Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Final Stretch Run

I can't believe it's almost September, well about 2 hours away from September anyway as I write this. It seems like just yesterday, girl and I were getting married and shuttling off to our honeymoon, and now the summer has just about passed and the Timbers have 5 games left in the regular season.

To say it's been a most interesting ride would be a huge understatement indeed. Within the season, we've played 4 different goal keepers: Ray Burse, Jordan James, Brad Knighton and Chase Harrison. We had Josh Wicks signed and ready to go, but he was signed for bigger money to go to Los Angeles, and we scrambled to find an experienced keeper, which we got in Burse on loan from FC Dallas. The caveat with the loan was simply that Dallas could call him back at anytime as injuries warranted. The team struggled out of the gate, the coaching staff was fired a few games into the season, and the new staff wanted to see what Burse could do, and so the revolving door started. James played well but struggled at time, Knighton was on loan from New England in the MLS and played well until he was recalled a few weeks ago, and Harrison was acquired in a mid season trade and played pretty well in his first game up in Vancouver. Keeper is a position that you want some stability at, and we simply haven't had it up until know. Harrison provides some hope for the future, but the next five games holds the key.

The keeper situation hasn't been helped with some defender injuries and suspensions, as we signed Justin Thompson late, Leonard Griffin has struggled a bit at times, and Scot Thompson has missed games for red card/ejections and the birth of his son recently. Cameron Knowles has been a stalwart in the back, but even he's missed games with yellow card accumulation. Combine this with some spotty midfield play all year, which led to a rare mid season trade of Andrew Gregor. Gregor, our former captain, had a great year last year leading us in scoring and assists, but he struggled this year with inconsistent play. He became the target of some criticism for his lackluster efforts from game to game, which I think was warranted. When you put on the captain's armband, you become the lightening rod for praise and furor even if it's not directed at you. Gregor ended up in Rochester, and threw some of his teammates under the bus in leaving, questioning their talent and efforts. Whether this was used to motivate him or truly spew some venom at his former employers, I considered it sour tears from a former player that didn't want to admit that his place on the team had changed.

Part of Gregor's venom was directed at Taka Suzuki, a forward/striker we signed from Japan this year. Taka got off to an amazing start to the season, notching a top quality goal versus Shittle that was played over and over again on USL Live. Taka is a very skilled player, having World Cup experience and years of playing in the J-League, but since that goal, he's struggled with the physicality of the play and his place in the offense. He seems to be more settled in his new role as more of an attacking midfielder rather than a striker, but he still hasn't scored since that goal. We've also gained some new forwards, which really were blasts from the past as Bryan Jordan and Byron Alvarez are back with the team (Jordan was loaned to us by LA, Byron resigned recently). We also mixed in new guys Chris Brown (signed in the off season) and Jamil Walker (received as part of the Gregor trade) with holdover Chris Bagley up top.

We've struggled to score goals, but it's certainly not because of a lack of effort up top. The roller coaster effect that this team has shown is simply not knowing what team will show up at what point of the game - will it be wide open offensive team, or strong defensive squad. I know that the coaching staff has made changes in the lineup, tried new formations, and generally tried to figure out what's going on. With some guys, they've hit the doghouse never to return, while some players have been openly questioned by the coaches during interviews about lack of effort and passion. I think it's safe to say that while the coaches may now soccer, they've struggled to find a consistent voice or process that works with this team.

Certainly the information above would give anyone a few excuses to say why the team has struggled - new players, injuries, coaches shaking things up just to try things, suspensions - and it would explain the up and down play of this team. And now, we sit with just 5 games left in the year and there's still a chance for these guys to play in the postseason, where all bets are off in terms of issues. Anyone can win a title if the cards play out right, and if you get hot at the right time, who knows what might happen. But seriously, this up and down bunch making the playoffs? Does anyone still believe in their chances.

Well, after attending today's barbecue hosted by the team for the fans, I would say that's a distinct possibility. Over 200 fans showed up to mingle with the team, eat some food, play pickup games on the pitch, and generally have some quality time with the team. And all the players and coaches were there, chatting it up with the fans, generally having a good time. The fact that all of them were there, hanging out as a group together, it showed me that the team hasn't lost each other in their struggles. They aren't pointing fingers, they are sticking it out with each other. And they all seemed very loose and relaxed, just taking in the day with the fans. The weather cooperated for the most part, and it was a great time for everyone.

I'm impressed the team would sponsor this type of endeavor, with free food and beer, skills games for the kids and adults, stadium tours, and Merritt Paulson there to talk about the efforts to bring MLS to town. And if you really wanted to buy next year's season tickets, you could. Which I did simply because I love my team. What I saw in watching the players was the relaxed nature of a team that has pulled themselves together as a group, and is looking out for each other. It was fun to watch Lawrence Olum catch footballs, and chat a bit with Bryan Jordan about passing and dribbling skills but also talk about being in Los Angeles. These guys are extremely nice and cordial, but they also seem like a tight knit group as well, and that bodes well for a playoff run. If guys are playing for themselves (see 2006 version of the Timbers under Agnello), then nobody is looking out for anyone but themselves. I did notice Taka seemed a bit uncomfortable in the beer garden, but I think that's mostly due to the language barrier and that probably won't change until either he learns more English or the fans learn some Japanese. Plus, he was surrounded by teammates who were chatting with him as best they could.

It would be easy at this point to fold up the tent and go home. I mean, the Timbers are in eighth place in the USL table and there are some teams with easier paths to get to the playoffs (Montreal has more games to play, Shittle plays at home for the rest of the year, Minnesota seems to have an easier schedule). But I don't see the quit in this team, especially after today. They still believe in each other, and I think that's a big thing to have established during a stretch run. Plus, it seems like the early season struggles have righted themselves with some better offensive play, and some quality keeping. We just need to keep up the hard work, and let the chips fall where they may. I can say that I can't think of a better place to be on a Sunday afternoon that hanging with the Timbers, but seriously, I'll leave the serious soccer playing to the professionals.

Thursday night, the stretch run begins with Miami coming to town. We then travel to Rochester on the 6th (Saturday), and then visit Montreal on the following Monday. Our final home game is September 11th versus Charleston, then we finish the year in Carolina on the 20th. I'd like to think we could get 12 points from the games, ending the year strong and getting into the playoffs. Whether we make it or not, what I'm encouraged about is the strength of the team's bond with each other, and how genuinely nice and approachable these guys are. These foundation blocks will be vital as we move forward towards the playoffs and the future of soccer in Portland....

Final Note - Wednesday at 9 AM there is a press conference at PGE Park about Portland's MLS efforts and some updates for everyone. I'd expect some updates on web pages to view information, announcement of key dates to when proposals are due, and some things that soccer fans can do to help the effort to bring MLS here. For more information about this press conference, visit the Soccer City USA board ( and look in the MLS to PDX section, or visit I'll have a quick match preview and some highlights from the conference sometime on Wednesday...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm Still Stunned To Hear About It.

It's ironic that Kevin Duckworth died on Monday because of problems with his heart, because people often said he used his heart and passion for people the right way, by giving of himself to the fullest. He was on the Oregon Coast to participate in a free basketball clinic for kids when on Monday night, he had trouble breathing and lost consciousness. Paramedics attempted to revive him, but they were never able to wake the giant, and the Trail Blazers lost one of their special players.

I moved to Portland in 1989 after graduating from college, but had followed enough sports to know about the Trail Blazers history and key players. When I had decided to move here, one of the key reasons I came was to watch the NBA in person, and I even worked out a plan with my boss at the time to leave early from work to go get tickets to a couple of games in exchange for working through a few lunch hours. It was worth it to get to see a couple of games that year in the Memorial Coliseum, and as the year rolled on, the team continued to win and won the right to play for the NBA Title. I was amazed at how crazy this town got with Blazer Mania, and I fed into every bit of it I could. But it was not only because of the greatness on the court, but the passion and sense of community off the court that impressed me. I heard of many stories of people interacting with the players, saying how nice these guys were and how they took time from their days to give something back. Kevin Duckworth was the person I heard about the most in this respect.

