Look Ahead: Home Sweet Home

Whoever takes the field for the Timbers in the home opener, it’ll be a very different team to that which saw out 2012 in front a battle-weary Timbers Army. I expect only 4 players will remain in the starting team from then: Donovan Ricketts, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe. Of the other 11, 3 are gone, 2 are injured and Danny Mwanga and Sal Zizzo are unlikely to start.

Mikael Silvestre will, depending on fitness levels, start. Considering the lack of game time, and even training that the 35 year old has missed, that seems like a risk, but perhaps reflects Caleb Porter ‘playing safe’ with the established international defender partnering a much less experienced Jean-Baptiste or Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, rather than the two rookies who started together against AIK.

If Silvestre plays, Jean-Baptiste would start as Mosquera and Horst are still injured, and Danso seems to be about as welcome in the starting team as a fart in a spacesuit. © Billy Connolly


vs New York Red Bulls

Sun 3 Mar, 16:30

The Timbers kick off their third season on Sunday, facing New York Red Bulls. It’ll be the second time Thierry Henry has played at Jeld-Wen, with his debut in 2011 ending in a red card after a goal in a 3-3 draw that was also my first ever live match at Jeld-Wen, which I attended through a fog of jet-lag and as such I remember next to nothing of.

New York are one of a group of clubs that have most shaken up their rosters this offseason and, like Portland, they enter 2013 with a new head coach, Mike Petke.

Petke became the 7th head coach still under 40 in MLS this year, reflecting a trend towards a younger head coach/manager as compared to other top flights around the world.

The average age of all current, permanent head coaches/managers in each top tier league, against the current average length of each manager’s current employment

Petke takes over a club he’s been long associated with, and one who have yet to really get a return for their investment in high-profile players.

Henry, Tim Cahill, Fabian Espindola and Juninho Pernambucano are all guys who would expect to be on a successful team in MLS, while Dax McCarty, Jamison Olave and Heath Pearce add defensive solidity.

There are a couple of familiar faces on the New York roster this year. Eric Alexander has featured for New York this offseason, but will struggle to hold off the returning Dax McCarty from the spot alongside Cahill in midfield. Another year of waiting in the wings for a chance to impress seems to await for Alexander.

Kosuke Kimura never really found a home in the Timbers defence, but he may well start for New York at right-back. Given his struggles last year, and what the Timbers coaching staff saw of him in training every day, it may be interesting to see whether Porter looks to exploit Kimura’s lack of positional awareness by playing Harrington with more scope to go forward and beyond Kimura. This would allow Nagbe to push inside and ask questions of the New York defence by picking up the ball with 30 yards to goal rather than 50.

New York went winless in the Desert Diamond Cup, losing three of four, and seem to be struggling to find the right mix under a rookie coach – sound familiar? – but the ability of their star players means that you write them off at your peril. I think this is a winnable game, but just as we can hurt New York, the worry remains that we still have a glass jaw when it comes to defence.

If Silvestre plays, I’d expect to see us play a little deeper than we otherwise might in a home opener. It may stretch us out, and New York have players who thrive on find space between the line, so much rests on the full-backs and central midfield two to step up and put in a real shift to be both solid in defence and the link to Valeri and the forward three.

The Timbers failed to score first in each of the pre-season tournament matches, but finding the net first here would really help settle the team down and allow them to concentrate on playing a patient passing game as opposed to trying to chase down another first goal against.


vs Montreal Impact

Sat 9 Mar, 19:30

Six days after facing New York, the Timbers Army will reassemble to welcome Montreal Impact, and to see 2-0 loss in Quebec last season avenged.

Troy Perkins will, if fit and selected, play in front of his old fans for the first time since a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last August. Seems safe to bet that Perkins will receive a more favourable welcome than that for Mike Fucito

Montreal have also changed head coaches, with Marco Schällibaum giving up the glamour of life as a coaching instructor in Qatar and Mongolia to take his first head coaching job outside of Europe.

Schällibaum inherits a squad that has added to its experienced Italian core of Nesta, Ferrari and Di Vaio with the experienced winger, Andrea Pisanu.

For as bad as the Timbers were on the road last year, and they were bad, it’s worth noting that the Impact earned only 2 points more than Portland, and lost on both their 2012 trips to the West Coast.

