Six Degrees: Exactly What We Deserved

I’m getting so sick of this shit.

1) Columbus, away, March 25, Timbers score the first goal in the 4th minute, then give up two, then pull even in the 45th, then give up the winning goal in the 84th.

New England, home, April 2, Timbers score the first goal in the 12th minute, hold the lead all game, then give up the tying goal in the 84th.

Dallas, away, April 29, Timbers score the first goal in the 30th, then get tied in the 61st, regain the lead in the 71st, and give up the tying goal in the 80th.

Colorado, away, June 17, Timbers score the first goal in the 18th, get tied in the 51st, then give up the winning goal in the 89th.

Seattle, home, June 25, Timbers give up the first goal in the 27th, then pull even in the 45th, then go ahead in the 45th + 4, then play the entire second half with a man advantage, only to give up the tying goal in the 90th + 4.

And that’s just the list for this year. If I tried to list all the leads we’ve blown since Porter got here in 2015, it would take you all day to read. And make you an alcoholic.

2) The worst part of Sunday’s 2-2 draw-that-most-definitely-should-count-as-a-loss to the Sounders? It was completely deserved. Out of the roughly 100 minutes Sunday, the Sounders were the better team for about 95. They beat us on offense, the beat us on defense. They beat us in the air, the beat us on the ground. They beat us even strength, they beat us a man down. They beat us in a house, they beat us with a mouse. You get the idea.

Most importantly? They beat us in the battle between the ears. Psychologically, they destroyed us.

Remember that whole “Big Hearts and Brass Balls” thing from a few years ago? That’s long gone. The 2017 Portland Timbers have neither of those things. A few players here and there? Yes. But collectively? No.

Do I have an answer? Of course not. Soccer’s X’s and O’s are hard enough. Figuring out and fixing a team’s psyche? Dragons be there.

All I can really say is that we’re not imagining this. It’s real. This team has no idea how to put games away. And I’m friggin’ sick of it.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got.

3) But as long as we’re here, we might as well break a few things down.

Seattle dominated the entire first half. Pretty much the only bright spot was a really nice counter in the 11th minute that would have been a goal, if not for Seattle keeper Stefan Frei.

Diego Valeri to Dairon Asprilla to Diego Chara to Fanendo Adi. Boom, boom, boom, boom. The only think I don’t like about this is Frei’s save. Otherwise, it’s tremendous, start to finish.

Alas, that’s probably the best we looked the entire game.

Seattle immediately resumed kicking our ass, and, in the 27th, Joevin Jones opened the scoring.

The obvious scapegoat here is Jake Gleeson. Spilling the ball is never a good thing.

But if I had to pick a secondary scapegoat, it would be Alvas Powell, who didn’t pressure Jones enough on the initial shot, then was ball-watching while his man raced over to score on the rebound. Not Powell’s best moment, or, to be honest, his best day at the office. His performance Sunday makes me understand why Zarek Valentin‘s been starting lately.

4) Going up a goal didn’t change Seattle’s dominance. Apparently, it’s possible for teams to play well after getting a lead. Who’da thunk it?

But in the 43rd minute, the Timbers finally got a break.

I don’t have much good to say about Ricardo Salazar’s work Sunday, but at least he got this call right. And to Brad Evans’s credit, he didn’t argue much. He knew.

And with that, we entered the only five minute period in which the Timbers were the best team on the field. It was only five minutes, but oh what a five minutes it was.

First was Adi nailing the PK to tie the game up, then with the last play of first half stoppage time, Dairon “Skywalker” Asprilla giving us the lead.

Asprilla’s got some hops, doesn’t he? I think we should play him at center back. Could he be any worse than our 4th stringer Lawrence Olum and our 5th stringer Amobi Okugo? At least Asprilla would do better in the air that either of those guys.

By the way, our 6th string center back? Zarek Valentin. Our 7th stringer? Me.

5) So, it’s halftime, the Timbers are up 2-1, and we’re playing 11v10. The second half’s gonna be awesome, right? We’re gonna put Seattle to the sword and win 4-1, right? Right?

Wrong. Just like they always do, the Timbers took their collective foot off the gas.