He was our starting center, all 7 foot 1 inch of person, wearing double zero. While he seemed to be at the right place to pick up rebounds and tap ins for points, he also dealt effectively with opposing centers in blocking shots and being a general nuisance. He wasn't the key cog of our offense, we had players that could fill those roles, but Duckworth filled the unsung role of stopper and rebounder while other players took headlines with their spectacular plays. You never heard him complain about it, the only criticisms he took in were the ones where he had off nights in shooting and he resolved himself to do better. He struck me as a very sensitive, heady player, as evidenced by some slumps in his career that seemed to take him longer to ride out than most. Being a sensitive type myself, I can relate to the fact that we sensitive folks are often harder on ourselves that we need to be, which seemed to fit his persona. But Duckworth did his job, made a few All-Star teams, and was a key component to the Trail Blazer runs in the early 90's.

What you also saw from him was numerous community appearances and engagements. He seemed to be everywhere to help anyone that needed it. He forged a special relationship with the children at William Walker Elementary school in Beaverton near his house, often visiting them during the school year to speak. When he retired from playing, you still saw Duckworth making appearances, working at his restaurant in Vancouver WA, and being visible around town. He was at many Trail Blazer games, watching the next generation take the torch, and appearing for the team as an alumni ambassador. He seemed to relish in his role as a spokesperson, touching people with his stories, demeanor, and smile. When you read the words and stories told by his coaches and teammates, they all talk about his engaging personality and ability to make people feel comfortable.

But all was not quite right with Kevin, as evidenced in recent appearances where he had gained a tremendous amount of weight. He was never the smallest guy about, but it was obvious that he had been putting on some weight recently. But he seemed to be as active and busy as ever, until Monday when trouble developed. I don't know much about his medical history except for what I read today after his autopsy, but I know enough about health and exercise to know that if you gain a lot of weight and don't get a lot of exercise, that's not good for your body. And the autopsy released today indicated that the cause of death was congestive heart failure combined with high blood pressure and other factors. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to put the pieces together and figure out what happened. You wonder if the people around him had said something out of concern or love to watch what he ate, or to get more exercise, or to just watch himself. It's hard to know even if there were those conversations if anything would have changed, but what's true is that a legend has been lost.

People have been asking what is the best way to honor Duckworth's memory. The team is holding a memorial service for him on Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum, the home of many of his great games. I think that's a great start, but I think the team has a chance to do something really special here. Duck's career numbers probably don't warrant retiring his number, and I'm sure the team will don special patches for him this season, but my suggestion is to rename the community service award given by the team in Duckworth's honor. For a guy that gave so freely of himself and represented the town and the team in such a positive way for so many years, I think it's a truly fitting way to honor him in a way that I think he'd appreciate.

It's rather difficult for me to even talk about death still, as the topic still reminds me of the loss of my mom back in 2005. I was called out of the blue to come visit her in the hospital and a week later, I'm planning her funeral. We can't choose how we die, we can only build the memories of a lifetime to share with the people around us. While my mom's death was difficult for me to deal with, I learned a lot about myself and the people around me. I had dozens of friends pick me up and keep me propped up and doing things, even if my instinct was to just hide from the world. I found the love of my life amongst these amazing friends, and we were just married this past April. I've changed my life in numerous positive ways, and honestly, I'm not sure if I'd have done this otherwise. What death did for me was made me realize how important people are to me, and how important it is to them that I'm happy in whatever it is I do. I found peace, love, and acceptance from a group of soccer fans in Portland, and I can never thank them enough for what they gave me.

My hope is that while Duckworth's death is seen as a tragedy, it is also viewed as inspiration for people to live their lives to the happiest because it is truly a gift. It might inspire change, passion, or tears, but as in his life, Duckworth's presence inspires us all to be better people and give of ourselves to make our little part of the world a better place. Even though I never met him personally, I feel like I've lost a brother but I've also gained an appreciation of what life has to offer.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Rainy Sunday in August

I have had a pretty busy week and weekend, and so the blog has been pushed to the wayside a bit. Not that writing down things isn't important, but trying to find some time during the days sometimes is hard. But, having a rainy Sunday evening helps as I'm finally starting to decompress from the busy schedule, and I can't be outside anyway...

Although I have certainly been outside a lot in my newest exercise thing, playing on an outdoor soccer team. Granted, my experience of playing has been a lot of pick up games in college, and kicking the ball around on occasion, whether it's with friends or my cats, who actually don't mind knocking tiny soccer balls about the house. So I was a bit intimidated to join up a team full of people that have actually played, some for many years. But I decided to give it a go, and what I've found out is that it's a load of fun, I'm actually about an average player, and our team is pretty good. The Timbers Army got together an outdoor team, and we have about 30 guys signed up to play. Plus, our kits are great looking, courtesy of Obi. We also got a lot of love from one of our home pubs, the Bitter End, who sponsored us this season. We've been playing a few friendly games, and Thursday night, I actually attended a small practice to show off some skills or just run around a lot. It was certainly a lot of fun, although Friday I was a bit sore from the running. Today's game was against a group of Somalian kids who are very quick and have some talent. We lost 6 to 5, but considering our first friendly was a 7 to 1 loss, I think we're improving. What will be nice is that with soccer on weekends, and bowling on Tuesday nights, I will have a lot of things to keep me occupied this winter. At least the result helped me feel good about the match, as I soaked my joints and legs in our gym's hottub.

I spent some time on Friday at our other home, the Cheerful Bullpen. The Bullpen was acquired by the folks that run the Cheerful chain here in Portland, and Friday night, a few TA members met up there to check the place out and rehang our soccer scarves. Through the years, we've collected many scarves from around the world, and the Bullpen let us hang them in the pub. The new ownership has let us do the same thing, plus gave us our own little area, the Skybox 107. What impressed me about the Bullpen on Friday was how open it is with a couple of changes. The beer tap was moved back, and a short half wall was removed from near the skybox, so the entire room looks opened up. With a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling, it didn't look like the place I'd been going to for years. I took a few pictures after the scarves were hung up, which didn't take as long as I thought it would, but it was a tough process working around folks and trying to get done before the Timbers - Craps kickoff at 8 PM. Hoss and I got all the scarves hung with some helpful supervision (ok, they told us when one of the scarves was upside down), and the only accident was my thumb being stapled. We did get done in time to watch the match, but in being exhausted, I decided to head home to watch. Girl has also been run down, and she was hanging out with her mom on Friday, so as I pulled in to watch, they were only a few minutes behind me.

The Craps - Timbers match had some decent moments, but we ended up losing 2 to 1. Swangard is actually a fun place to watch footy, with the benches very close to the pitch, and you can really hear the noise from the other fans. Plus, Vancouver BC is a great place to visit, with plenty of beautiful sites and things to do. We would normally have driven up, but money kept us close to home initially. Turns out that other social obligations came piling up, and so the trip to BC was replaced with lots of social gatherings. The team played well in stretches, although the winning goal in the first half was really rather soft. We've already played our fourth different goalkeeper, and nothing Chase Harrison did on Friday impressed me enough to call him our starter. But he's the guy now, so we have to rally around him. The Timbers' playoff hopes took a hit with the loss, and right now, we are currently tied with Montreal for the seventh spot. As I look at tonight's results, Montreal won versus Atlanta, so we are now dropped to eighth now which would mean we are out of the playoffs. We have 5 games left for the year, so it will be a nip and tuck battle over the next few weeks to see if we can get to the postseason.

