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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Portland Soccer, February 28, 2013

Kind of the calm before the storm this week, as Portland opens the season at home against New York Sunday at 4:30. There were a couple news items the last few days. Tuesday coach Caleb Porter named Will Johnson team captain for the season. Jack Jewsbury, captain for the past two seasons, will now be "club capain." Porter explained this is a role in which Jewsbury will be an ambassador and representative for the team.

To be honest this move makes sense to me. Jewsbury was hurt in one of the preseason games in Tucson but even when he's healthy it's going to be hard for him to get regular playing time. The midfield is full of quality players and based on their preseason play I wouldn't put Jewsbury ahead of either one and I don't think any rational Timbers fan would either. 

Today the club announced that two players have been waived. Franck Songo'o and Chris Taylor were released and the team is now at 31 players, one over the limit. I'm not exactly sure about MLS roster rules (nobody who watches or covers MLS is), but Bright Dike is out for the season with a knee injury so I would think he'd be taken off the active roster but still remain under contract with Portland. That would give the Timbers their 30 players. 

Taylor got mostly reserve team minutes and probably wasn't going to get much more than that this season. Songo'o, on the other hand, was a regular starter and did some good things last season. The problem seems to be that he was looking for more money than the Timbers were willing or able to spend. He looked to be on the way out for most of this month, training with Houston while the rest of the team was in Arizona. The club wanted to see if it could get something in trade for him but with the season approaching it was time to let him go. I liked what I saw out of Songo'o but I also trust Porter's judgement in believing he has players who can play out wide where Songo'o used to. 

Finally, the Timbers will reveal their new kits for the season at Last Thursday on Alberta street tonight. Based on pictures and rumors around the internet I don't think they're as cool as the kits they wore in 2011 and 2012. The good news is, if you don't like them there will be new ones in another couple years. The other  good news is that the regular season is finally about to start. I'll be back next Tuesday with my thoughts. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seth Hunt on Portland Soccer, February 25, 2013

The Timbers closed the preseason with a 1-1 draw against AIK of Sweden Saturday night. They head into the regular season quickly as the first game is Sunday, March 3 against New York. As in the other preseason matches they did some things well but still have some areas to work on.

I felt the midfield and forwards looked very strong Saturday. Caleb Porter wants to play a possession-based style of soccer and the midfielders look like they're up to the task. The passing between themselves was good and they also were effective going forward. Diego Chara did a great job winning the ball, as he needs to do. Diego Valeri looks like a very good signing for Portland, as he kept getting forward to either shoot or pass. He was playing very high up at times, almost right behind the forwards.

As for the forwards I've really been impressed with Darlington Nagbe's play. He seems like a completely different player this season in Porter's system. He played for Porter in college, at Akron, and it looks like Porter knows how best to use him. Nagbe hasn't gone at goal himself as much as he's playing behind the front striker, setting up his teammates. In the game against San Jose he put Ryan Johnson through for one of his three goals and against AIK he did the work of getting deep into the box, drawing a defender to him, then finding left back Michael Harrington who was wide open and scored with a good shot to the far post.

The defense, however, still needs improvement. When AIK was able to win the ball and get forward the Timbers' defense had trouble stopping them. Right now they don't have defenders who are quick enough to get back and cover when the ball goes over to the other team. The more time they spend playing together the  better the backline will be, but until things change Portland will be vulnerable to the counterattack. That makes the midfield even more important.

Overall, though, I actually am looking forward to 2013 with cautious optimism. There's a new coach, some new players, and some returning players who look improved. I'm ready for Sunday already.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seth Hunt on Portland Soccer, February 21, 2013

The Timbers' second preseason home game ended in a 1-0 loss to Dallas last night at Jeld-Wen Field. Honestly it wasn't the best game to watch, but you have to think about who was playing. Portland played a team made up almost entirely of players who won't be starters when the season starts. Dallas, on the other hand, played a good amount of their first string. Aside from the goal, which came from the Timbers failing to clear a ball out of the penalty area, I thought the defense played all right last night. The midfield was pretty much a mess, and if the midfield isn't organized the forwards aren't going to get many chances.

