Dawn Of A New Era

Posted on: March 5th, 2016 by john nyen 2 Comments


And so we were left standing on street corners watching fans with flares and smoke and dancing and singing as celebrations reached rapturous levels. In one second, a beer was in my hand, and in front of Providence Park everyone was your friend. A lift whirred into action as the stadium support staff started to change the marquee on the stadium.




Radio Cab vehicles drove down Burnside honking horns with their passengers hanging out of back seat windows screaming and high fiving lines of people as the celebration that was previously in the bars and houses of Portland spilled out into the street. Traffic stopped in both directions on one of the busiest streets in Portland as mobs of green clad people twirling scarves ran out to celebrate their clubs victory.


There was pandemonium nearly everywhere you looked. Everything that ever happened in the previous years bubbled up into a froth of pent up emotions that burst out of nearly every fan to whom I spoke. You couldn’t help but think of the pain along with the glory, for some it was Hollywood United, for some Cal FC, for some it was the Spencer era, or the Chris Agnello era, or it was simply having the team disappear from existence with the possibility of never being seen again. Then there were the good times, the unbelievable run of 2009, the rebirth of 2013, the sunflower goal, and the emotions of the home opening night of 2011. Nearly everything that has ever happened to the club bubbled up and then popped and all those emotions just poured from the eyes and lips of nearly every person that I saw.



Men and women silently wept and then vigorously celebrated, children were hoisted up on shoulders and we just had a party because our club won the championship.



And what is a club?




It isn’t the front office, the staff, the scouts, or even the players because all these come and go. We love them, we hate them, we fete them and tear them down but they are stewards and passengers on this train. A club is its fanbase, the connection to a city and the collection of individuals that gather to watch it play. A club is a lineage traced from grandparent to parent to child through the history of the city in which it exists. It is mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts taking children to the stadium and teaching them the traditions that we hold dear. It is explaining why we sing “you are my sunshine”, and it is educating, without prejudice, those that have recently joined our ranks. A club contains the remembrance of those who we have lost, and allows us to celebrate the arc of life as it passes in front of our eyes with ever quickening pace.



Gathering in Providence Park is really the same as having family dinner. It is a reset of your life back from checking your phone every five minutes and worrying about emails or bills to a simpler existence where you see your family, talk and all share the same experience, albeit in different ways.



2016 marks the dawn of a new era. Children are growing up that will never know the Timbers as anything but Champions. For 40 prior years there was frustration, abandonment, worry, joy and sadness, but the end of the season finished the same as the Timbers failed to claim the biggest prize.



My daughter will hear the stories, she will know that she was there when the Timbers won, that she went to games during the championship season, even though she won’t remember anything from that time. However, her world will be a world vastly different from my own, not only in terms of sports but in terms of atmosphere. We live in a time where the things that are presented to us, in terms of politics and life and interactions, are incredibly polarized and stilted. I can’t help but think that this thing we have experienced has the ability to teach, to indelibly give us something to which we can cling.



When I will talk to her about the 2015 championship and the time in which this happened, I will tell her to know that it was belief, and courage and the ability to not let fear control your life that showed how a team could win. I will tell her to not have fear of “the other”, to welcome new people, refugees, and people different from you into your family. To passionately embrace the diversity of others as a strength, to build from the idea that a team of disparate people of disparate beliefs and backgrounds can come together to win a championship and that this can exist in life as well as sports.




I can tell her that sometimes in your own struggle for something great that people will push you because their love, understanding, and belief of who you are might be greater than your own. That this cooperation and criticism can encourage you and get you to believe and understand that you can do more than you thought possible.



Moreso, I will tell her the story of a shining example of a star named Diego Valeri who ran as hard as he possibly could with only the idea that he believed he could pressure a goalkeeper and subsequently scored the goal that sent us on our way.



Now the season kicks off on Sunday and we will gather once more to watch our reigning champions walk on to the field to thunderous applause and the deification that belongs to them and them alone. They are now legends and their names will be long remembered as the ones that played in our championship win.



