Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm F&(^*ing Tired...

It's been a long weekend, and I'm fucking tired. All the way down to my core, I'm exhausted, but tomorrow the work week starts and I'll be at my desk ready to face the day. Seriously, I don't call in sick to work ever, instead working from home on days when I'm not 100 percent. It's not like my jobs are ones that make life or death decisions or deal with millions of dollars, as the only stress that is associated with most things I deal with is the personalities of my fellow workers. For me, I just go in because I'm committed to my job and feel I need to be there because it's important. Call it a work ethic, call it insanity, but it is what it is. I've been told that I should try and slow down a bit, but seriously, I work to allow me the things I want to live for, not live to work so when I'm not there, I tend to be rather busy.

Friday night, girl and I came home after her first day of teaching, and she was exhausted. She doesn't sleep much before her first school day simply because of excitement, but she also wasn't feeling 100 percent and so our plans on Friday of going to the gym and eating healthy were replaced with watching the presidential debate and eating massive amount of Italian food. The debate didn't change my mind about anything, expect to reinforce my choice of candidate. Traditional debates usually have some structure and decorum to them, Friday's discussion was fast, angry and rather chippy, which is really what politics nowadays is all about. If you can't convince someone to vote for your guy, then at least throw enough mud on the other person to make your guy look good by comparison. Between single issue interest and special interest concerns, a lot of people are cynical about politics, but my thoughts are read up and make a decision based on your own research. I read multiple sites before determining anything to vote on, simply because this allows me to see all sides on an issue. And voting is important, because that is your voice about how things are going in your neighborhood, state, and country. It's important to show up...because if not, I don't think complaining will change much of anything...OR...

You miss history, which is what happened on Thursday night in Corvallis. The Oregon State Beavers, given about as much chance to win their game versus Southern California as Ralph Nader has of becoming the 44th president of the United States, shocked the world with a complete effort and knocked off the previously unbeaten and number one ranked Trojans. There were some complaints before the game, as there were seats available right up until near kickoff. I know it's a Thursday and work is there, but this is the number one team in the land, and if you are a true fan, you show up to support your side no matter what. Because things like Thursday happen, and I found myself sucked in to this even with premiers of the Office and My Name is Earl on television that night. The fun thing about sports is that sometimes you see the amazing, the unexpected, the crazy, and Thursday was a front row seat to all things crazy. The Trojans may have more talent and more players with expensive pedigrees on their team, but the Beavers simply took it to them. And we aren't talking about a fluke win with a last second play, but the Beavers simply ran over them and outplayed them in every way. Not a bad way to start the weekend.

Saturday, girl and I watched our beloved Hammers win again, and then we continued our painting escapade upstairs. We are almost done with painting a room upstairs in our favorite teams' colors, and it will be the envy of all rooms, but for now, it's just a brightly painted room that has furniture under drop clothes. I also got a haircut from girl so my hair is now rather short, not quite a buzz cut but close. I'm losing my hair and getting more forehead than I've had, and during a recent trip, a couple of folks pointed out that I might like shaving my hair shorter. Well, girl took it on last night, and she did a great job and so far I like it. It's a bit different in the sense that I scratch my head and there's not a lot of hair in the way, plus in playing footy today, my head felt a bit warmer without cover. But the change seems to be OK, and so we'll stick with it.

Sunday, our outdoor team played and lost again, while I left at halftime to go to a first birthday party for some friends' child. He was a fussy, funny baby, who was more fascinated with smashing Doritos than eating cake, but the fact that I could be there for his first birthday was touching, and I'm glad to have been there. Yeah, it was a nice day and I might have enjoyed running about more playing footy, but I was where I needed to be, at the party. I think sometimes with my schedule, it's busy but then again it's simply being where I need to be for the people that I care about. It takes discipline and great time management skills to be everywhere that we need to be, but simply put, I'd rather be living out in the world than sitting at home wondering or getting prepared for work the next day. I'll take doing things over that any day...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We Live in a Very Strange World...But There's Hope for Us Yet

I tend not to pay attention when other guys are doing their business in the restroom. Seriously, I know some guys that chat up a storm, look around at everything or everyone else, and generally treat the restroom as a social experience. Me, I'm simply there to do my business and get out while remembering to wash my hands, although sometimes it might take a bit. I can't tell you how many times I see people leave the restroom and not wash their hands, it really bugs me especially when people around my office start to catch colds and such. Washing your hands is a great way to not spread icky germs, and it's just common courtesy. But I'm willing to not be such a stickler about that, as I witnessed the most insane thing at a urinal today at my office.

Look, I know guys sometimes will grab reading materials to read while doing their thing, I've done it more than a few times myself, but today, I saw someone sending text message while doing their business at a stand up urinal. The guy had both his hands texting away while he was urinating. I had to do a double and triple take to make sure I was seeing this right, because I was shocked as much as anything that someone feels that texting is so important, they need to interrupt bodily functions. I know people send texts when they sit down, but this was the first time I saw it done standing. And while part of it was a bit funny, I just hope that I'm never in that situation where texting rules my life.

