180 Minutes

Well, that was quite a weekend, wasn’t it?

The second leg of the bizarre three-legged I-5 Corridor Derby (the Cascadia Tripod?) concluded Sunday with the Timbers Reserves holding off the Sounders Reserves for a 3-2 win. The Big Sides, however, played to a 1-1 draw the day before so the issue of Whose Cup will be decided – unfortunately for the Timbers, whose record abroad resembles Italy’s; the army, not the team – in Seattle and Vancouver in October.

I went to both matches, the first with hope and trepidation, the second with a lovely lassitude and pure curiosity (would we see the fabled “Trencito”? We did, more of which in a bit) and my son, who at nine considers a pretzel, cotton candy, and orange soda to provide enough atmosphere to make the reserves at Jeld-Wen Field to be just like watching Brazil.

At any rate, my observations of the matches – in order of date but in other no particular order.

Saturday, 15 SEP 12 POR 1 – 1 SEA

I hoped that the first team would run out with a) energy and b) a tactical plan to carve into the poorly-dressed visitors from the Emerald City.

The first? Yes, and more than yes. The team hustled for the full 90, and showed impressive energy and spark.

The second? Mmmm…not so much.

The problem was that Sigi Schmidt showed his metal as a rotund student of the beautiful game. He’d clearly watched the films and recognized that Portland really has no go-forward options in central midfield other than Darlington Nagbe. Shut down Nagbe and the Timbers are back in SpencerWorld, running up the touchlines. And the pie-gobbling rascal had planned for that too; he knew that if you fronted Franck Songo’o he would turn inside where you could force him to make a poor pass. And Sal Zizzo just had to be smothered. So he set Gonzales to just obstruct Zizzo’s runs long enough for a midfielder to track back and help out. He used his central midfield to harass Nagbe all match. And, sure enough, Franck kept turning the ball into the traffic jam inside and getting his pocket picked.

And I think that he, and the rest of the league, has figured out Dike. The man just doesn’t have a good touch; if you throw a body at him he will cough up the ball, or lay it off, or take a forced, poor shot. Without anyone else to help out up front that was pretty much that.

The backline woes continued, but in something of a minor key. Kimura was beaten soundly by Zakuani several times, but Rodney Wallace played perhaps his best match as a Timber in two seasons (including scoring the equalizer…). He pretty much neutralized Zakuani on the left side, Mosquera and Horst did enough to throttle Johnson, and so, with Alonso and Nagbe wrestling to a draw the only weapon the intruders had as Montero. Sadly for the Green and White Faithful he fired his looping bullet just after Ricketts had gone off (with what appeared to be an arm injury – the very thing I worried about when we traded Troy for him; the fragility of that arm…) and caught a jumped-past-Jake-Gleeson-on-the-keeper-depth-chart-for-some-reason-I-don’t-quite-get Joe Bendik off his line for the initial goal.

Taken altogether I’d have to say that it was a deserved result for both sides. With a passing sneer at the man in the middle, again, honestly, MLS, how bad does the boy Salazar have to be to get assigned to the U-12 development league? His calls really didn’t benefit either side (other than the Chara foul, which I didn’t see as quite as automatically-PK-worthy as many, but your mileage may vary on that question) but it went a long way towards making the match as ragged and ugly as it was for long stretches.

Other than that, I think that Coach Porter needs to look hard at a couple of issues.

1. Communication. I loved the energy and the hustle Saturday. I hated the looking-like-we-played-together-just-the-past-week. How many times did Dike play a through ball to Zizzo…who wasn’t running for it? Three times? Four? Or the “Franck-Songo’o-square-pass-to-nobody”? Hanyer Mosquera marking space while pointing to a nearby unmarked Sounder? I agree we have individual talent out there. I’m not sure why the coaching staff seems unable to make it play as a team.

2. Throw-ins. Are we the worst team in MLS West with throw-ins? It sure seems like it. The secret to gaining possession from the Timbers seems to be to force them to boot it into touch and then wait for the throw; the Timbers will stand there marked into oblivion and then throw it right to you. This doesn’t seem like a difficult play – why do we seem to have such difficulty with it?

The one other thing I wanted to see Saturday was a coaching staff with a tactical plan to attack Seattle; instead it seemed like Gavin (or Sean, or whothehellever is marking the chalkboard now) didn’t really have a notion of where they could find an advantageous matchup. I want to think that these guys can figure out a way to go to the House of Astroturf and stonewall the Sounders for 90 minutes and the away draw.

Seems possible. Let’s see if we can actually DO it, though…

Sunday, 16 SEP 12 POR 3 – 2 SEA

More than 8,000 people showed up for a meaningless reserve match on a lovely sunny Sunday.

Think about that for a moment.

Are we “Soccer City USA”? I think we might be.

The Sunday match was an odd affair, with Portland running out with a side full of unused starters before giving way to the bench players, trialists, and the youngsters. Seattle, on the other hand, fielded mostly their regular team bench until late in the match. The difference showed immediately, as Portland scored an improbable three goals inside fifteen minutes.

One huge factor was the play of Alexander and Alhassan in midfield. In particular the second goal was created by a lovely sliderule pass from Alhassan to Boyd who then chipped Ford in an almost Cantonaesque fashion. Lovely piece of work. The new left back, Ian Hogg, also contributed with a good run that led to the first goal by Mike Fucito.

Kris Boyd…he’s a Sounders killer. Why didn’t we sub him in Saturday..?

