The Double Post – literally half a hair’s breadth

It is deep in the Black Months now.  The rain – and the snow, and ice – has arrived.  The trees are bare, the wind blows cold, and, perhaps the worst of all, the pitch down at the old barn on SW 18th and Morrison is empty and silent.

And the damn Sounders are in the Cup Final.

But.star

Let’s not forget that it was only just over a year ago that we all were raised to topgallant delight by our Timbers’, and Cascadia’s, first MLS Championship.  I don’t think any of us who lived through that mad run up to the Final, and that epic Final match, will forget that season and the joy that came with it.

From Chara’s “Assassin’s Creed” header in LA to the madness of the play-in match and 22 rounds of PKs.

From the cold calculation of the scoreless draw here to the clinical beatdown in Vancouver.

From the wild ride on the FC Dallas bull to the 95th minute Melano dagger to the heart of the beast.

From Diego Valeri’s ridiculously improbable 27-second goal to the final whistle that crowned the Timbers the 2015 MLS Champions.

What a long, strange trip it was.

And now, just as we await the end of the 2016 season and begin to think and wonder about 2017 comes a reminder that it was a stranger, more magical, and less probable trip even than it seemed at the time.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Timbers 100: Part Five – Maximum Impact

Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.

Part 1: Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 88. Rodney Wallace vs Sporting Kansas City

27th April 2013

A change of style was expected when the Timbers appointed a new head coach, but the individual impact Porter has had on the players both new and old has been the most refreshing change of all.


Watch The Goal Here

The Timbers pounced upon a loose pass by Sporting Kansas City, with Diego Chara showing physical strength and presence of mind to play the ball into the path of Rodney Wallace.

Wallace slots the ball coolly past the keeper, notching his second for the season and the Timbers third on the night. It would prove to be the winner, and the first time the Timbers had scored three on the road.


Rodney Wallace’s goal against Kansas City was the crucial third in a 3-2 win, just as it was his goal that proved to be enough for Portland to hang on to against Dallas in early 2011 when a late breakdown threatened to see a three goal advantage wiped out entirely..

His impact in games, especially when it comes to scoring goals, is second to none on the Timbers roster. He just has a knack of scoring important goals, with every single goal of his “earning” points in someway.

Compare and contrast that record with Kris Boyd. The Scot scored a bunch of goals against LA – his three is second only to Landon Donovan’s four in matches between the clubs – which is nice, except that each and every one of them end up being consolation goals, despite putting his time 1-0 up twice.

After this goal Wallace would add winners against Chivas USA and DC United with his next two goals, and diversified into assists by having a hand in all three of the Timbers goals against Colorado in their last match before this little mid-season break.

Over the first two seasons Wallace had struggled to put together a consistent run by confounding the previous coaches very rigid round-hole tactical system. In defence, Wallace always looked more comfortable in attack than when defending,but when played as a winger, it was his defensive cover and pressing that impressed more than his wing play.

His role, as he’s come to define it, didn’t exist then, so Wallace was destined to fall between two stools. With his new role that covers a much larger territory than Spencer’s tight lines, Wallace has finally found a role that rewards his lightning ability to change the speed of play and defensive reading of the game without relying on him to be the last line of defence or forcing him to play in a box.

Nevertheless, Wallace had to play his way into the team having started 2013 on the bench.

In the 177 minutes Wallace had played coming off the bench, the Timbers have scored four times, with all of them coming this season in under 80 minutes of late game “Wallace Time”. He scored one himself, a late, late equalizer against Seattle, and notched an assist against Dallas.

Wallace’s importance to the team was underlined when he missed three games due to international duties, a situation Merritt Paulson bemoaned on twitter.

A tough run of games admittedly, with trips to Chicago and LA and visit from Dallas but, despite racking up five points, the Timbers rarely looked as fluid as they had done with Wallace in the team. Wallace saw his minutes limited in 2012, his standing among the fans drop, and a spot on the bench waiting for him in 2013, and he fought back with the kind of spirit that Caleb Porter has instilled through-out the team. This joie du foot is underlined by the fortunes of Jack Jewsbury this year.

Jewsbury’s move to right-back has reinvigorated the player and given him new purpose within the team, lending an experienced head to the defence and a steadying influence in the flanks. It’s hard to picture an XI without Jewsbury in it right now, though long term options are starting to pile up behind him at right-back at least.

Given the way he lost the captaincy it’s a credit to the man himself and the coaching team that Jewsbury hasn’t missed a step going into the XI, and has embraced the new without dishonoring the past – a tricky balancing act for a guy who was so inexorably linked to the old regime by talk of being “captain for life”.

Though money can, and does, skew things towards those who can pay the most, good coaching is still pretty easy to spot, and you can see it in abundance in Portland. Rodney Wallace didn’t suddenly become a great player, it just took great coach to bring it out of him.

And Jewsbury’s case is a great example of man management and smoothing over what could’ve been a delicate situation. Contrast that to publicly lambasting the club’s assist leader in an effort to get him to try harder.

All in all, it’s a marked difference for the days when players didn’t seem to know what the plan was on the field, and the atmosphere wasn’t great off it. As an aside, it’s a long held theory of mine that the time until a manager is sacked and a weight being lifted off a club is inversely proportional to the number of goal celebrations that make a point of including the manager. Just saying.

Motivating hungry players like Will Johnson or Diego Chara, or firing up Andrew Jean-Baptiste or Darlington Nagbe are fairly simple tasks compared to the job Porter has done in getting some fantastic contributions from some of the more experienced signings.

Frederic Piquionne, Pa Moudo Kah and Mikael Silvestre have a combined age of 101, but there’s no sense that any of the three are just here for the cash like a score of previous such signings to the league. Generally speaking buying guys the wrong side of 30 from the middle east isn’t the way to go about building a team founded on hard-work and technique, but Kah gives us just those traits and more and doesn’t seem to be lacking in hunger. Silvestre was a joke before coming to Portland, and provided a couple of punchlines in his debut, but pre-injury he’d become the the heartbeat of a defence that was giving up very little.

Piquionne, like Silvestre, hadn’t played a competitive (domestic league) game in over a year before joining the Timbers. It had been a 4-0 defeat for Doncaster in April 2012 which wouldn’t seem t bode well, but he has added an extra dimension to the attack since joining and looks to have the energy (for 60-70 minutes, at least) of a player 10 years his junior.

Soccer fans are well accustomed to the effects of the new manager bump, or the new star striker who scores in his debut before fading away as the season goes on. all of Perhaps this is Porter’s bump and the likes of Wallace or Piquionne will fade with the team as the season wears on, but I’m not so sure. There’s a different feeling about this season. Things are being done better, on and off the field, and this breeds a cautious optimism in even glass-half-empty Scots that this not a flash in the pan.

Not all are as impressed by the Timbers, or their unbeaten run, but we as fans are allowed to get a little carried away. The clouds around Jeld-Wen Field have lifted but with this being the Pacific Northwest and all, they are never too far away.

So, let’s all enjoy the sunshine in the meantime.

Goal 100. Frederic Piquionne vs Colorado Rapids

23rd June 2013

The future’s bright, the future’s green and gold. The Timbers have started 2013 beyond most fan’s wildest expectations, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change anytime soon.


Watch The Goal Here

A quick free kick is taken by Will Johnson, who rolls the ball to Rodney Wallace. Wallace’s cross is attacked by Frederic Piquionne, whose header has too much on it for the Rapids keeper.

The goal was the club’s 100th in MLS, and Piquionne’s first, though he already had already set a record with four in a single US Open Cup match.