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I spent the entire second half absolutely certain that we’d give up a goal and finish with a draw. 100% certainty.

And, of course, in second half stoppage time, possibly on the last kick of the game, this happened.

Fuck my life. Fuck the Timbers. Fuck psychology. Fuck trying to figure out how to fix this. Fuck everything and everybody.

Normally, I love sticking around to watch the team circle the field, frolic with their children, and raise some log slices. Not this time. This time, as soon as Salazar blew his whistle, I was heading for the gates, a black cloud trailing behind me.

6) I was in a bad place after the loss to Sporting Kansas City in April, but at least on that occasion I could blame the other team. This game, though? There’s no one to blame but the Timbers. A 2-1 lead at halftime and you’re a man up? This is 100% on us.

How to fix it? I have no idea. Would I be okay if Porter benched everyone for next week’s game at SKC? Played an entirely new XI?

Yes, I would be totally okay with that. I mean, it’s not like we’ve got a great chance of winning. So why not make a statement? Start Vytas. Start Chara. Maybe start Darlington Nagbe, too. Those three all showed some fire Sunday night.

But everyone else? Fuck ’em. Put ’em on the bench. Maybe watching a game from there will spark some change. Maybe it will remind them how to play.

Is this a bit drastic? Yes. Do I care? Not really. The Timbers are a friggin’ mess right now. We’re probably going to lose to SKC anyway, so why not do something drastic? Drastic might be just what this team needs.

25 Comments Six Degrees: Exactly What We Deserved

  1. John Lawes

    Hate to keep beating this drum, but…

    What added to my anger and disgust was listening to Porter throw the entire squad under the bus for the second half when it seemed pretty obvious to me that eleven guys don’t just decide to park the Greyhound against their coach’s directions. The guys were jakin’ it, Caleb? Then why weren’t you mad, bro? Why weren’t you screaming and ranting and flinging yourself around your technical box pissed off because your guys were laying down on you? Why didn’t you start subbing off the guys you thought were the worst offenders? Could it be that you were confused by what was happening, convinced your eyes were deceiving you?

    Nope. Porter’s gonna Porter; park that damn bus and sit on that 1-goal lead like we had the top defense in the league instead of the fourth-from-the-bottom or whatever. Possess in harmless fashion. Commit lazy giveaways and get caught in transition. Give up crap goals.

    I’m sick of this, too, but I’m not letting Porter off the hook. This is his team. These are, supposedly, the guys he wants. If there’s an individual problem, yank the guy. But if there’s a team problem – and there obviously IS – then that’s on the coaching staff.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      These are all excellent points. I almost put a line in my column about how we could bench Porter, too. Make him watch from home. Now I’m wishing I’d put it in.

      Reply
      1. jdlawes

        The problem, tho, is the same as it ever was; you can Porter, who replaces him? Kinnear? Who is Merritt and Gavin, with their limited, mostly-USL CVs, going to poach? I don’t see any value in swapping Porter for, say, Big Sam Allardyce.

        So what I’d like to see is Porter live up to the “student-of-the-game” reputation he had when he arrived here. Devise some tactics to suit the players he has instead of who he’d like to have. Hire a better defensive assistant than Knowles. T2? How about hiring some guys out of the better EU academy systems?

        Right now it’s not just the big side. The whole organization is looking threadbare, and has since the end of 2015. We need some ideas; not a bandaid, a real serious shakeup.

        Reply
        1. Roy Gathercoal

          But it is not a lack of tactics that is the problem. The guys simply stop wanting to play soccer whenever they get a lead. Many folks say that you “can’t coach heart.” That seems to be Porter’s view. I disagree. I think it is the coach’s responsibility to hone that team’s psyche so they are straining for the opportunity to start the game, and then to come back from the locker room at half ready to be a new team.

          I fear this is the worst of “the new moneyball.” Underlying its premises sits the idea that heart doesn’t matter, because it can’t be measured. Skill and experience and shots-on-goal all matter, because they can be measured.

          Porter might well have the moneyball stuff all figured out. This does not excuse him from the responsibility of being an old-fashioned Lombardi-style kick-em-in-the-pants coach.

