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.

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