Kwarasey – Valeri – Chara – Ridgewell – Borchers – Villafana – Powell – Nagbe – Wallace – Asprilla – Melano – Adi – Urutti – Jewsbury  and Caleb Porter


Thank you.



Thank you, also, to Will Johnson. Captain, you set the tone for the transition to a new Timbers and gave everything that we could ask to the team including your own health. Thank you.



And with my friends, now, up to the city. Let us welcome the 2016 season with open hearts, courage, passion and the belief that all of us need only root for our boys in green to belong.


For the Rose City and the Timbers.


Faithfully yours,



The Axe PDX



One In A Lifetime

Posted on: December 5th, 2015 by john nyen No Comments


Quick: Please: I beg you:


Keep doing what you have been doing.


Your ritual, yes. Keep doing it.




Your belief, yes. Keep believing.



You put on two different color socks? You wore a black shirt with a rip in it? You used a pizza as a hairnet the night before and puked at Kelly's Olympian?


PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 07: Rodney Wallace #22 of Portland Timbers runs out onto the field before the start of the game against the Seattle Sounders FC at Jeld-Wen Field on November 7, 2013 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

For the love of all that is holy, do it again.


We are this close. THIS Close. We, not them, not they, not anyone else, but we... the players, the fans, the front office...


Portland, we are 90 minutes away a championship.




Some of you have been waiting 40 years. FORTY years of dedication, belief, frustration, loss, and growth. You grew up watching Charles, Hoban, Withe, Kelly, and the boys from the 70's and you went to Civic Stadium.




Some of you were there in the dark years, the 80s, indoor, outdoor, all the iterations.


Some of you have been around since 2001, with the Cascade Rangers, pickle buckets, "O Tennyson O Tennyson, He'll score on you again again", and the formation of a group of people that came together for the Timbers time and time again, this time at PGE Park. I cannot imagine how it feels to walk the streets, the grocery stores, the libraries, the city of Portland and see people in green loving the team that you watched fight so hard just to stay alive and relevant for so many years.




Some of you sang "It's a Wicks.... House", Wee Tommy Poltl, S-C-O-T, Hugo, and let's not forget Byron Alvarez.  Some of you knew that man who swam here from Japan and who also so happened to be "the fucking man."




Some of you actually saw the miracle shot that pegged Nyassi in the nuts. Don't throw shit on the pitch, but if you do (and don't) that was the legendary one in 10,000,000 shot. You knew the juice, you knew when Giselle passed out scarves or when Row N went bowling.




Some of you came around in 2011, watched the game in the rain, Perlaza racing down the field and Jewsbury patrolling and the unbelievable passion that poured through at Jeld-Wen Field on that rainy night.




Some of you watched an Army lose their mind in 2012 and all of the heartbreak, passion and love in the North End ate itself alive and poisoned the stands.


Some of you came in 2013 when Porter came on board, Will Johnson was captain and the team renovated their status from basement dweller to competing and Tetris was for closers.




Some of you came on board in 2015 and only knew Ridgewell as captain and Valeri coming back from injury and the crazy run at the end of the year that happened because of injuries and a coach that took a chance on a lineup in which he believed


And yet, however you got here, however you arrived at this love of the team and town and no matter the player that you watched play, you are here now. You are a Timbers fan, and now we... all of us -- 70's - 80's - 90's - 00's -10's have arrived at being able to watch something that none of us have ever seen before. That is, watching the boys in green raising a cup as the last team in the country with a victory.


You went to Columbus as the Timbers went to the promised land. You went to Columbus in great numbers. A vast army, not in theory but in practice as well. The drums are loaded, the flags folded, and pvc being cut for Sunday. Even the Timbers Army drum "epic" was loaded into the bottom of a chartered plane to be delivered to the lucky souls that made it. There are nearly 2000 of you there ready to see if what we dream about can actually happen.



So please,


I beg of you,


Sing your heart out.