Saturday was my annual fantasy football draft. I've been commissioner of a league for 15 years, and so it's nice to get together and see folks that I only see once a year. Every owner in the league either works for the same company I do, or did at one point, so we can all trade stories about our experiences. It's nice to see these guys, who many of them have moved into new jobs, started families, gotten married, but every year, we all drop our busy schedules to get together and talk some pointyball. As the commissioner, it's my job to keep the draft moving along and on track, despite everyone's best attempts to sidetrack me. I've struggled with making the playoffs the past few years, but I'm one of a few owners that can say I've won the title; I won year 1 and then back in 2003 with my record setting team, who put up more points than had been seen before. Too bad, my magic formula to recapture that hasn't quite worked out, but I still enjoy doing this after all these years because of the guys and gals. Seriously, it's great to hang out with them and talk football, and yes, we've had plenty of female owned teams, including one of our back to back champs. I'll probably talk about fantasy football a bit on the blog, either to mostly say my team is great or dude, what was I thinking?

We've also been dealing with some family issues this weekend, which I really don't want to share over the interwebs. It can be difficult to deal with your family sometimes, because unlike your friends who are chosen by interest and interactions and tend to come and go from your life as you progress along, family is yours whether you like it or not. I've been blessed with having some of the best friends a guy could have, and most of the friendships have been very long term, mostly because I treat people the way I want to be treated and I tend not to socialize with people that are jerks and use people. I have some ex-girlfriends I could put in the last category, but I'm done with them now cause I have the only woman I ever need in my life now. But in dealing with a new marriage, it's caused me to seriously look at family and the interactions amongst people. Why people seem to think they can take advantage of family or treat them like crap because of the relationship, I'll never understand, but it's the dynamics of many units. I know for me, the next few months, I want to work on mending relationships with some family members, and trying to be more understood in my feelings and actions. It's not going to be an easy process, but you go through it for the ones you love.

And now we are officially one week from Labor Day, the weekend that people most often indicate is the last weekend of summer, my job is to enjoy the rest of the outdoor time I can for the rest of the year. That way, I can build some more memories for the future. Ok, I've got some fajita cooking to get to, so talk to you all soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Caddy on the LPGA

It's an odd day in my life when I have to get up earlier than my usual time to get up for work for anything, but that was my situation on Monday morning, the 18th. Because of the heat, I didn't sleep much on Sunday night, so by the time 5:45 AM rolled around, I was a zombie right after getting up. But I had to be at the course at 6:45 AM to check in.

As part of my employment with the bank, they pay for a day of volunteer service in order to promote giving back to the places we live in. I love this idea, as it really reinforces that we should all do our part to help out our towns and communities. An email had been circulated about for volunteers to help caddy for the LPGA Safeway Classic this week in Portland, and I decided to use my volunteer day for this. One, it is a great charity, the Trillium Family Services; two, I play golf so why not watch people better than me to get some pointers; three, it's normally nice weather in Portland so a day outside sounds like a great time to volunteer.

Well, one and two came true, but mother nature had other thoughts about number three. After three straight days of over 100 degree heat, Sunday came along and the thunderstorms and clouds began to appear, and there was a bit of unsettled weather all day. On Monday, they had expected a chance of thunderstorms with temperatures in the 70s. Ok, a 30 degree drop in a matter of 48 hours, with the chance of rain. August is usually one of the most non-rainy months in Portland, so seeing showers in the forecast meant for me to just grab a jacket on the way out as I left for the course.

I arrived at Columbia Edgewater at 6:40 AM, and proceeded to the pro shop to check in. Columbia Edgewater is a private country club, and walking through the gates, it was obvious this was a different type of golf course. The main clubhouse had large oak doors at the front, and a driveway porch where folks were ready to collect clubs for the day's round. There were plenty of Benzes, BMWs and Audis in the parking lot, getting special parking in the main parking lot. For people that work very hard and have earned their monies, I think something like joining a country club can be an enjoyable thing. For me, I'm a public course low-key kind of guy, so the opulence just were a bit much for me. I suppose I would really suck as a rich person, because if I had loads of money, I'd probably be doing the same things I do now just with more money. To me, money helps you get the things you want out of life, but it shouldn't be an obsession or used as a status symbol.

I checked into the caddy desk, grabbed a cart, and waited. It was 7:00 AM and my group was starting from the fourth hole at 8:02 AM. My guy was part of a golfing buddy group that decided to participate in Monday's Pro-AM for charity, and there would be one LPGA pro included with our group as well. It sounded like a recipe for a load of fun, and so I headed off to the fourth hole after fueling up with some coffee and fruit with a smile on my face. The day was nice enough, not too warm, and the rain had held off so far in the day. As I arrived at the hole, I was joined by the three other caddies, and we shared some talk about the day, our golfing experiences, and the fun we were going to have for the day. Soon, our golfers showed up, followed by our pro, Angela Jerman.

Angela showed up, and had a big smile on her face and a spring in her step. She was ready to play, and proceeded to meet all of her group and then spoke to each caddy for a few moments before the round. She was extremely personable, and thanked us all for coming out this morning. Then, without too much warning, a few thunder rumbles started up and she looked around, asking if we were actually going to start play. Then, a couple of lightening flashes filled the sky. I had left my jacket in the car, and decided I was going to take my chances with the weather. Within a few minutes, a large horn blew alerting everyone to come back to the pro shop. Apparently, a weather system was coming and they wanted to suspend play until it had passed. The golfers and Angela were soon off in their carts, while me and my fellow caddies started walking towards the pro shop.

It didn't take more than 5 minutes and the rain floodgates opened. It was coming down in buckets, and I was soon soaked from head to toe. We found a hospitality tent to hide in for a few moments, until course security came by looking for us. They said it's great that you were out of the rain, but being in a large metal tent with lightening about wasn't very smart. They piled us into a few carts and took us back to the pro shop. By then, I was fully soaked and looking like a drown rat. I soon was munching on a granola bar and some coffee, trying to dry out and checking the weather forecasts on my phone's browser. It appeared it would let up for a bit, but not for an hour or so. The rain didn't stop until almost 8:45 AM, and we were soon told that the round would resume at 9:30 AM. I scurried off to grab my jacket and change from my golf shoes to regular running shoes. My golf shoes are actually sandals, which are extremely comfortable shoes but yes, if it rains, the socks get wet. I was back at the pro shop at 9:15 AM, and was soon walking off to hole 4.

As we made it back to the tee box, our golfers and Angela were already there and waiting to go. The chatter resumed, and Angela was charming the group with stories about her university, Georgia, and SEC football. The guys soon teed off, and then Angela got ready to go. She just walked up to her ball, flexed her knee, swung and BAM, the ball was flying straight as the day. Her swing was compact and effortless, and I was simply amazed. As the day wore on, she chatted with group members about various topics, saying over and over she was a chatty person and liked to have fun on the course. But she was extremely professional in her approach to her game, hitting good shot after good shot while being very charming and personable.

I had impressed the golfers by me saying I was not working today because I was being paid to volunteer for the day, and that my golf game was actually walking around and occasionally hitting objects towards a target. My humour was apparently on, and as they asked me about my golf game, I was able to share the courses I played, all public, and my best golfing experience, which was playing in Scotland back in 2006. But as the day wore on and the stories kept flying, what impressed me was Angela's demeanor. She was having fun, engaging the group, and just out there enjoying herself.

