After a LONG break, the Portland Timbers are finally opening their regular season this weekend against the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 4th. We’ve said goodbye to beloved players and staff and welcomed new faces in the interim. Let’s take a look at some of the comings and goings as we get ready for Sunday.
Sure, we’ll miss that second string Swiss army knife of a player that Z-man was, and we’ll (maybe) miss watching for flashes of the brilliant national team play that Mattocks had on display for the Reggae Boyz; but by far the player we’ll miss the most is Nagbe. He might have occasionally frustrated a few folks with his tendency to take the safe pass in the final third rather than going for the jugular; but Nagbe, more than anyone, long helped to cover for other player’s shortcomings with his amazing ability to retain possession of the ball under intense pressure and to find the open man.
With us since the beginning of the MLS era (thanks to Vancouver Whitecaps‘s mystifying first pick that left him available for us at second pick), we will sorely miss Darlington Nagbe on the field. I dread the very real possibility that we only too late realize how much he was the glue that held things together, that connected the backs to the midfield and the midfield to the forwards. I understand why we let him go, but MAN it is going to hurt when he helps Atlanta United tear up the field this year.
Not including our draft picks, most of whom will be fighting for time on either the first squad or T2, as of this writing, we’ve acquired the following players during the offseason:
Samuel Armenteros, Forward (TAM, loan with purchase option)
Julio Cascante, Center Back (TAM, signed via transfer)
Andres Flores, Midfielder (signed from NASL/Cosmos)
Modou Jadama, Defender (signed from USL/Tulsa Roughnecks)
Foster Langsdorf, Forward (Homegrown) (Stanford)
Cristhian Paredes, Defensive Midfielder (TAM, loan with purchase option)
Andy Polo, Winger (TAM, loan with purchase option)
Eryk Williamson, Midfielder (traded GAM & TAM to DCU)
It will be interesting to see which of the new players manages to win starting spots. Cascante definitely has the attitude of a man willing to fight hard for his shot at the XI, and I’m still not sure whether Polo or Dairon Asprilla makes the starting lineup as a winger. By far the player who intrigues me the most here is Armenteros (fun fact, his full name is actually Kristiano Samuel Armenteros Nunez Mendoza Janssen, I am not making this up and I am officially requesting a John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt chant for him).
Armenteros has played most of his professional career in Eredivisie, where he lit up the field with 21 goals in 31 appearances for Heracles Almelo in 2016-2017. Moving to Benevento in Serie A, Armenteros struggled on a team that was fighting relegation, and because he had played in a game with the second squad for his old team while regaining fitness, under FIFA rules he was not allowed to make a move to another club with the same approximate start and end dates in a single season.
This thwarted his desire to move to FC Utrecht (side note: if that team sounds familiar to Portland soccer fans, it should: local hero and USMNT player Rubio Rubin played there from 2014-2017). Fortunately for Timbers fans, though, our season does not parallel that of most of Europe, so Utrecht’s loss is our gain, and we wound up getting to pick up Armenteros on a loan with the option to purchase.
I watched some of the preseason action, and of all of the new players, I’m most excited to see Armenteros on the pitch. Maybe it’s because the rest of the team truly is in preseason form, whereas Armenteros is coming from league play and is already match fit and razor sharp. Maybe it’s because he was on the bench for a while on a team fighting relegation and has something to prove, to himself and to the rest of us. Whatever it is, Armenteros looks like a man on a mission when he is on the field, and that mission is apparently to score goals, which he did several times during the preseason tournament in Arizona:
It will be interesting to see who gets the start, and in what formation, up top. Fanendo Adi is the presumed starting forward in a 4-2-3-1; but he was still in preseason striker form in Arizona (read: he would have had difficulty hitting the broad side of a barn). Maybe the better move is to have both Adi and Armenteros in a 4-4-2? I guess we’ll find out.
Word on Giovanni Savarese is that he isn’t afraid to make substitutions or tactical changes on the fly to suit conditions on the field, and he did change formations mid-game in preseason matches. Still, those were preseason scrimmages. The real test comes this Sunday, and I, for one, can’t wait.
What are you most looking forward to, and dreading this season? Hit me up in the comments below or on Twitter. #RCTID
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’sDavid “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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 Andriuškevičius, and 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.