For the team, sing. For the Argentine god who tore his ligaments in our service, sing. For the young Jamaican right back who needs to play smart for 90 minutes, sing. For the tough Colombian midfielder whose intensity belies his size, sing. For Darlington Nagbe in all of his effortless, graceful gliding who returns to where he started, sing. For captain Will Johnson who might not be in green going forward, sing. For our boys, for all of them, sing.


May 12, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (8) blows kisses to the Timbers Army after scoring a goal during the second half against Chivas USA at Jeld-Wen Field. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Sing for for the people who couldn't make it on the trip to Columbus.


Sing for Matt, Cori, Hoss, Andrew, Seth, Scott, Rebecca, Amber, Don, Sierra, Jordan, Mike, Hannah Banana, and for all of us that couldn't make it who had the fates of life conspire against them at the worst possible time. Know that we would do nearly anything to be there right next to you. Know that we are all there with you, pulling for the 11 on the field.


There is one game left.




Clive above, there is one game left.


Let's win it.


South Deck, North End, From Anchorage to Patagonia, From Astoria to London and beyond, lets win it all, the fucking league, together.




Let's have it.


Posted on: October 30th, 2015 by john nyen No Comments


"Well they're building a gallows outside my cell I've got 25 minutes to go" - Shel Silverstein


It is almost impossible to describe. You just had to be there.


The flags, the tifo, the smell of the park as she filled up on an Autumn night. Seeing friends again, possibly for the last time. Happy faces and the look of everyone committed to row together and try to pull this team into the next round.


Watching the team shift between playing to win and then back into the mode they have been in the 31 games prior to the last 3 where scoring goals is at a premium and the Timbers look more likely to miss their opportunities and cough up the game.


The joy of watching Rodney "bang - bang - the warrior" Wallace rip the side netting and the celebration in the stands.


The desperation with 4 minutes to go, screaming as the boys in green relentlessly turn the ball over.


The crowd just slowly deflating with 3 minutes to go after the Kevin Ellis header to tie the game. Eerie silence covering the North End and pockets of people screaming out "ROSE CITY TIL I DIE."


It's all Kansas City now and the Timbers just look like they want to get to the beginning of extra time.


Alternate groups of men and women standing with exasperated looks, people screaming at Ridgewell for missing his assignment, people screaming at others to get louder, people just screaming to scream because of the frustration of it all.


Trying to regroup for extra time, trying to find that little extra spark left in you for 30 more minutes of soccer.


Then that goal, that beautiful Nemeth goal into the side netting and the North End has its heart ripped out. There's no other way to describe the situation. From winning with 3 minutes left in the game to now losing in extra time. This is Kali-Ma Time. Nemeth has performed the ceremony.



"Then the sheriff said boy I gonna watch you die got 19 minutes to go
So I laughed in his face and I spit in his eye got 18 minutes to go" - Shel Silverstein


Kansas City now falling down all over the field, fouling, dragging every minute off the clock they possibly can. The Timbers bailing them out repeatedly with bad giveaways


It begins to feel inevitable now, with Kansas City being the kind of team that just will run the clock out and drag you into a game of attrition. Frustration shows, Timbers players are starting to act out. Fans are starting to act out. It feels like the end of the season. We have felt this before in the north end and this game feels like the slow dragging death.


"With my feet on the trap and my head on the noose got 5 more minutes to go
Won't somebody come and cut me loose with 4 more minutes to go" - Shel Silverstein


At the half, Urruti steps on with neon boots and the inability to really deliver scoring goals for the entire 2015 season hanging over his head.


They never had it, never had a chance but a fools chance in extra time.


"I can see the mountains I can see the skies with 3 more minutes to go
And it's too damn pretty for a man that don't wanna die 2 more minutes to go" - Shel Silverstein


Two Minutes Left In The Game

Two Minutes Left In The Season


Asprilla sends in a ball.

Urruti sends the ball into the goal




I'm lifting my wife in the air. Hugging three people. Others joining in from behind, I get pulled into the seats by an arm around my neck. Paul and Steve and some of the Row N people are all just losing it in a massive multi-person bear hug. Everyone is just losing their mind and  dancing and the Sunshine flag goes up. The atmosphere underneath the flag is chaotic, people everywhere pogo hugging and smashing over flags and seats and beer is flying and the noise is just ungodly.