My brushes with professional athletes haven't been too many, but I respect the ones I've been able to talk to. John Stockton served me food and beer at his old tavern in Spokane, I've interacted with members of the Portland Timbers over the years and found them to be upstanding gentlemen, and meeting some of the Sunderland players earlier this year on my honeymoon, they were impressed that we would come all this way just to see them. And now, I can add Angela to that group, because she impressed me with her attitude. She treated everyone so well, and showed that she's got a good amount of golf talent. Plus, in researching her on the interwebs, she's involved in charitable causes and does a lot of great community work. Additionally, we found out that Monday's Pro AM was strictly attended by LPGA pros on a volunteer basis, so only the pros that wanted to be there came. And there were lots and lots of them about. And I think that the ladies tend to go out of their way to make themselves available to the fans, as I saw many of them chatting with fans, signing autographs, and enjoying the light drizzle.

The game itself was fun, and I enjoyed participating in a charitable event, but what I gained on the day was a greater appreciation for these very talented ladies, and how professional they truly are. Mind you, while I play golf, I hate watching it on television and I tend not to pay that close attention to various tournaments. I know the main people that play, but honestly for me, golf is an activity that you do, not watch at home. I enjoy being on the course, challenging myself to not lose all of my golf balls during a round and enjoying the once in a while great shot that keeps me coming back. My experience, though, showed me that there is a lot to seeing the game live, and I may have to take in some tournaments now and then in person. Maybe there is more to this game than I first realized, and at the very least, I'll remember that carrying metals sticks during a thunderstorm is never a good idea.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Very Busy Sunday - Fan Observations from Last Night vs. Montreal

Yesterday, the official high in Portland was 104 degrees. Trust me, it usually never gets that hot here ever, but this was our third straight day of temperatures over the century mark, and it was absolutely miserable. I grew up in Boise, ID, where the temperature would get above 100 very regularly, but being here in Portland, it just doesn't reach that maximum all that often. So people usually find relief at home in the air conditioning or at a movie or something...

We were hoping to find it watching an EPL match on Saturday, as West Ham took on Wigan to start the season. Girl and I are huge Hammers fans, and we wanted to take in the season opener to chat with fellow fans, plus give them some trinkets we got while over there last April. However, the venue we chose forgot to open up, so we ended up at Rose and Thistle, a nice pub in the inner SE part of town. West Ham won 2 to 1, but it wasn't without its adventures with potential injuries, defensive breakdowns, and craziness. That's what being a Hammers fan is all about, it's like a roller coaster ride. But at least we found a cool temperature place to watch, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was nice.

Much like the Timbers have been this season. Full of expectations and optimism in April, the team has struggled with injuries, inconsistent play, and lineup shuffling. Our opponent, Montreal, was in a similar boat, both teams really needing a win to further their cause. A planned tailgate before the match did occur in rather sweltering conditions, but plenty of folks were optimistic that the Timbers would end their home losing streak on Saturday. I decided after wandering about, I would take in the coach's chalk talk session with season ticket holders before the match. This would also ensure that I got my Taka bobblehead before the insanity at gate opening, so I wandered over to listen to Gavin talk.

I'll say this, Gavin is passionate about soccer in Portland and this team. He spoke very candidly about the team, saying that some players haven't lived up to their expectations, and some were given chances that they just didn't take advantage of. And the team was hurt significantly by the loss of Josh Wicks right before the season. He was a big part of the heart and soul of the team, and while there have been some great keepers here this year, we miss Wicks a lot. It's great having Bryan Jordan back, but we've underperformed in the midfield and it's time to go back to basics. Anyone watching this team for the past few months can see that, but I also think that some of the tentative play has to do with coaching decisions that have guys playing tentatively. You also have situations like with Taka, who is a very talented player but not somebody that has scored a lot of goals in his career. He's also been a victim of players targeting him with extra defense and attention, and Taka hasn't adapted to it very well. He's a strong player, and doesn't get pushed around easily, but I think he's a valuable asset to our team this year. Gavin also spoke in length about Chris Brown's 3 game suspension, and the teams that reviewed the video showing the incident. He still can't figure out why 3 games were given, and neither can any of us who saw the video. But it was nice to see that the passion is still there, and they are optimistic about the team's chances this year.

And with things being very hot and sticky, they would need to put out a big effort against a disciplined Montreal side, one who has also struggled this year. The game kicked off at 99 degrees at 7 pm, and both sides played a rather boring first half with few chances. The second half, the team and the TA turned up the heat and loud, and we netted two beautiful goals. Montreal got one back late, but we held them off for the 2 to 1 win. It was a much needed effort, and while the Shed was loud, the numbers were back to 2004/2005 side with many empty seats. The temperature just kept folks away, although the recent play probably didn't help either. But chants were flying, banners unfurled, and a great atmosphere for everyone. I can also say that I got a short video of Chris Brown's second goal and the end of game celebration for the team. It was a magical night, and one where I was proud of our team stepping up and playing their hearts out. Cameron Dunn played well in defense, but I thought having Chris Brown back really helped solidify the midfield and gave us pushes forward with a purpose, something that we'd been missing.

As I walked out, I stopped by and ended up helping the MLS to PDX table for a few minutes. We got over 500 emails from folks, wanting to know more about the efforts to bring MLS to town. I'm impressed that this many people were curious about MLS, and really wanting to know more about it. Apparently, the word is out, and people want MLS here. It will be interesting what will happen the next few months as Merritt moves forward with his plans. I did make it to the Bullpen in time for Kathy's retirement. She's done a lot for the TA over the years, and I couldn't think of a nicer person who deserves a break. The Cheerful folks will be coming in to refurbish the Bullpen, and I know they'll do right by everyone, cause if they do, the TA will come all the time. But I can't wish Kathy enough good thoughts on her being able to retire and relax after so many years of running the BP.

Sunday morning, the TA outdoor team got together for a friendly game vs. Midway, a team made up of firemen. And they were really hot, as evidenced by them putting 7 on us in a 7 to 1 win. They played in Division 3 last year, and didn't win a game, but they'd played together for a couple of years and it showed with their discipline and passing. While the TA looked better in our uniforms (thanks Obi), we really chased a lot and got out of position a lot during the match. We did have some good moments, and it leads me to think that we'll be OK during the season. At least we'll have a fan club of supporters already, as over 15 folks showed up to wish us well, and they even got a chance to strike up a flare and do some flag waving. Very nice.

My weekend ended up with watching the new Star Wars movie, the Clone Wars. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and so I had planned on going, despite the negative reviews. And I can safely say that it didn't suck as bad as the reviews made it out to be, but I wouldn't put this movie on the top of any best Star Wars movie. It had moments of great action, but the plot clunked a bit at points trying to do too much. Overall, it was worth me seeing it, simply because I can say that I've seen every Star Wars movie in the theatre, this would include the original trilogy, the re-releases with new footage, and the final trilogy which had its moments, but struggled a bit to find itself at times. Science fictions folks can be merciless at times in their scorn of scripts or movies, and I think I can say they were right about Star Wars 1 because it had enough plot holes to drive a couple of tanks through. Metaclorions? Are you serious??

I may not have gotten much relief from the heat, but with my teams winning, it was a great weekend all the way around. Have a good one..

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bashing The Olympics and Weekend Match Preview

I know it's Thursday, but my schedule just changed up a bit and I have some time to write now. Girl and I are heading to the river tomorrow afternoon to beat the heat, and float around in the coldness that is the Sandy River. Oxbow Park is actually a great place to visit, and we've been there 3 times so far this year. And since it's supposed to be 102 or 104 degrees tomorrow, being on a beach next to ice cold water sounds like a great plan.

