All posts by shebainpdx

MVP is Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

It is official: Diego Valeri is the 2017 recipient of MLS’s Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player Award.

An amazing combination of ruthless accuracy on the pitch and self-effacing modesty pretty much everywhere else, Portland Timbers’ midfielder and playmaker Diego Valeri is this year’s runaway selection for most valuable player by every measure and constituent group that has an actual vote. Players, clubs, and media folk all overwhelmingly declared Valeri their favorite.

Want to know how not close it was? He received over 45% of all player votes among the top eight MVP candidates. The second place vote-getter from players was a not-too-shabby guy you may have heard of, New York City FC’s David “El Guaje” Villa, whose player vote totals had him a distant second at a little more than 9.5%.

Those two dozen or so of us Timbers Army members who were fortunate enough to be present at the press conference/announcement at Adidas headquarters today knew that we were witness to a rare moment honoring an even rarer player and person. As supporters, we often cite “Team/Town/Timbers Army” as the three cornerstones that drive our passion. And here, in front of us, was a player who shattered team records in the regular season; who chose to wear a Timbers Army pin on his lapel during the press conference; and who then chose to spend the evening following the ceremony volunteering in the community. Team/Town/Timbers Army, indeed.

It is so much to take in at once: a breakout season in 2013 and MLS Newcomer of the Year; a devastating ACL injury at the end of the 2014 season; an amazing comeback and improbable 2015 MLS Cup run, punctuated by scoring the fastest goal in MLS Cup history only 27 seconds into the match; an historic 2017 personal best season, with an MLS-record-setting streak of 9 consecutive games with goals scored;  a total of 21 goals and 11 assists in the regular season capped by the best regular season record in the Western Conference; and a club-record 58 goals across all eras (from NASL through USL and MLS).

Combine this unparalleled on-field success with the most humble, giving person off the pitch–it can be a bit overwhelming. It’s even more unbelievable when you realize that Valeri’s move to Portland wasn’t even the team’s original plan, and that it almost didn’t happen.

It is common knowledge locally, but for those who don’t follow Portland closely, you might not realize that Valeri was actually the club’s Plan B for a playmaker in the midfield. After an abysmal 2012 that included a mid-season coach firing and a “walk of shame” banner dutifully paraded by players after the last home game of a disappointing season, the Timbers were desperate to make big changes on the field in 2013.

They were looking for a creative midfielder, somebody who could produce scoring chances for himself and for his teammates, and they thought they had found one in USMNT midfielder Mix Diskerud. Early rumors in the offseason had us signing Mix. It was so close to a done deal that, by the 13th of December or thereabouts, some of us discovered that the front office had even gone so far as to set up his player page on the team website, if one knew where to look. But within a week, the deal seemed to have evaporated, and suddenly we found ourselves scouring Argentine fan blogs in hopes of learning something more about some rumored midfielder whose nickname was basically Argentine for “Peach Fuzz.”

We’ll still never know for certain exactly why the Diskerud deal fell through. Some speculated there were issues in working with his agent/father. There were other indications that perhaps the sticking point was the curious nature of MLS, where a player technically signs with the single-entity league and not actually with the club for whom he plays. Maybe there was some other factor involved that we on the outside never discovered. Regardless, the non-deal with Mix set the stage for signing Valeri; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Portland metro area have been witness to his grace on the field, his ability to constantly think three passes ahead, his clear knowledge of where all of his teammates are and where they are likely to be next, his keen eye for that one corner of the net that will be hardest to guard in the next instant. We also know of his amazing heart, his gracious gifts of both time and memorabilia in the community.

Most of us could write 10,000 words about his generosity off the pitch and it would still fall short. The closest I can come to capturing his ethos on the field and in the world around him can be found on his wall at home, shown here with his daughter, Connie:

Work hard and be nice to people, indeed. Well done, Diego. You are our MVP. I don’t know what we did to deserve you, but we will always and forever be blessed that you came to Portland.

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

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Portland Timbers, Know Your Enemy: Houston Dynamo

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

It’s playoff time, and we now know who our opponent is: Houston Dynamo.

Houston finally prevailed on Thursday night after a grueling knockout match, scoring in extra time to best Sporting KC 1-0 in what seems like the seventeenth match-up between the two teams in the past month. After a relatively short turnaround, Houston will host the Portland Timbers in the first leg of this Western Conference Semifinal match-up on Monday, 10/30 at 6:30pm PST at BBVA Compass Stadium.

In preparation for Monday’s game, let’s take a moment to get to know the Houston Dynamo. Here are a few quick takes on possible keys to Houston’s success, as well as things they will need to watch out for.

Keys to Dynamo victory:

There’s no place like home. During the regular season, Houston was a very strong team at home, dropping only one game during the regular season at BBVA Compass Stadium. If they’re going to get points on the board, this is the place for them to do it.

Get off to a fast start. In over one third of their regular season games, Houston found the back of the net early, scoring a goal within the first 15 minutes in 12 games. If they can score early, they have an excellent chance of coming away from the first leg with three points.

Can Cubo get his groove back: Erick “Cubo” Torres is the leading scorer for the Dynamo this year with 14 goals this season, but he’s gone cold of late, even coming off the bench toward the end of the regular season. If he can find his way back into the scoring column, that will go a long way toward increasing Houston’s chances of success.

