Sunday, November 18, 2012

Seattle Sounders v LA Galaxy second leg...or arm?

Condolences to our Cascadian rivals in Seattle at the result of tonight's match against LA. The Sounders' effort was excellent and it was an exciting game up until the point that Robbie Keane's cross smacked into Johannsen's arm two thirds of the way into the match.  
I'm not a physicist but I'm guessing that any scientist tracking the movement of Seattle's defender in trying to position himself would have said that it was nigh impossible to move without using the arms as counterbalance.   And if that's the case,  what's the rationale for calling a PK for intentionally handling the ball.   

I don't know if FIFA or referees consider this issue at all but the mechanics of the human body in motion includes some inevitabilities.   Arms as balance points are among them.  We don't go through extreme physical articulations of our bodies with our arms at our sides.   Try it sometime.   It doesn't work.

This is not something that can't be tested and measured.   And I'm happy to hear that all of that has already happened and there's a clear standard as to when a player's body in motion is 'making (itself) bigger' as the referee attested and when the arm action is a byproduct of necessary balancing.

The impact on the match between Seattle and LA was immense and immediately palpable.  And there are many similar examples out there in which the game has been changed completely by a 'handball in the box' from a player who was in midair and whose trajectory took an arm into the play.   It's a sad way to have games unfold and a far cry from the call when a static player moves or raises an arm to block a play.

Football deserves a better standard.   One that's based on better understanding of the science of physical mechanics.   And Seattle deserved a better outcome than to drop a point in a key game on that score.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cascadia Cup- first bright shiny thing

Jack Jewsbury and the boys in green bust loose.   The Portland Timbers beat the 'Caps in their last chance to win an away match and also to grab hold of the Cascadia Cup after a long and puzzling season.  Looking at the highlights tonight, it appears that they were both intense and lucky in their play.   And what a great feather in the cap of captain Jack Jewsbury whose career in Portland continues to provide him with new heights to conquer.

I know that there was great sadness in the final of the 1975 NASL Soccer Bowl when we went down to the Tampa Bay Rowdies 0-2 in San Jose.   Winning a competitive cup puts a club into the realm of legendary teams.   The march to the Cascadia Cup win tonight, against the run of play in the League, is a marker that will stand for as long as there are Portland Timbers and those who remember and honor the Timbers with fondness.

Next week we close the season out against the Quakes,  the hottest team in the League. Ironic that the Timbers' first championship tussle was in the Quakes' home turf.  We don't have anything to play for but pride,  and a nod to the potential for next year.   So far this year,  we took a game at home against SJ and tied a game away.   For old times' sake,   I hope we kick into high gear and announce that we will be there, armed for bear and ready to rumba next season.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Brief snapshots of football...

Life has been happily tumultuous which has meant that I have had less time to pay attention to the Game.   A couple of events deserve mention,  I think.
I watched a streamed match of the junior teams for Barca and Wolfsburg the other night.  I was curious to see how the next likely squad of players from the Spanish machine looked.
The answer was 'impressive'.   At the end of the evening,  the red blue and gold side had notched five goals to Wolfsburg's none.  And while much of the scoring was done with real individual flair,  the process of getting there showed a continuation of the style that Barcelona has made famous and popular.   This crew looked good.
On a different day I watched the Portland Seattle match on the television.  Everything about that game was disheartening.  The first own goal off Futty's foot.   The followup goal by Johnson who stood alone and waited for the ball to come to him.   The failure of the Timbers to figure things out and regain their poise.  It was not a game I want to remember. 
I read afterward that Caleb Porter had set the lineup so as to look at the play of some folks who might not make the cut next time around.   That apparently is why Wallace and Palmer were at the outside back positions,  slots that have been terrible for us all season.  As well, it might explain why Fucito was subbed in as a forward instead of Danny Mwanga.   Overall, the game highlighted issues that have plagued the team all season--getting burned on the wings and failing to put the ball in the net when we've had chances.   Oh, and there is a question about the midfield's ability to step up and deliver the ball to the attacking end.  
It will be interesting to see what unfolds over the winter.  I don't think we have the back line that we need for starters.  I'm hopeful that a little bit of rage makes the team come out and chew the Whitecaps up for that one road win and the Cascadia Cup. But then I'm inveterately hopeful.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Timbers tie Seattle 9-15-12

The Timbers fought their way to a draw against heavy odds today.  The Sounders have been on a roll since their last visit to Jeld-Wen when our folk beat them handily.   And the Timbers, by contrast, have had a rough road--coaching and personnel changes and performances on the field bouncing from high to low.   The match today, however, was one of the most electric contests I've seen on a pitch this year as well as a testimony to the Timbers who showed that they indeed have the potential to find the warriors within who can claw the last mile in a game that the oddsmakers would say was a giveaway.

Let me recap the points that stuck in my mind when it was all over.   Portland attacking.  Sal Zizzo making runs on the right flank early in the game.  Franck Songo'o dancing his way past Seattle defenders and, when fouled,  stepping up his game to say 'I will not be intimidated'.   A beautiful moment.  Song'o launching a perfectly arced cross into the box from the attacking left side almost onto the feet of a sliding Chara.    Chara like a bulldog protecting the home of his master challenging Seattle's attack over and over while at the same time breaking into the attacking end and creating havoc there.   Chara late in the first half with the ball on his feet dribbling under serious pressure toward the top of the box and the Seattle defender wrapping him up, literally, in his arms and taking Chara down.  No whistle.   The replay on the big screen clearly showed the foul.  Chara shaking it off and trotting back down field, a smile as always on his face.

Dike bulling his way around the top of the attacking zone.  The Timbers attack was relentless and varied today.   Songo'o launching a rocket from twenty five that required a full body parry.  Dike and Jewsbury taking shots left and right.  Wallace launching  balls into the goalbox.

And at the defending end,  the team in green were like terriers barking at the heels of Seattle's forwards.  The one moment of anxious inhalation when Fredy (you know Fredy!) was about to break into the box free and was stripped of the ball with a confident tackle. Mosquera and Horst were tireless.   Wallace played smart defense and still managed to get forward into the attack while well-covered by Jewsbury.

