Forward the Foundation

After a slow start, the much-promised Rostergeddon got into full swing on a day that would’ve reminded many fans of English football of Transfer Deadline day. All it needed was Harry Redknapp in his car telling a reporter that David Horst was a “great lad, great lad, really like ‘im.”

What we got was five players on the way out (with another whose status is up in the air), two players coming in (and another potential) and a Breaking Bad-esque pile of allocation cash.

Chris already did a great job of going over the wheeling and dealing in his post, so I’ll keep my thoughts on the deals “brief”.

The first deal confirmed was that of Kosuke Kimura to the New York Notcosmos. Kimura had staggered around the right-back position like a punchdrunk boxer for much of his time in Portland. Whether that’s due to his own deficincies or coming into a team with no real direction, that’s up to you to decide, but whatever the reasons, the move was one that was always likely to happen.

Kimura, who also found time to fit in an unsuccessful trial in Poland since the season ended, was joined by a second-round draft pick to New York, with the Timbers getting the homegrown rights to Bryan Gallego, a centreback who just so happens plays his college soccer for Akron Zips. You may have heard of them.

Given Porter’s background and experience of the college game, no-one will have a clearer idea of who he wants in the SuperDraft, so it’s interesting to me that he’s given up a draft pick to make this deal work. Of course, there’s a long way to go before the draft, plenty of time to wheel and deal for other picks, but the acquisition of Gallego’s homegrown rights is illuminating for a couple of reasons, I think.

Here’s a player Porter has worked closely within Akron, and it seems rates highly enough to give up a draft pick to get him. Being a homegrown player, Gallego wouldn’t have been eligible for the SuperDraft (as is my understanding, which could be way wrong), so is this a roundabout way to “draft” a guy Porter really wanted? Whether Gallego steps up this year (he’ll be 20 in March so, without getting into my pet peeve about youth development in the States, it’s not that crazy an idea) or he’s one for 2014, it also points towards a change in philosophy at the back for the Timbers.

It’d be fair to say that we’ve had a lot of guys with heart and spirit, but who are limited in technical ability. That won’t fly under the system Porter favours where the defenders have to be comfortable on the ball and able to play an intelligent, possession-based game. Clearly, Gallego already knows what Porter wants from his defenders, and Porter likes what he sees from Gallego.

Next came the news of Eric Brunner going to Houston. A sad one, but not unexpected. I’d written about the potential of Brunner’s leaving and while I leaned towards him staying (I thought Danso would be first to go) the news of his departure didn’t surprise me.

Brunner’s injury really took the wind out of the defender’s sails. He had a good 2011, and looked set to form a partnership with Mosquera at the back, but in his enforced absence he was usurped by David Horst.

With Horst holding down the position, Mosquera a lock and Jean-Baptiste hungry to push on in 2013, Brunner found himself squeezed out. A fine servant to the club in his time in Portland, Eric leaves with the best wishes on the Timbers faithful.

Michael Harrington’s arrival was the next announcement. The last time we picked up a former Kansas City starter who’d found himself relegated to the bench, it worked out pretty well! Harrington will give us options at both left and right back, and seems like a very solid addition to the squad.

Next up was the departure of Steve Purdy and Lovel Palmer. Purdy had been unable to really cement a place in the team since the move up to MLS. I liked what little I saw of him, but given his sporadic appearances in the team, it was of little surprise to see the option on him declined.

Lovel Palmer. I’d written about how I couldn’t see a future for him in Portland. I’ve been critical of him in the past, and justified in (much of) it, so I can’t say I’ll miss having him on the team but, nevertheless, I’m sure he gave his all. It just wasn’t good enough, consistently enough. Fare thee well.

Steven Smith was next to go, announcing it himself on twitter. This was one where I thought “oh no” at the time, but the more I thought about it, and the more I read about it, the more it made cold hard sense. Talk is that Smith would’ve needed DP wages to stay, and with Spencer going (and Boyd likely to go), there was little to hold Smith here on a personal level. There will be no shortage of offers back “home”.

The “final” announcement was that of the signing of Will Johnson from RSL. The Canadian international has been an important part of the RSL midfield over the past few years, and it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in in 2013. There are times we’ve lacked a bit of bite and spark in the middle, and Johnson will provide both of these in spades.

The MLS released the Re-Entry Draft list shortly afterwards. It would be worth keeping an eye on as the Timbers have the #3 pick and the draft is a good way to fill out the squad and/or pick up pieces that can be traded on later.

