Unfinished business

I’ve been writing this for days now. I’ve only just decided to start over. Bear with me. I’m going to write fast and see if I can get the words out before they become too much of a mess. Apologies in advance.

I’ve been a little haunted since the reserves match Sunday. It was a fun game and, after Saturday (when I missed the derby to attend a memorial service), it felt… healing. It felt like going home after a long, drawn-out absence.

I never thought I’d see Kris Boyd play in a reserves match, but there we were. And he looked good. He was active and engaged and, within the first ten minutes of the match, had an assist and a goal.

And then it felt like the end.

Did we just see Kris Boyd’s last goal as a Timber?

My heart hurts to think about it.

After several games on the bench, limited minutes and a view from the sidelines of a derby match, his injury against San Jose has set me on edge. Maybe that was it. Maybe that reserve match goal really was Kris Boyd’s last wearing our club’s badge.

A couple days ago, another member of the Timbers Bloggers Battalion posed this question: if I could bring back only five players next year, who would they be? I warned him that my picks would be entirely emotion-driven.

Eric Alexander, of course, because I know he can do more. Diego Chara for the effort he puts in every time he suits up for us. David Horst for the sheer fact that I want to see him beat the crap out of the OTHER Eddie Johnson sometime in the near future. Mike Fucito because I can’t help loving that little hobbit.

And, it will come as no surprise, Kris Boyd.

Boyd makes the list not just because of my ridiculous fan-crush, but because I think he has some unfinished business here.

If we go back to the “Cubbie incident“, we remember that Cubbie tried to paint him as the failed savior of the Timbers 2012 season and the reason John Spencer was fired. Lame.

But, watching Boyd struggle since then, it seems he took it to heart. He’s had flashes, momentary glimpses of the player he should be, but those have been few, separated by long instances of Gavin-imposed exile.

So, what happens now? The season is coming to a close, the playoffs are beyond our reach. Boyd’s one-plus-one contract is weighing on my mind.

Will he stay? Does he want to stay? Does incoming manager Caleb Porter want him to stay?

I want him to stay. I want him to succeed. I’m a sucker for a romantic comeback story and the scene is set for one here.

Here’s the thing: I loved Kenny Cooper. I will always keep a special place in my heart for Kenny. Soft-spoken, polite, misused Kenny Cooper.

And now, I wait to see what happens to Kenny’s replacement. Kenny, let’s remember, is currently among the league’s leading scorers. For another club that figured out how he works.

Here’s to hoping that we get a second chance at figuring out how Kris Boyd works. If anyone from the Timbers coaching staff needs me to point them in the right direction on this one, I’ve got a fair few Youtube videos I can point out.

So, here, because I feel I need to, a few words not *about* Kris, but to him.

Stay. If the choice is yours to make, I hope you choose to stay. The Portland chapter of your story is still being written. Don’t leave in the middle. Stay and become a legend, not just a footnote in our history.

I was there at the press conference when you were introduced to the Timbers faithful. I was there for your first goal at Jeld-Wen. I stood with you, shoulder to shoulder, at midfield during a season ticket holder event and looked up into the North End and I imagined a day in the future when I would tell my kids about this guy, this legendary Scottish striker that, by some odd turn of luck, ended up here in Portland.

I hope that, after I tell them about your rocky first year, I will be able to tell them about your triumphant comeback in your second year here, when you led the league in scoring and led our club deep into the playoffs.

Help me tell that story, Kris.

Give me a story to tell.


You can read more from Kristen at her blog.


[post_ender]

Radio Gaga

The fifth stage of the Kübler-Ross model is acceptance.

I think that many of us who support the Green and White have reached that stage.

And, just as the model predicts, that stage can be very…peaceful.

I had a long workday yesterday and had already accepted that I would not be able to watch the away match. Sitting in the service truck reading the match thread at “Stumptown Footy” I searched into my heart for rage, bargaining, or depression and found only a sort of quiet, reflective peace.

Yes, the Boys were on the road against the best team in the league.

Yes, we would, barring miracles, walk off without a point.

But…would we see Kris Boyd back upfront? And what would the midfield look like? Would the team show the fight they have of late, or would this be visit to the Bad Place, a return to the dire form of Colorado away or…shudder…Dallas away? How would our boy Bendik do between the sticks? Could our defense hold the most prolific attack in the league to less than a brace?

