Monday, November 10, 2014

Futbol and Destiny

This past weekend's match between the Columbus Crew and the New England Revs was a rout.  No question that the Revs had the energy and organization to take the match and move to the next level of the playoffs.   That said, it was a sad moment when the Crew's Ethan Finlay raced in to get an attacking ball one-v-one with New England's stalwart Shuttleworth.  Finlay clearly recognized he could not get to the ball and did his best to rotate away from Shuttleworth's courageous slide to win it.  Despite that,  there was contact as there often is in the game. Shuttleworth lay on the turf as if he'd been pole-axed.   New England players swarmed Finlay who kept his cool and did not bite on the provocation.   He made his best effort to see that Shuttleworth was okay.  

Sadly,  the center referee judged that Finlay was guilty of dangerous play and issued him a straight red.  My guess is that serious review of the video will exonerate Finlay and give some pause to the capability of the official.

I'd say that one of the continuing questions about the quality of the MLS revolves around officiating---consistent, authoritative,  clear-headed officiating.   

This was a sorry excuse for officiating in a high stakes setting.   Not so good.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

End of Season…not end of story

Tonight,  the Timbers gave a good accounting of themselves and soundly beat Dallas 2-0 in the final match of the season,  accruing 49 points.   I've got to say that it has been one heart-palpitating,  groan inducing,  high and low season.  No shortage of excitement.   But at bottom,  we weren't able to do what Coach Porter said early on needed to be done---we couldn't hit 50 points.   And that slim margin was enough to make tonight the end of the season.   Our team is good---very good at their best--and I have my season tickets paid for because I expect to be there to see them go even further next year.    But they are not yet where they can be--not yet the champions I see the potential for,  not yet the electrifying and consistent team that will be remembered two decades hence as legendary.   I want to believe that they can hit that mark--and so I'm in for the long haul.   

As for this season,  I give a solid shout out to the guys who have been there start to finish.  I give my best wishes for healing to Will Johnson,  I hope that injury isn't an end to your career.   And I look forward to coming back to share more joy next year.   

In 2015, we'll be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Portland Timbers' futbol,  a span that covers two thirds of my life.   An occurrence that led to me playing the game for nearly forty years myself.   And with any luck,  still getting out there when that forty year mark arrives.   I marvel at that statistic.   Who would have said,  back in the early days when Don Megson coached and Jimmy Kelly was the 'wee lad'  and Eric Beck recorded 'Green is the Color', that there would be Portland Timbers with a long and proud tradition and a universe of supporters who have RCTID inked on their bodies and their brains?   

I love it.   See you next year!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My favorite competition- the US Open Cup

The 2014 Lamar Hunt Open Cup came down to a fiercely contested battle between the Seattle Sounders and the Philadelphia Union.   The Union  suffered some bad luck--knocking the wood on attacks that most of the time would have garnered a goal.   But at the end Seattle drove the spike into the heart of the game under the interplay of Martins and Dempsey.   I'm not saying anything original in noting that these two may be the most dangerous duo in MLS.   

Regardless,  the match in Chester PA was exciting.   The Sounders have now netted their fourth Open Cup title. That compares to historic teams'  five Open Cup titles back in the days when soccer was mostly played by recent immigrants sponsored by big corporations.  

Let me reiterate---I love the Open Cup.   It's genuine American futbol as it's been around since 1914.   And even this year,  a team of nobodies beat an MLS side in the stages.  Futbol should be an aspirational game.  On a given day, a bunch of guys from Bohunk can man up and pull of the big upset.    

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What kind of soccer blog doesn't have any posts during World Cup?

The simple answer is a blog written by a guy who's got way too much on his plate to be pounding out copy at midnight even if it is in the aftermath of an historic World Cup match,  Germany v Brazil, in the semifinal of this 2014 tourney.   

