Tag Archives: Portland Timbers

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

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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

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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

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It’s the Little Things

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx

Saturday, April 15: 0-1 Loss

Hard to watch, harder still to re-watch, and pretty much no fun to write about. Yay sports! All right, let’s do this, shall we?

Sporting Kansas City has a reputation for solid back line, and they defended well. They clogged up the middle effectively and stymied our offense. They won the possession battle. And when Jimmy Medranda was wide open on the transition at the 53rd minute (which reminds me: hey, Sebastian Blanco, why was Medranda so wide open there?), he tapped it back to a centrally located Dom Dwyer for the only score of the game.

Here’s the thing: I watched it live in the stadium, and while I was frustrated, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what we could/should have done differently to win the game. I walked away knowing that we got outplayed but I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would have made a difference. I still haven’t got it all figured out, but having rewatched the match a couple of times, I have at least identified a few small moments/keys that stood out:

Missed opportunities

Everybody knows that, except for an acrobatic save by Kansas City’s Tim Melia, we very nearly leveled the match with a BEAUTIFUL strike by Darlington Nagbe:

While it was a spectacular might-have-been, it wasn’t the only one. At the 32nd minute, the Timbers were in transition on the move, Diego Valeri was wide open and received a pass from Nagbe, and Blanco was headed down the left side, where he and Valeri…failed to connect. It was a missed opportunity in a game where the Timbers didn’t have many, and was emblematic of our side’s failure to string together passes when it counted.

Dom Dwyer is a pro

The Timbers Army loves to hate him (he has enjoyed his share of taunting the home support in the past), but he is good at what he does. This includes playing professionally for the call. Sometimes he drew actual fouls, as he did when he successfully blocked out Roy Miller with his, er, posterior in the 16th minute, leaving Miller having to come through him and foul him. Other times he drew phantom “fouls,” as in the 36th minute against Marco Farfan.  I know I’m partisan and I know Farfan struggled in this match, but I rewatched that play a dozen times and for the life of me I didn’t see anything resembling a Farfan foul. But Dwyer sold it, and sold it well.

Where was Adi?

Fanendo Adi has been a formidable presence up top, but he seemed to disappear for much of this game. Again, credit to Kansas City’s defense, in particular Ike Opara, for effectively shutting down Adi for much of the game. I’m sure the fact that the middle was defended so well made his job more difficult; but we will need Adi to be a threat at the top of the box if we’re going to get back to our winning ways.

Killing Astronauts

Speaking of Adi, he may have had trouble finding the back of the net, but he wasn’t the only one. At one time or another, players from both teams sent the ball sailing yards above the crossbar (I know that, besides Adi, Graham Zusi  and Roger Espinoza took turns sending the ball into the stratosphere. There may have been others; I lost track after awhile.)

We are rumored to be signing a center back from Turkey sometime midseason; in anticipation, I have been researching Turkish football. They have a few colorful soccer phrases worth keeping. One of my favorites is Astronotu öldürmek, which I’m told means to kill an astronaut. As Adi, Zusi, and Espinoza sent the ball over the goal and high up into the crowd, several metaphorical astronauts gave their lives in service to poorly placed shots that day.

Off the Pitch

Once again, the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters (the supporters group for the Portland Thorns) gave something extra off the pitch. Saturday’s match day drive was for socks for Janus Youth, serving homeless, runaway and at risk youth in the area (they are pretty much right next door to the fanladen). At both the Thorns and Timbers matches, we collected new socks for Janus Youth, with outstanding results:

In the post game comments, Porter noted that we need to take better advantage of set piece opportunities, and I can’t argue with that. But I hope we find a better solution to a physical, defensive lineup. If we don’t, we will have a long season ahead. Next up: Vancouver Whitecaps at home, and Cascadia Cup points on the line! See you on Saturday.

Featured image courtesy: Portland Timbers facebook

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Getting The Job Done

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx

Saturday, April 8: 1-3 Win

Another weekend away, another win. That makes two away wins so far this season, which is…let me check…yep, two more away wins than we had in all of 2016. Sure, this was against the hapless Philadelphia Union, but we played plenty of hapless teams away last year and didn’t manage to get the job done, so I’ll take it, thank you very much.

