DC United is far too good a footy team to be overlooked, so let's go ahead and do just that.
Mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings and all but officially eliminated from playoff contention, your Timbers are eight days away from the only match left that matters to Portland—the deciding tilt of the Cascadia Cup in Seattle. That game could define this season and set the tone for next, when new head coach Caleb Porter takes the reins and turns the page on what's been a disappointing second Major League Soccer campaign for the Rose City.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably, but with tonight's match being framed as a tryout for both next Sunday and next season—the stakes, according to Portland GM/interim coach Gavin Wilkinson, are no less than "self-preservation and personal pride and [players'] personal integrity"—forgive me for being forward-thinking. I'm certainly not the only one.
"We're playing for our livelihood and we're playing for contracts," Timbers defender David Horst said this week. "You have to kill yourself for every game. Guys realize that."
UPDATE: The Timbers fought back from a controversial handball call and stay (mathematically) alive in the playoff race for at least another week with a 1-1 draw. Bright Dike continued his hot streak with an equalizing strike in the 79th, and Portland held on to earn the point.
"They didn't sink into the game, they didn't sit back and feel sorry for themselves, they responded positively," Wilkinson said. "Especially where we're at in the table right now, to have that sense of pride and to have that urgency to come back from behind is very important."
Click past the jump for a full match log, plus more locker-room reaction and FULL VIDEO of Wilkinson's post-match presser.
The Timbers didn't hoist it. Their fans didn't cross SW Broadway with it, chanting and singing amid traffic. Their least germophobic supporters swigged no beer from its cold, silver lip.
The Cascadia Cup didn't exchange hands on Saturday night, after the Timbers pulled out a topsy-turvy 1-1 draw with the hated Seattle Sounders in front of 20,438 and a national broadcast audience. Needing a win to secure its first Cup as an MLS side, the Timbers held it together through injuries to keeper Donovan Ricketts and team MVP Diego Chara and withstood Fredy Montero wundergoal to equalize in the 78th on a Rodney Wallace header and snag a draw.
"We’ll accept coming away with a tie," said Portland interim coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson. "At least we clawed ourselves back into the game."
And with it, the Timbers held tight to their advantage over Seattle and Vancouver, both of whom they'll travel up I-5 to play next month.
Fans of the three Northwest rivals found common ground to start the Cup in 2004 as a way to crown the region's top club. Ardent Timbers fans will tell you no matter what happens during the regular season, winning the Cascadia Cup is of paramount importance. The Timbers may very well call their fans on that stance, as the team wallows near the bottom of the MLS table, nine points removed from a postseason spot.
In other words, only the Cup has the power to make forgetful sophomore season memorable. And the players know it.
"We wanted to raise the trophy in front of the home fans," said Timbers Cap'n Jack Jewsbury. "But now, we got a little bit more work to do.”
Portland now hits the road for a pair of matches (at San Jose on Wednesday, at Salt Lake on Saturday) before returning home on Sept. 29 to face D.C. United. The challenge for the Timbers? Finding motivation to get through what are now (relatively) meaningless MLS matches (standings-wise) before the Cup again takes center stage on Oct. 7 at Seattle. A win there, and the Cup's journey to Goose Hollow will become a reality.
"We’ll go on the road, we have great fan support on the road, and we still get to bring it back to Portland," Wilkinson said after Saturday's match. "Hopefully, if and when.”
Is it 2013 yet?
Granted, there are nine Major League Soccer matches and a Cascadia Cup to be settled, but with Timberland's focus on the future this week (a new coach, wider pitch, stagnant season-ticket prices, and blessed lack of Ticketmaster), there's a distinct feeling Soccer City USA is utterly over 2012.
And can you blame it? Portland enters tonight's match with "desperate" Colorado 16 points removed from the playoff pack, and with the majority of the remaining schedule on the road (where the Timbers are winless), hopes aren't exactly soaring for a miracle postseason run. Ah, but the foundation for next year's success could very well be built tonight, and with a strong win at their sails, even futile footy makes for a fine Friday night.
So click past the jump and follow along (won't you?) as I deftly describe all the action—on and off the pitch.
Anyone else get fired up watching Darlington Nagbe shave his neck?
No? Just me?
The Timbers have found their man.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer is reporting Portland has hired University of Akron head coach Caleb Porter as the team's third head coach in its MLS era.
“Put simply, I believe Caleb Porter is the best young soccer coaching mind in the country,” said Timbers owner Merritt Paulson. “He is the right fit for the Timbers on every level. We went through an exhaustive and thorough search over the last couple months where we spoke with some truly excellent candidates, but Caleb quickly emerged as the consensus target."
