Category Archives: Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers never say die

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, May 5: 0-1 Win

For the first time since the move out of Buck Shaw, the Portland Timbers defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 at Avaya Stadium on Saturday, putting Portland on the good foot heading into next weekend and hopefully reclaiming once and for all any reference to the Goonies by our neighbors to the south. It was an evenly contested match, but Diego “El Maestro” Valeri had the last word, bending a beautiful free kick into the top right corner of the net at the 88th minute, sending the Timbers Army away fans home happy, and bringing back three points for the boys in green (okay, technically, the kits were white, but you know what I mean).

Recap

The Timbers went into this game in a 4-3-2-1 formation, with a lineup much like the one that proved successful against Minnesota United. After a dominant performance against New York City FCJeff Attinella was back in the starting spot in goal and Liam Ridgewell was once again in the starting XI; but other than that the lineup looked pretty much like the one that we saw in our home opener against the Loons.

The first 15-20 minutes the Timbers looked to have the game well in hand, with most of the possession and with Alvas Powell tearing up and down the right sideline like he owned the place. At the outset, it was almost a three-man backfield as Alvas time and again charged forward with pace and control.

It wasn’t until about 25′ when the Earthquakes’ Nick Lima hit a cross that turned out to be more like a shot on goal, that the momentum seemed to shift. Fanendo Adi had a couple of decent chances, but between his 8′ shot off the post, his 11′ mishandling of a pass from Valeri in front of the goal, his miss at 22′, it just wasn’t his night.

In the second half, both teams had their share of chances. Danny Hoesen made Attinella work hard to keep a clean sheet, and Valerie Qazaishvili had a couple of beauties blocked as well. In the end, though, it was Diego Valeri’s free-kick a couple of minutes before stoppage time that made the difference, and the Portland Timbers continued their slow climb out of the cellar in the West:

Quick Takes

Spotlight on Paredes. Once again, midfielder Cristhian Paredes continues to impress me. Take a look at his distribution yesterday:

Screenshot 2018-05-06 at 6.42.49 PM

See all of those green arrows? Those are successful passes and crosses. See how many unsuccessful passes/crosses he had all game? ThreeDavid Guzman has some very healthy competition for that deep midfield pairing with Diego Chara. Frankly, if Paredes keeps it up, that other D-mid starting spot might just belong to him, regardless of when Guzman is healthy again.

Powell continues to demonstrate maturity and poise (what?!?). I already mentioned that Powell looked like he owned the right side of the field in the opening quarter of the game. I am also impressed that he is managing to keep his head. In a game where no fewer than five Timbers received yellow cards, it is noteworthy that none of the yellow card recipients was named Alvas. Keep up the good work, young man.

Armenteros is a savvy player. Take another look at that free kick by Valeri that ultimately proved to be the game-winner. Let’s note, first of all, that Samuel Armenteros was the one who got the foul at the hands of Anibal Godoy. While it is true that this wasn’t the worst offense I’ve ever seen called for a foul, Godoy MORE than had it coming to him, as he had already built up a reputation with the referee by repeatedly plowing into players from behind, finally earning a yellow card after about the fifth offense. Armenteros wisely made the contact evident to officials and earned a free kick in a dangerous spot.

Then there was the free kick itself. Both Shea Salinas and Magnus Eriksson are initially tight on Armenteros, presumably because of the threat he may pose on cleaning up any deflected shot. Take a look at what Armenteros does with them in the wall here:

Armenteros turns from striker threat to offensive lineman, using some impressive blocking to clear a wide space in the wall for Valeri, should he need to use it. As it turned out, of course, Valeri curled the ball high and tight in the corner; but Armenteros was ready to ease the path for him, just in case.

I would love to see Armenteros get significant minutes so that he can find on-field rhythm with Valeri and Sebastian Blanco; it has to be hard to do when you only have a few minutes at the end of a game to sort it out. Adi may be working hard, but I don’t see that much production from him yet this year. We have healthy competition for starting spots in a few roles; I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of that mentality at the striker spot.

The only injury of note the team seems to have suffered was at Zarek Valentin‘s expense, apparently from overexuberant goal celebration with teammates (no, really). Fortunately, he was able to get back into the game in the final minutes while sporting a hefty bandage. He seems to be on the mend:

Next week, the Timbers are back home to face our hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, May 13th.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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MLS 101: First Team Roster Rules

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

I’ve been a Portland Timbers supporter for about fourteen years, but I’ve only been writing about them since 2017. And, like any career educator, I figure if I’m going to write about something I need to do my homework.