          Some say that modern day professional sports are like the ancient gladiatorial games. If so, then most of our stable of gladiators would have been gone from the face of this planet by this point in the season. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad idea?

          If the players are not going to be killed if they piss away 45 minutes in the arena, then there needs to be another form of motivation. If we aren’t going to reward the victors by not-cutting-out-their-hearts, as the Aztecs reportedly did, then we need something else to keep players in a fighting spirit when it is 120 degrees on the pitch, near to most players’ bedtimes.

          That’s why the gladiators needed trainers, but not coaches.

          Oh, and Seattle might have been not as stinky, but not by much. This was a match of the not-as-bad’s.

        2. John Lawes

          In the last 45′ of this match it WAS tactics, Roy. In all the matches C.I. mentions, it was tactical failings as well. You don’t just concede crap goals by failing to have Indomitable Wills. You give up crap goals because you fail to mark, or you turn over the ball in dangerous areas, or you’re not backing each other up. It IS possible to have the worst of both worlds; ineffective tactics poorly executed by players who are dispirited, or jakin’ it, or angry, or all of the above.

          Porter has never been a particularly effective “motivational”-type coach, I think. He’s had his moments. But look at his pressers. That cool exterior is him, I think; he’s all about the high-lows-low-highs.

          But…these are professional athletes. They shouldn’t need a rah-rah cheerleader to get them motivated to play well. Does it help? I imagine. Should they be making these sorts of piss-poor errors because nobody’s whipping them on in a lather of emotional frenzy?

          No.

          Will Johnson’s name pops up a lot when that aspect of the Timbers’ problems is discussed, and I’ll agree that the Captain Will of 2013 had a hugely positive impact on that season.

          But…to pretend that Will is what we’re missing is to forget 2014. Having Captain Furious screaming in your ear only works for a period of time. Eventually it starts to become background noise, or, worse, it pisses you off. By 2014 it was obvious to me that Will had gone past motivating his teammates with his aggro and was starting to get on their nerves. They had tuned him out or, worse, his ragging was producing the opposite effect: “You mad, bro? Fuck you, then.”

          I won’t disagree that this outfit needs…something. But I don’t thing it’s “one thing”. I think they need new ideas. New tactics and new faces. Like I said; a general shakeup. And if Porter can’t or won’t consider that, well…I think it’s time to start considering that his time here – and it has been a good time, in many ways – may be done.

        3. Roy Gathercoal

          You are a man up. Dempsey is on the field. There is a set piece. Who doesn’t cover Dempsey?

          In fact, Olum did. But he didn’t jump high enough, or check Dempsey’s forward progress enough. Three inches more on his elevation and that ball does not go in. Is this covered by what you are calling tactics? I think of tactics as formations and assignments and “when they do this, we do this”.

          I don’t think of tactics as players simply ceasing to make runs into the box, while teammates pass the ball to where the runner would have been in the first half. I don’t see tactics as covering Gleeson booting the ball out of bounds. I believe it was not conditioning, for these guys have played a hard 90 in other places. Kind of hard to imagine they were in shape for the first quarter of the season, but out of shape now.

          The heat was certainly a factor, but not any worse than they will experience next week in a regular summer day in Kansas City. Let alone Atlanta. And Dallas and Houston. If they can’t play a full game when the air temp is 90 degrees we are doomed, because every other team can do that.

          I don’t believe that being a professional makes you a robot. People are primarily emotional beings, not intellectually rational. Sure, by the time someone is a pro they have a disciplined game day routine, but that only takes them so far.

          I agree that Porter likes the cerebral approach, but he sure worked at motivating his players at Akron. If he can’t do it, or doesn’t want to do it, then assign someone else to do this. From his after game statements it sounds like he is expecting someone on the team to step into this coach’s role.

          Yeah, that happens, but it doesn’t take the coach off the hook. He still needs to be able to motivate his players to want to play soccer at the opening whistle. Not just kick the ball around and play at practice, but to breathe fire.

          I don’t mean that Will Johnson was great in 2014. I agree that he overplayed his hand and did not speak to his audience in his teammates. I also like that we are building a team without prima donna jerks. The culture of this team fits Portland.

