NWSL College Draft to Take Place on Friday, Jan. 18

The National Women’s Soccer League announced a college draft will take place on Friday, January 18th at the NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis.

A total of 32 players will be selected in the four round draft. Only players who completed their college eligibility in 2012 will be available for selection in the draft. Players who have been out of college for more than a year, or former players in previous leagues, will be considered free agents. Signing of free agents will take place during a specific window of time, yet to be determined.

The announcement didn’t include any news on the allocation of U.S, Canadian and Mexican National Team players.

Full press release:

CHICAGO (Dec, 21, 2012) – The first National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft will take place on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, at the NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis.

The draft will consist of four rounds and the order will be determined by a blind draw. Once the order is set, the draft will be conducted in a “snake” format (i.e. the teams will select 1-8 in the first round, 8-1 in the second round, 1-8 in the third round and 8-1 in the fourth round). Teams will have a specific amount of time to make their picks in each round. A total of 32 players will be selected.

Players who completed their collegiate eligibility in 2012 can be selected in the 2013 NWSL College Draft. Those players who have been out of college for a year or more, are former professional players, or are currently playing overseas and are out of contract, are considered free agents. Teams will be allowed to sign free agents during a specific window of time, which will be determined soon. The U.S., Canadian and Mexican National Team players will be allocated to clubs at a date to be determined.

The start time of the draft will be announced in the near future, but fans will be able to follow the draft on Twitter @NWSL, through the league’s Facebook page and on the league’s yet-to-be launched website.

The draft is not open to the public or media, but following the draft, representatives from all eight clubs will be made available. The time and location for that event will also be announced in the near future.

“The forming of rosters is always an exciting part for teams and fans and an important step for our new league,” said NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey. “There are some extremely talented young players coming out of college this year and we are thrilled that there will be an environment for them to continue to grow as players and showcase themselves for international call-ups in the future.”

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is an eight-team league organized and administered by the U.S. Soccer Federation that will begin play in the spring of 2013. U.S. Soccer will subsidize the salaries of up to 24 U.S. Women’s National Team players while the Canadian Soccer Association will do the same for up to 16 Canadian players and the Federation of Mexican Football will do the same for up to 16 Mexican players. The eight founding clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC (New York/New Jersey), Seattle Reign FC, the Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash.


Thorns FC name Cindy Parlow Cone as head coach

Photo: Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletic Comm.

Portland Thorns FC today named Cindy Parlow Cone, 34, one of the all-time leading scorers from the U.S. Women’s National Team, their first head coach for the inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

While this is Parlow Cone’s first professional head coaching job, she definitely brings an impressive pedigree and potential to Thorns FC.

Playing Career
– Parlow Cone recorded 68 goals and 53 assists during her collegiate career at the University of North Carolina (1995-98), and is one of 10 players in the program’s history to record 40 or more goals and assists in a career.
– 158 matches as a forward (75 goals and 35 assists) with the U.S. Women’s National Team (1996-2004) which included a 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship and gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympic games.
– Parlow Cone played in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) for three seasons with the Atlanta Beat from 2001-03, leading the team to the postseason each season.

– Parlow Cone earned All-American honors all four years at UNC, won the Hermann Trophy in 1997 and 1998 as the nation’s top player and led the Tar Heels to back-to-back national titles in 1996 and 1997.
– Named the U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year in 1998.
– Member of the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team which was named Sports Illustrated’s 1999 Athlete of the Year.
– Inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.

– Parlow Cone holds a USSF “A” License and has participated in a FIFA Futuro III course.
– For the past six years, she has served as an assistant coach for the women’s soccer program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, helping guide the team to national championships in 2009 and 2012.
– Also over the same time, Parlow Cone was the Director of Coaching for Senior Girls Programs (U-15 to U-18) at Triangle United Soccer Association in Chapel Hill, N.C.
– Served as a member of the U.S. U-14 and U-15 Girls National Team coaching staffs since 2010.