Hogg looked decent at left back, making several studly blocks on crosses that should have swelled Gavin’s little Kiwi heart; the man is hard, no error. Several other of the Timbers reserves showed well, including Cam Vickers and young Mitch North, who was thrown into the fire when Jake Gleeson got cleated in the right hand (Are you SURE you want to trade away Troy Perkins, Gav’…never mind…).

Charles Renken came on after halftime and helped settle the midfield defensively.

Brent Richards is looking much tougher on defense that he did at the beginning of the season. He scored a lovely goal, turning on a loose ball in the box and settling it before lashing a rocket past Ford. He also has a terrific throw (remember where I was bitching about throw-ins? This kid should take every one, and anytime we get a throw inside 18 yards of the opponent’s goal he’s almost as good as a corner!) and he can still outjump pretty much anyone else on the pitch. Lots of good stuff there.

Still, the typical Timbers lack-of-communication-and-coordination issues surfaced as the team let off the pressure in the second half and the Sounders’ midfield began to exploit the space between the Boys’ midfield and backline to claw two goals back. And the backline itself looked like a rat-scramble at times. Eric Brunner, while showing why he is so badly missed with the first team, also showed that he’s not really match fit yet, and Futty played his typical 95% steady 5% WTF!? match.

Sigh.

The Little Train?

Clearly the man Valencia has potential. He’s big, for one thing, and he looks comfortable with the ball at his feet. He wants to score, and shows some ability to put the shots where he wants them. He had a brief outing, and his last and only for the season unless everything goes sideways for the Big Side. But he looks like he’s a promising piece of lumber in the overstocked Timbers Forwards Woodshed.

Two matches, two days; one fraught with the tensions of this season, the other, perhaps, a hint of sunnier days ahead.

All that was no matter to my little man who skipped happily, full of soccer and candy and sunshine as we walked back to the car after the match on Sunday. I envied him a little; he has no worries for cups and coaches and coming seasons; when the Timbers win all is good and right with the world, and he can skip along without the cares of those of us who have peered into the abyss at the heart of the game and see it peer back with the face of Freddie Montero.

But, never despair – Onward, Rose City!

Filed by John Lawes


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Stay present

Derby week.

I kind of hate derby week.

I especially hate this one.

There is so much going on. So much vitriol (yes, I totally stole that word from Merritt), so much derision, so much… expectation. The hopes of an entire season rest in this one match.

And I won’t be there.

I’ve struggled with this all week. And I think I’m making the right choice. I know I’m making the right choice. A friend, one of my oldest friends, needs some support and I’m choosing her over the derby. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to be in two places at once but, alas, I’m mortal and I’m needed elsewhere.

“You need to be present where you are.” These are the words one of our elders gives to me when I tell him I won’t be at the match. Be present where you are.

And I give them to you with a few more words: unity, togetherness, family. Those, too, are his words.

So be present in the moment. Remember for me every minute of the match, from two hours before to an hour after. Be present and remember.

Be together. Be united. Be strong and loud and proud and confident. Be an Army. Be the Army that raises this club. Again.

The world will try to tell you that soccer (or football or fitba or whatever you choose to call it) games are won on the pitch and not in the stands but I will tell you otherwise. You impact this game. You influence these players. You can change the run of play. You’ve done it before. You will do it again.

Do it for me. Bring me three points and the Cascadia Cup.


You can read more from Kristen at her blog.

[post_ender]

Rose (City) Colored Glasses

“How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams
With its illusions, aspirations, dreams!
Book of Beginnings, Story without End,
Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend!”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My daughters are Timbers fans. They don’t know why exactly, they’ve never once questioned it, they just are. They come up with their own chants while LARPing around the house in their dress up clothes. They get excited when I coordinate their obnoxiously bright IKEA plates and cups so they each have a green/yellow combo for dinner. The three year old points and says “Daddy, it’s the Timbers game” anytime there is soccer on TV. The six year old happily tricks her four year old Seattleite cousin into saying “Boo Sounders! Go Timbers!” in the presence of his parents. They run around yelling like idiots when the boys in green win, and they give daddy hugs when they find out that they lost (upside to this season: Lots of hugs).

It goes without saying that their love for this team finds not only its roots, but its sunlight and water, from their father’s medium-grade obsession. I make no excuses for it, nor do I have any reservations about planting those saplings (pun intended) and encouraging their growth. I was the one that wrapped in them in a USL-era Timbers onesie in their infancy, I was the one that continues to buy them shirts, scarves and jerseys, I am the one that leads our chant sessions during car rides, and I will be the one standing next to them at every game they attend for the rest of their childhood.

It’s an idyllic time in their young lives in regards to their fledgling interest in sports. No real emotional investment, no lingering feelings of pain and anguish the next day. The highs and the lows of the season barely register for ten seconds, before the next shiny/noisy/pink thing grabs hold of their fickle minds. The amount of suffering they felt after Cal FC was far less than what they got from their last skinned knee, and all they know of a wooden spoon is that it’s in the second drawer from the left, next to the spatulas. In short, on a scale of importance, the trials and tribulations of the mighty PTFC fall somewhere between seeing a butterfly and getting a second helping of ice cream.