The first half ended nil-nil with consensus in the stands that Portland had played strong and had blunted Seattle's psychological and physical edge.   What was clear though was the Sounders' willingness to chop down their opponent to gain advantage.   Through the half Timbers' players took hits after releasing a pass or away from play completely to the point that the game had a roller derby flavor.

Sadly,  the second half made that flavor the dominant one in the match.  Early in the second half,  Donovan Ricketts went down in a collision with Eddie Johnson as he and Fredy crashed the goal on a high ball.  Ricketts didn't get up for a long count and when he did it was clear he wasn't okay.   Johnson,  in a sportsmanlike gesture, came over to shake his hand when he was finally on his feet.   Certainly, Sounders have reason to be hostile to chippy play after the serious injury to Steve Zakuani  against Colorado last year.   Ricketts, though willing to brave it out,  went off after a short interval and was replaced by Portland's substitute keeper, Joe Bendik.   The substitution was barely complete when Montero took a long ball out of his own end and volleyed it over Bendik's hands giving Seattle the lead.

This is where the story begins to get interesting.   The Timbers were down by a goal in the second half to a team who mostly win when they score first.   The Timbers' first string keeper was out injured.  The Timbers have struggled to come back when they've given up early goals   So what would happen today?  Eighteen or nineteen thousand fans were in full roar rallying the team.   And the team responded.

The Timbers didn't stop playing.  Didn't stop fighting.  Didn't lose their composure.   They continued to attack the Sounders goal.  Songo'o demonstrated his composure and his skills until he was injured and went off to be replaced by Danny Mwanga.  

The Timbers continued to match Seattle challenge for challenge and attack for attack,  and their perserverance paid off with Rodney Wallace's shot slicing through the goalline defense and into the net to tie the game.  And the game continued to be rough beyond physical.  Late in the second half,  Al Hassan was subbed in for Sal Zizzo whose early success against the Sounders defense had begun to be less effective.   With that change,  the team had gone through its allowed substitutions.

Not long after, Diego Chara who'd been a workhorse for the team, went down in a challenge and came off the field with what clearly looked like a groin pull.   There were still minutes on the clock and the Timbers were forced to play short.   In stoppage time,  the Timbers continuing to attack,  Dike's shot hit the right post and in an astonishing display of improbable physics bounced out to the left across the entire face of goal to be deflected out without going across the line.   In years of watching soccer matches a shot with a 'curse' like this almost never happens.   Not too long after, Joe Bendik made a stellar save on a wormburner from twenty plus yards out which would have stolen the result.

Six minutes of stoppage time were whistled to an end and the match was deemed a draw.  A partisan view would say that one or two calls changed the result in Seattle's favor.   The taking down of Chara for example.   But for anyone who loves the game this match displayed some extraordinary football.   From a Timbers' fan point of view the biggest issue is whether Chara, Songo'o and Ricketts will be able to suit up for the next game.  

Today the challenge laid down was to represent the Timbers ably in front of the thousands of loyal fans here and to not give an inch to Seattle, our worthy rivals.  The Cascadia Cup is on the line and the Timbers are still atop that table--no small achievement.   I'd say this match was one of those which will be talked about for years,  a classico.   I'm glad to say we were there.

Scoring in MLS...

It's a small thing perhaps,  but I noted in an article yesterday about the leading scorers in MLS right now that both Alan Gordon and Kenny Cooper are right up there.   Both former Timbers strikers who've done well when placed in the right mix.  Goal scoring is a skill for which there are many different formulas.  For our team the biggest question up front may continue to be not whether we've got talented players but whether we're putting them in a context that works for their style.  Not a brilliant insight perhaps but a reminder that football is a team sport.   

Sunday, August 26, 2012

No shortage of excitement in Rose City

Tonight's match between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps may not mean much in the table as far as the Timbers are concerned,  though the win takes them out of the basement.  And it may not have more meaning than just being a single game in a season full of frustration, confusion, and uncertainty. 

That being said tonight's match was more than worth the price of the ticket...if you could get a ticket.  The Timbers refused to be the whipping boy for Vancouver's ambitions,  playing hard and smart through most of a game much like three plus decades of games between the two sides.   Physical.  No quarter given.  The Timbers may not have a shot at much this season but they are still in the running for the Cascadia Cup, and what is more important really?  An MLS Trophy?  A Lamar Hunt Cup?   No,  in the mythic kingdom of Cascadia, this Cup is the Grail.  

Forging of legends aside,  this match was worth remembering for the realities of its nuts and bolts football as well as for its drama.   First off,  Darlington Nagbe was the player we all want him to be early in this game.  He was strong on the ball, assertive,  looking for shots and calmly delivering the team's first goal in an attacking sequence that says the Timbers are better than they've looked this season.   Second,  Franck Songo'o was brilliant on the field.  His twists, turns, feints and attacks wreaked havoc with Vancouver's defense.   Songo'o showed a command of the field and a ferociousness when Vancouver got the ball that must have been inspiring to his teammates if it was making me feel the intensity thirty rows up in the stands.   And his free kick perfectly placed to tantalize Vancouver's keeper as it went into the net was worthy of any master of the game anywhere.

Songo'o is an enigma of sorts.  He came to the team as a walk-on.  His resume is substantial enough as far as where he's trained and where he's played that it gives one pause to think he's not a designated player, one of the rarified strata of the MLS,  but his career has not been marked by a breakout performance in which he rose to his potential and showed his prowess as a footballer.  Tonight he showed that he's got grit and is willing to raise the stakes.  He showed poise in his finesse with defenders out in the corners.   He showed attacking sensibilities as he gathered the ball out in the twenty some yard range and loaded up shots,  something the Timbers haven't done enough of.  I'd say, Franck is looking to make his mark here in our PDX, and that we may see the unfolding of a star who's arrived at the right place and time.   I am rooting for him!

But there's still more good news from tonight's match.  Kimura, our outside defender, appears to play with greater intensity after his nose is broken.  I can't recommend that as a way to find his innner fierceness, but I think he clearly wanted to rub Vancouver's nose in the dirt.  He was a clear danger in the attack and didn't seem to struggle with getting back to harass the Caps when they were on the attack.  At both ends,  he was a factor in the match.  