As I learn more about the league, I’m doing my best to get up to speed with everything from roster rules to international slots to homegrown status to TAM, GAM, and more. There are some aspects of MLS that are incredibly difficult to get a handle on. Some pieces of information are easier to find than others, and even when information is publicly available it is often not clearly spelled out and/or it is not easy to find in one place.

I am still at the beginning stages of information gathering and synthesis. I look forward to learning more and am happy to share my journey with you all in the meantime. Today, we’ll answer the question: Who gets to be on my team? What are the roster rules?

Roster basics

How many players are on a team? You’d think that would be a straightforward question, but it turns out the answer is “it depends.” If you’re an MLS club, you can have up to 30 people on your first team roster, but only under certain conditions. (And no, I’m not counting Atlanta United’s roster of 31, since that includes “Atlanta United Fans” as their 31st player.) Here’s how it works.

Senior roster: 20

Spots 1-20 on the roster are the senior roster spots. The salary for these 20 players counts against the club’s salary cap (this year that’s $4,035,000). The minimum salary for players on the senior roster is $67,500.

Supplemental Roster: up to 4

The supplemental roster can have up to 4 players. Those 4 players do not count against the club’s salary cap. Supplemental roster players can include:

  • Minimum salary players
  • Generation Adidas Players
  • Designated Players eligible for the MLS SuperDraft
  • Homegrown Players earning more than the senior minimum salary

Reserve Roster: 4-6

The reserve roster can have 4 players, or as many as 6 players if at least two of them are Homegrown Players. Reserve players have to be 24 or younger by year of birth during the league year. Their base salary is the reserve minimum salary (this year that is $54,500) unless they are Homegrown Players, in which case their salary can be more. So, if you have enough homegrown players, if you can stash at least two of them on the reserve roster, your official first team roster can have up to 30 players.

More roster rules: international spots and homegrown spots

This year, there are 184 international roster spots divided among the 23 clubs, which is 8 spots per club. International spots are tradable, and not just for the current year so some teams may have more than 8 international spots being used any given year.

If you’re a Canadian team, your domestic players are either Canadian citizens, or U.S. citizens or permanent residents (i.e. they have U.S. green cards); or they’ve been granted refugee or asylum status, or they are Homegrown Internationals (internationals who played for a qualifying academy team).

As previously noted, you can also stash homegrown players on the supplemental or reserve roster; but if you have a homegrown player on your supplemental or reserve roster and you move him up to the senior roster during the season, you can’t move him back down unless he is on a minimum salary.

#sheba

So, why doesn’t my first team have a full squad?

There are many reasons that the first team might not be using all 30 slots. It might be that they don’t have enough homegrown players to fill out the supplemental roster, or that they’d run afoul of the salary cap by adding another player, or that the player they want would require an international slot and the team doesn’t have any more at the moment.

The size of the roster can also be impacted by whether or not the first team has a USL affiliate, and where that USL affiliate is located.

USL Affiliates

In 2013, USL and MLS reached an agreement that allowed MLS teams to have second/reserve teams in USL. These USL second teams allow MLS teams to cast a wider net and sign a larger group of players than are allowed under MLS roster rules (maximum of 30 players).

As of this writing, most MLS teams have USL teams (only Columbus, New England, and Orlando City don’t have USL teams). MLS teams can use USL as a training ground for future MLS players, promoting the best of their USL players to their first teams, using the league’s USL Priority Player rule (priority rights to up to three players from USL affiliate).

Depending on how we count LAFC’s affiliate (I mean, Irvine isn’t that far from Los Angeles, but it isn’t exactly right next door either), about half of the USL affiliates are geographically close to their MLS parent teams, sometimes training and/or playing in the same facility.

Here is where I can see the tremendous advantage of having your USL affiliate geographically close to you: you don’t have to make official declarations of loans to USL teams for all of the players playing on your USL squad; it can happen on a week-to-week basis. In the case of the Timbers, for example, this has meant that first team players like Diego Chara and Vytautas Andriuškevičius can easily play for a game or two on the USL side as they recovered from injury and returned to match fitness, all while having access to first team trainers and facilities.

