Tag Archives: Portland Timbers

Back in the Game

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, August 6: 3-1 Win

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

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

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

Me, getting ready for an 11am kick

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

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

A fast start, and a fast equalizer

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

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

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

VAR

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

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

The Maestro

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

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

Best Prop Bet that Never Happened

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

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

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

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

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This Is Fine

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, July 19: 1-4 Loss

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

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

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

This move by Adi in particular is inexcusable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

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Green and Gold Cup

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

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

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

Jamaica

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

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

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

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

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

Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

United States

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

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

Featured image courtesy: timbers.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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Drawing Fire

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, July 5: 2-2 Draw

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

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

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

My match summary is pretty much encapsulated as follows:

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

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

Match Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then barely ten minutes later this happened:

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Emphatically.

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Takes

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

Off the Pitch

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

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

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

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

Featured image courtesy: Portland Timbers facebook

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A Look Back, and A Look Ahead

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

It’s been a little while! What say we catch up a bit, eh?

Since we last met here, the Timbers have:

  • Lost in the Open Cup to our hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders (to be more precise, a bunch of our T2 guys lost to a bunch of their S2 guys, but hey, who’s counting)
  • Lost to the worst team in MLS twice in a row, a feat which was only possible because, thanks to our loss against the Colorado Rapids, they were no longer the worst team in MLS, which left Minnesota United with the honor of being the worst team in MLS the following week (to whom we subsequently lost as well)
  • Gone up a man at home and carried a 2-1 lead into extra time against our hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders, only to give up the stoppage time equalizer to one of our favorite villains, Clint Dempsey

All of this with the additional bonus of having an injury report that is practically a starting eleven of its own, with Liam Ridgewell, Diego Chara, Amobi Okugo, Jack Barmby, and possibly even Darlington Nagbe ruled out for our game against Sporting Kansas City, who, by the way, are leading the western conference and have lost at home approximately zero times this year. (Oh, did I mention that stalwart defensive midfielder David Guzmán has joined the Costa Rican national team and will also be out for the duration of the international break?) Serviceable utility man, all around nice guy, and ukulele player Zarek Valentin has even trained at holding midfielder this week, a position that, as far as I can tell, he has never played professionally. This is where we find ourselves, folks.

I know. It sounds ridiculously hopeless, right?

Two things.

First: the season is long. I remember 2015. I remember when we got our butts HANDED to us in June 2015 by the Los Angeles Galaxy. That 5-0 loss gave me the rare opportunity to throw a bitter shout out to my friends at Real Oviedo in northern Spain, who have a special name in Asturian (jorobu) for a 5-0 loss. I was convinced we were in for another horrific finish to the season. I was posting pictures of the dreadful pity banner they made the guys march around the field at the end of 2012. And then…this happened, just four months later:

Second, I believe in magic. I do believe beyond reason. I do believe the magic is real. I have seen it, more than once. I saw it in the playoffs against the Sounders in 2013.

I saw it in the penalty shootout against Sporting Kansas City in 2015.

And I saw it again in the MLS Cup final in 2015, when Diego Valeri scored the fastest goal in MLS Cup history.

I guess my point is: yeah, things look pretty grim at the moment (okay, REALLY grim). But we have been here, and worse, before. And there is plenty of time for a little magic. I still believe…beyond reason.

See you on Saturday for BBQ Away, folks.

Featured image courtesy: Disney

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Who Are Those Guys?

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, June 10: 2-0 Win

That’s what I imagine FC Dallas was asking after they were soundly defeated at Providence Park last Saturday. The Portland Timbers, already missing two players on international duty (Darlington Nagbe and David Guzmán), lost two more in the course of the match. The match finished with several players who weren’t regular starters, and two right-footed defensive midfielders at center back: and somehow the team didn’t just win, but won decisively.

The lineup was predictable. With Nagbe away with the USMNT, Dairon Asprilla once again got the start on the wing; and with Guzmán away for the Costa Rican national team journeyman Lawrence Olum filled in at defensive midfield behind Diego Chara. Alvas Powell is apparently still in the doghouse for his poor decision-making on the field, giving Zarek Valentin the start again at right back. The other eight starters were more or less the usual suspects.