And then, It's penalty kicks.


They are at our end, and the noose HAS been around our neck most of the second half of the game into extra time and it is just too much.


Nathan says he might puke from the stress.


People are watching behind their hands.


Timbers are praying on the field


Fans are praying in the stands


Valeri - Saved

Feilhaber - Goal

Borchers - Goal

Dwyer - Saved





This is the best thing you have ever seen. This is the worst thing you have ever seen. This is a car crash that you can't take your eyes off from watching.


Ridgewell - Goal

Zusi - Goal

Jewsbury - Miss

Besler - Miss

Urruti - Goal

Nagamura - Goal


And we are out of the round of 5. We are into the land of sudden death. Every kick means the world. The end or continuation of your season.

And Villafana, so solid and so underrated, steps up.


Villafana - SAVED


Suddenly it could all end here.


Ellis - MISS 


He misses. HE MISSES. OFF THE POST. The whole north end screams in glee and people now look forward to a rebirth, another chance.


Asprilla - Goal

Mustivar - Goal

Nagbe - Goal

Peterson - Goal


And then he steps up, Alvas Powell and I knew he was going to miss. This is how he plays. He was always going to chip.  Nathan can't watch. Lindsay peers out behind her hands. "He's going to miss" is said 50 times in front of me.


Powell - Saved


and suddenly we are one kick away from death, and the atmosphere is one of exquisite tension. Everything is about to end and everything is about to happen. We back our keeper, We scream for Kwarasey. We scream for PTFC.


Abdul-Salaam - Miss


This isn't a miss, this is a goddamn miracle.


Both posts, right, left, and then out and there is pandemonium and disbelief, people standing on seats, screams of glee. everyone cannot process what just happened. People turn around looking at friends and strangers alike with raised hands and a look on their face of befuddled amusement.


Fochive - Goal

Dia - Goal


It comes down to the keepers.


Adam Larsen Kwarasey - Norway by way of Ghana

Jon Kempin - 22 years old from Leawood, Kansas.


It never comes down to the keepers.


Kempin tries some gamesmanship on Kwarasey walking off his line early and is motioned back by the referee.


Kwarasey spots.

Kwarasey strides


Kwarasey - Goal


Then it is Jon Kempin's turn and the north end bellows for Kwarasey. We are simultaneously screaming and holding our breath. There is a fringe element here, a danger of complete lunacy.


Kempin - Saved


I'm in the air, I'm in the air because I'm being lifted off the ground. I'm 6'4 and 200 pounds and Nathan has lifted me off the ground as people are grabbing my shoulders and we fall into my wife who is pogoing with her friend Sierra and people are literally falling on the ground and into each other into giant piles of celebration. Smoke is going off, and now I'm reaching over two rows and then getting pulled back behind me as people are pulling everyone, anyone into their celebrations with which to celebrate. It's absolute mayhem as everyone wants to hug everyone, jump, sing celebrate, and go absolutely bananas.


The noise is so loud that it ceases to be a noise anymore and just flows into an incredibly loud piercing cacophony of everything. If I started this game at 100% hearing, I might be 99% for the rest of my life. You cant speak, can't hear, can't do anything but grab the person closest to you and just hold on to them for dear life, and we are celebrating under the sunshine flag and beer is in the air, and confetti and the flags are going back up and smoke comes out of the capo stands, and it's just too much. People are weeping in the stands in the sheer stunning reality of the whole situation and people everywhere are standing on seats and yelling. These are not even words, they are just yelling anything, something, everything.


The look on the face of every single person in the north end is that of just complete amazement. You can feel that you witnessed something, you truly witnessed something that people just don't get to see. You witnessed that thing and you shared it with your friends and your friends that are family. And that is what this sport can be, your church, your family, your friends, your home, even when it devolves during stupid mid week games against Toronto to Mean Girls where everyone is picking on everyone else, and there are too many drunk people. The lifeblood of going to the stadium is dramatically renewed and refreshed with these amazing shared moments.


