Saturday, September 30, 2006

Other People's Words

I'm cheating today in providing content by linking to other people, but this stuff is too good to miss!

First, check out Bob's To-Do List for new Timbers coach/GM Gavin Wilkinson over at the Oregonian Timbers blog. I'd love to actually link to the piece itself, but not only does the Oregonian site have the dumbest interface around, but the permalink doesn't work at the moment. So scroll on down to his Wednesday September 27 entry. As is always the case with Bob's writing on the Timbers, I couldn't have said it better myself. Gavin, are you listening?

And while we are talking about soccer bloggers with whom I am uncannily in agreement, Linda over at the new soccer blog The Beautiful Game not only shares my name but the same football obsessions as a pretty move, namely such things of beauty as Barcelona, the Argentinian national team, and Juan Roman Riquelme and the Yellow Submarine (although she writes about plenty of other football stuff: check out this comprehensive appraisal of recent Champions League matches). She has an astute eye for analyzing and breaking down a match or the strength of a team or a player, revealing apm in comparision to be the squad of slackers that we are.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Five Months Will Feel Like Five Years

Looks like the injury Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o received yesterday to his knee during the Champions League match against Werder Bremen is a lot worse than previously thought. You can read more about Eto'o and his torn meniscus here. Sigh.

We Interrupt For These Brief Messages

I am both surprised and thrilled to report the decisive victory of dark horse UEFA Cup contenders Mlada Boleslav over Marseille today, 4-2. Haven't been able to locate any match reports just yet (I know, hard to believe that journalists aren't rushing to record the success of these titans of football, but there you are). Edit: UEFA Cup page has a brief write up. This was the second leg and Mlada Boleslav advances with a 4-3 aggregate. Next up for the determined Czechs is the group stage, which begins October 19. Go you Mlada Boleslavians!

And in other quickie news, FOX Soccer News reported last night that Reading was taking an interest in DC United youngster Freddy Adu, but according to a story on the BBC today, DC United is saying hold your horses, Adu's not going anywhere. I hope this isn't true, because at present MLS lacks the proper structure for developing a young player like Adu, and if he's as great as they keep telling us he is--and, naysayers aside, I hope he is--then he needs to be training among the very best. I trash talk MLS a lot but the truth is they are a league which is improving each year; however, it's still not the place for a player with world class ambitions.

DC United, don't make me start printing up "Free Freddy Adu" t-shirts.

A Fistful of Matches

It was a great day for games Wednesday, what with the second day of the Champions League group stage going on in Europe and then the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final here in the States. Lots of excitement, plenty of games, and simply not enough time or access to wallow in all of the footie madness. But what I did see—three games—was more than bountiful for this lowly soccer blogger.

First up, Chelsea vs. Levski Sofia. I used to be a rabid anti-Chelski hater. I still don’t exactly like them, though the anger and moral indignation that used to fester inside me has mellowed considerably, flickering deep within me more like a low-grade indifference than the riot that used to overtake my thoughts every time I’d see “The Special One” on the sidelines, shrugging, moaning, or offering up one of his petulant facial expressions. Why the change of heart?


Chelsea’s ruthless striker may have had a disappointing World Cup playing with his national team Cote d’Ivoire, but he’s having an exceptional start to the Premiership season, already scoring four goals in six games and then netting a hat-trick Wednesday for his club in the Champions League. The second and third goals he struck may not have been the prettiest (the last one had me howling as it slowly rolled into the net past the Bulgarian keeper, Georgi Petkov), but Drogba’s smooth feral skill has slowly made me an admirer. Levski Sofia are the reigning Bulgarian 2005-2006 champs, and they looked focused and determined (and rather foully I don’t mind adding) for a large portion of the first half. But by the time Drogba delivered that punishing second goal that squeezed through Petkov’s reach, the second half for Levski Sofia was nothing more than a painful reminder* that the road to glory in the Champions League is long, arduous, and sometimes embarrassing when your club just doesn’t have the quality. I should add, though, that the late goal by Levski Sofia midfielder Marian Ognyanov, a forceful strike in the last minute, was arguably the finest of the match.