          But we need to be ready to play up to our potential. In this league we will never outgun our opponents and will never have a massive tactical advantage. The league is married to parity. I actually like that, mostly. But what it means is that the intangibles are going to matter more, because the tangibles are held in parity.

          Porter has a history of making good second half adjustments. I don’t know the individual players, the recent tendencies and other information gleaned from the scouting tapes, and I don’t know what Porter told his team to do on the field. I do know he seemed really angry after the game. So I can’t tell you whether the tactical failures were the fault of coaches or players.

          Given the history and the admittedly circumstantial evidence, I am leaning towards thinking the players need to change their attitude on the game field, to recover what Porter calls “hunger.”

          For all his excesses and larger-than-helpful captain’s head, Will Johnson is a hungry player. I wonder if he didn’t find a way to influence the team during the cup run even when he did not start. Toronto seemed to be a better squad the year after he came. But then they let him leave. I don’t know about Orlando–too many unknown variables. Perhaps he would be exactly the wrong person to bring back. But someone needs to want to win at least as much as the fans do.

          Probably we have different definitions. Yours are probably more accurate than mine. I respect your thoughtful contributions. I see a team which played like they wanted to win at the beginning of the season, but now (same guys) play like they would really prefer to call it a draw and leave work early.

          And Ridgewell is not the inspiring leadership presence that fixes everything. I have seen as many derps when he is playing as when he is not playing.

          Something has to change.

        4. John Lawes

          “Will is a hungry player”

          He is. But sometimes that hunger feeds on itself.

          Look, I’ve been a sergeant in the Army for a long time. In that you learn something about motivating and leading teams. And Will’s sort of “motivation” – the fierce, angry, driving, hungry kind – is a short-term tactic. It forces itself on the team, and it forces the teammates to sacrifice their own ideas and drives and goals to the hungry leader’s demands.

          But those ideas and drives don’t go away. And, eventually, the teammates’ own goals will re-emerge, all the more divisive for having been suppressed.

          So in 2013 WJ’s fire lit the team on fire. But 2014 (and 2015, when his role was reduced to a mere shadow of itself) that fire consumed itself. Likewise in Toronto. First year? Fine show. Second? Not so much; listening to Angry Will rant got old real fast.

          Team building is a very odd and difficult process, and it works differently for every group. It’s hard to say whether Porter can “build” this team; this spring it looked as if he had! But the past month this squad has looked as all-adrift as ever I’ve seen it. And, more to the point, the overall arc of the past four years seems very much a sort of amble, from the good of 2013 to the meh of 2014 to the meh-with-an-insanely-hot-autumn of 2015 to the ugly of 2016 to the up-and-down of this season. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent improvement; there’s no sustained high like the LAG or DCU under Arena.

          But, short of getting Arena, who is going to do that here? Until I see a plausible candidate, I’m not on the PorterOut train. Yet.

        5. Ragua

          “The problem, tho, is the same as it ever was; you can Porter, who replaces him?”

          What’s Eric Wynalda up to these days?

  2. Timber Dave

    Another thing I don’t understand: We’re in third place in the West. THIRD PLACE. How can that be? I realize that this Western Conference isn’t your grandmother’s Western Conference, with the Galaxy a shell of their former selves and only FC Dallas and uSKC really looking good this year — and uSKC only because of defensive solidity, which is no fun to watch — but still, with our May and our current run of suck, how can we possibly be in third?

    Okay, we’re not. We’re in fifth by the more reasonable measure of PPG. Still incomprehensible.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      Those 9 points in our first 3 games is HUGE. Those 2 straight wins to start June also helped. But mostly, the West is very very even. I wouldn’t be surprised if 9 or 10 teams are still in playoff contention in the last week or two of the season.

      Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      No one was offside when Joevin Jones took his initial shot, and then once Jake spilled the save, it didn’t matter where anyone was. To my knowledge, you can’t be offside if the keeper spills a save. I guess there’s a chance you could call interference on Jordan Morris racing into goal and blocking Jake Gleeson from making a second save, but that didn’t look egregious. Does anyone else see an offside that I’m missing (or understand some subtlety of the rule that I don’t)?

