Friday, May 15, 2009

Timbers Vs. Rhinos 5/14/09 Match Report

Last night was one of the most roller coaster sports experiences I've ever had. It was a match of great highs and crippling lows, and while the result pleased me, there's still a nagging feeling of something missing from last night. I lost a dear friend and right now, I'm just trying to deal with that reality.

As many long time Timbers Army members know, General Timber Howie was a fixture at the Timbers matches, he sat in the first seat in the first row in 108, arriving right as the gates opened. Often times, he would waive to girl and I to join him up front in line to get into the stadium, as we are notoriously early arrivals as well to stake out our space. I've talked with Howie for many years about his love of baseball and hockey, traveling with him to England in a large TA group, seeing him on the road at many locations. He gave us a great tour of San Francisco, including eating lunch at a great place in Chinatown and we saw him at a Giants - Diamondbacks game that same night from AT&T Park. The man had a enormous heart, and always had wonderful things to say to everyone, and I will miss his smile, the talks with him, and his presence in the TA.

I found out the news about Howie about 4 hours before the kickoff, and my emotions were all over the place for the rest of my day at work as I tried to concentrate as best I could. I came home, and hugged girl and we cried and talked about our feelings. Howie always asked me to hug my wife to make sure she knows how I feel about her, and after the news, I needed a hug. We felt a bit odd going to a Timbers match after the news, but I also know that I needed to be there because it's what Howie would have wanted. It was a late start, so we wandered to our usual gate and nobody was in line where Howie stood. So in his honor, I stood there and waited. And I waived other TA to come up and join me. I felt odd being there, but at the same time, it felt right.

We got into the stadium, and there was a memorial already being constructed at his usual seat. For the first time in over 3 years, I went to a Timbers match without a camera, but at the same time, I wanted to just watch and be a fan for a night without worrying about the shots or the angles. I did notice that in the back of section 107, the team had hung a sign labeling the section as Timbers Army Supporters Section, which we'd been asking about for a long time. It was a nice touch. TA members filed in, and there was a lot of hugging and crying, as we all tried to deal with the loss. For one night anyway, Howie's seat held flowers, and as I helped with the memorial, others came to pay their respects. The team even agreed to have a moment of silence before the anthem, which I really appreciated, even if some of the tourist fans didn't have a clue about or care to observe the moment. As a few of us tried to shut them up, it became apparent to me like on many Thirsty Thursdays, there are some fans that don't give a flying fuck about anything but getting drunk at the match. I appreciate new people wanting to experience this for themselves, but at the same time, you should show some respect.

The anthem singer decided to do her version of the anthem, which was way slow and done like a bad R and B song. Seriously, the pauses were crap, and so the Army sang the last verse as loud as we could to get things started. And then the match began. Keel was in for defense, as Nishimura was not on the bench (apparently, he has a VISA problem that is being resolved) and Keita started up front with McLaughlin, but I had the rest of the starters pegged.

The first half was a pure passing clinic by the Timbers, as they tried to stretch the Rhinos defense with short passes and crosses. The plan worked pretty well, as they were getting chances, but as with previous matches, some players seem content to pass rather than shoot. The Rhinos, meanwhile, countered with some solid, extremely physical defense, as they held position and really pushed our guys around a lot. Some of the tackles were good, hard challenges, while a few drew cards, which they should have. Overall, the first half was pretty even until Brian Farber knocked in a gorgeous cross from Keita to get the Timbers' first goal. We had the control of the possession, and the defense was doing a great job on Johnny Menyonger, the Rhinos key forward. Steve Cronin was solid in goal, even sporting a cool black and light blue kit in two color English fashion. The mood of the Army was still a bit all over the place, as some sang and danced like a normal match, but many people had a heavy heart, and so getting the goal helped ease some of the tensions.

The second half saw some of the same pinpoint passing from the Timbers, while the Rhinos were content to play long balls over the top to get chances, and try to create set piece opportunities. While Andrew Gregor might not be a favorite person around here, he's still dangerous in set pieces, and we got to see that later. At the 62nd minute, Nino Short from Rochester went in with a hard challenge, and drew straight red for the contact, putting Rochester down to 10 men. However, the Rhinos seemed energized by this and actually outplayed the Timbers for the next 15 minutes or so, creating chances all over the place and testing Cronin. In the 66th minute, a free kick from Gregor was headed towards Cronin and saved, but Darren Kenton pounced on the bounce and knocked one past Cronin to level the score and end the Timbers' defensive scoreless streak. And after that, they kept the pressure on, as shots came at Cronin and the defense seemed to be struggling to find itself.