There is something fitting in the 100th goal coming from one of the new guard. Will Johnson’s quick thinking caught Colorado out, as it would do again for the Timbers’ 2nd goal of the game. Ben Zemanski’s interception started off the lighting strike move that led to Ryan Johnson adding a third.

I’ve already written about squad depth and covered a lot of what I like about the club’s trade policy this year, so this part will be fairly short.

The word that applies most to what I see from Portland is “fun”. Fun on the pitch, fun off it. There have been times during the first couple of years that it would be easy to forget that the game can be pretty damn fun sometimes.

Winning helps, of course, but more than that it’s just the joy of watching a group of guys go out there and express themselves.

The team work hard to make it seem effortless at times, with the old guys buying into the new way of doing things and complementing the fresh blood.

Of course, there is no way of knowing where this story will go from here. My performance on the Prediction League only underlines that I’m not a guy to take tips from, and I don’t think there is anything a time traveller from the future could tell us about the rest of this season to come that would surprise a Portland Timbers fan.

Our little midseason break is over, and it’s back to real soccer again. Good feelings tend to only last as long as good results do, and in a way Porter has set a bar for himself that will be harder and harder to raise but that’s a challenge the man seems to relish, or else why would he leave his place at the top of the college soccer pyramid for a spot with a team that was trending downwards.

I don’t think a defeat or two will dampen the ardor of the Rose City faithful. There’s an understanding that everything must come to an end and there will be times when luck deserts the side or we’re just flat out bad.

That’s fine. We accept that. So long as we can see progress on and off it, and players on the field that honor the badge and have some damned fun doing it, the Timbers Army will always have the team’s back through good times and bad.

We can’t know the future, be it’s gonna be a whole lotta fun finding out what it holds for us.

Well, mostly.


Thanks for reading this series of posts. It’s taken a bit of time to put them together, and I hope you enjoyed at least something in there.

I won’t be posting as much on here for the next while. You probably noticed by output has been way done. There could be another move in the near future, and simply put, it’s time to get a job and put the hobbies on the backburner for a bit.

I’ll still post things here and there when I get the time, but for the next few months at least it’ll be left to our fantastic group of contributors to bring you the kind of coverage of the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns that you’ve come to expect from the site.

Thanks again for swinging by, and if you’re new then please do stick around and see if the place is for you.

#RCTID

Timbers 100: Part Four – Endurance

Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.

Part 1: Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 61. Sal Zizzo vs Toronto FC

15th August 2012

Hodophobia, fear of travel, is something Timbers fans would be familiar with after one wearying disappointment after another on the road. For Sal Zizzo the toughest journey he’s faced so far has been from the bench to the field.


Watch The Goal Here

Steven Smith’s corner was met by David Horst at the back post. The ball fell into the path of Zizzo, who took a couple of stabs at getting the ball home.

It remains Zizzo’s sole goal in over 60 MLS appearances, but he made up for a lack of goals with four assists in the latter half of the season in his most productive spell in Portland.


121 days, 718 minutes of play, had elapsed between the Timbers last road goal and Sal Zizzo poking the ball over the line in Toronto.

Kris Boyd had been the last Portland player to enjoy scoring on foreign soil, way back in April when he put the Timbers 1-0 up on LA.

Zizzo and Boyd’s goals were the only times that year that the Timbers had taken the lead in eleven road games, and the ten previous to Toronto had seen the Timbers draw two and lose eight. Nagbe’s equalizer against Dallas was the only other goal the Timbers had scored on the road in 2012.

The strength of Portland at home during their debut season, including one run of five straight wins and another of four, only threw their road form into even sharper focus. Only 12 of the team’s 42 points (29%) were earned on the road in 2011, and that dropped to 7 in 34 (21%) in 2012.

Neither Boyd nor Zizzo’s goals would count towards the Timbers first road win on 2012, and it’s a curious stat that of Boyd’s 7 goals, 5 were to put the Timbers 1-0 up, and the Timbers lost 3, drew 1 and won only once.

Getting the first goal is often crucial, on the road arguably more so, and the Timbers haven’t been able to consistently do so. Their overall tally stands at 41-39 in favour of the opposition, but their away record is poor, going behind in almost two-thirds of games.

Given their poor record in scoring first away from home, and a consistent inability to get points from those games, it’s little wonder that the Timbers were among the poorest road teams over 2011 and 2012, performing well below average.

By way of comparison, home form was reasonably good with the Timbers getting the first punch in more often than not, and converting those 1-0 leads into a minimum of 2 points a time.

A number of lost leads in 2012 cost the Timbers crucial points, but a back of an envelope calculation shows that even if they’d only performed only averagely well on the road that year they would’ve earned 10 more points and nudged Vancouver out of the playoffs.

Five wins in 43 matches is nowhere near good enough, and it’s a telling that four of those wins involved the team keeping a clean sheet on the road, something the Timbers have only managed seven times in total.

Two of those shut-outs have come in the Timbers last three trips, and Porter’s side have yet to taste defeat on the road as part of a run that stretches back to a 1-0 win in Vancouver.

Jack Jewsbury’s ripper of a strike won the Cascadia Cup for Portland and gave Gavin Wilkinson a positive note to leave center stage on.

Sal Zizzo played in that match too, and he came to be one of the defining figures of that strange period between head coaches which is not something you’d expect of a guy who made the most appearances off the bench in 2011 with 16. He still managed 4th with 8 in 2012, but 11 of his 12 starts came under Wilkinson and he struck up a very fruitful relationship with Bright Dike.

Between the two of them we got a glimpse into a facet of Porter’s gameplan that many hadn’t given much consideration to before he arrived, which was his direct game. It’s easy to get caught up in talk about possession and quick passing, and forget that the best teams know when and how to do things “the easy way”.

Dike’s ability to bully defenders and be a target man allowed the team to fully exploit the natural width that Zizzo gives you, which they did to some effect. Frederic Piquionne plays the same way when the team break quickly, able to offer an aerial threat if a cross comes in but adds a better close control and awareness than Dike which is perhaps what let the attack down at times.

Given the resources at his disposal, Wilkinson did the best he could in putting out a team that fit the blueprint agreed with Porter. Clearly there was no way the Timbers could play then as we do now, as there was no Valeri figure back then to corkscrew the attack around, but they could take a look at players within the context of one facet of Timbers 2.0 and use that as a base to judge who stayed and who went.

Zizzo’s impact clearly did enough to earn him a spot ahead of Eric Alexander or Franck Songo’o, but we saw him used as a wing back at times which seems to have been an acknowledgement that while Zizzo did well executing this kind of gameplan, that wasn’t the Porter’s Plan A. You could see how a pacy wing-back with the ability to swing in a ball to the head of your big striker could be a real benefit to any team, especially one built to very exacting specifications Porter and Wilkinson had in mind.

Dike and Zizzo have seen their chances to play their way into Porter’s Plan A hampered by injury, and both have seen other guys come in and own their role.

Zizzo, in particular, has the toughest route into the XI. Nagbe, Wallace, Valeri, Alhassan and Valencia are his competition in attack, and Jewsbury, Harrington and Miller bar his path in defence.

He’s been here before though, as has Dike, and I wouldn’t put it past another Zizzo-Dike combination on the scoresheet before 2013 is played out.

Goal 74. Bright Dike vs San Jose Earthquakes

27th October 2012

From matches in front of a few hundred people in Southern California to the brink of Africa Cup of Nations glory in South Africa, via the Pacific Northwest, Bright Dike’s story is one of being the right man at the right time. Has his time run out already?


Watch The Goal Here

Eric Alexander gets a foot in to deflect the ball towards Bright Dike in the San Jose box. The striker’s first shot is saved, but he finds the net with his second and fires the Timbers level in a largely meaningless end of season game.