It certainly raised a few eyebrows among Timbers fans when Rodney Wallace’s name appeared on it.

It’s important to note that the club and player have a couple more days to thrash out a deal that would see Wallace stay, and Merritt’s omission of Rodney from his “so long and thanks for all the fish” tweet would suggest the intention is to work something out. The talk is that the Timbers want to negotiate Wallace’s salary down. I’m not his biggest fan, but he is a decent squad player. He’s just not worth the money he’s currently pulling, in my opinion.

All in all, a pretty good day for the Timbers. Too early to make definitive judgements, of course, but it’s a start to Porter’s reign that fills me with cruel, cruel optimism!

Five out, two in and a complete revamp of the defence is underway. Given that so much of Akron’s play under Porter was built from the back, it makes sense that the gaffer would start his own rebuilding there.

Onwards and upwards.

#RCTID

Six Defining Moments of 2012

2012 is rife with talk of apocalypse, and there were certainly times that the sky seemed to be falling in on the Timbers. A managerial sacking, fans protests, twitter meltdowns, cup embarrassments, defensive horror-shows and, bizarrely, a late season triumph.

Thinking of some of the defining moments of the Timbers year, it would be easy to think of Spencer’s sacking, Porter’s hiring, the Cal FC defeat or Perkins’ trade as the big moments, and they probably are, but the lack of a definite article in the title is deliberate as I want to take a look at 6 other moments that I think would, in their own way, come to define the Timbers’ season.

1. The Late Collapse vs Real Salt Lake

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: March 31st, approx 19:45
What: There was still an air of optimism in Portland as the Timbers kicked-off against RSL. A opening day win, heralding the arrival of Kris Boyd with a debut goal, had been followed by a gritty road draw and a narrow road loss while RSL were coming off a home defeat to Chivas USA.

Despite the setback of going 1-0 down, the Timbers roared back with a brace of classy Darlington Nagbe goals to lead 2-1. The minutes ticked away, James Marcelin came on to help close the game out, the Timbers were looking at a 7 point haul from their opening 4 games, with a visit from Chivas USA up next.

And then, disaster. Two goals in the dying minutes overturned the result, giving the visitors a 3-2 win. Like a pin popping a balloon, suddenly the early belief and confidence was gone.

Another defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory result against Chivas the next week – throwing away a lead to another late winner – only cemented the belief that it was going to be another long season.

2. Eric Brunner’s injury vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: May 26th, approx 18:06
What: With the second worst defensive record in the Western Conference in 2011, bolstering the defence was a priority for the Timbers in 2012 and, in the signing of Hanyer Mosquera, they thought they had their man to partner Eric Brunner in the heart of the back four.

Brunner had emerged from 2011 as a fan favourite, and a rare bright spot at the back for Portland. It was always going to be a case of Brunner + A.N. Other at the back, or so it seemed.

The partnership between Mosquera and Brunner took a while to get together thanks to injuries and such, but it looked like the club had finally found a solution in the middle, even if the full-back positions continued to perplex.

A concussion sustained early in the match against the Whitecaps saw Brunner removed at half-time. It would be September before Brunner saw action again, thanks in part to a further knee injury, when he came on as a late game sub. By this time, David Horst had made the position beside Mosquera his own.

The instability that followed – Danso and Horst would come in and out of the team – would see the team lose goals left and right before they finally settled on Horst. Horst looked out of his depth early on, but steadied to become a solid presence at the back, but one of the big “What if?” questions that hang over the Timbers season is “What if Brunner had never gotten injured?”

3. Kris Boyd’s goal vs Seattle Sounders

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: 24th June, approx 13:16
What: Steven Smith to Franck Songo’o, touched off to the overlapping Smith, a low cross ball to the middle where an unmarked Kris Boyd taps it past the Sounders keeper.

Boyd’s goal put the Timbers on their way to a 2-1 victory against their great rivals – their first MLS victory against the Orcish minions from the North. It would also put the Timbers in the driving seat to win the Cascadia Cup.

The win came less than a month after the Timbers had lost 1-0 to Cal FC, the same team the Sounders would thump 5-0 shortly afterwards. If that loss had represented the nadir of the club’s fortunes, the derby win was the zenith, with hopes restored that the club could yet get it’s playoff hopes back on track.

And yet, a little over two weeks later, John Spencer had been sacked.