The magnitude of their innocence goes beyond measure. It is such a beautiful thing to behold, and during this derby week, I envy their naiveté in ways I can hardly put into words. They know there’s a game this Saturday. They know Daddy and Uncle Bardo are going together to watch it. Past those two facts, their weekend is otherwise filled with coloring books and riding bikes, cartoon marathons and a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. They don’t have to fret over who’s playing left back, nor do they give a rat’s ass about Boyd’s lack of fitness. The term GWOut is meaningless to them. The only bus that affects them is the yellow one that comes once in the morning and once in the afternoon. “Idiots” and “morons” are just words you don’t call others, and they unconditionally love everyone they know in Seattle. The final whistle will blow around 3pm on Saturday, and we might win, we might lose, but either way those two girl’s lives will be only slightly altered for only the fleetest of moments.

What a world to live in. What a sweet and pure way to enjoy this game.

I know this won’t last forever. I know that this life will not be fair to them. I know that there will be a boy that breaks their heart. I know that they will fail miserably at something new they try. I know that someone they call a friend will betray them, and I most certainly know that someday, in some unforeseen and previously unimaginable way, this team will rip their soul to pieces.

But I have hope for my girls. I hope that the break up with that boy will make them stronger, more confident women. I hope that after they fail at something, they get up, dust themselves off, and try even harder. I hope they continue to be the radiant little ladies they are already proving to be and I hope that every punch the Timbers deliver to their gut only strengthens their love and passion for the green and gold.

But more than anything, I really, really, hope that there is no one waiting to give me a hug Saturday afternoon.


You can give Mikkel an e-hug on twitter when he needs one.

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Featured image was taken from Eleventy Ones.

The Masters of the Universe

The Actors:

Jeld-Wen Field as Castle Greyskull

Merritt Paulson as He-Man/Prince Adam

Eric Wynalda as Skeletor

The Setting:

Thy social media beknowst as yon “Twitter”

“He comes, ensconced in flame and seeking the eternal mysteries of the inside of the fortress. It gives some kind of aura of power; it draws him, and calls to anyone who craves the power that resides within that fortress.”

Wait… Hold on a bit…… Too fantastical

“He comes, upon a fire breathing steed, bent upon destruction and the sanctity of his breed.”

Wait… Hold on a bit……Too Dragonforce

“Verily, prithee rest yon eyes upon fingers such as I bite my thumb at thee..”

Wait… Hold on a bit…… Too Shakespeare

This is a play; it is a one stage act, a plot of absurdity hashed out in modern terms with a level of pathos that would intrigue the Greeks. When did this all start? Where did this all start? Is the power of Castle Greyskull so striking that Eric Wynalda cannot resist the temptation?

Let’s recap quickly for those that don’t remember their adolescence or were born after “The Real World” started to air. Depending on which adaptation you follow, Prince Adam (otherwise known as He-MAN) son of King Randor and Queen Marlena (former rulers of the land of Eternia) lives in Castle Greyskull. This castle gives He-Man most of his supernatural abilities and physical powers. He-Man’s enemy is the ever mysterious Skeletor, described as both a “Demon from another dimension” and as well “Prince Adam’s uncle”. Skeletor is hell bent upon obtaining the power within Castle Greyskull for himself. Thus is set up a movie, cartoon series, merchandising line and comic book series with spin offs and discussions galore.

By the way… Dolph Lundgren at one point was involved…. Ask your parents about him.

Your mileage and investment in this particular story may vary and your comparisons (maybe to you the roles are reversed) may vary, but let’s be clear here. This internet conflict between Paulson and Wynalda, whether manufactured or not, has been entertaining as can be.

Paulson and Wynalda both share a bit too many characteristics to let things go and both tend to troll each other with baited words and sharpened comments. Much like He-Man and Skeletor were potentially related based upon which comic book you actually read or which morning TV show you remember.

By the by, the above comparison just made my head explode in a way that may render me incapable of finishing.

But, of course, I carry on for you loyal reader…

The Scene: Twitter

The Thrust: Needing a Job

The Parry: Interview?

Eric Wynalda – “For those who have been speculating- no was the answer in Portland – rumor stops here- no from them- not from me good luck @MerrittPaulson”

In the wilderness of Port-land, a lone man stepped to the parapets of Castle Jeld-Wen and yelled… BY THE POWER OF JELD-WEN (WINDOWS AND DOORS)!!!

Merritt Paulson – “Eric – how can “no” be an answer if you have never even had a conversation let alone an interview? I’m confused here”

The year: 2012

The Date: September 6th

The Thrust: A simple troll’s bait

Eric Wynalda – “Is it just me or does Caleb Porter resemble Lane Kiffin at USC? Lotta similarities there. Or maybe Merritt Paulson reminds me of Al Davis?”

Merritt Paulson – “Should I be worried that Eric Wynalda is obsessed with me? I have had one stalker ex-girlfriend but Eric is crazier than her. #nutjob”

Eric Wynalda – “@MerrittPaulson go ahead a file a restraining order- 972 miles should do. love what you’re doing up there- just stay up there- good luck”

Merritt Paulson – “I feel dirty even dignifying the guy. That’s it from me, Eric. Tweet away and enjoy the attention”

Certainly most of this war of attrition comes from the ability of both participants to love royally trolling the crap out of each other. Much also comes from the ability of both to think quickly and use sharpened words to attempt to injure/entertain each other.

The Scene: Détente

The Emphasis: You didn’t expect this?

The Reason: Just remember that things aren’t always what they appear

Merrit Paulson – “@Wynalda11 nice win last night. see you guys wed.”