Our away support was more than up to the challenge as we once again sold out our entire away support allocation. East Coast Platoon represented the Timbers Army well:

The ugly

The first third of the match was less than impressive. We looked sloppy on offense and even sloppier on defense. (Heck, I think even David Guzmán was giving away the ball, that’s how sloppy we were.) So it wasn’t surprising that this happened:

Richie Marquez put the ball away handily after the corner to put Philadelphia ahead in the 27th minute. You know who was on the back post for the Portland Timbers on that set piece? NOBODY. When you give away the ball on defense and don’t defend on set pieces, getting scored on is a fairly predictable outcome. I gritted my teeth and settled in for another potentially frustrating result against a team we really should be defeating; but unlike last week’s gathering dread, that frustrated feeling didn’t last long.

The sublime

Fortunately, just a few minutes later, we equalized. Darlington Nagbe, who has sometimes (okay, VERY often) been invisible in the final third of the field this year, came up with his first goal of the season just a few minutes later, and it was a good one:

I’m not entirely sure how he found the space to thread the needle to put the ball into the left corner of the goal, but he did it beautifully.

Nagbe isn’t the most prolific scorer; in his seventh year with the Timbers, he has only scored 25 goals in 192 games.  But when he does score, it is quite often something better than ordinary. (Let’s remember, when Nagbe finally scored his first MLS goal in 2011, it looked like this.) This was my reaction when I watched him put it away on Saturday:

score goals

We went into the half at 1-1, and I was of two minds. On the one hand, we were clearly the better team on the field, and had the firepower to be able to put the game away if we came out swinging. On the other hand, I was there last week when we did essentially the opposite. So when the second half came, I took a deep breath, prepared for the worst, and hoped for the best. (This last sentence pretty much describes me at the second half of every Timbers game, by the way.)

Miller-Marquez, Part Two

I was annoyed that Roy Miller was nowhere near the post when defending on Philadelphia’s set piece in the first half. So it was nice to see a bit of redemption in the second half when Miller headed the ball in to put us ahead:

Technically, the ball deflected from Miller to Marquez, so I guess you could say that Marquez scored on set pieces for both teams. But after careful research (read: “after bantering about it on twitter with a few friends,”) I decided that Miller should still get credit for the goal since it still looked to be on target after he headed it. Congratulations on your first MLS goal, Roy. Hopefully the second one comes a little faster.

Adi, Bomaye

And the hits just keep on coming for Fanendo Adi. After Darren Mattocks was taken down at the edge of the box, the referee pointed to the penalty spot and Adi put it away, high and center:

Adi’s development as a player has been a joy to watch. When he first came to us, he was a bit of a raw talent: he didn’t seem to know how to use his size to hold up the ball; his footwork wasn’t always the best; and he wound up drifting offside distressingly often. But as he has matured as a player, he has come into his own. He is learning to use his size to good advantage. His footwork has improved. And while he still gets offside a fair amount, his scoring pace is undeniable. The penalty kick in the Philadelphia game put Adi at 46 career goals with the Portland Timbers in 96 games, a healthy rate and one that has already put him atop the all-time scoring list for Timbers in all eras–MLS, USL, and NASL. Well done, Adi.

The Kids Are All Right

Meanwhile, can we talk about Marco Farfan? Once again, the 18-year-old homegrown player and Centennial High School senior got the start, this time while Vytautas Andriuškevičius was apparently deemed healthy enough to be on the bench for the game. Take a look at Farfan’s distribution on that left side:

farfan v philly

That, plus seven won tackles, is a fine day’s work for the young man. I love Vytas, but if Marco keeps putting up numbers like these, he is going to make Caleb Porter‘s job delightfully difficult when it comes to choosing a starting left back.

Other hot takes

Jake Gleeson had a couple of outstanding saves in this game. Well done, Jake. Hopefully you’ve gotten the yips out of your system; we’ll unfortunately need you to pull off more stellar saves like that while we sort out our Spinal Tap drummer situation at center back.

Subs: Well, everybody who wanted Porter to sub more/at all last weekend, congratulations. This weekend he used them all (arguably to good effect, given the foul that Mattocks drew) and then had to go down a man at the end to injury (also Darren Mattocks).

More Saprissa Shopping: Gavin Wilkinson was recently spotted on the sidelines of a Saprissa match, possibly scouting defender Julio Cascante.

