Thursday, November 13, 2008

Follow Up From Yesterday, Soccer Gets Serious in Portland

Ok, I spent some time thinking about yesterday's post, and I came to the conclusion that I grew up in an era of sports where sports were the game and now they reside in a world of entertainment and money for those fortunate to play. Back in my day, players stayed with their team for their career and you identified the player with the city they played in - Ripken, Bird, Magic, Stockton, Elway. Now, the days of free agency are here, and players move about so often, it can be difficult to keep track. Seriously, Shaq has played with 4 NBA Teams, Farve is now a Jet, Montana ended his career in Kansas City, and Randy Johnson has officially been with 5 MLB teams.

And Fantasy sports give fans the opportunity to put their general manager skills to the test, and do it in a way that you don't have to deal with any sort of reality. Instead of dealing with locker room issues, playing time questions, and many of the distractions teams deal with on a regular basis, fantasy allows you to pick and choose players at a whim and trade them in most cases whenever you like. The real world doesn't work like that, much like the real world doesn't give you instant replay to make the correct call or decision about things. The safety net isn't present, so decisions get made based on gut instinct and things fall where they may. But you don't have people calling up sports radio about your fantasy team getting destroyed by 40 points, or calling for a new coach.

I think expectations get fans in trouble, and perspective goes out the window when you start to listen to hype machines. And when those things start ranking seventh graders for potential pro prospects, it's hard to say that's a good thing. It's tough enough to play sports nowadays with costs up and school districts cutting back on sports, you then have the pressure of potentially playing for college and then possibly the professional ranks if you are good enough. Despite the overwhelming odds against a kid playing professionally, parents and kids often see sports as the way out of bad home situations. So with all of this going on, why should anyone expect expectations to be reasonable?

Because it's the right way and healthy way to approach sports. Sports can teach kids valuable lessons about working hard and playing as part of a team, but also that life isn't fair sometimes and you might lose a close game now and then. But when the effort is enough, the talent comes together at the same time, and things work out, winning can be the most amazing feeling ever. And keeping winning in perspective that it's special and losing isn't the end of the world is something that every sports fan should keep in mind. It's ok to celebrate, and it's ok to cry and curse, but it's also important to keep playing no matter what.

In the world of Soccer Portland style, my friend Obi runs a great little podcast called the 107 Report, which usually focuses a lot on the Timbers, but he did a great edition about MLS to Portland, starring some of the Timbers Army members that really understand what's happening with our bid. Based on his take, there's trouble in Philly, Vancouver has a pretty solid bid in place, and Portland is a serious contender for a team provided we figure out how to finance the stadium. It's always an interesting listen, so if you want to get a refreshing take on footy things with some cool musical interludes, visit on the interwebs for a listen.

This past week, we also saw a press release that a USL Premier Development League Team (PDL) is coming to Portland, affiliated with the Timbers. The Timbers play in the United Soccer League's first division, the top flight, while the Timbers PDL would play in the third division, filled mostly with local soccer talent wanting to showcase their stuff. The PDL plays from May to June against teams from Salem, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Victoria, and Abbotsford BC. Player development has been an issue for the Timbers for years, trying to develop and keep young players here, so this move makes logical sense. A player starting out can play here, hone his skills near the pros, and possibly be playing on a larger scale locally. While PDL players don't get paid, it is a stage to show some skill, and the Timbers name carries a lot of weight so I could see some players coming out just to try and play on the big stage. I also foresee some players that spent their years withering away on the Timbers bench, only playing in friendlies or blowouts actually getting some playing time to see what skills they have. Seriously, it shows the commitment to soccer that Merritt Paulson is making, and he's not just looking at MLS for his future, but potentially at making USL a strong option if we don't move up.

It was also announced that the Portland Rain will join the Women's Professional Soccer League next year, bringing women's soccer to the pro ranks here. This town loves women's soccer, from mad support for the University of Portland's women team, to sellout crowds during the Women's World Cup back in 1999 and 2003 here in town, so it's not a surprise that an organization finally recognized the potential for a team to do well here. We haven't heard many particulars about the Rain, as the website is rather generic, so I'm sure there will be more details coming. But the fact that someone is willing to commit time and resources to bring a product like this to the Rose City shows how well the great game is supported here. Plus, women's soccer is very entertaining, as they show a lot of the great skills you see in men's leagues throughout the world. Not that I have an issue with women's professional sports, but with soccer, lack of skill isn't an argument that holds much weight for critics to discount it.

Gee, with all this footy, I just might be more busy this coming summer. Not like that's a bad thing at all, and along the way, I'll be cheering and singing.

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