Dynamo needs to look out for:

An overabundance of yellow. As of right now, there are no fewer than four of Thursday’s starters (and five players overall) who are in danger of getting dinged for yellow card accumulation. If Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis, Adolfo Machado, Romell Quioto, or Philippe Senderos gets cautioned in this game they will be suspended for the second leg in Portland.

Getting caught out on defense. Related to their yellow card issue, defensively Houston is a little thin right now, with right back AJ DeLaGarza out for the season after tearing his ACL in the regular season finale. Senderos and Machado are two of their back line starters and if they get injured or sent off there aren’t very many strong options behind them.

Parked buses. I was curious about why the only game they lost at home during the regular season was against hapless Colorado. It appears that the Rapids foiled Houston by keeping most of their players behind the ball and forcing the Dynamo to have very little space to work with up front, as opposed to giving them opportunities to create out of the counter attack.

If Portland decides to park the bus, keeping folks like Elis and Quioto out of the open field, Houston might wind up having a very hard time finding the back of the net. And given Portland’s home record and Houston’s away record during the regular season, this might be an effective, if boring, approach for Portland to take.

Well, that’s all I have for now. Can’t wait for this show to get on the road. See you on Monday, folks!

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Timbers are Kings of Cascadia

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, October 22: 2-1 Win

If you’ve ever been to a match when the Cascadia Cup is on the line, you never forget it.

Long-time Timbers Army members tell stories of the first Cascadia Cup matches early in the A-League/USL era, when supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers all agreed to pitch in to buy a trophy to honor whichever Cascadia team had the best regular season record among the three. They can tell you why you should never pick the Cup up by the handles, and about how league and schedule changes have forced supporters from all three clubs to come to agreement on how to handle unbalanced schedules and other hiccups in the past.

In the MLS era, I remember when something like 1500 of us went to Seattle in October 2012 with the chance to win the Cup–and instead got spanked 3-0. I remember when hundreds of us then trekked to Vancouver two weeks later to christen the newly renovated BC Place, and Jack Jewsbury blasted a ball from distance to give us a 1-0 victory and our first Cascadia Cup in the MLS era.

As in years past, if there is ever a Cascadia Cup match where the trophy is on the line, representatives from supporters of the potential winner of the Cup must be in attendance, even if their team isn’t playing. And representatives of those in possession of the Cup must also be in attendance when the Cup is on the line, even if their team isn’t playing. When we had to surrender the Cup in 2011, representatives of the Timbers Army had to drive to Canada to hand it over to either Seattle or Vancouver, depending on the outcome of their match. In 2012, turnabout was fair play, and Seattle had to drive to Canada to hand the trophy over to us.

This year, Portland has had several chances to seal the deal. Vancouver brought the trophy down to a Portland-Seattle game in case we won the game and the Cup (we didn’t); Portland supporters had to go to a Vancouver-Seattle game in case they drew and we won the Cup (we didn’t); and Seattle had to come to Portland for our final match against Vancouver in case we drew or lost, which would have meant Seattle winning the Cup (they didn’t). In the end, all three supporter groups traveled to matches played by two teams they didn’t support, all for naught and all because of the Cascadia Cup. It was standard Cascadia Cup drama.

And it was glorious.

Match Day

Of course, since it was a Cascadia Cup match, I was already a wreck well before the game. And not only was the Cup on the line: a win would put us into first place in the West and give us a first round bye. With the Sounders playing hapless Colorado, a tie or a loss would almost certainly put us into third or fourth place, with the insult-to-injury of losing the Cup to hated rivals in Seattle, followed by a midweek play-in game on little rest.

Superstitious to the last, I baked the same fanladen treats I’ve been baking since our home game winning streak began in August. I wore the same USL Timbers earrings I wear to every home game. And I was still sure how this script would go. I figured that, as a former Whitecaps player, Darren Mattocks would score the early goal to punish Vancouver and get our hopes up; and that Fredy Montero, recently acquired by the Whitecaps, a long-time former Sounders player and hated rival, would crush our spirits with a late equalizer. I hoped for the best and prepared myself for the worst.

Match Recap

As I expected, we went with the same lineup we’d used against DC United. Both teams looked to be pretty stingy early on, so it wasn’t surprising that the first score came off a set piece. Kendall Waston punished Larrys Mabiala in the 29′ with a beautiful header off a free kick. I groaned, expecting Vancouver to be sensible and pack in the defense.

But then a funny thing happened. The Timbers started flying into the box, and the Whitecaps were unable to respond. Just three minutes after the Waston header, David Guzman took a deep free kick from just past the center circle and Aly Ghazal headed it out the back unnecessarily. This set up a corner kick for Guzman, who sent it to the top left corner of the box to Darlington Nagbe. Whitecaps keeper Stefan Marinovic was barely able to bat away Nagbe’s curling shot; unfortunately for Marinovic, he batted it to the waiting feet of Liam Ridgewell, who stretched out just enough to tap it across the goal and into the net to tie the game:

The rest of the half, the Timbers were on the front foot, as they say, continuing to press. I kept waiting for the boys to falter and suffer from a counterattack but it never really materialized. And then three minutes into the half a beautiful team goal involving Nagbe, Sebastian Blanco, Vytautas Andriuškevičiusand Mattocks put us ahead 2-1 to stay:

Vancouver battled hard in the last few minutes but to no avail, and when the final whistle sounded the unbelievable had become reality: we had won the West and the Cup.