The former University of Indiana midfielder and current United States' U-23 men's head coach will reportedly finish out the Zips' 2012 season before heading to Portland. Porter, 37, led Akron to the 2010 NCAA national championship, was named National Coach of the Year in 2009 and has won the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year award in each of the past five seasons (2007-11). The Kalamazoo, Mich., native has recruited and developed 14 Akron players who have been drafted into MLS over the past six years, including Portland's Darlington Nagbe. More on Porter here.
“I am truly excited and honored to be provided this unique opportunity to coach the Portland Timbers, an organization that in a short-time has established itself as a model franchise in Major League Soccer,” said Porter. “I know that Merritt and Gavin are committed to long-term success for the Timbers and come December, I will be completely focused and driven to continue building a professional club in which the Timbers supporters, city and organization will be proud of."
Full press release after the jump.
If the Timbers are indeed rebuilding, they've started with the bedrock.
Portland traded keeper Troy Perkins this morning, acquiring Jamaican national and two-time MLS All-Star Donovan Ricketts. Like a quick restart on a free kick, few saw this trade coming. That apparently includes Perkins, who according to The O beat guy Geoffrey C. Arnold, appeared briefly at training this morning before driving off, seemingly shocked.
As to who's better off after this trade, it's probably a wash. Ricketts, 35, has battled injury but is known around the league as an aggressive, top-tier keeper. He was MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and listed on the league's Best XI in 2010. But if anyone was the heart and soul of the Timbers locker room, it was Perkins, the no-nonsense fan favorite who often spoke candidly about the team's struggles. On Sunday night, I asked him what the team needed to do to build off their draw with FC Dallas—Portland's first positive result after five straight defeats. As was his style, Perkins looked me dead in the eye when answering, saying, "I think we've really found ourselves."
Now the team will need to find its way without Perkins.
“Troy has been an important player for us, but we as a coaching staff saw this as an opportunity to improve the position, while optimizing our budget numbers in 2012 and 2013," said Timbers interim coach and General Manager Gavin Wilkinson. "Donovan has a great presence and will provide us with tremendous experience and leadership. He has a proven track record in MLS and has shown he can consistently play well at the highest level.”
Donovan can also provide some direction to young backup Jake Gleeson, a member of New Zealand's Olympic team and a young, aggressive keeper who won Portland's home opener last year in his first MLS start.
If the Timbers are to move out of Major League Soccer's basement, their first step might need to resemble a strut.
Swagger has certainly been in short supply around Portland lately, as five straight losses, a shuffled coaching staff and shifting strategies have taken their toll on both the Timbers' confidence and fans' patience. With the season seemingly on the verge of being written off as an unplanned rebuilding campaign, PTFC's newest MO seems to be fakin' it 'til they make it.
“We’ve got to get a little bit of arrogance about ourselves on our home field," said Portland keeper Troy Perkins earlier this week. "We’ve got to have a chip on our shoulder everywhere we go now and really be a little upset with the way people think of us and the way people treat us.”
There's only one way to change those perceptions, and it starts tonight against a Dallas club that hammered Portland 5-0 just two weeks ago. Can the Timbers earn their revenge, and sashay into a two-match, east-coast swing with a bit of bluster?
UPDATE: Portland rallies from a goal down but can't take advantage of a shorthanded Dallas side as the Timbers and Hoops tie 1-1. Portland out-shot Dallas 21-8 and looked dangerous at times, but in the end, as striker Kris Boyd put it post-match, "it's more dropped points at home."
Click past the jump for more on the match, including a running log of the action, final stats, locker room quotes and FULL VIDEO of Wilkinson's post-match presser following his first result as interim head coach. "It's not all roses as such, because we're still not getting the wins," he says. "But we're seeing enough positives in the way that we're starting to play, the changes that are happening, to start to believe that the tide is turning."
Gavin Wilkinson wasn't expected to have all the answers. But three matches (and three losses) into his reign as interim head coach, he's running short on things to question.
After shouldering the blame for the Timbers' 5-2 loss at home vs. the Galaxy, Wilkinson wondered where his team's energy, imagination and creativity went during a lackluster 1-0 loss at Chivas USA on July 18. And following a 5-0 faceplant at Dallas last week, Wilkinson declared the team he'd assembled as general manager had "quit." As Portland looks to avoid a fifth straight loss tonight against the Goats, Wilkinson is calling the Timbers' performance "a matter of pride." But will all the gut-check talk work?