By now you probably know what happened. If you were in a medically-induced coma, I’ll sum up by saying that by the 70th minute Portland had an improbable, no… impossible 2-nil lead.

Two-nil.

Over the Earthquakes.

In their house.

Of course it couldn’t last. The final 2-2 draw accurately reflected what happened on the pitch; a Portland team, or, rather, Danny Mwanga, was struck by lightning twice. And the best team in MLS played, well, like the best team in MLS and came back to equalize…but our Boys still hung on long enough for the point on the trot.

The match was brutal; referee Villareal and the other two Stooges lost control of the match about the same time I started listening to the radio broadcast, in the third minute. The post-whistle pushabout was entirely his fault and, again, points out how thin the pool of officiating talent is in MLS. I was trying to type a field report while listening to the radio podcast and was making heavy weather of it; the match sounded desperately confused, but what came through the earbuds clear as new glass was that Portland had nothing going forward (from what I could tell this was a combination of Rodney Wallace’s inability to match Diego Chara’s distribution – and that’s a rather deadly comparison for you, isn’t it, RodWall? – and with Nagbe out wide the 4-4-2 really does choke off Portland attacks) and that San Jose was just hammering Portland’s goal. Bendik was a monster in goal, and the defense was managing to scramble the ball clear, but it seemed just a matter of time before the first home goal.

And then, lightning.

A nice series of passes between Dike, Mwanga, and Wallace sprang Mwanga through for the goal, and the teams ran off at the half with Portland up 1-nil.

I have to admit; my field report may have been somewhat erratic after that.

By the time I rejoined the match I was driving home, and the early moments of the second half were more of the same; Portland bunkered up and San Jose bombing and strafing. Surely the home side would now slot home their two goals to win the match. I felt the sort of distant sadness you feel when you read about some faraway tragedy; sad, that, but look how hard the boys fought. What courage!

And then, lightning.

One thing I had been getting over the radio is Franck Songo’o. It sounded like he had been playing like a man on fire, and in the 62nd minute he went on a crazy, mazy run that ended in a donnerundblitzen Mwanga strike from distance.

Two-nil Portland.

The driver behind me must have thought I had found a stray hundred-dollar bill on the dashboard.

Surely, this couldn’t last.

It didn’t. San Jose, which had started the game with the attitude of Babe Ruth playing in a Babe Ruth League, had sat up early in the second period when the pesky visitors refused to give up a goal and die. Wondolowski had already been subbed in before the second Portland goal. Now Alan Gordon came on, and San Jose settled down to do some serious damage. Portland scrambled, and cleared, and scrambled some more. By the time I got home and turned the match on Wondo had already scored his first and the home side was still pressing. In added time the inevitable Timbers defensive mistake – this one an unintentional flick-on by Mosquera – led to Wondo’s second. Drawn match, and surely San Jose would press forward for the winner.

And then…

Well, no. The lightning didn’t strike this time. But Franck took off again, ran the length of the pitch, dished to Dike in alone on the keeper and…

Bright booted it wide.

And that was that.

I finished my tinned soup, kissed my sleeping wife, and climbed into bed.

Acceptance.

It’s not always a bad thing.

Some random observations from the match:

The Kris Boyd Story is turning into a rather sad tale. The guy finally gets another crack at the starting XI and pulls a groin in fifteen minutes? That’s not funny, or even farce. I really feel for the guy, and hope he gets some more minutes on the road. Why the hell not.

I think Bright needs to sit for a couple of matches while Gav’ tries out another striker. The final miss was it for me; a top-flight striker has GOT to be able to finish that and get the late-match winner. Improbably this season’s Sad Sack Timbers had a chance to win, for the first time on the road this season, at the league leaders, and our front man couldn’t seal the deal. In my opinion, that says we need to see what Fucito, or Richards – or Boyd – can do alongside Mwanga.

Franck Songo’o is a beast when he’s on his game. If he could play every match like he played last night he would be Lionel Messi. Of course, if If he could play every match like he played last night he wouldn’t be playing for us.