It was Dike’s fifth goal in under 900 minutes, and it was fitting that it was he who scored the goal that brought down a year that promised bright things for the soon-to-be Nigerian international.


Timbers fans attentions were diverted from round the clock, 24-hour Porterwatch for a time after the curtain fell on the 2012 season by Bright Dike’s improbable run at making the Nigeria squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

A debut against Venezuela in Florida was followed by a goal against Catalunya that makes up for its shady existence as far as the official FIFA records are concerned with being a goal against a defence with freaking Pique and Puyol in it. Three touches and it’s in.

He didn’t make the squad in the end, and Nigeria didn’t seem to miss him on the way to winning the cup, but that was the least of his worries after injury forced him to miss preseason.

A bitter blow for a guy that had been forced onto the sidelines while money was thrown at players to do the very thing that Dike showed he could do under Gavin Wilkinson – score goals.

They weren’t always pretty, as his very first MLS goal shows, but Dike’s sheer athleticism was a thing of beauty on its own at times too.

It was exactly the kind of dynamism that was missing in the previous custodians of the “number nine” role. Sure, a case could be made that both guys were and are better than Dike, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dike did more in those last few months of 2012 to remind Timbers fans what a striker was than his highly paid teammates.

There’s a reason why Dike’s name has been verbicized by Timbers fans and why to be Diked doesn’t mean to be beaten by a sublime piece of skill, but no-one has ever pretended Dike is something that he’s not.

The same can’t be said about Kris Boyd, though it’s perhaps not the Scot’s fault. He’s never made any secret of the fact that he’s a penalty box striker, and that’s what he likes to do best. In his own way he is every bit as limited as Bright Dike in that they both have a fairly narrow skillset that are geared towards one particular style of play. For Boyd, it was looking to get on the end of passes in the box while Dike went out to earn his name, and score goals along the way.

As it happens, Dike’s style fits Porter Swiss Army attack because it works, given the right circumstances. As poor and disjointed the Timbers were in 2012, even moreso after Spencer’s sacking, Dike found the net five times in under 900 minutes.

His first came in the match after Zizzo’s goal, when he put the Timbers 1-0 in New York, off a Zizzo assist.

It wasn’t long before he had number two, scoring the only goal against Colorado before the consolation against RSL, and equalizers against DC United and San Jose.

As Dike was rounding off 2012 it seemed like a long time since Kris Boyd had last scored, grabbing two in a 5-3 loss to LA in July.

The writing was already on the wall by the time for Boyd. Spencer was gone and there was no getting away from his penalty miss against Cal FC no matter how many journalists you refuse to speak to. Player and club mutually fell out of love with each other, and Boyd spent most of the tail end of 2012 on the bench after having his starting spot Diked from him.

The move for Boyd was always a gamble and in the end the guy with a poor record outwith Scotland continued to have a poor record outwith Scotland. Having played few games since leaving Rangers, and with an aborted spell in Turkey behind him, Boyd had joined the Timbers as a player short of fitness and out of sync with his teammates.

Never one to make the list of a club’s fittest players in the first place, Boyd always looked a little short of sharpness and hustle that could’ve been the result a lessening of desire and focus as much as tired legs struggling to meet the demands of a league populated by proper athletes. We’ll never know.

Since his time in Portland, Boyd has returned to his old club in Kilmarnock, and scored at a moderate rate before seeing another coach who made a big deal about signing him sacked months after signing him. Where Boyd goes from here is a mystery, with Killie now under new management and with a war brewing with the fans over ownership of the club, and Rangers seemingly not on the cards.

In many ways, Dike is at a similar crossroads, but it’s one he’s been at many times before. Strikers have come and gone, failing to provide the answers the management sought, yet Dike endured on the sidelines until, with a change at the top, he got his chance to shine.

It’s hard to see a way past Johnson and Piquionne into the starting XI for Dike as it stands, with the Nigerian on the comeback trail, but that’s been said before and he’s still found his way to goal if he’s got to Dike someone to get there.

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Timbers 100: Part Three – Defensive Axis

Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.

Part 1: Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 50. Eric Brunner vs Chicago Fire

20th May 2012

When is a defender not a defender? Is it when he’s scoring goals, or when’s he failing to prevent them? Taking a look at Portland’s rocky relationship with ‘the big guy at the back’, and what a defender means to them then and now.


Watch The Goal Here

Eric Brunner fired home from four yards after a corner by Franck Songo’o was headed back by Hanyer Mosquera and flicked on by Kris Boyd.

It was Brunner’s first goal of the season, and put Portland on the road to a 2-1 victory, helping put a run of four defeats in five games well behind them.


Brunner’s goal against Chicago was his fourth, and final, goal for the Timbers before leaving the club at the end of the 2012, just as Songo’o, Mosquera and Boyd did too.

It was also his first goal scored with his foot for the club. His first ever goal grabbed all three points against his old club, Columbus Crew, after a quick corner. He rubbed salt into LA’s wounds with the third in a 3-0 win, again from a corner, and his last goal of 2011 got the Timbers all the points against Chivas USA. Yes, with a header from a corner.

The common factor in all of Eric Brunner’s goals is that they came from set plays, which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise when you think that it’s on corners and free-kicks that the big guys can get forward.

With a concussion sustained in the net match, Brunner’s career with the Timbers effectively ended and with his passing went what had been one of the team’s key scoring threats.

Jack Jewsbury’s exceptional set piece delivery in 2011 was the defining feature of the season, and it was from his boot that the ball was delivered towards the likes of Brunner, Futty Danso and Kevin Goldthwaite (via the head of, uh, Eric Brunner).

Even though the Timbers recorded fewer corner kicks than the league average, they scored nine headed goals which doesn’t count goals scored with the the foot, like Brunner’s last hurrah.

Given this bounty, you can’t really blame Spencer for doubling down on set piece or crossed goals. In 2011, 10 of the Timbers’ 40 goals were scored by defenders (25%), compared to 6 of 45 (13.5%), which is the league average. Almost double what the rest of the league were averaging.

2012 saw Spencer bring in Mosquera, an imposing presence; a heavyweight Futty. Danso scored three in 2011, including the last goal of the year against Real Salt Lake, so it would stand to reason that Mosquera would score more. Fast forward to now and neither guy has scored for the Timbers, but only one of them is still in Portland, and it’s not the “upgrade”.

That year saw only four goals from defenders, which meant that our tally matched the league average of around 11-12%.

No goals from defenders this season, yet, but that could be due to the upheaval in defence and the fact that the team have attacking players now with aerial threat that’s been missing at times, along with the ability to cross a ball.

The goals from defence, in proportional terms at least, were replaced from midfield but you have to account for the six fewer goals the Timbers scored in 2012 which would point to an over-reliance on set-play situations as a part of the plan which suffered through poorer delivery from Jewsbury and Songo’o, as well as weak crossing from the likes of Mike Chabala and whoever else got stuck at full-back.

With no goals from defence this year, the Timbers have seen the goals previously scored by the likes of Futty Danso off a corner kick, scored by Ben Zemanski on a late run forward or Will Johnson after attacking pressure draws a penalty. It’s a different kind of attack, an while we’ll still see balls lofted in for people to attack, this side are more concerned about it being as part of live play than from a dead ball an that changes the emphasis to attack.

That’s not to say we’ve given up on defenders pitching in as a team with Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah on the roster will inevitably score some along the way as the Timbers attack increases pressure, drawing free-kicks and corners.

The fact is, while it’s good to get the big guys up and throw the ball into the mix, the defenders aren’t primarily there score goals, and the move for Mosquera was as much about plugging the defence as beefing the attack.