Sal Zizzo and Eric Alexandar both contributed solid performances in this match.  They were wasps buzzing into the attack and were not hesitant to challenge for the ball.   It's interesting to think about the combinations in the midfield.   Zizzo did not get much starting presence earlier in the season,  but he plays intensely.  I have the impression that for a guy his height,  he's pretty effective winning balls in the air, of which there are still too many.

Best image from tonight, apart from Songo'o's goal, is that of veteran defender Steven Smith heading a shot away from danger on the line as he covered the goalmouth when Donovan Ricketts was out.   In my view,  this is a brilliant demonstration of Smith's value to the team.  Ricketts had moved aggressively to win the ball on his right leaving the goal mouth open.  When Ricketts was not able to cover the space and a Caps player slotted the ball to the empty net,   Smith was there. Smith was confident and what would have been a tying goal was displaced.   Brilliant!  Just excellent demonstration of experience and teamwork.

On the downside.  There are still clear moments when the two center defenders, Horst and Mosquera, don't have the needed self-organization which means that opponents are still able to line up shots from twenty yards and have a clear look at goal.   I don't know why this happens.  Both are solid defenders but I'd say it's a chemistry issue.  They aren't always understanding each others' signals.   There were five or six moments during the match when the defense was at sixes and sevens.   The Vancouver goal came on one of those moments.   

A win is always good.  The Timbers' could have scored half a dozen times with a little more precision.   But it doesn't matter how many goals,  a win is a good thing.  And a win in the Cascadia Cup this year may be the best thing.   For now, of course.   We have high expectations for the future.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

No excuses but observations.

I stood in astonishment as our team was blasted by the Galaxy a couple weeks back and on reflection wondered whether the lynch pin moment was Boyd's early goal which may have created a mental state of less urgency --we can take these guys--- and led to Beckham's gimme shot from thirty-five yards with no one challenging.
Fast forward to last night.  Portland at Dallas and the team disintegrates just like an umbrella put up before a ferocious wind.  Dallas,  a team on crutches,  eviscerates the Timbers in a slow and painful dispatch.
Fast forward to today.   What the hell can we make of this madness?  This unpredictability? This 'choose your adjective' experience?   

I don't know.  But I have an observation.   Last night Red Bulls took on the Union over on the Right Coast.   In that match,  a fella named Kenny Cooper knocked out his 12th and 13th goals of the season.   Watching the highlights of that match, it is apparent that Cooper was a joyful participant in play--receiving a small number of quality balls from which he crafted two goals.   

My conclusion?  Increasingly I think that our team's struggle is not a lack of talent.  We've acquired players who have pedigree and passion.   I am increasingly convinced that we don't have someone who can hammer them into a resolute war machine which takes to the field and shows no mercy until the game is won.
I've been reluctant to put too much weight on the capabilities of the coaching staff,  but I increasingly see evidence that personnel who 'failed' here are now succeeding in other venues.   Conclusion?  

I think serious questions deserve to be asked.  And no piece of the club should be exempt.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One goal up early may spell disaster

I hate to even front this idea because it seems to me to oversimplify what happened in last Saturday's match against the triumvirate of soupastars and the rest of the Galaxy team.   The Timbers scored very early in the match on a classy feed and shot executed by Khalil and finished by Boyd.  It was stellar and would have been the headline if the game hadn't gone wanky for us. 

So the question rises as to why we would let D. Beckham, the devil incarnate as far as making the balls do wicked things,  stand all by himself and line up a shot just minutes later.    My answer?  The Timbers let down their guard with the early goal and started thinking 'this aint so tough'.   Except that it was.   And once the unraveling began,  it took near forty minutes to bring the boat back to an even keel.  Am I mixing my metaphors?   Well I have to because just one won't suffice.  

It's possible that we would not have beaten a resurgent Galaxy side with Donovan and Keane home from other commitments and Becks stinging from not being asked to the Olympic side for England.   But it was even less likely when our players were disarmed by the early goal for us.   And once the counterattack began,  the players on the field that night didn't have the resilience to pick up the pace and fight back.

I think Kimura was put in a terribly awkward position as well.   As a jetlagged newcomer he was still trying to find his place and figure out the names of the other guys on the team.   As a professional with high standards,  he overplayed some of his challenges---not that he was the only one at fault--- and it made the game harder to win.

I still think we've got a good crew to work with.  Young players who will be great soon.   And no need to panic.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Coaches axed off the pitch.

A fiery passionate soccer coach gets the sack this week and the airwaves are abuzz with commentary.  John Spencer's firing by the Timbers wasn't the only notable sacking of a coach this week.   Argentine legend Maradona was sacked by UAE's Al Wasl after the club failed to do better than eighth of twelve teams.   The chatter after the fact included quotes from Maradona who wanted,  essentially, to discuss the issue.  

I have to give Spencer credit.  He's got more dignity than Maradona. And may be a better coach.  Time will tell, I guess.   I just found the juxtaposition of events ironic.  I look forward to hearing about Spencer's success at some place and time in the future.   Maradona?   I just hope that the Timbers aren't looking that direction.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

If a tree falls in the front office does anybody hear?

Football is a harsh mistress was the despondent cry of a West Ham fan way back before the world went off the tracks financially in Naught8.   It's a good lament because it has the flavor of brutal honesty and blood in your mouth just after you've taken that punch on the playground in sixth grade and you know you can decide to stand up and take your lumps or beg off and head home, comfort there but only false comfort.

I am feeling sort of like that as I ponder the cruel choices the Game rolls out here in PDX for the Portland Timbers this week.  Our crew,  carefully selected and much heralded,  is not only not a well-oiled machine grinding its way to the playoffs but it is shedding parts as it goes.  Not a good sign.   The truth is there are no easy answers and no time to cast the I Ching and find a path.    Even if one believed that was possible.