I loved you as a player, Knowles, but your defense is a mess. In my opinion the single biggest, most difficult task Coach Porter faces is organizing this goatscrew of a backline. Individual defenders had a great match – Steve Horst’s goal-line clearance saved us going down early. Smith had a solid game, as did Mosquera until injury time. But the unit – AS A UNIT – is a disorganized mess. Even the late substitution of Eric Brunner (welcome back, Eric!) didn’t help. Too many players spend too much time running around looking like they have no idea where they should be or what they should do. The second San Jose goal was a perfect summation of that; a tight pack of four red jerseys were sitting in front of Wondo – who wasn’t offsides when the ball was played in – and Mosquera’s header provided him perfect service. Awful. We have a number of decent defenders but as a unit, we play like the Maryknoll Seminary for Young Ladies U-12 Development Team. Oranize, boy! Keep your shape! Communicate! Mark! This is “Defending 101”, and you can do it, you’re just panicking and not trying.

Accepting is not the same as surrendering. We still have five matches left, and that’s plenty of time to start the organization and good play we’re going to see next season.

Onward, Rose City!

Bunked Off

Type the words “Football is a cruel game” into google and it’ll return around 19,100,000 results. Say the words to a Timbers fan and you’ll get one result – a weary sigh.

San Jose Earthquakes took their turn to deliver a swift kick to the balls with their late, late comeback to deny Portland their first road win of the year. Wondolowski’s injury time goal gave the home side a 2-2 draw and further cemented their reputation as a team that don’t know the meaning of the word “quit”.

Speaking of which, Gavin Wilkinson said in his post-match comments that San Jose “are a very talented team; they have a lot of self-belief and a tremendous coaching staff.”. Oh, to have other coaches say that about us now and then. Or, you know, once. Once would be nice.

After a draw against them, Wilkinson rang the changes. Injuries forced Chara and Ricketts to miss out, meaning a first start for Joe Bendik. I’d thought, pre-match, that we would see Wallace keep his spot at left-back after a good showing, with Alexander coming in for Chara, and I’d hoped we see Boyd given a start. One out of three ain’t bad…

Boyd did indeed start, but the surprise was that Wilkinson opted to abandon his 4-3-3 formation for a (broadly speaking) 4-4-2 with Danny Mwanga getting the start in attack. Wallace did indeed start, but in centre midfield, and Palmer took over the right back spot from Kosuke Kimura. Nagbe and Songo’o were tasked with giving the team width, and Steven Smith was restored to left back.

I was surprised to see the Timbers line up in a 4-4-2, especially as I’d done a quick bit of research that suggested to me that San Jose had faced some kind of 4-4-2 variant 17 times this season, and had won 12 of those matches. Meanwhile they’d faced a 4-5-1/4-3-3 12 times, and only won 6, losing 4.

Though, it should be said, that of the two 4-4-2’s to defeat San Jose this season, Portland are one of them. Perhaps lightning would strike twice.

Also, as an aside, I thought it was pretty curious that of the Earthquakes 5 defeats this season, 3 have come on trips to Cascadia, with Vancouver racking up a couple of them. Of their four trips to the north-west this season, they’ve only avoided defeat once – beating Seattle 1-0 back at the end of March. San Jose return north this weekend to beat Seattle, and then once more in October when the Timbers will host.

Back to the game.

San Jose rested Wondolowski and Alan Gordon, the club’s two top scorers, for the visit of the Timbers, but it didn’t stop them having a couple of efforts from distance that had Bendik scrambling and diving across the goal, only to go narrowly over or wide.

It took until the 12th minute before the Timbers had their first sniff of goal when Boyd bullied Beitashour to get his head on a Palmer long ball, but he sent it narrowly wide of Busch’s goal.

Boyd had started pretty well, looking eager to impress after his recent exile to the bench. The way he got to Palmer’s long pass was encouraging, but any hopes that the Scot would go on to silence his ever-so-vocal critics were extinguished when he left the field shortly after with a groin injury. It looks to me on the replay like an inadvertent knock on his inner knee/thigh from Beitashour caused Boyd to land off balance, and he seems to have tweaked something. A freak injury, and just the way his luck has been this year.

Bright Dike replaced Boyd, but the tide of play still flowed inexorably towards Bendik’s goal. Steven Lenhart had a good sight of goal with a header midway through the first half.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before, where a player can ghost into the space between defenders and get a free header. Had the ball been just a few inches lower, you’d fancy Lenhart to bury it, but the Timbers got away with it here.