A clean sheet is the most valuable asset in soccer. More so than a goal, I think. A goal could mean anything, really. It could be the last minute winner, or the 1 in a 5-1 thrashing. A clean sheet has actual value. In fact, if you were to discount consolation goals and goals that weren’t result critical (ie goal #3 in a 2-1 win), only 27 of the Timbers 40 goals in 2011 actually mattered. So, only a 2 in a 3 chance that a goal will mean anything, whereas every single clean sheet your team get is worth, at the very least, one point. Guaranteed.

Obviously it’s not as cut and dried as that as every goal matters as they change the game, but it’s serves to underline the point that the teams that top the league are generally built on solid foundations at the back. It’s something that I think is often overlooked by teams who concentrate on the headline figure who’ll put the ball in the net. The Timbers certainly did this, going big on Cooper and Boyd, but it was only after John Spencer left that they made a move that seemed curious at the time – signing Donovan Ricketts in exchange for Troy Perkins.

That trade left a bitter taste in the mouth that has been steadily washed away by the taste of Ricketts’ [this metaphor got away from me and it’s probably best it remains unpublished]. The fact his contract has been renewed only weeks after his 36th birthday is testament to what he’s done this season behind a defence that has been in a seemingly constant state of flux. The Timbers paid more for someone who looked older, and played olderer but it worked. It was the right call.

Flawed though the method of working out goals that count is, if you were to carry it on to 2012, you’d find only 23 of the 34 goals counted which pretty much mirrors season one. 2013 though sees 21 of 28 having a direct effect on the result, a rise to 75%.

The reason behind this jump is the Timbers much improved clean sheet record which has seen them register 8 clean sheets in half a season, compared to 9 and 5 through the whole of 2011 and 2012. Of the 9 shut-outs in 2011, the Timbers won 8, giving it a value of 2.8 points. That dropped to 2.2 in 2012, but is back up to 2.5 this season.

Despite great value from their shut-outs in 2011, the flip side is that the Timbers were shut-out themselves too often, meaning of the 9 times Portland failed to score, they lost 8. As with so much of that first year team, it was either the sublime or the ridiculous.

2012 saw the Timbers fail to net 12 times, earning 2 points. With half the season gone, the Timbers have failed to score twice in 2013 but they’ve drawn both these ties. When you can still get points on the rare occasions you don’t score, then it’s going to be that much tougher for others to slow you down.

The Timbers are making their goals count, and have put to rest one of the team’s great weaknesses under previous management; the late game collapse.

The Timbers are winning the second half for the first time in MLS after it being their Achilles Heel through ‘11 and ‘12.

The figures can paint the story of the years. 2011 saw the Timbers start games slowly, but go into the break with a fighting chance before falling just short as the second half wore. 2012 was never good enough; chances are, whenever you tuned in, the Timbers were losing. 2013 has seen some slow starts, but big comebacks and a couple of blow-out wins, judging by that ridiculous second half score.

Brunner wasn’t the only big casualty at the back.

The fact that the Timbers have the third best defence on 0.94 goals per game defies conventional wisdom when you look at the way that Caleb Porter has had to adapt it to account for a laundry list of injuries.

Keeping this figure below 1.00, guaranteeing those cleans sheets, is what gives the team it’s forward momentum up the table. It’s not unreasonable to think that other teams are going to start finding answers to the questions Porter has posed them in attack so far, so keeping it closed down at the back becomes ever more important, especially moving into the offseason.

Whether Caleb Porter can keep all the balls in the air remains to be seen, but with the season halfway gone, you’d have to say he’s doing a pretty fucking good job so far.

Goal 53. Kris Boyd vs Seattle Sounders

24th June 2012

There are no sure things in football, and the transfer market provides no greater example of this. A team is only as good as its ability to recognize talent, something that few in Portland seemed to possess, until now.


Watch The Goal Here

Steven Smith and Franck Songo’o combined down the left, before the Scot fired a low cross into the path of Kris Boyd to put Portland 1-0 against their great rivals.

The Timbers would go on to record a win, with David Horst scoring the important second goal. The three points helped the team on their way to Cascadia Cup glory, salvaging something from a year of miserable soccer.


Kris Boyd was a gamble. A million dollar gamble. When you put those kinda wagers on, you run the risk of losing fingers if it doesn’t come off for you so perhaps John Spencer is lucky to have just lost his job.

Truth is that Spencer’s gamble wasn’t on Boyd alone, but on leveraging his knowledge of and contacts within the English and Scottish leagues to put together a side to succeed half the world away.

Boyd was joined by Steven Smith, ex-Rangers teammate, with Franck Songo’o picked up after a spell bouncing around England and Spain, and they were linked with many more British-based players as Spencer sought out the familiar.

This little clique was not the only georgraphical grouping in the team. Five Colombian players – Diego Chara, Hanyer Mosquera and Jorge Perlaza, Jose Valencia and Sebastian Rincon – all started the 2012 season in Portland, though only three remain this year.

And then there is New Zealand, that footballing powerhouse. Jake Gleeson looked like the future of the team at one point, but looks less so today now that he’s, at best, third choice. Cameron Knowles is an ex-Timbers player and current-Timbers defensive coach, a job title akin to Chief Deckchair Arranger on the Titanic at times. And then there’s Ian Hogg, whose existence is only marginally better attested to than Sasquatch.

These were the three wells the Timbers dug in 2011 and 2012, and they kept going back to them long after they came up dry. A failure to recognise the problem saw a whole bunch of guys deemed surplus to requirements before Caleb Porter set foot in Portland.

Boyd, Songo’o, Smith, Mosquera, Perlaza, Hogg. They all flopped to a greater or lesser degree and have been swept away so that Caleb Porter could start with a fresh slate.

In one sense, looking for value in Colombia makes sense. The league there isn’t rich, but is good enough to be of a standard to produce good MLS players while not so good that it’s as yet on the radar of most of European powers, driving up the price and shallowing the talent pool available to the rest.

In 2012, there were 30 Colombians in MLS, ranking them just behind USA in representation. This year it is down to 20, with the likes of Fredy Montero and Juan Pablo Angel joining Mosquera and Perlaza in leaving the league.

This year the Timbers didn’t add to their Colombian collections, nor their Scots or Kiwis, as they cast their nets a bit wider. Silvestre and Piquionne had a history in the UK, but added experience at the top level in other countries, while the likes of Kah and Valeri have added cool heads where they’re needed in defence and attack.

This season has seen the Timbers use fewer American players than ever before, even when the team seemed to be composed of a Scots-Colombian confederation.

Though players like Dike and Purdy count a foreign players despite being born in the States, and Nagbe more likely has US caps in his future rather than Liberian, but it illustrates a consistent reliance in buying in talent, something that has only increased over the three seasons.

The African contingent, of which Nagbe and Dike can count themselves, has stayed steady, with an Umony being replaced by a Songo’o, which in turns is replaced by a Kah, who is counted as African for the purposes of this, and as homage to CI DeMann’s “Great Wall of Gambia”.

The biggest variation in South and Central America, where 2012 saw a big jump as the Timbers went big on Colombia; a bubble that seems to have popped with the 33% reduction in representation this year, caused by a whole bunch of MLS teams scouting the country for the same bargains. Diego Chara is the one South American to have played in all three seasons, and stands alongside Rodney Wallace and Jack Jewsbury as the best trade/expansion moves the Spencer/Wilkinson brain trust ever pulled off.

The European contingent has also undergone a big change. The 4 Europeans who played in ‘11 and ‘12 are all Brits – Moffat, Boyd, Smith and Eddie Johnson – but none of the 3 Euros in the 2013 roster are, being replaced by two Frenchmen (Silvestre and Piquionne – yes, I know, New Caledonia and Martinique.) and a Serb, Milos Kocic.