Conversely, players who are officially on the first team’s supplemental roster can still get regular playing time on the second squad, while being ready at a moment’s notice for a late call-up if the roster is thin on any given week (as happened to our squad last year v. the Vancouver Whitecaps).

If your USL affiliate isn’t geographically close to you, on the other hand, you pretty much have to decide when somebody is officially loaned out to USL. I assume that this is why, for example, the Colorado Rapids list only 24 active players on their MLS first team, with six players loaned out to USL sides.

The Rapids’ USL affiliate is the Charlotte Independence, which is over 1,500 miles away from the Rapids’ training facility. Charlotte Independence has 26 on its USL roster. In contrast, the Timbers have 29 active players on their MLS first team, with only 16 players listed on the Timbers 2 USL roster.

If you want to know more about who is officially on your team’s first squad, check out the roster page at the MLS website. It breaks down each team into senior, supplemental, and reserve rosters, as well as noting whether a player is a homegrown player, a designated player, or a player taking up an international roster slot, as well as players out on loan and players with season-ending injuries.

Those are the roster basics as I understand them. If you have questions or feedback, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or hit me up on twitter at shebainpdx. Next time the Timbers have a bye, we’ll take a look at the rules for international roster spots.

Yowza.

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Portland Timbers Derail NYCFC

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, April 22: 3-0 Win

After five performances on the road that ranged from embarrassing to inconsistent (to say the least), and after two thirds of a good game at home that was just enough to allow us to cling to a win, the Portland Timbers finally put in a rock-solid performance for a full 90 minutes this Sunday, handing first-place New York City FC their first defeat of the regular season and earning three points in a decisive 3-0 victory at Providence Park on 4/22.
Recap

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I will admit, when I saw the starting lineup, I was more than a little intrigued. Jeff Attinella got the start at keeper, which I appreciated. After a stint in the doghouse, Liam Ridgewell was back in the lineup next to Larrys Mabiala in front of the goal, with Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin filling out the rest of the back line. So far so good.

Then, there was the rest of the lineup. Andres Flores got the nod over Andy Polo. The rest of the starters were unchanged from the week before; but holy cow, was the formation different. Diego Valeri up top with Fanendo Adi? And what was everybody else doing? I’m no expert, but MAN the guys were sitting deep. On paper, it might have been 4-4-1-1 but in practice, it looked more like a 6-2-1-1 or even an 8-0-1-1 at times. It was a fascinating look at what we had always been told that coach Gio Savarese would do: change lineups and formations in response to changing opponents.

In this case, Gio adapted the team’s approach to the opposition, to incredible effect.

You know those “possession with purpose” conversations we used to have with Caleb Porter? This was “give the other team possession, but with purpose.” NYCFC had 75% of the possession, but to what end? Our back 4 (or 6 or even 8 at times) gave NYCFC plenty of opportunities to touch the ball…up to a point.

But as our opponents approached the final third, they were, time and again, forced wide and given little opportunities to punch holes in a solid, well organized back line, that held a clean sheet against the top team in the league. And with Blanco, Valeri, Diego Chara, and Cristhian Paredes ready to pounce on any mistakes, dispossessing NYCFC and setting up the counterattack, it was a recipe for success.

When we did have the ball, we made it count. Sebastian Blanco turned in his usual 110%. He berated himself after the game for having not one but two near misses, but those largely existed in the first place because he worked to make them possible. And then, of course, there was this beauty:

It is always thrilling to see a tiny player score on a well-timed header. (Fun fact, I often refer to Blanco as ArgenTiny.) And the arc of that perfectly played ball was a thing of beauty.

The second goal again came from a counterattack, as first Blanco and then Chara worked to steal the ball and transition quickly. Blanco, Chara, and Valeri made short work of the NYCFC back line. After Sean Johnson was unable to handle Valeri’s strike, Adi was there for the tap-in, and suddenly we were up 2-0:

And finally, of course, Larrys Mabiala got to open his account for us, with this lovely header off a corner kick, which put the final score on the board. End result: Timbers 3-0 NYCFC.

Quick takes

Alvas Powell showed maturity. I know last year I often said “That’s So Alvas” in frustration, because, while Powell has always shown tremendous potential, it has nearly always been accompanied by a downside. Powell has frequently made brilliant defensive plays, followed immediately by silly fouls and/or laughably bad giveaways, sometimes within seconds of each other.