So after feeling a bit smutty after rooting for Chelsea, I watched the Barcelona vs. Werder Bremen match, and slowly, ever so slowly started to feel sane again as my team tried to take down a resourceful and vengeful German machine**. Barca moved the ball with their characteristic dexterity and flashes of artistry, but Werder Bremen controlled the tempo of the game for the most part, and kept the Catalans from unleashing any realistic onslaught. Werder Bremen, on the other hand, did attack several times though nothing substantial materialized. That is until the 56th minute of the second half when forward Aaron Hunt burned down the left side of the pitch and aimed toward Valdes and the Barca goal. Barcelona captain Carles “the Armored Saint” Puyol stretched and attempted to kick the ball out of bounds, but the ball instead screamed into the back of the net. Brutal stuff. Luckily, it takes a lot to discourage the boys from Catalonia, and Barcelona continued to hunt for goals and predominately control the rhythm of the match whether playing at full-speed ahead or at a more meandering pace. Kid Fantastic Lionel Messi and former Chelsea-man Eidur Gudjohnsen (a splendid addition to the squad this season) were subbed into the game in the later part of the second half (the former replacing Ludovic Giuly and the latter replacing an injured Samuel Eto’o, who will now be out for at least two to three months for sustaining an injury to this knee) were brought in to level the score. It took awhile, despite repeated attempts, but the Argentinean wunderkind Messi evened things up in the 89th minute, much to the relief of the a pretty move headquarters. Next stop for Barcelona on the long road to the Champions League final . . . Chelsea on October 18th.

And lastly, I just want to light a big flare in salute to the Chicago Fire after their incredibly exciting and entertaining match against Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. Lots of frenetic action, lots of decisive goals, and even a few moments of flair that literally made me rub my television-jaundiced eyes and remark to Lynda, “Are we still in America?” A great game and a great performance by the lads from Chicago. You can read more about the Fire’s 3-1 victory here.

* Levski were crushed by Barca 5-0 on the first day of the group stage.

** Bremen lost to Chelsea 2-0 on the first day of the group stage.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Agnello Gone; Wilkinson in Charge!

It ended up being a horrible season for the Portland Timbers, especially after so much hope at the start when new general manager/coach Chris Agnello was recruited to make the team more streamlined, aggressive, make the playoffs in style and hell . . . win the division. Was that too much to ask?

Oh yeah, it was. The season was a disaster, though there were brilliant moments and I ended up always having fun even when I was crying inside. Though when the cigarette smoke cleared and my thoughts resumed normal functioning once the beer-soaked logic no longer did, I was depressed that my hometown club looked ready to fade away once again.

But there's hope:

Chris Agnello has resigned and former player for the Timbers and assistant coach Gavin Wilkinson will now take over the general manager/coach duties. Wilkinson is well liked by many of the team's loyal supporters, so this may well be a good fit for a change. Anyway, I'll worry about the negative aspects (if there are any) down the line. Until then, I'll just bask in the sudden warmth and feeling of goodwill that has mysteriously overtaken me.

You can read more about the Timbers' bright future here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

apm goes to the movies

On the heels of our recent thwarted attempt to view Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos in the theatre, a pretty move convened at not-so-secret-headquarters last Wednesday night to watch its broadcast on ESPN2. This is a solid, entertaining look at the rise and fall--and implicitly, the rise again, because these are the times that laid the popularity for the rise of US soccer today--of the Cosmos and the NASL. The film opens with narrator Matt Dillon (?) reminding us that in the 1960s no one in the US played soccer, or even knew what it was save for recent immigrants. Cue a collective gasp of horror from all three of us. And then the NASL, and the New York Cosmos, were born.

Imagine such a superstar lineup playing in the US today: Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff. Giorgio Chanaglia comes off as a complete wanker and Shep Messing like a guy you really want to throw back a few drinks with while you talk about the old days.

