Monday, July 30, 2007

Eidur to The Hammers?

Word on the street is... the Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, who last season played for Barcelona but whose future at the club since the signing of Thierry Henry has been doubtful, may find himself back in the English Premier League playing for the mighty Hammers.

We loved watching the idiosyncratic Gudjohnsen at Barcelona, mostly because of his sincere determination to fit in with the crafty Catalans and less with his sometimes woeful finishing. But when he clicked with those passes from Iniesta, Deco, or Xavi, it could be pretty damn good. Even better when Ronaldinho and Gudjohnsen telepathically grooved toward goal.

But more so than not, Eidur frustrated. I'm not familiar enough with his time spent with Chelsea or even Bolton, but just by looking at the stats it appears that a move to West Ham could suit him very well.

With the recent signings of Craig Bellamy and Freddie Ljungberg to the Hammers, it's starting to feel like this team can steer clear of the bottom and actually fight for something other than their survival this season.

More about the Hammers and their new season trades later.... Until then, you can read more about the possible Gudjohnsen move here.

Timbers Win One, Draw One

How's your voice? We seem to be doing much better today, but I sincerely hope our capos aren't auctioneers in their day jobs, or even, say, teachers, since they heroically carried on in their duties even as their their chants subsided to croaks. Our boys in green (or yellow. whatever.) have been looking a little bit tired as well, and while we fans have until next Thursday to recuperate for another match, they are off on more road trips, Seattle on Wednesday and Minnesota on Saturday.

But it was a great Timbers weekend, and we're still five points ahead in the table with a game in hand over second-place Seattle. Thursday night saw some nice shots on goal, but Atlanta keeper Ryan McIntosh made some damn good saves for a final 0-0 score. Saturday night Portland won 2-1 (we always win! two to one!) following a Timbers goal ruled offside that wasn't and a stoppage time, uh, dive maybe which led to a penalty kick and brought the scoreline where it should have been in the first place. Both goals came from new guy Matt Taylor. You can see pictures and read about Thursday's game here, and the Preston North End friendly is recapped right here.

A couple of random observations from the weekend: kudos to new owner Merritt Paulson for his continued support of the Timbers Army. After the last owner (didn't that one supposedly "love soccer"?), who stayed mysteriously hidden in, I don't know, a fortress maybe, somewhere in California, it's amazing to have an owner who comes down into the North End, shakes hands and chats with fans. This is why he gets his very own "Merr-itt Paul-son!" chant. Also, during the Saturday night half Preston North End supporters invaded our section carrying a giant flag which led to a hilarious chant-off between sides. (If you've got straight teeth clap your hands!) It's a joy, at such times, to be a football fan in the US, where the rivalries remain friendly.

And finally, the Timbers are really getting regular coverage on local television now. Highlights of the game and scorelines are actually presented as though it's an actual sport, not some embarrassing aberration. Channel 12 did a nice piece on Andrew Gregor, including an interview, last night on their Oregon Sports Final show and showed some footage of the Preston North End chant-off (without sound, alas). The one exception is channel 6's Ed Whalen, who despises soccer and always has. Thursday night's report: "The Portland Timbers played soccer for ninety minutes tonight and didn't score a single goal." And delivered with contempt: "Nothing-nothing was the score." Wake up, Ed! We're here and we're taking over! You and your soccer-hating brethren will go the way of the dinosaurs!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Happy Day in Baghdad

Go you Lions of Mesopotamia (definitely one of the coolest footballing nicknames ever)! Following a header in the 72nd minute by Younis Mahmoud, Iraq defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in a historic Asian Cup win. Iraq has now qualified for the 2009 Confederations Cup. And all Iraq celebrates. The New York Times blog has a minute-by-minute account of the match. Other stories: Sweden's expatriate Iraqi population celebrates, the Saudi coach acknowledges that Iraq deserved the win, a Reuters reporter writes about celebrating the win in the wake of colleagues' recent deaths, the team is dogged by chaos and tragedy, and Brazilian Jorvan Vieira, the Iraqi soccer coach, speaks of the challenges overcome by his squad.