Taka Suzuki came on in the 70th, and the offense continued to sputter until about the 82nd minute when the TA broke into the Sunshine song. The passes that weren't working for the Timbers suddenly found players, and the pressure on Scott Vallow, the Rhinos keeper, over the last few minutes was relentless. It appeared at minute 83 that Rochester was simply trying to play for the tie and a point, but the Timbers were trying to salvage a win. The game's physicality escalated with some altercations, a few more yellows, and some challenges that went awry but were missed. Until the game hit stoppage time and at the 94th minute, Steven Keel was in the box and went down hard on contact away from the ball. Darren Kenton had shoved Keel in the box, and the center official called it with only seconds remaining.

The Rochester players were incensed, and Vallow did his best to delay the kick by walking around and drinking water. The other Rhinos players did their best to wander around and mess with the shooter by kicking the ball around. The Rhinos were also upset at 2 minutes of announced stoppage time, yet when Menyonger was substituted for in the 90th, he took over a minute to leave the pitch after first trying to feign injury with a limp. The official extended the time, and so Ryan Pore stepped up to take the PK. Vallow, after a delay, went left, and after waiting a tiny bit, Pore punched it right and into the back of the net. Pandemonium struck the shed, as we got a second goal, and just 30 seconds later, full time was called and it was over.

For such a draining night, it was nice to get a win, and everyone felt Howie was in the house, watching down on us and his team. I've never been so relieved to get a win, because we deserved it. As much as soccer has talent determine winners, sometimes luck has more influence in determining outcomes. Needless to say, we got a win for the General, and so we could all smile after a rather trying day.

Match Reports:

Allison's recap from Soccer City USA, including pictures.

Official Match Report from the Timbers.

My Observations
  • My man of the match was Steve Cronin. After some shaky communication at points, he settled in and kept us level. I would say the entire defense would probably be 1B, because everyone in the back stepped up to keep Menyonger from getting shots, and they marked Gregor well all night.
  • Keita continues to get shot opportunities, and I like his work rate, although he doesn't have a goal yet. As a matter of fact, our 4 goals are all from midfielders, and we had 2 official shots from forwards last night. I like our forwards but at the same time, don't be afraid to pull the trigger from time to time.
  • McManus, Pore, Farber and Claesson all put in solid work all match. Claesson may not be the fastest guy out there, but he's smart and crafty, and he works very well with faster players like Pore and Farber. McManus has some tough matchups, but he held his ground, and I was impressed with his play.
  • Taka did OK in his short stint, but he still struggled with a couple of good chances. We overall shot 25 times to 9 and 11 shots on goal, but we had to pull it out late.
  • Vallow is a seasoned pro, and so is Sancho. They payed a lot of respect to the TA after the match, and I loved watching them work. It's nice to see some veterans from other teams get it when they are on the road, and they showed class in defeat. I didn't like some of their tactics during the match, but if you're willing to try it.
  • There will be a lot of talk about the officiating, but the center official actually did an even job of calling things. There were calls missed on both sides, and while Rochester earned 6 cards, I felt that we deserved one or two with some awkward challenges. But in my mind, Keel was contacted hard and Kenton extended his arms, and the PK call was made I think because of that, plus a few other non-calls just prior. The Rhinos played physically, and we lost our composure after the 63rd minute and it cost us because they turned up the heat. We deserved the win, but seriously guys, can you do it a bit earlier next time?
  • And yes, we always win 2 to 1!
Tomorrow is the TA meet and greet, and I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of folks and seeing some familiar faces. Plus, we get to run around on the PGE Park surface, which is always fun. The TAFC also has a match Sunday afternoon, so my weekend is very much soccer filled.

Next Timbers match is next Friday night in Puerto Rico. If you need a Timbers fix this weekend, the U-23 boys will be playing at PGE tonight (actually the game tonight versus Spokane is done) and tomorrow night versus Yakima. The game tomorrow is a 7 PM kickoff.

And finally, Howie, rest in peace, and Rose City Til I Die.

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