Something else I liked: at the beginning, a journalist whose name I've forgotten was discussing why it's difficult for American sports fans to make the switch to watching soccer. We are raised on American sports, with their endless delays and timeouts, and she likens soccer to a play. You watch for 45 minutes, you have an intermission during which you discuss what's happened so far, and then you watch the second part.

Last night I finally saw Goal! The Dream Begins, already reviewed by Lisa on its theatrical release back in May. I'll just add that I am torn between establishing my film street cred* by pointing out that heartwarming is generally not the kind of adjective I'm looking for in my moviegoing experiences--I am more of a Wild Bunch than, say, a James L. Brooks kind of girl (although I actually do find The Wild Bunch heartwarming in a twisted way, but that's a subject for a nonexistent blog)--and feeling that establishing one's film credentials around Goal! is kind of like pushing a twelve-year-old down the stairs to show what a badass you are. I mean, of course it's a fairy tale: kid goes from illegal immigrant kicking a ball around the barrios of LA to starting for Newcastle United in a matter of months. So sit down, smartypants. We all know this isn't Raging Bull.

Anyway, this film is everything Lisa said it was, but, as she pointed out, it's still engaging. It's chock full of footie cameos, and really, who doesn't want to be Santiago, racing out onto the pitch while thousands of fans scream your name?

*note: I haven't got any

Friday, September 15, 2006

In which the Czechs fare only moderately well and Serie A surprises me

I had hoped to write about yesterday's first round UEFA Cup match between Marseilles and Mlada Boleslav, but alas, of the four Czech teams playing yesterday, only Slavia Praha v. Tottenham Hotspurs was televised. So we headed on down to soccer standby the Marathon ($3.75 chicken gyros!) to check out the Czechs (sorry for that).

I did have some residual sympathy for the Spurs owing to their unfortunate gastoenteritis incident at the end of last season. I can't say the match was all that exciting; as I pointed out to Derek and Lisa, I somehow persist in believing that one of these unknown little teams will rise up to truly challenge the Goliaths despite their persistent demonstrations of mediocrity. But it does happen just often enough to keep the hope alive, and I'll never be one of those proponents of shrinking the pool of eligible teams with the idea that it will save us all the trouble of less-than-spectacular matches (because, as we all know, big teams always provide excellent football, right? Riiight.) The announcers mentioned that Slavia Praha had three teenagers on their team and I gotta say some of those boys didn't quite look old enough to drive; were they pressganging youngsters from local schoolyards?

In a moment reminiscent of England substitute keeper Robert Green's pre-World Cup injury during the Belarus friendly, Slavia Praha goalkeeper Michal Vorel collapsed following a goal kick about 25 minutes in. It seems it's rarely anything but a team's death knell when the keeper has to be replaced, and SP fared no better. They seemed to fall apart after a nice goal by Tottenham's Jermaine Jenas at 37 minutes, and though they pulled themselves together at the half, played considerably better, and tried hard for an equalizer, they just didn't have the skill and the final whistle blew with the score at 0-1. Oh, some stuff happened around the 60th minute which resulted in a free kick for SP but we missed that because once it started to rain really hard, the satellite went out for a while. As the waitress remarked dryly, you'd think that if you sold a service in Portland, you'd make sure it actually worked in the rain, but there it is.

Poor little Mlada Boleslav didn't even rate a mention in the post-match reports on Setanta, but their fate was the same as Slavia Praha's, while Sparta Praha and Slovan Liberec won their games. Lineups and links to match reports can be found at the always-informative Czech Football Daily.

Later on yesterday, I caught a thrilling Serie A match between Inter and Fiorentina. Now that was some football! I was so taken with the sight of Argentina's Cambiasso and Crespo on the pitch again, plus Figo to boot, that I fell instantly for Inter, though I found myself rooting for a Luca Toni hat trick to tie things up. Is anyone in Italian football more entertaining to watch? He's not just a great footballer; he plays up the theatrics for the guy at the very top of the stadium. He doesn't just suffer more! plead more! get more surprised! than anyone else on the pitch, he even sweats more than the other players. I swear he does that on purpose. This one ended 2-3; on the heels of the World Cup and yesterday's match I officially repudiate anything I ever said about il calcio being dull. Now I just gotta find a channel where I can watch Juve storming their way back into Serie A, with del Piero at the helm, Buffon holding things down, and my beloved Pavel Nedved as the hero of the day!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What, Me Worry?