4. Kris Boyd’s misses vs Chivas USA

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: 28th July, multiple times
What: Strictly speaking this is more than a single moment, but Boyd’s first half showing against Chivas would come to define so much of his season, and how it went into a tailspin.

Boyd was already getting criticism for not scoring enough goals, or justifying his hefty price tag, and it seemed to be weighing on the Scot. Gone were the natural, smooth finishes of early in the season – think, the flicked header against the Union, the calm finish against the Galaxy, the (wrongly) disallowed bit of skill and finish in the same match.

Now the finishes were nervy, jittery, rushed. In his desperation to score, he was hampering his natural instincts.

The first chance was much like that flash of skill against the Galaxy. Boyd heel-flicked a header down from Richards to control the ball, but rushed his shot, and sent it wide.

The second chance saw him caught offside, and of course he finished it with aplomb.

The third chance came only minutes later, and a nice touch left his defender for dead, but Boyd took the shot from a tight angle rather than the easy lay-off to Chara. Trying too hard.

The fourth chance came after a shot by Chara was palmed out by the keeper. Boyd swung at the rebound, barely connecting and only looping the ball up ineffectually.

Chivas would score the only goal of the game in the second half. Boyd’s time as a starter would come to an end only weeks later.

5. Bright Dike’s goal vs New York Red Bulls

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
When: 19th August, approx 18:08
What: After a toothless showing in Toronto, Boyd was relegated to the bench. Bright Dike made his first-ever MLS start, after spending time on loan with LA Blues earlier in the season.

473 seconds. That is how long it took Dike to do what Boyd had gone 384 minutes without doing – score. Dike got on the end of Sal Zizzo’s low cross to put the Timbers in front, the first of five goals the striker would go on to tally before the season was out.

The Timbers would double their lead, but some poor defending, terrible officiating and an familiar late game sucker-punch resulted in a 3-2 defeat.

Dike’s form would bring him to the attention of the Nigerian national team, and would keep his more expensive team mate cooling his heels on the bench until injury ended Boyd’s 2012, and potentially his Timbers career.

6. Gavin Wilkinson’s experiment vs Seattle Sounders

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
When: 7th October, approx 17:00
What: The Timbers knew that a favourable result in Seattle’s backyard would guarantee them the Cascadia Cup. Interim head coach opted to switch out both full-backs and give starts to Lovel Palmer and Rodney Wallace. The game ended in a 3-0 defeat.

Peeved would be one word to describe the fans’ reaction to Wilkinson’s tinkering. Fucking furious would be two words.

Excuses would be made for the changes, some more convincing than others, but the fact remained that the Timbers went north to play their biggest rivals, with silverware on the line, with two guys in the team who had never convinced in their positions.

The defeat put the Cascadia Cup in doubt, and it would take a first road-win of the season against a frankly awful Vancouver Whitecaps to seal the deal. Had the cup been squandered… Well, that’s another “What if?” and one that would be best written by the writers of the Saw franchise should the Timbers fans have ever gotten their hands on Wilkinson.


So, there we have my thoughts on six moments that would shape and define the Timbers season. Which would you add as your own?

The Strange Case of Ian Hogg

With the new head coach now set to arrive within weeks, the most pressing question on my mind is how well the Timbers general manager will work to field a side capable of performing better under Caleb Porter than it did for John Spencer, or for Gavin himself, for that matter.

Most of you who have read my earlier posts know that I am skeptical of Gavin Wilkinson as an evaluator and selector of playing talent. The recent release of the young defender from New Zealand does nothing to reassure me that working with a new coach will change that.

Many of you may not even remember Ian Hogg. He was signed from the Auckland FC club on August 8, and in his roughly thirteen weeks as a Timber he never stepped out on the Jeld-Wen pitch as part of the Big Side, never logged a minute in a Portland jersey playing in an MLS match. His league vita is a blank.

His playing time was limited to the last two reserve matches; 71 minutes in the 4-nil loss to the Galaxy reserves away and then the full 90 against the Seattle reserves here. He provided a speculative cross into the box that was deflected and resulted in Richard’s goal against the Sounders.

And that was that. Hogg was waived (with Renken and Braun) on November 19th.

My sole sighting of the man was in the Seattle reserve match. I recall that he played a decent game, and appeared to be capable of playing a solid backup to Steven Smith at left back. He showed a similar knack for getting caught upfield on occasion, but he had decent wheels enough to scramble back into position. He could go forward as well, and provided service into the 18 that was at least no worse than what we saw from our starters at LB and better than some; sorry, Chabala.