We're midseason, all of us, fans and players and management and perhaps even the gods and godesses  who shield our city....if there are such.   The ownership of the team has felt forced to be decisive  and John Spencer (bless him for being a genuine and passionate man) has been given his walking papers.    The team has two and a half dozen professional players,  our veterans  and our youngsters,  who have struggled to come together as a force to be reckoned with and now must face the real challenge---fold up your tent and walk or stand up with your mates,  be angry,  and choose to show the harsh mistress that she can't claim she stumbled over y'all in an alley and didn't know who you were.  

I have confidence that the Timbers are better than the tote board says.  But I think there is a fire someplace here in the heart of the team.  I think that there are men of great possibility who can step up and demand that all of these players band together and choose to be the team that stood up and took its lumps and, win or lose,  earned the aura of being called legendary Portland Timbers.  Players who would get the nod from Clive Charles if he were here.  

Gotta earn it ,Boys.  I think you can.  I want you to.   Go ahead and put that chip back on your shoulder,  play it smart, don't think that the Game loves you.   Look at the faces around you on the field and choose to make them your crew.    Up in the stands we'll give you our best shot at howlin' down the visitors.  

Rose City Til I Die.....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Walk to End Alzheimer's - Friend of Jimmy Conway Group

Dear Friends of Jimmy Conway:
Those of us who participated in last year’s ‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’ here in Portland, committed to making it into an even bigger event this year to show our respect for Jimmy and support for the Alzheimer’s Association - Oregon Chapter who do such great work to help those affected by this insidious disease. 

Consequently, we’d like you to consider either walking in the event (Sunday, Sep 23rd, 2012) at the Portland International Raceway (PIR) and/or making a donation in Jimmy’s name. I have registered a team in Jimmy and Noeleen’s honor and it’s called…Friends of Jimmy Conway. So, if you are up to supporting the event and the Association please visit the registration page at the link provided below. Once there you can use the ‘Join Us, Join a team’ button and enter ‘Friends of Jimmy Conway’. From there you will be instructed how to join the team and/or make a donation. Obviously, we understand that many of you may not be able to be there in person but we do hope you will consider a donation in Jimmy’s name.

Our group will be led by Jimmy & Noeleen, members of the Conway family, former Portland Timbers mascot ‘Timber Jim’ (Jim Serrill) and Tim Birr the bagpiper who so kindly led our group last year. We are attempting to get as many local soccer enthusiasts to join us to show our support and respect for Jimmy and the Alzheimer’s Association.  

I will be providing periodic updates on Jimmy’s Facebook group page (Fans of Jimmy Conway). Here is the link:

Thanks, once again, for your consideration. Let’s make Jimmy and Noeleen proud and let’s raise as much money as we possibly can to help fight this disease.


Mick Hoban
Friend of Jimmy Conway

503-297-0844 (work)

As mentioned in earlier posts, Jimmy Conway and the early Portland Timbers' deserve our support- in many ways- for the gifts they gave this community.  Truth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Perlaza Mwanga

I'm late to the party on this subject I guess.   I just heard the news that Perlaza has been traded to Philadelphia for Danny Mwanga and some considerations.   I hope Perlaza finds a slot where he can thrive; it hasn't worked well here.   And I am always in favor of homecomings,  though there's that wise adage that one can never go home.  I think Danny Mwanga's youth and pedigree here are more likely to be a fit with the Timbers. 

From the stands,  there's always a little special electricity when someone from the home town comes on the pitch, an Alex Nimo or Byron Alverez.  That should be a plus too.  

The other element I find myself wondering about is how this plays for Diego Chara.  Chara came up from the same club, Deportes Tolima, and early newspaper accounts talked about how having another Columbian teammate made it easier for Perlaza around.   It may well be that taking Perlaza out of the mix on the front line frees Chara's attention some.  I'm sure he wanted Perlaza to succeed.   I've always thought he was a very bright playmaker.   I can hear all the voices saying 'hey, these guys are professionals'.   That being said,  the human relationships may only affect the play in miniscule ways but it is miniscule differences that sometimes send a ball into the net or not.

Will be interesting to see what happens.   Welcome back to Portland, Danny.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Timbers: Whither or wither?

I wasn't able to attend the Timbers' Open Cup match this past week.  Heard a fair amount of the end of it on the radio as I was driving home from work.  And the disheartening outcome, outplaying the opponent and then giving up a goal in stoppage time,  was distressing to hear.  Not for me 'cause I'm just a fan,   but certainly for the team and management.  Lots of voices from the stands and in the chatter boxes, electronic and print,  offered a range of opinions.  Spencer was to blame.  Boyd was to blame, Wilkinson was to blame.  Referees are to blame.  The defense is to blame.   

I've had a busy week so I haven't had time to follow all of it closely, but my inclination is to take none of this too seriously- yet.  I haven't lost my 'cheery optimism' that the core of this crew is solid.   A couple of posts back I ticked off thoughts on several players.   I don't feel differently so far.   

Boyd, for example,  and his drought.  Is it so unheard of?  I looked up some stats for strikers.   Zlatan Ibrahimovic might be a good example.  Player close to Boyd's age who's been around the game for a fair number of years. Twenty nine years old, he only knocked in 14 goals in 29 games last year at AC Milan.  This year he's showing 28 goals in 32 games.  Same team.    In 2005/6 at Juventus,  he only nailed 7 goals in 35 matches and then the next year went on to score 15 in 27 games when he moved to Inter.  I suspect in that grim year at Juvie,  people wondered if he'd lost it.
I'm sure Boyd has moments of doubt and anxiety; he'd be inhuman if he didn't.

What about the shooting?  A newspaper column this week mentioned the low percentage of shots on goal.   I  am reminded of one of my teammates,  Pat McCormick,  who says a lot of stuff I take with a grain of salt,  but he also says  "If you can't shoot you can't score."   I looked at the current MLS stats.   The Timbers are pulling the trigger an average of twelve times a game and 33% of those shots are on frame.  Is that low?   No.  United is leading the League with fourteen shots a game and  37% are SOG.   Right behind them,  San Jose is shooting 35 % on goal with fifteen a game.   I can't see that the numbers are big enough to explain anything. 