      Reply
      1. Timber Dave

        “To my knowledge, you can’t be offside if the keeper spills a save.”

        This isn’t actually right. A deliberate save, unlike any other intentional touch by a defender, does NOT reset the offside condition of attackers, so if they were offside for the shot, they’re still offside, and can get called for it if they get involved in play. From the Laws of the Game 2016-17:
        “A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a team-mate is only penalised on becoming involved in active play by … gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it [the ball] has … been deliberately saved by any opponent.”

        A deliberate move to stop a pass WILL reset the offside condition of attackers, but a deliberate save will NOT. It’s one of the more ridiculous things about FIFA’s (or IFAB’s) latest interpretation of the offside rule.

        In any case, I too don’t see anyone who would be offside on Joevin Jones’s goal. Morris is the only one there, and he didn’t interfere enough to matter.

        Reply
        1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

          Thanks, Dave. This is really helpful and interesting and, typical for FIFA, a bit Byzantine. Like you, even with this new info, I still don’t see anyone offside.

  3. larry shaw

    if guys were slagging and/or not following porters game plan, why was his first substitution so late in the game and On my because of injury? he owed it to the team, the fans and the franchise to get those guys out no matter the quality of the subs.

    instead, it’s clear he told the team to park the bus and then threw all of them under it!

    Reply
    1. Roy Gathercoal

      Because Porter tends to not use substitutions as motivations for his players. Many coaches do, but he tends to think of the game in process much more than the bigger picture when the whistle blows. He has on occasion subbed out players for attitude, but usually he tries to influence this sort of issue at training. He will start different players to make a point, but he doesn’t tend to pull players unless they are really screwing up. And you only have three subs. . . the way we played throughout the whole second half (and big parts of the first half) we could have used seven or eight subs!

      Porter seems to use subs more strategically–like he has decided before the game begins who will be subbed in and when. He talks a lot of managing minutes of players.

      I wish Porter would sub sooner and more frequently in general. To his credit, he did pull out Valeri to give others playing time, even though Nagbe was already out. I don’t understand why our homegrown players and T2 promotions are so much weaker than those elsewhere in the league. (I see young guys starting at Dallas, for example.)

      Yet T2 this season has exactly one win and sits comfortably at the bottom of the table. So I probably wouldn’t expect to see a lot of help coming from that quarter, unless one player is standing out dramatically. Ebobisse is not ready for prime time. He was a weak link for the U-20s as well. It seems he is having a difficult time transitioning from college to pro. That happens, it may just be a matter of time.

      And perhaps Porter’s instincts to not sub as quickly were solid in this game. After all, our subs did almost nothing in the game, and we sure noticed a downturn when both Nagbe and Valeri came out.

      I really don’t know.

      Reply
  4. Papez107

    I am starting to wonder about 2 things. One is our fitness as a team. When we won the cup we dominated teams at the end of games. This year you can feel the air go out of our sails and know that an equalizer or game losing goal is about to happen. We have a lot of injuries and we look dead at the end of games. It may be time to get a new fitness coach.
    Two is our defensive coaching. Powell is a great example of a player who is just not getting any better positionally on defense. He still relies entirely on his speed to play defense. If he was smarter positionally he could be a league leading right back. Our T2 defense is similarly deficient in organization and positioning. It’s long overdue to get a really smart defensive coach to train both teams and correct these simple mistakes. I realize that we have been injured on defense but the same mistakes are happening at all levels in this club.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      Through the years, I’ve heard many shouts for #KnowlesOut and honestly wouldn’t complain much if it happened. This is the first I’ve heard #FitnessCoachOut, but I’m not super against the idea. I might go further, though, and say #EntireMedicalStaffOut. I feel this team has WAY too many injuries, year in and year out. Is this due to incompetence? I have no idea. Still, it’s a question worth asking.

      Reply
      1. Roy Gathercoal

        I agree that we should be looking carefully here. I am a big believer in changing practice strategies that end up injuring players regularly. A little hunch somewhere in the vast expanses of my gut tells me that our fascination with measuring every physical bit of an athlete’s body just might be resulting in pushing people beyond their safety zone.