Adi Bomaye

At first it appeared that Fanendo Adi’s finishing might still be jinxed. With a beautiful feed from Liam Ridgewell, Adi chested the ball and fired at 5′ but was stopped by Dallas’ Jesse Gonzalez, who sent it over the bar for a corner kick. Gonzalez stopped Adi again at 15′ after Diego Valeri sent the ball through to him for another shot. Finally, though, at 32′, Sebastian Blanco fed Adi on the left. Adi stayed on his feet and sent it to the center of the goal for a score, ending his goal drought:

When Adi DOES score in a match, he’s just as likely to score a second, and he didn’t disappoint, putting away a beautiful score at 72′ to add to his total of braces in MLS:

As beautiful as both Asprilla’s cross and Adi’s cool, calm, collected finish were, my favorite part of the goal was the guy who didn’t touch the ball: Diego Chara. Watch that play again. Chara’s dummy in front of the goal is fabulous, drawing the defender away from Adi and forcing Gonzalez to stay to his left to prevent Chara from the easy score, which leads to Gonzalez leaping desperately to his right in a vain attempt to stop Adi when he realizes that Chara doesn’t touch the ball. Gonzalez’s dive to the corner of the box leaves him on the ground and helpless as Adi calmly takes another touch and sends the ball home.

“Disallowed Goal of the Year”

It was glorious to come away with a convincing 2-0 win; but oh, what might have been. Take a look at Valeri’s beautiful work on an almost-goal that was ultimately ruled a handball:

Poetry. Sheer poetry. I agree with @totalmls’s assessment that this might very well be the disallowed goal of the year.

The Replacements

I also have to give a shout out to the guys in the lineup who haven’t been starters for most of the season. Dairon Asprilla put in a solid game. Besides the assist on the second goal, he was a scoring threat himself, nearly putting it in at 41′ and forcing Gonzalez to tip it over the bar for the save.

And Zarek Valentin–oh, my goodness, did he put in a night’s work. He had a brilliant clearance off the line at 22′ after Jake Gleeson initially had the save but the ball continued to roll toward the line:

Finally, a word for our defensive midfielders and center backs (who in this case were mostly the same people). After Ridgewell went down at about 25′, Olum slid back to the center back position and Amobi Okugo came in at defensive midfield. Then, when Roy Miller took a knock from a pileup with Maxi Urruti, he never completely recovered and had to leave the game at 61′, leaving Okugo to slide back to the other center back position and bringing in Ben Zemanski as the third player during the match to line up at defensive midfield. It was crazy: we started the game with two left-footed centerbacks in front of our goal and ended it with two right-footed defensive midfielders in their place.

And yet, amazingly, they pulled it off. With only six regular starters on the field for the last 30-plus minutes, they managed to hold down the fort, protecting the clean sheet and leaving Dallas to look at the lineup and wonder:

 

Off the Pitch

With Pride Week in full effect, the Timbers Army had a tremendous display of support for equality in the stands:

And in the community, we also had a great deal to be proud of. The Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters (the supporters group for the Portland Thorns) marshalled a crew of volunteers and together completed two visitation rooms for foster children and their families at the DHS offices in Beaverton:

And, in a beautiful example of paying it forward, among the many volunteers were immigrants and refugees from IRCO’s Africa House. You may remember reading here earlier about the Timbers Army sponsoring IRCO teens at futsal back in March and April. Many of those same teens wanted to return the favor, and when they heard about the opportunity to volunteer for the foster care room makeover project, they jumped at the chance:

Finally, our match day drive was to help stock those foster care visitation rooms with supplies for kids:

Team. Town. Timbers Army. What a wonderful week, and a wonderful win. See you again after Tuesday’s Open Cup match!

Featured image courtesy: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid youtube

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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Back in the Game

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Friday, June 2: 2-0 Win

I’ll readily admit to being both testy and trepidacious (read: grumpy and fearful) going into this match. Of course I was grumpy: WHOSE bright idea was it to schedule a Friday 8pm game? Yeah, I know that a later game means that people can probably more easily make it to the match in plenty of time, but holy cow that makes for a long day for some of us. And fearful? Yeah, sure I was.