I made a tough decision today to leave work for two hours and take a long lunch,  not something I do easily, in order to watch the Germans play Brazil.   My read was that this would be the monumental match of the competition,  maybe better than the final.  Even without Neymar,  the Brazilians aggressive swaggering style was a force to be reckoned with.  And the Germans,  though seeming vulnerable in their draw with Ghana,  still were my pick to go to the final and bring home the trophy.   

I set out toward a bar I was sure would carry the game not far from where I work. I arrived to find it was closed.  On the car radio,  the news announcer was noting that the match had begun.  No worries,  I thought.   I'll go down to the Bucket Brigade on Powell.  They'll have the match on.   And it's early in the game I won't miss much.   You can imagine my surprise when I walked into the bar and scanned the big screens.   The score was 3-0 Germany.   I took off my glasses and squinted thinking something was wrong.  But that was indeed the score.   The rest is history--perhaps the worst pummeling in the World Cup ever.   

This evening I had a chance to go back and look at the missing  twenty some minutes I hadn't  seen.   I was surprised to see that Brazil was strong, organized and attacking.  Even after Mueller's first strike,   they came thundering back--a certain tension in their eyes when the cameras panned across the faces-- but no sense of panic.   The second and third goals though were like banderillas sticking into the jugular of Brazil's confidence.  Without any solid  leadership to rally them,  the Brazilian defense unwound.  And at the end,  the match had clearly become legend.   A 7-1 drubbing of the host nation in World Cup is not likely to happen again in my lifetime.   Unless, of course,   the gambling consortiums pay enough money in the dark corners of the game.  

Other impressions of this Copa del Mundo?

I am really appalled at the use of a laser pointer to distract or disable Russia's keeper in their game against Algeria.    I was watching and saw the green circle playing across his face as there was a setup for a corner kick.  I thought immediately that this kind of action can destroy sport.

I am really happy to see the new, young talent on the USMNT get playing time in a World Cup.  I was not all that interested in the conversations about Landon Donovan's presence or absence.   I was happy that the team did as well as it did.  But my biggest hope was that we'd begin giving a new generation of players time on the field--we'll need them in four years.  And more.   I think that decision by Klinsmann is a profound one that will pay dividends.

I'm hoping that the final is Germany v Netherlands..  I think Messi is a great player, but I like the passion the Dutch have shown in getting their aging team through so far.  I think they'd be the perfect foil to the German organization and poise.    And, of course,   that would mean that the tango for the 3rd place finish would be between Brazil and Argentina,  a match that would be dripping with emotion.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Technology: Laser pointers and Goal line calibrations

The World Cup has a role in the continuing unfolding of technological marvels in everyday life.  The two that jump to the forefront for me are the harassment via laser pointer which obviously was aimed at Russia's keeper in the match with Algeria.  This is a development which could wreck soccer as we know it.   Lasers, easily obtained for a pittance, could destroy the integrity of the game if unchecked.    At the other end of the spectrum, goal line technology which has been heatedly debated for many years now is making its world debut in Brazil.   As a fan watching,  the calibrated measurement seems helpful, particularly in those instances when the ball's speed confounds the eye.   If FIFA is convinced that the technology is reliable,   I think it's a plus.   But it is all about the reliability.   And the images presented are only digital representations of the physical universe.  As such, they are able to be manipulated.   So, as always,  we trust. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Juventus v Real Madrid---the All Stars

This match,  the UNESCO Cup ,is one of my favorite fixtures in futbol.  I happened across it on the ESPN soccer feed on my stream.   The Cup raises money for fighting racism and related ills.  In this particular case, money goes to help repatriation of child soldiers from Africa.   And that is great.   But I was particularly charmed because the match brings back squads of players whose names we recognize from years gone by,  players who carried the colors and the passion of these two great clubs years past.   If I'm not mistaken some of the grizzled veterans on the field were in the O50 category.   