The Timbers face old rivals Montreal on Saturday night at PGE Park at 7 PM, and the temperature is only supposed to be 98 degrees at game time. So the Shed should be a very hot, sticky mess of people trying to stay cool, and keep their tempers in check. The Timbers haven't won a home game since April, and probably should have beaten Charleston last week. Our offensive frustrations are still around, as the team took 20 shots last week against the Battery and got just one goal. Bryan Jordan looks fully healthy and recharged, and his paring with Byron Alvarez and Taka Suzuki gave us some good options on top, and I would expect that having Chris Brown back in the midfield will help our passing and distribution by having mids that can pass and keep the ball. I love Tommy Poltl and having him, Brownie and Guante in the mid means you have some speed in Guante, passion with Poltl and pinpoint passing with Brown. It might be the tonic we need. No word yet on Scot Thompson to know if he will be back for Saturday after getting a red card vs. Shittle, but Cameron Dunn filled in quite nicely for him. Brad Knighton looked good at points last Saturday, but I would expect that at some point, we'll see Chase Harrison to see what he can do. I've heard raves about his performance in practice, so we'll see there.

Montreal and Portland are currently tied for 8th in the USL First Division Table, so the game has playoff implications. Montreal is usually towards the top of the table, but this year, they've struggled with injuries and inconsistent play. The one thing they haven't struggled in is attendance, where they commonly sell out Saputo Stadium. I've heard some of the tickets are given out by the team (much like Shittle gives out freebies), but the team also gets financial support from the Canadian government so they aren't hurting for money or fans to fill seats right now. Charles Gbeke has been with the team for a while, and always seems to bring his top game to Portland. Their keeper, Matt Jordan, has been with the team for a few years, and has good vision on the pitch but can be prone to some spotty goal kicks. Some old names familar to Timbers fans, Joey Gjertsen and Tony Donatelli, return to Portland as well, as they spent a few years in Vancouver before joining the Impact this year. Based on the team stats, Montreal has 12 players that have notched goals, but their leading scorer only has 3 goals (Severino Jefferson). It would appear they have the same issue scoring goals as we do.

There's also a special giveaway for the game as it's Taka Suzuki bobblehead night for the first 1000 fans. Taka got off to a great start to his Timbers career, but since then he's struggled to find the net. I'm hoping Saturday gives him some tonic to get him back on track. The MLS to PDX folks are also going to be about, plus there is a retirement ceremony at the Timbers Army Tailgate near PGE Park. Our den mother, Kathy, who owns the Bullpen is officially retiring as the Bullpen is being sold to the folks that own the Cheerful chain of establishments. The Cheerful Bullpen will open soon, with a footy centered focus, new food, and hard liquor. While I'm happy about the new pub fares, I'm going to miss Kathy terribly. She's been a fan of us and our team for years, and she's done a lot to help us promote the team. She's opened her heart and pub to us, and taken care of us like it's our second home, and she'll be missed a lot. Although, just like Timber Jim, I expect she'll be about at matches and hanging with us. Thank you, Kathy for all that you do for us.

On to the Olympics, and I know it's become rather common now to bash the coverage. I really enjoy staying up past 11 PM just to see the results of most competitions, sometimes not seeing it end until almost 1 AM. But, hey, the coverage is all live and happening, so they must be looking out for us. Apparently, the east coast is good enough to see games live, but we have to put up with the scraps since we are west coast. I'm just used to the fact that as a west coast sports fan, TV people just don't care about me when things get scheduled. They will delay games to ensure that folks in the east can see them, but think nothing of making folks out here stay up late or try and get home right after work to see them. I've written to folks about it, but all I get is the nice "thank you for responding" emails and letters. If it weren't for the fact that the Olympics are important enough for me to watch, I'd take a stand and stop watching. But apparently the reason TV networks do this is because they know they can get away with it. May not always be the case always, though...

Speaking of more coverage issues, I want to give an extra bit of thanks to the US Women's gymnastics team for showing me exactly what the Olympics are about and handling their situation with class and honor. If you watched it, you know the team got a silver medal despite being heavy favorites to win because of some errors in certain events. Instead of blaming the judges, crying about the ages of the competitors, or whining about the spotlight and pressure of trying to perform on a grand stage, the girls accepted the situation and didn't point fingers about mistakes, but gave credit to the Chinese for not making mistakes and performing when it counts. It would have been easy to throw Alicia Sacramone under the bus for making two major mistakes in falling off the balance beam and the floor exercise, but instead the team rallied and will go home medalists with an incredible experience. They could have blamed the IOC for letting younger girls compete, or complain about every little thing up until the competition, but instead they circled the wagons and stood as a team as Olympic medalists.

I know the Olympics take on special significance because it's only there every 4 years, but the experience should be about seeing different parts of the world, interacting with people, and taking in the moments there. Yes, people keep score and medals are given, but unlike other sporting events, the experience of the Olympics is as important as the results. Thankfully, these wonderful young women get it. I just wished that everyone else understood this as well.

Have a good weekend, and stay out of the heat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Random Thoughts from the World of Sports

The Olympics are a big part of my sports experience. I recall being disappointed with the U.S. boycotting the Moscow Olympics, but I also understood us needing to take a stand against Russia. The Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 were significant for me, not only because I watched as much coverage of the games as I possibly could, but I was able to assist with the Torch Relay as it came through Boise. I still have a picture of me and my friend John holding the torch, it was pretty cool. I was able to attend the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, where my friend Dave and I watched some hockey, aerial skiing, and spent some time in Calgary just running about and taking in the games itself. I've since watched Olympics go through various countries, the Winter Olympics go on a different schedule, and my personal experience of getting shut out of tickets to the Salt Lake games. I might try and travel to Vancouver BC in 2010, not only because the Winter Games are fun but I know the city well. But it's with great distress that I say that I'm not happy with what's happening now in Beijing.

It only slightly bothers me that someone lip synced a song in the opening ceremony because they thought the original girl wasn't pretty enough, and after seeing the actual footage on TV, it's annoying that some of the firework shots at the Opening Ceremonies were computer enhanced. I've heard that China is wanting to pull out all of the stops to put on the best ceremony ever, but simply put, this whole thing strikes me as a nation that is trying way too hard. We all know China doesn't have the best record of being an open country, nor do they deal with protests very well. Everything in their world is extremely structured, and the government controls all, even during this Olympics where the world was promised that we would see a new China. I'd think that with their human rights records and general bad impression on the world front, you'd want to be careful about things. But apparently a pretty face and computer images are supposed to make us all forget about Darfur and Tibet.

What I'm most irritated about is NBC's attempt to cover the Olympics. I'm used to watching sporting events that actually show coverage, provide analysis for what happened, and show the results. But the Olympics coverage is tailored more for the casual sports fan, as the coverage is littered with human interest stories, supposed live events that are cut and edited, and the footage is extremely slanted towards the US. I realize that NBC actually has numerous channels available to watch sports, and I've watched some of those channels simply to get away from the main feed. If an event is truly live, I'd expect it not to be interrupted with updates from other venues or in tonight's coverage, go from a supposedly live gymnastics competition to a swimming final and skip a whole turn. Seriously, it's as if NBC is thinking the viewers are all stupid and need to be force fed some patriotism and USA pride. I just want to watch events...

Which really gets frustrated when you have dozens of sports that rely on judging to determine results. I can respect most sports that have a clear cut winner because somebody scored more points, threw the object farther, jumped higher, ran faster or whatever. But to watch something where most participants do the same things and then have someone that is an expert determine who is better at spinning or tumbling or diving without really giving me, the viewer, any sense why one is better than another is dumb. A sport that needs to be judged is a sport that will create drama even if there's the smallest concern that something isn't right or there's inconsistencies in scores. When you rely on someone's perception to determine a winner, you run the risk of inconsistency and bias almost every time. Yet sports like baseball and softball aren't Olympic sports after this competition because they don't represent Olympic ideals. Yet tumbling and synchronized diving, gymnastics and boxing are, even with reports of judging issues in many past Olympics.