We had a string of five ties or losses in a row. Not a good look heading into a stretch where we will be missing players on international duty AND getting in a couple of games before our Open Cup match (against Seattle Sounders again, naturally). And let’s be honest, the last time we played San Jose Earthquakes, we were, let’s just say, less than stellar (read: we got our butts handed to us).

On the other hand, our players are pretty much healthy, we were playing at home, and San Jose has not yet managed a win against us at Providence Park. I had my fingers crossed that we could continue THAT streak, at least.

Match Recap

Our lineup was close to the usual starting eleven, with a couple of predictable exceptions. With Darlington Nagbe away on international duty, Dairon Asprilla started in his place on the right wing. This would surely mean a change in the flow of the game: Dairon has pace and is an attacking threat, but he lacks Darlington’s ability to control the ball and make connections. Porter appears to be as tired of the “That’s So Alvas” show as I am, benching right back Alvas Powell again in favor of Zarek Valentin.

We certainly had our share of chances from start to finish. As early as 4′, Vytautas Andriuškevičius had a beautiful cross to Asprilla that gave him a legitimate chance to open the scoring; but his header hit the post and bounced out. Barely two minutes later, we had our second shot at the net, with Davíd Guzmán‘s corner kick finding Roy Miller for a header that was well struck and headed for a score but for a brilliant save by Earthquakes’ keeper David Bingham. Asprilla had another shot at goal around 21′, but he sent it skyward (in Portland, we might say he “Palmered” it; ask around).

Things got interesting after the Earthquakes’ Darwin Cerén got two yellows in quick succession. His first yellow, on a late tackle/shove in the back to Guzmán at 35′, was an unnecessary move and an easy call. The second, a shoulder to Sebastian Blanco as they both went for the ball at 37′, was much less clear cut.  When I watched it live, it looked legitimate; on the replay I’d have to say that Blanco sold it well. (We talk about “professional fouls;” is there such a thing as a “professional sales job?”)

As an elementary school principal who deals with a fair amount of playground discipline, I also have to wonder if Cerén would have had that yellow called if he hadn’t just plowed into Guzmán from behind not two minutes earlier. In any case, that second yellow meant that San Jose would be down a man for the remainder of the match.

At stoppage in the first half, forward Fanendo Adi had a couple of chances to put it away when Blanco headed him the ball. Adi’s header hit the post and bounced out. Adi tried to make the rebound play, but his toe poke was unsuccessful. Bingham scooped it up and we were once again denied.

After the first half, I was pretty frustrated. We were up a man, we had MORE than our share of chances, but had nothing on the scoreboard:

Finally, in the second half, we had something to show for all of that offensive effort. At 50′ Valentin found space in the middle of the field, drove forward, and made a beautiful pass to El Maestro, Diego Valeri on the left. Valeri chested it, ran onto the ball, and drilled in a bank shot off the post and into the back of the net. WHEW.

We had another chance at 60′, when we had numbers on the counter. Asprilla and Blanco both had chances to put it away but didn’t manage the task. Adi AGAIN found the post instead of the back of the net at 94′. Fortunately for us, it was once again Valeri to the rescue, who followed up in the box (you know, like you’re SUPPOSED to do when a teammate takes a shot), cleaned up Adi’s near miss, and put the game away.

It was 2-0 at the death, and the final whistle blew. Thank goodness. Yes, my mood at the end of the second half was considerably better than it was at the end of the first half.

Hot Takes

Decent defense. Yes, I know we played a man up for over half the match; but even before that, keeper Jake Gleeson didn’t have a whole lot to do in front of our goal. Vytas continues to look sharp, protecting the left flank well and delivering crisp crosses. Miller and Liam Ridgewell handled the back well. Ridgewell was even more active than usual this game, pushing up when appropriate and still ably covering his territory.

And Valentin continued to make the case for more play time, making smart plays and contributing a key assist. While it’s clear that Powell has more pace and raw talent than Valentin, Powell’s decision making/giveaways were KILLING us on the right wing. I’m okay with Valentin in that spot, though I worry that a speed burner on his side of the field might make him pay dearly on a quick transition.