I already have enough issues remembering to turn on my phone when I leave the house, which then leads to girl leaving me crazy messages about "gee, I'd love to give you a ride home from work but your phone isn't on so I guess you can just walk home." And I really like my phone from Motorola, it's got a camera and a few other bells and whistles that are rather interesting. But I don't view my phone as a necessary accessory. I spend a lot of my day on long conference calls, and so I really don't like to talk on the phone in general unless necessary. I tend to text only when I'm running late to meet someone or I'm wanting to confirm plans about something and it's easier to send a text to someone rather than calling. One of my cousins bragged that she'd sent over 5000 text messages last month, and while that's an impressive number, I'm sure people have sent more.

I understand texting and being on cell phones, because they do make conversations convenient when needed and help in emergencies, but I also think that in some respects, they make some conversations impersonal and less important. I can't tell you how many times I am on MAX and people are blathering on about whatever they feel like on their phone as loud as they can, privacy be damned. Maybe they get a thrill talking about their conquest last night, but seriously, I've got better things to do than unintentionally eavesdrop. I also hate people driving while talking or texting and they aren't using a hands free set. I already get a little freaked out driving with aggressive folks on the road, and now you add people that are driving while talking and so they are barely paying attention to either task. I've seen numerous near accidents from drivers and pedestrians just walking while talking on their phone, and nearly missing cars. I think my phone is a nice feature, but I'm not willing to die for the privilege to talk on it.

Mind you, some people may say that I'm just older and I don't get what it means. Seriously, I get it, and whatever conversation you are having on your phone isn't as important as paying attention to the road and being courteous to other people wherever you are. The only exceptions I could see are in emergencies, and unless you are a doctor, fireman, police man or some other important official type person, I can't imagine any conversation that is so important that it can't wait until you arrive at your destination in one piece. But that's the world we live in...

But there are things that give me a little bit of hope. Portland is buzzing about Rudy Fernandez, the newest member of the Portland Trail Blazers. He arrived from Spain on Tuesday to start training camp, and was met by approximately 200 Trail Blazer fans at the airport. He signed autographs, posed for pictures, and heard the crowd chant his name, including interrupting one television interview because of the noise level. Rudy even admitted that he was overwhelmed by the reaction, and was ready to get to work as soon as possible. It's just amazing to think that we're only a few weeks away from the start of the season, and the town is buzzing about Trail Blazer basketball.

And why not? The youngest team in the NBA finished at .500 last year with 41 wins and 41 losses, and added the number one pick from last year's draft, Greg Oden, the MVP of the Vegas Summer League, Jarryd Bayliss, and an MVP from European basketball, Rudy Fernandez to a formidable lineup. The team is loaded, and will make some noise this year as long as injuries don't ravage the team and expectations and minutes can be dealt with. I believe we have an extremely competitive team, and give it a few months, they could be a force to deal with. While practice is good, there's something about the regular season that puts things in perspective and I want to see our guys deal with some of the road trips, tough matchup and things to see what we've got going on. But the attitudes and comments are all positive..

And Rudy is at the center of all of that. He did an interview with 95.5 The Game on Wednesday afternoon, and was funny, engaging, and happy to be here. He was a true professional, even though his English was a bit rugged at points, but he got through the interview and said in two months, I will be fluent and I want to come back and talk to you more. He mentioned his family, who will be coming over to live with him, being influenced by his mother, father and sister who all played basketball, and his successful resume from playing overseas. But he's ready for a new challenge, and that all starts here in Portland. He even indicated that my role on this team is whatever my coach says I need to do, because it's important for me to fit in here. You keep hearing that from all of the guys coming up, top to bottom, and you can't help but be encouraged especially after the most recent dark days of Trail Blazer history. My hope is that these guys remained focused and committed to their plan, and if they do that, there's no telling where they might end up at the end of the year. Let's just hope they're more careful with their cell phones..

Monday, September 22, 2008

Timbers Season Finally Done, What To Do in the Offseason

The Timbers season came to an end on Saturday night on the road versus Carolina, and like many of the matches this year, the team played well in stretches but gave up a late goal and took the loss. We won't be making the playoffs this year, actually as of Sunday's matches, we are last on the First Division table by a whole three points. While there was a lot of parity this year in the USL, the Timbers simply were too inconsistent for their own good. They'd look amazing one night in a match, then come out completely clueless the next night. I realize that it's tough to keep mentally focused for a long season, heck, I have trouble remembering where the grocery list is, but being mentally tough is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. And no, it's not that I can't remember what's on the list, its actually where I put the damn thing.

The offseason for Timbers fans can be a bit tough, especially since our message board becomes a harbor for crazy rumors, thoughts about strategy, the things the front office should do, and so on. Some of the ideas make sense, others are wildly crazy, but the offseason isn't boring around the Timbers message board. Some people actually fill their offseason with distractions, like watching footy from other parts of the world or watching a different sport (GASP!!). I spend my offseason watching West Ham in the English Premier League and our own hometown Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA.