So his odd little tenure with the Timbers leaves me with more questions than answers about Gavin’s man-management skills.

If you recall, early August 2012 was perhaps the worst of a bad, bad place the Timbers had been for the preceding month. Late July had been a disaster after John Spencer’s sacking, culminating in the meltdown that was Dallas away. The Portland defense had shipped 15 goals over the preceding 7 matches and the dark star that was right back was never darker – Kosuke Kimura had a VERY bad July, though you could observe that the remainder of his 2012 wasn’t that much brighter.

The club had just apparently concluded that its defensive woes would be solved by swapping keepers with Montreal, a move that infuriated many fans, and though Donovan Ricketts had yet to play a minute for Portland the frustration and anger of a season in tatters was boiling over.

The problems that had plagued the team since 2011 – the lack of a quality attacking/distributing midfielder and the cohesion of the backline (especially at right back) – had never seemed greater. But the one place that had been a similar defensive problem earlier in the season, left back, was actually looking better.

Steven Smith’s play in May and June was frankly awful. It didn’t help that he had nobody in front of him willing to track back on defense at that point; it took the early substitution against Colorado to convince Franck Songo’o that defending was part of his brief. But by early August Smith’s play was visibly improving. The need for a quality right back was still painful in early August; the need for an immediate upgrade at left back?

Not so much.

The timing of Hogg’s release is almost as peculiar as his signing. Accepting that premise that Mike Chabala was never going to be a useful substitute and a decent backup was needed, what had changed between August and November to make Hogg superfluous?

There was and is still no obvious replacement for Smith. Kawulok and Taylor seem to be primarily right backs and Jean-Baptiste a centerback, and we’ve seen the horrors that emerge from putting either Wallace or Palmer in the backline. Cam Vickers has been slotted in back occasionally but is listed as a forward/midfielder with the U-23s.

There seems to be no urgency to sign a replacement left back; mind you, this may be a matter of “early days yet” with the new head coach, but the prospect of the incoming Porter does not seem to have stopped the Timbers’ Front Office from bringing in either players or assistant coaches during the waning days of the 2012 season.

So what was the point of signing Hogg if never to play him? Why not play him somewhere – right back could hardly have been worse? Why sign him instead of bringing him on as a trialist? Why not keep him over the winter and see if he fits with Porter’s scheme for 2013? At least superficially he seems like a “Porter” sort of player; young, relatively speedy, with a decent tactical instinct for the opportune pass as well as a fairly competent defender. Why then release him and not, say, Chris Taylor, if you’re going to boot defenders who don’t play for you?

When he was signed Gavin said “Ian is a young, talented left back with good athleticism and a desire to succeed, we have signed him through the remainder of the season and look forward to closely evaluating him as we move to next season.” What happened? One has to assume that Hogg failed his evaluation, but why? Who did he lose out to? What were his failings, and where were they shown?

I have had more than one occasion to rub my head over a Gavin move, ranging from signings and releases to starting elevens. The strange case of Ian Hogg just reminds me once again why the man who seems like a bluff Kiwi sort of fella is to me a soccer riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a conundrum crafted into a beer cozy for a can of Steinlager, and I sure hope Coach Porter is better at figuring him out than I am.

Interregnum

As you can see, the site has had a bit of a makeover. To mark our more explicitly Timbers-centric nature, the site has ditched the old grey/red scheme for green/white. I hope you like it.


So… what to write about?

Well, we’re stuck in that strange hinterland between the season ending (play-off, what?) and “silly season” kicking off in earnest. Three players were waived – Freddie Braun, Charles Renken and Ian Hogg, only one of whom saw any first team action this season (Braun). The case could be made that there were perhaps more players deserving of being waived than Braun, but fact is that over two years (and two head coaches, with, presumably, the input of the third) he’s not done enough to be anything other than the “oh, we need 18 players do we? okay then, him” guy.

The cutting of Ian Hogg was a bit odd. Just months after spending six weeks on trial with second division Swedish side Umeå FC and failing to get a contract – a side that would go on to finish rock bottom of the league, by the way, and beat a hasty retreat back to the Third Division whence they came – he pitched up in Portland. As I said at the time, the step-up from the semi-pro ranks of football in Hobbit country to professional football is big enough, let alone the fact that even seasoned pros can find a move to the athletic and high-impact MLS requires some adjustment time, that I thought the chances of him seeing any time this year was virtually nil, but it seems that he didn’t even do enough in training to suggest that he would make an impact next year. Strange, as we’re not exactly blessed in the full-back position and Hogg’s still pretty young, but chalk another one up for Gavin’s famed scouting network.