“It is very exciting to be part of a new women’s league and to be a part of launching a new professional team in Portland. I’ve seen first-hand the great enthusiasm Portland has for soccer; it’s a soccer-smart fan base that generates an incredible atmosphere. I am very much looking forward to the first season of Thorns FC.” – Cindy Parlow Cone

Now that a head coach has been named, next up for Thorns FC and the rest of the clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will be the announcement of the league schedule as well as the allocation of national team players.

We’ll have more news as it’s announced. What do you think of today’s Thorns FC news? Do you see Parlow Cone’s connections with the University of North Carolina as another positive for the club?


Under Construction

The second stage of the Re-Entry Draft passed with the Timbers again declining to select anyone, to little surprise. It was left to Real Salt Lake to raise eyebrows when they selected Lovel Palmer.

There’s no doubting that Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey have shown an ability in the past to build good squads but, as they rebuild their team after a less-than stellar 2012 (sound familiar?), this is still a move that causes me some head scratching. There were occasional games and flashes of the kind of player Palmer could be (mostly for Jamaica), but these were vastly outweighed by ineffectual and downright bad performances that earned him the “facepalmer” nickname among some fans. Perhaps Jason Kreis is just the man to wheedle some kind of consistency from Palmer after a frustrating spell in Portland. Anyway, let the countdown begin to the inevitable 45 yard screamer into the top corner the first time the Timbers visit Rio Tinto.

Following the recent moves, and the re-signing of Danny Mwanga, it leaves the roster looking something like this:

# Pos Player Name Age Country
21 M Diego Chara 26 Colombia
9 F Kris Boyd 29 Scotland
D Michael Harrington 26 USA
12 D David Horst 27 USA
35 D Andrew Jean-Baptiste 20 USA
8 M Franck Songo'o 25 Cameroon
13 D/M Jack Jewsbury 31 USA
M Will Johnson 25 Canada
24 F Sebastián Rincón 18 Colombia
33 D Hanyer Mosquera 25 Colombia
1 GK Donovan Ricketts 35 Jamaica
6 M/F Darlington Nagbe 22 Liberia
17 M Eric Alexander 24 USA
11 M Kalif Alhassan 22 Ghana
GK Milos Kocic 27 Serbia
98 D Mamadou "Futty" Danso 29 The Gambia
19 F Bright Dike 25 USA
90 GK Jake Gleeson 22 New Zealand
18 D Ryan Kawulok 22 USA
27 D Chris Taylor 23 USA
22 D/M Rodney Wallace 24 Costa Rica
7 M Sal Zizzo 25 USA
16 M/F Brent Richards 22 USA
F Ryan Johnson 28 Jamaica
10 F Danny Mwanga 21 DR Congo
20 F Jose Adolfo Valencia 20 Colombia
2 F Mike Fucito 26 USA

With the Timbers having traded away all their picks in the 2013 SuperDraft – an interesting development considering Caleb Porter would be the one head coach in MLS who’d be best placed to judge the quality of the crop of players coming through this year – any further moves are likely to be players coming into the league from abroad, or further intra-MLS trades.

Portland Timbers Depth Chart 2013

Looking at the current depth chart, there are a few things that stand out. One, we’ve got loads of strikers. Like, tons. If, as we suspect, we’re going to be playing with one guy in the middle, it’s very likely we’ll see at least a couple of these guys gone by the time First Kick rolls around.

Rumour still swirls around the future of Kris Boyd, with the bastion of journalistic integrity, The Sun, reporting that Boyd is set to be axed by the Timbers. Nottingham Forest, where Boyd had a fairly productive loan spell, have been linked with the Scot and they would certainly fit the bill as the sort of club I’d expect him to go to – Championship, fringes of the play-offs, looking for that extra little push to put them over the line. We’ll see what happens there.