I've always been a basketball fan, and so following the hometown team is an easy choice, especially after moving here in 1989 and there was a championship run that very year. This town gets nuts for their team, and I got a full on taste of what Rip City is like around here. There are signs everywhere, the games are talked about all over the news and about town, and the town cheers each win and tries to shake off each loss. The town loves its team, and there is a sense that the community is really part of the team. It's something really special, and I'm glad to see that it's coming back a bit. We certainly have a solid team base, with the rookie of the year from 2006 - 2007 (Brandon Roy), the first overall pick from the 2007 -2008 draft (Greg Oden), and a solid nucleus of players, including one of the better players from Europe coming over this year (Rudy Fernandez) to join the club. I bought an 11 game pack to watch games, and so girl and I will be going to games throughout the season. When we aren't at the game, the television is usually on the games. We are a true Trail Blazer house, and I'm glad I married such a sports fan.

West Ham is my choice to follow in English Soccer, mostly for my allegiance to a former Timber and prominent member of the Portland soccer community, Clive Charles. He played for the Hammers, as well as one of the Timbers' former coaches, Bobby Howe. Plus, one of my favorite memories of my honeymoon is watching a full stadium in Upton Park as the Hammers met Newcastle, and it was the loudest, most intense footy experience I've had. Girl supports them because of her teaching experience in Basildon, UK, and using the kids' love of football to bond with them, and the Hammers were the local team to support. I do have a lot of fondness for Sunderland, another EPL team, mostly because of the fans there. I took a trip over there in 2006 with 32 other members of the Timbers Army, and was treated to one of the most amazing experiences while there, plus another return trip in 2008 as part of my honeymoon, where they took care of myself and girl for 5 wonderful days. I respect the Black Cats a lot, and they're great folk, but the Hammers was a slightly more intense footy experience. Plus, we got to stay a night on the West Ham grounds as guests of our friends here as a wedding present.

I think the offseason is a great time to also get caught up on other pursuits, like reading or doing odd jobs around the home. While I love my Timbers a great deal, it does tend to fill our social calendar with matches, gatherings and such, and so every once in a while, it's nice to take a bit of a break. However, we still see many members as I'm playing outdoor soccer on a TA team, and girl and I bowl with some TA as part of Underdog Bowling Portland. Besides, the rains will come soon and keep most of the folks inside for the remainder of the year, which is too bad because I like the rains and the fall around here. It's actually some of the best weather here in Portland, when the mornings are crisp and the afternoons are still a bit warm and sunny. I will miss the sun when the winter comes around and the work day pretty much covers getting up and coming home in the dark, but it's a small price to pay for the coolness that is here. And besides, I already have my 2009 Timbers tickets, so bring on next year already!

For more information about the Timbers and offseason stuff, visit or to learn more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Learning Acceptance

For being 41 years old, I'll admit there was a lot of things I hadn't done in my life until most recently. When you don't have a significant other around, there are just some events that you just don't get to do or it's weird to do them alone. I think my living conditions before I moved in with girl didn't help things, either, in so much as I loved the location but being in a studio apartment meant that there weren't a lot of visitors about. Northwest Portland is an amazing place to visit with its many restaurants, bars, bookstores, sights, coffee houses, you could do so many things and be around so many people. And yet really feel all by yourself.

I had really accepted the fact that I wasn't going to meet anyone to fall in love with after my mom died, and then girl came into my life and changed that. She also spent a lot of time helping me rethink a lot of things, not without some resistance and other things. She only wants the best from me, I get that. And in the end, that's all I want as well. But I have a few lessons to learn that will help me, and one of them is learning acceptance.

I know there's the famous phrase about knowing the things you can control, the things you can't and getting the serenity to know the difference, which many people think covers what acceptance is. I've never really thought about that quote, because I always found it rather cheesy and cliched. But I also work in a large corporation that is constantly coming up with mission statements and mottos to represent this and that, when in reality the best motto doesn't represent the fact that people do what they want to do as long as they can get away with it no matter what credo is on the door. Management may try their best to change thinking, but simply put the corporation is always going to do what it can get away with simply because that's how they work. We hope that they will do good things and be ethical about their decisions, but anyone following the trade papers knows that isn't always the case. The business pages have as much legal news as most sports sections do about litigation, because we can't always trust those with money or power.

Acceptance means that you understand how things are at this point and are OK with that. It doesn't mean you have to be happy about the events, or that you can't wish they were different, but simply to keep sane you have to accept the reality of things for what they are. It's a tough lesson to learn for me, a lifelong sports fan who has always been able to imagine things as they could be, envisioning trades and new players, seeing the optimism of the new season, playing fantasy sports, and generally being able to create a different reality of sorts. If things don't work out the way they should, there's always a reason from lack of coaching to injuries to a bad official to travel to whatever, because I know in my heart that my team is better than that. But this line also keeps you from recognizing that the team may not have the talent to compete, the players you love maybe aren't as good as you think, or it's just not their year to win. For all the hard work and practice that happens in sports, sometimes wins and losses are determined by the bounce of a ball, a miss of a shot, or a last second miracle.