I can't take credit for the last point, it was discussed on the Morning Sports Page on 95.5 the Game during their morning show. I like the new format, and Gavin Dawson is a fresh approach to the sports game. He's a guy's guy but he also add some thoughtful comments and sensitivity to certain topics, plus he's a footy guy so that is a plus in my book. But seriously, guys, the problem with the previous morning show was that they talked Trail Blazers all the time, and I'm fearing this new version is risking the same issue. I love my NBA team, but I don't need to hear about every little move they make. I understand we are in a one major sport town, but there are lots of other things to talk about from the world of sports that are interesting. The talk didn't stop me from buying a quarter season ticket package for the Trail Blazers for me and girl, though, as I do need to see what all the fuss is about with this team.

After the Timbers match this weekend which I'll talk about a bit on Thursday/Friday in a preview as we face Montreal and then some afterwards, I'm going to get a new sporting experience. The LPGA Safeway Classic is next week at Columbia Edgewater, and I'm actually volunteering to caddy during the Pro-Am tournament on Monday. The proceeds for my volunteer work go towards Trillium Family Services, and at the very least, I will pick up some pointers for my golf game and spend some time outdoors. I will admit I don't watch golf on television because I find it extremely boring, yet I'll go out and swing the sticks anytime. Golf is a participation sport in my opinion, and watching it on television just doesn't have the same appeal for me as being there in person. Who knows, maybe I'll meet some famous golfers.

That's it for now, talk to you all later this week.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fan's Perspective - Charleston vs. Timbers 8/9/08

You might say we scored a goal at home, which hasn't happened in a while. You can also say that we got a point for our troubles in drawing with Charleston last night. You can also say that we played with heart and character, but in the end, this game still feels like a loss to me. Simply put, we needed 3 points badly and an elementary defensive mistake gave them a point. I should know about mistakes, because I joined our TA outdoor team for a bit of workout today. While I made some nice plays, I also got schooled on some fundamentals as well, like when you have opposing players that are faster than you, you shouldn't let them get behind you.

In reading the recap from the Oregonian, it was apparent that we didn't play good defense on a corner and let Charleston get the equalizer. Never mind this was a team that doesn't play well from home, never mind they are on a long road trip out west, never mind that we badly needed a win, never mind there were a couple of questionable calls from the ref, we simply didn't do enough to win. How can you outshoot your opponent 20 to 5 and run them around the pitch all night and draw, especially since both teams were banged up and were missing key players. I'm not sure I believe in superstitions, but it does appear that we might be snake bitten as a club. The breaks that we got last year as a team aren't following us this year at all, and we are basically an average offensive, somewhat better defensive club but not elite in any stretch.

The Timbers Army was in good spirits, but unlike Thursday's absolute wall of noise with 12,000 strong, it was a smaller but just as loud crowd. It reminded me of the Shed in the 2005 days before the section exploded and people filled all the seats, as there were pockets of empty seats about but yet people were chanting and singing all night. While the TIFO display wasn't as elaborate as Thursday, there were still signs a plenty, as you can see in Allison's match report.

It certainly seemed that when offseason moves were made to the Timbers, they were addressing the team's weaknesses last year, basically finishing. We had our team leader, Andrew Gregor, back with most of the players from our top rated defense. We even had Leo Griffin return to the team, and other new players were signed, such as Taka Suzuki and Chris Brown. It seemed like we had the recipe for success on our side with a great 3 - 0 start in April, only to struggle in May and then really struggle in June and July. And now, Gregor is in Rochester, Brown has been out with a suspension, and Suzuki hasn't done much since his early season goal.

I'm not convinced that Gavin Wilkinson needs to lose his job right now, some of this I don't think you can blame on him. Injuries happen as part of the game, but couple that with the talent base brought in and the system of play, and it's apparent some changes need to be made. We are 23 games into the season and have a grand total of 18 goals scored. You aren't going to win many titles scoring less than a goal a game, unless your defense is awesome and ours is just average right now. The crazy part is that with the existing parity of the USL, we are still in 7th place and would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and we've not come close to playing any of our best soccer lately. So it's important to either have the guys play more cohesively in an offensive strategy that works, or find a coach that can bring some offense to this team. I like Gavin's GM skills, he finds players very well, but can he mix them together and coach, that's the question that I think gets answered in the next 7 games.

Last night was a start, with Bryan Little playing some of his best footy all year with pinpoint passes and some great corners/crosses, and Lawrence Olum with stellar work in the controlling mid. And Bryan Jordan's goal was a sight to see, as he made a few moves and made a sweet shot. He played tirelessly all game, and was a huge catalyst for the offense. Miguel Guante, Cameron Knowles and Byron Alvarez were also very serviceable in their respective position. The problem was that we didn't have enough of that consistently, and we gave away points tonight.

On a lighter note, I'd also like to point out our kit sponsor this year, Nike. Their newest design is flashy, form fitting and apparently made of rice paper. These kits must be tear away, cause I can't explain how many games guys get shirts torn and it appears quite easily. Chris Bagley was in the game for less than 2 minutes, and his name went from Bagley to Ba in that quick of time. I know kits get tugged on a lot, but seriously, unless you want our team looking like Captain James T. Kirk battling the Gorn, do some quality control here and choose another design. Cameron Knowles had his 13th kit destroyed and we resorted to our wonderful add number with sharpie tactic for the second half. At least that was better than Larry Olum's taped on number that lasted 10 seconds during one of our friendlies.

But all we can do is lace them up again, and go after Montreal on Saturday. They've traditionally played well here, but in an ironic twist, we tend to beat them at their home. Right now, 35 points probably gets you into the playoffs, and the Timbers have 25 points with 7 games left to play, so there is a potential of 21 points left for them. We just need to take a game at a time, and it starts on Saturday, the 16th. Hope to see you all there, ready to stand and chant. Rose City Til I Die!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fan's Perspective - Shittle vs. Timbers 8/07/08

Ok, after careful consideration, I decided to try out a new thread of sorts, talking about the Timbers from the eyes of section 107. I'm not nearly knowledgeable about footy to tell you why a 4-3-3 works when a 4-2-1-2-1 wouldn't, I still have issues with the offsides rule in footy. I know that a pass can't be made to a player that is in an offside position - past the last defender going toward the goal, but I'm not even sure that explanation would hold up in footy school. I know that often times, offside flags get put up and I swear up and down it's not offsides until I see a picture or replay, but then other times I'm sure the flag will go up and it doesn't. It, like many calls in footy, are left up to the officials and last night, they didn't have a very good game.

But before I go there, last night was the last game in the current rivalry between the Seattle Sounders (aka Shittle Flounders) and the Portland Timbers. They both joined the A-League in 2001 after many years battling in the NASL and other professional soccer leagues, and the rivalry continued into the USL. Next year, the Flounders are heading to MLS, and barring a playoff meeting or perhaps a U.S. Open Cup game next year, these two bitter rivals won't meet again for a while. Mind you, I'm convinced that MLS will select Portland for a team in 2011 and things will get back to normal, but for now, it was the end. And boy, did the Timbers Army celebrate this in style.

Yes, folks, a coffin was brought into the stadium, containing a blow up whale and various Flounder gear, and it was paraded through the section to then reside on SW 18th Avenue just outside the park. Courtesy of video from my bud Oooh Yeah, you can see the fun passing this down. While we hate our rivals with a passion, I think for some of us it was a bitter sweet moment because we love to face them. I love traveling up north to watch the Timbers, although it's a nicer trip back if they win or draw. After the anthem was played, the streamer attack was in full force as well, as there were dozens of streamers flying about. Some pictures and a full match report are over at Soccer City USA, courtesy of Allison A, who does a great job of covering the team.