Gavin Wilkinson, deflecting rumours about the club being interested in signing Mikkel Diskerud, did confirm that the Timbers were actively seeking to bring in a creative, attacking midfielder. A look at the depth chart shows that the Timbers do lack that creative guile through the middle, so it certainly makes sense that it’s there that the Timbers are looking to add to.

Yesterday Merritt Paulson echoed his General Manager in confirming the club were actively pursuing an attacking midfielder.

Two areas where GW/CP still want to make additions: creative mid and right back. Goal is to have all spots filled by start of pre-season

There is a real dearth of options at right back currently. Palmer and Kosuke Kimura have both departed leaving Ryan Kawulok, who hasn’t been given his chance yet, and Jack Jewsbury, as well as Michael Harrington who could fill in on either side. Paulson’s tweet would seem to indicate that Jewsbury is no more than a depth option at right back, which makes sense to me as I think his lack of pace would leave the side vulnerable, but it once more feeds into the insecurity around Jewsbury’s spot on the team.

Stumptown Footy recently had a piece on Wilkinson talking to both Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley, two players that the Timbers hold the MLS rights to, with the strong suggestion that at least one of the two is an immediate target.

Findley has struggled in Europe since leaving RSL at the end of the 2010 MLS season. He hasn’t scored for Nottingham Forest (them again) since February 2012 and a loan spell at League Two side Gillingham ended after a month, with a sum total of 243 minutes on the pitch, one league start and more yellow cards than goals (1-0). A common refrain from Forest fans about Findley is that he is a striker who seems to be utterly bereft of confidence, and a return to the States may be just the thing to get him back on track as he’s unlikely to break into the Forest team any time soon.

Bornstein’s move to Mexico hasn’t been terribly fruitful for the US international, and Tigres seem to be making another effort to move him on. Of the two, Bornstein would seem like the more logical “get” at this point. We’re practically tripping over strikers at the moment, and I’m not sure we need to be taking on a drastic rehab case like Findley on top of everything else 2013 will bring. Bornstein could add depth to midfield and at left-back (perhaps pushing Harrington to right back). Again, we’ll see what, if anything, happens there.

Someone definitely arriving in Portland very soon is Caleb Porter. The new head coach bid farewell to Akron, and can now give his full attention to the Timbers as pre-season looms every bigger on the horizon.

O Captain, My Captain

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

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

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

What about Captain Jack?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[cardoza_wp_poll id=2]

Official: Portland women named Portland Thorns FC

After weeks of anticipation, the new Portland women’s team finally has a name: Portland Thorns FC.

The Thorns FC crest was created by Portland artist Brent Diskin, an ardent local soccer supporter and member of the Timbers Army.

“Portland Thorns FC quickly emerged as a natural choice that was appropriate for the city and the culture of Soccer City, USA,” said Merritt Paulson, owner and president of the Timbers and Thorns FC. “And a nice side benefit of the name is the Army’s P-T-F-C chant doesn’t need much re-scripting for the women’s team.”

With some help of their friends from Girls, Inc., Thorns FC showed off their new logo and name in the video below.

In conjunction with today’s announcement, Thorns FC introduced the club’s official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/PortlandThornsFC).

The unveiling begins

While Thursday is slated as the official announcement of the the Portland women’s soccer team name and logo, the Portland Timbers are providing fans some clues on their Facebook page.

Here are the first three clues:

I love how the unveiling includes young girls from  Girls Inc. of NW Oregon holding the pieces of the new logo. Kudos to the Portland organization on involving the local community in not only the logo design itself, but especially involving these youth in the unveiling.

Girls Inc. of NW Oregon is partner in the Portland Timbers Stand Together program. Their mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold through life-changing programs and experiences that help girls navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

To follow the clues, visit the Timbers Facebook at: www.facebook.com/portlandtimbers




The Aesthetics

Football has no place within the much debated world of aesthetics.

Actually, this could be considered a faulty or incorrect statement. Let’s try it again.

Football exists very tenuously within the realm of aesthetics.