This game looked different. Besides that beautiful assist to Blanco, there was one moment in particular, late in the game, that comes to mind. Powell had the ball in the corner, running down the clock, where he held it…held it…held it…and then kicked it off the opposing player for a throw-in.

It was perfectly executed. His rookie year he would have held off the other player beautifully, then immediately thrown an elbow for a costly card or made a terrible giveaway pass. Nice work, Alvas. Here’s hoping we see more of this version of Powell on the pitch this season.

Christhian Paredes is a gem. Hard to believe he is only 19 years old. Last week, he assisted in two of our three goals. This week, you know how many times he lost a tackle? Zero. I love his work so far, and I hope he has a long and happy future with the club.

Ridgewell put in a solid performance. While I don’t particularly care for golf, and I am not in the market for board shorts, I really don’t much care about what Ridgewell posts on social media. All I care about is what he contributes to the team, both on and off the pitch.

Liam Ridgewell was a solid defender this game. He was a field general, constantly talking to the rest of the back line and mids. That back line looked extremely well organized for the full 90. I don’t know what the private conversations between coach and player are, and frankly, I don’t care. Given Ridgewell’s and Mabiala’s ages, I am far more worried about having a consistent, healthy center back pairing going forward.

Speaking of healthy, I assume that the only reason Ridgewell got the start was the knee sprain Bill Tuiloma was carrying this weekend. Here’s hoping our older center backs can stay healthy and focused, no matter which pairing is in the starting lineup.

More Samuel Armenteros, please. Yes, Adi had a decent turn. I STILL want to see Armenteros more. Would have been nice to see him around 65′ or 70′ for Adi. He looked hungry and capable during the preseason.

Well done; but it was only one game. The whole “Gio changes the lineup and strategy for each match” thing we were sold on with the new coach? This game looked pretty, pretty, pretty good. But let’s see how it goes on the road. In particular, let’s see how we close out games away from home.

In the stands

Once again, the Timbers Army killed it in the tifo department. As part of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, many supporter groups with membership in the Independent Supporters Council have carried out anti-racism displays. Since our home opener was the prior weekend, this was our first chance to demonstrate our support for ending racial discrimination, and the Timbers Army did not disappoint:

Well, that was fun! Next week we have a bye, followed by another away match, this time against the San Jose Earthquakes. on 5/5. Let’s see if we can manage to take this successful show on the road for a change. In the meantime, rest up, boys, and get ready. The next home game is 5/13 v. the Seattle Sounders. Until then, I’ll see you online!

Featured image courtesy: Sheba Rawson

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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Timbers Road Woes Continue

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

A few thoughts as we (FINALLY) head into our first home match of the season this Saturday. I want to look ahead to Saturday, but first, we need to take a look back.

Sigh.

I had a hard time writing this article because last Sunday’s Portland Timbers match against Orlando City SC was just SO PAINFUL, especially after the first 75 minutes or so showed such promise. I’ve decided that from now on I’m just going to use Phoebe’s philosophy when watching our away games.

Yep. Ahead 2-0 in the 75th minute, I can just turn the game off, right?

Wrong. Sigh.

We had a promising enough start. I was very happy to see Samuel Armenteros in the XI. He looked hungry and capable in preseason, and I’ve been waiting to see him get his chance. We still were without our erstwhile captain Liam Ridgewell, though this time it was apparently due to a knock in training as opposed to our appalling performance a few weeks back.

Between Ridgewell’s absence, Vytautas Andriuškevičius still getting back to fitness and Alvas Powell out injured, I was worried about our back line. I have to say they looked organized enough when we kept the line high, but when balls got inside our 18, it was a different story.

And then, of course, there was Baldomero Toledo. I have often compared his officiating to the actions of a bad substitute teacher, who lets everything slide until late in the day and then sends everyone to the office for things like tapping their pencils on their desks, so I readily admit that I am no fan of his handiwork.

But this particular brand of bad officiating was out of character for him. When  Mohamed El-Munir took down Sebastian Blanco in the box, not only did Toledo not call for a penalty kick; he awarded Blanco his second yellow card and was about to send him off. Fortunately, VAR helped him to see the error of his ways, and a penalty was awarded to the Timbers instead.

Diego Valeri coolly slotted it home, and we went into the half ahead 1-0. My thoughts at the time:

And then there was the second half. It also showed promise, as first Blanco and then Valeri hit woodwork, and then Bill Tuiloma opened his MLS account with a beautiful header fed by Valeri. Ahead 2-0 with less than 20 minutes to go. Time to turn off the movie now, right, Phoebe?