Despite bringing in more foreign players, Porter has added MLS experience in the likes of Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Kocic and Ricketts, but it does leave the places for “homegrown” talent at a premium.

Darlington Nagbe and Andrew Jean-Baptiste have featured as SuperDraft picks, with Brent Richards seeing time here and there. Beyond that a number of players orbited the first team but never made the pitch, like Chris Taylor or Ryan Kawulok.

It’s to be expected that only a few will ever make the grade. There’s a reason why the big clubs have yearly intakes that can field numerous teams through the age levels, and why tags like “ex-Barcelona youth” don’t mean a great deal on their own.

Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, their sole 2013 SuperDraft pick, and Bryan Gallego may yet have a future, and there are some in the U-23’s or reserves that could take the step up, but for now it’s hard to see the Timbers breaking their reliance on buying in talent.

The days of gambling on bringing in players with impressive resumes from abroad clearly aren’t gone, but we’re putting it on guys with impressive international experience rather than experience of toiling around the second or third tier of English football.

By no longer fishing in three same pools, only one of which has really given us any sort of meaningful return, and widening our vision to places like Scandinavia, the Timbers are finding more value and MLS-ready players. Diskerud, Miller and Kah are or have been playing there, and the latter looks like the proverbial rock at the back.

Just as Spencer inclined towards the UK and Europe as the place to get the best players, and Wilkinson shopped at home and where the rest of MLS were heading, so Porter’s “backyard” is the States. The Timbers took a few punches on the transfer front over the first couple of years, regularly coming out the arse end of one trade deal after another, but are finally starting to land a few haymakers in return.

The two Johnsons, and the Zemanski and Harrington deals are absolute steals. Criminal. Illegal in nineteen States. For the grand outlay of “a bunch of allocation cash” the Timbers have added thirteen goals and eight clean sheets. Even more importantly they’ve signed guys who can bridge a divide that had opened last season between the players and fans.

Will Johnson will likely never have to buy a beer in Portland for the rest of his life, while guys like Harrington are getting involved with the fans on twitter. The days of fans demanding jerseys from players are a thankfully distant memory.

There’s a connection to these guys that was never quite there with the likes of Boyd, Songo’o or Mosquera. We wanted to love Boyd, but dammit he just didn’t score enough. We’ll always have the Monstero Death Stare [Monstero was a typo, but I’m not fixing it]. And I wanted Songo’o and Mosquera to get it right because they both had the tools to be good players, but it just never quite fit.

A squad is a constantly evolving thing, and we’ll see the front office make further moves to improve and strengthen the side. Signing a Jamaican defender, Alvas Powell, was the team’s first move of the summer, so perhaps we’re replacing Wee Glesga with Little Kingston. Right now, we seem to be in a consolidation phases with the club getting a number of players tied down to longer contracts but that doesn’t mean that enquiries aren’t be made all the time.

The new regime’s record is pretty good, but as many previous managers have found to their cost, you’re often only as good as you’re last couple of deals.

John Spencer found that one out the hard way.

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Timbers 100: Part Two – Everyday Magic

Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.

Part 1: Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 32. Jorge Perlaza vs Vancouver Whitecaps

20th August 2011

Jorge Perlaza scored the Timbers’ first home MLS goal, yet his time would not end happily in Portland. He was not the only victim of scant consideration being given to “the other guys”.


Watch The Goal Here

Jorge Perlaza was first to react to a loose ball in the box following a Jack Jewsbury free-kick, sweeping the ball home to fire the Timbers 2-0 up against their Cascadian rivals.

Perlaza’s goal would prove to be decisive in a 2-1 win that kicked off a late, ultimately doomed, run at reaching the playoffs after gaining only nine points over the fourteen previous games.


Jorge Perlaza’s place in Timbers history is secured by virtue of scoring the first MLS goal at Jeld-Wen Field. A fantastically timed run in behind the striker, a cool little cut-back and the nonchalant finish of a guy who does this kind of thing all the time. He followed it up with a second that was strikingly similar to his goal against Vancouver.

His goal against Vancouver, his sixth of the season, would be his last in MLS.

To see the way Perlaza harried and hurt the Fire defense on that wet April night, you would think that the Timbers had signed the Colombian Michael Owen (the young one). However, by the time the Timbers inaugural season was over he’d already begun to the look more like the Colombian Michael Owen (the old one) to many fans.

However, I will refrain from retreading my already well-documented appreciation of Perlaza here.

Jorge Perlaza’s role in the Timbers team was always going to be a tough one. 40 goals in over 200 appearances in Colombia didn’t seem to indicate that the Timbers were buying a goal machine, but that’s what Cooper and Boyd were for, right?

Perlaza’s job was never to be the main goalscorer. Sure, you’d want a few goals here and there, but his job was as a wingman for the the other striker.

Spencer’s focus on getting the best out of his big striker marginalized the role of the second striker, which ignored the fact that the best striking partnerships are just that, partnerships. Under Spencer it was all one-way, towards the big guy.

Problem was that rather than put guys who could play that role in the team Spencer puts guys in who kinda looked like they should be able to play that role, but really couldn’t or wouldn’t.

When the goals dried up, it was easier to drop the other guy than admit your marquee striker is a bust because you don’t know how to get the best out of him. Spencer did drop Cooper for a spell, which didn’t change the team’s fortunes much, before it was Perlaza’s turn to ride the bench. After starting the first nineteen games of 2011, Perlaza wouldn’t put together another run of more than four starts in a row before leaving.

As Boyd misfired in 2012, it wasn’t until Spencer went that the Scot was dropped. The difference from the previous year was that dropping the underperforming striker coincided with a change in system away from a two-man attack to a more fluid three man attack. It seemed to take fresh eyes looking at the situation to recognize that the problem wasn’t necessarily with the personnel, but the roles that had been foisted upon them.

Much of the coverage of a team will center around the big names – the goalscoring striker, the creative playmaker or the defensive rock – which pushes the likes of Perlaza, and others, into the margin. Every successful team will have their fair share of these guys, the “oh, that guy” guys, the ones that provide the cohesion to the squad.

Perlaza’s defensive analog, in many ways, would be Diego Chara. Chara’s job was to protect the defence, putting his body on the line if he had to, and support his midfield partner, just as Perlaza’s (or Mwanga, Fucito or any of the other “second strikers”) job was to harry the opposing defence and support his striking partner.

Just as Perlaza was expected to play second fiddle to his partner, Chara found himself alongside the club captain and face of the franchise, whose stellar start to the year only put more emphasis on Chara sitting deep and covering. Despite being sold to fans as a “box to box” midfielder when he was signed, the Timbers never really saw that from him as he often effectively became a fifth defender.

This season the Timbers fans have seen Chara used to much greater effect thanks to Caleb Porter employing him as more of a Roy Keane type player than a Claude Makelele.

So long as Jewsbury was playing above himself, all was well in midfield and little thought was given to Chara. To his credit, Chara never seemed to complain or grumble about the role he’d been lumbered with, so that when the team’s form dipped, and Jewsbury’s regressed to the mean, the little Colombian just worked that bit harder.

Porter’s big change was to move these guys out of the shadows and into the spotlight with the rest of the team. The role of support striker is now split between two or three guys, with each having other responsibilities in both defence and attack. And rather have a designated holder in midfield, he moved towards a double-pivot in midfield between Chara and Will Johnson, which has freed both guys to remain active in both attacking and defensive phases.