I thought Mosquera’s actions were a bit odd in this move. He seems to just assume that the ball won’t come in first time and looks away to direct Rodney Wallace. By the time he decides to check where the ball is, he could’ve easily been caught on his heels and unable to react to the darting run by Lenhart.

Mosquera’s been something of a rock in an otherwise shaky back line this year, but it’d be fair to say he didn’t have his best night here. There have been a few times when Mosquera’s gone a-wandering out of defence this season, or switched off and been unable to react. I think he has all the tools to be a top defender but he needs to sharpen up his concentration a bit.

It looked like the Timbers would take a draw into the break, but almost out of nothing they took the lead through Danny Mwanga.

It was a nice bit of play between Dike, Mwanga and Wallace to work the chance for Danny to score, but I’d like to rewind the move a bit first.

Both teams had lined up with two guys in the “engine room”. Portland had Jewsbury and Wallace, San Jose had Baca and Cronin. Here we see Baca and Cronin been attracted across to where the ball is, leaving Wallace alone in the centre. Jewsbury gets in to intercept a loose pass and touches it off to Nagbe. By this point, both San Jose central midfielders are over by the wing.

How often have we seen this happen to the Timbers midfield, where it allows itself to be pulled out of shape?

The ball works it’s way back to Palmer at right-back.

Here you see that Dawkins has come back to cover Wallace, but Dawkins is an attacker. Wallace has a ton of real estate in front of him as Baca and Cronin are way out of position.

Palmer’s long ball is met by the head of Dike.

Mwanga is on to the flick, and he lays it off to Wallace who has rushed forward in support, all on his own. He displays a deftness of touch in rolling it back into the path of Mwanga, and the striker keeps his head to slot home and give the Timbers the lead.

Up until this point I’d been pretty critical of Mwanga and Wallace. Mwanga had struggled to get himself involved in the game, while Wallace at times didn’t seem to display any measure of tactical discipline as he seemed a bit too keen to hare around and try and get on the ball.

Credit where it is due, though. Wallace held his position well without being dragged across, and attacked the space well. Mwanga worked the one-two and kept his head when it mattered.

I fully expected an onslaught from San Jose in the second half, and just hoped we could keep it shut down for the first 10-15 minutes. Indeed, San Jose stepped up the pressure, and Portland struggled to keep the ball out of their own half.

There are few teams who make harder work of defending a lead than Portland Timbers. At a time when the match was screaming out for someone, anyone, in Rose City Red to get a foot on the ball and calm the match down, we resorted to the age-old sit deep, hit in long strategy. Indeed, it seemed like Gavin had misplaced his Bumper Book of Kickball Tactics (pop-up edition) and had instead been reading from Great Military Strategies of the Italian Army as the defence retreated deeper and deeper and deep …

… and then Franck Songo’o picked up the ball midway in his own half, went gambolling forward like a child on his first visit to Disneyland, beat two men and laid it off for Danny Mwanga to smash it in from distance. 2-0. Two. Nil.

The goal couldn’t have come further against the run of play had Danny been wearing a Dick Turpin mask, but nevertheless the Timbers held a 2 goal lead with a little under half-an-hour to play. If ever there was an unlikely time for a team to notch their first road win, it would at the ground of the league leaders, and yet that’s what it looked like the Timbers were, improbably enough, about to do.

Wondolowski and Gordon were thrown on by Frank Yallop in an attempt to rescue the situation. Wilkinson made no changes. I really thought that, the goal aside, the Timbers really needed someone in the middle who could hold onto the ball. I’d expected to see Alexander come on around the hour mark, and I reckoned it would be Songo’o to make way, with Wallace covering out left. Alexander had shown he could do the defensive side of the job when he’d understudied for Chara earlier this season, and he’s one of the few players on the team who looks truly comfortable on the ball.

But no.

The tide kept coming in, and there was a sense of inevitability when it finally subsumed the Timbers defence.

Wondolowski scored it, finally beating Bendik who had, up until that point, be Gandalfian in his determination to let nothing pass.