I'll miss matches against Shittle just because of the creativity of the TA, from Cinco De Mayo night up there last year to the coffin this year. I also know for a fact that we are a million times better footy fans than what they have up north. I realize full well they have USL titles, and now moving to MLS, but then tell me why their average crowd size over the past 7 years is 3,000 per game unless they play us. We've averaged between 5500 and 7000 fans for the past 7 years, and we've had some good teams (2005, 2007) and some not so good teams (2006), yet our fans keep coming back no matter what. Let's face it, if you survived the 2006 season with Agnello at the helm, trust me, you can live through anything. But Shittle's owner had the foresight to ask about MLS, got big money guys involved with his bid, worked to get MLS to approve Qwest Field as a suitable MLS park, got the owner of Qwest to join his ownership group, and the rest is history. I wish our former ownership groups had enough insight and forethought to have made a bid for MLS earlier, but soccer has been an afterthought until our new owner, Merritt Paulson, came on board, and realized the potential of MLS here. The bid is currently being worked on, but I have a feeling it's further along that anyone realizes. You can always check for more information about it, plus what you can do to contribute.

But back to last night's game and my observations. Our midfield did us no favors last night as passes forward went to nobody in particular, and Suzuki and Alvarez need good service in order to convert chances. Only Bryan Jordan can really create his own shot, which he did on a few occasions, but he never got a good clean look. When we did get the ball in midfield, the Flounders sent two guys after it, and our next pass was either to nobody or back in formation, allowing their defense to regroup. We certainly played with a lot of heart and passion, and I think had we not lost Scot to a really poor red card decision and gave up the early goal (which probably should have been called offsides according to some reports but wasn't), we would have probably done really well. But sometimes in footy, the breaks don't go your way no matter what happens, and essentially, we didn't get any breaks. When we did play aggressively, it usually led to a Flounder falling down or diving to either get a card or a foul, we would back off for a bit, allowing them space. Knighton played well in goal, and I can't blame him for the goal he let in, he's certainly improved a lot since we signed him.

We also were victims of spotty officiating all night, but that's to be expected from the USL. I can't tell you how many questionable calls don't go our way, from phantom red cards to offsides calls to non-calls on our opponents. Last night, the center official had little control of the flow of the game, allowing his ARs to call many fouls and make key judgements. In most instances, the calls were missed. Are you telling me that Leo getting a black eye from an elbow is a no call but yet Scot going in for a tackle a second late is a straight red?? Plus, Jordan being pulled down in the box and no call whatsoever? It was a bad night to be dressed in red and on the field. When the west side fans start booing and throwing crap, you know the referees have had a bad night, as the west side fans tend to be less animated. The other telling stat is 10 corner kicks in the game, and none for us. Seriously, that isn't a stat that will win you many games.

And the shed was amazing with over 5 full sections, yelling and screaming for 90 minutes, plus filling the air with streamers, balloons, an inflatable whale, and a few beach balls. The energy was amazing, as section 107 was starting to fill up 90 minutes before game time, and was about 3/4 full an hour before. I was impressed with the size, passion and energy of our sections, even after the match when folks were still singing and milling about. I'm a little upset that there were a few incidents between Flounder and Timbers supporters, because really, we are both here to support our teams, and I understand being rivals they will say or do things to ratchet things up. That is still no excuse to throw down, even if provoked. I understand things can get heated, but that's the time to walk away and be the better supporter.

Our next match is tomorrow night versus Charleston, which is really a must win if we want to have any hope of reaching the post season. Game time is 7 PM at the land of PGE Park. Hope to see some of you there...

Portland Tribune talking about game coverage of the game

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Blogging About The Portland Timbers

Ok, I've had a couple of people at my work ask me why I don't blog about my favorite team, the Portland Timbers. Seriously, as much as I seem to talk about the team, how the games went, our efforts to get MLS, why not dedicate a blog to all that is Timbers. Well, honestly, as much as that would be interesting to do, there's actually people doing it already that are much better at it and know the game of footy really well.

The Offside blog for the Timbers talks about the team, trends, news, and puts it all in a quick, easy to read format. It helps that the author is a footy guy who has been doing it for years, as Roberto knows his stuff. He doesn't spend a lot of time talking about fluff, it's all about the Timbers in a easy format. The Offside also has various football pages for other teams and leagues as well, so you can catch up on anything footy related in one spot. For more detailed Timbers coverage, you can always visit my friend Obi's site, the 107 Report, where he does detailed analysis, interviews, and throws in some cool music along the way. He gets some great interviews from the team, coaches, and fans, and gets all sides of the news about the Timbers. The local paper also does a blog that gets submissions from Timbers fans as well, although the blog has been a bit outdated for a bit.

I suppose I could speak from a fan's perspective, but it's also important to me to not be a one trick pony with my blog. Honestly, I love the Trail Blazers a lot, and I've done blogs on other sports as well, and so being narrow in my focus, well, I'm a bit worried about losing some of the subject matter. I really sometimes just think of an idea to write about, and then just start typing. Which can either lead to some incredible prose, or something that really hundreds of cats random smacking keys on a keyboard could have thrown together. But I promised myself in doing this that I would just take my chances with things, and go from my first draft and idea and run with it.

From a fan's world, the Timbers have won games they probably shouldn't have and lost games they probably should have won, so being in the middle of the table makes sense so far. We've had injuries, something that happens to a lot of teams, but it's hit the midfield quite hard. We also traded away our former captain, Andrew Gregor, in a mid season deal with Rochester and Carolina, which almost never happens in the USL. We've lost our top keeper, Ray Burse, who was on loan from Dallas FC, and now are on our third keeper, Brad Knighton, who is on loan from New England. Our top two strikers weren't with the club three weeks ago, Bryan Jordan was loaned to us from the LA Galaxy (he played here last year, and is a OSU product), and Byron Alvarez, who was with the team two years ago but was not resigned after Chris Agnello was fired after the 2006 season. Prior to them being signed, our top strikers were Taka Suzuki and Chris Brown, both skilled players just past their 30th birthdays but definitely not the quickest players around. They've actually played better in midfield lately than up front. Our defense was top rated last year, and all 4 guys are back this year, Scot Thompson, Justin Thompson, Leonard Griffin and Cameron Knowles. But Scot has looked a step slow at times and has gotten beat which never happens, and Leo has been inconsistent in his play. Plus, our defense last year had Josh Wicks cover many mistakes in goal, and our keepers, while good, aren't as athletic as Josh. And we have 11 midfielders on our team, but really only Shaun Higgins and Tommy Poltl have played consistently well week in and week out, and both of them have dealt with injuries and suspensions.

So to say we are a team in flux is an understatement, but we are sitting in 7th place and the final playoff spot as of right now. With 11 teams in the league, the top seed gets a bye in round 1 of the playoffs and then seeds 2 through 7 meet up for the right to advance. Also, with everyone playing three games against each other in a 30 game schedule, you get to see your opponents a lot. And USL Live has changed the complexion of scouting, as all games are available on a website for a relatively cheap fee, and you can watch them live or on archive. It makes it easier to know how your rivals are doing, watching them live and somewhat up close. I know the Timbers fans love it, cause you can watch games all the time, and we've set up many viewings of away matches at various pubs about town.

The ultimate Timbers site is Soccer City USA (, which allows the Timbers fans to post, connect with each other, set up viewings, share news tidbits, set up charitable events about town, talk bowling, talk soccer outside of Portland, or just share weird videos. The site has strengthened the sense of community amongst the TA, being able to share news and stay connected despite busy schedules about. I can't really get through my day without checking the site a few times a day for stuff.