Eric Wynalda – “@MerrittPaulson can’t wait. Bringing my son, who is 3, I always tell him “this is what soccer games are supposed to look like” gonna be fun”

This is the interesting give and take between the two, the hate and love, the round and round. Sometimes the banter resembles that of a brotherly rivalry, and sometimes the banter resembles that of a bunch of pissy kids who threw their toys of the room.

The Deal: Oh Valencia….

The Skinny: From Hell’s heart I stab at thee (or at least over a decaf skinny latte)

Eric Wynalda – “Can somebody explain to me how a kid who never practiced once needs surgery, out for a year? uh, medical? Valencia in Portland,”

Merritt Paulson – “I will explain it to you if you can learn to read before tweeting first. Seriously, you are a frickin twitter trainwreck.”

Eric Wynalda, as many of you know, is the talking head pundit of the two, allowed to roundly expound his own information to the minor masses who tune into Fox Soccer. Incidentally, at one point, Wynalda actually used to play soccer professionally. At this point, you would be hard pressed to find many people under the age of 30 who actually remember Eric suiting up next to his teammates for Club or Country. The man has simply replaced his legacy of playing with a legacy of punditry and outspoken statements.

In the end, Paulson has what every owner in MLS has that Wynalda desperately wants… That is… the Keys to Castle Greyskull.

In other words, Merritt Paulson has the ability to grant Eric Wynalda a job as a coach/general manager in Major League Soccer. The fact that Merrit Paulson or any other owner hasn’t “seen the light” and caved to Eric Wynalda’s resume is seen as an affront to that which will work.

What potentially roils Paulson is the ability of Wynalda to hoist the victory of a Wynalda-coached Cal FC team over Paulson’s own Portland Timbers in the US Open Cup. It doesn’t matter that the Timbers had a ridiculous amount of shots and even a penalty kick with which to seal the game, in the end knock out tournament soccer is a game of who won and who lost. On that night, Wynalda won, and Skeletor pranced victorious around the grounds of Castle Greyskull rattling his sword at the seat of He-Man.

Yet this back and forth will probably continue as both parties simultaneously proclaim that they will stop and then cannot resist testing that dagger once more.

The coaching carousel will turn ever more in Major League Soccer and the collective owners of MLS teams will summon their courage and shout “BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL” and Eric Wynalda will sit in his chair silently whispering “The power… will … be…… MINE!”


John Nyen writes for The Shin Guardian (it’s not as weird as this) and he has a twitter (it can be).

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The Defence Rests

After a win last weekend that gave hope – albeit of the remote kind – that the Timbers could make the play-offs, the team did their level best to extinguish those flames in the return fixture against Colorado Rapids as the old road woes returned.

Even though I had my doubts about the home performance against the Rapids, I understood why Wilkinson lined up the same XI again. The team has been pretty settled of late, and while they were getting results it’s hard to argue against sticking with the same formula.

However, the Timbers started slowly and within the first minute the Rapids had hit the post and Timbers fans settled in for the now-familiar bumpy ride.

That initial chances came when Kimura misread a long ball and got caught out. Not the first time Kimura had misjudged things, and won’t be the last. It’s a startling statistic to think that Kimura has played in 11 or the Timbers 27 matches this season (39.3% of total game minutes), yet has been on the pitch as the team has lost 24 of the 46 goals it’s shipped (52.2% of goals lost). It’s a chicken and egg situation – is the defence so much worse because Kimura is there, or did Kimura come in as the defence was already slipping bearing in mind he played under John Spencer only once and so has been here through the shocking run of results under Wilkinson.

I like the Japanese full-back (going forward, mostly) but this is a game he’ll want to forget. A terrible return to his old stomping ground.

The Timbers went 1-0 down early on when Kimura tried to clear the ball with an odd head flick that did nothing but set up the Rapids attacker. With less than 10 minutes played ,the tone had been well and truly set. Indeed, there was a marked difference to how the Timbers approached the first 10 of the home match, compared to here.

In the first match, we were able to get the wingers involved in the final third early on, whereas here we spent much of our time going from side to side with very little forward penetration. It was possession that just kind meandered nowhere in particular.

Any time the Timbers did get into a position to attack the Rapids rearguard, the final ball was invariably lacking in quality.

Up top, Dike was having a hard time getting involved in the play, often having to come deep to get a touch. His running, which had been an asset in previous matches, wasn’t up to the standard here as he seemed to make the wrong choice more often than not.

He tries to run in behind the defender, which is admirable, but you can see quite clearly that Dike would have to thread the ball through the eye of a needle to get it to him. The better decision would’ve been to offer himself up for a ball to feet, and link the play, or to go the other way and try to create a space for Nagbe to drive towards.

Toiling in attack, the Timbers were looking decidedly shaky at the back. Kimura looked rattled after the initial five minutes, and never seemed to recover (how he made it full-time, let alone half time, I can’t explain other than Wilkinson really didn’t trust Kawulok) while the midfield were allowing the Rapids too much room to put passes together.

The Rapids 2nd goal was a fine example of the midfield failing to do it’s defensive work.

At each point along, you can see how much space the Rapids players have to pass or cross. Songo’o perhaps should’ve got across to close the cross down a bit sooner after Smith was dragged away by the intelligent outside run. Kimura lets his man get away from him, and neither of the defenders is quick enough to react to the rebound.