Despite this poor away form Montreal would’ve been right in the play-off hunt until the end were it not for a late season collapse that saw them pick up only 3 points in the last 6 games. Improvements on the road are a priority this year and they can set the right tone early on as they begin the season with a Cascadia double header, opening up in Seattle before traveling down the I-5 towards fresh air.

In contrast to New York and Portland, the new coach hasn’t been busying himself building a new team so the roster remains largely unchanged, which means that they still rely heavily on the 36 year old knees of Macro Di Vaio not giving out at all.

Most likely Montreal would line up in a 4-5-1 with, fitness allowing, Di Vaio up top, Mapp and Pisanu wide, and Bernier, Arnaud, Felipe and Wallace fighting it out for the three central positions.

Once again, Montreal lack a bit of pace at the back, and it would be interesting to see what a dynamic front three of Nagbe, Trencito and Ryan Johnson could do against them, with Valeri providing the ammunition.

Chara and Will Johnson would have to match up, and push their opposite numbers on to the back foot and isolate Di Vaio, who is still capable of flashes of his old brilliance, but can be kept quiet by an organized and mobile defence.

Starting the season with 2 home matches gives Porters team a great chance to make put points on the board early on. Seattle, in Seattle, await after Montreal, so there is every imperative to hit the ground running before going in search of a debut MLS win in Groupon country.

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

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

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

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

2) Will Johnson leading our midfield.

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

3) El Trencito.

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

4) Watching our “Kids” grow.

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

5) The Porter System.

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

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

I’m going to cheat a bit this week and break up my Finn’s Five into two categories. The first five today are the 5 biggest outstanding questions I see as the season begins. Tomorrow, I’ll highlight the 5 best things we have going for us heading into Sunday’s match against the Red Bulls

1) Is our midfield big enough?

Kalif, Johnson, Chara, Valeri . While they have mental and physical toughness, and Will Johnson and Chara play bigger than they are, the simple fact is we have a small midfield. In the match against AIK the more physical and imposing Europa League players definitely won the physical battle in midfield. How will those four fare over a tough 34 game MLS schedule?

2) Who is our central starting pair and will they be able to handle the high line Porter’s system demands?

DTG and Andre Jean Baptiste acquitted themselves well in the preseason, especially when you consider they’ve only just started shaving on a daily basis, but they cannot be the answer over a 34 match season. I think our moves at central defense are far from over and don’t be surprised to see Futty, Horst AND Mosquera all gone by the summer. The test of our central defense starts this Sunday with a guy you may have heard of, Henry, coming to town.

3) Who plays if Valeri gets hurt?

Mwanga failed to flatter in his stint there. We watched Nagbe flounder all last year trying to be a #10 and the RodWall effort vs Dallas was cringeworthy. It’s not those three guys fault, they aren’t remotely in Valeri’s league and they aren’t #10’s. The only person on the roster right now capable of defense splitting passes in the Valeri model is Alhassan. He had a great pre-season but his consistency remains a serious concern.

4) Are our new outside backs really an upgrade?

I’m far from convinced theanswer to this question is “yes”.

5) Is Ryan Johnson really a #9 and can he produce over a season?

Nothing in
Ryan Johnson’s background suggests he is a double digit goal scorer in MLS. Like our central defenders I would not be surprised to see the Timbers make a mid-season push for a real forward*.

*Not that I’m always comparing the Timbers to the team from the fishing village up north (hat tip to 5MTKO for that moniker) but is there a #9 on our team that even remotely compares to their rumored acquisition of Obafemi Martins?

Check back tomorrow for what makes me excited for 2013.

Finn’s Five: DON’T PANIC

An entirely new team from Sunday took the field for the Timbers and frankly it showed in a choppy, disjointed loss.

1) The System – Porters intense, ball control system that had us all buzzing from Sunday was nowhere to be seen last night. Our reserves either couldn’t or wouldn’t put it into practice. Worrying but it’s early days.

2) Trencito – Porter singled him out for praise and rightfully so. It’s not just the work he does on the ball. His dedication to high up the field defensive pressure deserves recognition.

3) Mwanga – Oh Danny. Boy, I want him to succeed but last night he was very poor. Weak on the ball and lazy in defense. Look at the goal again. Danny could have and should have closed Perez down.

4) The midfield pairing of Wallace and Zemanski – No thanks. Nuff said.