And I'm at home, trying to sleep with my head on my pillow and I'm still hearing the rush, the noise, the crush of sound still dancing around my ear drums like a slowly receding ocean wave.


" And....Well they're building a gallows outside my cell I've got 180 more minutes to go"





There's been some talk about this by Timbers fans:




Which is to say that somehow the lament of Newcastle fans reflects upon the Timbers. And I don't know about Newcastle's situation enough to tell you whether that banner is right, wrong or born out of the struggle that horrible ownership will force. However, I can honestly tell you one thing. I don't think it reflects upon the Timbers correctly. My personal opinion is that the Timbers do not struggle because of indifference, they struggle because of incompetence. That is, to say, that they do TRY however they are routinely just awful at trying.


This is an ownership and management team that gave John Spencer a two year contract extension with guaranteed money and then fired him just months later guaranteeing that the Scottish coach would spend the rest of his time in Portland being paid to do nothing for two years.


This is an ownership and management team that gave back loaded contracts to players like Pah Modou Kah that ballooned up after one season making him one of the highest paid non-dp players on the team. That high-price back loaded contract became a boat anchor around the team's neck. As well, it made the player impossible to trade. When the true form of Kah began to show, they had no way of getting rid of him and his price made it very difficult for him to be benched.


This is an ownership and management team that signed Kris Boyd (a poaching forward) to a mega DP contract and tried to use him as a target forward in a system that had no midfielder who could get him the ball. They then became so frustrated with him that they sat their 1.5 million dollars on the bench for the entirety of the rest of the season. He played 43 minutes in the final 11 games of 2012 and they were required to amnesty his contract in order to get him off the roster ensuring that Boyd was another player getting paid to not play on the Timbers. He somehow still lead the team in goals in 2012.


This is an ownership and management team that signed Kenny Cooper (another poaching forward) to a large contract and tried to use him as a target forward in a system that had no midfielder who could get him the ball. They then became frustrated, sat Cooper and got rid of him. In the perfect system for Cooper's ability (over at New York), he scored 18 goals the next season.


This is an ownership and management team that admitted it allowed the experimentation of a lineup on the road against Seattle in 2012 that resulted in the Timbers being embarrassed.


This is an ownership and management team that traded their 11th round draft pick to Houston that they acquired from Seattle in the 2011 MLS draft for allocation money, the same pick used by Houston Dynamo to select Will Bruin. The Timbers later selected Chris Taylor who is no longer with the club.


This is an ownership and management team that spent a good amount of the time in 2012 wooing Caleb Porter only to ensure that when they hired him, he didn't bring along any of his own staff or assistants. They surrounded him with the same continuation of USL staff that existed for John Spencer or an assistant that was hired before Porter arrived. They've only hired one new coaching staff personnel since Porter was hired, and he has a full time job coaching Timbers 2.


This is an ownership and management team that frequently played Russian roulette with fullbacks making sure that they have used at least 12 different players in 5 seasons at that position. (Hall, Palmer, Chabala, Kimura, Purdy, Smith, Miller, Harrington, Jewsbury, Ridgewell, Powell, Villafana)


This is an ownership and management team that had 6 months between Valeri's injury and the start of the 2015 season to try to figure something out that would at least be a stop gap and re-signed a player (Fernandez) who has spoken out in Spanish language news about his frustration with being played out of position and the minutes he has received.  Fernandez in nearly every interview has said his best position is a withdrawn forward. He simply isn't an attacking midfielder. People say that players like Valeri aren't something an MLS team can stock up, but the truth of the matter is that the Timbers seemingly didn't even try. They forged ahead with their intent to play Fernandez out of position and rely on a player like Darlington Nagbe who has now continued his 2014 season into 2015 with 12 games with 0 goals and 2 assists. Regardless of the way in which Nagbe contributes on the field (and he does contribute in ways other than scoring and assisting), he has been utterly abysmal at contributing actual tangible numbers to the team, recently. Nagbe has had 44 league games since 2013 with a total of 1 goal and 9 assists. That's 1 goal every 3747 minutes or 1 assist every 416. Basically Nagbe will assist on a goal every 4 and a half games by current metrics. He has just 4 shots on goal in over 1000 minutes this season. Valeri has 3 in just 219 minutes and he came off injured in the most recent game. Nagbe is not a like for like or even comparable replacement for Valeri. Yet, there is absolutely no one better than Nagbe behind him on the bench for the Timbers. He has zero players who could challenge his starting spot, it is simply assured. This isn't to argue that the Timbers should get rid of Nagbe or that he isn't contributing in other ways. However, the Timbers simply have no better option available on the bench. Nat Borchers has scored more goals and taken nearly as many shots on goal (3) as Nagbe (4) this season.