Books have been written about this, columns have been written about this, tomes by intelligent men and women exist on the ideals of football.

Where does the abstraction of the team fall between the idealistic vision of “The beautiful game” and the current vision of what it takes to win in MLS?

The vision currently is thus, while MLS has taken strides towards an existence within the realm of the 4-3-3, the tempo pass, the creative midfielder, it still exists within the proposal of the 4-4-2, or (providence forbid) the Catenaccio. While certainly not many, or really any teams in MLS play with a full sweeper behind the back four, overload one side (preferably the right) push up the field and attempt to cynically disrupt the offense to counter attack, there is a certain current methodology towards winning MLS cup.

The current back-to-back champions of MLS have indicated this with the almost Italian philosophies of Bruce Arena and LA Galaxy. Bruce sets up a star powered team to play on the counter attack, inviting pressure upon the Galaxy and dictating the game with a deep lying creative midfielder (now gone) to play the ball up the field to streaking forwards. There is a reason why seemingly the Galaxy play tight and then seem to open up the game with late goals. They invite play through the middle, to their defensive side and frustrate their opponents leading to their opposition pushing more players into the attack. Then the hammer blow comes down as the midfield and full-backs are caught up field with only a center-back left to protect.

There is also a reason (or few reasons) why Galaxy were poor at the beginning of the season and started to play well later. Many fans point towards Robbie Keane’s form in the second half of the season after returning from the Euro’s, almost as though he had flipped a “Give-A-Shit” button. However, one can merely look at the rock of stability in Omar Gonzalez and the solidifying of LA’s defense through the addition of the “Should have been 2011 MLS MVP” to the back line. With Juninho covering in the midfield and the fluctuation passion of a disinterested Landon Donovan, the 2012 Galaxy eventually morphed into a version of a team that was reminiscent of the 2011 Galaxy team in terms of effectiveness.

LA plays a bizarre version of possum as they press and retreat. As well, Bruce Arena doesn’t just stick with one particular style. Reacting against the opponent they will at times shorten the field by moving the back line up (as they did against Seattle to great effect) which makes the field much smaller to play within. This has the effect of increasing the need for “touch” players for the opposition, something which is lacking in a general sense within MLS. When shortening the field, the midfield and defense of LA is given a shorter path to pressure the ball, enabling them to spring the attack quicker into the opposition end. With quality in defense and counter-attack, the Galaxy used the not-so-great ball outlet of Christian Wilhelmsson who frequently ran the touchline as a pressure valve.

Now, this works when you have David Beckham receiving the ball and pinging passes to all-star players like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. This move also fails more often than not when you have David Beckham receiving the ball and pinging passes to players like Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman.

Houston themselves play within the realm of a 4-4-2, and play with a sense of positional discipline that would make Roy Hodgson pleasure himself repeatedly. They are underrated in the league within the realm of movement, fluidity and passing as they do attempt to play the ball. Paramount for Houston, though, is defensive rigidity, responsibility and ability. They play tough through the middle of the field, hitting anything that moves with slight shoulders, grabs and challenging headers. This kind of defensive presence through the midfield often leads to ugly games as typically teams within MLS are more than happy to mix it up physically.

What all this brings us to is the amazing challenge that Caleb Porter has taken on in Portland. He steps into a world that currently revolves around “two-banks-of-four” Houston Dynamo and “Catenaccio light” LA Galaxy.

Certainly there has been some success within the league with teams that attempt to play the ball “see: Real Salt Lake and Miami Fusion”. However, even Real Salt Lake hasn’t had unmitigated success playing the pass and move game within the confines of MLS. Their win within MLS cup came during their transition to playing on-the-ground/passing football and came two years after Jason Kreis was put in charge to change the direction of the new team.