It's a button former coach John Spencer was never afraid to push. He suggested his young team might develop a "soft" reputation just weeks into its inaugural season, and is unemployed in part because of the team's lack of mental fortitude. Portland's propensity to let its focus slip, dip or simply disappear has been both an underlying theme of its MLS era and an undermining factor to its bottom-of-the-table standing.
"We must right the ship," Wilkinson said earlier this week. But has it already sailed?
Find out after the jump, and follow along as I deftly describe all the action—on and off the pitch.
The Timbers fell in penalty kicks last night to Aston Villa, which is officially OK because the result likely pleased Tom Hanks.
The star of The 'Burbs, along with son Colin, were in the House of Pane to watch their favorite English Premiere League side finish up their tour of the States, and the exhibition didn't disappoint: The match went to penalty kicks after the home team decidedly didn't quit and answered an 80th minute goal by Villain Ciaran Clark with an 81st minute equalizer by Rodney Wallace.
Portland returns to action (and its reality as the bottom team on the MLS table) on Saturday at home against Chivas USA. I can only assume Hanks found Portland charming and will return soon after. He knows Portland needs a coach ... right?
Some might say this happened a long time ago ... buuuuuuut the outer posts of Timbers Army were allegedly ambushed by a group of
douchebags Vancouver fans bachelor partiers "dude-bros" outsiders on Saturday night, prompting a not-exactly-tongue-in-cheek post by TA's blogger Andrew Brawley.
The former bouncer and current OLCC permit-holder gives his play-by-play of the action off the pitch, wherein 20 likeminded, similarly dressed gentlemen gathered at the edges of 208 and quickly fell out of formation:
When all 20-ish of them insist on wearing matching bright yellow or bright orange trucker hats, they identify themselves as a group aching to be noticed. When they aren’t participating in pre-match Timbers chants, they demand my attention. When they subtly-but-noticeably boo our Timbers as they enter the field for pre-match practice, my gut tells me something is up.
However, there was nothing visible at this point that ultimately said “these people are Galaxy fans, get them out of here before something bad goes down.”
That is until one of them removes their shirt to reveal a Sharpie-drawn LA Galaxy logo on his chest, and a mock jersey-style “Beckham” and “23” on his back. NOW WE’RE IN BUSINESS!
Brawley, who notified stadium/TA security and a 107ist board member, is unapologetic about helping 86 the d-bags, making a larger point about scalpers.
I understand the need to resell tickets to a match that you can’t attend. You want to get your money back. Nobody will sweat you for that.
However, when you blindly post your tickets for sale on Craig’s List, StubHub, or any number of reseller sites, or sell your tickets to those dirty, filthy scalpers lurking in front on JWF on match days, you are essentially handing over the keys to the Timbers Army’s vehicle, and allowing anyone to jump in for a ride, regardless of their condition and/or intent.
The Timbers themselves ceded a bit of ground, too, on Saturday night, when a horrifically captivating four-goal, nine-minute stretch doomed Portland to a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. World-class players did their thing, as David Beckham scored twice in spectacularly bendy fashion, while Portland's Kris Boyd and Robby Keane each added a pair of goals in a madcap nationally-televised match.
Timbers interim coach Gavin Wilkinson—at Portland's helm for the team's first match since coach John Spencer was fired—shouldered the blame for the loss, noting "there's been lot happening this week." Timbers Cap'n and right back Jack Jewsbury, whose defense flat-out lost its concentration during the nightmarish four-goal stretch, said any hangover from Spencer's sacking didn't affect the team on the field.
"Not at all," Jewsbury said. "The reality is, the majority of the guys in the locker room have been through changes like this before.
"It's not on one person, one individual. We're a group and everything we do relies on everyone as a group coming together and fighting for one another."
Buoyed somewhat by an improved offensive effort, Portland heads to SoCal for an oddly scheduled 1 p.m. match on Wednesday against Chivas USA. When asked whether the Timbers could still salvage the season, Wilkinson answered like I suspect Spencer would have.
"Definitely," Wilkinson said. "I'm a bit shocked by the question, to be honest."
There are multiple reports this morning that Portland coach John Spencer has been fired by the Timbers. The O is reporting that technical director and former PTFC Division-2 coach Gavin Wilkinson will take over as interim coach for the rest of the season and that a search for a permanent replacement is already on.
Sports Illustrated has also confirmed the firing and the Timbers have scheduled a press conference for 2:30 p.m. today.
