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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 28, 2013

As we wait for the Timbers to play their second road game of the season, at Colorado on Saturday afternoon, I also am thinking ahead to next week. The Timbers return home with a game against Houston on Saturday, April 6, and two night earlier there will be a unique, memorable event.

"Beating Seattle Never Gets Old" will feature past Timbers players and footage of old Timbers matches, live at the Hollywood Theater. Timbers greats such as Bernie Fagan, Roger Goldingay, Mick Hoban, Bill Irwin, Jimmy Kelly, and Willie Anderson are scheduled to appear in person to talk about the matches being shown on screen. The price to see all these men together is just $12 in advance and tickets are available here. As a fellow Timbers fan pointed out to me, this is a very rare, probably once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn so much Timbers history directly from those who made it. I hope this event sells out because these players laid the foundation for Portland soccer and if you support the Timbers you really need to see and hear from them if you possibly can.

Even better, the proceeds from this event will go to help make sure soccer in Portland continues. Bless Field  will be in the New Columbia housing community in North Portland and is going to be a place where boys and girls from around the world can play soccer year round. When I was younger I played baseball and basketball, but I support any sport kids can play. I had fun and learned things by playing sports and I want to make sure children have the same chances I did. That's why I enjoy volunteering with Pitch Invasion (the group building Bless Field), and why I immediately decided to go to this event. You get to see Timbers legends, Pitch Invasion gets closer to building a new field. Everyone gets something positive out of it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 26, 2013

The Portland Pilots women's soccer team continued their spring season Friday by defeating the Canadian U-20 national team 4-0. The first half ended with no score after both teams had decent spells of possession. Towards the end of the half Portland had a corner kick that led to three shots at the goal but couldn't score. It appeared that the Pilots were ready to break through in the second.

In the 51st minute Kayla Cameli got free down the left side. She picked out Micaela Capelle with a through ball to the edge of the penalty area. Capelle rounded the Canada goalkeeper for an easy finish. In the 64th Capelle took the ball down the goal line and sent in a cross for Ellen Parker, who was unmarked at the near post and tapped in from six yards to make the score 2-0. In the 73rd Parker provided an assist for Cameli, who put in a shot underneath the keeper for Portland's third, and Capelle closed the scoring in the 84th by scoring from a very tight angle after running into the penalty area from a wide position.

Beyond the score there were a lot of things for Portland fans to be happy about. The Pilots looked strong at every position, as they should be with so many key players returning. The center back pairing of Lorielle McCluskie and Sarah Bindl were very strong and I would love to see them as the starters in the fall. They and the rest of the defense looks to have made great strides since last season. In midfield the Pilots have the speed and skill for which they're so well known. Ellen Parker was great in the center of the field Friday and should be very dangerous. The forwards haven't missed a beat either, and Micaela Capelle and Amanda Frisbie are both seniors and both are excellent finishers.

It was nice to see the Pilots back on the field, and very nice to see they should be one of the top college teams around in the fall. Saturday night they'll get a chance to take on some of the world's best as they take on the Thorns in an exhibition at Merlo Field.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Portland soccer, March 21, 2013

Just a quick post this time as the Timbers have the week off. Time to talk a little about women's soccer. Friday night at 6:00, the Portland Pilots women's team will play the Canadian U-20 Women's National Team at Merlo Field. This would probably be a good game to go watch since tickets are just $5 and this should be a very good matchup.

You will see some of the Canadian players on the senior national team in a few years, as well as in NWSL, playing for the Thorns and the other teams in the league. As for the Pilots, they return all but two starters from last year's team that went to its 13th consecutive NCAA tournament. I'm very excited to see them again  because yet again, they're going to be one of the top teams in the nation, and right in the middle of the WCC title race.

Next Saturday the Timbers are on the road in Colorado at 3:00. Later that night, the Pilots host the Thorns at 6:00 in a game that most fans knew was probably going to happen. Now the announcement is official and Christine Sinclair, Danielle Foxhoven, and Angie Kerr, who all played college soccer at Portland, will be returning to Merlo Field as professionals. The best part is admission is free with a suggested donation to charity. Even with no Timbers games in Portland, there's plenty of good soccer to watch live these next couple weeks.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 19, 2013

The Portland-Seattle rivalry has quickly become one of the biggest games in MLS. Saturday was the first of three meetings this season between the two clubs and I would say it lived up to the expectations. There was plenty of good play throughout, with nervous moments for both teams and a dramatic finish.

Overall I'd call the match pretty even. Portland tried to work their passing game but the Seattle midfield and defense was solid most of the game. Central defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Djimi Traore had very good games. In the midfield Osvaldo Alonso had a huge game, as he usually does. I'm going to confess, if I could take one player on Seattle and put him on Portland's roster it would be Alonso in a heartbeat. He can take the ball away from anyone in MLS, his passing is excellent, and he keeps their midfield organized.