These statistics are interesting but not very helpful.   I personally think the Timbers should be shooting three or four more times a game.  In the last game against Vancouver,  I put my head in my hands when a lovely ball was slotted down from the back,  can't remember to whom.   When the ball reached the player's foot there was a clear lane for a hard low shot just outside the box on the Key Bank side--twenty yards.   The player didn't appear to look at goal as the ball was arriving,  but passed outside to the overlapping run.   The Timbers have used that successfully  but alternating with shots increases the dangerousness of the runs because the defense can't be sure which they'll be served with.

I do think the defense is challenged.   Early on there was talk about the Timbers giving up early goals being a problem.  And it may be,  but I note that San Jose have allowed an early first goal in the last five matches and come back to win.   For every easy factor to point to,  there are examples that suggest contrary interpretations. As I'm sure John Stewart knows all too well, there are no easy answers.  

I do have a couple of thoughts that I may have blathered about in some earlier post, but they keep coming back to me.
Stewart has often been quoted in the press as saying that he's going to put out the best eleven in his judgement  on any given day and that there are no givens.   Part of me likes the performance based decisionmaking.   Part of me also knows,  from managing employees over the years,   that folks don't do their best when their lives are uncertain.   Maybe Stewart's approach isn't as fluid as it sounds,  but many of these guys are young and I could imagine not everyone is gong to thrive in that system.

The other thought I have is about communication and understanding.   On the field, lack of  these two qualities can hamstring talent and desire.   On the pitch, players who know each other well and who get a rush from successfully connecting are more effective.  If you know a guy's strengths and weaknesses and play to that knowledge,  the whole side is better.   Don't put the ball on the left foot of a right-footed player.  I get the impression that Boyd and  some of his midfielders arent' quite there because he's not getting enough passes he can work with.   Again, in the Vancouver game, Chara slipped a lovely ball through the defensive line at the top of the box,  but clearly Boyd didn't know it was coming.
Communication and understanding.  

There are,  every game,  too many examples of our players passing to the feet of opponents.   There are more good passes but  the ones that go so directly astray are disheartening.  Is it lack of focus or misreading what the  other player is going to do?  I'm not sure.   I think that the rotation of players in the lineup does make it harder to find rhythm and understanding.   

Bottom line,  we're a long way from a worst case scenario.  Toronto has lost nine games in a row this year,  the longest losing streak since RSL went ten in a row in 2005.  Now that's gotta hurt.   I'm willing to think positive about our prospects.  We've got a ways to go before the season is truly ready for the ashcan.   

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kenny Cooper...we can't just let go.

On the MLS Extra Time Radio Podcast tonight,  there's a poll.  It asks readers to select among several American players their choic for which one should have gotten a call up to the National Team camp.  Top of the alpha based list is our former striker, Kenny Cooper.   Looking at the polling,  he's also near tied for most popular choice with Sacha Kljestan and Eric Lichaj.    Coop has definitely been having a happy run with the Red Bulls.  And more power to him. Though I never met him,  he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy.   

Back here in PDX though his success in the Big Apple raises a specter of unease.  Particularly when Kris Boyd, who was recruited to fill Coop's slot has struggled to notch goals.  

My sense is still that both forwards are capable and can be deadly.   The question that's not answered is whether their talents are being well-used.   If you've got a striker with a golden boot,  wouldn't you design the team to make sure he gets the service he needs to deliver?   Maybe that's too simplistic.  

Regardless, I think Cooper had a most challenging situation last season for whatever reasons.  And Boyd may be suffering from some of the same weaknesses.   I think I speak for most of the Timbers' fans.  We want the crew we've got to mesh and succeed.   For them and for us.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Portland Timbers-hard truths

Okay I gotta get down to the nut here. The Portland Timbers have excellent players and passionate coaching staff.  The Timbers are not winning.  Why?  I'd be laughable as a once or twice a week observer to try to answer that question.  However, I can claim some rights to comment as a longtime observer who's played the game as well as watched the game.  

Perlaza was recruited as a blistering fast forward who could beat defenses with his speed.  It isn't happening.  For whatever reason.   Boyd was recruited as a shark who could prowl the box and turn any pass he got into an opportunity.   It isn't happening.   Most of the balls to Boyd were long lobs to his head, the lowest percentage play we can use him for.  Shades of Kenny Cooper.  I like Chris Boyd as a shark.   We aren't playing to his strength.
In my community the buzz is to put Nagbe up with Boyd.  Nagbe's creative and fit and totally different in his mental focus.  I'd say play it as a wild card.   Chara is a demon crazed workhorse-encourage him.  We need to have Songo'o fit enough to start, if for no other reason than to find out if his pedigree is valid.  The guy's shown some poise and moves.  Let's check it out.   We have a stable of stellar midfielders.   Figuring out the inside is the hardest.  I think Capt. Jack can be a settling influence but needs a strong partner.  And clarity as to who is the holding mf.    Truth be told, we have more outside midfield candidates who can jet down the outside--so I'd like to see Chara, Jewsbury, and Songo'o as the inside trio.  

Defense is still at risk.  We've had serious knocks to our best guys-and that is going to continue to be an issue. Honestly, I think Brunner is generally solid except when he makes a move and misses.  Sweeping the ball and not getting it is a cardinal sin in front of goal.  Perhaps the return of Futty will help steady that.   On the outside, I think our new Scots' defender was solid.  I like Chabala.  I like Hanyar.  I like anyone except Wallace as outside back.
I admit to my biases.  

In the hole? I hope Perkins is back.  The  foul raking him in the face with cleats was grim.  And deserved a more stern penalty.  So it goes.

We've got a season still to win.  No one has to agree with me.  But 52,000 of us are watching and care about how the team goes.  Some are watching from the Jeld Wen Park and some are watching from Lostine Oregon.  But they all want to see their crew succeed.   

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Questions of impact after Montreal.

A fair number of the guys who congregate on Saturday mornings for the 'old guys' practice' enthusiastically caravanned to Wild Wings on Lower Boones Ferry Road after play was over to watch the Timbers early match today against Montreal.  The mood was hopeful.   I don't want to make this an ad for Wild Wings but their modern building with yellow and black signage seemed made for a Mojos excursion.  And they had lots of beer.   Slightly cheaper than at Jeld Wen Field.   So it was that a crowd sat through the first half of the match on a giganto screen--no several screens.   The teams going off the pitch with a nil-nil tie on the board.