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.
A collaboration by official reporters of MLSFemale @MLSFemale
With Major League Soccer, there is no greater prize than the MLS Cup. Twelve teams, 6 from each conference, are vying for the chance to lift the ultimate prize of the league’s 22nd season. Here’s a quick rundown from our MLSFemale squad:
Toronto FC: AND NOW YOU’RE GUNNA BELIEVE US, we’ve gone and won the league! Suffice it to say the city of Toronto is over the moon with our accomplishments this season and we are looking forward to what we hope is a great playoff run. Michael Bradley succinctly put our season in summation by saying “…we went after every game from 1 to 34 like it was the only thing that mattered.” (source)
I think they can be proud that they never really wavered on that goal and it paid off. As a member of the Kings in the North, one of the official protectors of the Supporters’ Shield during it’s stay in Toronto, I look forward to spending some time up close and personal with it.
Our playoff future looks bright; one is left hoping that we take that same winning mentality into the playoffs and consider every opponent and every game with care. Finishing off the regular season at Atlanta was also a good test for us to end on. Fresh to the league, they were the one team I felt we hadn’t had a proper chance to sound out back in April. Having seen their house and how they feel about our players (your hate makes them strong, our love makes them unstoppable), I now feel confident that Toronto FC has the arsenal to make a successful playoff run. And as Giovinco has shown, this team is ready for whatever is thrown at them. So bring on our second (okay fine, third) go at it, we’re here to win it all!
*NYCFC: Not gonna lie: this team gets measurably better every year. With head coach Patrick Vieira, the Pigeons have made it to their 1st MLS post season in style, with a bye for the knockout round. Legend David Villa and newcomer Jack Harrison, as well as the rest of the squad, are going to face their first opponents well rested and ready for a run. Just how far can the boys in blue go their first time out?
Chicago Fire: Nine months ago Fire fans were excited for the club’s new signings– with Dax McCarty, Juninho, Niko, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, certainly the Men in Red wouldn’t finish last place again – would they?
By early June, fans knew that not only were the Chicago Fire going to dig themselves out from the bottom of the table, but the likelihood that they would be playoff contenders looked promising.
David Accam, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho, amongst others have been battling injuries, just returned from injury, or will return from injury for the playoffs. Is the squad recovering at the appropriate time? With key players on the bench over the last couple of months, other players gained experience – this will certainly help strengthen roster options when Veljko Paunovic looks to his bench for substitution options.
Who will get the nod for the goalkeeper position? Matt Lampson, who has been with the team since February of 2016 and a total of 34 games played for the Fire? Or will Richard Sanchez start in net after only recently signing with the Fire?
We supporters are excited for the playoffs, for the opportunities that lie ahead, and for a home game, but we’re also realistic, especially after the last two unfortunate seasons.
Atlanta United: Well, here we are…The new kids in the league are in the playoffs. A 4th place finish to the regular season is better than where I thought we’d be at the beginning of the season. This gives us home field advantage for Thursday’s knockout round game – and home field advantage in Mercedes-Benz Stadium could be significant. We’ve also won both games against Columbus (#SaveTheCrew!) earlier this season – although we did lose to them in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup in February.
This team is much stronger now. They’ve now had an entire season to get to know each other. We have a solid starting lineup – even with a few subs because of injuries. And with over 70,000 people expected at the game on Thursday to cheer them on, I think Atlanta United has a really good chance at hoisting that cup in December.
The boys are ready for this. Atlanta is ready for this.
Columbus Crew:In the middle of the season, the Crew was struggling and looked unlikely to make the playoffs, but Berhalter seems to have the magic touch with his team at the end of the season.The tie against NYCFC took the Crew’s unbeaten streak to 10.It kept the team in the 5th spot while a win could’ve put them in 2nd place.
The team is dealing with a lot of distractions with a fan base who passionately loves them and is distraught that an owner would take them away.(#savethecrew)However, if the team can keep their form and absorb the passion the fans are showing them, they actually have a chance against Atlanta.Although, it will be a tough away game.The fans really need them to win, so we have a home playoff game to show how much we love the players.