Throughout 2012, Timbers fans were able to see the truly varied approaches of multiple head coaches at their position. With the start of the 2012 season, they were able to see more of a wing approach. While lip service was given to portray the team attempting to play through the middle of the field, the team typically still pushed the ball out to the wings and attempted to dump the ball into the box. Quite often this lead to immediate turn overs and midfielders/wing players getting caught up field with the immediate destruction of the full-backs happening. When build up play happened with the full-backs overlapping up the field and playing balls with the outside midfield players near the corner of the penalty area, the impact was that the Timbers typically took one too many touches, got caught in possession and then the full-backs and outside midfield were caught up field.

Quite often this would lead to break outs in the Timbers defensive end with players like Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury attempting to break up plays with fouls, or getting bypassed on the way to the back line.

With a lack of defensive integrity at the back, John Spencer attempted to fix this problem by limiting the amount of times that his full-backs or midfielders got caught up field. Without a true midfielder capable of delivering the ball through the middle of the field, the Timbers would often sit back and try to “not get beaten”. The problem with this is that not only did this kill the offense, but the 2012 Timbers were not talented enough at full-back and center-back to play a defensive shell game. Games would vacillate between defensive slog fests where eventually Portland would be beaten by the mental defensive mistake that always seemed to happen, and offensively open games where the Timbers couldn’t sustain leads.

This ultimate nadir of this tactical confusion was the Timbers 1-0 loss to amateur team Cal FC in the US Open Cup. Portland created a mind-boggling 37 shots with 15 shots on goal and 0 goals (including a missed PK). Out of those 15 shots on goal, there were really none that challenged the keeper. There was so little confidence in the team finishing their shots that they could have played for 500 minutes in a row and probably not scored a goal. At that point the Timbers had managed to neuter the confidence of offense AND have a defensive catastrophe… at home…. to an amateur team filled with valets and dishwashers.

Certainly John Spencer wasn’t a one trick pony, but it seemed that his train of thought in adaptation and recognizing trends was simply not fast enough at the time. When he attempted to play Lovel Palmer at defensive midfield to man-mark against Kansas City the experiment worked (although in a method of nihilistic frustration as the Timbers rarely threatened and won the game on an own goal). However, he then extrapolated that this formation and deployment would work in the next game against a Montreal side that had no intention of playing the same method into the Timbers hands. This resulted in a 2-0 loss on the road with more offensive ineptness.

With John Spencer sacked and in the rear view, Gavin Wilkinson took over as head coach of the Timbers. While fans that watched his coaching style before bet on the inevitable return of the long ball tactics he used during the USL days of the team, the real tactics he used were a bit different. Wilkinson (in conjunction of the hire of Caleb Porter) took the shackles off the full-backs and asked them and the midfield to attempt to attack. This, in combination of the poor defensive form, the lack of ability of players in the midfield to play defense, and the inevitable confusion that happens with a coaching change lead to some terrible performances by the Timbers. There were suggestions that Wilkinson was attempting to implement the changes that Porter would envision in 2013, there were suggestions that the team was getting shadow coached by Sean Mcauley. Either way, the team’s defense was routinely exposed in the early going of Wilkinson’s tenure leading to a number of truly horrific games.

As time elapsed, the new defense and offensive scheme coalesced into a slightly more congealed attack and defense. Mind you this congealed presence DID NOT improve the Timbers ability to win, score goals, and prevent goals. The performances of Steven Smith became more composed down the left side, and even though the right back position remained a sieve the entirety of the year, the Timbers found themselves ready to play for the right to lift the Cascadia Cup against their hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders.

They imploded instead.

On the road, Wilkinson started two full-backs (Lovel Palmer and Rodney Wallace) that were largely relegated to bench and reserve appearances as they both had proven over the course of the season their lack of the basic ability to play in defense. As well, Wilkinson started a fourth choice Center-back (Futty Danso). These choices were supposedly to increase the athleticism in the team and replace a nebulous injury (athleticism a trait that Wilkinson has frequently touted as important to him and to Porters new offense). The Timbers were absolutely destroyed on the road and thrashed like a limp rag as the defense and midfield were unable to contain, press or even think on the ball.

