Saturday, January 12, 2008

PGE Park Update: Timbers Secret Weapon, I Mean, Crap Turf, Replaced

Owner Merritt Paulson promised, and the happy day has come to pass. Replacement has begun on the godawful turf that has been threatening to maim players for years. There is, I suppose, a downside to this, which is that "home field advantage," for the Portland Timbers, has not only meant enduring 90 minutes of screaming and singing by hundreds of beer/soda/adrenaline-fueled fans, but that however bad the turf was on our players' legs, at least our boys were used to it. Visiting teams from Europe, MLS, and the like have regularly blamed draws or losses during friendlies on the appalling concrete-like playing surface. It will be delightful to see how the big visiting teams explain away their losses to a little backwater USL squad now....

For spectators, the crap turf was frustrating because players, ours as well as others, tended to slip around on it and controlling the ball was difficult. Sometimes it bounced wildly. New turf means better football, fewer injuries, and greater possibilities for exhibitions from major international teams played right here in the Rose City. And it also means Merritt Paulson really is willing to invest in this team, which is one of the best things to happen to soccer in P-Town in a long, long time.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

playing the field in the Prem

I haven't had nearly enough time to watch much soccer over the last few months, much less write about it, but after only half-joking in my last post about a growing affection for Man City over the past half-season, I realized it was time to go ahead and admit what I am when it comes to the Premiership: a promiscuous tart. I cannot settle on any one team. Over in La Liga, Barcelona demands, and has, my absolute loyalty and undying love, despite my roving eye. How can you not have a roving eye in La Liga, what with all the short passes and complicated plays and pretty flicks? From my two Davids (Villa and Silva) at Valencia to Robinho deep in the belly of the Real Madrid beast, any time my Barca boys are not on the pitch I'll happily gad about with the rest of the league.

When you are a soccer fan living in the United States, choosing a Prem side to support can seem almost de rigeur. It's certainly the easiest league to follow in the US since the games are televised on the readily-available Fox Soccer Channel. So I kept thinking, you know, that one day I'd look at a club and I'd just know. But it's not going to happen. Year after year, I'm affectionate about a number of teams and faithful to none. My affection waxes and wanes for a many reasons, often fairly inexplicable ones: a handful of players I love from various national teams play with this club, I like the keeper at another, the manager at a third, the fans at this one and the brave struggle against relegation from that one. None of these affections are particularly deep or meaningful. I like Sir Alex but not Man U, most of all because I can't bear Cristiano Ronaldo's smirk; I like Arsene Wenger and keep thinking his flash squad ought to win me over, but it never does. Some Senegalese players lured me to Bolton for a spell, while my attraction to Fulham was only partly explicated by its roster of American players. Sunderland, of course, have already become legends in the annals of Portland Timbers supporters, all on account of their fantastic fan base, traveling here in the hundreds to drink and sing with us. Plus, Roy Keane! Of course, I support the Hammers by a sort of osmosis, and there was a point at the start of the season when I thought Liverpool might settle me down--despite the presence of the loathsome Crouch--but then my eye went wandering again almost immediately and I couldn't remember what I'd seen in them in the first place.

Maybe this is part of why I enjoy watching the FA Cup so much. I always swear loyalty to one side or another, early on. It helps if one side is the underdog--twenty levels down? that's my boys!--and/or has a heartfelt fan base shouting them to victory. It's always so giddy and exhilarating, that first meeting with some club I've never heard of. For ninety minutes I remain entranced; there never has been and never will be another English club for me. Then the whistle blows, the match ends, and slowly I come to my senses. I swear that the next time I'm in town I'll look them up but of course I never will get around to it; within days I'll have forgotten their name. There's always another struggling and charismatic club to win my fancy.