Short takes

Sebastian Blanco had an excellent game. I know some people grumbled that he took shots that were off the mark, but the truth is that his work rate is incredible, he is starting to team well with others, and those shots he took wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t worked so hard to get the opportunities in the first place.

Darren Mattocks is playing well(!). At the start of the season, I would not have guessed that I’d consider preferring to start Mattocks up top over Fanendo Adi going into the playoffs; but here we are.

Alvas Powell didn’t make any fatal errors. ‘Nuf said.

Off the Pitch

Surprising absolutely nobody, Diego Valeri was the hands down winner of the Supporters Player of the Year award. We are ready to build the statue any time, folks.

Also, this.

It’s back home where it belongs.

Looks like we are probably playing our next game either October 29th or October 31st (I’m betting Halloween). We’ll know who our opponent is later this week. See you all in the playoffs!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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Home Stretch for the Portland Timbers

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, October 15: 4-0 Win

As of this past Sunday, the Western Conference was still anybody’s for the taking. And even now, it’s down to the wire in the west. Coming into the final week of regular season matches we STILL don’t know who will finish on top, and there is even one playoff spot yet to be decided. I think this actual screen shot from awhile back sums it up best:

The Portland Timbers definitely had some other results fall their way this weekend. Thanks to both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting KC drawing on Sunday against their respective opponents, and with their final two games at home, Portland was poised to make up some ground in the table in their matchup last Sunday against hapless DC United. My only fear going into the game was that perhaps the boys would overlook this match in expectation of the showdown next weekend against Vancouver. Fortunately, while it took them a half to get sorted, the Timbers took care of business, at times in spectacular fashion.

The first half was mostly less than remarkable. While the Timbers had most of the chances, DCU did a serviceable job of frustrating the Timbers’ offense, leading to presses that went nowhere in the final third for most of the half. And then…

Welcome to your nightmare

Poor Steve Clark. He had already been on the receiving end of the fastest goal scored in MLS Cup history when he played for Columbus Crew in 2015, thanks to an all-too-casual back pass from a Crew teammate that Diego Valeri scooped up and sent to the back of the net in the 27th second of MLS Cup final that year. History repeated itself for Clark when Chris Korb sent him an errant back pass, which Darren Mattocks was ready to pounce on. Clark had no choice but to take down Mattocks, which earned Clark a yellow and earned the Timbers a penalty kick, which the maestro coolly slotted home for a 1-0 lead going into the half.

Off to the races

Once the Timbers had scored, DC United was forced to come out of their defensive stance a bit in the second half, and the Timbers made them pay. At 50′, Valeri spotted Alvas Powell open on the right and switch played the ball to him at the top of the 18.

I will readily admit that not five minutes before this, I had been grousing to a seatmate, wondering why Powell was starting and not Zarek Valentin. I’ve talked plenty here about the “That’s So Alvas” show, about Powell’s tendencies to follow a brilliant defensive maneuver by a laughable giveaway, sometimes within seconds of each other. And I thought Valentin had earned the starting spot with his consistent performance over the last stretch of games. I had theorized that maybe putting Mattocks and Powell in the game was just to build their confidence before a possible playoff run or something.

And then Powell did this and shut me up:

I watched that shot sail off Powell’s left foot and into the back of the net and my jaw dropped just a little. I still like Valentin for consistency, but my goodness, Powell nailed it.

As stunning as Powell’s score was, the next one was my goal of the match. Check out Valeri’s work with Sebastian Blanco here at 60′:

I saw it unfold right in front of me, and I still couldn’t believe the magic I had just witnessed: Valeri’s three juggles to maintain possession and get the perfect touch on the ball; the tap to Blanco, who took two quick touches and tapped it back to Valeri, who one-touched it back to Blanco, whose next touch was a brilliant strike to the top of the far corner of the net. The beautiful game, indeed.

Blanco sealed the deal at 86′ with brilliant solo work threading through several defenders, including Clark:

It was a beautiful second half of footy from the Timbers. A Chilean friend next to me watching the match watched as the boys moved quickly through a series of quick, short, one-touch passes, tilted his head and observed almost quizzically, “Tiki…taka?”

I know, right? Who’d have thought it from watching us earlier this season?

Final thoughts

Next Sunday is for all the marbles. If we tie or lose, we will ensure that the Cascadia Cup goes to our hated rivals, the Sounders, and we will finish somewhere between 2nd and 4th in the West, depending on all kinds of scenarios involving a bunch of other teams.

If we win, though…

If we win, we win the Cascadia Cup, we win the west and a first round bye.