Stories like this are one of the reasons I think football is the best sport in the world. (Now if only this celebratory practice of shooting guns into the air could only be discouraged, for after all, what goes up does, eventually, have to come down.) Here's to the fervent hope that no more bullets fired off in celebration come down on anyone's head and, most of all, that the celebrations continue unmarred by sectarian violence, for as long as everyone wants to continue celebrating.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Suicide Bombers Kill Iraqi Soccer Fans

This is terrible: as joyous Iraqis--even in Kurdistan--spill into the streets to celebrate their historic Asian cup victory (they defeated South Korea and will now face Saudi Arabia in the final), suicide car bombs kill 50 and wound many more.

Every suicide bombing is tragic, of course, but the image that never fails to seize me on a visceral level in pictures of the aftermath is the sight of a kit, worn by a victim, a mourner, a traumatized passer-by, as though there can be no refuge at all. You cannot even lose yourself for the ninety minutes of watching your team move the ball up and down the pitch.

Fucking war.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Timbers Still Tops; Merritt Paulson on MLS

As the boys in green headed home from a game in Charleston, South Carolina that ended their winning streak, new owner Merritt Paulson appeared on a channel 8 sports show last night and said a few things in his brief appearance that made me very happy: That Portland is a fantastic market for MLS. That "they don't call it Soccer City USA for nothing." That it is too early to speculate as to whether he would be one of the owners of an MLS team, but that the Timbers name has a great tradition that should be carried over into MLS. Aaand...that PGE Park is a great urban location for the home of an MLS soccer team.

I've never had the time to write a proper indictment of the appalling prospect that floated around for a bit about a soccer stadium in Hillsboro, not even within reach of public transportation--which is probably just as well; I'd have ranted about the suburbanization of soccer, the American cult of the automobile, and God knows what else, probably turning red and falling out of my chair from indignation at the end as I marshaled the last of my strength to ill-advisedly hit the "publish" button. But really, PGE Park converted to a soccer-specific stadium is like a dream come true: smack in the middle of downtown, bus and light rail drop you off at the gates, bars and restaurants in the vicinity abound.

In other Timbers news, the boys won in Atlanta 1-0 but last night fell to Charleston 2-0, for which I can hardly blame them--five games in ten days, the last two on the opposite side of the country, in places which, at this time of year, are unbearably hot and humid. (Native P-towners: when y'all say "humid" out here, you have no idea what you're talking about.) Anyway, I'd have started thinking they were robots, not human beings, had they kept it up--no way would top-level players ever be submitted to such a grueling schedule, but the ways of USL scheduling are strange and arcane. Apparently Josh Wicks got hurt in Atlanta and Bayard Elfvin had to finish that match out and play in Charleston; as much as it grieves me to lose Josh for a few games, Elfvin has been a fantastic backup keeper for us in years past and, best of all, plays with real passion and heart.

The Timbers face the Atlanta Silverbacks again in PGE Park on Thursday night at 7 p.m. and then on Saturday night welcome England's Championship side Preston North End for a friendly.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Timbers Defeat Whitecaps, 2-1

... And something is spreading throughout the city. Earlier, at the grocery store, the checkout guy asks about the "Rose City Til I Die" emblem on the front of Derek's Unofficial Timbers Army T-shirt (made by capable capo Loose Charm) and referred to the Timbers as a football team. ("Did you hear?" I said excitedly on the way out. "He said 'football'!") Last week a neighbor saw our scarves as we headed out to a game and immediately knew them for Timbers scarves; last night another one, who didn't recognize them, got excited about the prospect of a game and said he was going to get out and see them play.

After the match, the singing carried on as the stadium emptied; through the concourse, out into the night, car horns honking, knots of people still singing, and up the hill past the Chevron station a woman stopping at the pumps to get gas calls out her window at us, "Did the Timbers win tonight? What was the score?"