After waiving three, and picking up no-one in the thrill-a-minute Waiver Draft, we now await the other foot dropping. Merritt Paulson has already tweeted that the Timbers have “been active on player front”, but any trades won’t be announced till after the final of the MLS Cup on 1st December. So, the question marks over Boyd, Palmer, Alexander and Wallace, to name but four, will remain for at least a few more days. Paulson also said that “moves aren’t made in a vacuum”, and since a vacuum could be loosely defined as a space utterly devoid of atmosphere, I think we can rule out any dealings with New England.

Of course, our new glorious leader Caleb Porter will be in town soon, after seeing his Akron Zips fall in the 3rd Round of the NCAA Championship. There was some irony in noting that, just as a missed penalty against Cal FC was cited by a highly-respected Timbers journalist and preeminent historian as a cause for the end of John Spencer’s reign, Porter’s time at Akron was brought to a close by a missed penalty, this time in a 5-4 shootout loss to Creighton.

It’s a shame that Porter couldn’t end his time in Akron with another championship, especially as his team were on a 15 game winning run before dropping out, but that’s football for you. He’s certainly left a great impression on the program at Akron, and with the fans who honoured his departure with a #ThanksCaleb hashtag on twitter.

Beyond that, the SuperDraft will be taking place in January, where the Timbers have the #3 pick. Top Drawer Soccer have already carried out a Mock Draft, projecting Mikey Lopez to the Timbers, and they’ve also listed the top prospects by position. For someone who approaches the whole draft/college system with the all the bemusement of a Victorian time-traveller being handed an iPad, TDS site has been an invaluable resource.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste was the Timbers’ first round pick last year, and while he didn’t get much of a look-in, primarily used as injury cover, he’s a player I’d like to see more of in 2013. Between Mosquera, Jean-Baptiste, Horst, Danso and Brunner, the Timbers have plenty of centre-back cover, and I suspect Danso will go as I was a little surprised he wasn’t waived, to be brutally honest, but wouldn’t be at all surprised if Brunner was one of the trades-waiting-to-formally-be-announced, though that would mean finding another club looking to take on a guy who missed a lot of last year through injury.

Darlington Nagbe, the Timbers first pick in 2011, reunites with his former coach next year, and we all hope that this is what help Nagbe take that next step, and fulfil some of his undoubted potential Word That Shall Not Be Spoken.

Even though we’re playing the waiting game, things aren’t exactly quiet for the Timbers. Bright Dike made his international debut for Nigeria in a 3-1 victory against Venezuela. While it would be fair to say that Nigerian football has been at a low ebb for the past couple of years – a dismal showing in the 2010 World Cup was followed by the President, the fantastically named Goodluck Jonathan, getting involved and pulling the country out of international competition (later reversed when FIFA started to lace up their ass-kicking boots, and things all got a bit messy) and then the two-times Cup of Nations winners failing to make the 2012 competition – they’ve made it to the 2013 Cup of Nations, and there is still such an aura around the nation that they’ll likely be among the favourites to win it, with Dike hoping to be there.

US Soccer announced a new 8 team professional Women’s League, and that the Timbers would be operating a franchise. Supposedly the team can’t actually use the Timbers name, so we await news on that, but hopefully this new league will have better luck than previous efforts to run a pro women’s league have had. I’m sure the Timbers Army will get out in numbers to support their team.


And yeah, so, that’s about it for now. As I said at the top, I hope you like the new look and I hope the site can have a bit more range to its coverage this year. If you want to write for us, just get in touch. It’s really simple. We’d love to get folks who could keep everyone up to speed with the latest goings on at U23 and youth soccer, or even if you want to keep us posted on grassroots and local soccer.

Thanks for stopping by in 2012, and I hope to see you all back in 2013.

#RCTID

Kits

Playing around with photoshop, and bored – it’s a long offseason, after all – I was messing around with some fantasy Timbers kits based off some existing designs and, with nothing else going on here, I thought I’d throw them up here for the hell of it. Enjoy, or not!