The match did give Caleb Porter a chance to see which of his reserves might be able to contribute. I liked the play of Jose Valencia, the forward who was injured all of last season. He  got himself into good positions a few times last night. I look forward to seeing what he can do this season and hope he can get some playing time. Portland is definitely needs help at forward, especially with Bright Dike's season-ending knee injury, so Valencia will get his chance. To fill this need they also have brought in veteran striker Federic Piquionne of France, who has played in England, on trial. Portland also signed two players who impressed during the games in Arizona, defender Mikael Silvestre and midfielder Michael Nanchoff.

Portland has one more preseason game left, Saturday night against Sweden's AIK. Porter says he wants to play a lineup very similar to the one that will start in the season opener on March 3. I look forward to seeing that since I think it will be more like what we saw against San Jose last Sunday.


In other Portland soccer news, the Thorns, the women's professional club, just announced some good news as I was writing this. Danielle Foxhoven, who was an excellent Portland Pilot, has signed with the Thorns for the upcoming season. She was a very good forward for the Pilots who has the skill to run around and through defenders. I'm very excited to see a Pilot continue playing in Portland.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Seth Hunt on Portland Soccer, February 19, 2013

Just one home preseason game into 2013 has made a world of difference to me. I was too busy with a lot of other things I do in the winter to miss soccer but spending Sunday night in the stadium was enough for me to get excited about soccer season again.

The fact that the Timbers played well in a 3-3 draw with San Jose helped get me excited, of course. It was good to finally see the new players after hearing about them and watching highlights of the preseason games in Arizona. Obviously Ryan Johnson was the star of the night with his hat trick. But it was the way he scored that's encouraging. He put a header on target for his first goal and finished two one-v-ones with the keeper. Portland hasn't had a forward that could consistently finish when he had clear chances. I hope we'll see a lot more of that kind of play from him.

Diego Valeri, the new midfielder from Argentina, didn't score but two of the goals were because of his passing, which is what the club brought him in to do. Portland's midfield struggled with making passes to the forwards last season, but Valeri gave Johnson just the right pass in the right place to give him a scoring chance. Darlington Nagbe also did well in his midfield role. His pass to Valeri was a key to the second goal.

There were also some things that need to be worked on. The defense made mistakes on all three goals, but as coach Caleb Porter said after the game, those things can be worked on easily. Neither of the center backs will be totally happy with their games. Andrew Jean-Baptiste gave up the penalty kick that San Jose converted for their first goal. Hanyer Mosquera was beaten on a free kick for the second San Jose goal. In the midfield, Kalif Alhassan made a bad pass that led to San Jose's third. He did have a few good moments including the assist on Portland's first goal. However, these were mistakes by the Timbers rather than San Jose creating much of anything.

Overall, even though they probably could have won this match I'm pleased with what I saw. As a friend of mine said on the way out, the Timbers will at least be entertaining to watch. I agree with him and look forward to Wednesday's game against Dallas.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Seth Hunt on Soccer, February 14

The 2013 season is feeling more and more real now that I have my Timbers season ticket card in my hands. And as I think about the season on the field I also think about what Timbers fans are going to do off the field.

The 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107ist) is the organization behind the Timbers Army, and I have been a member since it started in 2010. Members of 107ist design, create, and put up the banners you see in the stands, from the small ones hanging on the walls to giant displays like the one before the Seattle game last year. I'm proud to be part of an organization that has made the Timbers Army such a fantastic supporters group. 

In my view, it's just as important, and makes me just as proud, to be part of an organization that does so much good for the community. The resources 107ist has enable it to take part in many charitable and community service projects. Already this year 107ist volunteers have gone to a Portland school once a week to help in the library. I've done it a few times because I had good libraries when I was growing up and I want to give back and help more children have a useful library like I did. 