True fans accept the reality of this, and love their teams no matter what happens. I know that's tough, especially in hearing from sports radio or other fans all the troubles happening or what they could do differently. But in order to keep sane and not going too nuts, it's important to have this focus which I know for me will be easier said than done sometimes. There will be points where I'll bitch about the officials or get down on a missed play, but in reality, I need to love my team no matter what. It's all about accepting them for what they are, and sticking with them in the good times and the bad times. And really, the world of sports tends to operate in cycles like that, so things aren't always going to be gloom and doom (well, we hope anyway unless you are a Cubs fan).

But in my own interpersonal dealings, I need to learn this lesson as well. I don't need to go into the gory details of what's going on with me, except to say that I'm trying to find a happy place to be in with some relationships with members of my family. I love them no matter what, but at this point, my relationships are never going to be like what they were when we were younger. I need to accept them for who they are, including their faults and issues and they need to accept me for who I am. I'm talking to a professional to try and figure out coping skills to deal with some of this stuff, including some of the unresolved issues that exist and may remain unresolved for the rest of my life. I'm hoping that the journey I'm going on right now will allow me to find the peace to learn this lesson, because it's about time that I truly think of me and my happiness...and the future happiness of my clan. It's really that important...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Decompressing From the Weekend

I know it's a great weekend when I'm ready to go back to work to rest up from my weekend plans. It might be a different way of thinking, but I like to think about it like this. If I'm so busy doing things and being with friends or family and I look at work like a nice break from living, the drudgery won't seem nearly as bad. So far, it's worked pretty well, but I'm also new to my new job and I'm figuring out all of the quirks of my team. So far, they know me as the new guy from Portland that loves soccer and got married this year, but that's about it. It's a bit hard when over half of your team resides in the Midwest and you only talk to them by phone. I can say that it can be done to make strong friendships by simply chatting over the phone, because I made a lot during my last job. So to say leaving there for my new position was hard would be an understatement, but I needed a new challenge, and so I'm trying something different. Which brings me back to my starting point, in a roundabout way.

The Timbers' season is almost officially over after this weekend, as Minnesota decided to score 4 goals versus Charleston and didn't allow them to score any, so we've been officially eliminated from the post season. We have a final game left this coming Saturday, and then it's the long off season. For some of us, we turn our attention to other teams, such as the Trail Blazers, while others turn their thoughts toward other soccer leagues in the world, like the EPL and Serie A. Girl and I love West Ham, and will watch them very closely during their season, but we'll also follow some sports closer to home as well. We love our Timbers, but it's nice to be distracted by other stuff once in a while as well. Plus, in reading today's paper, the Nielsen survey is actually now rating Fox Soccer Channel this month, so they will be able to put ratings to the various games that most of us get up way early to watch. So now we'll be able to point at a true number of soccer fans that are insane for getting up early on the weekends or the enemies of soccer will have proof that TV ratings for soccer rank somewhere between public access and CSPAN. I can't find the link, but know it's out there somewhere, trust me.

EDIT - I found the link and noted it above. It's actually a very fascinating article that also mentions some potential changes in broadcasting when contracts come up soon.

What the Timbers' season showed me is that sometimes you have to put things in some perspective, and being a fan of team it's hard to remain objective in looking at the bigger picture sometimes. This team had enough talent to make the playoffs, but didn't. You could blame a lot of things for why that didn't happen, such as injuries, suspensions, bad calls, travel schedule, player performances and being outcoached, and I bet anyone could find numerous examples of these things happening and then point to those as the reasons why the Timbers are spending September close to home. Whether that's the right approach or not, well, that's something to debate actually.

Today's topic on the Bald Faced Truth was talking about the Oregon Ducks football team, and their big win in Purdue on Saturday. The team showed a lot of poise to win a game that they could have easily given away, as they fell behind 20 to 3. But they kept their heads and won, something that had befallen previous Duck teams. Last year, the Ducks were threatening the BCS championship world, then Dennis Dixon blows out his knee, the Ducks lose three games in a row and end up playing in the Sun Bowl. The excuses made for this were all pointed to one player getting injured that led to the downfall of the team. And I think the point made during the show was this - if your team is able to persevere and overcome adversity, that's a better set up than having amazing amounts of talent on a team that folds up like a lawn chair when things get tough.