5) The Zizzo right back experiment – Intrigued. Would like to see more of it. We know he can run the channel with the best of them, the question is can he defend?

It Begins Again

The Timbers returned home after some bounce games in Tucson, and found the Timbers Army ready and waiting for some actual football after a long, and at times, tumultuous offseason.

The San Jose Earthquakes were the visitors in the first round of matches in the Portland Timbers Preseason Tournament – a name so dull that not even Don Garber would want to trademark it.

The game itself ended in a 3-3 draw. San Jose scored a penalty after a handball by Jean-Baptiste, got an easy second from a free header off a free kick, and scored a third off a rebound from a Ricketts save after a weak turnover of possession in their own defensive third. So, much as it was in defence.

For certain, there is still a lot of work to be done in shoring things up at the back, but for now I’d like to talk about the other end, because it was there that I saw many reasons to be optimistic about 2013. I’m sure I’ll return to the defence at some point…

Ryan Johnson scored a hat-trick, which is a pretty good way to go about endearing yourself to the home faithful. Diego Valeri had a hand in the latter two goals, providing lovely assists for Johnson to get through on goal and finish with consummate ease. A lot of pixels have been spent bemoaning the fact that the Timbers have lacked a creative “number 10” type in their roster, but it looks like Valeri is exactly that kind of player.

The first goal is the one that stands out to me, though. If ever there was a passage of play that typifies what Caleb Porter is bringing to Portland, it was then.

The quick passing and intelligent movement of the midfield served to open up space down the San Jose left, and the Timbers were ruthless in exploiting it. It begins before Nagbe has even touched the ball.

Harrington cushions the header down to Nagbe on the left side of the Timbers midfield. Towards the end of last season we saw Nagbe play more centrally, and it seemed to stifle him a little. Nagbe works best when he can pick up in space and drive forward, but we also saw last season with Songo’o the problems that a wide player coming inside can cause when all they’re doing is running into traffic.

In this instance, Diego Chara makes a clever little diversionary run forward. San Jose were set up pretty well, with two players holding the middle, but Chara’s move forces their #4 to follow him, and leave a space for Nagbe to run into. With San Jose short-handed in midfield now, it draws their wide #10 inside to match up, freeing space in front of Ryan Miller.

Nagbe has options for the pass, with Will Johnson holding and Kalif Alhassan forward. Diego Valeri also makes himself available for the pass, as he continually does. Part of the Timbers problems last season were there were too many players who would disappear, or hide, for too long. Songo’o, Alexander, Boyd – all players I liked, but all were guys who would drift in and out of matches. It stunted the Timbers attack all too often, leaving us with nowhere to go and panic was never far from setting in. That shit just won’t fly under Porter.

The next three passes are all one touch. Nagbe to Alhassan, back to Johnson, out to Miller. As easy as one-two-three, the Timbers have pulled the San Jose midfield around and opened up space out wide.

There’s no steadying touch, or thought of looking for the long, hopeful ball forward from Miller. Alhassan has made the move forward, and the man who should’ve been tracking him from midfield has given up on the job. This means that when the first time ball comes forward from Miller, one of the San Jose central defenders is forced to come across to match the run.

Ryan Johnson comes to life as the ball enters the attacking third. With a gap opening up at the near post, all it needs is for Alhassan is to deliver the ball into that area. Johnson times the run to perfection, going from back to front and sending a deft header looping beyond the reach of the keeper into the far side of the net.

What you can see from the overview is that much of the Timbers off the ball movement was heading from right to left, opening up the space they needed to execute a quick series of passes left to right. It’s like a boxer dropping his shoulder to entice an opponent in before dropping him with the hook he never saw coming.

For all the talk about possession, this is the essence of what Porter’s teams do. Yes, they’ll keep the ball, and work it across the pitch, playing nice little triangles and diagonals but, like a Chess Grandmaster, when they’ve maneuvered their opponents just where they want them, they’ll strike, and do so swiftly and with purpose.

Thorns FC Release 2013 NWSL Season Schedule

Portland Thorns FC will open the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season on Saturday, April 13, against FC Kansas City at Shawnee Mission District Stadium, it was announced today with the release of the full, 22-game 2013 NWSL schedule.