The goal highlighted, for me, the problem the Timbers faced. The defence was sinking deeper and deeper, practically camping out on the edge of our own box, which opened up space between defence and midfield. I felt, from very early on, that we missed having Jewsbury doing the role he’s been quietly effective in these past few matches in screening the defence. Even more so as the pressure piled through-out the second half. While the long ball caught us out to an extent, the amount of space between the two lines here is pretty shocking. You can’t open up a space like that and not expect teams like San Jose to exploit it.

The second half was becoming an exercise in frustration. For so long now Wilkinson has spoken about the importance of possession, and yet here, when possession would really matter, we abandoned it. We gave the ball away, again and again and invited the best team in the league to press higher and higher up the pitch.

The annoying thing was we’d already shown in the first half that we were capable of actually playing a bit of football.

This 21-pass sequence ranged from side to side, any showed some nice movement and touches. Although it died when Mwanga was robbed of the ball, it was hugely encouraging to me at the time as it displayed a patience and coolness that I felt we’d need.

Even though you might expect a San Jose side chasing the game to put a bit more pressure of the ball than they did in the 6th minute, it’s nonetheless striking how little we even attempted to knock the ball around and slow the game down. Instead, we got caught up in San Jose’s manic energy, and played the game at their pace, rushing things and resorting to desperate football.

You can see the marked difference in approach in the tackling graphs.

It’s little wonder we were unable to give the defence any kind of a breather when we resorted so often to hoofing it clear.

With the rest of the game played out almost exclusively in the Timbers half, Wilkinson signalled his intent by sending on Eric Brunner for Danny Mwanga with a few minutes to go. The bus was being parked.

Part of the problem for the Timbers was that, aside from the often aimless long balls, we didn’t have an effective point man up top to chase things down, or provide a target. We lacked someone to hold the ball up and give the defence some relief. Any time the ball did go in Dike’s vicinity, it seemed to either bounce off him or past him. I though Mwanga’s better movement might’ve been more use late on, but it wasn’t to be.

The final sucker punch came in stoppage time when a lofted ball into the box was turned home by Wondolowski. There were some who claimed offside, but he was definitely onside when the pass was made, and the touch came from a Timbers player so he couldn’t be offside from that.

In a way, if we were to lose a 2nd goal I’m kinda glad it wasn’t offside. I don’t think I could take the injustice on top of everything else!

After the bitter disappointment that greeted the final whistle, I was left with conflicting emotions. In all honesty, stripping away emotional attachment, we had no right to win that game. Even getting out with a draw was something of an upset. So, in a way, the fact we took a couple of chances really well, and were able to snatch a point is a strange kind of positive.

But you can get away from the fact that we threw away a 2-0 lead, whether it was undeserved or not.We only have ourselves to blame with the way we approached the second half. We essentially gave up even trying to match San Jose in the hopes that we could bunker in and ride out the storm.

And once more, another game passes where Gavin seems unable to read a match and make a proactive change. I was far from the only one screaming out for a change before San Jose’s first. The writing was not only on the wall, it was fucking chiselled there. We weren’t exactly lambs to the slaughter, but we did bring some mint sauce with us. It was, you felt, only a matter of when San Jose would score, despite the heroics of Bendik and Horst’s goal line gymnastics.

But we had to wait till it was 2-1 and San Jose had their tails up before we made a change. Like-for-like saw Palmer replaced by Kimura, before the Brunner change. I get what Wilkinson was doing, throwing another body in defence to match up to San Jose’s three strikers, but the game was crying out for another midfielder to start pushing back before the ball was on top of us. Maybe even, and this is pretty far out there, actually trying to keep the ball and slow it down and frustrate San Jose.

I think the worst thing about the result is that I didn’t meet the equalising goal with an anguished, Darth Vader-esque “NOOOOOOOO!” but rather I slumped back in my chair, ruefully shook my head and muttered “well, there it is.” No shock. No surprise. I’ve been conditioned to expect disappointment.

A point on the road, against a team that had won 6 of their last 7 home matches – scoring 22 in the process isn’t a bad result, but the manner of it – the grindingly predictable capitulation – leaves a sour taste.

The Timbers will stay on the road for their next match, paying a visit to Real Salt Lake. The last time we went there it was John Spencer’s last match, a 3-0 loss. What I’d give to watch that match with Spenny alongside…

#RCTID


[post_ender]

Wanted?

