course, there’s a long way to go before the draft, plenty of time to wheel and deal for other picks, but the acquisition of Gallego’s homegrown rights is illuminating for a couple of reasons, I think.

Here’s a player Porter has worked closely within Akron, and it seems rates highly enough to give up a draft pick to get him. Being a homegrown player, Gallego wouldn’t have been eligible for the SuperDraft (as is my understanding, which could be way wrong), so is this a roundabout way to “draft” a guy Porter really wanted? Whether Gallego steps up this year (he’ll be 20 in March so, without getting into my pet peeve about youth development in the States, it’s not that crazy an idea) or he’s one for 2014, it also points towards a change in philosophy at the back for the Timbers.

It’d be fair to say that we’ve had a lot of guys with heart and spirit, but who are limited in technical ability. That won’t fly under the system Porter favours where the defenders have to be comfortable on the ball and able to play an intelligent, possession-based game. Clearly, Gallego already knows what Porter wants from his defenders, and Porter likes what he sees from Gallego.

Next came the news of Eric Brunner going to Houston. A sad one, but not unexpected. I’d written about the potential of Brunner’s leaving and while I leaned towards him staying (I thought Danso would be first to go) the news of his departure didn’t surprise me.

Brunner’s injury really took the wind out of the defender’s sails. He had a good 2011, and looked set to form a partnership with Mosquera at the back, but in his enforced absence he was usurped by David Horst.

With Horst holding down the position, Mosquera a lock and Jean-Baptiste hungry to push on in 2013, Brunner found himself squeezed out. A fine servant to the club in his time in Portland, Eric leaves with the best wishes on the Timbers faithful.

Michael Harrington’s arrival was the next announcement. The last time we picked up a former Kansas City starter who’d found himself relegated to the bench, it worked out pretty well! Harrington will give us options at both left and right back, and seems like a very solid addition to the squad.

Next up was the departure of Steve Purdy and Lovel Palmer. Purdy had been unable to really cement a place in the team since the move up to MLS. I liked what little I saw of him, but given his sporadic appearances in the team, it was of little surprise to see the option on him declined.

Lovel Palmer. I’d written about how I couldn’t see a future for him in Portland. I’ve been critical of him in the past, and justified in (much of) it, so I can’t say I’ll miss having him on the team but, nevertheless, I’m sure he gave his all. It just wasn’t good enough, consistently enough. Fare thee well.

Steven Smith was next to go, announcing it himself on twitter. This was one where I thought “oh no” at the time, but the more I thought about it, and the more I read about it, the more it made cold hard sense. Talk is that Smith would’ve needed DP wages to stay, and with Spencer going (and Boyd likely to go), there was little to hold Smith here on a personal level. There will be no shortage of offers back “home”.

The “final” announcement was that of the signing of Will Johnson from RSL. The Canadian international has been an important part of the RSL midfield over the past few years, and it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in in 2013. There are times we’ve lacked a bit of bite and spark in the middle, and Johnson will provide both of these in spades.

The MLS released the Re-Entry Draft list shortly afterwards. It would be worth keeping an eye on as the Timbers have the #3 pick and the draft is a good way to fill out the squad and/or pick up pieces that can be traded on later.

It certainly raised a few eyebrows among Timbers fans when Rodney Wallace’s name appeared on it.

It’s important to note that the club and player have a couple more days to thrash out a deal that would see Wallace stay, and Merritt’s omission of Rodney from his “so long and thanks for all the fish” tweet would suggest the intention is to work something out. The talk is that the Timbers want to negotiate Wallace’s salary down. I’m not his biggest fan, but he is a decent squad player. He’s just not worth the money he’s currently pulling, in my opinion.

All in all, a pretty good day for the Timbers. Too early to make definitive judgements, of course, but it’s a start to Porter’s reign that fills me with cruel, cruel optimism!

Five out, two in and a complete revamp of the defence is underway. Given that so much of Akron’s play under Porter was built from the back, it makes sense that the gaffer would start his own rebuilding there.

Onwards and upwards.

#RCTID