Some of the most headline grabbing play this year has been from guys who played in the roles that were a seeming afterthought under Spencer. Will Johnson is the club’s top scorer, and suddenly Chara is hot news to the wider MLSosphere. Valeri, Nagbe and Wallace have been among the goals and assists, and the other greatly marginalized role under Spencer, the full-back, is being nursed back to health after a couple of years of neglect and misuse.

The lack of attention given to marginal or specific roles hurt the team. James Marcelin, for instance, was was often used as a “closer” late in the game, which seems perfectly fine until you consider that he wasn’t actually that good a player. Defensively, he looked have the attributes you’d want, but given the ball he quickly showed why he’s currently without a club.

I honestly thought we’d seen the end of Jack Jewsbury, Portland Timber, this year. And yet, he’s emerged as one of the team’s most vital players. Jewsbury has played at left and right back, as well as in midfield, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop up elsewhere as and when Porter needs spots filled.

By turning players whose roles were disposable under the old regime into integral components in his XI, Porter has found that the best way to unlock the potential of your star players is to pay close attention to the guys around them.

Goal 46. Darlington Nagbe vs Real Salt Lake

31st March 2012

A game can be turned on its head in a second, with a single swipe of a boot. No Timbers player provided a greater example of just such a game changing presence than Darlington Nagbe.


Watch The Goal Here

When Eric Alexander lofted the ball into Darlington Nagbe’s path there didn’t seem to be much on for the attacker, but having already pulled the Timbers level, he seemed to be on a one man mission to drag his team to victory.

One controlling touch with his knee, a swing of his right boot saw Nagbe slice the ball away from the despairing keeper and into net for 2-1. It was a strike even his own teammates had to applaud.


When Darlington Nagbe put the Timbers ahead against Real Salt Lake, a lead they would lose with two last gasp RSL goals, it was only his fourth goal of his MLS career and yet the nature of it was not a surprise.

Only his second ever goal, a header to make it 3-0 against New England, was ordinary. His first, though…

To win the Goal of the Year award in your first season is good, to do it with your first professional goal is just showing off.

Despite a resume of one absurd goal after another, just check out his latest MLS goal, it would be fair to say that over the first couple of seasons, Nagbe seemed unable to find a “home” on the pitch. His quality has never been in doubt, but there are times it’s seemed like he was never going to truly fulfill his potential.

A list of the five youngest Timbers goalscorers.

The reunion with Caleb Porter, his old college coach at Akron, seems to have settled Nagbe down a bit and the word I find myself using most when describing Nagbe’s play this year is mature.

As the club’s first SuperDraft pick, there was a weight of expectation on the youngster’s shoulders, especially as a Hermann Trophy winner in his last year in Akron. Unsurprisingly, as a rookie, his form was anything but consistent, but there were flashes here and there of the kind of player the Timbers could have on their hands.

More progress was expected from Nagbe in his second year, and with his brace against RSL added to an equaliser against Dallas a couple of weeks earlier, it seemed that Nagbe had truly arrived at last.

However, he wouldn’t score another MLS goal for John Spencer and it would be August before Nagbe got his name on the scoresheet again as he round out 2012 playing deeper in midfield.

2013 has seen him reborn as a wide attacker in a fluid system that rewards those moments when Nagbe does something otherly, but doesn’t rely on them when Plan A fails. Diego Valeri’s presence takes much of the weight to be, to repurpose a Jose Mourinho catchphrase, “the special one” off Nagbe’s shoulders and the released burden, along with more focused on-field directions, has allowed Nagbe to finally grow into his role as a guy who can couple a good team ethic with moments of individual brilliance. The addition of Diego Valeri to the squad plugged what had been a glaring hole in the team to armchair managers everywhere; he was a playmaker.

It’s seem quaint to think that there was a time I was passionately in favor of Eric Alexander being given a shot as a playmaker, or at the very least an attacking midfielder. That’s not a slight on Alexander, who I think is a perfectly decent MLS midfielder, it’s just, Valeri.

The Argentine brought experience to the role, and we’ve seen the roles around it adapt to bring out of the best in him. If he’s getting marked too tight in the center, Nagbe can come inside to disrupt things or give Valeri some breathing room. A stark difference to players being thrown into specific roles and expected to do well because, on paper, they should. It didn’t take Valeri long to announce his arrival on the scene, and he’s also making a habit of scoring easy-on-the-eyes goals.

Rodney Wallace has emerged as the third head of the Timbers very own Cerberus in 2013, though given the fluid nature of the attack with midfielders pushing on from deep and strikers pulling wide, a perhaps more fitting mythological reference for the Timbers attack would be a Hydra, where attempts to shut one player out of the game will only give another two the space and time to hurt you just as bad.

Given the way Wallace was played at left-back, or moved around the midfield, it’s little surprise that his goal scoring/creating contributions were sporadic at best over the first two years. This year, played in a more advanced role, Wallace has had a great impact on the side since breaking into the starting XI.

With, essentially, a goal a game created or scored by Rodney Wallace this season, it’s little wonder that the Costa Rican has very quickly become one of our key players.

In pushing his way into the line up, Wallace has displaced the player that many thought would be the creative playmaker on the squad coming into 2011.

There are none on the Timbers roster more mercurial than Kalif Alhassan. The Ghanaian midfielder’s best run in the Timbers side came in that debut season, when he notched five assists in a run of eighteen straight starts. 2012 got off to the best possible start for Alhassan, with a start, an assist and another assist a goal in a the 3-1 win against the Union. It’s still his only MLS goal for the Timbers as efforts to repeat his screamer against Puerto Rico in 2010 haven’t been successful, as yet.

Despite his undoubted ability and skill – there are times I doubt even Kalif Alhassan knows what Kalif Alhassan is going to do next, let alone the defenders – he’s been unable to pin down a starting spot since that first year. Injuries hampered him in 2012 and 2013 has seen him take a back seat to Wallace and Nagbe, with Valencia and Zizzo pushing to go past him too.

The rawness and inconsistency – a world beater one game, totally anonymous the next – that we saw in both Nagbe and Alhassan is still front and center with Kalif. Potntial and talent will carry you so far, and buy you so much credit, but there’s always a clock ticking in the background and if Alhassan can’t crack the team or show that he’s matured as Nagbe has.

His numbers, when he’s on the field, are pretty good but 6 starts in 17 isn’t the figure one of the most promising players in MLS only ywo years ago should be hitting.

The problem with getting consistency from someone like Alhassan is that to do that you’re likely to sand off some of the rough edges that make the player special in the first place. Nagbe is a great example of an “instinctual” player – almost all of his great moments happen in a flash, with seemingly no time to think about it. There have been times when he’s had too much time to think and picked the wrong choice, but he’s shown a readiness to learn from it, and from someone like Diego Valeri.

To describe the likes of Valeri or Nagbe, Alhassan or Wallace as a “playmaker”, while technically accurate, would do a disservice to the fact that it’s the interaction between everyone that makes the play.

The Timbers have often seemed to lean heavily on one or two players to make things happen, and it would seem to be the case this year as well, but it’s an illusion. The reality is that the threat can, and will, come from anywhere.

We are all playmakers now.

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Timbers 100: Part One – The Island of Misfit Toys

Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.

Part 1: The Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 1. Kenny Cooper vs Colorado Rapids

19th March 2011

Kenny Cooper arrived in the Pacific Northwest with the hopes of a city on his shoulders, and a big name on his back; he left with eight goals and a couple of extra syllables.


Watch The Goal Here

With ten minutes remaining in their MLS debut, the Portland Timbers got their first goal when Kenny Cooper rifled home a long range free kick. By this point the Timbers were already well beaten having lost three goals in the first half hour, and Cooper’s strike marked the first, and only, shot on target that the visitors would muster through 90 inauspicious minutes.