The Timbers exemplified this trait all this year, folding up when things got tough and not delivering. It's certainly not because of talent, because the team was loaded, and injuries and suspensions happen to all teams, so the winners either let this bother them or they adapt to the situation and move on. The team tried to adapt to player changes, a tough travel schedule, and other things, and there were points where you didn't know which team was going to show up - the rough and tumble Timbers that won their first three games impressively OR the incredibly passive Timbers that gave away points at home with losses to Miami, Vancouver and others at a place where we've had a history of not losing. So where do you look to explain this?

Everything in the Ducks world pointed at the coaches, who were quick to blame players, officials, situations, injuries, or whatever they could to explain the losses. Simply put, Mike Belotti has never publicly taken accountability for any loss put on his team, saying that it's one thing or another. While this may be the truth, you simply can't just point a finger at a player or situation and then throw them under the bus to explain losses. Even up to the coaching level, you win as a team and lose as a team, and playing the blame game in the press is a great way to lose the focus and trust of your team. Yet, coaches play this all the time, hoping a player will hear things in the news and then gain inspiration for it. The coaches never actually say names, but simply point out plays or situations where they would hope players would do better, hoping that public embarrassment will work wonders. I'd love to see a coach stand up and take responsibility for something that did or didn't happen, but out of fear of losing a job, it's a lot easier for coaches to distance themselves from situations like this and avoid any blame they can.

If you read the Timbers' coaching comments this year, it's a laundry list of comments pointedly said to deflect blame to anywhere besides on the coaches. In my opinion, coaches accept responsibility for losses, even if it's a mistake or injury. While players are professional and should be able to accept blame for not playing well, part of a coach's job is to inspire confidence while providing feedback on performance. Nothing undermines confidence like a vague comment made in a paper about somebody not playing up to their potential or blaming the travel for a bad game.

With this important off season here for the Timbers, there's lots to pay attention to as we learn about our MLS fate, we have a friendly exhibition in October supposedly, and we have all winter to speculate about signings and players. What we also need is an organization that inspires confidence in the product on the pitch, and deals with the ups and downs during a long season. While Gavin Wilkinson is a great former Timber and had a great season coaching last year, I hope he can look at 2008 as a rebuilding year not only for the team, but for the style of play and tactics in the press. We have creative players, but we need a more creative offensive style and something that can generate goals, not play defensively for draws. Also, the tactics within the press of throwing players under the bus don't inspire players to play better, if anything, they play scared to not make mistakes and we know how well someone performs when they're scared of being benched. Seriously, we should be competing at the top of the USL table every year, and only scoring 26 goals in 29 games just isn't going to win a league, this despite seeing growing attendance the past few years.

I'm not ready to call for a coaching change just yet, but a change in perspective is very due. And if that can't be done, perhaps it's time for the newest challenger to step up to the pitch. At least it won't be a boring off season....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Other Brand of Football, Timbers Recap, and A Fun Weekend Coming

I love being in Portland, and I especially love the early fall time here. The leaves begin their colored kaleidoscope change, and being in a large city with trees, you see all sorts of colors and combinations. The mornings have a bit of crispness to them, but by afternoon, the sun is out and it feels like a warm summer day. The jacket has been hung up all summer, and now it's at least time to find out where it's hiding because the evenings can get a bit chilly if you aren't careful. The summer memories of camping, hiking, being outdoors are still in full recall, and the upcoming rains and cold weather seem miles and miles away, even though we all know they are coming soon enough.

It also represents the time of year that the sports landscape changes, as the Timbers wind up their 2008 campaign in the next few weeks, and people are starting to talk Trail Blazers, even though training camp is just under a month away. Yes, there is lots of college football talk about, as the Ducks and Beavers dominate the Saturday television viewing and portions of the daily newspaper. Even though both schools are over an hour away by drive, Oregon and Oregon State are very present, especially as both schools fight for notoriety. Oh, and high school football dominates the Friday landscape, as every television station in the area devotes a big portion of their newscasts to game coverage and highlights. You'd think this town was football crazy, and I think you'd be right.

We are unique in the fact that our nearest NFL team is over 3 hours away in Seattle, and the major college programs are over an hour from Portland. Portland State is in town playing the Championship Subdivision level, which sounds more like a housing complex than an NCAA level designation, and has struggled to gain attention in town despite having a former NFL coach running the show here, Jerry Glanville. Despite all of the distance for our football games, it remains a powerful influence in sports in this town. Sports bars advertise having the NFL package, and fans flock to watch games on Sunday, filling various spots around town. These people could be fans of the teams, playing fantasy football, or just generally getting together with the guys, but football is serious business here.

Which makes a lot of the comments about the efforts to bring MLS here make sense. There is a large portion of folks that would prefer Portland to go big in their effort to bring another sports team to town, and the NFL fits the bill. It's mega popular, on television and getting great ratings, and makes a ton of money for the cities it's in. And it's also an extremely costly venture as well. Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis just opened this season, with a price tag of around $700 million dollars; the stadium is full of the latest bells and whistles from giant big screen, various restaurants on the grounds, luxury boxes abound and plenty of seats, about 70,000 of them. Figuring that an NFL team plays roughly 10 homes games a year (2 exhibition games and 8 regular season games), most NFL stadiums are only full a few times a year. Most other times, they sit empty unless you can find conventions or events to fill them. Some NFL teams have decided to share their stadiums with other sports to maximize the dates it's used to earn more money, from having an MLB team present to an MLS team. Ticket prices in the NFL remain the highest of the 4 major sports, averaging about $300 for one game for a family of four, figuring the $300 represents tickets, concessions, programs and such.