The post giveth, and the post taketh away. Yes, we know all about posts here in Portland. And Friday’s post action was nowhere near as dramatic as this. But it was still a pretty impressive collection: Asprilla with a post miss at 4′, Adi with a first half stoppage header post miss, Valeri with the post-and-in goal at 50′, Adi AGAIN hitting the post and missing in stoppage at the second half (with Valeri subsequently putting it away). Hopefully the posts are a bit kinder to us next weekend. Speaking of next weekend:

Our finishing continues to be worrisome. At the beginning of the season, looking at all of that firepower, I was pretty confident we would have a season of high-scoring games–and we did, for a time. But that certainly hasn’t been the case lately. And without Valeri’s finishing, we would still have walked away with only a point to show for our efforts, at home, against a team that was misfiring on offense even before they went a man down.

We have a lot of players who should have been able to put together a string of passes and finish. I love Valeri but he cannot be our only scoring threat. Not sure what the solution is, because Asprilla, Blanco, Adi et al seemed to be making good moves and getting plenty of chances. We just need to be able to count on lots of people being able to actually get the ball into the back of the net.

Off the Pitch

Last week was heartbreaking for the city of Portland.

Two men were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.

A third passenger who tried to help was also stabbed, but is expected to survive, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

We ache for the slain and injured and for their familes; and team, town, Timbers Army alike were compelled to honor their memory and their bravery. Players wore black armbands for the game. The stadium held a moment of silence before the anthem. And the Timbers Army raised a special tifo remembering the names of the fallen: Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche; and survivor Micah Fletcher. The front banner is a line from a poem that Micah wrote while in the hospital recovering from his wounds:

We have seen both the worst and the best of humanity in stark relief. If I have learned anything from the Timbers Army, it is that even in the worst of times, the best of humanity can also break through. Here’s hoping we continue to find and build on what is best in each of us, on and off the pitch.

Featured image courtesy: Nicole Barker/Timbers Army

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Almost!

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, May 14: 1-1 Draw

Man, what to say about Sunday’s match….

After last weekend’s forgettable trouncing, I was really hoping for a rebound against Atlanta. We were at home against an expansion side, Diego Valeri was back in the lineup…it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation. Right?

We lined up in the familiar 4-2-3-1, with Jake Gleeson back in goal as he recovered from injury, but with a couple of changes from the usual setup. Sebastian Blanco took up the left wing spot for the still injured Darlington Nagbe, which put Dairon Asprilla out on the right wing; and Roy Miller took up the starting role next to Liam Ridgewell in the CB spot. I took that to mean that Caleb Porter is still figuring out how to put together a back line until we finally sign our mystery starting defender sometime this summer. I say “mystery starting defender” because, while we have supposedly signed an amazing center back from Turkey’s top flight, they still haven’t announced who it is. With the rumor mill in high gear, at least three different top quality CBs have been named in press reports as having definitely signed with us. At this rate, by midsummer we will have a starting XI made up entirely of Süper Lig center backs.

Match Recap

I’ll make the match recap brief, mostly because there isn’t a lot to say. Our right side was legit terrible, with Asprilla and Alvas Powell making less than stellar decisions. The “That’s So Powell” show was in full effect, with Alvas continuing to make reasonable defensive plays followed immediately by needless giveaways. Fanendo Adi wasn’t particularly sharp, either, reverting to his pre-2015 ways, floating offside too many times and not being particularly effective up top.

For my money, Valeri probably came back from his injury a week too early; he didn’t have his usual crisp play and wasn’t connecting with the ball or with other players as well as he usually does. That left Blanco to carry much of the offensive load, and while his work rate was impressive he didn’t have much to show for it. This lack of offensive firepower left Vytautas Andriuškevičius sitting far back, with little reason to push up/overlap.

Neither side had much to show for their efforts in the first half. Coming into the second half, in the 46th minute, Powell did what Powell does, making a defensive stop and then essentially passing it straight to the other team. After Powell’s misstep in the back, the ball was at the feet of Jeff Larentowicz, who quickly ensured that Julian Gressel was perfectly set up to take a touch at the top of the box and blast it past Gleeson for the score:

Our only answer came just a few minutes later, in the 50th minute. David Guzmán took a free kick from the right side, and Ridgewell headed it in unchallenged for the equalizer:

We ALMOST had the chance to pull ahead, thanks again to Guzmán in stoppage: 

The post giveth, and the post taketh away. We didn’t really deserve to win this one after our terrible possession and inability to close when it mattered, but dang, that would have been a SWEET stoppage time winner. We ended up with a 1-1 draw, a fair result given how we played.