Timbers fans celebrated the goal with gusto though, and most chalked the result down to a slow start; something that John Spencer would surely put right in good time.


The German language is renowned for its Bandwurmwörter, “tapeworm words”, where compound words can stretch to ridiculous lengths, so it’s fitting that the guy who spent a couple of years playing in Munich would see his name turned into a Bandwurmwörter of its own among the Timbers faithful: Kennyfuckingcooper.

He earned that moniker despite his eight goals earning him top goalscorer in the Timbers’ first MLS season. The problem was that eight goals wasn’t really enough considering the hype and bluster around the creation of the team and signing of Kennyfuckingcooper to spearhead the attack. The Timbers fell just short of the playoffs, and Cooper fell just short of winning the kind of place in Timbers fans’ affections that the club’s first MLS goalscorer should hold as the only common thread through his increasingly inconsistent performances was his ongoing and never-ending battle with the forces of gravity.

A feature of Cooper’s time back in MLS has been the way he’s found goals in burst, which isn’t uncommon for strikers, but when you’re the main guy the attack is supposedly building to, it becomes a problem.

At Portland, Cooper scored goals two and three within 41 days of his first, and the goals five, six, seven, (a beauty), and eight within 33 days towards the season’s end. In the 136 days between these two scoring bursts, he found the net once.

This pattern continued after Cooper left Portland after one year for New York. Backed by talent like Thierry Henry, Cooper streaked to 11 goals within 73 days before going on a 58 day drought. He returned to familiar ways, scoring patchily and generally underwhelming, before finding himself on the move to his third MLS club in three years.

Generally that kind of movement isn’t a good sign, especially considering he scored a very respectable 26 times in 67 appearances. Only Thierry Henry (29 in 51) and Chris Wondolowski (43 in 62) outscored Cooper through ‘11 and ‘12, yet New York were happy to let him go for allocation money.

In Dallas Cooper has landed back where he had his greatest success as a pro, scoring 40 in 90 appearances before a less than productive spell in Europe.

Cooper’s hot streak at the start of 2012 was salt in the wounds for Timbers fans, who watched their team struggle to fit another big name striker in to the puzzle. There’s no doubt that Cooper could’ve, should’ve, been handled better but he never seemed like a good fit for the big guy/little guy style John Spencer was looking for in his attack.

Caleb Porter’s style would probably suit Cooper better than Spencer’s was ever going to, but I don’t think Kennyfuckingcooper would suit Porter’s style so much. His movement, good touch and threat in the air would all be a benefit to the Timbers now, but too often you got the impression that he was playing for Kenny Cooper rather than the team. His constant flopping would only break-up the rhythm of the attack, and it’s that ability to step up the tempo and push opponents back that’s vital to getting the kind of results from our attack that we were promised when we signed Kenny Cooper.

Goal 23. Eddie Johnson vs Toronto FC

30th July 2011

A good team is more than the eleven on the field, or the eighteen in the squad; it’s about the entire roster. Portland Timbers have used 49 different players in 85 matches, with a host of players making only fleeting on-field cameos.


Watch The Goal Here

With four points from their previous nine matches, the Timbers faced Toronto FC at home, where Eddie Johnson’s goal in the 23rd minute got Portland off to the best possible start.

Jack Jewsbury would add a second, but the Timbers ended up with only a point after throwing away another lead late in the game. Johnson swept the ball home from the edge of the box for his first MLS goal in only his second start after being among the “first four” signed by the expansion club, and the only one from outside the USL Timbers.


Eddie Johnson, Adin Brown, Adam Moffat. Freddie Braun, Brian Umony, Brent Richards. Kevin Goldthwaite, Mike Fucito, Peter Lowry. Joe Bendik, Jake Gleeson and Ryan Pore.

Twelve guys, of the 49 MLS Timbers, who clocked less than 400 minutes on the field during their time in Portland, not including the 2013 debutants.

Gleeson and Richards could yet add to their time and whittle the group down to ten, but there’s no chance for Eddie Johnson to add to his time on the field.

His goal against Toronto was followed a few weeks later by a season-ending concussion in his next start, and that season-ender became a career-ender for the striker.

Given the way that the team struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, it’s little surprise that you can identify five attacking players in the dirty dozen, as the front office looked for a solution.

Between those five they logged a little under 1200 minutes, or 13 matches, managing to get a whole six shots on target. Johnson’s goal was the only success for this misfit group.

The chart above lists all of the players who have got on the field for the Timbers according to which seasons they’ve played in.

If you discount Gleeson as being still on the roster, of the eight players who only played in 2011, four of them were attackers – Umony, Johnson, Cooper and Pore. In 2012, ignoring Richards and Braun, it’s four of eight again – Boyd, Fucito, Mwanga and Songo’o.

The first couple of years were marked by constant upheaval in attack. Fourteen attackers played for Portland in 2011 and 2012, and only five appeared in both years – Nagbe, Alhassan, Perlaza, Zizzo and Dike. You can’t turnover so many players and hope to find any consistency.

Instead of taking a Spencerian “rip it up and start again” mentality, Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson concentrated on bolstering the defense with an entirely new back five, and cherry picking the right guys to help the attack, even if that meant enduring a messy and public break-up with Mix Diskerud (remember him?) to get to Diego Valeri, or raising eyebrows by signing the 34-year old Frederic Piquionne.

This year, with ten debutants (excluding Valencia), only three attacking players have made their debuts – R. Johnson, Valeri and Piquionne. Of the ten players who played here prior to Porter’s arrival, three are attackers (Alhassan, Nagbe and Zizzo). Wallace has been converted into a more attacking player, not to mention Chara having the shackles taken off him and Dike likely to feature in some way once he gets fit.

The refreshing thing about the squad as it currently stands is that there is greater depth, yet less bloat. The attacking options available now all look likely to score, which wasn’t always the case in the first couple of years. It’s a very different prospect to be looking to Ryan Johnson coming off the bench than Mike Fucito or Brian Umony.

The four attackers “cut” by Porter have all been replaced, or upgraded, from within or by a good trade. For Mwanga, Boyd, Fucito and Songo’o, read Johnson, Piquionne, Valencia and Valeri. You could even thrown in Cooper to sweeten the deal in favor of the ex-Timbers, but I still prefer what we’ve got, sans Dike.

It’s impossible to say where Eddie Johnson’s career could’ve went if it hadn’t been cut short, but given the way that Spencer never really utilized him, or seemed to know how to get the attack to do what it was they were doing in his head, where it all worked so well.

It’s noticeable that, for all the turnover under Spencer, nothing really changed. The attack was the same regardless of who was playing, and that’s why you can’t lay it all at the individual’s door. Fucito and Mwanga have been picked up by other MLS clubs, so there’s something there, and a whole host have moved abroad or taken a step or two down the US soccer pyramid. There are a few who no longer play professional football, injuries or age being the most common reasons, while others like Umony have embarked on an adventure to Vietnam and Tanzania.

The same tactics were rolled out, such that the Timbers became reliant on having very particular players in set positions, like the target man “number nine”. Poor acquisitions, with seemingly little thought beyond the short term, left us with half a functional team that fell down entirely when one of it’s key players had a bad game. It never seemed to occur to the coach that the problem might lie with him, not when he could just swap one big-but-not-a-target-man striker for another big-but-not-a-target-man striker-who-gets-paid-like-crazy-money and hope that it would all fall into place.

Even though we’re carrying fewer strikers under Porter, albeit with Dike on the comeback trail, the system is flexible enough to adapt around the man up top. Given how injuries left the Timbers defense looking like a Stark after a Frey wedding, it’d be foolish to tempt fate by crowing about depth in attack, but even with fewer bodies in place, I’ve never felt more secure in our attacking options that I have this season, and these past few matches especially.