        All the players wear bio monitors and check their vital signs even when they wake up on a “break” day. I wonder whether this resulted in great performance early in the season, but it wore players’ bodies (and spirits) out by the quarter mark. Even athletes need to take a complete break at times.

        But this is just a hunch, based on small bits of tidbits dropped in press conferences and interviews. So I have about 12% confidence that I know what I am talking about here.

        I do know that it seems unlikely the players were fit the first quarter of the season, but somehow became unfit by the half. I really wish I knew what the players thought about their bodies this season. But then again, me knowing probably wouldn’t change a thing.

        Reply
        1. D Mellinger

          Hard to believe that measuring players so much would lead to injury. Everyone concerned knows the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and one would assume the medical staff knows the signs for how hard players can train.

          I can’t offer an alternative explanation though. Are our Injuries that much worse than other MLS teams’?

  5. Roy Gathercoal

    This is a travesty. But not primarily against our Timbers’ supporters finely tuned sense of entitlement. No, this was a gross offense against the beautiful game.

    The Heat.

    (1) The problem is not that Seattle dominated the game. Look, they played at least as poorly as the Timbers. If it hadn’t been for one single gift laid at their feet in the fourth minute of extra time, they would be all pissing and moaning about how awful they played, and we would be far less upset.

    The problem is that for 45 minutes, both teams came out and wandered around the field, whining to the officials, falling at the slightest hint of a breeze (notice Dempsey’s attempts to “draw” a penalty before he got lucky) and generally standing around talking instead of bothering to do what they are paid to do. Sorry. It was hot, and especially so on the turf. But not as hot as most of the summer games at Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Chicago, Columbus or especially not at Atlanta.

    It wasn’t the temps that was the problem, it was the expectation that hot temperatures would make things so much more difficult, thus handing a ready-made excuse to players when they “pace themselves” by standing around when they ought to be playing their position. Maybe it was my jaded way of seeing things (I am cranky, these days) but I didn’t see many players of either team on the veritable edge of exhaustion at the end of this game. I saw a lot that wasn’t “left on the field.”

    The Players

    (2) The problem is also not the skill level of our squad. They were in fine form the last ten minutes of the first half. Making passes, making runs, being where their passing teammates expected them to be, challenging for possession the old-fashioned way–by working at it–rather than by throwing out half-hearted fouls-from-behind because they were not either thinking quickly enough, or willing to put in the extra amount of effort required to make a legitimate challenge by starting in the right place at the right time.

    Thus, adding a new CB is not going to solve anything. And making subs earlier would not have made a difference. The problem is team-wide. We seem to have team-wide “buy-in” but I don’t like what this team has collectively bought in to.

    The Locker Room

    (3) Which brings us to agency.

    Who is responsible for getting the team ready to play?

    Porter says “you can’t coach heart.” Actually, more precisely, he blames it on a lack of leadership from “between the lines.”

    You know, the kind of leadership that Will Johnson provided. The Will Johnson who apparently believed there would be no place for him in the team because we had switched to a single d-mid line up.

    I heartily applaud the patient building of a team of nice guys. Nagbe, Valeri, etc. But one of the things you have to do when building a squad of these decidedly non-Will Johnson kind of players is to find ways they can temporarily overcome their senses of being nice to allow others to cut the line at the supermarket or to not interrupt their teammates at team meetings, so that when they step on the field they play as if their niceness was what was at risk. They need to play as if their kids and wives and moms were on the line.

    Because in a very real sense, they are.

    This can happen with inspirational locker room messages and a strong coach persona. It can happen with a nasty assistant coach taking over at critical moments. It can happen with a pseudo-coach in the form of an established accomplished player “holding his team mates accountable.” It can happen with a strict on-the-field code of conduct (no goofing off because we are here to do a professional job).

    It cannot not happen.

    This is a league that worships at the shrine of parity. Which means you cannot–will not be allowed to–buy or recruit your way to trophies. Just look at Toronto before 2015. How much money spent, for what?

    This is also a league where, rightly or wrongly, a whole lot of players seem to think they can coast for long stretches without it having an impact on their careers. Unlike in Europe where if you take your foot off the gas, you end up playing in Turkey next year, or in South America where if you don’t play with all your heart you will need to literally move because everyone in your hometown will paint you as a war criminal. Because in South America, football IS war.