The second half followed much the same formula as the first. Wilkinson decided against any changes at half-time as presumably he was loving the possession, a fact he brought up in a post-match interview as a source of pride as we’d kept the Rapids to only 50.6% of the play instead of the 60% they had when we last visited. I’m sure the Rapids were crying into the pillows that night as they lost that crucial 9.4% of possession that meant they could only equal the 3-0 scoreline, while restricting us to fewer shots on target, stats fans.

In a way, beating Colorado in Portland may have been the worst thing that could’ve happened as it lulled the team into a false sense of security. I felt we were very fortunate to get a win out of them, and said on twitter before the match that my fear was that the Rapids wouldn’t miss the kind of chances they did last week again.

Still, I’m sure that the coaching staff would take that on board and change it up for this match. Nope? Still, they’d definitely change it at half-time when we were 2-0 down and toiling badly. Right?

The change did finally come midway through the second half when the Ghost of John Spencer made a like-for-like change in throwing on Kris Boyd for the ineffectual Bright Dike. Dike had missed a glorious chance earlier when he blazed a deep cross from Zizzo high over the bar. It was the first time we’d really managed to work that ball down the channel inside the full-back, with Zizzo – the team’s best, and some might say only, performer on the night – scampering to reach Kimura’s pass at the byline.

On another night, Dike would’ve blazed the ball into the night and fans would’ve been raving about his performance once again, but such are the margins a striker works with that he misses it and is hauled off soon after.

Boyd had a cameo role in the Timbers best chance of the night.

It was well worked, and came out of nothing, right up until the finish from Chara who showed why he’s more the guy you want giving the ball to the goalscorer, than trying to be one. Had that gone in, it might’ve set up an exciting end to the match, but it didn’t. Wilkinson as good as threw up his hands and gave up, chucking on every striker who happened to cross his eye line in some mad scientist attempt to conjure up a goal without seemingly having any idea how that would happen.

The Rapids nabbed a third when a deep corner saw Jewsbury lose his man, the ball was nodded back across and Kimura was bullied out of the way, with Castrillon’s header slipping through Ricketts.

Another frustrating night and the play-off dream is as dead as the look in Michele Bachman’s cold, shark-like eyes. In attack we were lifeless and flaccid – Franck Songo’o was largely anonymous and Nagbe struggled to make his presence felt through the centre – and in defence, well, there is no defence.

Kimura had a shocker, that’s for sure, but none of the defensive line really emerge with much credit from a bad night at the office. The breakdown of this defence was, for me, summed up in one little moment in the second half.

This little passage of play is indicative of the kind of sloppy errors we’re making the back, time and again. What David Horst hopes to achieve here, I’m at a loss to explain. Presumably he wants Smith to follow Akpan so he can, what, close the ball down or go mark Castrillon? But closing down the ball is Jewsbury’s job, and Smith has enough on his plate with Horst having a brainstorm beside him. As it is, Horst kind meanders into space, does nothing, and the ball is simply knocked in behind him, leading to a good chance to score.

The lack of communication is shocking at times, and here we have a defender who doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing. And this breakdown from a back four that have played together more than any of the other 20-plus configurations we’ve seen this season.

And yet, despite that almost 10 hours of game time, as well as countless hours on the training pitch, they still play like they only just met in the tunnel before the match.

It seems that, with these four, Wilkinson has (for now) settled on his defence. Continuity is important, especially in a defence where split second timing can be crucial, in stepping forward to spring an offside trap for instance. The fact is though, for me, this defence looks no better now than in their first match together. The same mistakes kept being made, and by the same people.

Looking at the central pairing, there have been five configurations. Horst/Mosquera has been used most often (855 minutes) with Brunner/Mosquera 2nd on 519 minutes. Danso with Mosquera or Horst both log 360 minutes, and Brunner/Jean-Baptiste is on 336 minutes.

As you can see, Brunner/Mosquera has been the most steady central pairing, and one can only speculate as to how the season may have unfolded had Brunner remained injury free. As for the “worst” pairings.. Well, they share one common factor. David Horst.

I love his heart and passion, but I question his defensive “brain”. Too often he switches off, or makes the wrong choice and we’re not a team that are going to outscore opponents 4-3. We can’t afford liabilities at the back.

No doubt the injury to Brunner has forced the coaching team’s hand. Danso, it seems, has paid the price for his part in the 5-0 drubbing in Dallas, presumably because someone had to be punished for that. And yet, in his three matches with Mosquera, other than the Dallas debacle, he helped keep two clean sheets, with the defense leaking a single goal over 270 minutes of play. Again, taking that 5-0 result out of the records, when Danso was in the defence, the team lost a goal (on average) every 70 minutes – better than any other central defenders’ figures (Brunner 61, Jean-Baptiste 56, Mosquera 54, Horst 47).

A similar thing happened to Horst after the 5-3 loss to LA, but Danso hasn’t been able to find his way out from under the bus since Frisco as Horst holds on to his place in the team. With Brunner’s appearance on the bench, it would seem like Horst’s time is up any game now, but it’s still perplexing to me why Danso has paid such a high price for a bad game, while Horst is a continued source of anxiety in defence.

Meanwhile, Jean-Baptiste has returned from a loan spell and can’t get a look in. I liked how he shaped up earlier in the season. He’s raw, there’s no doubt, but he need to play to smooth those ragged edges down.

I worry that his time out may have mythologised Brunner’s talents, as there is a habit for fans to inflate the abilities of those that aren’t playing. Regardless, we need him back, as much for Hanyer Mosquera’s well-being as anything else!