The Timbers (5-8-4) have underachieved in their sophomore season as a Major League Soccer side, having not won a match on the road in 2012. Portland sits in eighth place in the nine-team Western Conference and has most recently sandwiched an encouraging win vs. MLS-leading San Jose with a pair of 3-0 away losses. They host the defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday.
UPDATE: The Associated Press is now confirming the reports.
UPDATE 2: The official team press release, including full text of Timbers owner Merritt Paulson's statement, is here.
UPDATE 3: Paulson and Wilkinson spoke to the media about the decision to relieve Spencer of his duties.
"Some fundamental philosophical differences exist," Paulson said, reading from his prepared statement. "This is not a team-record driven decision. While it is fair to say the likelihood of us making this announcement while sitting atop of the Western Conference standings would be low, there are scenarios where we could have a worse record than we do and John Spencer would still be the Portland Timbers coach."
Paulson said he'd rather not get into the details, but that the team is assessing 10 coaches with the hopes of announcing a permanent replacement during the offseason. He also noted an additional assistant would be added to the coaching staff, and Wilkinson said the GM's scouting duties would be divided equally among staff, including overseas travel for international scouting.
"I think it's going to be a difficult task, and time will tell how well I do," Wilkinson said. "I've been responsible for bringing all the players here.
"Now it's up to me to get a little more out of them."
Wilkinson, who's been with the club as a player, coach and GM, said he's "never seen such a drastic difference in a team home and away."
He noted he'd like to get "a little more out of senior players," but that he didn't think there would be major changes to the system, but rather "minor adjustments."
Paulson got a bit choked up when talking about the decision—"I like (Spencer) a lot, this is a very painful decision to make," he said—but noted that the two have engaged in a number of "candid" discussions. Paulson said he spoke to Spencer on Sunday night and again at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.
"He took it with class and professionalism," Paulson said, noting the "human factor" behind these types of moves makes them difficult. "I assume he's going to be a head coach somewhere else. His strengths are all 15 of out 10."
Spencer released a statement through the team:
“I want to personally thank Merritt Paulson and the Paulson family for the opportunity to be the first head coach in the history of the MLS Timbers. Also, I want to thank all the coaches, staff, players and fans associated with the team. I very much enjoyed my time with the club and wish everyone the best.”
The Timbers bolstered their back line and added a sixth continent to their roster on Thursday as Portland acquired defender Kosuke Kimura from Colorado.
Kimura, the first Japanese-born player in Major League Soccer history, played six seasons with the Rapids and raised the Cup as a key member of the 2010 MLS champs. The 28-year-old played in all 34 games for Colorado last year and has a goal and two assists this season. He won his former club's Humanitarian of the Year award in 2010 and has a reputation as a non-flopping, hard-working right back.
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson twinted at the addition this morning, then outlined the terms of the trade: Portland sends allocation money and an international spot to Colorado, but no current PTFC players were shipped. Timbers coach John Spencer indicated post-training that Kimura will play on Saturday against Salt Lake, while Timbers fans are already working on chants.
Portland's season has seen its share of ups and downs. The question tonight is whether the Timbers can prevent the whole thing from going sideways.
One week after holding off hated Seattle in perhaps their biggest win as a Major League Soccer franchise, the Timbers appeared "distressingly uninspired" in a lackluster 3-0 loss to Colorado over the weekend. And instead of showing anger toward its team—as Timbers Army did after a shocking U.S. Open Cup loss at home to Cal FC—PTFC fans seem to be near the point of throw-your-hands-up frustration with their beloved club.
TA wants better tactics. It craves positive results. And, at the very least, the Army wants to see players reflect the passion being poured atop the pitch from first kick to final whistle. It's not as if the Timbers would be charting new territory there: Portland's 90-minute stint of grit vs. Seattle is the very reason their leg-up on the Cascadia Cup stands firm, and its first-ever-come-from-behind win on opening against Philly suggested we had a contender on our hands. But with those ebs came flows, and the Timbers' multiple head-scratchers are as well-documented as they are concerning.
So, did the Timbers pull themselves together quickly enough to take on best-in-MLS San Jose?
UPDATE: Turns out, they did! After being yanked from the game before halftime against Colorado, Franck Songo'o had a career night and Jefferson High School's own Danny Mwanga scored his first goal as a Timber as Portland held off San Jose 2-1 in a thrilling rebound victory. Cap'n Jack Jewsbury added a second goal, and the Portland defense held strong down the stretch after the starters came out with a level of intensity sorely missing at Colorado.