If winning is what it takes for P-town to wake up, rub its eyes, and notice there's a soccer team in town, so be it. Winning we got.

Such a good (and wholly new, as a Timbers supporters) feeling to go down one goal and never doubt you'll pull out a win. My only bad moments came during the completely insane and seemingly endless almost-six-minutes stoppage time (nearly two minutes beyond the already-inexplicable official four). The Timbers faced a tougher opponent last night, the Vancouver Whitecaps, who've had our number plenty of times in the past. But Gavin Wilkinson's boys--who surely had tired legs for their third game in eight days--were more than a match for them, as Andrew Gregor and Lawrence Olum put two balls into the net and gave the Timbers a five-point lead in the USL table above our nearest competitors, the Montreal Impact. A proper match report and photos here. (Of all the fantastic pictures Allison makes, my favorites are the wistful empty-stadium shots like this one.) Check out more great photos here.

And, on the heels of my mention of the homeless soccer fans in my last post, this Guardian piece on the U.S. National Homeless Soccer Team. Because soccer heals wounds and is good for the soul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Top of the League

David Hague. David Hague. David Hague. Need I say any more about Sunday night's match, which catapulted the Timbers to first place in the USL? Cameron Knowles deserves accolades as well for getting the scoring started for the Timbers, bringing us level with the California Victory after they scored on us early in the game. David Hague, a rookie kid from England who's not even a starter was subbed in for Bryan Jordan in the 67th minute and seconds later--in the 68th--scored the first of his three goals. Our three points were saved. But Hague wasn't finished; six minutes later Timber Jim helped conjure another goal by leading a chant of "in the net!" and Hague did it again. The shed went mad; at 3-1 our triumph seemed assured. When Hague blasted another one in at 88 minutes the Victory didn't know what hit them; maybe Hague didn't either and I'm pretty sure the North End had no idea. Strangers hugged and high-fived. Hat trick Hague! Hat trick Hague! It was a night for singing and drinking and singing some more, and as we floated home, the win soothing our wounds (for a little while at least) over the Argentina loss in the Copa, three homeless guys stopped us to ask how the match went. "4-1?" one of them said. "Top of the league!" we assured them. "Top of the league? Really?" another said, and could be heard telling his two friends as we continued up the hill, "I really love soccer..." And they say it'll never catch on in this country!

Match reports here (with pictures), here, and here. The Timbers play the Vancouver Whitecaps tomorrow night at 7 p.m. and the match will be televised on FSN (Fox Sports Northwest), that's channel 34 for you Comcast customers. Come out and support the #1 team in the USL!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Bad Flashback

It was like a bad flashback of last year's World Cup defeat. Two days later... and the bitterness of witnessing a flaccid and haggard (the mid-day heat and humidity couldn't have helped) Argentine squad come undone at the feet of Brazil in the Copa America final still burns. Although no one in their right mind before the match believed that Argentina was going to destroy Brazil, equally no one expected that the creative, imaginative, progressive Albicelestes (with one of the most extraordinary lineups that I've seen since I've been watching football) would be so thoroughly canceled out by a ruthless Brazilian defense. It was to be a battle of old school artistry (Argentina) versus ugly pragmatism (Brazil).

It would, of course, be disingenuous and misleading to suggest that Brazil plays without any trace of their old trickster ways--though the memories of those "golden days" are dimming with every passing year and will soon be nothing but fable. Only a complete novice to the sport or a willful liar would claim otherwise. But Dunga's efficient machine, as we all saw on Sunday, were quite capable of the big gesture (that first goal from Baptista was mighty nice), and the even bigger win. They fouled (37), played in a choppy, uncreative manner, wasted time, and hijacked the game from a more lucid, attractive, and ultimately befuddled (though arguably better) team. But Brazil's timing was jaw-droppingly perfect. They sure did know when to pounce when the counter-attack mattered most.