We know from experience that you can go all the way from a knockout round to the Cup, so a tie or even a loss will see us through. But I know the simplest scenario:

See you all next Sunday, folks!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

Stealing Away

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, September 9: 0-1 Win

My initial reaction to last Saturday’s game:

Somehow, in spite of some blindingly bad defensive plays in the first half and some otherworldly saves by the opposing keeper in the second half, the Portland Timbers came away with a 1-0 win against New York City FC on Saturday, breaking NYCFC’s 10-game unbeaten streak at home and finding themselves ahead on total points in the west by the end of the weekend.

Both teams were missing key players on Saturday. NYCFC in particular missed David Villa in the attack and Yangel Herrera in the midfield; PTFC was without striker Fanendo Adi, central defender and team captain Liam Ridgewell, and starting keeper Jake Gleeson. In addition, both clubs had players coming from recent international duty, with NYCFC’s Rodney Wallace having played 31 minutes for Costa Rica earlier in the week and PTFC’s David Guzman and Darlington Nagbe both putting in 70+ minutes for Costa Rica and the United States, respectively. So it could be considered a test of both team’s depth and ability to adjust to changing lineups.

First half missteps

Misstep #1: Left hand to left leg (No, this isn’t Twister)–Let’s start with one that could have been a LOT worse. At 22′, David Guzman lost a challenge on the left side, outside of NYCFC’s box. Let me preface this by saying I love Guzman, that he has been my favorite acquisition so far this year…but WOW that move he made on Maximiliano Moralez:

That reach with the left hand on Moralez’s leg pained me to watch. I LOVE Guzman but I did NOT love that move. The yellow card he got could easily have been much worse (like, say, a different color).

Misstep #2: Hellacious D–The next defensive misstep was Roy Miller’s to make. At 25′, Andrea Pirlo had a free kick coming, which Jeff Attinella punched away. Unfortunately, Miller was disturbingly blasé on defense, first with an all-too-casual tap that he nearly lost, followed by a lackadaisical pass that Jack Harrison quickly stole away and sent toward the goal. Luckily for us, Moralez and Rodney Wallace pretty much got in each other’s way and allowed the Timbers to clear the ball out; otherwise that defensive error could easily have put NYCFC ahead.

Misstep #3: Speaking of casual–Fortunately, the Timbers weren’t the only ones to play a little too casually for their own good. Pirlo, the embodiment of insouciance (yes, I have now used my SAT word for the day), had a stunning giveaway to Darren Mattocks. While Pirlo stood, half shrugging and half-heartedly begging the ref for attention of some sort, Mattocks ignored him, continued play, and made him pay dearly by finding Diego Valeri for the score:

Diego Valeri (aka Maestro aka Troesma aka San Valeri aka Build The F***ing Statue Already) buried the ball in the back of the net for his 17th goal on the season. The goal also marked the seventh PTFC game in a row with a Valeri goal, tying the MLS record first set in 1997 by Raul Diaz Arce and matched only three times since: once by Wolde Harris in 2000, once by Carlos Ruiz in 2006, and once by Valeri. Yes, I am biased; and yes, Valeri is a legitimate candidate for MLS MVP this year.

And then there was the second half.

Second half: The Sean Johnson Show

Soccer is a funny game. You can have a string of terrible plays, capitalize on a single opportunity at the right moment, and steal a goal. And you can have a string of amazing plays, get stymied by a single player, and come away empty handed. Such was the story of the second half.

After the half, the Timbers seemed to have recovered from their defensive lapses, and they had more than a few legitimate chances to run up the score. And every time, Sean Johnson was there to stop them.

First, there was the 55′ header by Vytautas Andriuškevičius off the Guzman corner, a nice run toward goal that found Vytas pretty much uncovered. Somehow Johnson got a bead on it and saved it.

Then there was 64′, where Jeremy Ebobisse, down on the ground inside the box, still had the presence of mind to redirect the ball off the outside of his left foot to where Valeri was headed. It could easily have been a score but for Johnson’s huge save.

Then there was 74′, where Sebastian Blanco had a shot on frame that was saved by Johnson.

Then at 84′, there was this:

This was pretty much my reaction:

In the end, Valeri’s first half score was enough to hold the lead, and we came away with three valuable points in the home stretch of the season, finding ourselves temporarily atop the Western Conference on total points at the end of the weekend. I will take it, thank you.

Hot Takes

Depth matters. Yes, NYCFC was missing David Villa, and yes, he probably would have made us pay dearly for our defensive lapses in the first half; but we were missing key players as well. In a test of depth, we came out ahead on the day.

Be my Valentin. In a game with more than a few scary plays on defense, Zarek Valentin was solid in right back. I know that Alvas Powell has speed and more potential upside, but Valentin has earned the starting spot. I hope he keeps it.

Attinella. Hey, remember how Adam Kwarasey got injured and then Jake Gleeson played several games and next thing you know he was the starting keeper? I need to talk to my keeper friends who know far more about positioning, reaction saves, etc. than I do; but for my money Jeff Atinella must at least be giving Caleb Porter something to think about at the keeper position. Just saying.