In addition to David Guzmán and Roy Miller, if you count Shaquille Jiménez, who is currently on loan to the Timbers USL squad, that would be four Saprissa players coming to Portland. Vamos, Ticos.

Congratulations on the away win, boys. Thank you for putting it away decisively. We look forward to seeing you back at home on Saturday v. Kansas City.

Featured image courtesy: Portland Timbers facebook

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I’ve Seen This Movie

Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx

Sunday, April 2: 1-1 Draw

Sunday was a beautiful evening for soccer in Portland. Another sold out crowd at Providence Park gathered in anticipation. Darlington Nagbe and David Guzmán were home from international duty. Marco Farfan, the local homegrown talent and Centennial High School senior, was going to get the start in front of family and friends. And scoring machines Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri would have the chance to test a New England Revolution team that could prove as dangerous on the counter as the Timbers. And for a time, we weren’t disappointed.

First: that goal. Oh, my goodness. Valeri’s strike at the twelfth minute was one of the prettiest I’ve seen at Providence Park, and is surely already in the running for goal of the year:

Then: Marco Farfan. Absolute poetry. My seats are on the west side of the stadium, which means that when he is working as a fullback I get a great up close and personal look at the action for half of the match–and oh my GOODNESS. It was hard to remember that Farfan is still only 18 as I watched him repeatedly own Kei Kamara. Farfan won eight tackles in his home debut and put in a confident, competent performance, pushing up well and defending his territory brilliantly. If he didn’t finish his spring break homework I hope he can turn in a condensed match report for extra credit.

The Timbers were working the ball well that first half, maintaining confident possession and a one goal lead going into the half. And then…

You know that moment in a horror movie when everybody in the theater seems to know what’s about to happen, but for some reason the characters don’t? When you want to shout at the screen “No, that is NOT just the wind making that scraping noise!” “No, you should NOT all split up and head out separately into the woods!” “No, the bad guy is NOT dead and if you turn your back on him he WILL get up and brain you!”

That is pretty much how the second half felt.

All of us in the stadium could tell what was coming. We all KNEW that a one goal lead would not suffice. We KNEW that we needed to come back with intensity, that we needed to crash the box, that we needed to put in another goal to put the game away.

And instead we watched in gathering dread as the team seemingly started the half in second gear; as Sebastian Blanco missed chances wide; as we didn’t have numbers inside the box when we needed them…and as this happened:

Yep. Told you so, said pretty much everyone in the park. I TOLD you if you didn’t take care of business that the bad guy in that horror movie would get back up and brain ya.

I’m not sure where to lay the blame for this one. Yes, Jake Gleeson misplayed the ball. But if Roy Miller had done the defensive job required, the ball wouldn’t have been a threat in the first place. And if Nagbe had been trailing in the box more for second chances, we might have had a second or third goal, which would likely have iced the game even with the defensive lapse. And if we had used, say, Dairon Asprilla or Darren Mattocks, maybe they would have provided a late offensive spark that would have shifted the momentum in our favor.

Regardless of the reason, Lee Nguyen (who to be fair was not in fact a horror movie bad guy, just a talented player doing his job) leveled the score late in the match, and the Revs took a point in Portland.

Disappointing, to be sure, but yes, a point is better than none. And we are still ahead of our typical March/early April performance in MLS. But the firepower of this team has raised my expectations. One goal at home, especially with acknowledged weakness in the center back position, is not sufficient. I hope we score early and often next weekend, and that we don’t take the foot off the gas pedal in Philadelphia until the final whistle.


Off the Pitch

I got to meet an amazing young man this weekend. Dylan Mapston is a 12-year-old Timbers fan and goalkeeper who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. You can read more about Dylan here. Dylan’s two-year-old cousin, Cheyenne, lives in the Portland metro area and is undergoing treatment for a cancerous growth on her spine (more information and fundraiser here). Dylan has started an effort to raise awareness for children with cancer and to give back to those who are fighting this disease. Dylan and his father flew out to Portland for the Timbers and Thorns matches this weekend, collected teddy bears and toys donated at both matches, and delivered them to Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital.

Soccer may be the thing that brings us together, but sometimes it inspires something much greater. It was a privilege to meet Dylan. I’m grateful for his inspiration and perspective, and for demonstrating the Team/Town/Timbers Army connection we know and love. I hope we meet again soon.