I’m sure that, for all his credentials as an attack-minded coach, Caleb Porter will be making sorting out the defence a priority in the off season. Until we can be confident about what’s behind us, we can be sure in going forward.

The Timbers have a weekend off to mull this result over before picking themselves back up for the visit of the mob from up the road. Cascadia Cup glory beckons.

#RCTID


[post_ender]

The thing about football…

As the season drags on, with every minute of every miserable match, I get just a little closer to having my Chris Cooper Moment.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

Check this out.

I was there for that match. I wasn’t sitting very far from where Chris had his moment of clarity. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s shaped a lot of how I’ve viewed this season.

Despite what you may think if you only know me from my online persona, I’m not a super-emotional person. I don’t get crazy-excited about many things. I’m not incredibly demonstrative. I’m shy, I tend to keep to myself. For the most part, if I can possibly avoid the spotlight, I do everything in my power to do so.

And yet, here I am, pouring out words and emotion onto the internet for the world to see.

I watched the game tonight from a bar in SE Portland, a bar I’ve never been to when there wasn’t a soccer game on the big screen over the dining room. I sat at a table with people I didn’t know two years ago and I shouted at the tv more than once. In a bar. With strangers.

At my table were two other writers, a winemaker and an elementary school teacher. In various corners of the room were a 107ist board member, the founder of the Timbers Army, a girl I used to work with, and a guy who said some ridiculous things about me elsewhere on the internet.

We unite to support this team. We suffer as one.

I’ve been asked by non-Timbers friends why I put myself through all of this.

Simple.

I can’t remember what my life was like before I found myself in the midst of all of this, this whirling, churning tornado of hopes and dreams and frustration and insanity.

The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

– Terry Pratchett

That’s the thing. Terry Pratchett, who I do not in any way associate with soccer, hit the nail on the head. It’s not just about the game. It’s about everything surrounding the game. It’s about the relationships formed, friendships created through mutual celebration or mutual frustration.

And this. This is where a lot of us have spent most of the season:

Yes, yes, I know all the jokes…But I went to Chelsea and to Tottenham and to Rangers, and saw the same thing: that the natural state of a football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.

– Nick Hornby

And, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t trade a minute of that bitter disappointment for a minute of peaceful, blissful unawareness.

I just got a message from an internet friend in a city to the north, a city I’ve come to think of as a stronghold of the enemy, asking if I’m okay.

“I’ll be okay,” I tell him. “I’m an emotional creature. Rather, this miserable game has made me an emotional creature. It has changed me. For the better.”


You can read more from nomad at her blog.

[post_ender]

Still Dreaming

Victory against the Rapids took the Timbers out of the basement for the first time in what was in reality only a short while but felt so, so much longer. The recent turnaround in play and, crucially, results (I haven’t checked possession and shot stats, sorry) is sowing seeds of hope for 2013 when Caleb Porter will descend from on high – sorry, Ohio – to take over head coach duties.

A casual glance at the standings show that the Timbers are only 10 points behind Vancouver Whitecaps, and have played two fewer matches than our Canuck cousins. 10 points. 2 games. Do we really have to wait till 2013 for the good times to roll…?

I took the recent form of all the teams in the West (over the last six matches) and plugged it into the table to extrapolate how the season may finish.

[table “3” not found /]

If you tighten it to the last five matches, the Timbers have the same points but Dallas leapfrog Whitecaps 43-40, so 44 is still the “magic number”.

It doesn’t look good for the Timbers’ play-off chances, but then if things simply run according to “form” we could all pack up already. Still, I do think that if the Timbers were to pull off the unlikeliest play-off run in recent memory, they would have to win at least 5 of their last 8 matches.

The two teams fighting it out for that 5th spot currently are Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas. For RSL, LA and Seattle the rest of the season will see them jostling for 2nd-4th while San Jose seek out their first Supporters’ Shield since 2005 with the cold-blooded determination of Walter White planning an expansion in territory.

Any Chivas fans reading this will, of course, first of all be wondering how the hell they ended up here, but secondly asking, “What about us? We’ve one more point than the Timbers, and we’ve played a game less!” To which I would reply, “Oh hey, Chivas, yeah, I, uh, I didn’t see you skulking about there. Um, yeah, this is awkward, you see, the thing is, no-one really cares about you. You should go and stand over there by New England cos he looks pretty lonely. Sorry, bro.”

Breaking down the run-in’s of Dallas and Vancouver, it’s clear that the advantage lies with the Canadian side. Of their final six matches, four are at home while Dallas hit the road for 3 of their last 5. To return to form tables, if both clubs were to hold up their respective home and away form the Whitecaps would end on 45 points to Dallas’ 37, but the Whitecaps would need to halt an alarming slide that has seen them lose their last four matches.

The Whitecaps and Dallas will meet in a couple of weeks in Texas for a proverbial “six pointer”. Portland will visit Vancouver in October in a match that will either mean everything or nothing, in play-off terms at least.

So let’s assume Dallas beat Vancouver, which there’s a good chance they will do. They then hit the road from three matches on the west coast, playing San Jose, Chivas and Seattle. You would expect San Jose and Seattle to win, and Chivas’ home form (the last couple of matches aside) has been decent so a loss there isn’t inconceivable, but let’s be charitable and give Dallas a point against LA’s Other Team. They would then host Chivas on the last day, and I’d fancy them to win that one, giving them 7 points and a final tally of 40.