This is an ownership and management team that signed Steve Zakuani (a player that was so incredibly injured that his walking and running motion was forever changed, and this information was very public and very announced) as a replacement for an injured Rodney Wallace only to watch Zakuani's poor play and retirement at the end of 2014.


This is an ownership and management team that prioritized an attempt at the playoffs in order to somehow "salvage" the 2014 season over a pivotal game in the CONCACAF Champions League. They did this despite the fact that the playoff spot was far from guaranteed as it did not depend on the Timbers winning, but rather on their rival Vancouver losing or drawing enough games to make the Timbers end of season run relevant. A quick word on this, the CONCACAF game wasn't even "WIN AND YOU ARE IN" it was "DONT LOSE BY MORE THAN ONE GOAL AND YOU ARE IN"  That's how bad this situation was mismanaged. The Timbers didn't even have to win to progress, they just had to not suck. They trotted out Danny O'Rourke and a B squad lineup that was destroyed in Honduras. The Timbers management did this for a number of reasons. They did this because the average sports fan cares more about the playoffs than the CONCACAF Champions league. They did this because their idea of depth was to sign an unsigned player who had already trialed for multiple clubs and been turned down. They did this simply because the ownership group did zero work on the defense before 2014 and was forced into a decision for depth. However, they also likely did this because the owner, Merritt Paulson, went out on a limb earlier in the year guaranteeing the playoffs.


That isn't to say that every single move they have made has been poor, but the fact is that the Diego Valeri's are not going to be able to fix the team all the time when the decisions that come down from the top are constantly creating problems.  Even the Valeri story is one of massive luck. The Timbers acquired him because Valeri was carjacked at gun point in Argentina. Wilkinson is on record as saying that the Timbers didn't believe they could get him. Then, Valeri gets carjacked and asks his agent to get him out of Argentina. Suddenly the Timbers were able to sign him.


The further that the Timbers move from 2013, the more it appears that 1 season out of 5 in Major League soccer was a combination of luck and perfect timing. The norm of the Timbers, it appears, is to be a struggling middle to lower table team who attempts to struggle to make the playoffs, struggles in the US Open Cup and every once in a blue moon gets the stars aligned for a great league run.


And that is just the five seasons in Major League Soccer, This ownership and management team has been the same for 9 seasons now.


The greatest thing that this ownership group ever did was to convince everyone that the USL never existed, because it is a lot easier to give a passing grade to 4 years of mediocrity and 1 great season than 9 seasons with only one regular season USL Commissioner's Cup (2009) to show for it.


I'm very certain that someone can construct a positive response refuting all of this based on the narrative of community involvement and charity work. Likely they will also point out the extreme unlucky circumstances of losing Johnson, then Valeri, then Zemanski. However, the real issue is not just 2015, but 2011, 2012, and 2014 where the team played poorly and the excuses piled up. They will also likely point at a core group of talented players and say that they just need to get back to full health. However, based upon the moves in the past, can you trust that the Timbers of the last 9 years will make the right choice for next season? Maybe. Maybe if the right players aren't injured, the team gets a few signings that pan out, maybe if Nagbe discovers his talent, maybe if ... maybe if... maybe if... maybe if... maybe if... The mantra of 2014, and the seeming mantra of 2015. Luck and circumstance is a really hard thing for a fan to depend upon.