Somehow, despite this loss, the Timbers were still able to play for the Cascadia Cup….. again on the road… This time the game to win was against Vancouver.

And this is where any kind of beautiful aesthetics went out the window completely.

Wilkinson set out a side with a game plan to play cynical, aggressive, pressing football with a long ball emphasis that would have made Charles Reep proud (Reep was one of the foremost English proponents of long ball play). Wilkinson restored the three players in the defense with their progenitors and had his defensive line push up as high as possible. This was not to have the intent of playing the pressing and drop game that teams like Barcelona implement (in which Barcelona press up high in order to decrease the space available to the opposing players and the size of the field, and then upon possession of the ball they drop deep in order to expand the field to give their players the ability pass freely around a large space) he did this in order to destroy the flow of the game.

The Whitecaps didn’t possess the ability (or, at the very least, decided against it) to play the ball on the ground and break the defensive line. The first 15 minutes of the game showed the kind of football that would have made Ronaldinho cry in shame. The ball barely even noticed the grass as it logged more frequent flier miles than an airplane. The Timbers had no real intent of keeping possession; they merely attempted to push up on the opposing Whitecaps players, disrupted their game and then kick the ball up to the front as fast as possible. The goal for the Timbers came about from some of the scant amount of decent play, as the deadlock was broken by a wonder strike late. Nine times out of ten that game finishes 0-0.

Tactically the game plan was a simplistic master stroke. For the un-invested fan the game was a giant pile of shit.

The problem here for Porter is that the method of press, kick and rush worked and does work. Granted this was against a slumping opponent who was suffering from their own offensive identity problem. However, MLS is still in the development phase in terms of players and (as well) in terms of tactics.

Porter’s Akron teams, as well as his ill-fated US U-23 team, attempted to build the offense from the back and prioritize the connection of the back four to the midfield. He attempts to play the game with two ball handling center-backs (the impetus of the attack) and 8 midfielders. The idea is that with possession and quality control you minimize the amount of time that the opposition can have to attack your own defense. His Akron team would pass the ball around in their own end with the free ease of a team on the training ground. The left back would push up, interchange positions with the midfield, then exchange the ball in rolling triangles between them and the center-back as the ball would make it over to the center-backs, the keeper, the right back, the midfield and then back across to the left back again.

The issue here is the ethos and rigidity with which Porter and, to a certain extent, Merritt Paulson see the game. The downfall of Porter with the U-23 Olympic team was the inability to adapt tactically to a situation or team in which a difference from his preferred tiki-taka style was needed.

The premier trophy in MLS has now been won and contested via counter attacking defensive first style and defensively rigid two banks of four style for the last two years. One can look at the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes in terms of a current MLS style of offensive execution. When implementing the towers of (either/or/and) Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart, San Jose operate within the realm of the big man/smaller man, goal poaching, defensive stability, somebody hit somebody, physical play that exists within MLS. Kansas City operated with such a pressing style within MLS that it leads to questions about the playability of their style. They use such physicality in their pressing and play that it became a question of “what is a foul and what isn’t a foul” towards the end of the year. Their style was such that it could be influenced heavily by the appointment of referees who have their own particular way of viewing physical interaction and the way in which players play. These philosophies worked (for the most part) as Kansas City, with their high octane press and disrupt style, only gave up 27 goals on the year (lowest in MLS); and San Jose, with their disrupt in the box and service to goal poaching striker formula, scored 72 goals (highest in MLS) on the year. Certainly one could look at LA’s Goals Against number from this season as very high, but you must remember that prior to the return of Omar Gonzalez and the refocus of the team to their defensive responsibilities that the defense was a sieve. Colorado, as well, won a MLS cup with a rugged defense, a big man up top and a direct style.