A lot can happen in this part of the season, and the Western Conference race is unbelievably tight. At a time like this, three road points are (green and) gold. Next up: on the road v. Real Salt Lake. See you next weekend!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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Derby Days

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, August 27: 1-1 Draw

Everybody has a story to tell about rivalry games. And last Sunday’s Portland TimbersSeattle Sounders match-up had it all: disputed calls and non-calls, cards, a penalty kick, a draw that felt like a win (or a draw that felt like a loss, depending on where you were standing in the stadium). But I’m going to leave the match recap to others. This is instead a personal story of Cascadia Cup games, for me and for my daughter.

My daughter (who I call MiniMe online to give her a LITTLE privacy) first started attending Timbers matches when her brothers played club soccer in 2004. Restless and bored, my then 4-year-old girl had to be bribed to stay in the half-empty stands with me on the west side: “If you let mommy watch the first half of this match, we’ll go up to the Fred Meyer bouncy house later, okay?”

Looking back on those early USL days, I would not have predicted that, when the team made the move to MLS in 2011, MiniMe would be the one who most wanted to attend away games, accompanying me to the first MLS Cascadia Cup away match in 2011 in Seattle.

IMG_0672
MiniMe and mom on their first Cascadia Cup away match in 2011 in Seattle

All of eleven years old, MiniMe rode up to Seattle with me on one of the supporter buses. She delighted in the entire affair–the spectacle of it all, the cold and the rain and the resulting “We don’t need no ponchos” songs in the stands, the extremely rude, potty-mouthed cheers that she could only laugh at as they rang throughout the section, Futty Danso’s stunning equalizer. She was hooked.

MiniMe was with me in 2011 when we opened BC Place to much fanfare. She came up with helpful tips to pass on to supporters (“Seat backs in front of you make excellent makeshift percussion instruments.” “Your away day program makes great confetti”). She was with me in Seattle in 2012 when we got our butts handed to us and when stadium security decided to ignore the prearranged security protocol and dump us out right in the midst of ECS faithful (MiniMe was calm and collected; her mother was situationally aware).

minime2012
A VERY underaged MiniMe on the left, celebrating the Cascadia Cup win in Vancouver in 2012

She was with me in Vancouver in 2012 when we reclaimed the Cascadia Cup, talking her way into the Railway Club to touch the Cup even though she was CLEARLY well underage (MiniMe to the door man: “Look at me. Who’s going to serve ME?”)

My daughter has accompanied me to every regular season Cascadia Cup match since 2011 except one, and that one was my fault (I was in Spain at the time in 2015). She’s in college now, but she makes a point of coming to each and every one. When she came home for the summer this year, she marked her wall calendar with every Timbers home match, and every Cascadia Cup away match. I confess that I live for those days, when we can still share the joy and the sorrow of the game together.

IMG_20170723_110540133.jpg
Me and MiniMe in Vancouver, BC this year (don’t worry, she’s just having cranberry juice)

This past weekend, MiniMe went back up to college at Puget Sound on Friday, then rejoined me one last time for the season at CenturyLink. She saved me a seat while I did supporter stuff before the match, then we stood and chanted and sang together for the boys on the field.

At one point in the game, as often happens in a Cascadia Cup match, we had evened up the score, but I was still terribly nervous. Eventually my voice caught in my throat, and instead of singing the next chant I held my hands in front of my face as the final minutes ticked down, peering through my fingers at the field, terrified that our hated rivals would once again score the go-ahead goal, and holding my breath hoping that we would be able to hang on for the draw.

And then I glanced to my left, and saw that my daughter was doing exactly the same thing.

Some bonds run deep. For my daughter and me, those bonds run straight through Pacific Northwest soccer.

After the final whistle, we waited through the security hold together, dashed down the ramp with the rest of the Timbers Army faithful, and I hugged her goodbye as she sprinted off to catch the late bus back to college in Tacoma.

Recap away, y’all. Talk about Diego Valeri’s amazing season. Talk about the sublime space that Darlington Nagbe creates around him out of nothing. Talk about Roy Miller having his best game in a Timbers jersey. Talk about Jeff Attinella’s stops, or Vytautas Andriuškevičius’s crosses. What I will remember most is my daughter and I, side by side, hoping against hope, peering through our fingers at the boys on the pitch as they stared down our most hated rivals to the north, and endured.

I sure hope we get to do it again together a time or two this fall.

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

Back in the Game

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, August 6: 3-1 Win

Yes, friends, that’s right, after approximately a jillion years (okay, eight weeks, but still), club captain Liam Ridgewell finally returned to the pitch last Sunday for the first time since re-aggravating a nagging quad injury against FC Dallas on June 10th. Say what you will about the golf and TV tweets; I was MORE than glad to see him back on the pitch.

Ridgewell delivered a solid performance and contributed to a convincing win. Welcome back, Liam.

After their away draw, the Portland Timbers returned from the suffocating heat of Houston only to find some heat of their own at home as they faced the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday. Start time for the match was moved up to 11am (!) due to predicted temperatures earlier in the week in Portland. Yes, I know, people in actual, REAL hot places on the planet might snicker at moving a match because the temperature might top triple digits; but even state-of-the-art turf gets REALLY hot on such days, and if player safety is a concern, I would prefer to err on the side of caution. Tough on those of us who open up the Timbers Army fanladen/clubhouse 3 1/2 hours before a game, but it’s all about the players.