Dangerous plays

There were a couple of dangerous plays in this match that bear discussion. At 11′, Asprilla took a big swing, connecting with a ball to send it up the right sideline, and unintentionally blasted it straight at the oncoming Yamil Asad’s  head. This happened pretty much right in front of me, and I can tell you that Asad went down like a tree:

Asad was examined by both Portland and Atlanta doctors and was allowed back into the game, but it was clear that Portland’s doctor was less than okay with the decision, as he continued animated discussion with the Atlanta staff and with the fourth official. Never mind competitive advantage; I just hope Asad is okay and that MLS is taking concussion protocols seriously.

The second concerning play was a full on scissor tackle by Carlos Carmona in the 35th minute:

I HATE seeing potentially leg-breaking plays like that. Blanco could easily have taken a season-ending injury there. I hope the discipline committee issues a retroactive red for the tackle. There is no room for those kinds of moves in the beautiful game.

Hot takes

I’m pretty sure that Valeri was playing hurt the entire match. No doubt Valeri felt some responsibility to get back on the pitch as the playmaker and spiritual leader of the team, especially after last week’s trouncing at the hands of San Jose, but I think his spirit was more willing than his body was able. Aside from looking to be a step slow and a bit off his game, he wasn’t taking many of the set play kicks that would normally be his, ceding that duty to the capable Guzmán.

Speaking of Guzmán, he continues to be my favorite signing this season. His defense is solid and his transition game is strong. Without his work, that match could have been REALLY ugly.

Speaking of ugly, how about our possession game, eh? Listen, I don’t ever want to hear anybody complain about Darlington Nagbe’s shooting and scoring numbers ever again. We have gone two weeks without him on the field and our possession game is levels of magnitude worse.  Heal quickly, Darlington. We miss your magic touch and your ability to keep the ball and pass accurately under tremendous pressure.

Off the pitch

Once again, I am proud to be a member of the Timbers Army and its nonprofit engine, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107IST). Thanks to Valeri’s generous donation of two signed log slices for a raffle, we were able to raise enough money to sponsor Street Soccer USA to the tune of $5,000, supporting their efforts to bring a team of Portland homeless and at risk youth to the Street Soccer tournament in Philadelphia this June. We are grateful to Valeri for his support, and to everyone who chipped in to make this sponsorship possible:

Next up, the boys travel to Montreal to take on the Impact on Saturday. Here’s hoping we’re healthy. See you next weekend!

Featured image of Fanendo Adi courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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A Fair Result

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, April 29:  2-2 Draw

It is amazing the number of emotions you can go through in the course of watching a single match. Elation, disappointment, frustration, satisfaction, all within the course of ninety minutes (plus stoppage). That was pretty much the story of this game, which ended with what a dispassionate observer would have to call a fair result in a 2-2 draw in Frisco. And yes, if you had asked me before the game, “Hey, Sheba how would you feel about coming away with a draw?” knowing that we were missing our star player; playing against a team that hadn’t yet been defeated in the league; and against a team that hadn’t yet dropped any points at home, I certainly would have been satisfied.

And yet…

I know. FC Dallas is a powerful team. The weather (lightning delay followed by wind gusts and bouts of downpours) made for a game that was less finesse and more brute force. And yes, we were without star Diego Valeri, sidelined with a hip injury. In the cold light of the next day I can certainly accept the draw. But dang, a win would have been a phenomenal exclamation point instead of a full stop.

Ah well, on with the recap.

The biggest changes to Saturday’s lineup included Sebastian Blanco moving into the number ten spot with Valeri’s absence; and Dairon Asprilla lining up to the right in Blanco’s normal spot. Fanendo Adi was back in his usual spot up top, and Jeff Attinella took his second stint in goal for the injured Jake Gleeson. While OF COURSE I’d rather have Valeri on the field, I was pretty confident that Blanco would be quite capable of taking his spot, since he has played in that position many times before for Lanus and San Lorenzo. And I appreciated having Asprilla’s pace on the wing. (I did worry a bit about Vytautas Andriuškevičius‘s speed in the back against Dallas, but his experience and crossing ability made him the right choice as our left back.)