It is within this scope of “what works in MLS” that we see what John Spencer was heading towards. His attempted focus on wing play, physicality, playing to a big man, defensive rigidity would and should have worked. Spencer’s major problem was the quality of the players obtained by and for him. With unwise trades and acquisitions Spencer and Wilkinson traded players they could have used for players that weakened the defense and midfield significantly. Spencer’s philosophies are those philosophies that work for Dominic Kinear. The difference is that Kinear has consistently picked the right players (sometimes at the DIRECT expense of the Timbers) and Spencer did not.

Which brings us to a major problem for Porter, that is… the Players.

This is a league in which defensive work rate, athleticism and gritty hard nose play are en vogue. MLS teams typically don’t possess the financial ability, the scouting or the stature to lure technically skilled players to the league. Those that have been brought over haven’t always worked out, for a number of reasons. As well, many technical players may not want to play in a league that is currently dominated by very physical play. What Porter was able to obtain at Akron is not going to be readily available within the ranks of professionalism. With Akron, Porter was one of the (if not THE top) alpha dogs in college soccer. His prestige alone made it easier to pitch the ideal of playing fluid football to blue chip prospects with technical flair.

With the Timbers, Porter will have to operate with a manager and owner overseeing his every move, a salary cap, and teams like Los Angeles who are more than willing to unload a couple million dollars towards available players who have never heard of Caleb Porter, Akron, and Portland. His navigation of player acquisition, his ability to work with youth prospects and find diamonds with inexpensive players will be key to his ability to implement some kind of fluid football. As well, his ability to translate his requests to Gavin Wilkinson will be one of the key components that will determine his success and failure. If Wilkinson is unable to obtain the talent that Porter requires, if he decides to imprint his own ideals on the player selection, or simply if he scouts poorly… Porter may find the seas enormously difficult during his tenure as coach.

It is a cop out to say that time will tell, but that is the trope to use here. Important milestones for Timbers fans will be the acquisition or discovery of authentic and useful full-backs that are comfortable with the ball and proficient (at least one of the two) in attack. As well, another milestone will be the acquisition of an attacking midfielder. The Timbers desperately need a player that can control the ball, the tempo of the offense and provide service. The 2012 Portland Timbers starting lineup simply does not have the technical ability or poise to play with Porter’s system. It remains up to Caleb Porter, Gavin Wilkinson and Merritt Paulson to find these players. As well it remains to be seen if MLS is at a time in which stylistic possession with the players available under a strict salary cap can defeat counter attacking or negative-branded tactics.

As for now…. All that Timbers fans can do is wait and see.

Roster Talk

Ahead of the first round of the Re-Entry Draft, which to my Scottish ears still sounds a euphemism for something that belongs in Roger’s Profanisaurus, the Timbers have announced the re-signing of 3 players, as well as the exercising of the option on a further 8.

It puts to bed the appearance of a Mr Rodney Wallace Esq on the original list put up by MLS. Whatever shape the supposed negotiations took, we won’t know the details for some time, the end result is that Wallace is at least signed on for 2013, though the roster is a pretty nebulous thing at this stage, and things may, and most likely will, change.

The current roster now looks something like this.

Players who were under contract for 2013

# Pos Player Name Age Country
21 M Diego Chara 26 Colombia
9 F Kris Boyd 29 Scotland
D Michael Harrington 26 USA
12 D David Horst 27 USA
35 D Andrew Jean-Baptiste 20 USA
8 M Franck Songo'o 25 Cameroon
13 D/M Jack Jewsbury 31 USA
M Will Johnson 25 Canada
24 F Sebastián Rincón 18 Colombia
33 D Hanyer Mosquera 25 Colombia
1 GK Donovan Ricketts 35 Jamaica
6 M/F Darlington Nagbe 22 Liberia

Players re-signing, or having options exercised, for 2013.