So for these dollar figures, you can see that bringing the NFL here represents a huge financial undertaking, and for something that will remain unused for a large period of time. I would love to have the NFL come here, but I see the value in bringing MLS here for a tenth of the potential cost. You get an updated stadium that could house college football exhibitions, MLS games, international and national friendlies, and other events for about $40 million dollars. It's not the NFL, but I think it serves a purpose to fill another sport in the area that is passionately followed. I get that some people are disappointed in this approach as evidenced by a recent column in the Oregonian's opinion, where the major focus of the article is why can't we aim higher when really it sounds more like a MLS bashing party. It'd be nice if some rich person came into town and said they'd take care of all of our stadium needs, but it's not going to happen. So we have to approach this the best we can, and for me, that's MLS.

I would love to get the football fans taken care of, but for now, it's time to keep huddling in front of the televisions at sports bars. I hope one day we can get you outside to watch the game live.

TIMBERS UPDATE - The Timbers came into the past weekend with some great momentum after their 4 - 0 win against Miami, but they still needed points as they headed to Rochester and Montreal for two road matches. Rochester is a place where we don't play well at all usually, and Montreal is a place that we normally play very well at, but instead we ended losing both matches by the same 2 to 0 score. Apparently, we didn't play very well in either place, as both opponents really took it to us. I've tried to find a match report for Rochester but can't (this was as close as I could find), while Montreal's match report is available here. I echo a lot of the thoughts about the team now by saying that while I love my Timbers and want them to do well every time they go out and play, I won't be disappointed if they miss the playoffs. Simply put, we've struggled to find any sort of identity this year, and I think it's serious time to really rethink the roster. I understand the complexities of USL, but we need to get some quality talent and keep them in Portland. I think the eventual plan of adding a PDL team here will help in that cause, as we can have players work out and play to get better before moving up, but as with any plan, it takes time to build the level up.

Mind you, I'm not saying we don't have talent here, but it's obvious the talent doesn't work well together at times. Our defense has been pushed to the limit numerous times, the keeping has been up and down as players rotate in and out, the midfield can't control and keep balls, and the forwards haven't really generated much offense because they aren't getting much service. We've seriously done well to get to this point, and I think the talent has done that, but there are other things that teams must do to win: overcome adversity and take advantage of your schedule. Our team in 2007 was hit with lots of challenges, but overcame all of them right up until the end, and they took advantage of the schedule to maximize their points. Having the California Victory on the schedule helped, but simply put, we could have folded or not taken them seriously and gave up points, but we didn't and it led to great things. This year, we haven't been able to deal with the adversity of injuries and player movement, and the schedule hasn't been dealt with at all.

While we still have a chance to get into the playoffs, it requires us to win out and get some help from Atlanta and Minnesota. It's possible to get in with draws as well, but we'd need more help, so really it comes down to getting points in our last two games. It starts with Charleston on Thursday coming to PGE Park, a team that is in the thick of the race and has something to play for, so it won't be easy. Either way, I'll be there because it's the last home regular season match for the year, and it will potentially be the last time I'll see some of the TA for the winter. I expect some magical things to happen, but if not, it will still be a great night. Besides, I already have my 2009 season tickets on order.

I will be heading to the Oregon Coast this weekend for a wedding, so the blog gets a break until next week. Two of my best friends, KC and Steve, are getting married on the coast. They are huge Timbers fans who got relocated to Pittsburgh for work, and I miss them terribly, as KC was not only a great friend, but an awesome bowler. It will be great to see them this weekend as they begin their journey as a married couple, and to be able to see my friends again. If I'm asked for any wedding advice, I'll give them one point: Marriage can be hard unless you communicate and share of yourself all the time, because it doesn't work doing it alone. I wish them the best in their future, and we'll chat with you all next week.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pummling Miami, MLS Updates and My Attempt at Being Political

I had failed to do a match preview of the Timbers versus Miami last night, and maybe I should forget them after last night's result. The Timbers won 4 to nil, in a performance in which they dominated from start to finish. This was the team we all expected to see earlier this year, and it paid dividends last night in what really amounted to a must win match for both teams. Based on higher math, it was determined that Portland and Miami both needed a win yesterday to help their playoff spot. Portland had 28 points on the table and 5 games left to play, Miami also had 28 points with 4 games left going into last night, with both teams trying to stay near the bunch of teams between playoff spot 3 and 6. I've never seen this much parity in the USL before, but it's the final two weeks of the season and everyone still has a chance to get into the playoffs, so that's all you can ask for at this point.