I also went out on a Saturday morning recently with Friends Of Trees. One of my good Timbers Army friends started the tradition of Timbers fans coming out to help when Friends Of Trees was planting in his neighborhood about five years ago. I look forward to this every year because it's really a pretty easy way of making the city better. When you have a group of us who have experience doing this by now, the work goes quickly and easily. At the end of it, you can see what you've done: there's a new tree, that's good for the environment and makes the neighborhood look nicer. There's also the great lunch buffet back at the Friends Of Trees office, which is a nice bonus. 

That's just the start of what 107ist plans to do this year. We're going to be improving soccer fields at city parks again (with the help of an organization called Operation Pitch Invasion) so there's places for kids to play. There's the scholarship fund we have for promising young players who are good enough to play on elite teams but need financial help. We volunteer at the Oregon Food Bank. We did a great deal of work helping to build Harper's Playground, a park that children can use whether they're healthy or have mobility problems. This is all just the areas I can remember.

I hope in reading this you'll see the reach of 107ist extends far beyond just the stadium on game days. We believe that we can harness the time, ability, and resources of our membership to improve the community we live in. We have an Army behind us, so there's not a lot we can't do. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Seth Hunt on Portland Soccer, February 12, 2013

It's hard for me to believe but it's almost time for actual games at Jeld-Wen again. MLS doesn't really have  a long off-season, especially with preseason training. And really, with all the basketball I watch during the winter I haven't had time to think about the Timbers until recently. But after the preseason games in Arizona I'm actually getting excited for the season.

Of course I get excited before every season. I think we all do because it's a new start, and everyone is tied for first, eveyone has a chance, etc. But this time is a little different. I'm excited because the Timbers really could be a pleasant surprise this year.

I know it's just the preseason and they're not playing entire games against anyone else's first team but it's still good to see the team picking up Caleb Porter's system. I also like the moves the club has made over the winter. Last year the team struggled with the midfielders getting the ball to the forwards and they actually look like they might solve this problem. Diego Valeri really impressed me in the games in Arizona with his intelligence, passing, and strength. The free kick goal he had against Colorado was not bad either. In fact it was pretty good. After his goal, also in the Colorado game, I also want to see Jose Valencia. The first two years the Timbers either had forwards who were big but not very mobile (Kenny Cooper, Kris Boyd), or guys who were quick but couldn't finish (Jorge Perlaza). Valencia could be a guy with the best of both of those types. I hope so.

If there's one area that the Timbers still need improvement in it would be the defense. The only consistent thing about the outside back spots in the first two MLS seasons of the Timbers is that there were no sure things at those positions. This season Ryan Miller will get the first shot at right back and Michael Harrington will be the new left back.  Mikael Silvestre was on trial at center back but that ended when the Timbers came back from Arizona, though the club says they're still looking at a way to pick him up. However, if the midfield is better at keeping possession the defense may not be tested as much.

There's still a long way to go but when I look back to how I felt before the 2012 season compared to 2013 I feel a lot better about this season. I can't wait for Sunday night, and for March 3rd. Good thing it's that's not far away.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Portland Soccer, February 7

In their third preseason game the Timbers beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0. Mikael Silvestre scored the goal in the 61st minute following a series of close shots from a corner kick. Portland played mostly their first team for the first sixty minutes before putting in the reserves for the final half hour. Seattle played some of their first string for the first half. The two teams were not evenly matched but the key in the preseason is to see how well your team's players play together. Although they only scored one goal the Timbers completely dominated the match. They were able to keep the ball for most of the match and didn't allow many shots at all from the Sounders.