With the team a goal down at home to their greatest rivals, Gavin Wilkinson must have at some point cast a glance across his bench in search of The One who could come on and change the game in Portland’s favour.

There he would’ve seen Kalif Alhassan, a mercurial winger on his way back to full fitness after a season that has defined stop-start; Eric Alexander, still the club’s leading assist provider, who had recently put in a great performance deputising for Diego Chara; Futty Danso, the big Gambian central defender who hasn’t kicked a ball for the first team since a 5-0 loss in Dallas; Mike Fucito, the ex-Sounders striker signed from Montreal; Danny Mwanga, a popular striker who had been traded to the club in exchange for Jorge Perlaza, who is now back in his native Colombia; and lastly, Kris Boyd.

Boyd was the marquee signing on the close season. A record breaking goal scorer, signed as a designated player to fill the gap left by Kenny Cooper, Boyd had joined when the club was still coached by John Spencer, and it’s not a stretch to speculate that Spencer was a big, if not the big, reason behind his decision to go to the Timbers.

He hit the ground running with a goal in his competitive debut against Philadelphia and would warm himself to the fans with his goal, and celebration, in the earlier match against the Sounders – a game the Timbers won.

But along the way there has been some rough sailing. A penalty miss against Cal FC saw Boyd cast as the villain to many, as well as some bad misses and a dip in confidence which led to his being dropped by Wilkinson once Spencer had been hustled out the door.

Confidence

Since his two goals in the 5-3 loss to LA Galaxy – Wilkinson’s first match in charge – it’s been a little over 400 minutes since Boyd last found the back of the net. There isn’t a striker who hasn’t gone through similar spells in their career. More than most positions the role of goal scorer is one that is founded, to a large degree, on confidence and once that takes a hit, it can take a while to get back on track.

“Instead of usually being composed and putting it in the back of the net, I’ve snatched at the last couple of chances. The chances have been there, it’s been bad finishing. It’s been bad finishing on my part.”

Boyd’s own words sum it succinctly. It’s the quandary a manager faces with a misfiring striker – do you stick with him and hope that a ball bounces his way and it sparks him back into goalscoring life, or drop him for the good of the team? If missing a couple of chances can kick a players self-belief down a notch, you can imagine that being dropped entirely isn’t likely to have him believe he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Considering the season, in a competitive sense, is as good as over it’s pretty telling that Wilkinson dropped Boyd rather than let the highest paid player at the club play through a sticky spell. The suspicion is that Boyd was a “Spencer signing” and has no long-term place at the club under Wilkinson and Porter.

The Dike Factor

Certainly Wilkinson would point to the impact that Boyd’s replacement has had on the team. Bright Dike came back from a loan where LA Blues, where he’d scored a few goals – confidence – and found the net twice in his first three starts. Typical poacher’s efforts, both goals were scored in the box, as the result of fine work by Sal Zizzo to set up the chances.

Since a winning goal against Colorado though, it’s been a bit of a slog for Dike. He’s now 200 minutes since the last time he scored, though it was only the width of the post that denied him a winner against Seattle, and I’m not alone in sharing some doubts about Dike’s ability to lead the line as a first choice striker.

The received wisdom is that Dike is a better fit for the system than Boyd. As that system has changed, moving away from the 4-4-2 that Spencer played, so Boyd has seen himself pushed further to the periphery of Wilkinson’s brave new world.

The System

I had flagged up Boyd’s lack of suitability in a lone front man role as a concern when the Timbers signed him – urging that a good partner be found to play alongside him. Alas, the Timbers didn’t seem to know what they’d signed, or how to get the best out of him, and so he’s never really found the consistency that he had when he was focal point at Kilmarnock and Rangers.

However, where Boyd has struggled as the lone striker before is when he’s been on a team that has played on the backfoot. For Scotland, the formation is very much a 4-5-1, with the emphasis on the “5”. The midfield will sit deep, and Scotland will look to the lone guy up top to run into corner and chase lost causes all day in the hope that something breaks for him. That’s why Vancouver goal-machine Kenny Miller gets the nod more often than not, and why Boyd is no longer a part of the international setup.