That being said, Portland has a decent midfield, which made Seattle's goal all the more surprising. In the 13th minute Diego Chara attempted a poor pass to Ben Zemanski. Seattle's Steve Zakuani intercepted it easily and ran down the left side of the field. He put in a perfect cross for Eddie Johnson, who had no problem finishing at close range. I have to ask why Andrew Jean-Baptiste didn't run with Johnson, leaving the forward alone against the keeper, but the big error was by Chara. It was shocking to see such a costly mistake from such a normally reliable player.

Following the goal the Sounders had the momentum but eventually Portland pulled itself together and by halftime the teams looked evenly matched. Most of the second half went by without much of a threat from Portland but with about two minutes to go Ryan Johnson's shot was deflected over the net. Not long after, Jean-Baptiste received a throw-in near the goal line on the right side and sent a cross to Rodney Wallace at the far post, who made it 1-1 as the clock hit 90:00. I keep hearing it was a stoppage-time goal but I'm positive it was in the net before that. In any case, four minutes of added time later the Timbers left Seattle with a hard-earned point. Rodney Wallace has had his share of criticism from many Timbers fans, myself included, for his shortcomings as a defender the past two seasons. However, when used in the midfield he's been better, and this makes two years in a row his goal has given the Timbers a draw against Seattle (he did it at home last September, on a header, coincidentally).

As one of the 810 fans in the Timbers Army section I think I speak for most all of us when I can say there were a lot of emotions at the final whistle. There was the joy at scoring a big goal at the very end of the game, and relief at getting a point when it looked like the Timbers might not get it done. Later that night, watching the replay of the goal on my computer I felt a sense of disbelief it had really happened. I try to look at things rationally when I watch games but still, soccer is a very emotional game. The good feelings of Saturday will always stay with me longer than anything I feel after bad losses.

Looking at the bigger picture a draw on the road is almost always a good result in soccer, and the Timbers did many things well. The defense especially was much better than it had been the first two weeks. Portland now has the weekend off as it prepares for its next game, at Colorado, where they have yet to score a point in three visits. Perhaps that will change now that Portland knows it can do well away from home.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 12, 2013

If the Timbers' season opener got fans excited about the possibilities for the season, their second game, a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact, showed there is still a good deal of work for the team to do.

Montreal had a few good scoring chances because of poor marking by the Timbers' defense. If not for some off-target shots and a good save by Donovan Ricketts the Impact could easily have scored a goal or two earlier than they finally did, in the 30th minute. Andrea Pisanu sent a free kick into the penalty area that Portland couldn't clear. Instead Matteo Ferrari was able to send the ball across to Hassoun Camara, who scored on I have to admit was an excellent overhead kick. Given their success breaking through the Timbers' defense to that point it was entirely fair for the Impact to take a 1-0 lead into halftime.

Montreal came into the game with a plan to stay back on defense and prevent Portland from using emphasis on possession to its advantage. By keeping so many players back they denied Portland's midfield the time and space to make passes toward the goal. Too often someone like Diego Valeri or Darlington Nagbe had the ball near the top of the penalty area, but was covered well and had no one to pass to and couldn't make a run at the goal.

The second half went much like the first. Portland kept the ball for extended periods but couldn't make many chances out of them, while Montreal scored a second goal after taking advantage of a misplaced pass and defensive errors. Will Johnson's pass was picked off by Patrice Bernier, who sent a perfect pass downfield to Andres Romero. The Timbers' defense didn't follow Felipe, who was running to the near post and easily put away Romero's cross. In a matter of seconds, but Portland was down 2-0.

Portland would get one goal back after finally changing their strategy a little and going for longer passes to stretch out the Impact's defense. Ryan Johnson tapped in a cross from Ben Zemanski, who got the ball at the  top corner of the penalty area from a well placed Diego Chara pass. Longer passes like the two that led to the goal would probably have been effective against Montreal but the Timbers took too long to start doing this, and in the end couldn't get a second goal.

The main thing to take away from this game is that there is a relatively simple plan to follow when playing the Timbers. If you have a disciplined defense willing to sit back and let Portland hold onto the ball, then take advantage on the counterattack, you can come away with a draw or win. Now we'll see if Caleb Porter makes the adjustments necessary to earn his first MLS win.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 7, 2013

I've been going to Timbers games since 2009, watching from the Timbers Army section the entire time I've been a supporter. This was the first season after it was announced Portland would be joining MLS in 2011. As you can imagine, many things have changed since then.

Back when I started the Timbers Army filled about three sections with supporters who would actively participate. There were always decent sized crowds but the only times we filled the entire stadium were the US Open Cup games against Seattle in 2009 and 2010, and the final regular season home game in 2010. I never imagined the entire stadium would be full for every league game for the next two years.

Now Portland has just started its third season in MLS, and watching the replay of the opening match it's amazing to hear how loud the Timbers Army is, and how much energy they bring now that the entire North End of the stadium is filled. And it got that way because since it started in 2001, the supporters who founded the Timbers Army didn't settle for "good enough." They kept thinking bigger, and working harder. They kept reaching out until they filled two rows of Section 107, then five rows, then half the section, then the entire section. But that wasn't good enough.