Argentina's loss is tragic for anyone who truly loves entertaining, attractive, progressive football. They may have brilliantly blown it (much like their World Cup disintegration in last year's World Cup quarter final against Germany), but I would rather watch the Albicelestes lose it all playing beautifully (of course, even this was unavailable to them) than witness them win playing like automatons with no ambition toward creativity. Is it more fulfilling to watch a club who plays dreary, defensive-minded, utilitarian football hoist up a trophy or a team who takes the risks, has the talent to pull it off, but strangely enough burns out in the end? It may hurt more, but I know who I'll stand with in the end. Why else do we watch football if not to be entertained?

So here's to the Glorious Losers! I hoist my cup to thee and drink longingly! I've no doubt that I'll get to see Argentina one day win a major trophy again, but my heart aches knowing that it will never be this squad to do so. It is a strange, painful, joyous game indeed.

Here's a link to BBC columnist Tom Vickery's assessment of the game and of the never-ending battle between football romantics and the pragmatists. Good stuff.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Timbers Top Victory, 1-0

If you were not in PGE Park Friday night, you surely missed the best party in town. Was it the fine weather, the fact that it was Friday night, the knowledge that we were being televised, the two weeks since the last home game? The North End was packed full and as loud as I've ever heard. The bobblehead Timber Jim statues were awesome. The two people who threw sodas on the pitch (for heaven's sake, at least be man enough--even if you are a woman--to throw beer) were wankers: this is a lame way to express yourself, and when you do things like this, you hurt the whole Timbers Army and the North End. I know that isn't fair, but going to a match in PGE Park is kind of like being back in grade school again, when the whole class would get punished because of that one annoying kid who wouldn't shut the hell up during assembly or whatever.

In our 1-0 victory over the California, uh, Victory (goal scored by Bryan Jordan off a great pass from Scot Thompson), the Timbers even had a pretty move or two, particularly about half an hour in when an attractive backheel from Higgins to Bagley was deflected by the keeper, Eric Reed. Reed in fact deserves to play for a better team next year, because that was some nice goalkeeping. I think Scot Thompson must have cloned himself, because he seemed to be everywhere I looked, part of every play. And Josh Wicks continues to impress me--he only had to make a couple of saves last night, but he is currently setting a new franchise record for consecutive clean sheets and moreover, he is exactly the kind of keeper I love most: fearless, aggressive, risk-taking, racing out to meet the ball rather than waiting on it to come to him. Plus,
It's a!
He's mighty mighty
Lettin' it all hang out!

Coach Gavin Wilkinson deserves enormous credit for taking a squad that finished in last place only one season ago and turning them into championship material. The Timbers are riding high indeed: second place in the USL table as of this writing, one point below Team Evil, the Seattle Sounders, with four fewer games played. In other words, they are poised to take the number one spot with a win tonight over the California Victory. And here's where you come in: come out and help be the twelfth man on the field for the Timbers, tonight at 6 p.m. Because it's a Sunday, I doubt it will be quite as rowdy as Friday night, but I've been wrong before (and you can help make me wrong again). Plus, it's the teddy bear toss! Think of the children!

Go here for a full match report and pictures (and be sure to check out the links there to other reports, including this fellow who caught half of the game on FSC and praises the soccer-loving locals); more pictures here.

Meanwhile, if you can get to a television with GolTV, be sure to check out the Copa America final today at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, my beautiful beautiful Albicelestes versus Brazil. Local scuttlebutt suggests good possibilities for viewing the game in Portland (always call ahead) include Kells downtown, On the Deck on NW 14th and Lovejoy, the Matador or the Marathon on W Burnside, and Zach's Shack on SE 43rd and Hawthorne.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Open InvitationTo Marina Hyde

Zach was the first to bring it to my attention, sometime last year: the tiresome predictability and inaccuracy of so many British journalists' pieces on soccer in the United States. That we don't get football over here and we never will, har har. That no one watches it, and those who do don't understand what they're seeing.