It says something that the team has spent more money in 2015 than 2011 but received less in return (the 2011 team had more points by 12 games than the current Timbers team) because spending money is only as good as the players you spend it on. Everyone would love to see the Timbers splash the cash for a great player, but spending 1 million on a player that is a bad fit (like Boyd) is as unhelpful as spending 100k on a player like Zakuani.


This is all Hindsight FC, sure. However, without studying the past how can one judge what will happen in the future? Fans should not require a team to be perfect at all times. Everyone makes mistakes. I wanted the team to sign Adi after he scored a boatload of goals on his loan spell. That was clearly a mistake. However, a team should be held responsible by the fans for the poor decisions that they make. Hell, a team should be held responsible and kept accountable by ownership of the team for the poor decisions that are made and not continue to make excuses about every possible scenario that arises. There is almost no basis for the ownership and management team to deserve the trust of the fanbase simply because they really haven't done anything, yet.


Just a reminder, Caleb Porter was given a five year extension at the end of 2013.


FYI: Merritt Paulson followed up 9 years of mediocrity by rewarding Gavin Wilkinson with the keys to three teams.


As always, go Timbers and I hope the guys come out and destroy DC United on Wednesday.

2015 Timbers Mantra: Cross Early Cross Often

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by john nyen No Comments


The Portland Timbers really like to cross the ball this season. Through 9 games, the Timbers crossed the ball 235 times. This number is nearly half of the total number of attempted crosses the Timbers tried the entire season in 2012 (482 in 34 games).


Portland Timbers Crosses Per Game By Season

2015 - 26 crosses per game

2014 - 19 crosses per game

2013 - 20 crosses per game

2012 - 14 crosses per game

2011 - ?? ( Numbers are unavailable through any website that I could find. Even if you try to go to the match recaps and tabulate all the crosses like I did with 2012, they don't indicate crosses in the stats.)


I would argue that the 2012 team was terrible at generating offense in any way, so the jump from 14 to 20 per game (2012 to 2013) could be attributed to a better style of play and more defined roles with better players. However, the jump from 2013 and 2014 to 2015 is a clear delineation of tactics that moves far away from the pass and move stylings of 2013. Whether this is up to the lack of a competent attacking midfielder to generate passes and possession through the middle of the field or an intentional long term shift towards punting the ball into the box is to be seen.


In the recent 5/2/2015 draw against Vancouver, the Timbers attempted 41 crosses according to official opta stats. The total number of successful crosses from this game was 5. The Whitecaps had a total of 39 clearances in the game.


In the 3/28/2015 loss against Vancouver, the Timbers attempted 48 crosses according to official opta stats.  The total number of successful crosses from this game was 4. The Whitecaps had a total of 29 clearances in the game.


Even after the entrance of Valeri, in the recent draw, the Timbers attempted to cross the ball over and over again as a tactic. Many will say that Valeri is going to fix everything and the Timbers are going to revert to the way in which the played in 2013 (ignoring Porter's interview about his tactical evolution), but how much can you really depend on a player for the future who has been critically injured in both the seasons he has played for the team? I sincerely hope that Valeri stays healthy for a long time, but it is clear that the Timbers are very, very different team without him. Other teams in the league have shown their ability to weather the loss of an important player in a way that the Timbers have not shown. If the Timbers play through the middle with Valeri and in the air without him, they will need a forward who is a target forward to convert the crosses coming into him. I also remain unconvinced that Valeri's re-birth from injury will change the way that Porter conducts his tactics. He is another cog in Porters system (albeit a very special and electric cog), one that may (as well) find himself funneling the ball to the outside and crossing into the box.


The distribution map for 5-2-2015 shows this tactic of crossing the ball in clear form.


The middle of the field above the 18 yard box is nearly abandoned from a distribution standpoint and everything is pushed to the left with some to the right. This "overload" is a classic Porter strategy, although the number of crosses is a clear increase from his previous seasons in charge. Twice in 2015 this strategy has not worked against the Whitecaps as it plays to the strengths of Vancouver. It will be interesting to see if Porter tries it again when playing Vancouver next.