The Timbers scored within the first 3 minutes, as Byron Alvarez headed in a shot and the game was off and running. Things were physical at times, very chippy at points, but overall the official let the teams play and only called fouls when absolutely necessary. For such a physical game, I was surprised only 5 cautions were issued, although the game did feature 2 penalty kicks for us, which we converted both. Everyone that put on a Timbers uniform performed amazingly, running with purpose, stringing together passes with urgency and playing defense that stifled any and all attacks Miami could muster. I would give special kudos to Cameron Dunn, Chris Brown and Tommy Poltl for their efforts. Dunn was all over the pitch, tracking down opposing strikers and marking them and even getting his first professional goal right before the half. Brown notched two goals from the penalty kicks and assisted on another, and really controlled the offense all night. Poltl was his typical bulldog self, messing with opposing players with well timed challenges, and he almost scored a goal in the second half for his efforts. I'd say Chase Harrison also deserves some credit for pitching a shut out in his second match with the club as a starter, and he wasn't really threatened all night. Overall, the team showed that it wasn't done yet, and so they got the points.

They head off to Rochester for a game tomorrow night at 4:35 pm their time, a place that we don't play well at historically, and then Montreal on Monday night at 5 pm their time, a place that we play very well at historically. The Montreal match was rescheduled due to their CONCACAF duties the past few weeks, so it will be interesting to see how well the Timbers play in this unusual back to back. Then, it's back to PGE Park for next Thursday's final regular season home game versus Charleston. We should know more about where we will end up in the playoffs this weekend, as we really now need 7 points to assure us a spot. But hey, let's just win out and really cause some ruckus.

MLS Update - With the website launched, the buzz about the plan has been mostly positive with some negative comments, mostly centered on why concentrate on soccer when we should go after MLB or NFL instead. Really, for what the price tag is here ($75 million for PGE Park upgrades and a new park in Lents), you would get one quarter of an NFL park and possibly a third of a baseball stadium, based on recent prices. And then there's the whole supporting these teams, which I think we'd do OK with, but we could get MLS for cheaper, get the Beavers their own park in an area that wants it, and we all win with upgraded facilities. Simply put, the money for the park comes from bonds backed by the city, paid back through ticket and merchandise revenue and tax on player salaries. While the city is on the hook for the bonds, the team has worked out a logical financing plan that mitigates the risk for everyone. Really, the plan makes sense. If you haven't seen, you should go visit.

On my final note, the political conventions are all done and the candidates have finally been chosen. I'm getting a little tired of the smear tactics back and forth, because it distracts us from the real issues going on. For me, the issue is as simple as asking a question that Ronald Reagan asked many years ago "Are you better now than you were 4 years ago?" I can say honestly that I'm not, despite being married to a wonderful woman and living in a great home in East Portland. I'm asking folks to get involved and really research candidates and their positions to make the best choice. We need to stop this single issue focus, smear campaigns and talk about the issues that matter right now. We need to get education back on track, we need to get more money in the hands of people to use for their basic needs and stop paying for illegal wars and corporate welfare disguised as military contracts. I'm not advocating that our military doesn't need to be strong, but they must be smart and frugal as well, and we need somebody willing to make some tough choices. I don't normally get political, but after the RNC, I felt that it was time to stand up and say something. Look at Barack Obama's record, visit his site and learn more about the guy I think will really do wonders for this country. I promise we'll get back to more sports and stuff next time....

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Great Day in Sports History in Portland

Perhaps many of you are following the baseball playoff race, or paying attention to the Republican National Convention as the pomp and circumstance continues, or maybe you are trying to get outside to take advantage of the last few nice days around here before the rains come. Me, I'm paying attention to a website and dreaming about what might happen, and I'm more than a little distracted.

The MLS to Portland official website was launched this morning. Designed by a team working for the current USL Timbers owner, Merritt Paulson, the site gives folks a one stop shop to view statistics about the MLS effort, what will happen to PGE Park, and what will happen to the baseball Portland Beavers. The plan to bring MLS to Portland involves paying an expansion fee, building a new baseball stadium in Lents for about 8,000 to 10, 000 fans, and then refurbishing PGE Park to a soccer/football stadium where the MLS Timbers, PSU Vikings football, and high school games would occur. The plan also calls for restaurants to be added, new sky boxes for rent, and a full bleacher of seats on the 18th street side; there used to be bleachers there in the old Civic Stadium days but they were pulled out during the PGE Park upgrade. The hope is the website would be a good source of information for people who want to know more about MLS, the Beavers, the Timbers, and the efforts. And I must say that they've done their homework, and the site is extremely informative and easy to use. You can even see artist's renderings of the new site as well. The investment being asked for is $75 million dollars for the changes to PGE Park, and a new stadium in Lents; this figure doesn't cover the MLS expansion fee which will be paid for by team ownership.