This week it was Marina Hyde, writing a patronizing article about 'soccer' in the U.S. (quotation marks hers--I wonder if she writes 'il calcio' and 'futbal' when she writes about other countries' names for it?), centered around the arrival of Posh and Becks in L.A. I've got nothing against the author of the piece; I've enjoyed her writing on football in the past, and this is not remotely the most insulting thing I've read about footie in the US but I guess that on reading this piece I hit critical mass with the clueless-American-football-fans articles. Reader, I snapped.

Naturally, she makes a point of mentioning that in the parking lot of the Home Depot Center she sees Christian fishes and one bumper sticker promising "Jesus Saves," because we are, after all, a nation of wacky religious fanatics. She pronounces the fact that the Galaxy shares the stadium with their fiercest rivals, Chivas USA, as proof of "how very mannerly" it all is. (San Siro, anyone?) She finds the Galaxy fans she meets who "like to talk about football the game as opposed to football the family picnicking experience" to be rare birds indeed. She goes on to gently mock the efforts of the most hardcore Galaxy supporters group to create a European or Latin American-style atmosphere and archly surmises about the unlikelihood of such a thing ever happening. She includes several hilarious references to the non-hooligan nature of US soccer fans--because we all know that screaming racist invectives and beating up people is what really makes the atmosphere at a game--and reveals amusingly that "Galaxy games are preceded by a loudspeaker announcement that foul language will not be tolerated," which is certainly not something written into the rules of any football clubs across the pond.

So. Here is my open invitation to Marina Hyde, who seems to thinks we have no idea what we're doing here in the U.S., because maybe the Galaxy atmosphere and fans really are just as you describe them. Come to Portland and hang with the Timbers Army in the North End. You quote a member of the LA Galaxy's Riot Squad saying they have about 200 people who stand during the game; here in the City of Thorns we are at least 1000 strong across several sections and growing exponentially. Thomas Dunmore, a Brit who does get the rising tide of American soccer fandom, has written about us (and other US fan groups). Our songs and chants, some of them gleefully foul, thunder throughout the stadium and the surrounding streets. We make our own stuff: we have more homemade scarves, T-shirts, buttons, kilts, and assorted paraphernalia than we know what to do with. We have a hugely active online community--a busy message board and at last check, approximately one zillion Timbers fan sites and blogs linked at the top of said message board. We used to have a zine, Ax to the Head. We have podcasts! We have capos and flags and confetti and streamers and smoke bombs (illegally) and once we even had flares, although that's unlikely to ever happen again, and best of all, we have Timber Jim, a crazy lumberjack complete with chainsaw and drum who rappels throughout the stadium. Ask traveling Sunderland fans (who have hearts of gold) what they thought of how we're doing things here.

Seriously. You should come: drink with us before and after the matches, stand and sing with us, see what's happening with football at a real grass-roots level in this American city. But be warned: we might just make a chant about you.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Timber Jim Night at PGE Park Tonight!

It's always Timber Jim night whenever the Timbers play, but tonight the legendary Portland icon will be honored by having tonight designated Timber Jim Bobblehead night! The first 2,000 fans will be given the supercool collectible to proudly display on their own personal trophy shelf. Cheers to that!

The Timbers will face the California so-called Victory tonight at 8:00. The game will also be televised on the Fox Soccer Channel, so you have no excuse to not see 'em live or on the glass teat. The Timbers played the Victory last week down south and beat them 3-0, and the two meet again on Sunday here in town. No doubt, this is going to be a gritty little weekend since the California squad will be looking for some much needed payback. But redemption is difficult when you're last in the league. The Timbers, who definitely know what it feels like to scrape the bottom of the standings, have fared better this year (we're currently in fourth position) but will not be holding any flowers out to the floundering USL newbies.