And then…

  • Chris Mueller scored.
  • Dom Dwyer drew a penalty that was much more in Toledo’s wheelhouse, a classic late-game call for minor contact.
  • And Dwyer went in for the kill with the go-ahead goal at 87′.

Takeaways

No excuses. Yes, we have a new coach. Yes, we have a new system. Yes, we had injured players. Yes, the officiating included some real howlers. Honestly, these are all beside the point. If you are ahead 2-0 with fewer than 20 minutes to go, you need to be able to close out the game. Period.

Still looking for consistency in the backWe have players with promise but we still don’t have a rock-solid back five. Both keepers are so-so. Our center backs include an older veteran who has struggled with injury over the last year, another older veteran of other leagues who has had uneven performance, and a younger player with much promise who still needs seasoning.

We also have fullbacks who come with strengths and challenges: Marco Farfan has speed and flashes of brilliance, but his youth and inexperience are also a factor. Vytas is still coming off an injury.

Alvas Powell, I’ve already written about a ton: tremendous potential to be simultaneously awesome and WTF. Zarek Valentin is a smart player and currently our Swiss army knife guy, playing pretty much wherever we need/ask in the back, but he lacks pace.  That back unit has to be SOLID if we are going to play the high line that Gio Savarese apparently wants.

The future has potential. I know these first five games have had grim finishes, but there is still hope. I really do like the look of our signings this year. I hope they find their footing, and quickly.

This Saturday marks the end of a LONG footy drought here in Portland. At long last, after months of offseason and away games during stadium construction, we will finally get to enter Providence Park once more; and I, for one, can’t wait.

Is it Saturday yet? #RCTID

Featured image courtesy: @ProvidencePark_

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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A Tale of Two Halves for Portland

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, March 31: 2-2 Draw

It’s been a challenging start to the season for the Portland Timbers, with four games in a row on the road and only two points to show for it, but it’s fair to say we’re making progress (if “progress” is defined as moving from a 0-4 drubbing at the hands of a New York Red Bulls B squad to a 2-2 draw three weeks later against a winless Chicago Fire). But the squad is slowly, ever so slowly, showing signs of improvement.

I say this because I remember watching the Timbers-Red Bulls game and just wishing we hadn’t embarrassed ourselves so badly, whereas against Chicago I actually thought we had a shot at three points. So…progress, I guess.

The First Half

The first 45 minutes certainly started out in promising fashion. Sebastian Blanco, the team’s only scorer this year coming into the match, got involved again early, with brilliant movement downfield and an impressive hold-off-your-man-while-executing-a-360-spin-and-pass to Diego Valeri for the first score of the night at 6′. Last year the two Argentine teammates worked well together, and their teamwork was once again on display.

For a moment, it looked as though Blanco would make it 2-nil at the 35th minute, with a hard volley from the left, but Fire keeper Richard Sanchez made a fantastic save to keep the Fire to within one goal going into the half.

In the first half, the Timbers moved the ball well and their defense looked relatively composed. Larrys Mabiala and Marco Farfan were much improved over their performances earlier in the season. Zarek Valentin put in decent service, in spite of the howler he had dribbling the ball out of bounds (to his credit, he had a good sense of humor about it).

The offensive unit also looked to be on the front foot in the first half. There were lots of short, crisp passes and ball movement. In short, we started to see glimpses of what this team might be capable of putting together.

The Second Half

And then, there was the second half.

Was it the wind? Was it that we were playing with a lead? Was it Bastian Schweinsteiger? [Narrator’s voice: yes.]

Whatever it was, the second half saw the Timbers let Chicago back into the match not once, but twice. First, there was Schweinsteiger’s brilliant setup of Nemanja Nikolic for the equalizer at 50′:

The second time was after Blanco’s header (we’ll get to that in a minute), when Schweinsteiger set up the Fire’s Brandon Vincent with a beautiful long, arcing pass from the right for a downward header at 84′ that keeper Jake Gleeson simply couldn’t stop. I know that both Fire goals are credited to other people, but Basti essentially created both of them.