The revolving doors at Jeld-Wen Field also saw a number of defenders and midfielders come and go as well, with guys like Mosquera, Smith and Goldthwaite giving us a single season, and Alexander, Chabala and Palmer hanging around for at least part of two before being moved on within MLS. With their busiest offseason yet, it should follow that the team would be in an even bigger state of flux and instability than usual, but it feel like there’s much less instability this year.

The reason for this, I think, is that much of Porter and Wilkinson’s job was to sweep out the mistakes of the previous regime, so that they could rebuild around what Spencer and co had got right. So we have the familiar faces of Jack Jewsbury and Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan, and we’ve lost a bunch of guys who never fit in anyway.

The guys who have come in have found out that that way to a fan’s heart is through the back of the opposition net, and they’ve bought into what it means for the fans to play for this team.

There will be bumps along the way, and other guys won’t fit in and will be moved on, but even these guys will have all played their part, however fleeting it may have been. Some left with a fond farewell, others with a cold stare, but none are ever forgotten.

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Six Defining Moments of 2012

2012 is rife with talk of apocalypse, and there were certainly times that the sky seemed to be falling in on the Timbers. A managerial sacking, fans protests, twitter meltdowns, cup embarrassments, defensive horror-shows and, bizarrely, a late season triumph.

Thinking of some of the defining moments of the Timbers year, it would be easy to think of Spencer’s sacking, Porter’s hiring, the Cal FC defeat or Perkins’ trade as the big moments, and they probably are, but the lack of a definite article in the title is deliberate as I want to take a look at 6 other moments that I think would, in their own way, come to define the Timbers’ season.

1. The Late Collapse vs Real Salt Lake

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: March 31st, approx 19:45
What: There was still an air of optimism in Portland as the Timbers kicked-off against RSL. A opening day win, heralding the arrival of Kris Boyd with a debut goal, had been followed by a gritty road draw and a narrow road loss while RSL were coming off a home defeat to Chivas USA.

Despite the setback of going 1-0 down, the Timbers roared back with a brace of classy Darlington Nagbe goals to lead 2-1. The minutes ticked away, James Marcelin came on to help close the game out, the Timbers were looking at a 7 point haul from their opening 4 games, with a visit from Chivas USA up next.

And then, disaster. Two goals in the dying minutes overturned the result, giving the visitors a 3-2 win. Like a pin popping a balloon, suddenly the early belief and confidence was gone.

Another defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory result against Chivas the next week – throwing away a lead to another late winner – only cemented the belief that it was going to be another long season.

2. Eric Brunner’s injury vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: May 26th, approx 18:06
What: With the second worst defensive record in the Western Conference in 2011, bolstering the defence was a priority for the Timbers in 2012 and, in the signing of Hanyer Mosquera, they thought they had their man to partner Eric Brunner in the heart of the back four.

Brunner had emerged from 2011 as a fan favourite, and a rare bright spot at the back for Portland. It was always going to be a case of Brunner + A.N. Other at the back, or so it seemed.

The partnership between Mosquera and Brunner took a while to get together thanks to injuries and such, but it looked like the club had finally found a solution in the middle, even if the full-back positions continued to perplex.

A concussion sustained early in the match against the Whitecaps saw Brunner removed at half-time. It would be September before Brunner saw action again, thanks in part to a further knee injury, when he came on as a late game sub. By this time, David Horst had made the position beside Mosquera his own.

The instability that followed – Danso and Horst would come in and out of the team – would see the team lose goals left and right before they finally settled on Horst. Horst looked out of his depth early on, but steadied to become a solid presence at the back, but one of the big “What if?” questions that hang over the Timbers season is “What if Brunner had never gotten injured?”

3. Kris Boyd’s goal vs Seattle Sounders

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: 24th June, approx 13:16
What: Steven Smith to Franck Songo’o, touched off to the overlapping Smith, a low cross ball to the middle where an unmarked Kris Boyd taps it past the Sounders keeper.

Boyd’s goal put the Timbers on their way to a 2-1 victory against their great rivals – their first MLS victory against the Orcish minions from the North. It would also put the Timbers in the driving seat to win the Cascadia Cup.

The win came less than a month after the Timbers had lost 1-0 to Cal FC, the same team the Sounders would thump 5-0 shortly afterwards. If that loss had represented the nadir of the club’s fortunes, the derby win was the zenith, with hopes restored that the club could yet get it’s playoff hopes back on track.

And yet, a little over two weeks later, John Spencer had been sacked.

4. Kris Boyd’s misses vs Chivas USA

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: 28th July, multiple times
What: Strictly speaking this is more than a single moment, but Boyd’s first half showing against Chivas would come to define so much of his season, and how it went into a tailspin.

Boyd was already getting criticism for not scoring enough goals, or justifying his hefty price tag, and it seemed to be weighing on the Scot. Gone were the natural, smooth finishes of early in the season – think, the flicked header against the Union, the calm finish against the Galaxy, the (wrongly) disallowed bit of skill and finish in the same match.

Now the finishes were nervy, jittery, rushed. In his desperation to score, he was hampering his natural instincts.

The first chance was much like that flash of skill against the Galaxy. Boyd heel-flicked a header down from Richards to control the ball, but rushed his shot, and sent it wide.

The second chance saw him caught offside, and of course he finished it with aplomb.

The third chance came only minutes later, and a nice touch left his defender for dead, but Boyd took the shot from a tight angle rather than the easy lay-off to Chara. Trying too hard.

The fourth chance came after a shot by Chara was palmed out by the keeper. Boyd swung at the rebound, barely connecting and only looping the ball up ineffectually.

Chivas would score the only goal of the game in the second half. Boyd’s time as a starter would come to an end only weeks later.

5. Bright Dike’s goal vs New York Red Bulls

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
When: 19th August, approx 18:08
What: After a toothless showing in Toronto, Boyd was relegated to the bench. Bright Dike made his first-ever MLS start, after spending time on loan with LA Blues earlier in the season.

473 seconds. That is how long it took Dike to do what Boyd had gone 384 minutes without doing – score. Dike got on the end of Sal Zizzo’s low cross to put the Timbers in front, the first of five goals the striker would go on to tally before the season was out.

The Timbers would double their lead, but some poor defending, terrible officiating and an familiar late game sucker-punch resulted in a 3-2 defeat.

Dike’s form would bring him to the attention of the Nigerian national team, and would keep his more expensive team mate cooling his heels on the bench until injury ended Boyd’s 2012, and potentially his Timbers career.

6. Gavin Wilkinson’s experiment vs Seattle Sounders

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
When: 7th October, approx 17:00
What: The Timbers knew that a favourable result in Seattle’s backyard would guarantee them the Cascadia Cup. Interim head coach opted to switch out both full-backs and give starts to Lovel Palmer and Rodney Wallace. The game ended in a 3-0 defeat.

Peeved would be one word to describe the fans’ reaction to Wilkinson’s tinkering. Fucking furious would be two words.

Excuses would be made for the changes, some more convincing than others, but the fact remained that the Timbers went north to play their biggest rivals, with silverware on the line, with two guys in the team who had never convinced in their positions.

The defeat put the Cascadia Cup in doubt, and it would take a first road-win of the season against a frankly awful Vancouver Whitecaps to seal the deal. Had the cup been squandered… Well, that’s another “What if?” and one that would be best written by the writers of the Saw franchise should the Timbers fans have ever gotten their hands on Wilkinson.


So, there we have my thoughts on six moments that would shape and define the Timbers season. Which would you add as your own?