The game got off to a late start, a fifteen-minute-or-so weather delay that apparently meant no national anthem performed by the hosts. In a class move, the traveling Timbers Army (including the TA regional supporter group Lone Star Brigade) stepped up and sang it for them after the kick.

In the first fifteen minutes or so of play, Dallas did not look as sharp as their record would indicate. Miscommunication and errant passes resulted in a couple of near misses for the Timbers early on. And while the Timbers were not exactly sharp on the ball themselves, Dallas did not look particularly threatening in the first half, either.

I’m not sure why Adi was completely unmarked on the first goal, but um cool, thanks, Dallas. He played it beautifully nonetheless, heading in a free kick from David Guzmán in the 30th minute. Guzman placed a high, curving ball from well behind the 18 on the right, arcing it perfectly for an advancing Adi to head it into the back of the net for the score:

Apparently this irritated an assistant on the Dallas bench enough that he managed to get himself ejected (we have an odd history of this happening with the Dallas assistant coaching staff, by the way).

Dallas equalized for the first time in the 61st minute by former Timber Maximiliano Urruti (we still miss you, Maxi!), with a brilliant, unstoppable ball from the top of the 18 on the right to the top left corner of the goal. Ouch.

And then Blanco got to open his account, scoring a lovely team goal coming off an Alvas Powell overlap. Blanco collected Powell’s pass to the center, took a touch, and coolly fired it home for his first MLS goal:

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last score of the game. Darlington Nagbe  was uncharacteristically a step behind his man on defense (I suspect he was already injured at that point), Powell slipped in front of the goal, and suddenly Tesho Akindele had tied it all up for Dallas. In the end 2-2 was a fair result, but oh, what might have been.

Random hot takes

Where are Dallas supporters? It saddened me to see so many empty seats at the Dallas match. I know it is in Frisco, but Dallas has a talented team that is fun to watch (when they aren’t scoring on us, that is). Not sure what the solution is, but dang, Dallas, you have an exceptional squad. Hope the locals show up for you in the future.

Jeff Attinella, you have my attention. You had a couple of tremendous saves in a game that could easily have been a loss without your solid play. What a quality addition to the team.

Fanendo Adi was more than worthy out there. He took one for the team–eight for the team, actually, in fouls suffered, and with the goal and assist I’d say he put in a solid day’s work.

The Timbers Army continues to travel well. As we have done in every away game so far this season, the Timbers Army traveling supporters have arrived in large numbers, selling out every seat allocated to us in the away supporters’ section, with more of the same to come (we’ve already sold out our away allocation in San Jose, with a long waiting list of folks hoping to join in the fun). Keep it up, Rose City faithful, and TA regional supporters groups around the country.

Despite only taking a point on the road, the Timbers remain atop the Western Conference. Next stop, San Jose next Saturday. See you then!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @shebainpdx

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Are You Not Entertained?

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx

Cascadia Cup–Rivals and Brethren

Saturday, April 22: 2-1 Win

Any game against Vancouver Whitecaps takes on special significance. We have been rivals since long before our MLS days. Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have songs and chants specifically designed to taunt each other that we sing only during Cascadia Cup matches. We have a supporter-created trophy (that predates our arrivals in MLS) that is awarded to the Cascadia team who wins the most points among us in the regular season. We even have a traditional song sung at the end of every match that has its origins in USL Portland-Vancouver days. The rivalry is real.

At the same time, off the pitch, we know that we have kindred spirits in our Cascadian brethren to the north. We recognize the turmoil and hardship created by changes in our country’s travel policies, changes which have some Canadian supporters unable and/or unwilling to cross the border to attend a match. Some worried about their ability to cross; others, in solidarity with supporters who may not travel, also elected to stay home, some for the first time ever for an MLS Cascadia Cup match.