Me, getting ready for an 11am kick

For the first time this season, the Timbers finally fielded the two players they have hoped to start at center back all year: Ridgewell and summer signing Larrys Mabiala, the Congolese player acquired from Turkish Super Lig club Kayserispor. I had almost forgotten what it looks like to have two veteran center backs working together in front of the goal: while Lawrence Olum and Roy Miller (and others!) have made valiant efforts to hold down the fort at various points during the season, they were clearly place holders for the guys the Timbers *wanted* to start at the center back position.

But with Mabiala’s team engaged in a fierce battle to avoid relegation in Turkey and with Ridgewell battling a quad injury for most of the season, this was the first opportunity we’ve had to see them actually play together in front of the goal.  And while I’m no expert, I could see the ease with which Ridgewell settled into the role of field general on the back line, constantly communicating with Mabiala and the rest of the defense. I’m eager to see how they work together going forward.

A fast start, and a fast equalizer

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. First, Ridgewell made his return to the field count, putting away a header off a set piece in his first match back to open the scoring:

That was promptly met with an equalizer from Emmanuel Boateng that showed just how outmatched Roy Miller was on the wing:

Ouch. I have to wonder if perhaps Vytautas Andriuškevičius wasn’t actually fully match fit. Otherwise, I have to question the Miller start at LB against Boateng, who obviously has a step or three on Miller. I thought perhaps it was because Miller and David Guzmán had plenty of experience playing together for Saprissa, but no amount of history and chemistry can overcome Boateng’s speed.

VAR

I am on record as being skeptical of VAR. I continue to worry about the possibility of long pauses in the flow of the game, because I am concerned about the pressure from broadcasters to introduce extra advertising spots that will ultimately disrupt the flow of the game. My good friend Zach summarized my fears:

At the same time, I have to eat a little crow here, because in this game, VAR helped officials make the right call, and it didn’t take an inordinate amount of time. After Gyasi Zardes put the ball into the net, it looked like LA might have taken the lead, but not for long. What might have been missed in real time was clearly visible on replay:

The Maestro

So much has been said about Diego Valeri that I cannot begin to imagine that I can add to it. Really, all I can say is: just watch.

Oops, you gave him a little bit of room outside the 30, too bad for you. Timbers lead: 2-1.

Best Prop Bet that Never Happened

Okay, so it wasn’t the keeper eating a pie on the sideline midmatch, but seriously, if you had been able to lay down money on a prop bet before the match that Fanendo Adi would backheel to Alvas Powell for a score, you would have Cleaned. Up.

This put the Timbers ahead 3-1, which wound up being the score line at the final whistle.

Yeah, we still have, shall we say, issues. Last I checked, we are in a five way tie for second place (sixth place?) in the West. Adi got injured, not sure how severely. We were BURNED on the left wing a few times. And LAG had more chances than the score line showed. But three points is three points, and I will gladly take it. Next up: Toronto. See you then!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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This Is Fine

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, July 19: 1-4 Loss

On Wednesday night, my beloved Portland Timbers had one of the worst showings I have witnessed in quite awhile, losing 4-1 to Real Salt Lake, losing two players to red cards in the process, and setting us up for what could charitably be characterized as a challenging match this Sunday v the Vancouver Whitecaps.

We were already short-handed going into the match. In addition to David Guzman, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell out on international duty for Gold Cup, we also lost Darlington Nagbe as the big boys got called in for the knockout round for the USMNT. Yes, we are all very proud of their work, they are all showing well for their national teams. And yes, it is a mark of the quality of our first team that four of our starters are on international duty and that all of their respective squads have made it to Gold Cup semifinals; but it HURTS to have them gone when we have two games in a week’s time, one of them against a Cascadia Cup rival.

We also have starters Liam Ridgewell, Vytautas Andriuškevičius, and Diego Chara sidelined with injuries, as well as backup left back and sometime starter Marco Farfan. We only managed to field a team of 16 total on Wednesday, including players who typically only see time at T2 matches. Oh, and by the end of the match we had also lost both Fandendo Adi and Victor Arboleda to red cards.

This move by Adi in particular is inexcusable:

Look, we all have, um, opinions about Kyle Beckerman. And I am absolutely certain that he says and does subtle things on the field that could make a player angry. Heck, it took me about seven viewings to catch what got Adi so worked up: Beckerman’s raised forearm to Adi’s rib cage as he ran past at a full clip:

But doggone it, Adi, we need you to be better than this. If Adi were a fifth grader in my office after doing this at recess soccer, I would tell him the same thing: don’t let Kyle get to you, or he wins.

After Victor Arboleda’s ejection, the rest of the match was a 9v10 affair, with only Jack Barmby having anything to show for it with his late score keeping us from giving RSL a clean sheet on the night.