For me, I see nothing but wins here for everyone involved. Portland would get a newly refurbished stadium for MLS use, but could also be used for other international soccer matches, concerts, exhibition football games, and other large events. They would also get a rather nice baseball stadium in Lents, an area within southeast Portland that has been working hard to change its image as one of the slum parts of town. The city wants more commerce and business in Lents, and a ballpark would certainly bring people. Transit is being built to the new location, as the new Green Line MAX will have a stop a few blocks away. The Beavers would get their own stadium to use as they see fit. Portland gets another major sport, and plays on the top level of soccer in the United States, so we would get international and national attention.

But I'll admit, I'm a hardcore fan of the Timbers, and would watch them if they played their games in a parking lot. I'm already invested in the team and seeing matches, and I've felt for years that we have one of the most passionate fan bases for soccer in the world here. It doesn't take much convincing for me, but what I see on the site and heard in the media today should make stadium opponents a bit nervous. The city would actually be issuing bonds backed by the city to cover the debt, and revenues from ticket sales, player salaries, and other taxes would be used to offset the bonds. Money being put into this isn't taking away from any critical city services, and could provide a long term investment for the city. I also love baseball and see the Beavers getting a win from this. They would get a nice stadium in southeast that was their own, instead of a multi-purpose stadium, and it would provide some improvement to Lents, an area that needs it. Instead of trying to schedule around multiple events, you have one stadium, one team to deal with.

But I also understand the concerns of the casual fan of either sport or baseball fans in general. I like PGE Park for baseball, and find that games there are fun to watch. There's great architecture to see, unique views throughout the park, and some great history in the park as well, including a few events that I got to see in person (Crash McCray's run, Beavers playoffs a few years ago). Plus, moving the team to Lents would kill some of the walk up crowd you currently get from having a downtown park, but not necessarily all of it. There's some great character to PGE Park for baseball, but I think it could thrive in a new dedicated home. It's hard to deny the great baseball history that has happened at PGE Park, but a new stadium could fulfill the same purpose and be a destination spot. I could imagine the Beavers incorporating many of the nice touches they currently have now, like the cheap beer Thursdays, benches for food, great sight lines, and lots of great entertainment during breaks in the game.

Ok, Lents is a bit out from downtown although it's easy to drive to and transit will take care of some issues coming up, but Lents is only 15 to 20 minutes from downtown right now. Plus, any improvements to the area will attract businesses and consumers, something that Lents would love to have right now. You are losing part of Lents Park by building the park there, and there will probably be some parking and traffic issues in the area around game time. But I believe the people in charge will take care of the parking and traffic issues, they did in NW Portland when PGE was refurbished but working with the neighborhoods to set up parking permits and encourage folks to use transit. I can feel for the casual fans that might not totally buy into this plan. It might take a bit longer to get out to Lents for baseball, plus MLS tickets are a bit more expensive than USL, and didn't we already just fix PGE Park??? This idea is something that needs to be thought through in order to completely invest in it, and I think if you consider the situation, it's a win for everyone.

Put it in monetary terms - MLB would require a stadium investment of around $250 to $300 just to build something to standards, and that's not accounting for the money to get an available team, of which there aren't any. NFL has the same stadium costs, plus you are dealing with approximately 10 home games per year, so the ticket costs are a bit more, so you have a stadium that might be sitting empty for long periods. NHL hasn't been the same entity since the strike, and they've already admitted to over expansion issues. For a $75 million dollar investment, we get MLS in town, an up and coming sport, and a new baseball stadium. Ticket prices would be more reasonable for top flight soccer and triple A baseball, and they would still be available for us to see.

I'll admit, I like the idea of a downtown baseball stadium better, but there's no logical place to put the stadium without spending a lot more money than what's at stake here. And with MLS expansion deadlines applicable in October 2008, the city needs to move now. And the website is a great first step towards letting folks know what's going on. My hope is that the new stadium caters a bit to the hardcore fans by giving us a dedicated section of seats that aren't general admission. I appreciate what casual fans bring to the park and realize that most sports wouldn't survive by just catering to hardcore fans, but I want an area to share with people that understand what it's like to support their team by chanting, singing, and generally providing a wall of noise. I caught the Timbers fever back in 2001, and I don't miss home matches at all unless necessary and travel to see them on the road when I can. I think I'm entitled to a bit of care in my home park, and the casual fans can sit in other areas of the park to enjoy the game.

What impresses me most about this entire situation is that it's happening and it's out there now in the public eye. Many folks in this town have put forth ideas for new teams, new event centers, whatever, but have lacked either the funds or the forethought to put their ideas out there and then follow through. I give Merritt and his staff tons of credit by not only putting out the idea, but then following it up with press conferences, the web site, and appearances about town. This won't be the last you'll hear of this effort, but right now I'm optimistic that we have a chance to join MLS very soon. So pardon me if I'm a bit distracted right now, imagining the possibilities. I'm busy seeing our future....and it looks amazing..