In the break,  many of us headed home.  Saturdays can't be all indolent football, beer, and chatter.  I logged back into the match just as Troy Perkins took a boot to the head and went off.  After which,  the ref awarded a PK as the ball bounced up onto new man, Steve Smith, and caught him under the arm.  In the replay he's clearly facing away from the ball and couldn't have seen it coming.   Regardless,   Montreal broke the stalemate with the PK and the game became more stressful.   The Timbers struggled to establish a rhythm.  Errant passes kept that from happening.  And in a horror show moment a crossing ball from Montreal's left flank sailed past Bendix,  the subbed in keeper,  and onto the toe of an unmarked blue shirt who squirted it home.   Best as I could tell,  Lovell Palmer was the Timber who was four steps behind the shooter.  

Much of what the Timbers did in this match was admirable, but they still seem like a turbocharged V8 that is only firing on five cylinders.   For most of the match,  the team didn't give away anything defensively but the PK unwound the elements of poise and the ultimate result was worse than needed.  Kris Boyd got few balls that he could do much with; his intensity was great as he came all the way back into our turf to try to strengthen the connections going forward.   Capt. Jack and Chara worked hard.  Nagbe looked better and better.   Steve Smith was solid, particularly for a walk on,  and became increasingly valuable putting in balls as the game progressed.
Hanyard and Brunner were largely solid in back.  Steve Purdy's substitution with clear reinjury was a setback but Braun filled the slot well.  I continue to be unsure what Perlaza is contributing.  He was called offside a half dozen times and in the rare moment when he was in a footrace to win the ball he didn't. 

Bad luck afflicted us today but we also allowed Fortune to kick us in the teeth at critical moments.  I think hard decisions still need to be made about who starts.  I think the players who are quoted in the press saying that 'the veterans need to provide leadership' need to tell the press they have nothing to say until things change and then need to hunker down and win games.   

I think they can.  Question is whether they will.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hanyer Mosquera

Say what you want about the gritty, roll of the dice, mano a mano , crash and burn game between Portland and Sporting KC.   The truth may be that the difference in the game was Hanyer Mosquera's boot on the line when Troy Perkins lost control of an incoming ball which headed down and into goal.  Moquera was there.  No goal was scored.  The Timbers regrouped and held onto their lead.  To the very very end.  There were stellar moments in this game, which had aspects of a destruction derby out at the old Portland Speedway.  Kris Boyd's precise cross forcing the defense to fail, for example.  (And where were the Timbers' attackers?)  But I'd say Mosquera is proving himself over and over as a smart, tough and thoughtful centerback.   In my opinion,  he made the difference in this match.  Look forward to seeing him out there again.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Portland Timbers shrivel against Chivas

I can't make sense of last night's match.  The first half seemed fine for the most part.  Boyd's poise at the moment the opportunistic bounce came his way for the opening goal suggested that the full eleven had that steely-eyed view of how to pick Chivas apart and spread the remains to the wind.  But that was a mistake.  
I thought Nagbe, Songo'o, Alexandar were dangerous but there were moments of horror. On the good side Nagbe ran right at the defense and gave them heart palpitations. Elsewise,  Wallace missed a tackle at about the 30th minute allowing his many a free run and cross down the side.   The resulting shot just passed the far corner of the goal.  But at the same time, Wallace broke up several attacks with a deftly placed foot.  The second half began with an onslaught of intersecting runs toward our goal from Chivas.  The  red and white strip  came out of the locker room like crusaders of old.   Their energy, accurate passing, movement off the ball combined to apparently unnerve the Timbers and the early tie goal accelerated Portland's angst. 
Lovell Palmer was mentioned in the print media as getting beat by his mark more than once.  Brunner was not able to stop his mark from scoring on an accurate cross.  And the second goal, not Brunner's mistake,  was also the result of a pinpoint cross.  Not that another keeper might have reacted differently,  but I thought Perkins was caught flatfooted on the the second goal.  More importantly,  our crew made errant passes and as anxiety set in the attack devolved to long 'hopeful' balls.  I think Boyd is a ferociously aggressive player.  He was trolling back last night to the fifty to try to win the ball.  A large number of balls played up to him were only within ten yards or so  of  Boyd.  Nothing much he could make of those.  And a fair number were long and high lobs that took Boyd far out of the danger zone to try to collect and redirect.   
Shades of Kenny Cooper!   The fact is that we want Boyd to be swimming in the rarified sea around the penalty arc where a ball on his foot creates a high percentage chance.  And there's too much time when we're not using him that way.  the forty yard lob to someone's head isn't a great attacking strategy-- unless it's part of a mix of attacking choices.   The Timbers didn't show much versatility in picking the Chivas defense apart and making them come unglued after the first half.   The hard-nosed runs at the defense were not continued.   
The smell of fear was in the air.   And while I think we have excellent players across most of the roster,  I think they need to believe that we have excellent players across the roster.   I believe that Jean-Baptiste did as well as he could but it will help to have Hansard back in the lineup.  I was glad to see Mike Chabala back on the outside defense.  But it was Palmer's side that was most vulnerable.
I have a hard time believing that this crew is so psychologically vulnerable that they are going to fall apart in a match just because they give up a goal or have some bad calls.  That would suggest that we haven't factored coldhearted professionalism into our calculations.   On the flip side,  the Timbers have made a clear effort to recruit and cultivate very young players of promise.   A good initiative I'd say. But one that also takes time to bring to fruition.

Looking forward to seeing how the crew tighten their belts and decide to step up.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Bill Drew Tournament in Victoria BC

 The Mojos have made the journey up to British Columbia to play in the Bill Drew Memorial tourney for several years.  For many a stopover in Port Angeles and dinner at Michaels has been the standard.   For others the tournament has been more spartan--drive like a bat out of hell to Port Angeles on the Friday and make the ferry crossing with or without your car.  Hustle off to the Mojos' lodging property and then play four matches in two days.  Insert a very sumptuous dinner out on Sooke Bay courtesy of Gary Warman's family and friends.  Drive like mad to get back to Portland in time for work on Monday.   