By my calculations, that leaves us with a grand total of 14 players (three of whom are GKs, by the way) who are even available for Sunday’s match. If even one of those players takes a knock at practice, we are in such dire straits that we would be eligible to sign USL players to short term contracts under MLS extreme hardship rules. I think our current situation can be summed up best as follows (hat tip to KC Green):

At this point there is naturally plenty of finger pointing, philosophizing, and navel gazing among Timbers Army faithful. Among the questions being raised:

  • Should we blame MLS scheduling, with two matches in a row in a week that would be expected to have players missing for international duty?
  • Is this situation the natural result of having done such a good job fielding a starting XI so that international call ups that hurt us so deeply are to be expected?
  • Is our shallow bench a result of MLS salary cap rules?
  • Is our shallow bench a result of wisely investing in youth at the T2 level, which unfortunately means they aren’t quite yet ready for prime time?
  • Is it instead because our academy programs and in particular our T2 squad aren’t being managed properly?
  • With so many injuries, is our training program in need of a serious overhaul?
  • When we are missing so many players who either have a particularly strong first touch (Nagbe) or a good return on 50/50 balls (Chara, Guzman), should we have had a different game plan?

I do not know the answers to these questions. I just know that at this point, with so many players out with injuries or away on international duty, we have very little in our control in order to make fundamental changes in preparation for Sunday. The best that we can hope for is that the fourteen or so players who are available can take this moment as a chance, both collectively and individually, to show us how they handle adversity.

We’ll be there, hundreds of us making the trek from Portland to Vancouver. We’ll be in full voice from before the kick til after the final whistle. Show us what you’re made of, gentlemen.

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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Green and Gold Cup

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Well, folks, it’s Gold Cup time, and you know what that means:

That’s right, the Portland Timbers, along with most MLS teams, are on an international break. While we wait for, oh, I don’t know, half the team to recover from various injuries, what say we peek in at how current and former Timbers players are faring with their respective national squads?

Jamaica

Let’s start with the Reggae Boyz, whose roster includes two current players and one former alumnus. From the current Timbers squad: forward Darren Mattocks and right back Alvas Powell, the player who is the best at simultaneously dazzling and disappointing on defense, sometimes within a five second span. From the ranks of former Timbers: Jermaine Taylor, currently with Minnesota United. Taylor had a decent outing in Jamaica’s first Group C game on July 9th, playing a full 90 with 94% passing accuracy and eight steals. (Hmm, solid defending, good distribution. I wonder who could use that right now….)

Both current Timbers also saw plenty of action during this match, a revenge affair against upstart Curacao, who recently surprised Jamaica by handing them a defeat in the Caribbean Cup just a couple of weeks prior. Alvas Powell got the start, played for 83 minutes, and in classic “That’s So Powell” fashion he had a defensive stop and clearance at 68′, followed immediately by his giving away a corner kick. Alvas, Alvas, Alvas.

Mattocks came off the bench at 59′ but he made it count with this beautiful left-footed volley to score the second goal of the match:

Yes, I know the clip is in Spanish. The key word you’re listening for there is zurdazo. Nice work, Darren. Save some of that hot, sinister scoring for when you get back home, please.

Next up for the Reggae Boyz: Mexico on July 13th. Yikes.

Costa Rica

#RCTID faithful arguably had two players to pull for on the Ticos: aside from the bulldog central defender David Guzmán (yes, he is still my favorite signing this year), many Timbers supporters still have a soft spot for current NYCFC player Rodney Wallace, who signed with the Timbers in their inaugural season and played with us for five years before moving on. Both players have had excellent Gold Cup outings so far. Guzmán demonstrated the tenacity and precision that he has shown with the Timbers, getting ample opportunity to practice his corner kicks in the July 7th match v Honduras at Red Bull Arena. He did get a yellow at 85′, which is classic bulldog Guzmán.

Rodney Wallace also had an excellent game, starting for Costa Rica and going 71 minutes before being subbed. He also had the assist on the only score of the match:

Both Guzmán and Wallace had excellent outings as well when Costa Rica took on Canada at BBVA Compass Stadium on July 11th. Wallace played a full 90 in the 1-1 draw, and Guzmán had, guess what, another corner kick, this time one that led to Costa Rica’s only score in the match:

Guzmán subbed off at 61′, which is probably just as well because he already had a yellow from the previous game; and with the play he is giving Costa Rica they will want him on the field for as many matches as they can get him. But he wasn’t subbed off before this tremendous effort, a beautiful line drive just before the half that ALMOST put Costa Rica up 2-1 and that required Canada’s keeper to make a diving save:

United States

Finally, a word must be said about a beloved former player, “El Sueño” aka Jorge Villafaña, currently with Liga MX’s Santos Laguna as well as with the USMNT. I know I am not alone in rooting for Jorge; we miss his deadly crosses as well as his passion. In the July 8th game v Panama he played a full 90 and created a couple of good chances as a left back. As of this writing I have only seen highlights from the match against Martinique on the 12th, in which Villafaña didn’t play this time (which is probably just as well, given some of the defensive stats I see from the match. Oh, dear.)

Well, that’s all the Timbers Gold Cup news that’s fit to print so far. Keep those cards and letters coming! Reminder that the Timbers have their next MLS match at home on July 19th v Real Salt Lake. Want more Timbers-related Gold Cup news and notes, or something else Timbers-esque off the pitch? Hit me up in the comments below, or on Twitter.

Featured image courtesy: timbers.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

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Drawing Fire

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, July 5: 2-2 Draw

Last week I had an excellent opportunity to experience the sharp contrast between loving sports in general…and loving a team.