As new members joined, they saw how the TA was built by people putting in the time to make the group better. People saw what needed to be done and jumped in to help, whether it was making banners, organizing early away trips, or spreading the word about the Timbers and the TA. This volunteer spirit continues to this day. A case in point is how the flag crew I'm part of came about. Midway through the 2011 season we all answered a call for volunteers to help put out flags before games. Two of the ladies on the crew took the initiative to start taking them home to wash and repair the ones in need of care. They did this because they saw where help was needed and offered it.

The TA has never settled on "good enough" when it comes to tifo displays. The one of Timber Jim cutting down the Space Needle in 2009 was excellent, but in the MLS era the TA does several displays of that scale each season. We did three large banners that covered most of the Timbers Army sections for the first MLS game in Portland. That was good, but the TA always thinks bigger. For the 2012 opener we involved the whole stadium. This season we used umbrellas as props, another first. It's never "good enough" for us when it comes to tifo, because we use these displays to show our pride in our team and city. We always want to improve our displays and I know we'll keep doing just that.

The TA also recognized that just coming to games was not good enough. In 2010, with the move to MLS coming, a group of people formed the 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107ist). With this organization they wanted to be able to reach out and help make the community outside the stadium better as well. Now 107ist provides uniforms and equipment to local soccer teams in need. They have helped promising young players in the Portland with the money needed to play on youth national teams to improve their skills. They've helped improve the fields at city parks to make it easier for everyone to play soccer. They were a major force behind getting Haper's Playground built, where children can play no matter what their limitations. Then there's the tree plantings, days at the food bank, and blood drives 107ist members have participated in.

I've been a 107ist member since its founding in 2010 and I'm proud of all the ways the Portland area has been made better by us. And all of these projects started because someone saw that what we were already doing was good, but we could do even better. If the supporters who came before me settled for being good enough we wouldn't be here today, not even close. For that I'm grateful to those men and women, as should all Timbers supporters today.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Portland Soccer, March 5, 2013

There's going to be many more matches for the Timbers this year, and they'll win a good number of those. However, it's going to be hard to top the season opener on Sunday for entertainment. Portland and New York tied 3-3 but it either side could have had a win.

After the first half hour it looked like New York might win easily. The Timbers defense was always going to be their weakness but even so, in the first half they couldn't have played much worse. New York scored in the 9th minute on a terrible breakdown in communication between Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and new center back Mikael Silvestre. Silvestre passed the ball back to Ricketts just as Ricketts was bending down to pick it up. When Ricketts fumbled the ball Fabian Espindola was there for the easy goal. You can blame Silvestre for kicking the ball back to Ricketts when no opponent was around, but Ricketts also shares the blame for not calling Silvestre off. New defenses need time to get on the same page as the keeper but this was still a terrible mistake.

Portland came back quickly and tied the score five minutes later. New midfielder and designated player Diego Valeri showed why the Timbers picked him up by scoring one of the best goals you'll see this season. The ball went from the left side to the middle through passes by Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson, and Kalif Alhassan. Alhassan found Valeri running down the middle at the top of the penalty area, and Valeri juggled the ball three times before shooting to the far post with his right foot. After Alhassan's pass to him the ball didn't hit the ground until Valeri shot it. It looked like a nice move from the far end of the field, but watching it on replay it was a display of skill we rarely saw from the Timbers in their first two seasons.

Unfortunately the tie score did not last long, as New York scored twice in four minutes. In the 24th minute Silvestre failed to control a long ball and let Espindola run around him easily, giving the forward an easy scoring chance to make it 2-1. Then in the 28th Andrew Jean-Baptiste was caught ball watching on a corner kick instead of staying with his man, and Jamison Olave tapped in from close range. The Timbers made it to halftime lucky to be down just 3-1.

If the first half was bad, the second half was the complete opposite. The Timbers controlled the ball and looked dangerous going forward. In the 56th they made it 3-2 when Valeri's shot was saved and Nagbe scored on the rebound. The offensive pressure continued to mount until the 83rd minute. Jose Adolfo Valencia, coming on as a substitute, collected the ball after a long shot from Nagbe was punched away by New York keeper Luis Robles. Valencia sent in a cross that deflected into the net off Olave for an own goal to tie match at 3-3. Officially it was an own goal but Valencia absolutely caused it with his speed and strength. Watch how easily he shrugs off the defender in the replay. He's going to be a key player for the Timbers, either off the bench or starting.

In the end, the Timbers' offense was able to overcome a very bad first half from the defense. Still, they're not going to score three goals every night. The team definitely has changed for the better, as they wouldn't have come back from two goals down the past few seasons. The defenders have to improve, but they know it. The more they play together the better they'll become. The Timbers may not be the best team in MLS this season but they certainly will be entertaining.