If the Whitecaps were to lose both matches against Dallas and the Timbers, that would leave them 4 matches to pick up the points to overhaul Dallas (let’s say 4, to reach 41) as well as keep Portland in their rear view mirror. Those four games are at home to Colorado, Seattle and Chivas, and away to RSL. I’d back them to lose at RSL, so let’s narrow it down to three games. Colorado’s away record is abject, so the Whitecaps must pick up 3 there. Chivas aren’t the greatest travellers, but they can grind out a draw with the best/worst/most tedious of them. There’s the ‘Caps 4 points. Which leaves Seattle.

The Sounders are all over any faint play-off hopes the Timbers have. They play both Dallas and Vancouver, and there are two matches against the Timbers to come this year, beginning a week on Saturday when the Sounders return to Jeld-Wen Field.

If the Timbers are to have any hopes of turning the season around, they need other teams to help out and that means Seattle. I already have Seattle beating Dallas, and here I have them drawing with Vancouver. Sounders losses in both, or either, circumstance could put take the matter well out of Portland’s hands. It’s as uncomfortable as having a jaggy nettle thong riding up your sheugh to be in any way relying on them, but if the Timbers are to snaffle 5th place we’d need the Sounders to do their job.

So, by my very rough and ready reckoning, I have Dallas on 40 and Vancouver in 5th on 42. Not too far removed from the form table above. With Portland Timbers currently on 27 points, it’s still a five-win minimum required. [Or 4 and three draws – A Pedant]

What are the chances of the Timbers pulling it off?

Match 1 – @ Colorado

The Timbers just beat the Rapids, stringing together two wins for the first time in almost exactly a year. The Timbers haven’t yet won three-in-a-row in MLS, and are without a road win this year, but this is one they simply have to win. Draw or defeat here takes play-off talk that is already stretching credibility and shifts it towards Scientology-levels of couch-jumping batshittery. It’ll be a tough match, but the Timbers can do it. Win

Match 2 – vs Seattle

A win would not only propel them forward in the play-off hunt, it would secure the Cascadia Cup for 2012. A home match against your rivals doesn’t need any more hype, but if the Timbers can pull of a repeat of the earlier victory at Jeld-Wen then that would be 2 wins down, 3 to go. Win

Match 3 – @ San Jose

Ha. Well. Yeah. This is where things get tricky. The Earthquakes have been imperious at home with 6 wins in their last 7, and an unbeaten run of 12. They’ve managed to score 4 or more at home on 5 occasions so, even though the Timbers beat them earlier this season, I don’t think you’ll find many tipping them to leave Buck Shaw with so much as a point. Loss

Match 4 – @ RSL

We follow up arguably our toughest trip with another from Brick McShithouse’s Bumper Book of Hard Grounds. Though RSL haven’t hit the heights they have in previous years, it’s still not easy to pick up points there. Clean sheets in 3 of their last 5 matches indicate that any potential Timbers success there will have to be founded on an immense defensive performance. So, yeah, a point would be a good result here, but that’s not a win… Draw

Match 5 – vs DC

Back to Portland for the visit of DC United, and another must-win-if-there-is-even-the-slightest-of-slight-hopes match. DC don’t travel well – losing their last six road matches prior to their upcoming match against Philly – and have only won once in their last 6 trips to the West Coast, and that was last year. A draw here would be two points catastrophically dropped. Win

Match 6 – @ Seattle

Assuming the Timbers had won 3 of their last 5, and other results had favoured them, we would travel up the I-5 as Cascadia Cup champs and with a play-off spot firmly in our sights. You can bet your #GWOut two-stick that the Sounders would love nothing more than to be the team that killed that dream off. The usual derby clichés apply – “form out of the window” and so forth. The Sounders have the best home defence in the West and we ain’t exactly banging them in on the road. Dispassionately you could say a draw would be a good result, however nothing but victory will do in a match like this. Win/Draw

Match 7 – @ Vancouver

Another Cascadian battle, and one that I’ve already said could be decisive. With 3, potentially 4, wins till now, this could be hugely important in the chase for 5th place. I like how we match up against Vancouver, and if we had the kind of momentum behinds us that a play-off charge would bring, I’d fancy us to win here. Win

Match 8 – vs San Jose

The season ends with the visit of San Jose. There is a good chance that San Jose could have the conference title sewn up by the time they visit, but a potential push for the Supporters Shield will ensure a tough match as well as simply wanting to keep up momentum for the play-offs. Though the Earthquakes have lost three of their last four road matches, their overall records isn’t bad. I’d hate to go into this match needing a win, but as I said earlier, we have done it before. Draw/Loss

Clearly the chances of reaching the post-season are slim. They’d have to do something they haven’t done all year – win on the road – at least twice, but the last couple of road matches have shown signs that it’s not beyond believable that they could. Of course, this whole article could be moot, and the subject of retrospective amusement, over come Thursday morning, and it would remain that precarious all the way through the run-in where a single misstep would kill us off.

But then what is football without dreams, or without hope? Just a bunch of guys kicking a ball about a field. So I say screw that, the Timbers still have a dream, and for so long as cruel reality doesn’t kick me awake, so do I.

#RCTID


The featured image for this post is from Timbers Army.org

[post_ender]

Win Ugly

Timbers Starting Line-up:

Ricketts; Smith Mosquera Horst Kimura; Jewsbury Chara; Songoo Nagbe Zizzo; Dike

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: I do not posses the technically ability to give you the stop motion pictures with graphics that Kevin expertly uses to point out the key moments in the match. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to actually do that so I apologize in advance for the lack of graphical analysis you have become used to from Slide Rule Pass.