Featured image of Marco Farfan courtesy: Portland Timbers facebook

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Last Goal Wins

Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx

Saturday, March 25: 3-2 Loss

I will always have a special place in my heart for Columbus. Aside from the obvious in 2015, there was this moment (which made me love Savannah forever, she is an awesome human) and this lovable yet incomprehensible video from 2013 (no, please do not ask me to explain it; I cannot). Since we HAD to end the winning streak somewhere, it might as well have been at Mapfre.

The Good

I was happy to see Dairon Asprilla get the start. He has had a second chance and a new beginning with us this year after last season’s loan to Colombian side Millonarios, and this weekend he made it count. In the fourth minute, in his first start for us this year, Asprilla had a beautiful right-footed cross to the left of the net. I was worried about Asprilla’s ability to fill in for Darlington Nagbe when it came to possession and ball handling, but I looked forward to his more aggressive stance when it came to shooting.

Fanendo Adi worked his usual magic, scoring in stoppage time at the half to pull the Portland Timbers level at 2-2, tying the Timbers all-time scoring record in the process. I watched the replay, and I can only describe what Columbus Crew did in response to Adi as “the campfire defense,” something I would argue that our back line was notorious for carrying out in 2011 and 2012. The Campfire Defense occurs when three or four guys in the back more or less make a circle around the opposing player, much like huddling around a campfire, and watch the ball in fascination as the offensive player shoots and scores; and that’s pretty much what Columbus did for Adi’s goal.

The Bad

Speaking of Campfire Defense: we were hurting in the middle and the back in this game. Ultimately we got burned because Columbus REALLY owned us in the middle. We had two key players out for international duty (Nagbe for the US and Davíd Guzmán for Costa Rica), and it showed. Without Nagbe for possession and Guzman for the 50/50 balls, when Columbus threw everything and the kitchen sink at us in the middle of the field, we were unable to respond (a little over 35% possession, which is definitely NOT okay with Porter).

And once again, with a back line consisting of mostly second stringers, our defensive unit did not handle the pressure well. While we were always in the hunt, our back line did not react well in general. We got burned in the 11th minute by Justin Meram cleaning up after a corner kick for Columbus’s first score; Ola Kamara  took advantage of some flat-footed defense at the 19th minute to chip Jake Gleeson; and the final goal by Niko Hansen in at the 84 minute mark ultimately did us in. All three of these goals made our defensive unit look disorganized, to say the least.

Other Stuff

Once again, the Timbers Army on the road represented well. This is the second away game that our road support has purchased pretty much every ticket available in the away supporter allocation. Win, lose, or draw, our away support makes me proud.

I’m also proud of our work off the field. Locally, supporters in Portland and Beaverton put in shifts at the Oregon Food Bank on game day, packing food for the hungry before heading out for watch parties. Team, Town, TA is still in full effect. Well done, folks.

On the field, our strength this year will be the counterattack, the control in the middle, and our attacking line in general; and our biggest challenge will be our, er, less than stellar back line. As I’ve said before, our season will probably best be summed up as “Last Goal Wins.” It’s been true so far, for better or for worse.  See you all next week at home as we battle New England Revolution on Sunday.

Featured image Fenando Adi to tie game courtesy: USA TODAY Sports Images

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Top of the Table

Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson @shebainpdx

Saturday, March 18: 4-2 Win

What’s that, you say? The Portland Timbers are 3-0 and top of the table after three weeks in March? How in the heck did THAT happen?

It has been a crazy start to the season, to say the least. In week two, we won on the road in Los Angeles. The last time a Timbers team pulled off a March road win, I was in high school. (In related news, I am old.) And last Saturday, we managed to defeat a strong Houston Dynamo squad that was having a fine March of their own. Fortunately, the boys came through when it counted.

The first two scores of the match, both on penalty kicks, came from handballs that were so hard to see in person that I had to re-watch the highlights later to know just what had happened. The first, coming at the 10th minute off a ball that deflected off the lifted elbow of DaMarcus Beasley, certainly didn’t look intentional, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

In any case, Diego Valeri confidently jogged up to the spot and drilled it high and center for the first score of the match. The second, at the 36th minute, was a handball that careened off Diego Chará’s arm as he lifted it up to cover his face during a Cubo Torres free kick. Hard to fault Chará for trying to keep his face from getting drilled, but if you’re going to call the first one you might as well call the second one, I suppose.