# Pos Player Name Age Country
17 M Eric Alexander 24 USA
11 M Kalif Alhassan 22 Ghana
23 GK Joe Bendik 23 USA
98 D Mamadou "Futty" Danso 29 The Gambia
19 F Bright Dike 25 USA
90 GK Jake Gleeson 22 New Zealand
18 D Ryan Kawulok 22 USA
27 D Chris Taylor 23 USA
22 D/M Rodney Wallace 24 Costa Rica
7 M Sal Zizzo 25 USA
16 M/F Brent Richards 22 USA

That leaves three of the current squad, as listed on the official site, currently unspoken for.

# Pos Player Name Age Country
10 F Danny Mwanga 21 DR Congo
20 F Jose Adolfo Valencia 20 Colombia
2 F Mike Fucito 26 USA

The big stand-out there is Danny Mwanga. It would be foolish to read too much into his omission – as it was with Wallace and the Re-Entry Draft (sorry, it just amuses me every time I write that) – for the press release today, but if what Chris Rifer suggested on timbersarmy.org about Danny’s salary increasing is true then it may be worth just keeping an eye on all the same.

Speaking of the Re-Entry Draft, WVHooligan has a look at a few decent options to consider.

MLS have released an updated list of eligible players, if you want to take a look. Obviously, Rodney Wallace’s name is no longer there and, oddly, neither is Steve Purdy’s.

And while I’m on drafts, Stumptown Footy have suggested a trio of midfielders that the Portland Timbers could go for in the SuperDraft in January.

By the way, just as an aside, I’m no longer as convinced as I was that Kris Boyd isn’t back in 2013. Just a hunch.

Andrew Wiebe at MajorLeagueSoccerSoccerDotCom took a longer look at the Timbers deal to acquire the homegrown rights of Bryan Gallego. It’s certainly an interesting move. I don’t know that we should heap all the credit on Porter’s shoulders.

Gavin Wilkinson has taken a few knocks, on this site especially, but this deal seems to me to be a collaboration between Wilkinson and Porter, rather than the work of one or the other and so Gavin deserves some of the kudos too, assuming that Gallego actually makes it to the big leagues eventually etc.

The most logical way this deal works, in my mind, is the trade of Kimura to New York for allocation money is worked out by the front offices. Porter would give his approval that Kimura isn’t part of his plans, so go ahead with the deal and, oh, by the way, this kid I’ve worked with, I really rate him, he’s in New York’s academy system, could we fit him into the deal somehow? Phone calls go back and forth, the club get the nod from the league, and a deal is worked out to add Gallego in, with the Timbers writing off money due as part of the Cooper deal.

Or it goes the other way, with the move for Gallego coming first and fitting Kimura in to bring some allocation money back to Portland, for reasons as yet unknown.

Just my conjecture, but it’s what makes sense to me rather than one guy doing it all. Good communication between Porter and the front office is essential if he is to have any chance of putting out a successful team.

I still have deep reservations about Gavin’s ability to guide the ship, but I’m not an ideologue or anti-GW zealot, by any means. Perhaps because I wasn’t there at the time he was butting heads with a large sections of the fans, I don’t have the same visceral reaction to the man than some have, but I just try to call it as I see it. And I simply haven’t liked what I’ve seen so far. At all. But if he can turn it around, and give Porter the backing he needs to make a success of it, then I’ve no problem in giving him credit for the job. I was a big fan of John Spencer, but when it reached the point where I thought he was doing more harm than good, I said so. I’m a rationalist – I respond to reason and evidence, so equally, if we see the same problems repeating, then I make no apologises for “yet another anti-GW article, #yawn”.

MLSSoccer.com have done their review of the year for the Portland Timbers. Interesting choice to give Best Newcomer to Kris Boyd. Personally, I’d have gone for Hanyer Mosquera or Steven Smith. As for the MVP nod towards Chara, I’d agree with that. Other players have hit higher heights than Diego, but no-one has been as consistently good. Again, an honourable mention to Mosquera.

It’s an interesting read, with some OPTA and tactical stuff thrown in there, but I’ll be glad when we can start talking Previews rather than Reviews. I’m reading for 2012 to be done already.