The game started with the Timbers in their now familiar (under Coach Wilkinson) 4-3-3 (it really is a 4-2-3-1) with Jewsbury sitting deep and Chara back from suspension roving in front of him. Nagbe once again slotted in his “trequarista” role that has seen him net 3 goals in the last 3 matches.

By now everyone knows what happened in the match so I will forgo a detailed match report.

In summary, the first half was a fairly even affair punctuated by two fine saves from Colorado’s Goalkeeper Matt Pickens and some chippy midfield play from both sides that saw Timbers defender Steven Smith carded for a challenge on Brian Mullan that caused Mullan to leave the match at half time.

The game sprung to life late in the first half with an excellent flowing counter-attack by the Timbers and in 4 passes from front to back the Timbers Army faithful were watching Bright Dike flip (literally) for joy after depositing his second goal in three matches. A minute later, Nagbe should have had his fourth in as many games but for once his control let him down after a sublime through ball from Songo’o.

The second half started as a tense, physical affair with little in the way of direct scoring chances until Jewsbury sent a rocket from 35 yards out that Pickens spectacularly saved. The Rapids pushed hard for an equalizer late on and in the 85th minute Omar Cummings really should have equalized on a open header but thankfully his effort slipped wide of Ricketts post.

Match Analysis

This is the type of match the Timbers would have lost or tied earlier this year.

Was it particularly pretty win? Nope. Were the Timbers out played for long stretches of the second half? Yes. Should the Rapids have scored in the 2nd half? Yes

But the Timbers did what it took to win and that is something we couldn’t have said earlier this year. Watching this match it is clear the difference in what Wilkinson is trying to do as opposed to Spencer. Under Spencer and his 4-4-2 system, the goal was to move possession through the midfield get it wide and then get to the byline for a cross.

What we see in this 4-2-3-1 under Wilkinson are two key changes:

1) The ball still gets sent wide but the wide player looks to cut back and look for an early ball into the middle around 30-40 yards to a Nagbe or Chara. Only then do they then take the ball to the byline.

2) Defenders are clearly under instructions to hit early long diagonal balls out of the back to the opposite side midfielder. When executed, this has the benefit of quickly changing the point of attack and opens the middle for players like Nagbe. When not executed well it leads to a counter attack for the opposing team.

Football/Soccer is a team sport. But it is often a collection of individual battles throughout the pitch that determine the result. Lets take a look at a few.

Martin Rivera vs Jack Jewsbury: Rivera is clearly the creative heart of the Rapids. And he found joy all night in the Timbers final third. Jewsbury tried his best but Rivera had his number all night. Advantage Rivera.

Conor Casey vs David Horst: There is nothing subtle about either of these guys. They are physical players who enjoy the battle. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Horst but assisted by Mosquera he won this battle and Casey was kept silent. Advantage Horst.

Darlington Nagbe vs Hendry Thomas: Did Nagbe score this match? Nope. But he was once again the most talented and dangerous Timber out there. He went head to head with Thomas who was starting his first match after coming over from Wigan and Nagbe had Thomas on his heels all night. Advantage Nagbe.

Sal Zizzo vs Tyson Wahl: Wahl is really really hoping his name is not on the starting team sheet Wednesday. That is how bad Zizzo owned him. Advantage Zizzo.

Finnegan’s Five:

1) Bright Dike: Okay this is going to be unpopular but Bright Dike really isn’t that good of a footballer. He’s a great guy who works his socks off and I badly want him to succeed…. but the quality just isn’t there folks. You can see why he is preferred to Boyd in Gavin’s system. This 4-2-3-1 requires a mobile forward who will make diagonal runs to drag central defenders out of the middle and open up room for Nagbe/Chara to fill that space. But his touch is abysmal and we can’t confuse hustle for playing intelligent football.

2) Frank Songo’o: Can you imagine how much MORE dominating Songo’o would be if he did more of what we saw in 1st half stoppage pass to Nagbe: get rid of the ball faster. Too many times Songo’o chooses to take that 3rd and 4th touch. Sure it’s dazzling and fun to watch him clown a defender but he needs to pass when his team mates are actually open.

3) Sal Zizzo: Fantastic night for Zizzo. He truly looks recovered from his knee surgery. I often times call Sal a poor man’s Theo Walcott. And like Theo, Sal struggles with consistency. If he can figure it out how to replicate Friday on the regular, we are going to be eating meatball subs from Zizzo’s FC for years to come.

4) Donovan Ricketts: If you want to know what a great goalkeeping performance looks like, re-watch Matt Pickens from Friday night. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with Ricketts. From the 5 unforced distribution errors to his slowness off his line to his penchant for “poster saves”. I had the fortune of playing goalkeeper through college and beyond so I watch keepers closely. My college keeper coach used to drill into us all the time: “The greatest goalkeepers rarely make spectacular saves”. What he meant by that is that 90% of goalkeeping is anticipation, footwork and positioning. Three things that were lacking in Ricketts performance Friday night. His absurd “diving” save in the 17th minute where he left his feet and palmed it right into the danger zone is a prime example of this.

5) Hanyer Mosquera: Mosquera is such a quietly efficient defender. It really takes re-watching a match to appreciate all that he does back there. One of the true bright spots in a tough season.


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