    So Porter is blaming the lack of leadership on the senior team players. I can’t say I disagree that there is not a serious deficiency here. You can nurture the kind of locker room where excellence is expected without being brutal to players; something other than a cut-throat, back-stabbing, I-will-celebrate-if-you-get-injured-because-it-clears-the-way-for-me kind of culture.

    However. . .

    The Numbers

    (4) As long as the culture of the team is tied to a Modern world view which prizes quantification, along with its corollary “it doesn’t matter if it can’t be measured, and it probably isn’t even real” teams will run into this motivation wall.

    You can’t measure heart, or guts, or will to win. In fact, these are known exactly when a team continues to win even when the numbers say they shouldn’t. No one says “that team had the motivation to win” when it is a varsity playing a second string team. But turn the tables, and have that Junior Varsity team upset the first team. . . “That team had heart!”

    Which means that as long as the gods of the numbers are being worshiped teams will inevitably slide into a focus on doing rather than being. Which is all well and good until you discover that successfully doing is really dependent upon being, and that being comes about as a result of a pattern of doing.

    Which is where culture comes into play.

    My criticism of Porter is not that he “throws players under the bus.” I believe this is just inaccurate. If anything, he seems to err on the side of praising lukewarm performance, while occasionally overlooking truly inspiring efforts.

    Instead, I believe he has so bought in to the 20th century Modern worldview that he believes that analysis and measurement is the magic key that will unlock any dilemma. Sometimes, coach, the most important things cannot be measured, and some times you need to put down the calculator long enough to notice heart.

    The numbers say that the fans at Providence Park ought to be mid-stream in their support of a team with Portland’s record. The numbers say that Providence Park ought to be in the lower half of stadium experiences in US soccer. The numbers say that Kris Boyd ought to have become the Timbers’ all-time scoring leader.
    Numbers don’t lie, but they do obfuscate.

    In this league, in this market, in this geographic location, the Timbers are going to excel only if the numbers are proven wrong. So a team culture that worships the numbers will actually push the team towards mediocrity–where the numbers say we ought to be. The Timbers have shone when they have shone because of heart, not because of overwhelming talent or infinitely deep pockets or a population-rich wealth of home-grown talent.

    Which is exactly why the head coach, who is responsible for setting the tone of the team in its day-to-day existence, must take responsibility for team culture if the team is going to perform better than expected by the numbers. This doesn’t come mainly from between-the-lines. Or more precisely, the “between the lines” leadership is enabled and ennobled by the coaching staff, with support from the front office and ownership.

    It is not going to happen by players looking themselves in the mirror. Most professional athletes have a rather inflated view of how they appear to others.

    The Supporters

    (5) Meanwhile, some have suggested that the best course for supporters is to be the faithful spouse, persevering no matter how wicked the abuse. Others suggest that supporters ought to be the over-demanding parent, in which indications of approval should be hard won. Am I a “fair-weather fan” or simply “unsophisticated?” Do I understand what makes a good team or simply show up because the fan experience makes me feel good?

    Will I be there for the after-game celebrations even when the team pisses away a 2-1 lead to a 10-man opponent?

    What will my sticking it out after an embarrassment of a performance communicate to the team? Will what I do as a fan have any impact on my team at all, or is all this just for my benefit? (How can Dallas be so good with stands only half-filled with half-interested fans? Would they be better or not so good if they had the Timbers’ supporters, or would it matter even one bit?)

    I see the relationship of fans to team as analogous (in a limited way) to a good marriage, or to a healthy parent/child relationship.

    Unconditional love should always be communicated. I will not stop loving you even if you flunk Biology because you skipped class every Friday nor even if you crash the family car when you didn’t have permission to be driving it and chose to drive while drunk from a party you were forbidden to attend. There is absolutely nothing you could possibly do that would cause me to stop loving you.

    It is this love for you that leads me to give even more of myself than this love demands to help you be a better person and more successful at what your heart desires. I also will tire myself into the grave trying to influence what your heart desires, if I think you are headed the wrong way. I will not tell you it was a great job when you didn’t try, but I will always tell you that now it is time to look forward to the next opportunity to shine.