“Ghost” stripes

“Ghost” stripes (alternate)

Thin stripes

“The Golfer”

“The Golfer” (alternate)

Thin hoops

Viva Cascadia

Viva Cascadia (alternate)

Red Stripe

City of Portland

Tartan

“Ghost” hoops

Gradient

Cascadia Green

More kits this way.

What Now 2: Electric Boogaloo

Okay. I’ll admit it; I’ve always wanted to write a blog post with “Electric Boogaloo” in the title. I was young in the Eighties. Sorry.

Anyway.

So; here we are.

The Portland Timbers are coming off a pretty ragged season with a team in some disarray and no head coach. The next time we’ll see the Boys in Green on the pitch will be in the spring, when – we hope – the new coach Caleb Porter will have brought some calm and order to the House of Pane, shattered by poor results on the pitch and broken by hard feelings off the pitch between the most hardbitten supporters and the interim coach/long-term general manager Gavin Wilkinson.

There has been talk of a wholesale housecleaning.

But in my opinion that is all it is; talk.

Given the approach that this team management has taken in the past, and what we’ve seen on the pitch this season and last, I cannot believe that who we will see run out on the pitch next season will be all that much different, either in form or in function, from what we have seen up until now. We will not suddenly see a side full of crafty veterans leading enthusiastic youngsters, all bursting with soccer skills.

As we talked about in the preceding post, we are likely to see many players of fair-to-middling grade MLS abilities… but many of them will have one or more limitations, ranging from trivial to significant, in their skill-set. And we will see a smaller but significant group that is better skilled – when they are at their best – but prone to maddening reversals of fortune, drifting in and out of matches, or in and out of the roster as their touch ebbs and flows.

That’s who we seem to be, that’s who Gavin and Merritt seem to find to stuff the Boot Room with. So that’s what we need to work with. That’s how we need to go forward.

We’re not going to be Spain. Let’s abandon the notion that we will ever have the quality to play “Timber-taka”.

We’re not going to be Germany, or France, or even Holland.

So.

We need to be Finland.

You say; OK, smart guy – how can we win as Finland?

Here’s how;

1. Play smart, not hard. OK, yeah, play hard. BUT play smart, too.

I heard a lot of talk on the ‘Net about how the 2012 Timbers lacked “heart”. How they didn’t play “like they cared”. How the team would roll over and die like a possum on the interstate when things went wrong.

But when I watched the team I didn’t usually see that.

OK, Dallas away? Yeah, crap, I saw it then.

But what I usually saw was a team that was tossed out onto the pitch without a plan. Without a through understanding of their opponents. I saw a group that had been given some vague instructions on what their coach wanted them to do, probably some offhand suggestions on how to cope with the opponents’ strengths, and then told to go play and see what happens. Not surprisingly, when our opponents then went through us like a dose of salts the guys got frustrated and confused; they felt like they had been out-coached and couldn’t win – from the stands that looks a lot like jackin’ it. But in my opinion it was pure coaching laziness; an approach that says, we’re just gonna go out and kick the ball around and hope for the best.

If you’re Spain, or Germany, or San Jose… you can get away with that. You have such dominant skills – even if those skills are the skills of a Lenhart; deep-dyed evil flopping and thuggery – that you can impose them on your enemy.

The Timbers can’t. Finland, remember, the plucky little guy?

For teams like us, teams with a thin roster and limited skills, each match has to be approached as a new challenge. Every opponent is a new day, a new plan. The team; the tactical plan, the roster, the communications, the discipline, needs to be adjusted to every match – and then constantly assessed during the match to re-adjust to the opponent’s moves.

Gavin, as a coach, was flat-out awful at this. Spencer seemed to pick this up from him; his “tactics” never varied. His starting XI seemed to be “whoever played well last match”.

We can’t win that way.

Merritt is going to have to give Porter the resources to do an extensive scouting and preparation for each match next season and the next on ad infinitum. And Porter will have to be constantly assessing both our team and our opponents to find the most advantageous matchups he can find. And then use his substitutions to counter their counters.

It will be nerve-wracking. It won’t always work. But I believe that it can work better than the past two season’s lassiez faire approach.

2. Play disciplined: you aren’t the dinosaur, you’re the small mammal that eats their eggs.

The 2012 Timbers were among the least tactically disciplined – and sophisticated – teams I have watched outside Vancouver away this past October and several U-12 sides in North Portland.