I enjoyed watching Davids and Ferrara and Zidane and more out on the pitch,  moving the ball at a slower pace,  laughing frequently at one play or another,  and obviously loving the experience of being in the game with long longstanding friends/foes.    The match ended with Real notching 5 goals to Juventus' 1 .   

The pleasure for me was to see these soccer legends playing the game with nothing more on the line than enjoyment in the experience and the opportunity to do some good in the world with their skills.   I found myself thinking I'd be happy to see any of them show up for the old guys' Saturday morning kick around.   

I hope that we see more of these fixtures,  both for the good they might do in raising money to help good causes and for the message they send that age is not an inevitable barrier to being active.

Taking a moment for those who serve

Playing soccer is easy.   All over the world one common assertion about why the game is the world's most popular is that it takes little more than a bundle of rags fashioned into a ball and two sets of markers- stones, lines in the dust, tree branches--  at each end of an imagined pitch to make the game possible.
Here in the civilized and modern world, though, playing, even at the lowest amateur levels, requires organization, field rental, liability insurance,  scheduling, arrangement for officials. Were it not for the volunteers who give their time to make all these things possible,  soccer would not be just the most popular but the most commonly played sport.   For adult men in Oregon and SW Washington the Greater Portland Soccer District is the USSF affiliated league which manages the mechanics of teams from a Premier Division through several leagues and age-defined groups all the way up to O58.    And this kind of structure makes soccer possible for men, women,  and youth all across the United States.
For several years,  The GPSD has been led by Terry Christopher,  a longtime believer in making amateur soccer available to as broad a group of men as possible.   Years back,  when my own involvement with the GPSD board was drawing to a close,  Terry had been there, serving the cause.   And Terry is not the only one.   Hugh Kalani has been the GPSD Secretary for more years than Terry has been President.   Other officers and at-large members give their time as well.  
Similarly,  volunteers make the Portland Youth Soccer Association and the Northwest Women's Soccer League function for other groups of soccer players.   Additionally,  Clubs exist and field teams within all these broad categories. 
I reflect on how important these individuals and organizational structures are to making access to the Game possible in particular this week because Terry Christopher has faced medical issues this week.   He's doing well, but the situation reminds me that his contribution is very important to all of us.  
And it stands as a blazingly stark contrast to what is being asserted about the world's game at the highest levels.

Sad….very sad.    Get well, Terry.   We need solid, honest guys like you in the game.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Timbers v Sounders April 5, 2014

On Saturday morning I received a message via Facebook from my wife's cousin's husband,  Kevin.    "Are you ready for the Sounders?"  he asked from his digs in Portsmouth England.  Kev's a loyal supporter of Pompey,  Portsmouth's ancient but ill-starred football club.  The loyal fans in this bastion of the Royal Navy know adversity--their club had to be rescued from financial meltdown through a herculean effort by the supporters,  an effort we hope the Timbers Army never has to even imagine.  

The fact that a match between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders is on the radar screen for folks who have their own fine brand of football to fret and exult over is a sign that we are now truly on a bigger stage.  I wrote back with the flippant reply that "20,000 fans say "yes"!"   And on this Saturday past,  we were ready for the Sounders,  but not perhaps for Clint Dempsey.   

This match gives me heartburn.  Any time Portland and Seattle go to battle,   everyone says it's  a fierce tussle.    But leaving Kenny Cooper (KENNY COOPER!) unmarked on the back post three minutes into the match is not a sign of being ramped up and ready.   I almost suspect the Sounders practiced the concept---"If we get an early corner or free kick, let's have Kenny drift into the back post--it'll be unmarked.  That'll show the Timbers."

I honor the effort the team made after that first mistake (again).   They weren't disheartened and disorganized.   They kept their poise.  They ignored the early strike and the potential insult.  When Chara cruised forward looked,  settled and struck,  I was ecstatic.  Chara has always been one of my favorite players on our side.   He works and works and works--snapping at the heels of the opponents.  And creatively bringing the ball forward into the attack.   In the years we've been in MLS it's clear that Chara is not the shooter--he's the disruptor of opposing teams and the initiator of counter attacks.   This weekend, though,  he smashed expectations with two brilliant strikes from outside the 18 yard box--a point of a attack that the Timbers' precision style doesn't often use.   Each shot was exquisitely placed and from the Sounders' scouting perspective,  totally unexpected.  