"A lot of people had questions for us after the poor performance at Colorado," said Jewsbury in the locker room post-game. "We wanted to prove to ourselves and everyone else we had the fight in us tonight."
Click past the jump for more locker-room reaction from the match, along with FULL VIDEO of coach John Spencer's postgame presser in which he jokes (I think) about owner Merritt Paulson paying for 15,000 fans to travel to Saturday's game at Salt Lake City. "I think it's a great idea," Spencer said. Timbers Army might agree.
Just when fans thought they'd accepted the final nominee for "Worst Performance of Portland's Season," the Timbers came out flat and face-planted their way to 3-0 defeat at Colorado on Saturday night.
All that supposed momentum from the barnstorming win over Seattle? Yeah, gone. Any semblance of good feelings gave way to a lackluster effort from Portland, which yielded a pair of goals in the opening 23 minutes and allowed the Rapids to dominate possession, duels and the match. The PTFC defense that blossomed over the past six weeks into one of the best in the league? Nope, it wilted in the heat and humidity of Commerce City, and once again, questions about tactics and toughness alike are swirling around Goose Hollow.
“We had a great performance last week," said coach John Spencer. "I said to them, 'you’ve got go out, you’ve got to match it, everybody’s eyes are on us again, saying can you play away from home, can you do this, can you do that.'
"And we never put [those questions] to bed."
Instead, Portland proved that old habits die hard, and though more disappointing losses have come this year (see: Cal FC), none have felt more frustrating for fans. If chants were loud enough to travel 1,250 miles, I'd imagine some incarnation of "CARE LIKE WE DO!" would've rang across the Rockies on Saturday.
So can it get better? (Un)Fortunately, we won't have to wait long to find out.
Tuesday's meeting at home with red-hot San Jose can't come quickly enough, assuming the Timbers show up in the right frame of mind. Portland has certainly shown what it's capable of accomplishing, but as any fan can tell you, that spectrum swings wide. Still without a road win in 2012, Portland sits in eighth place out west and there are few easy answers on the horizon.
"We've just got to be stronger mentally," said keeper Troy Perkins, who was visibly annoyed as the defense struggled to prevent Colorado from finding space and getting service. "It's as simple as that."
If only. With five matches over the next 20 days (including three on the road), the Timbers' sophomore season is on the brink of swirling out of control ... and fast.
"Bottom line, (Saturday's performance) wasn't good enough," said Timbers Cap'n Jack Jewsbury. "We’re a better team than we are playing on the road. It can’t just be at home when the crowd is behind us, and it is easy in that sense. We’ve got to be able to create our own energy on the field whether it’s home or away.”
Speaking of creating energy, check out this slick video from The Daily on Timbers Army's doings during the Cascadia Cup battle with Seattle last week. It may help you forget what happened over the weekend—which might be just what fans and players alike need about now:
During a conference call with reporters this week, Portland coach John Spencer was asked about the last time the Timbers took to their home pitch. Not wanting to rehash what was perhaps Soccer City USA's low point as a Major League franchise—a shocking 1-0 loss to fifth-tier amateur side Cal FC—the embattled coach recoiled.
"I thought we were here to talk about Seattle," Spencer snapped.
You can't blame the man for wanting to focus on today's 2 p.m. match against the hated Sounders, but with the Timbers underachieving, the question becomes how far forward can Spencer expect to look? Much of the talk leading up to the 77th playing of North American soccer's biggest rivalry hasn't been about mutual malevolence or bulletin board material or historical implications. Instead—at least locally—today's ESPN-televised Cascadia Cup clash is being framed as a referendum on Spencer.
That's probably a bit overzealous, but there's no arguing PTFC's second-year coach is feeling a bit of warmth beneath his seat.
If the Sounders are floundering below expectations—they're winless in six straight—then Portland is playing below acceptability for many of its fans. And because shit has a funny way of running uphill in professional sports (and because Spencer has all but welcomed the criticism by insisting he has the talent he needs to win) the onus today is on the players to prove they'd like to keep their skipper around.
My sense is Timbers fans could handle losing, even to their fiercest rival. But just as Timbers Army pledges to scream its collective lungs out for 90 minutes, supporters expect nothing less than an unrelenting effort from the players on the pitch.
The alternative could make focusing on the future an unsteady proposition.
UPDATE: Portland defeats Seattle 2-1 behind first-half goals from Kris Boyd and David Horst and physical defense late. It's the first Timbers victory against the rival Sounders in Portland's MLS era, sending Timbers Army home singing a happy tune for the first time in more than two months. Click past the jump for minute-by-minute action, plus post-game reaction and full video of Spencer's post-match presser.