The plot thickens as more information trickles out in regards to the supposed West Ham United takeover by the mysterious company MSI (Media Sport Investment), which is itself a "subsidiary of a secretive investment firm registered in the British Virgin Islands" as reported over at The Guardian. As a West Ham fan I'm excited by the two Argentinians, Tevez and Mascherano, being snatched up by the club. But the fine print is so much more worrying and should fill any fan with trepidation about the future of the club and the Premiership as a whole. Or should it? Isn't this the way of the football world now, at least in regards to the top tier teams? If you don't have the cash, you don't win championships. West Ham are now at a position to challenge the top clubs in the Premiership--Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal--and has a good chance to wind up in sixth place by the end of the season come spring . . . or perhaps even higher. The scruffy working class yet oddly sleek and modern East London club is vying for something bigger and greater for their treasure chest and their supporters. But at what cost? Am I being naive about this? Or am I being naive in not being more worried about the whole thing?

You can read more about Tevez, Mascherano, and the West Ham affair here.

And speaking of great Argentinian players, Juan Roman Riquelme--the fabulous, intelligent tactician of the national team this past World Cup--is hanging up his boots on the international front and will now devote his attention to his ailing mother and his day job at Villarreal. I'm absolutely floored and saddened by this announcement and hope that he'll return to the national team sometime down the line. Riquelme's smooth slowing down of a game's tempo and his expertise at delivering the right pass at a crucial moment or delivering a brutal finish when an opponent is vulnerable, is a joy to behold. But if Riquelme is off, not engaged in the creative build-up of a match, the whole thing can come undone resulting in lethargic passing with nowhere to go. Sad, sad news. You can read more about Argentina's Dr. Mabuse here and here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hell of a Result Indeed

Roy Keane's newly inspired Black Cats triumphed over a desultory Leeds side today, dishing out three superb goals by Liam Miller, Graham Kavanagh, and Stephen Elliott respectively. I only caught footage of the match on the Sky News wrap-up on FSC, but Sunderland's emphatic win shined through even in the short clips, especially Kavanagh's impressive shot in the 44th minute. Good job, lads! This win, their third straight, now lifts the squad into 14th place in the Championship and I've no doubt it's only the beginning of a more promising season than they had originally appeared to be doomed for.

You can read more about the match on the official Sunderland AFC site here.

Champions League: Lyon v Real Madrid

We’ve been here before. A year ago at this time, France’s five-years-in-a-row Ligue 1 champs Olympique Lyonnais beat Real Madrid 3-0 in the opening match of the Champions League group stage. Today, in their opening Group E match, the two European titans met up again and it was all a bit familiar yet, depending on your inclination, thrilling.

I was completely neutral for this match, though my dislike of Real Madrid certainly had me swaying a little toward Lyon. In all honesty, I couldn’t have cared less about them either since my soft allegiance has always leaned more toward Marseille. But the combination of watching Juninho, Malouda, Cris, Govou, Tiago, and Fred (the latter two responsible for the two first-half goals) play with the type of determination and zealousness that propels a team to decisive victory, and also wins over neutrals in the process, had me glued to the screen when I was supposed to be doing some much-needed work. They looked hungry, as the cliché goes, and appeared ready to hoist up that monstrously huge cup come May. Well, okay, they weren’t that good—but they still looked strong enough to make it to the quarter-finals before flaming out.