Sometimes it pays to take a deep breath and spend a tranquil thirty minutes at Murchies for coffee and scone.  The best in western North America.  Oh..and they have tea as well.
Ultimately, though,  we're in Victoria to play soccer and so at an early hour we're out on the pitch which in our case seems more of a bog or morass than a soccer field.   We're undaunted though because we've played most of our lives in Oregon on suchlike pitches and have little fear of wobbly ankles in the mud.  The weather is persistently chill and rainy.   Like Spartans, we press on.   And the match goes well until we are afflicted with a PK which ends up deciding the match. Frustrating since we felt we dominated, particularly in the second half.

The second match of the day is more uplifting.  We win 2-1 with the difference also being a PK.  We could have had more goals but we're content with the win.
Saturday nights at the tournament have become legendary and sumptuous feasts.  Gary Warman's family's hosting of a feast fit for kings and quees on Sooke Bay are clearly part of the reason that the Mojos journeys have become so popular.   The drive out by bus is long, but the reward is great.   Excellent food, a pristine setting on the edge of Vancouver Island, and the high energy Mojo vibe and hospitality.  It's like nothing you've ever done before.  On top of the camaraderie, there's music and hijinks.   All of it ends too soon as the revelers head back to Victoria to sleep and prepare for Day Two of the tournament.  After all, this is really about playing soccer, N'est ce Pas?  
 The Sunday morning arrives very early for those who have reveled.   We journey out to the fields and find that there is a field house with showers, hot water, dressing rooms, toilets and all the amenities.   We've never in our lives had such luxury at a pitch.  We know we're in the right place because the icon on the wall is of a white-haired old boy running.  Must be our quarters.

 On the Sunday,  the weather improves toward midday.
Increasing numbers of Mojos gather in the beer garden, either to lick their wounds or to do their best to chug caffeine.   When all is said and done, the best story is that there are few injuries among the four teams,  that some of the guys from Ballyhoo came and made some peace with Roddy Coles regarding the horrorshow incident from Snohomish last July,  and that we'd by and large had another wonderful tournament experience.   Not defined by the won loss tally on the tote board.

The O60s team captained by Terry Shumaker. We lost one on a sorry PK.   We won another with a solid performance.  We lost to an O55 team with some bad luck.   And we did our best against a team who were down for their first match on the biggest field on he planet.   We did good.  And thanks to the entire crew for their patience and hard work on the pitch.  I was honored to be there.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Two for Two!

Not that it's time to get truly excited, two halves into the new season.  But Mr. Kris Boyd is two for two on stylish headers delivered to the back post while on a slide toward the near post.  I could be wrong but I don't think I've anyone in green n gold with that much polish in the air since Peter Withe,  the Wizard of Nod,  back in the time of Genesis.   I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

For all of us who are still playing and over 60 or so.

Jack Charlton fals and breaks hip   Just saw this short BBC article on the web.  English football legend, Jack Charlton fell down the stairs at home and broke his hip.  Charlton,  brother of Bobby,  is 76 years old.  I've been out on the pitch in recent weeks with fellas that old and even more that are in a close heat to be that old.  Makes me appreciate every day I can go out,  put on my boots,  and kick the ball around. The article notes that when his son arrived after Charlton called to tell him of the fall,  the old boy was sitting in a chair watching the tv where he'd dragged himself.  That gave me a chuckle.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kenny Cooper- Red Bull

I just happened to see that the Red Bulls international crossover match against Pumas was on ESPN stream and tuned in for a look.  All the MLS teams are taking a look at their personnel in real action as the season start gets closer,  so the presence of Kenny Cooper on the frontline didn't mean very much.   Even from a distance on the small screen,  Coop was easy to recognize with his loping style.   He had a couple of looks at the ball in the box, one shanked high and the other,  on a great feed from Dax McCarthy,  arriving awkwardly and ricocheting away.  

As I watched I concluded that what I wasn't seeing was any sign of ferocity or desire to tear up the carpet.  And I believe we're going to need a good dose of that here in PDX as the season opens.   Best of luck to Kenny.  I'm hoping the guys who're trying to fill his slot come to it fierce.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

El Clasico: Barca v Real documentary premiere

Filmmaker Kelly Candaele speaks about this new production.  "This documentary film is about Spanish history, culture and regional identity that will be screened in the 5th Ave. Theater on Saturday, March 10th at 7:30 PM.  The film is titled El Clasico – More Than a Game and it looks at the intense soccer rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona through the perspective of Spanish history and politics.  

Eighteen months ago I took 10 students from California State University, Chico to Spain to shoot this documentary.   I put together an academic program of classes and lectures about Spain before we left, to provide some context for the production of the film.   In Spain we interviewed historians, journalists, players, team officials and fans about the significance of this soccer rivalry.    After the screening we will have some time to enter into discussion with you and your students.    The film is in both Spanish and English, with English subtitles.  

Hope to see you there on the 10th and please let me know if you would like any further information. "  View the El Clasico trailer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Whatever Happened to?

Alex Nimo, the dynamic but small player who came out of Benson HS and provided some exciting local color as the Portland Timbers closed out their USL campaign,  has not been mentioned much.  A quick search shows that he's still pursuing his career as a player.  "Sparing: Drutex-Bytovia - Pomorze PotÄ™gowo 5:3" was the headline in a Polish newspaper review  .Alex Nimo in Poland   A reminder that being a soccer player anywhere other than the top tier of play is a daunting task.  Best wishes to Alex and also that he comes home at some point, safe and whole..