Danny Mwanga is on his way home. Jorge Perlaza is on his way out.
The Timbers swapped strikers with the Philadelphia Union today, acquiring the former Jefferson High School and Oregon State star Mwanga, 20, in exchange for the 27-year-old Perlaza.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for me to come back to my hometown and play in front of family and friends,” said Mwanga. “I’m excited, and I can’t wait to get out to Portland and get to work."
A former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick, Mwanga scored five goals last season, one less than Perlaza in 2011. Neither, however, has found the back of the net this season. PTFC owner Merritt Paulson tweeted that Mwanga "needs a change," and the same could be said for Portland: They sit in seventh place out west and limped into a 2+ week international break with a forgettable 1-0 overtime loss to a fifth-tier amateur team.
The Timbers' embarrassing 1-0 loss to an fifth-tier amateur team on Wednesday brought out their supporters' ire, both during the game (chants of "CARE LIKE WE DO" and "THIS IS BULLSHIT" rained from the North End) and immediately after (legendary capo "Pong" took players to task and demanded jerseys as the team exited the pitch).
"Our fans will never let us forget about this one," said keeper Troy Perkins, in a slightly hoarse voice post-match. "It's just one of those things where, now we have to earn their respect back."
Timbers Army OG Chris Cooper captures the pain of the fanbase in this starkly reflective, oddly beautiful rant (with some NSFW language) filmed during
the final moments of a match that will go down in infamy. He invokes Prometheus, friendship and torment alike, then for a brief moment at 2:26—when the team almost scores—offers a glimpse of hope.
Cal FC was formed barely two months ago. They play in the fifth tier of American soccer and wear hand-me-down jerseys. These guys are amateurs ... literally.
But the beauty of the U.S. Open Cup—the national championship of American footy open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee—is that a ragtag group of former SoCal college soccer stars and MLS castoffs has a chance. Tonight, that chance comes against your Portland Timbers.
And after SEVEN Major League Soccer teams fell to so-called lesser opponents last night, you'd better believe Cal FC—owned and coached by U.S. Soccer legend and "crazy uncle" Eric Wynalda—has Portland's attention.
"We’re not here to sit back and have cocktails on the bench and have a laugh and a joke," said PTFC coach John Spencer. "It’s business as usual.”
It's also a chance for Portland to advance and face arch-rival Seattle (assuming the Sounders handle their business tonight against something called "the Atlanta Silverbacks") next week.
UPDATE: Cal FC stuns Portland, 1-0, in overtime. Love reliving historical levels of fail? Click past the jump for a minute-by-minute account, plus FULL VIDEO of Spencer's post-game press conference ("You don't use the word 'embarrassed' or 'humiliated' too much in your career," he said. "Tonight I felt both.") and somber locker-room reaction.
Put 'em together, and the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps are fairly easy to define: Expansion cousins, Cascadia rivals, Major League Soccer neighbors—longtime frenemies who can appreciate one another save a few 90-minute stretches per year.
But standing apart, the Timbers and Whitecaps have yet to forge identities of their own.
Is Vancouver the team that won five of their first nine MLS matches this season, posting six shutouts? Or are they the club that yielded a late goal in a draw against Seattle last week, then inexplicably dropped the final of the Canadian Championship to an abysmal Toronto side? Is Portland a group whose ship leans right with growing confidence as key contributors round into form? Or are they a team that's more often looked timid than terrifying in their sophomore year?
"I think that when you lose games in the manner that we did, it saps your self-belief at times," said Timbers coach John Spencer of his team's rough early going. "I don't think that we fear going into games or fear the last 10 minutes of games as much as we did a couple of weeks ago."
As the Timbers and Whitecaps meet tonight for the 71st time in 36 years, both sides understand the significance of this derby for the fans, and it's not as if the Timbers or Whitecaps need any extra motivation to get up for their conference/regional foes. But with a long International break looming (Portland doesn't play again until June 17, Vancouver June 10) tonight marks an opportunity for both Cascadia clubs to enter a layoff at least feeling like they're true contenders. Victory tonight could vault the Timbers into the middle of the pack out west, while a Whitecaps win could show they're more than simply improved over last year.
UPDATE: It's a 1-1 draw after Vancouver scores the equalizer in the 84th minute. Click past the jump for a minute-by-minute account, along with post-game reaction and FULL VIDEO of Spencer's post-match presser.
Exhibitions are typically a chance for starters to enjoy a bit of what the fans experience—namely watching the action from the sidelines.