The clock ticked on.  Chara's first shot brought us even.   Followed by Valeri's magic spin and shoot in tight quarters to bring us back up.  But then another hiccup in the defense.  Dempsey receives the ball with no one to challenge him just yards from goal and nails the shot.   Kah was to his right,  the closest Timber,   but was nowhere near 'marking'  the Sounder who has to be considered the deadliest risk.  

The clock ticked on.   Chara,  in a second moment of vision and poise,  puts a second strike from 22 or so yards into the net.    And then,   in a tumble of plays which seem to crush the Sounders' chances,   Maxi Urruti steals a ball from the Seattle defense and places an exquisite shot curling to the right but with enough 'english' that it drops into the corner of the net  and makes the tally 4-2 Timbers.   The clock showed us at 56 minutes.   

I have a son in Ashland, a brother in Enterprise,  and they text me when games are on.  They may or may not be able to watch on a big screen somewhere but they are Timbers' diehards.  So we text.   At 72 minutes into this match,  I sent a text  saying   "we can't let down'"  because I was seeing on the field a tendency for our crew to fall back en masse when the Sounders got the ball-- fewer challenges over the fifty yard line-- an organized retreat into defensive mode.  We had numbers back in the box,   but we were giving away momentum and space.   

What happened next needs no explanation.   The Sounders,  ball in our end,  got  a cross to Dempsey,  unmarked,   though Powell was close,  and he made it a 3-4 game.    And within minutes we coughed up a pk  that Dempsey finished for a hat trick and a tie.  

My sense?  Once we took the bunkered point of view,   we were betting that the time would run out before they would dissect our defense.  That's a horrible strategy.  Especially since Caleb Porter substituted offensive players which should have given the message that we were  "goin' for broke"  and not that we were hunkering down.   

I rate this match as one of the most exciting Timbers v Sounders matches in my memory going back to the 70s.   However,  I also rank it as one of the most disappointing.   We had the game in our hands and couldn't focus on how to hold on to it.   We showcased the best and the worst qualities of our team.

Coach Porter (no relation) has to solve this problem.  It's not enough to shut out opponents if we don't score goals.   It's not enough to score goals if we don't shut down opponents.  Yin and Yang.   We have to find balance.  The Timbers deserve it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What team has ever started out a season and given up three PKs in their first three matches?

When the Portland Timbers faced a dismal second penalty kick in this weekend's match against Colorado,   I began to wonder what the frequency of penalty kicks in a game was really like.   The Timbers have given up four goals in their first three matches and three of them were PKs.   That seems bizarre to me.   So I searched for some statistics on the question.   Penalty kicks have a long history in the game,  though they weren't originally a part of it.   The data suggest that two PKs in a match isn't all that notable.    On the other hand,  they were devastating to our team in the match against Rapids.   

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Individual Player's Cup uncovered from 1920s

Occasionally threads from Portland's soccer past are found unexpectedly and a new piece of information gives us a fresh look at the guys who took to muddy pitches nearly 100 years ago.
I recently was contacted by Patrick Donaldson, a Portland business leader,  who had discovered the small, tarnished cup pictured to the left among his grandfather's effects.   Patrick told me "My Grandfather was John Milne 'Jock' Donaldson. He emigrated to the United States on 3/16/1922 on SS Assyria from Dufftown Scotland thru Glasgow to New York to Portland, via train.  He worked as a Street Car Conductor on several lines most notably the Council Crest line. I have pictures of him in uniform and on the street car but not in a soccer kit or on the field (pitch?)."