Perhaps Porter believes that Adi and Urutti are competent headers of the ball and an aerial threat, but that has very clearly not born itself out. Of course, regardless of whether Porter believes that Adi or Urutti are threats for headed goals, the issue is that it doesn't matter whether they are good or not. The team doesn't have another forward on the roster (other than Gaston Fernandez who appears to be half way out the door and is being used as a midfielder despite his protestations) so whether they can head the ball in the net is incidental, Adi and Urutti will continue to be used because PTFC have no one else. They are going to get played, up until the Timbers acquire a new player or call up a player from their USL affiliate. This is what happens when a tactical shift occurs in the way a team plays in a salary capped league with poor depth decisions. It remains extremely difficult to change your tactics in Major League Soccer given the roster setup and financial restrictions by ownership and league, of that we can be certain. Despite that, though, the galling thing is that the Timbers had 6 months to plan how to combat these upcoming issues on offense and failed to do anything other than signing more wingers on loan that can punt the ball into the box.


Make no mistake that injury combined with poor player personnel decisions by the ownership of the Timbers have collaborated along with Porters seeming stylistic evolution to prompt a tactical change from the coach of the Timbers. The combination of Paulson, Wilkinson, and Porter built a team over the previous two seasons to attempt to play like Guardiola in a salary capped league where player value to your playing ideals is paramount and player movement is insanely restricted by arcane rules and finances. They succeeded in one season and failed in another. Now they appear to be switching methodologies again by looking to explore the idea of sacrificing offensive prowess for defensive stability, getting the ball up field faster and not being exposed at the back. With the rumors of Adi being sold swirling, the Timbers may soon play their hand as they move towards a system highly divorced from 2013.


If Porter has really taken to heart the more defensive and less free-flowing tendencies of Mourinho and Allardyce (as indicated by him in an interview), then the team makeup must soon reflect this. The Timbers, as currently constructed, simply cannot keep lobbing in crosses to players more defined by their ability to play with their feet and think this will reflect a successful season in the end. These problems are on the Timbers ownership, front office staff, and coaching staff who are responsible for ensuring that the team structure reflects the mindset of what the coach wants to do and ensuring that he have the available talent to do so.


Otherwise the ownership, front office staff and coaching staff are absolutely perpetuating the idiom of "Square Pegs, Round Holes".

Game 5: POR v DAL, 4 April, 2015.

Posted on: April 5th, 2015 by sunshine No Comments


With the frustration of March behind us, we can finally focus on this team’s qualities. And they do have some. We saw a captain take control of a poor official, dictate the game, and leave everything he had on the pitch. We saw an embarrassed veteran make amends for an error in judgment, whether or not it was reasonable for him to rely on a young defender to play the offside trap. We saw our box to box midfielder frustrate the early season leader’s attack, and a young central defensive midfielder patrol the backfield like a veteran.


Urruti shoots down Dallas...

Urruti shoots down Dallas...

But those aspects of the Timbers play were present in the earlier games. Missing was an effective attack. Emboldened by a strong second half against Vancouver last weekend, Porter retained the 442 formation headed by Fanendo Adi and Maxi Urruti. Both players were instrumental in giving the Timbers the win—Urruti scored the winning goal, and Adi sent Chara through for the third, solidifying the win. What both players showed were the underused aspects of their games—Adi’s effective distribution and Urruti’s instincts around goal.

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A Hard Night in Cascadia

Posted on: March 29th, 2015 by Magadh No Comments


Sad clown...

Sad clown...

I'll have more to say about this when I've had a bit of time to digest it, but I maintain (as I did on Farcebook last night) that we actually didn't play badly. In fact, in terms of working our possession game we were quite successful. We got the ball into dangerous areas, and if our crossing had been a bit better and certain people had been more clinical in front of goal I think we would have gotten a result. Clearly, we're much better in defense than we were last year. The partnership of Ridgewell and Borchers is rounding out nicely, and I think it's fair to say that Vancouver really wasn't able to generate much of a threat.... Read More →

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