Between all of these sources, I can't think of what else I might add to the world of blogs, so I will continue with my random assortment of topics. But rest assured that the Timbers and Trail Blazers will be tops on my list for things to spout about, along with pie. And maybe a crazy cat story now and then.


On a previous blog, I talked about Brett Favre and his saga to play again. Since my post, he's been reinstated by the league and met with team officials a couple of times. It was also announced that the quarterback job would be open to a competition amongst all of the players. While the press releases said the Packers would welcome him back, the team has said today that Favre didn't have the best team attitude and so they asked him to leave. Presumably, this is probably due to his desire to be the starter again, while the team wants to move on with other players. Tonight, reports are now surfacing that he's headed to the Jets.

In my original post, I said it was up to the team to make a move that made sense for everyone involved. But it's become apparent that they've also grown tired of a player that while very good being a piece of their history for years, has become a distraction by his desire to be the center of attention. It's all about what Favre wants, and he wants to play by his terms. And I can see now why the team has decided to move on. Instead of being a leader and doing what is right for the team, Favre has made it about him. Face it, the guy that looks best out of this is Aaron Rodgers, who basically went along with the plan as best he could. Even Favre admitted that his being in camp was a bit of distraction, but that being the starter again was what mattered.

In order to be a team leader, sometimes you have to know when you are beat and it's time to move on. Hopefully, Brett Favre gets this message and moves onto the Jets to resume his career. He might do well, he might be better off retired, but at least he's not the Packers' problem anymore.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why MLS Will Work For Portland

It's been a big week for soccer in Portland. Merritt Paulson has decided to throw his hat in the ring to snag one of two expansion teams in 2001 for Major League Soccer, and he wants to bring one of those teams to the Rose City. Within hours of the announcement, footy fans in Portland have mobilized efforts to email or write city officials, build a website for the effort, talk to people they know about MLS, and do everything possible to get folks buzzing about MLS.

The arguments for Portland as a MLS city are pretty substantial. You have a city of 2.4 million folks, the 25th largest television market in the U.S. with only one major sports team (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL), a city that has hosted 2 legs of the Womens World Cup in 1999 and 2003, hosted US Mens National games, has a soccer program at University of Portland that has won 2 NCAA titles on the womens side and has been very powerful on the mens program, and has a USL Division 1 team that currently draws between 8 to 9 thousand fans a game. Plus, the USL Timbers boast one of the most passion filled supporter groups in football, the Timbers Army, who are known worldwide for their support of their club. In full disclosure here, I've been a member of the TA since 2004, met my wife in the section, and have attended home and road games religiously over the years. I see the passion in the TA in the stands, but I also see the passion in their help with Habitat for Humanity, Dornbechers, and other charitable groups. I've also seen them help their own when one of them couldn't pay their medical bills after a significant illness, donate to a special school program in England, and help a young cancer patient who had her cheer bag stolen who was a huge Timbers fans by replacing many of the things stolen.

Not only does Portland love soccer, the grass roots effort of the Timbers Army make this market extremely unique. We assist the team in marketing matches, have traveling fans at most of the Timbers road games in the USL, and we work on support through our website, Soccer City USA. I view this site as our life line, as we post rumours about signings, ideas about TIFO, gatherings to watch away matches, post thoughts about the team, talk about soccer in the world, and generally build a community. With this crazy, nutty group, I've found a home that I wouldn't have thought possible a few years ago. They love their city, they love their team, they love soccer, and they share this with anyone willing to participate.

But the TA is more than just a scarf and showing up to matches. There is a history of events, ranging from the early days of a small group to over 250 people going by bus to a match in Seattle this year. It's traveling throughout the world to show love and support for your team, as evidenced by fans showing their scarves everywhere they go. We've worked out deals with our Front Office to help them support the team and do it in the best way as possible, while also explaining many of the edgy things the TA is known for doing over the years. We may not agree all the time, but the FO knows that the TA is behind the team no matter what. What we do is grass roots, and many people chip in with their time, talents and money to do things to support the team. Many ideas for banners or TIFO start with a simple post, and then suddenly the idea takes off on its own.

What my point in talking about all of this is the fact that while Portland may have all of the technical demographics desirable for a soccer team, we also have a city that is passionate about their teams and are willing to do a lot for them. The days of Blazer Mania still ring true in this city after almost 30 plus years, with people showing team colors, attending games and generally buzzing about the team. This is after the dark ages of 2002 to 2005, where the team's antics soured a town and a region with drug arrests, trouble with the law, not caring about the fans, and taking a "I do what I do for people that cut the check" kind of attitude. The town responded to this by turning their back on the team, hitting the Trail Blazers in the pocket book. The team responded by drafting character guys, and building a young, hungry group of players, and last year, the team finished at .500 with our all star Brandon Roy leading the way. The town is in love with the Blazers again, and fans can't wait to fill the Rose Garden this fall. It means literally that we love our teams no matter what, but won't support anything we feel is wrong. Winning isn't the only thing that is important to us, we need to have a team that we can be proud of, full of good character people who care about the city and us with as much passion as we do for them.

It's an arrangment that could work for MLS a great deal. I know that there are some significant money hurdles to cross, as we haven't had the fortunate luck of our rivals up north. Seattle will be joining MLS in 2009, mostly because of having big money guys involved with their bid. Their current owner wanted to get MLS, solicited some big money investors to help coordinate the money part, and got a big help from MLS by them saying Qwest Field is an MLS acceptable stadium. They originally built the stadium for both football and soccer, but ended up making it more football friendly in the end. MLS has pushed teams to have soccer specific stadiums, but gave Seattle the green light to stay in Qwest, saving the ownership group there millions by not having to build their own park. Oh, and then they enlisted Paul Allen as part owner, who just happens to own Qwest as well, so now the team can save more money as well. I'm happy that MLS is coming to the northwest, but I'd rather they be here than up north, but I'm hoping that MLS does well to give credit to the Northwest as a soccer friendly region. If the team falls flat up there, it could sour MLS on future expansion to the Northwest, so selfishly, I want them to do well although not too well.

Paulson need the city's help to pay for the stadium upgrade of PGE Park, targeted at $30 million, and a $35 million investment for a new stadium for the Portland Beavers Triple A team. The stadium location would be in a couple of spots, but most likely in Lents, an area in SE Portland off highway I-205 that has large parcels of land near a little league baseball complex. While many baseball fans don't want to leave downtown, the situation of sharing a park with MLS won't work and right now, the Beavers need their own park as much as the Timbers need a park specifically for them. Upgrading PGE Park for MLB would cost significantly more than MLS, and I'm not entirely convinced that Portland could support an MLB team for 81 home games at a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000 average. PGE Park isn't even big enough for that now, but I think eventually MLB makes sense here. It's just that MLS now makes more sense.

I hope the city understands what a unique opportunity we have here to help set up the future of Portland. We have a soccer crazy town, ready and waiting, and all it takes is a small investment and some belief that we really are Soccer City USA. I know that the city has many competing groups wanting money for services, and it's tough to justify spending money on a stadium when schools and police need money as well. But the investment in the future of soccer not only gives you a jewel of a stadium for the Timbers, but allows extra tourism money from potential USMNT and USWNT games, World Cup games, friendlies with EPL teams, and other large events. There's a potential gain obviously in civic pride if the team does well, and it gives another major team for this city to get behind and support. Right now, the Trail Blazers are the game in town, and there's more than enough room to have another team come into town and gain some attention. Plus, you are talking about a league that has television coverage for most of its matches, which means exposure for Portland. It's a win-win proposal for soccer fans and for the city of Portland.

If you are interested in participating in this effort, visit or and read more about the future of MLS. For me, I can't wait to showcase Portland to the rest of the soccer world. You cannot stop us, We are the Rose City...