Thorns FC: Shaping Up…and Down

We still don’t know when the first Thorns match of the 2016 NWSL season will be played.

I could wish otherwise, but that’s not exactly surprising.  The league, even now that it has survived longer than any previous women’s league, remains an often strangely unfinished piece of work.  Information on things like rules and schedules can be difficult to find if extant at all.  Sometimes I have a mental picture of someone’s niece finishing up her shift at Copyman before running home to put on her Communications Director hat and get the latest press release on the wire.

What we do know is, at least to a point, what the 2016 Thorns will look like when that match is played.

Horan

But…only to a point.

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Only-Some-Thorns FC: (and the NWSL Championship Match)

Like about 14,000 other people I went to my home ground to see two strangers fight over a piece of butt-ugly kitsch.  I had no idea what sort of attire was appropriate for watching two teams I don’t particularly like, so it’s fortunate that someone else thought of this.  It’s a roll of Kansas-City-blue paper towel with “Blue For A Day” spray-painted on one side and this on the other:

Disposable

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Thorns FC: Silly, pending

The Portland Thorns organization held a press conference today to inform the Thorns’ supporters and Portland at large that “…coach Paul Riley is out of contract and it is unclear whether he will be back next season.”

RileyWhich I could have told you when the final whistle blew in Rochester last Friday.  Sheesh.

The Thorns’ silly season is upon us, but the silly is on hold, apparently until sometime next month.  Until then the question of #RileyOut versus #RileyBackIn is unresolved.

I’ve gone back and forth on this for a long time and I have finally come down on the #RileyOut side.  Bear with me while I explain.

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Thorns FC: Collegiate

Thorns FC defeated the college-age women’s soccer players of the State of Arizona 15-0 on aggregate over the past weekend.

This is – in one sense – a good thing.  A year ago today the Thorns scratched out a meager 2-1 win over the University of Portland Pilots in their sole preseason match.  The team was without their national team players, in a hasty inaugural season’s training, and struggling with organizational and fitness issues that would soon appear on the pitch. Continue reading

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.

The Anti-Merritt

Yes, I got into the press conference. No, I don’t know if they’ll ever let me in again. No, I’m not terribly worried about it. No, I won’t stop whining about not having an actual press credential. No, there was no spiced IPA.

Okay, here’s the nitty-gritty.

You can get quotes elsewhere. Try Stumptown Footy. The entire thing is posted on the net. Watch for yourself if you’ve got a spare 45 minutes. My notes are terrible. From me, you get something else.

You get me wanting desperately to fall in love with Caleb Porter. And you get me faltering.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked his honesty. I like his slow, careful speech pattern. I liked a lot of the things he had to say.

But a spark plug he ain’t. I don’t think we’ll be getting a clever Alaska Airlines commercial or any snarky soundbites out of him anytime soon.

I’ll trade that for a team that wins games. While Porter hit all the appropriate buzzwords (consistency and continuity and a half dozen others in the same vein), he also offered a starkly realistic view of where the Timbers are headed. And I didn’t like that view. I don’t like realism.

I’ve gotten so used to the rah-rah that Merritt gives us that I don’t really know how to react to Porter’s much more grounded approach to the coming season. It made me… sad. It made me feel lonely and grey and left me wishing for something other than what he’d given us. But he was right about everything. Everything.

Okay, one quote.

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

I know what he’s saying. I get where he’s coming from. I feel for him. I feel kind of like he’s been invited over for dinner, a really great dinner, and arrives to find a bowl of Grapenuts and a host who spends the entire evening apologizing for the mess.

I keep returning to the build up to last season. So much potential, so much expectation, so much anticipation. I didn’t get any of those same butterflies sitting in that room today.

That comes later, right? When Dike starts breaking people in the preseason, maybe? I don’t know.

I still remain semi-hopeful about the coming season, but without the excitement I’ve felt about the last two seasons. If all else fails (and after such a dreary introduction, I fully expect a fair few hashmarks in the fail column), I know that in a few weeks I’ll be back at JWF with my Timbers family and I won’t have to suffer alone.

O Captain, My Captain

In what has been a busy week for the Timbers, what with trades and new team name unveiling going on, Ives “Soccer By” Galarcep broke the rumour that the Timbers were looking to tie down the signing of Norwegian-born, US-capped midfielder Mikkel “Morning Star” Diskerud.

The move makes a lot of sense in the wake of the club’s manoeuvring up the Allocation Order, or the “Because Why Not Make Things More Complicated Than They Have To Be? Order”, as I believe it was originally called. They are now second only to Toronto and one would suspect that part of the trade with TFC included a gentleman’s agreement on the issue of the Canadian side passing should “Mix” leave Rosenborg, while one of the Toronto executives dropped a paint can and another swung round with a large plank of wood to smack him on the back of the head in the slapstick fashion that I imagine Toronto officials live every day.

With Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Eric Alexander and Darlington Nagbe all in consideration already for the, as most assume, three midfield spots that Porter will seek to fill (though I suspect Nagbe will be played further forward, perhaps as an inverted winger/forward), throwing Diskerud into the mix (pun count: 1) leaves one glaring question…

What about Captain Jack?

Jack Jewsbury leads the club into so many categories – goals, assists, minutes, starts, even shots. You name it, chances are Jewsbury holds the record (record/disk, eh, i’m claiming it – pun count: 2).

It should come as no surprise given that only Darlington Nagbe played more minutes than Jewsbury in 2012, but the passing matrix recently released on MLSSoccer.com, and analysed by the Stumptown Footy guys, also showed that no player had made more passes than Jewsbury. I don’t doubt a similar matrix for 2011 would give the same results.

You would think, adding all this up, that there would be much gnashing of teeth and grumbling of tweets over the increasingly distinct possibility that the club captain may be getting spun (spin, another record/disk one, pun count: 3) out of the frame, and yet there’s not.

2011 was certainly a banner year for Jack Jewsbury. Emerging from the doldrums of the Kansas City bench, he was installed as Timbers captain and quickly garnered a reputation as a set-piece specialist as he racked up assist after assist from dead balls.

He also ran Kenny Cooper close for top scorer, finding the net seven times – the same number of goals as he had in the four previous years with the Wizards.

To put Jack’s contribution in perspective, of the Timbers 40 MLS goals in 2011, Jewsbury was directly involved in 15 of them.

But even as 2011 wound to a close, following his inclusion in the MLS All-Star squad, there was a sense of diminishing returns from Jewsbury, and that seemed to be the case through much of 2012.

The numbers dropped – from 7 goals to 3 and 8 assists to 4 – as the team struggled. The blockbuster numbers of 2011 perhaps masked that, underneath it all, Jewsbury was, not to be rude (Diskerud, rude, okay, I’ll stop now, but still, pun count: 4), no more than a functional, workmanlike and honest midfielder, but not a game changer and as the club struggled, there was never the sense that Captain Jack was going to be the man to lead the team out of the dark.

There were moments of course, important goals at key times, but it never seem quite enough to justify the hefty salary and seemingly untouchable place in the team.

With the club seemingly intent on making big changes to how the club plays, his position within the team seems less and less secure. Indeed, John Spencer’s words before the 2012 season have never seemed so ominously prophetic for Jack.

Jack Jewsbury, as long as I’m here, will captain the Portland Timbers.

Say whatever you will about Spencer, but he wasn’t lying there!

The trade of Troy Perkins was a big indicator that the club would not shy away from making the Big Moves. Big enough that I felt the need to capitalise the words. No-one, regardless of how important you may be to the club, would be assured of a place on the roster, let alone in the starting XI.

Jewsbury turns 32 in 2013. He was paid a base salary of $180,000 in 2012. It’s hard to see who in MLS would take that burden on, regardless of how impressive the goals and assist numbers may look at a glance. Jewsbury chafed when he found starts hard to come by at Kansas City, so it’s doubtful he’d be all that happy at the thought of being a back-up where once he was a leader but he may have to suck it up under Porter’s regime. By all account, Jewsbury is a popular and highly-regarded guy in the dressing locker room, and if he were to make no secret of any upset or anger at such a demotion it would be interesting to read its effects on the squad’s harmony and ability to quick foster a sense of unity and togetherness that will be so crucial to Porter as he looks to mould almost a new team together in the full glare of fans and media.

Should it come to pass that Jewsbury time as a mainstay of the Timbers XI is over, then it raises the question of captainship.

The previous two popular suggestions for potential captains – Troy Perkins and Eric Brunner – have both left the club, so it’s a toss-up as to who could step in to the role if Jack were stripped of the armband. I threw the question out on twitter, and Horst seemed to be the most popular suggestion with other shouts for Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe also getting a couple of tweets.

Of course, there’s no reason why the captain must play, and there’s a theory that the guy with the armband on the field holds little sway and that a club leader is a club leader regardless of his official status, but the symbolism seems to matter to some. With Jewsbury being moved on looking unlikely, there’s still a chance we’ll have at least one more year of Captain Jack, but given the tear-it-down-build-it-again approach Porter and Wilkinson seem to be taking to much of the Timbers roster, a new man being given the armband may be the perfect symbol for a new era in Portland.


Where does Jack fit in in 2013, and who do you feel should replace Jewsbury as captain, if he even needs replaced at all?

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