Monday, December 7, 2015

Portland Timbers win MLS Cup in Columbus Ohio 12-6-15

Timbers are victorious in 2-1 final against the Columbus Crew, winners of the Eastern Conference and considered to be one of the most balanced and dangerous teams in the league.   I don't have any brilliant insights into this match which won't be written about by hundreds of others.  My reason for writing this post is simply to commemorate the moment--a long time coming for many many people who have been in the stands over the forty years since that first match in 1975.

That year,  the team marched from a June loss at home in the rain against the Seattle Sounders to take the Western Division title with a one game lead over the Sounders at the end of the season.  Post season pitted the teams again,  and 'the lads' in green won 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Tony Betts, a crowd favorite, cut in the mold of Will Johnson.  Ticket sales for the playoff games skyrocketed as high as 33,000 and the local press marveled at the site of people sleeping out in a queue at Civic Stadium to get their tickets,  particularly to the St. Louis Stars semifinal match which was decided on a goal by "the Wizard of Nod" Peter Withe.   The wins put the Timbers into the NASL Championship which was played in San Jose against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.   Sadly,  the Timbers lost that August 1975 match 0-2.

Since then, despite various iterations of the club and team through subsequent years,  there has not been a Championship.  Until today.

Several things shine out for me.   I watched the match today with two of my own longtime teammates and their spouses,  with my youngest son and his son.   None of that might have happened were it not for the Timbers from forty years past because I think none of us knew diddly about the game called soccer. Because of the Timbers,  I began to explore the skills and strategies of the game.  I was 25 years old, not an athlete,  somewhat opposed to jocks and jock culture.   I got a soccer ball and started going to a nearby park with a tennis court and practicing passing and trapping,   with both feet because that's what I heard the Timbers' coach say was important.   I didn't know anyone who played soccer.    In  June 1977,  I got an invite to show up for a 'soccer jamboree' at Delta Park which would lead to a recreational, Portland Parks summer league for people who were interested in the game.  I found myself on a team for the summer which morphed into a men's league team in the fall.   SJO Irregulars,  sponsored by Seton Johnson & Odell became the foundation for FC77, a club which has been fielding men's teams in a range of divisions for 38 years.   And most of those men, probably would not be playing soccer if it were not for the '75 Timbers.

Notable things about this legendary win by the Timbers. Diego Valeri's pressuring run on the keeper is the only time I can recall such a result.  I've seen keepers strike the ball into an onrushing attacker and give up a goal,  but never much a surgical 'no' as Valeri delivered.   This goal will be viewed on YouTube for decades.    The second goal by the Timbers clearly started from a ball that was in touch but neither the linesman nor the center registered that fact and when it was clear that there was no whistle,  Portland played forward,  catching Columbus flatfooted and leading to Wallace's goal.   Okay I get that it's 'not fair' but the primary axiom of the game is 'play the whistle'.   The Kamara goal that followed might have involved interference with the keeper but perhaps not.

The reality is that in the rest of the match, despite Columbus discipline and control,  the Timbers were the more dangerous side.  And if officiating were to be raised as an issue,  the clear handball on the goal line by Parkhurst--arm in unnatural position and looking at the ball as he deflects it,  should balance out the ball in touch in the first half.   The Timbers had two shots on the post, and Borchers' shot into the ground saved by Steve Clark's thighs speak to the effectiveness of the Timbers' attack.

The Boys deserved this win.  They scrapped and played hard and earned it.  And in my mind,  they are a team just finding their form.   So I am hoping, deeply, that the club sees this group of players  as the core for the future and looks to their potential growth as a squad.   These Timbers are worthy of everything dreamed of through the past four decades.

"We're gonna do what they say can't be done!"   Timbers Army.