    I will do nothing to dissuade you from trying to better yourself through careful reflection, hard work, and an iron determination. I will not say your performance was great when it was not. I will also not confuse your performance with your person.

    If your tank top makes you look slutty or your lack of personal hygiene will stand in the way of success in this wide wacky wonderful and terribly vindictive world I will tell you so. But not every time we talk.

    I will try to not embarrass you (to a point) and will not ever take joy in your failure, even if it does “teach you a lesson” or “validate what I have been trying to tell you all these years.”

    I will brag about your achievements and defend you before others. I will not claim your work was excellent when it was not, but I will maintain to my death that your poor performance was not the inevitable result of a character flaw.

    There is no single right way to parent, nor one path to being a supportive spouse. To a large part it depends on our relationship, our personalities and our history.

    As a supporter of the Portland Timbers, it is my duty to frankly acknowledge performances below their capabilities in a way that will perhaps them perform more strongly in the future. I will not claim the team is bad or its members anything but praiseworthy as human beings. I will be eager to give the benefit of the doubt.

    Portland Timbers, you have broken my heart this season. You showed early just how good you could be. Over the last month or so you have played with little discipline, erratically, showing less heart than I know you have. Stop it. You are embarrassing yourself. And don’t blame each other. Everyone wearing that uniform or drawing a paycheck shares responsibility.

    You are my team and I am forever green and gold. Please, I beg you, don’t make me embarrassed by this. Just cut it out. I am not asking you to be more than you are, just to care as much as you should.

    The Gatorade

    (6) This might just be something in the league-approved sports drink. It seems that Toronto and Chicago are the only teams consistently performing up to or beyond their capabilities, and I can’t help but wonder if they would be looking so good if more MLS teams were playing in a manner other than shitty.

    After all, it is not that hard to look good when you opponent is not playing the same game, and are the only ones not noticing.

    How could Portland go up in the power rankings after such an abysmal showing in three consecutive games? Because most of the other teams are not doing any bit better.

    Makes me wonder if there is not something that has changed within the larger MLS structure or community that has struck a devastating blow for mediocrity. We should ponder this. After all, I want to enjoy walking football again.

    Reply
    1. John Lawes

      Re: WJ. See my comment above. Will is like God; if you give his fire and aggro credit for the great season in 2013 you have to consider his performance in 2014 as the equivalent of plagues and floods.

      And the Supporters’ Dilemma is a real problem. How do you Love the Sinner but Hate the Shitty Way The Sinner Just Shat the Pitch? I’ll start by saying that we don’t want to go down Pong Boulevard, slagging off on the players as they walk off (with Jack Jewsbury’s face covered in blood, no less…) for not Caring Like We Do. “GWOUT” or “PorterOut” two-sticks seem just lesser forms of the same road to a nasty marital spat. But how does just cheering them on as wildly when they light up a dumpster fire like this one as when they coolly dispatch opponents 4-nil? How do just regular supporters like you and I convey that while we support the team we hate how they’re playing and want to see some genuine concern in the FO and in the coach’s box?

      I honestly have no idea. But I know how I feel right now, and that’s angry and frustrated.

      Reply
      1. Ragua

        “I’ll start by saying that we don’t want to go down Pong Boulevard, slagging off on the players as they walk off (with Jack Jewsbury’s face covered in blood, no less…) for not Caring Like We Do.”

        Thank you for that. That behavior—and the “OG’s” who not only condoned it but defended it—was a far greater travesty than what happened on the pitch at the Cal FC game.

        Reply
        1. John Lawes

          Don’t get me wrong. I was mad, too. If I’d been on that stand I think I’d have stared down at them in cold fury. But Pong hadn’t been out on that pitch for 90 minutes. He hadn’t done anything but lead songs. To claim that the players – and especially Jewsbury, who had knocked heads so hard he’d cut himself open – were jakin’ it? Sorry, but I lost any respect for the TA crowd that did that or defended that.

          After all, you’re a capo? And you don’t know how to sing “We’re crap, and we know we are!” You need to turn in your little megaphone.

          There’s ways and ways to show displeasure. Pong took the dumb way.

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