Similarly, when Rangers were successful in Europe, it was built on a defensive model. The football was, all but the most blue-nosed would admit, absolutely fucking turgid to watch when Rangers made it all the way to the UEFA Cup final. It was once more a system built on having a lone man up top foraging for scraps. That’s not Boyd’s strength.

The way the Timbers have been playing of late has relied on the lone man up top, but it is a much more attacking, fluid style than that of Scotland or Rangers.

I’d make the strong case that both Dike’s goals would get scored whether it was Boyd or Bright on the pitch at the time. Dike made a good run, and showed good movement and composure to get into place, but he didn’t do anything you wouldn’t expect a decent striker to do. What made the goals, rather, was the build-up play, and it was this that was so often lacking in the early part of the season.

The case is made by some fans that the team play better because Boyd isn’t there. His presence is too great a distraction for those around him. I don’t really buy this line of thinking, firstly as I don’t think that his fellow professional are so in awe of him, and secondly because I think any upheaval in tactics and style is inevitably going to bring about a period of reconstruction and uncertainty in play.

You’d expect after five or six games of a new formation and philosophy that you would start to see the results on the field, and so it’s been the case. As players got used to their new roles and responsibilities, so the play has improved somewhat (in an attacking sense, at least). It’s Boyd’s bad luck that just as the team start to click into gear, he’s found himself on the outside looking in.

Take nothing away from Bright Dike. He’s done well, and I’m sure he’s a handful to play against. But really, is he really that much different from Kris Boyd?

The stats would back up their attacking similarities. Both take about the same number of shots per match – one every 30 minutes or so – though Boyd gets more on frame, 45% – 27% of Dike’s admittedly very small sample size (not a euphemism). Even minutes per goal, 216-267 in Dike’s favour, doesn’t flag up any glaring differences. Dike may show a greater willingness to chase shadows into corners, but I’d balance that by making a case that Boyd’s link-up play is generally better.

The Future…?

The clock ticked past 70 minutes and Wilkinson took another look across the bench. Danny Mwanga was the man chosen to go on and change the game. Boyd remained seated. He would stay there until the final whistle blew on a 1-1 draw that leaves the Cascadia Cup to be settled.

At this point it would be easy to start second guessing every decision Wilkinson makes. Did he bring Mwanga on because he thought Danny’s pace and energy would be the key to unlocking the Sounders, or did Porter want Danny to get some game time? Has Porter made it clear that Boyd won’t be a Timber come First Kick 2013, and so that’s why the Scot can’t buy a start right now? Does Wilkinson simply not like or rate Boyd, and so he’s choosing to leave him out?

Boyd’s ability as a goalscorer isn’t in doubt, at least with me. Mike Donovan tweeted during the match, asking if there was any current Timbers player who could do what Montero did, turning and getting a looping shot off as he did? The answer was pretty easy – Kris Boyd. I’ve seen him do it live for Killie, and then again for Rangers. A confident Boyd, given the ball into his feet around the box is easily capable of this. For all his other faults, he’s still a danger in and around the box. His goal against the Sounders reserves was as typical a Boyd goal as you’re likely to see.

Should his time in Portland come to an end sooner rather than later, as I expect it will, he’d make a great add for a number of other MLS sides, though my suspicion is that his future would more likely lie back in the UK.

Ultimately a striker will be judged on the goals he scores. That’s why Emile Heskey is largely a joke figure among fans while still maintaining the respect of the players he’s played with, and coaches he’s played under.

With Kris Boyd, I worry that he’ll leave Portland with the fans never having seen the best of him. I still think that he has another couple of years at the top in him, and I’d hoped that they would be with the Timbers, but like Cooper and Perlaza before him, he may pay the price for not being quite prolific enough.

Does he miss good chances? Yes, of course. If your goal is to find a striker who never misses, good luck with that Quixotic quest of yours.

The Timbers will visit San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake over the next week. Diego Chara will miss out due to injury, meaning a possible return to the XI for Eric Alexander. With Kalif Alhassan back on the fringes of the first team, and given how these two players more than any others have been able to get on Boyd’s wavelength, the next two matches may be the best possible time to give Boyd one last chance to prove his doubters wrong.

“It’s the manager’s decision. There’s nothing I can do except the next time I go on the pitch, prove that I’m good enough to play.”

#RCTID


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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


[post_ender]

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.

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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.

[post_ender]

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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