We know how difficult this decision was, and the Timbers Army wanted to show their support for our rival supporters to the north, painting a front banner with a message of optimism from the Peace Arch at the US-Canada border crossing we both often pass through for matches against each other:

Now, about the match….

Darlington Nagbe

I have typed and deleted five different paragraphs on Nagbe, each with a different take. Unbelievably beautiful touches on the ball. Absolutely one of the nicest humans off the pitch, a role model. Inspirational coming-of-age story,  from leaving war-torn Liberia as an infant to finding citizenship and success on the pitch in the U.S. Frustratingly unselfish on the pitch, leading to far fewer goals than you’d expect of a player of his caliber and to questions about whether he will ever reach his true potential.

And then we have moments like this.

All of the frustration I feel when he takes the extra pass wide instead of going into the box himself, or when he sends it safely back to the fullback instead of through to his midfield–all of it evaporates in a moment like this.  In the 18th minute, David Guzmán gave Nagbe the ball in the middle of the pitch. Nagbe coolly evaded first Matías Laba and then Kendall Waston, working away from them wide to the right, then somehow kept his balance while firing a rocket from beyond the 18 that tagged the underside of the crossbar and found its way home for the first score of the match. The goal uplifted the spirits of the team and the crowd. We all felt the shift in momentum.

And, even more special, Nagbe clearly felt it too. He is so often an unassuming, selfless, NICE guy, that his goal celebration marked something different for Nagbe. More of THIS, please.

A Change of Pace

We had a lot of changes in the lineup for this one. Fanendo Adi was serving a one game suspension for a tangle up in the match the week before, so he was out. Sebastian Blanco was recovering from a tweak earlier in the week so he was on the bench. Vytautas Andriuškevičius was healthy and back in the lineup, as was returning captain and center back Liam Ridgewell. And Jake Gleeson, suffering from a hip flexor injury, was replaced by able backup Jeff Attinella, acquired in the offseason from Real Salt Lake via Minnesota United. (Thanks, by the way, RSL; from Ian Joy to Will Johnson to Nat Borchers, you always send us excellent players.)

But the biggest changes to our look this game were probably Adi’s and Blanco’s replacements, Darren Mattocks and Dairon Asprilla. Mattocks and Asprilla are both speed burners, and provided some blistering pace up front. It’s not necessarily a lineup I would want week after week, but I do appreciate that our depth allows for such strong replacements in the starting XI. And it was particularly sweet to see Mattocks score what would eventually be the game winner against his old squad, in a beautiful team goal involving Guzmán, Nagbe, and Diego Valeri:

Get well soon, Maestro

Ridgewell may be the captain, but the heart and soul of the team is midfielder Diego Valeri. And when Valeri was stretchered off late in the match we all held our breath. It was a tremendous relief to see him standing in the locker room after the match taking questions from interviewers. Get well soon, Maestro; the world is a brighter place when you’re on the field.

Random Hot Takes

Alvas Powell: I am tired of the “That’s So Powell” show. He is clearly fast and talented. He loves to overlap on the wing and he is usually quite capable of locking down the defense in the right corner. But I am done with his poor decision making. Classic Powell: win a difficult possession battle in the corner, save the day, then pass it directly to the other team. And Christian Bolaños, a veteran midfielder with over 70 appearances for the Costa Rican national team, most definitely had Powell’s number. He caught Powell out of position several times, most notably in the 52nd minute and again in the 60th, and both times Powell fouled him as a result. Costly mistakes, the second of which resulted in the penalty kick that got Vancouver on the board.

Fredy Montero is still very good at soccer. As a Timbers fan I am already predisposed to dislike him, but I can admit that Fredy is very good at what he does. He is a poacher, floating up top, biding his time, almost turning invisible, then seizing his moment. I do not look forward to playing him again…and again, this year.

The game lasts 90 minutes, guys. Once again, we had the game firmly in hand in the first half, but instead of putting it away we limped to the finish. While that may work against a weak Vancouver squad at Providence Park, it most definitely will not be enough for the likes of FC Dallas. I sincerely hope we figure out how to finish out as strong as we start before Saturday.

Next week, we’re on the road in Dallas. See you there!

Featured image courtesy: b.fssta.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @shebainpdx

Check us out on instagram! @mlsfemale

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