New York Red Bulls: Whew! Just made it in under the wire. But RBNY is in the playoffs for the 8th season in a row. Always the bridesmaid, RBNY is the only MLS 1.0 team (originally the NY/NJ Metrostars) never to lift the MLS Cup. Coach Jesse Marsch has said that the team has been the favorite during the playoffs to no avail and that it’s time to be underdog.
I’m expecting a solid performance from Tyler Adams and the rest of the back line as well as more attacking from Daniel Royer. Defender Aurelien Collin has been working his way back to full health, and Jesse hopes to be able to bring him back into the 18. Dax McCarty and the Chicago Fire are the first obstacle in the knockout round, and another edition of the Hudson River Derby is practically guaranteed after that. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is. Fight Together.
Portland Timbers: It is not an overstatement to say that for the Timbers this Sunday’s game was the most important game of the year up to this point. The Cascadia Cup was on the line, as was the chance to win the conference and a first round bye.
With a Portland win, they have won the West and a first round bye. They also take back the Cascadia Cup, the coveted supporter-owned trophy awarded to whichever northwest team has the best finish among the three Cascadia-area squads. If Portland had tied or lost, Seattle would have taken the Cup, and Portland would almost certainly have dropped to third or fourth place, hosting a midweek knockout round game.
As I expected, Attinella remained in goal, with Vytas and Powell on the wings, and Mattocks up top as we wait for Fanendo Adi to be match fit. And with PTFC’s Mattocks being a former Whitecaps player there was plenty of opportunity for a knife-twisting match finish as he gave us the go-ahead goal to seal the deal. Now we wait to see who makes it out of the knockout round.
Seattle Sounders: It is finally time to defend our cup.This year has been such an up and down year.There are days where we look like the team from last year’s run.And then there are games where we look like a team that hasn’t even played together before.
The game against FC Dallas gives me hope that maybe we are turning a corner.With a win on Sunday gives us a much needed bye.This will give the team time to heal up.I can’t wait for this run at the MLS cup.I really hope the top team in the East loses so we can host the cup this year!!
Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps were able to pull themselves above the red line in a very decisive way, landing themselves in 3rd place in the Western conference after flirting with the top spot for a hot minute. They will meet the San Jose Earthquakes in the knockout round at home in Vancouver. This is a decided advantage for the Whitecaps, as BC Place has been a fortress for the team this season.
*Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo played VERY well at home this year, giving up only one game at home at BBVA during the regular season. And they have to be looking forward to the opportunity to take on Sporting KC again, having just beaten them at home less than two weeks ago and drawing them in Kansas City shortly thereafter. If they manage to pull it off, their next opponent will be one of the top two finishers in the West, Portland or Seattle.
Sporting KC: I am not pleased with how this season ended, and I am not pleased that Sporting fell from 1st to 5th in the West over the last third of the season. If we’re going to make it anywhere in the playoffs we have to do one thing…score goals. It seems like that should be pretty easy, but obviously it’s not since SKC scored just 3 goals in their last 5 games.
If the Sporting team from the beginning of the season comes back then we could be in good shape, but the run will be hard since we have no home field advantage. Hopefully, with this being the third game against Houston in a two week span we’ll have them figured out. Sporting, don’t make this city regret all the energy you put into the US Open Cup. We need some of that magic for the playoffs.
*San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes had a wild finish to the regular season, with the winning goal coming three minutes into stoppage time against expansion side Minnesota United. Now they travel to Canada on only three days rest for a single game elimination round. They may still manage the upset against a Whitecaps squad that is struggling to put games away at precisely the wrong time in the season.
If San Jose can pull it off, they will face Portland in a conference semifinal, a team they’ve beaten at home twice during the regular season.
(Teams marked with a * do not have an official reporter from MLSFemale. If you support any of these teams, find your inner reporter and contact us!)
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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!
Everybody has a story to tell about rivalry games. And last Sunday’s Portland Timbers–Seattle 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.
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).
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.
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.
Yes, friends, that’s right, after approximately a jillion years (okay, eight weeks, but still), club captain Liam Ridgewellfinally 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:
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.
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:
This water break is brought to you by Nestle! This VAR sesh is brought to you by Samsung!
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:
Wow. I totally missed this. Excellent spot by the officials and great use of VAR. Fantastic showing from PRO here early on. pic.twitter.com/D9HeBE2G1a
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!
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.
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.