Lyon has dominated Ligue 1 like no French team before them, rivaling the great Marseille team of the late-1980s and early-1990s that won four Ligue 1 titles and went on to win the Champions League cup in 1993 or the Saint-Etienne team of the mid-to-late 1960s that then led the pack. But despite Lyon’s ascendancy to the top of their home table, they have still yet to get any farther than the quarter-finals in the European competition. Will that change this year? I wouldn’t dare make a prediction like that (I don’t even know if my beloved Barca can repeat; it’s simply way too early to tell). I will make one prediction, though, and it’s a pretty obvious one at that—Real Madrid doesn’t have a chance in hell. Sluggish, hesitant, and despite controlling the ball more than Lyon, Madrid was incapable of controlling the rhythm and their shots on goal rarely tested the French keeper, Gregory Coupet. And when Lyon consistently broke through Madrid’s defense, the enraged victims lashed out with a grinding cleat in the ankle here and a petulant elbow or shove there. The end result may’ve been only 2-0, but Lyon could’ve easily slotted in a few more, sending the bloated Galacticos back to the Bernabeu to prepare for their second-leg defeat which will occur on September 26th.

Up until the last World Cup, I never paid much attention to Juninho (but I’ve never paid much attention to Lyon either for that matter). And now I’m sorry for my mistake. This serious-minded Brazilian midfielder with a gift for the blistering free kick was a joy to watch, as was the man whose name will one day grace the lips of every citizen of the world, Fred. Oh yes, Fred. One day, people will name their children after . . . wait, strike that. Well, I’m sure you’ll get a statue erected after you or perhaps an airport or a bridge. You may not have the snappiest or the coolest moniker to emblazon the back of a kit, but you certainly give Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink a run for his money for the most memorable.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

hammers v villans: a rollicking good time

The most exciting matches balance the sublime and the absurd, and both camps were well represented today at Upton Park. The upshot of the morning was a 1-1 draw, but the ride there was fast and furious. You want beauty? Villa brought the smooth-like-cream set-pieces, and West Ham contributed two brilliant saves (by Tyrone Mears in the 54th, clearing Petrov's unstoppable lob dropped right down over Carroll's head, then another masterful clearance by Ferdinand just moments later). Villa's dynamic attacking duo of Barry and Angel fell firmly into the sublime column as well, and with a readier smile from the soccer gods they might easily have taken the day.

Chalk these up in the absurd column: Sorensen's groan-inducing miskick straight to the feet of Harewood, standing a mere yard or two outside the penalty box in a stretch of pitch completely barren of defenders, was topped only by Harewood's inexplicable choice (surely it must have been a choice?) to strike it wide, perhaps from gentlemanly ethics. Then there was the Keystone Kops minute: the 22nd, to be exact, when a Villa corner was cleared but only after the ball was bobbled and futzed down a line of five or six Hammers. Seriously, if you took performers of physical brilliance--members of Cirque du Soleil, say,--and choreographed this defensive near-catastrophe, it would take the fellows weeks of hard work to reach this level of awe-inspiring absurdity.

There was some business as usual: Zamora picked up his customary yellow after screaming at the ref like a slavering yard-dog in a Ralph Steadman cartoon. Baros subbed on in the 81st minute and within seconds missed the finish on the most gorgeous, here-it-is-mate-on-a-platter free kick you'll ever see.

But most of the game was a delight. Those of us anxious to see the new boys at play suffered some little disappointment, as Mascherano was bench-warming and Tevez only took to the pitch for the last half hour. He felt off-kilter at first, but his quickness, fanciness of foot, and smart instincts were already apparent. There was one very impressive run in particular, circumventing a tough marker and delivering a smooth cross; unfortunately, my boy Benayoun was too late to take advantage. My optimism, however, knows no bounds. It's a matter of synching up with the other kids. As soon as their rhythms become mutually attuned, the world will be painted in claret and blue.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rose City Til I Die!

The Timbers played their final match against the Atlanta Silverbacks last night. Technically, this was a meaningless game for the Timbers, who fulfilled Zach's predictions in the comments the other day by falling to the very bottom of the table, even below Toronto Lynx levels. I like to think of this as a bit of altruism on our part, saving the Lynx from another season of humiliation. We're generous that way.

