The Timbers come back from Puerto Rico with 4 points in hand, after drawing on Friday night 1 to 1 and winning last night 2 to 1. Mandjou Keita headed in a nice cross from David Hayes to level the game Friday, although the adventure on Friday was actually getting the game feed. Sitting with abou 15 Timbers Army at the Cheerful Bullpen, we kept trying to get video for the game for the entire first half, and turns out it never happened. We finally found an audio feed for Andy Mac, and listened to the game and it was a back and forth affair. We've traditionally never done well in Puerto Rico, only getting 1 draw in 5 games down there previous, so getting a draw was pretty impressive. Since I only heard what was going on, I don't have much to really comment about, but did find a match report from the team.
Sunday's game was a lot better, as the Internet feed did work and USL Live actually did have a game to show. Since I had a few deadlines here, I watched the game from home while working, and it was another physical battle, with lots of long passes, quick shots, and dangerous set plays. Keita got his second goal in the 24th minute, similar to the goal on Friday apparently, as it was Keita knocking in another wicked cross from David Hayes. The Islanders leveled it in the 35th minute after a big pileup in the box, and Steve Cronin couldn't corral a deflection and it was put past him by John Krause. Two minutes later, a pileup happened in the Timbers box, and after a deflection, the ball ended up at Mamadou Danso's feet, and he knocked it past Islanders keeper Bill Gaudette to put the Timbers up 2 to 1. The Puerto Rico announcer kept saying it was Keita, but apparently, he missed the number, and Danso did come up limping after the goal celebration, but he stayed in the game.
The rest of the first half and second half was a defensive struggle, as Puerto Rico kept attacking and trying to get set plays where they seemed to be dangerous, and Portland fought off every attack. There were a couple of late offensive pushes, courtesy of Alex Nimo and Jason McLaughlin, but Gaudette wasn't seriously threatened by any shots after the two goals. Cronin got a lot of help from his midfielders and defenders, and kept the Islander attack at bay until the final whistle, after 5 minutes of extra time instead of the 1 minute announced. Apparently, they use metric time down there.
Overall, it was a great win as it was the first time Portland had won in Puerto Rico, and we used our speed and depth to our advantage. We did get 4 yellow cards in the second half (McManus, Nimo, Danso, and McLaughlin), but we were playing very smart while being physical. A couple of the challenges were aided by some flopping, and really only Danso's situation I felt warranted consideration for a card. He was trying to get the ball with a bicycle kick and got the PR player off the side of the head, and I really don't think Danso saw him. McManus and McLaughlin played physical in their situations, and the official felt they had crossed the line, although I'm not sure. Nimo's card was simply trying too hard to keep the ball away from a PR player, and he didn't stop at the whistle. Overall, though, I'm pleased with our efforts, as we have really used the depth to our advantage, and we have good overall team speed and defensive strength that will keep us in most games. Our next match is Saturday versus the Vancouver Whitecaps (or Wankouver Craps for most of the TA) at 7 PM at PGE Park, hope to see you all there.
The interesting sports weekend had little to do with the traditional sporting events happening this weekend. I've lost interest in the NBA Playoffs after the Trail Blazers were eliminated, even though the quality of basketball this year has been better. I just don't like the Lakers, and could care less to see Lebron or Kobe be crowned this year's king. There's a compelling story that the Nuggets and Magic are attempting to crash the party, and the Magic even have a lead in their series with the Cavs right now, but it's not enough to make me want to watch. I used to like the Indy 500 race when it meant something, but after the troubles in racing, it's just not the same any more. And it's a bit too early to worry about baseball yet, as it's early in the season. Plus, while I like hockey, there's something unusual about playing a winter sport in May even though playoff hockey can be quite compelling. What I found interesting this weekend was English football, as they dealt with their promotion and relegation this weekend.
It's a unique thing to club soccer, as the good teams will get promoted to better leagues as they do better, and teams that don't do well could be dropped from the top tables. No other sport has such an arrangement, and I think it's a rather interesting thing to have in your league. Think about having it in the NFL, where you could banish the Detroit Lions to another league for their continued years of ineptitude, or the NBA, where the Clippers couldn't sleep walk their way through a 15 win season. America would never endorse such a concept because of the money and prestige of professional sports, and we don't quite have any sports with such a league structure outside of baseball, and I wouldn't depend on MLB to do anything this progressive. What this does is give teams something to play for all year, as you don't want to see your team dropped from the Premiership, and nothing is as satisfying as seeing a team promoted that hasn't played in the top flight for years.
Watching yesterday's matches, there were 4 teams in danger of being relegated in the Premier League: Sunderland, Hull City, Middlesborough and Newcastle. Sunderland and Hull City were clear, but needed to get points or hope that Borough and Newcastle lost and didn't get points to stay up. 4 different matches in 4 places, and all with implications of staying at the top flight or dropping down. While Sunderland played well and lost to Chelsea 3 to 2 and Hull lost a tough match to Man United 1 to nil, West Ham sealed Middlesborough's fate by winning 2 to 1 and Newcastle lost 1 to nil to Aston Villa on an own goal. Newcastle has some amazing and passionate fans, but their team really never put it together on the pitch. Middlesborough, meanwhile, had been in the Premiership for 14 previous years, but they had Timberitis, a disease we dealt with in 2008 where we couldn't score goals or keep players healthy. West Brom had already sealed their relegation fate last weekend, so 3 teams moved down, and the Premiership will be welcoming Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Burnley, who won a playoff this morning. While Birmingham has been in the EPL recently, both Wolverhampton and Burnley are new teams to the top flight, and now play on a whole other level.
I get that other sports try to incentive teams to play the string out, whether it's a weighted lottery for players next year, or higher draft picks, but I see the benefits of making teams earn their top flight status year in and year out. I realize that professional athletes should have enough to play for in pay and prestige, but at the same time, nothing can be more dreary than watching a meaningless end of season game between two 1 win teams in the NFL, who are simply going through the motions. I'm smart enough to realize that this idea would never be accepted in the US, though, because as I mentioned, there's too much money and influence in sports, and leagues are happier if teams make money even if the results on the court/field are crap. The NBA doesn't mind the Clippers stinking if they are doing well financially, and at least for now, they are. But there's hope that perhaps leagues here could learn something from this, and give more incentive for teams to play hard throughout the year rather than just pin hopes on highly coveted college players who may or may not pan out or the fallings of ping pong balls.