It showed in all aspects of our play. It showed in our backline the most; our repeated inability to catch attackers offsides, in our failure to mark and cover each other, in our backline/keeper communications. But it also showed in attack, in our inability to put together strings of attacking passes, or an attack that didn’t consistently breakdown inside the 18. It showed in out wasteful finishing, and our failure to get repeated chances on goal from an attacking series.

It even showed in something as simple as our throw-ins. I can’t be sure, but I’d think that we had the poorest ratio of throws to possession-from-throws of any team in MLS. We were just terrible at throw-ins.

Oh – and corners and free kicks! Gah! We were so good at that in 2011! The hallmark of a team that is dangerous from set-pieces is that the team will place the free kick where it wants to, and the players will get to the ball before the defenders. We took a huge step backwards there; our set-piece discipline was terrible in 2012.

See the theme here? We were either careless or wasteful on the pitch, and it cost us.

Overtalented teams can be wasteful. There will always be another chance, another shot, another corner.

Finland – sorry, the Timbers – can’t afford to be wasteful. They can’t afford to be careless. That shot has GOT to be on frame. That corner has GOT to be on a Timber’s head. Because it might be the one chance you get all half, or even all match. You HAVE to make it count.

Teams with good but limited skills can succeed with on-field discipline; hell, look at the entire history of Italian international football.

If Coach Porter can succeed in instilling that sort of discipline in this team, I think we should see some real improvement on the pitch in 2013.

3. Quantity has a quality of its own, but it’s a lot better and more fun to have quality instead

In my opinion, infusing more intelligence and discipline in our coaching and our play can take this group of players – or someone like them – further in 2013 that we have come so far.

But the problem is that to go further, we STILL have pieces that aren’t there.

Remember; the Soviets won in the end. Pluck, smarts, and discipline can only take you so far.

We still need someone who can create from the center of the midfield; someone who can provide service, start attacks, and provide a threat that will negate the current problem that if you take away the flanks the Timbers cannot generate attack.

We still need a right fullback who can be relied upon to shut down that wing.

We need Coach Porter to recognize this, and to insist that the team move the heavens and the earth to find and bring those players here.

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So here’s what I think is our bottom line:

We need a coach who understands the game, and how individual players, groups, and tactics can be tweaked to get the most out of that game. If I understand this correctly, Caleb Porter appears to be such a coach.

We need a group of players willing to be coached in such a way, and willing to adapt their game to take advantage of their strengths, minimize their weaknesses, and work together to do that. We will see whether our players will be such a team.

But – to me most important – we need an owner and a general manager that understands that this is how a team like Portland moves forward.

I’m not sure whether Merritt and Gavin are such a management.

But we’ll see, won’t we?

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I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put 2012 behind us and warm up the songs for 2013. RCTID- Onward, Rose City!

What Now?

Well.

That was pretty damn awful, wasn’t it?

Shy of sticking a finger in the eye of the Colossus of the North (who thought that a single win at CLink meant that they should be handed the Cascadia Cup and were shocked, shocked that the Whitecaps weren’t willing to help them out worth a lick) the past season was pretty much a washout.

We got our coach fired, went one match away from going winless on the road, and generally exposed the weaknesses and problems in the side that the Front Office had spent the past two years ostensibly building. Two days after the final match of the second MLS season we find ourselves back, if not where we started in 2011, at least no better off than we were at the beginning of 2012.

Ugh.

So the obvious question is: where can we go from here, and how do we get there?

We’ve got a new coach coming on board sometime in the winter, there will probably be some roster changes, and MLSTimbers v.3.0 will get a rollout sometime in the late winter. Obviously we can’t know much or do anything about this but speculate.

But speculate we can, so why not? That’s why we’re here.

First, let’s take a look what we have now.

Individually I want to suggest that the flaws in Gavin Wilkinson’s player selection can’t be better displayed than through a quick look at the present Timbers roster. In my biased opinion the current side is dominated by two kinds of players; the “consistent but limited” and the “limited by inconsistency”. We just flat out don’t have any players with consistent, genuinely game-breaking talent, the sort of marquee player that our rivals have in people like Wondolowski or Montero. Yeah, I hate those guys, too, but I can’t deny their quality. We just don’t have that and the record seems to show that we never will.

So what do we have, and what does that tell us about our Front Office’s tendencies to pick and choose players?

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The way I see it the Consistently Limited make up the bulk of the side.