But as the Timbers (at long last) begin to gain a smidge of momentum in their second Major League Soccer campaign, Portland hopes to keep those fuzzy feelings fresh. To that end, coach John Spencer said he'd roll out first-team players tonight for a 7:30 p.m. friendly against top-flight Spanish side Valencia CF.
"We’re paying a lot of money to bring them in, and the fans are paying a lot of money to come watch the game," said Spencer. "For us, we’re going to approach the game like any other game. We’re going to go and try to win it.”
And after a 2-1 victory over Chicago on Sunday, the once-elusive taste of victory is no longer so foreign for Portland. With eight points in their last five matches, PTFC no longer inhabits the bottom of the Western Conference, and offensive cohesion is beginning to form with the return of winger Sal Zizzo and the growing comfort of striker Kris Boyd. Rock-bottom but a memory, the Timbers will take another step toward avoiding a double-dip tonight against one of the top clubs in Spanish fútbol history. Founded in 1919, Valencia has won six La Liga titles—most recently in 2004. Los Che finished third last season (behind, ahem, Real Madrid and Barcelona) and reached the semifinals of the Copa del Rey and UEFA Europa League. Powered by a raucous home crowd at historic Estadio Mestalla, the team also known as Els taronja (Sidebar: the Timbers need more awesome nicknames!) likely won't be phased by Timbers Army's antics.
Of course, in the end, this game means next to nothing. Portland returns to MLS play on Saturday against Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver, and although this will be a great chance to see the return of injured defender David Horst and loaned forward Bright Dike, the biggest key to this match will be to prevent any twinge of negativity from creeping back into the locker room.
UPDATE: Valencia tops Portland 1-0, despite Spencer following through on his decision to play a number of regular starters. (Why? It's the economy, stupid!) Click past the jump for a full live-blog, plus final thoughts and video of coach Spencer's full post-match press conference.
The Timbers aren't exactly running their best confidence game these days.
Contenders in its second Major League Soccer season? So far, Portland's not fooling anyone.
What's set the Timbers' fledgling grift adrift hasn't been lack of talent—owner Merritt Paulson has said as much—and though poor refs, pitches, health and luck have left their mark, Portland's problems inevitably boil to down to belief ... in themselves.
"It's a confidence issue," said Spencer earlier this week. "Losing becomes a habit, as winning does."
What the Timbers need, therefore, is a break.
Not just a lucky bounce here or a helpful call there, but a complete severance from those tendencies that have only sullied Portland's reputation. And how about some new habits? Like maybe putting Darlington Nagbe in a better position to create offense. Or getting the ball to Kris Boyd's feet. Or keeping their wits about them on defense from first kick to final whistle. Or standing up for each other when things get chippy.
Tonight's opponent, Columbus, has struggled just as much as Portland this season (both teams sit in ninth place with seven points in their respective conference), and though the Crew are winless in their last four, midfielder Milovan Mirosevic called the team's last match the best of their season. Can Portland bamboozle Columbus and get back to its hustling ways at home?
UPDATE: Turns out, the answer to that question is ... "sort of." The Timbers showed some fire and had their chances, but Columbus' defense was able to hold off a rejuvenated Portland attack during a scoreless draw in front of a sellout crowd at Jeld-Wen Field. The Timbers' confidence may not be fully back, but as Spencer put it post game, "it's a positive step."
Click past the jump for a deftly descriptive match log, along with final thoughts and *FULL VIDEO* of Spencer's post-match press conference.
As the Timbers limp home from a rather fugly loss at Montreal over the weekend, their biggest backers are getting a bit warm under the collar.
For the first time in Portland's MLS era, coach John Spencer is feeling the heat from fans and media alike, as a team that's dropped five of six seems unable to shake (or even improve upon) its biggest flaws. With fans (and ownership) seeking answers, a few logs were added to the fire earlier this week when The O dropped a piece outlining the pressures of playing in Portland.
Spencer called Portland "a very difficult place to play," adding "fans think that just because you have a world-class atmosphere, you're supposed to have a world-class team. But it takes time to build a quality team."
Keeper Troy Perkins—nursing a gash suffered from a scary cleat-to-the-face collision last week—reminisced about being booed off the field while playing for DC and realizing that, in the end, fans' hand-wringing "doesn't matter." Lovel Palmer—who's struggled to find his best form this season while Spencer has stayed loyal to him starting—agreed: "You have to block (the fans' negativity) and everything else out," he told Geoffrey C. Arnold.