During my brief vacation over the last several days, I attended three separate sporting events in which I was not at all personally invested–an international soccer friendly, a local soccer charity match, and a major league baseball game. They were all fun, relaxing, entertaining affairs. Each time I chatted with friends, laughed at some plays, groaned good-naturedly at others, and passed a few pleasant hours not really caring about the outcome of the game.

And then I came back home for the Portland Timbers game on Wednesday night.

My match summary is pretty much encapsulated as follows:

Passion for sports is a funny thing. It can exhilarate, devastate, and everything in between.  We had it all in full measure on Wednesday. We went ahead, fell behind, fought back to a draw, dominated play, worked desperately for the elusive go-ahead goal, thought we’d won at the death for a second, only to find that we hadn’t, and by the end of the match I was physically and mentally exhausted, just from watching.

It was taxing. It was frustrating. It was glorious.

Match Recap

It was always going to be a tough match. The Chicago Fire is having an excellent run of form, and we had just completed our fourth game in a row without a win (drawing Kansas City in a hard-fought match just a few days before). Our squad was so decimated that we literally couldn’t field a full eighteen, and most of the guys on the bench these days are pretty much T2 players.

With David Guzman, Alvas Powell and Darren Mattocks out on international duty and Diego Chara, Liam Ridgewell and Jack Barmby all out injured, we kept pretty much the same lineup as we’d had against Kansas City, with the exception of Zarek Valentin starting as right back, something he’s been doing more of lately. Darlington Nagbe played his second shift as a defensive midfielder. Chicago was also without Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger, so at least we had THAT going for us.

Both teams had a couple of near misses early on, with Chicago getting an early chance at about 6′ and with a near miss for us at 17′. Then a handball by Juninho gave us the chance to go ahead at 23′:

(Side note: before I get to the goal, can we just look up at that GIF again and appreciate HOW HIGH Dairon Asprilla can jump? Good LORD. Okay, back to the recap.)

Fanendo Adi lined up at the mark and coolly struck it right down the middle for the score. It wasn’t quite a panenka but it was still gorgeous:

It was the first penalty kick awarded against Chicago all season, and we made it count.

And then barely ten minutes later this happened:

That crazy long shot from Arturo Alvarez made it in as Jake Gleeson was holding for a touch from another Fire player that never came.

Meanwhile, not two minutes later Diego Valeri was busy making a case for Near Miss of the Year with this bicycle kick attempt:

It went wide of the goal but oh, what might have been.

In the second half, we were dominating in all of the stats that are supposed to matter: possession, shots, shots on target. And then this back breaker happened.

Alvarez and Brandon Vincent caught us out in the back and suddenly we were down 2-1, with a devastated, depleted squad. Would we be able to answer?

Yes. Emphatically.

The Portland Timbers posted this beautiful breakdown of the goal. Yes, it was a real team effort; but I want you to pay particular attention to Diego Valeri at the 1:00 mark.

Watch as he squares his shoulders, rotates his hips and torso to his left. EVERYTHING in his body language tells the defender that Valeri is going to send the ball to his left…and then he coolly taps the ball to his right, to a waiting Sebastian Blanco. I probably say this every other week about Valeri, but that was poetry.

The boys worked desperately for the go ahead goal, and for about three seconds during stoppage time, we thought we’d scored it, off this beautiful cross from Marco Farfan to Adi:

Unfortunately it was called back for Adi’s push-off, exhilaration turned quickly to frustration, and the game ended shortly thereafter in a 2-2 draw.

Holy cow, I got tired all over again just retelling that.

Hot Takes

  • Blanco’s work rate continues to be ridiculous in a good way. If he can get in sync with players other than Valeri (with whom he clearly connects well), we might just have something in the tank for the second half of the season.
  • Valentin continues to step up. He had his work cut out for him at right back, and he didn’t disappoint. When Powell gets back from international duty, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod at RB on a regular basis.
  • It was SO rewarding to see Ben Zemanski having a good game. His first touch might not be Nagbe-esque as a defensive midfielder, but he put in a solid effort, arguably his best since before the ACL tear that initially sidelined him a couple of years back.

Off the Pitch

We had a fascinating donation to add to the memorabilia in the Timbers Army fanladen: a joint Timbers Army/Chicago Section 8 scarf from the days before Portland was in MLS:

Check out this story from the Chicago Fire site for more on the back story of the Timbers Army/Section 8 alliance, a significant part of our history as well as our growth/development as an organization.

Thank goodness that crazy stretch is over; now both the boys and I can get a little rest and recuperation during Gold Cup action! And I even have (a little) spare time, since July is pretty much a school principal’s best shot at vacation moments. We’ll see you again when the boys host Real Salt Lake on July 19th.

In the meantime, Let me know if there’s something non-match related you’d like to hear about during the international break: follow-ups on our international players during Gold Cup? Background on our newest signing, centerback Larrys Mabiala? Local history/stories of Timbers Army, either past or present? Reviews of local Portland cideries? Hit me up in the comments, or on Twitter at shebainpdx. Til then, as always, #RCTID.

Featured image courtesy: Portland Timbers facebook

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

Subscribe + get caught up: Weekly Dispatch 2017