The score of this game shows one of the unique qualities of soccer. There was only one goal so just by looking at the score you might think the game was close. But according to stories on the game from newspapers and bloggers who were there the Timbers were much better than the Sounders. This situation, where a team that plays much better than their opponent but doesn't blow them out, happens often in soccer.  You will want to go beyond the score and read reports on the game, check the stats (such as possession, shots, and corner kicks), and see some highlights of the game to really get a sense of how a team did.

Portland has one more game in Arizona, against FC Tucson, the U-23 club that is hosting these games. They play Friday at 10 am and you can watch online at

New Timbers
There are several players new to the team this year, and we'll be looking at them as we approach the start of the season on March 3. I'm going to start with the newcomer who most fans agree is the making the biggest impression, Diego Valeri. Valeri is a 26-year-old midfielder from Argentina. As a midfielder his role on the team is to pass the ball to the forwards and get then in a position to score. This is a key position and one of the reasons the Timbers struggled last year was the performance of the midfield when attacking the goal. Those who have been watching the preseason games say he's strong, smart, and makes good decisions with the ball. He also scored a brilliant free kick goal in the win against Colorado last Tuesday. 

Next week I'll be back with a report on the Timbers' game against FC Tucson and a look at some more new Timbers. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Seth Hunt on Portland Soccer, Feb. 5

This is Seth Hunt welcoming you to the first soccer post on Craw's Corner. I want to thank Greg Crawford for giving me the opportunity to talk a little about soccer to you, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I've been watching soccer since my freshman year at the University of Portland in 1999 and in 2009 I began following the Timbers. I'm looking forward to teaching you a little about the game and the teams we have here in Portland.

First of all, of course, is the Portland Timbers. This year will be their third in MLS and they will want to improve significantly from last season. They finished next to last in the Western Conference and the best fans in the league definitely want more. The biggest news in the offseason was the new coach they hired. Caleb Porter comes from the University of Akron, one of the top men's college soccer teams in the nation. As a college coach Porter produced many players who have gone on to play professionally, including Portland Timber Darlington Nagbe. 

The Timbers have had two preseason games in Arizona, with their last this morning before they come home for more preseason training. Last Tuesday they beat Colorado 3-1 and they lost to Kansas City 1-0 Friday. It's only been two games but the style of play Porter is installing looks encouraging. The Timbers have also had good performances so far from some of their key new players such as Diego Valeri and Jose Valencia, who came to Portland last year but missed the entire season recovering from a knee injury. The game today, against Seattle, will start at 9:30 AM and will be streamed live at

The Timbers also have an under-23 team, made up of college-age players, that plays during the summer in the United Soccer League's Premier Development League. The conference they are in includes other clubs from Washington and British Columbia. Some of these home games take place at Jeld-Wen Field and others are at high schools in the Portland area. I like watching the U-23 team because there are very talented young players who might someday play professionally. It's already happened: Steven Evans, who is from Portland, went to Central Catholic High School and the University of Portland, was one of the top players on the Timbers U-23s the last few years. He recently signed a professional contract with the Timbers. I'll be checking in on the U-23s when their season gets started in May. 

Not only is there men's soccer in Portland, now there is a professional women's team. The Portland Thorns are a new team in a new league, the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Right now they are putting together their team and getting ready for the season to start in April. They began with Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, two forwards who are among the best women's players in the world. This team could be very good and definitely worth watching. 

In the fall the MLS season comes to an end but the college soccer season begins and runs until early December. To me this means games at the best college stadium anywhere (and the best grass soccer field on the West Coast), Merlo Field. The Portland Pilots lead the nation in average attendance, which goes to show why Portland has earned the name "Soccer City, USA." The women's team has won national championships in 2002 and 2005 and both the men's and women's teams have earned numerous conference titles. 

That's a summary of the soccer I watch during the year and will be talking about here. For those of you new to the game I will also try to teach you a little about it by going into the rules, history, teams, etc. Thursday I'll review the last preseason game and talk a little about the new players. See you then. 

Twitter: @sethhunt105