Now, knowing that sports writers ask questions and, for the most part, athletes do their best to answer them, I didn't view the players' comments as outright excuse-making. In fact, I bet if you asked most anyone in the Timbers locker room why they've struggled to get things going this year, "the pressure of playing in Portland" wouldn't make the list.
Still, Timbers Army blogger Chris Rifer echoed fans' frustrations that players would even entertain feeling bad for themselves, and in his latest "Morrison Report," Rifer gives great insight (and an adorable Disney reference!) into the fan's mindset while the team's mental state remains fragile:
I’m tired of the pity party. I’m tired of something bad happening and the team going Eeyore on us.
All it takes is a quick glance at the Timbers scarf to know how they feel about pity. Oh, and speaking of TA threads, click past the jump for a slick video of the No Pity Van's latest offerings.
OK, nobody panic ... yet.
Less than 1/7 the way through their second Major League Soccer season, the Timbers are facing some not-so-minor issues: They've struggled to maintain intensity for a full 90 minutes. They haven't been able to close out matches. Their confidence is waning.
Losers of their last four, Portland sits at the bottom of the Western Conference and is presently looking for a spark—hell, a wayward ember will do—to get its fledgling season on the right track.
Can they do it? You better f-in' believe they think so.
“A special play from Darlington (Nagbe), a big-time save from Troy (Perkins). Something that will spark this team,” said PTFC defender Mike Chabala. “I think once that ignites this is an electric team that will take off and have a 10-game run. It’s within us.”
Portland coach John Spencer maintains this very team has the quality to win games, but as reinforcements are brought in, one gets the feeling that it's time for the Timbers to right the ship—and fast. Enter Sporting Kansas City, the undisputed top team in the league, riding a historic 7-0-0 start into J-WF tonight for a 7:30 p.m. match (ROOT Sports, 970 AM).
On paper at least, the Timbers don't have a sporting chance against Kansas City tonight: KC is the second team in MLS history to win its first seven matches and have double the points of anyone else in the Eastern Conference, having outscored opponents 12-2 along the way. But Portland catches MLS' top team at the end of Sporting's busy west-coast swing, and KC will play its third game in eight days tonight. But paper tears and streaks are meant to be ceased—will a pair end tonight?
It's a stunningly lovely evening in Goose Hollow. And if you're silly enough to be indoors right now, you may as well click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the pitch.
The Timbers nabbed themselves some help up front today, acquiring speedy forward Mike Fucito from Montreal for either a second-round 2013 SuperDraft pick or a 2013 international roster slot—depending on how well Fucito performs.
“Mike is a player who brings MLS and CONCACAF experience to the club,” said Timbers coach John Spencer. “He provides us with another experienced, quality option up top.”
But Fucito also brings a history of conspiring with the enemy. The 26-year-old Harvard man played all of 26 minutes for Montreal this year, but was a fan favorite during his two years with Portland's most bitter rivals, the Seattle Sounders. Timbers fans reacted with perplexity/disdain/humor on Twitter, and the swirl of emotions was only heightened when, less than 90 minutes after Fucito's acquisition was unveiled, the club announced forward Eddie Johnson had retired. The 10-year-professional striker racked up three concussions over the past year, including one during the preseason. Scary.
Said Johnson: “It’s never an easy decision to retire, but I feel great about what I was able to accomplish, the connections I made in the game, and the opportunities it presented. My top priorities are my health and my young family, and I am looking forward to my future.”
Click past the jump for the full press release on Fucito, plus an awesomely narrated video of him in action during CONCACAF Champions League play (where he scored five goals in eight matches). Though I must caution, the highlights prominently feature Seattle's retina-burning "Rave green" jerseys. You've been warned.
In what may go down as the first bleep in official-team-video history, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson addressed the media today at his team's new $6 million practice facility in Beaverton. And he didn't exactly tap the brakes when asked about his take on instant replay, bringing his answer back to a pair of crucial calls during Portland's 3-1 loss at LA. Skip to 1:24 to hear the question (context!) and Paulson's 30-second, single-F-bomb answer.
I respect Paulson's passion, and it's hard not to appreciate an owner who, on at least one level, can feel the fans' frustrations. With the prerequisite to major-league ownership being stinking-filthy-richdom, supporters and owners will almost never share net worth, but they can certainly share a similar desire to bring home trophies and subsequent glory.
And you can tell by the look in Paulson's eyes when he slips that vulgarity into an already-awesome phrase, the fire is there. Oh, but can his team match that intensity at home this weekend—especially during the last 10 minutes of the match? You better fuckin' believe Paulson thinks so.
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