With these guys you know what you’re going to see. They bring pretty much the same game every time they run on the pitch. It’s not that they can’t play, or that they’re hackers and goofs. They’re all at least substitute-grade MLS quality guys. But their game, that game we know we’ll see, is lacking in one way or another. These guys all have a shortcoming, or shortcomings, that put a limit on their ability to produce winning soccer in one way or another.

Starting from the back we have Ricketts, whose limitation seems to be primarily age and fragility that comes with a history of injury, and the Bendik/Gleeson binary star, limited merely by their inexperience – though Bendik seemed to be at least a solid journeyman during his limited stint this season.

On the backline we have Mosquera, limited by his judgement and inability to communicate with his linemates, and Kimura who is limited in so many aspects it’s hard to figure out where start. In midfield we have Wallace and Palmer, who are sort of the Mosquera and Kimura of the center of the pitch; the one makes constant errors of judgement while the other is simply a quandary; why is he doing this for a living and I’m not?

Diego Chara, whose effort and defensive sturdiness are unquestionable is limited by his inability to keep from getting called for fouling and his poor forward passing. Jack Jewsbury is simply not young enough and mobile enough anymore to have more than a moderate impact.

Up front Bright Dike is limited by his poor touch and sloppy finishing, while Kris Boyd is limited simply by his style of play; without good distribution and service from the midfield he is simply wasted up top.

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The Limitedly Inconsistent are a minority on the team, but an important one. With these guys you never know whether they’re going to bring their A-game, or whether that game is going to last the entire match. They show streaks of brilliance matched with random outbursts of mediocrity or outright blunders.

David Horst is the poster child for this group. A stand-up guy who anchors the backline for 89 minutes he will suddenly make a horribly mistimed lunge, or stab, or find a way to mark space, or do something that will gift the enemy a goal. You love to see him most of the time, and then tiny remainder you look away because it’s like a car accident unfolding on the Sunset Highway at rush hour.

In midfield Darlington Nagbe who to me is still something of an enigma labelled “potential”; will he be the Nagbe that passes accurately and can score a clinical goal, or the one that gets knocked off the ball and is marked out of the game mid-match? Kalif Alhassan is another skilled but unpredictable midfielder; you never know which Kalif will show up – will it be the one that can provide a lovely assist, or the one whose crosses float over the entire 18 like a shiny soap bubble? Some matches Sal Zizzo is a speedy winger and clinical crosser while others earn his nickname “Zig Zag Zizzo”, running aimlessly about and lofting random high balls into the blue. Franck Songo’o can provide brilliance in attack and sturdy defence but can also repeatedly dribble into trouble and wander about seemingly at random.

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Of the entire current side there’s one guy who I would say has grown into a solidly dependable player who is both consistent and relatively skilled; Steven Smith. A liability in the back at first his play in the last half of the season has progressed to where he’s among the best of our defenders – yes, a low bar but, still – and has shown promise going forward. Of the current group of starters he seems the best rounded and most skilled.

Of the remainder we don’t really have any solid indicators. Eric Alexander has shown signs of being in the second group but his minutes have been so limited as to make that pure speculation. Eric Brunner was a hell of a defender prior to his injuries but hasn’t been a standout in the short stints he’s played in the late season; hard to tell how well he will come back, if at all. Jean-Baptiste showed well against San Jose on Sunday, but he is one of the large group of young players we just haven’t seen enough of this season to really judge. Brent Richards has looked better tracking back than he did in his earlier outings but his play retains the erratic quality of a young player. And we’ve just seen way too little of guys like Hogg, Kawulok, Purdy, Fucito…

But in general, given what this group seems to tell us about Gavin’s – or Gavin and Merritt’s – weakness in assessing players we need to assume that these young players are likely to have similar weaknesses. This seems to be the Front Office’s style; they see either only the strengths of the consistent-but-limited players, or the “manic phase” of the skilled-but-inconsistent players while not noticing the weaknesses of the one and the depressive phase of the other.

And we need to assume that if this same group continues to pick the players for the incoming coach we are likely to see very similar sorts of players next season. Gavin’s record, in particular, goes back to the USL days and was very like this; Portland saw players like Mamadou Keita and Ryan Pore, inconsistent guys who could play but would tend to drift out of the match, or the season, or guys like Scot Thompson and Takayuki Suzuki; good solid players but just not the sort that got you to the league championship finals.

This is likely to be it; this is likely to be “who we are” until and if we get a new group in the executive suite.

So the question is; how do we go forward, how do the Timbers get better, with these sorts of players?

And that is the subject of the next post.