Also, as many of you here in P-town already know, Bob Kellett, the invaluable Oregonlive Timbers blogger, has sadly stepped down. His analytical and informative match reports were always a must read for supporters of the team, and in a town that hasn't always been kind to the Timbers in terms of actual team coverage (not simply advertising the hella awesome Timbers Army supporters waging fun in the stands), Kellett's voice was a major asset. Luckily, Kellett will still be manning the ever-so-popular Offside blog, so he's not gone forever. Cheers!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tevez to Manchester United?

It's being reported (leaked) that Tevez the Barbarian, the mighty heart of West Ham United last season, will unfortunately be slipping out while the slippin' is good and haul up north to Manchester United. He's been linked to the club before, so no surprises there. But still. I'll be sad to see him depart.

You can read more about it here and here. No doubt there will be more info as news about the transfer becomes official... if it actually happens. Hell, this is football, remember. He could end up at Sunderland.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Copa America Group C Round Two: Argentina v Colombia (4-2)

After watching the USA's disappointing loss at the feet of Paraguay (something we'll write about in a day or so... and yes, we were rooting for Bradley's rough 'n' tumble mostly-upstarts), it was gratifying to see Argentina mount another fluid, attacking, dream team style of football. Many of the players looked exhausted in the second half (Messi and Cambiasso in particular) and consequently the passing and defensive mistakes started to show, but for the most part Basile's wonderboys look more and more like Marvel superheroes. I could've done without some of the more blatant "selling" of the fouls (Mascherano in particular) and Leo Messi's challenge in the box was definitely a play on moment, but the game was yet another wondrous Copa America match. Colombia, who managed to wake up from their stupor to attempt a late second half attack (Jaime Castrillon scored in the 73rd to make it 3-2) but was unable to ultimately even things up before Argentina scored yet again, will be tough competition for Uncle Sam's team. But the US still have a slim chance out of the grouping (the two best third place teams qualify for the quarter-finals) and another opportunity to earn some much deserved respect.

As a side note, it appears that Hernan Crespo may be out for the rest of the tournament. He injured himself after scoring a penalty kick (making it 1-1) that was the result of Messi getting fouled in the box early in the first half. If true, Crespo will definitely be missed by us, but we trust that Tevez and Diego Milito will take up the slack....

Timbers Steal One... Again

The last time The Wave Generator attended a Timbers match with us--last season--it ended up being one of the most glorious nights that I've ever experienced standing in 107, not to mention perhaps the most emphatic win the Timbers had last year. It certainly was the most gratifying (beating Seattle is always pleasurable and borders on the rabidly, delightfully irrational. I hate them... I do hate them....) victory and certainly the most emotional. On Saturday we "kidnapped" The Wave Generator to another match (one he conveniently forgot he was attending even though I'd told him about it weeks ago!) and though the match itself was far from mind-blowing, the ragged-assed Timbers (the one and only goal courtesy of Lawrence Olum) stole the win in second half stoppage time against a petulant Miami FC, sending the crowd into hysterics.

Olum's goal had to have hurt Miami. I know it did actually--you could see the pained expressions on the Miami players' faces when the ref's whistle blew a minute later, but frankly I've been on the receiving end of plenty of nasty losses and unfair decisions to have much sympathy. Did we play brilliantly and "deserve" the win? No to the first part and a certain yes to the latter. Football's a funny game and this time we simply lucked out, managing to do just enough when it mattered the most, even though we should've been doing more than enough all game. But if you consider the ramshackle shape our team was in at the end of last season (hell, all season) and how ramshackle yet far better we are this season... I think the Timbers are doing quite well. New coach, relatively new team, and the results have been coming our way despite some tense moments. Perhaps we should not have won the last two games.... But we did. And I ain't complaining. Give it some time and the Timbers will start winning with something other than gadfly resiliency.

Congratulations to our keeper Josh Wicks, by the way, who earned his sixth shutout this season, tying club records set by Matt Napolean and Josh Saunders.

You can read more about the game here and here.