I've asked Patrick if he'll share one of those images with me so I can add the image of the man to the image of the cup.    The Camerons were, I believe,  a team assembled by the local champion of the game,  Judge George Cameron,  who also funded the cup competition which bore his name.    If Jock Donaldson got off the train in Portland in the spring of 1922,  he must have been a strong player to attract the attention of the Camerons.   The cup would have been given to players on a team winning a League or cup trophy as their individual recognition.   I've heard about these cups but haven't ever seen one before.   

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thoughts after watching Portland and Seattle battle through their preseason match

First off,  I keep finding myself confused when it seems that every team we play is sporting a former Timber player or two.   Kenny Cooper appearing with Seattle yesterday took me completely by surprise; I obviously need to read my pre game pundits instead of just showing up.   I like Cooper but I wouldn't have thought of him as a likely pick by the Sounders.  Just goes to show how little I know.   

As for the game itself.  I needn't comment on the physicality,  the number of fouls and yellow cards.   That seems to be more than adequately covered--both during the game and in the press after.   Not a great surprise.   What I did like was Kalif  beginning to show some real strength and grit inside with the ball--continuing on his form last season.  I liked our new Argentines.   I liked the attack down the middle into the box with three attackers and a last minute squirt of a pass.  I liked Nagbe a lot.  I liked the general intensity.   But  I also worried a little---we seem to be vulnerable to leaving an overlapping back hanging alone in space on the right side.   Happened enough times that I noticed,  times leaving an open cross against the grain and potential vulnerability.  I'm looking forward to seeing which Timbers side hits the field when the season opens.  There are certainly enough choices.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Was hoping to see Michael Harrington

in the fray against South Korea today but it appears the left back position is pretty solidly sewn up.   On the other hand,  another familiar Timber name is on the roster and on the field. Eric_Alexander is getting time with the senior squad.  Alexandar played for our side in 2011 and 12 and went, I recall, to the Red Bulls….but you can check the details as they're attached in the link.

On a different topic,  today was the opening of the 2014 Winter Season which I always call the short season since it's only five games.  Much  to our surprise today,  it was short in another respect as the officials had on their schedule to run 25 minute halves.   Not enough time to work up a sweat or get close enough to noon to make a trip to the pub sensible--at least for us old guys.    Maybe a tablespoon of Geritol.   What the heck ever happened to Geritol?   I never hear about it anymore…maybe there's just not enough alcohol in it to make it interesting.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

1920s Player Trophy surfaces

Local business leader, Patrick Donaldson, was kind enough to contact me recently to note that he'd found a small trophy in a chest belonging to his grandfather.   As he relates  "While going through a family trunk I came across a small silver in color trophy.  It had the following inscription on it ' P.S.F.A. Camerons 1924-25 J. Donaldson'.  I suspect it was my grandfather John Milne 'Jock' Donaldsons. He was an immigrant from Huntly (Banffshire) Scotland who worked as a streetcar conductor before dying at a young age in 1950."

I am guessing that the trophy is one given to individual players after successful seasons, in addition to the team trophy.   I'm hopeful that Patrick will send a photo or two along as well as any other information about his grandfather. 

My presumption is that the Portland Soccer Football Association was the mid-Twenties league.   Camerons was likely the select team sponsored and perhaps assembled by George Cameron who gave us the Cameron Cup.   It would have been very consistent with the time for team managers to give a tryout to immigrants just off the boat.  Always looking for that new player whose style hadn't already been assessed by the local opposition.

Thanks Patrick, and please send us pics.   

I've been ferociously busy with family issues in the past several weeks and that's limited my posting.   With any luck at all,  I'll be getting out a commentary on such things as the new Argentine connection wearing green this coming season.

I was happy to see Michael Harrington getting a look at his first cap with the National Team this coming week.  I was interested to note that one of the other guys in the mix was Eric Alexandar,  another Timbers' alum.   I'd like to see Harrington thrive on the World Cup stage….as long as he doesn't miss any games for us.