One of the reasons the scoreline was so frustrating was that there were, indeed, flashes of potential brilliance. In addition to Blanco’s volley and near-score in the first half, there was this thing of beauty:

Two things I particularly enjoyed about this score: (1) Andres Flores. Flores came to the Timbers from NASL’s New York Cosmos, where he played for current Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese. His cross into the box was lovely. (2) ArgenTiny (aka Blanco). He is listed at 5’7″ but that HAS to be in his cleats. He is not exactly the tallest target to send the ball to for a header, but he did a beautiful job taking advantage of the room he was given to head the ball in for the score.

Takeaways

  • Blanco aka ArgenTiny aka Chucky continues to be awesome. He has been involved in every single score the Timbers have made this season, and I am here for it. He showed his potential last year in his work with Valeri; I would not at all be surprised if this is a bit of a breakout year for him.
  • Fanendo Adi needs to find his groove. He is doing a decent job of holding up the ball but currently, it looks as though he is still unable to hit the broad side of a barn, which is problematic if you’re a striker; and good LORD Adi please stay onside. Oops, sorry, I said that in my outside voice. Frankly, I’d like to see Samuel Armenteros get more minutes; he looked dangerous, hungry, and capable in the preseason.
  • The back line is still a work in progress. As I mentioned, Mabiala looked better this game than he has earlier this season, and center back Bill Tuiloma also put in a good shift, but we are far from settled in the back. Erstwhile captain Liam Ridgewell has now been benched for two games in a row following the humiliating defeat to the Red Bulls. In our runup to the Cup win in 2015, we had two solid center backs in Ridgewell and Nat Borchers; we are still looking for that level of reliability in the back this year.
  • We have keeper issues. Jake Gleeson has his defenders and his detractors (I’m among the latter), but the hard truth is that between Gleeson and Jeff Attinella we have two keepers who are so-so at best. We’ll see if new keeper coach Guillermo “Memo” Valencia can work some magic, but I have to assume we are looking down the road for something a little more solid in the long term.

The Timbers look to finish up this grueling stretch of road games with a matchup on Sunday against Orlando City SC. Here’s hoping the upward trend continues, and the boys bring back three points. See you next weekend, everyone!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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A look back, and a look ahead in Portland

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

It has been a strange start to the footy year here in Portland, to say the least. Not since our inaugural MLS season in 2011 have we had to go SOOOOOO long without a single match at home. And of course back then we still didn’t know exactly what to expect when the jump from USL to MLS happened, so we didn’t yet fully know what we were missing. [Narrator’s voice: turns out it was pretty special.]

 

In the years since, we’ve had six preseason tournaments at home, as well as an unforgettable victory lap after the 2015 MLS Cup win. We’ve gotten accustomed to having some pretty special footy in some fashion to tide us over until we were once again able to take part in the agony and the jubilation that can come with the start of the regular season at home.

This year, however, we find ourselves impatiently waiting for the gates to open once more. Providence Park is undergoing a much-needed overhaul, adding approximately 4,000 seats into the mix over the course of two seasons. Between our early exit from the playoffs in 2017 and the downtime for construction in the offseason, we’ve now gone [checks Google] 144 days without a Portland Timbers match of any sort at Providence Park; and we’re going to have to wait another sixteen days until we can finally experience the magic of a cheering for the boys in green at home again. It feels strange and disconcerting to wait so long.

And, just like in 2011, we find that our start on the road has been a rocky 0-2-1. With the offseason departure of both Caleb Porter and Darlington Nagbe; with Diego Chara out for the first two matches this season; and with our back line’s organizational woes (punctuated by coach Gio Savarese’s decision last week to leave team captain Liam Ridgewell at home for a match), we frankly still look like we’re in preseason mode three games into the year. And just like in 2011, we find ourselves facing the Chicago Fire for our fourth match of the season, albeit this time on the road (and for a special doubleheader with both the Timbers and Portland Thorns in Chicago).

After Chara’s much-awaited return for the full 90, and some adjustments in both lineup and tactics, the squad looked much improved last weekend. (Special shout out to Sebastian Blanco, by the way, for THIS beauty last weekend.)

 

Here’s to hoping that this weekend history repeats itself for the Timbers and that we right the ship at Chicago’s expense on Saturday.

Almost ready. Featured image courtesy: @ProvidencePark_

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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Is it March 4th yet?

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

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.

Out

  • Darren Mattocks
  • Darlington Nagbe
  • Amobi Okugo
  • Ben Zemanski

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.

In

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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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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

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