Thorns FC will square off against Seattle Reign FC on Sunday, April 21, in the home opener at JELD-WEN Field; kickoff is set for 2 p.m. (Pacific).

The club will play 11 home matches, all at JELD-WEN Field, and 11 away matches during the five-month season. The eight-team league features a single table, and Thorns FC will play an unbalanced schedule; hosting the Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Seattle Reign FC and Sky Blue FC twice at home. Portland must travel twice to face Boston, Chicago, FC Kansas City and Seattle.

Highlighting the Thorns FC schedule are two home matches against Pacific Northwest rival Seattle Reign FC on Sunday, April 21 and Sunday, June 16, as well as a marquee home match against U.S. Women’s National Team forward Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash on Sunday, July 14.

Also scheduled are three Saturday-Sunday pairings with the Portland Timbers. The weekend pairings are June 15-16 (Timbers vs. FC Dallas, June 15/Thorns FC vs. Seattle, June 16); July 13-14 (Timbers vs. LA Galaxy, July 13/Thorns FC vs. Western New York, July 14) and Aug. 3-4 (Timbers vs. Vancouver, Aug. 3/Thorns FC vs. FC Kansas City, Aug. 4).

The regular season will conclude the weekend of Aug. 18 with the top four teams qualifying for the NWSL playoffs.

Thorns FC is scheduled to open training camp in March.

Schedule Breakdown:

Home Dates by Day of the Week:
Wednesday (1), Thursday (2), Saturday (2), Sunday (6)
Road Dates by Day of the Week:
Wednesday (1), Saturday (7), Sunday (3)

Home Dates by Month:
April (1), May (2), June (3), July (4), August (1)
Road Dates by Month:
April (2), May (3), June (2), July (1), August (3)

2013 Portland Thorns FC Schedule (home matches in bold, CAPS)

Date Opponent Kickoff (Pacific) Venue
Saturday, April 13 @FC Kansas City 5:35 p.m. Shawnee Mission District Stadium
Sunday, April 21 SEATTLE REIGN FC 2 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Saturday, April 27 @Chicago Red Stars 5 p.m. Benedictine University Sports Complex
Saturday, May 4 @Washington Spirit 4 p.m. Maryland SoccerPlex
Sunday, May 12 @Chicago Red Stars 3 p.m. Benedictine University Sports Complex
Thursday, May 16 SKY BLUE FC 7:30 p.m.  JELD-WEN Field
Sunday, May 19 WASHINGTON SPIRIT 2 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Saturday, May 25 @Seattle Reign FC 7 p.m. Starfire Sports Complex
Saturday, June 1 CHICAGO RED STARS 7:30 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Thursday, June 6 FC KANSAS CITY 7:30 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Sunday, June 16 SEATTLE REIGN FC 2 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Saturday, June 22 @Sky Blue FC 4 p.m. Yurcak Field
Sunday, June 30 @FC Kansas City 1:10 p.m. Shawnee Mission District Stadium
Saturday, July 6 BOSTON BREAKERS 7:30 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Sunday, July 14 WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH 2 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Sunday, July 21 @Boston Breakers 1 p.m. Dilboy Stadium
Sunday, July 28 CHICAGO RED STARS 2 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Wednesday, July 31 SKY BLUE FC 7:30 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Sunday, Aug. 4 FC KANSAS CITY 2 p.m. JELD-WEN Field
Wednesday, Aug. 7 @Boston Breakers 4 p.m. Dilboy Stadium
Saturday, Aug. 10 @Western New York Flash 4:35 p.m. Sahlen’s Stadium
Saturday, Aug. 17 @Seattle Reign FC 8 p.m. Starfire Sports Complex

Meet the Thorns FC free agent signees and supplemental draft picks

Portland Thorns FC have added more players to the team’s roster with the signing of four free agents and five picks in the NWSL Supplemental draft. The nine additional players brings the current roster to 20 players.

Thorns FC Free Agent Signings

Becky Edwards
Position: Midfielder
Height: 5-8
Born: May 22, 1988, in Downington, Pa.
Hometown: Downington, Pa.
Last Club: Kristianstads DFF (Sweden)
College: Florida State Univ.
Nationality: United States

In 2012, Edwards scored two goals in 18 matches (17 starts), helping Kristianstads DFF to a fifth-place finish in the Swedish league standings.