There were several long minutes in the first half where I was worried about our ability to withstand Houston’s counterattack, and their score to close out the first half was a perfect example of why. During first half stoppage, we got our clocks cleaned. Alvas Powell was WAY behind the play on the counter, probably a combination of playing so far up on offense and recovering from an injury; and Zarek Valentin, our third string fullback, was playing catch-up much of the half. The result was a quick Torres to Alberth Elis flick, followed by a beautiful and deadly pass from Elis to Romell Quioto for the easy score. If this was a sign of things to come, I didn’t like our chances in the second half.

But then, the second half came, and something was different. I don’t know what adjustments they made, but Valentin and Powell looked like they were hung out to dry a lot less often. In fact, Valentin redeemed himself in the 57th minute with a BEAUTIFUL left-footed cross from the corner, perfectly placed for Valeri to head into the back of the net, and suddenly we were tied again.

IMG_20170318_205450719
Smoke after a goal. We had a lot of those that night. (photo by Sheba Rawson)

Our third goal of the night was probably my favorite. David Guzmán is a beast, in every good way. I may call him Tenacious D for his work in the back (which by the way frees up Chará, thank you very much), but he also works incredibly hard on the offensive side of the ball. And he was rewarded for his efforts last night with what turned out to be the game winner in the 65th minute. With Beasley trying to clear the ball, Guzmán chested it perfectly to Nagbe, who returned the favor by making a ridiculously good spinning-as-he-hit-the-ground pass to Guzmán, who put it away, then kissed the crest following his first score in a Timbers uniform. Sebastian Blanco is definitely DP quality, but I really think in many ways Guzmán might be our most valuable signing of the season so far.

Fanendo Adi was kind of driving me nuts that night. (Okay, not kind of. He really was.) He managed to line up offside a few times, his footwork wasn’t the best, and he was looking gassed toward the end as he missed chance after chance. But just as I was turning to a friend and saying “WHY haven’t we subbed him out yet?” Adi did this at the 87th minute and put us ahead 4-2. Way to shut me up, Adi.

Hot takes

  • I don’t want to go on and on about it, so I’ll just say that Cubo Torres was being kind of a jerk.
  • Alvas Powell reminded me of first-year Powell, which meant moments of brilliance followed by moments of WTF? I do not wish to watch another season of the “That’s So Alvas” show. Hope we’ve seen the last of it for awhile.

  • Our back line still scares me, but Roy Miller wasn’t horrible. He and Guzmán have some playing history together and it shows.

  • We made adjustments at the half and they worked. More of this please.

  • Darlington Nagbe’s ball handling is so solid that I think he might have only had one errant pass the whole first half. I remember because when it happened it felt SO out of the ordinary. I hope he gets a chance to show some of that magic during the USMNT qualifiers this next weekend.

  • Jake Gleeson. Holy cow, son. You had some saves that first half. Nice work.

Other stuff

Prior to the match, the Timbers had a ceremony to honor Nat Borchers, retired center back and amazing human. Nat took the opportunity to salute the Timbers Army one last time and we tried to return the favor. Now Nat is taking up a new position, this time in the broadcast booth. We love you, Nat. Best of luck in this new chapter.

IMG_20170318_193617428
We Are Your Shining City Upon A Hill (photo by Sheba Rawson)

This weekend also marked the Timbers’ Army’s participation in the Independent Supporters Council’s stand against racism.  The tifo display, We Are Your Shining City Upon A Hill, spoke to the Timbers Army’s desire to continue to defend equality as a fundamental human right and to reject racial oppression. In addition to the display, the Timbers Army also sold both “Refugees Welcome” scarves and “Sanctuary” scarves, with proceeds going to charitable organizations who work with immigrants and refugees. And finally, we also held the first of many match day drives, this time collecting food for a local food pantry at Impact NW. Yes, we want to win the battle on the field; but we also want to win the battle for equality and dignity in the broader world.

Well, that was a most excellent weekend. Next stop: Columbus. Hopefully, we can manage to hold down the fort while Nagbe and Guzmán are away on international duty. See you next weekend.

Featured image, David Guzmán celebrates his first goal in a Timbers uniform courtesy: Portland Timbers

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