At any rate, it turns out that a meaningless game is never meaningless when your pride is on the line. The Timbers fought hard, at least in the first half, and nobody could fault Byron Alvarez or Guti! for the spirit displayed as the clock ticked down the final minutes of a bad season. We lost 2-0 but you'd never have known it from watching and listening to the Timbers Army, from the sea of streamers at the start to the bravura line of flares that lit up the night at the 90th minute.

After raising questions about Josh Saunders' goalkeeping the other day, I gotta say I was disappointed to see he wasn't starting last night and relieved when he was subbed in at the 75th minute; ditto for Scot Thompson, who was injured in his Coventry City tryouts and has been sitting out ever since, until coming in after the half. The future of everyone with a team that has performed so poorly is uncertain: Scot and Josh have been stalwarts of the squad and this may be the last time we see them play for the Green and White.

For the disappointing end of a horrible season, it was actually a beautiful night. A hint of autumn in the cooling night air, and the Timbers Army went on singing and singing long after the whistle blew and the team made their final pass before us, as they moved on toward the tunnel, as they stopped on the far side of the pitch to sign autographs. Somehow I ended up standing on the seat in front of us--emptied when its occupant rushed further down to see the finish--and when I turned around Derek had somehow acquired a flag on a pole, which he was swinging with all his might, and Lisa held someone's soccer boot. Unlike Cinderella's prince, we never learned whose foot it came from.

So, good things this season: we saw some fine new players, although whether any of them would (or should, for their own sakes) play for the Timbers again is anyone guess. We got a trumpet player! And he leads the Boca Juniors (replace "Boca" with "Timbers") chant really well! The "Seven Nation Army" that we ripped off from the Italians is a nice one as well, and green and white army and we are mental and we are green, we are the greatest football supporters the world has ever seen. And who can resist everybody pogo? (I am not so in love with the TA that I am forgetting about the football; there's just not much good to say about the football this year.) There was the magical night that we beat Seattle.

I hate the offseason. I gotta move to a country where they play football most of the year, not the other way around. I hate walking past PGE Park in the thick of January's damp winter gloom and pressing my face against the fence and imagining the players on the pitch, the ball slamming into the net, the songs rising up from the north end of the park (because I really do this, you know). Last night Derek and I walked home from the Bullpen, and park employees were out on the pitch, working under floodlights to do whatever it is they do to that godawful playing surface at the end of a game. And somehow--by accident or design, I don't know which--down toward the south end, in the middle of the pitch, one lone soccer ball waited in the dark.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

This is the End . . . .

It's been a bewildering season for supporters of the Portland Timbers. And to think that there'd been so much promise and good will at the beginning of it in April despite the usual negatives like lack of money, lack of consistency, lack of scoring goals. The team this year found a new coach and general manager in Chris Agnello, plenty of new faces (the Bullens, Kreamalmeyer, Randolph, Elfvin, Guti! to name a few notables) to mix it up with the usual suspects (Byron, Hugo, Josh, Tommy, and Scot), and a speedier pace and dexterity that had been lacking in the last couple of seasons. But for a myriad of reasons (lack of speed, lack of dexterity), the team imploded and now finds itself at the bottom of the USL table, forcing players to think about their next job when they should be preparing for the playoffs. Oh well, it happens. In the next few days I'll try to gather my thoughts about the season as a whole--perhaps my comrades on this blog will do the same--and post something a little more substantial, but until then . . . .

Tonight is the last match of the season. It's gonna be a beautiful night, the Timbers are facing Atlanta, and the beer is cheap. What more could you possibly want? So come out and support the team, drink some beers, soak up the atmosphere in PGE Park, and root for the only team that matters here in the Rose City.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Euro 2008 Qualifiers: Czech Republic v Slovakia

On the heels of the World Cup and the beginning of the various European seasons that have just started their long schedules, the UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying matches have bullied their way into football fans' lives yet again, simultaneously robbing supporters and their respective teams of their time with seemingly meaningless matches and delighting others with flashes of brilliance, dominance, and for a few . . . retribution. I'm aware of the criticism concerning this drawn out stage of the tournament--that it's tiresome, pointless, and distracting from the start of the various club leagues--but I can't deny my hunger for even more games in an already overcrowded calendar. Yeah, I'll admit it's hard to get excited to watch the blitzkrieg bop of Germany dismantle San Marino (the third smallest nation in Europe behind Monaco and Vatican City) 0-13, but I also can't help loving the possibilities of the David and Goliath early rounds of the tournament. Wish fulfillment? Probably. But the upsets are bound to happen, right? Right? Stay tuned.