Allie Long
Position: Midfielder
Height: 5-8
Born: Aug. 13, 1987, in Huntington, N.Y.
Hometown: Northport, N.Y.
Last Club: New York Fury (WPSL Elite)
College: Univ. of North Carolina
Nationality: United States

In 2012, Long played for the New York Fury of the Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPSL) Elite, helping lead the team to a 9-3-2 overall record and a berth in the WPSL Elite playoff semifinals.

Nikki Marshall
Position: Defender
Height: 5-7
Born: June 2, 1988, in Thornton, Colo.
Hometown: Mead, Colo.
Last Club: Western New York Flash (WPSL Elite)
College: Univ. of Colorado
Nationality: United States

In 2012, Marshall was part of the WPS Elite championship winning Western New York Flash. She brings versatility to her new club as she can play any position on the backline.

Nikki Washington
Position: Midfielder
Height: 5-4
Born: Aug. 1, 1988, in Dallas, Texas
Hometown: Mesquite, Texas
Last Club: Canberra United (Australia)
College: Univ. of North Carolina
Nationality: United States

Washington is coming off a short stint as an injury replacement with Canberra United, of the Westfield W-League in Australia, tallying three goals in five appearances.

Thorns FC Supplemental Draft Picks

Marian Dalmy
Position: Defender
Height: 5-9
Born: Nov. 25, 1984, in Denver, Colo.
Hometown: Lakewood, Colo.
Last Club: magicJack (WPS)
College: Santa Clara University
Nationality: United States

Dalmy is a player rumored to have not been interested in playing in NWSL. She last played for magicJack in 2011. If she plays, Thorns FC will be adding another quality defender with national team experience to the squad.

Tina Ellertson
Position: Defender
Height: 5-9
Born: May 20, 1982, in Vancouver, Wash.
Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.
Last Club: magicJack (WPS)
College: University of Washington
Nationality: United States

Ellertson brings a wealth of experience to the club, if she actually plays. Earlier this week, Ellertson announced on Twitter: “Not playing pro ball this year guys! Family First!!!” It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Richard Farley from Pro Soccer Talk did report on Thursday that  Portland is optimistic that Ellertson will “eventually suit up for the team.”

Angie Kerr
Position: Midfielder
Height: 5-5
Born: March 29, 1985, in San Diego, Calif.
Hometown: El Cajon, Calif.
Last Club: Sky Blue FC (WPS)
College: University of Portland
Nationality: United States

Portland Pilot fans will be excited to welcome Kerr back to the Rose City. She’ll be reunited with former Pilot teammate Christine Sinclair, as well as U-19 teammate Rachel Buehler.

Jessica Shufelt
Position: Forward
Height: 5-7
Born: May 29, 1990, in Rochester, N.Y.
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
Last Club: Ottawa Fury (USL W-League)
College: University of Connecticut
Nationality: United States

At 22, Jessica is the youngest of the Supplemental Draft picks. She played for the USL W-League champion, Ottawa Fury in 2012, registering one goal and two assists in 12 appearances.

Michele Weissenhofer
Position: Forward
Height: 5-4
Born: Aug.18, 1987, in Naperville, Ill.
Hometown: Naperville, Ill.
Last Club: Chicago Red Stars (WPSL Elite)
College: University of Notre Dame
Nationality: United States

Chicago Red Stars fans on Twitter were not happy to see Weissenhofer picked up by Thorns FC in Thursday’s Supplemental Draft. Weissenhofer played a key role for the Red Stars last season in WPSL Elite, helping lead the team to the championship game. She scored five goals in 12 matches for the club.

The Portland Thorns FC roster-building process continues today marking the beginning of the signing of Discovery Players. Clubs may claim up to four Discovery Players, securing the rights to sign those players heading into preseason training camps. Discovery Players may be either international or domestic. Players who were eligible for but not selected in the Supplemental Draft may be claimed as Discovery Players. The rights to Discovery Players will be allocated to a team on a “date of submission priority” basis. If two teams submit the same player, the team that submitted the player first will have the opportunity to sign that player.

Over the weekend, the team will be holding tryouts as well. Tryouts will be held at JELD-WEN Field from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 9th and Sunday, February 10th. Additional details can be found on the Portland Thorns FC website.

 

 

Finn’s Five: There Are No Friendlies

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

Let’s get to the Five.

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

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

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

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

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

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