Sunday, February 5, 2012

People have been asking what I think about Boyd

A look at Kris Boyd heading up Rangers shows a guy who clearly has the nose for goal and the quick foot to slip the ball in.  He's got a left foot which is a good thing.  And he's capable of tussling for the ball in the box based on some of those video shots.  Does the MLS stack up as tougher than SPL?  Some folks have suggested that Boyd is either in decline or can't play at the higher level based on the limited time he spent in the EPL.  I'm guessing that the MLS is overall a tougher league than the Scottish league---but at the top, Celtics and Rangers, Motherwell and Hearts are good sides.  I'm hopeful that Boyd has three strong years in him, and that as an opportunist in front, he'll give us excitement on the top this year.    The Oregonian noted that "While with Nottingham Forest, Boyd was coached by Billy Davies, Spencer's brother-in-law. Spencer said Davies knows his system and the MLS well and recommended Boyd."  Some folks might infer that the insider connection made Boyd an easy choice,  but I'm guessing that's not the case.  I suspect that Spencer and Wilkinson get commentary from a broad universe of their soccer connections- relatives included- and this would only have gotten more than a look if Boyd showed something positive to them.  I like the choice myself.  My only fear is that Boyd will get injured (Valencia?).  Barring that I'm just waiting to see what number they put on his jersey and how quickly he can be match fit.  Oh...and for the first sweet pass Chara can feed him in the season opener.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cameron Knowles career continues as he joins Timbers' coaching staff

Former Portland Timbers' defender Cameron Knowles became the newest member of the Timbers' coaching staff.  The standout back might well have been playing on the side instead of coaching were it not for the terrible luck of a broken leg suffered in a 2009 match against Montreal.   Knowles was a quality back in my opinion, and the Timbers last USL season suffered much from his absence.   It's great to see that the club has decided to give him a try on the coaching staff.  Particularly in that we've got the hardest work to do in the position he played.  I think this is a brilliant choice and a sign of the club's loyalties.  I'm sure they wouldn't have hired him unless they had utmost confidence he'd bring something important to the table.   That being said,  he's been part of the Timbers' family and they've done well to look for a place he can contribute.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sad soccer...

The Oregonian in recent days recounted a story of an eastern European block criminal enterprise in which 'operatives' flew into PDX and established false identities and bank accounts in the pursuit of selling phantom cars and sending the bulk of the money back to home base.  The story was unfolded largely because of the arrest of the operatives arriving in our town.  One of the miscreants was a Hungarian national who was quickly nabbed.  In his brief bio for the article he was described as a soccer player and Hungarian national team hopeful.   Which, if true, would reflect a sad decline in Magyar football aspirations since the miscreant is 41 years old.   Hopeful is good but national teams don't generally cruise up to the rarified air of the 'forty somepuns' .  Sad story all around.  The guy was trying to find a way to support his wife and kids and the idea of boosting cars in the US seemed like a trifecta.
Very sad.

Copa del Rey Part Two

The crew from Barca may be getting older and the trajectory of their glory may no longer be floating higher,  but tonight in the second leg of the Spanish cup, they showed resilience and poise against archrivals, Real Madrid, finishing the first half of the match 2-0.   The assassination of Messi still appears to be a goal in these matches as the Argentinian took ferocious hits more than once, particularly after setting up the initial Barcelona goal.  The intensity of the match was easily revealed when the cameras focused on C. Ronaldo having apoplectic fits as that goal was scored.  Not that only Barca's side suffered injury and insult.  There were hard tackles and disappointments on both ends.  This classico inevitably draws such intensity, such focus. 
And what happens?  with scarcely twenty minutes left,  Real comes back.  C. Ronaldo scores one.   And three minutes later Real knocks in another.   No question of the intensity of this battle.  At 80 minutes , Messi is dragged down with the ball on the attack, again.   The free kick? Just over the bar.  90 minutes in Barca mounts an attack ending in a header on goal.  A minute later Dani Alves is slammed down and another yellow is thrown.  Interesting that many of these guys play together on the national team.  Is that great? Warriors who can battle fiercely for each other and yet battle against each other as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fracas Espanol

Just watched Barcelona play Madrid in this week's Copa match.  Not as entertaining a spectacle as I would hope.  Alexis seems to be a hack magnet lest Barcelona have a newer and younger talented player to come up the ranks as the legendary players age.  He took many ferocious chops.  Puyol was magnificent in that one moment- the only moment in a match- when he slammed a header into goal to give Barcelona parity.  Was the Abidal goal an offside?  I couldn't tell from the replays but sad if it was.  This Classico deserves to play out with no uncertain elements.  In a thought far from the details of this particular game,  I find myself thinking about the inevitable tide of time and the reality that the players of today are getting older and will someday be legends but no longer competitors on the pitch.  Messi.  C.Ronaldo.  All of this is fluid.  Sometime years from now there will be revivalists who say that Barcelona in this age was the best team ever, Clockwork Orange was the best team ever, it goes.  And I am in no position to judge but willing to sit and watch regardless.  It's the Game.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kenny Cooper traded as Timbers strategize in SuperDraft.

Kenny Cooper was traded today to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for a high pick next time around and money.  It's not a real surprise.  Cooper didn't show well last year though I think he got a rough ride in the press and it didn't seem clear that the team was using his skills well.  I had predicted, in discussions with my fellow footballer, Mark, that he'd still be on the roster and Eddie Johnson would pass on.   Amateur gawker from the sidelines that I am, I forgot the strategic value of a potentially strong player who still commands good money when it comes to wheelin' and dealin' time.   Based on the cool tone of the Timbers' release regarding the Cooper trade,  I'd guess that there was as much a problem of style and chemistry as of failure to thrive in the transaction.  But again, I might be overreading the cards here.    From a slightly different point of view,  I have to wonder what New York will look to Cooper to do.  Cooper's name is listed on the NY roster right next to Thierry Henry.  And the Red Bull squad has four other forwards.  Two of them are young- Agudelo and Hetrzog- and Cooper isn't likely to be backing them up.  Luke Rodgers is a 'bull' on the field.  He's thirty so maybe Cooper,  slightly younger,  will give Rodgers a breather.  Who knows,  maybe New York feels he's just a marker in their own trade situation.   
Regardless,  I hope we don't see Kenny back on the field here creating problems for our side like the last trade to New York,  Stephen Keel.    

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Goal to Goal! Tim Howard chalks one up

Just happened to catch the news that Tim Howard,  playing for Everton, has become the fourth goalkeeper in the EPL to launch a clearing ball that ended up in the opponents' net.   Great stuff for the US keeper.

Tim Howard- Goal to Goal