The a pretty move bunch gathered at headquarters for a brief time to watch the Czechs play their second round match against Group D rivals Slovakia, and unlike the punishing Germany/San Marino game that was televised right before it, there were no brutal ass-kickings or embarrassments, though Karol Bruckner's newly enhanced, relatively youthful squad (minus key players Milan Baros, Vladimir Smicer, David Jarolim, and Zdenek Grygera, due to injuries) dominated the game throughout. Midfielder Libor Sionko led the Czechs to victory with two impressive first half goals (10', 21') and in the second half the towering forward Jan Koller solidified the win with a swift goal in the 51st minute. It may not have been earth-shattering stuff, but the newly revamped Czechs played consistently well and have put their disappointing World Cup demise behind them with their two assured qualifying wins. Now if only the Czech players can manage to stay fit and focused for another two years as they meet up with the fierce gauntlet of teams awaiting them. Next up, San Marino on October 7th and then the Republic of Ireland on the 11th.

In other games today, there were two notable results--one upset and one with the taint of bloody revenge. Northern Ireland felled the mighty underachievers Spain 3-2, with green man David Healy scoring an impressive hat-trick against the Spaniards. Xavi and David Villa scored for Spain. And France exacted a sweet revenge against World Cup champions Italy 3-1, with two goals by Sidney Govou and one from Thierry Henry. The Azzuri's Alberto Gilardino scored the Italians' sole goal in the 20th minute.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

To win you have to score one more goal than your opponent

Any remaining illusions the Timbers or their fans held about squeaking into the playoffs were dashed Thursday night as the Montreal Impact were able to do what the Timbers were not: score a goal, and in the 88th minute.

Sure, there were calls by the ref that didn't go our way, but in the end I kept hearing the Scottish brogue of Bobby McMahon on the Fox Soccer Channel saying "They just haven't got the quality," and he'd be right. Whether the players or the coaching or some combination thereof was to blame, the Timbers were unable to maintain any consistency this season. Often, individuals on the pitch played very well but simply did not come together as a team.

We gave up too many goals this year. One wonders--and it pains me to say this, because I was a big fan of Josh Saunders' goalkeeping--if the season might have turned out differently if we'd gotten late-season revelation Bayard Elfvin in the net earlier. Of course, you can't hold a keeper responsible without taking a hard look at the defensive line first, but really, let's not ignore what truly did us in this season: a little-known phobia called Fear of Shooting. Johann Cruijff had it right, of course, and you can't score if you don't shoot, and we seemed strangely reluctant to do that over the last few months. What was it? Some weird attempt at catenaccio, Rose City style? Did we really get so beaten down this season that nil-nil began to seem "a decent result"?

As I mentioned above, one particularly frustrating aspect was seeing some real talent on the pitch that somehow never translated into a cohesive team. The handful of games in which we were on were very good indeed. I wonder how many of this year's players we can expect to see coming back? Most of these guys are better than the scoreline and standings reflect; it's hard to imagine they won't seek better offers.

It's been a weird, unsatisfying season. And in less than a week we settle into seven long months of rumor, innuendo, conspiracy theories, dark mutterings about inside dealings, fraught and baseless predictions, and occasional bouts of hysteria. Pity us. (Wait, there's no pity in the Rose City! We're screwed.)

In the meantime, there are still two games to go, and I intend to enjoy every one of the 180 minutes left to us. Sunday at 6 pm the Timbers play the Charleston Battery, and next Thursday at 7 pm (that's Thirsty Thursday for all you alcoholic types out there) we close the curtain on the season with a match against the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Match report, pictures, and video from Thursday's game here.