Friday, March 31, 2017

Week 5 Predictions Thread - Timbers v Revolution

It's week 5 of the MLS season and we're back with predictions for this weekend's match for the Portland Timbers. This week, they have a home date with the New England Revolution, winless on the road in 2 matches so far. New England has a fairly potent offense with a cavalcade of offensive options, but their defense is another story - hmmmm, does that sound familiar? Our crew puts out their thoughts for the Sunday night match, begrudging the fact that Jennifer was the only one to get the result right from last week's loss to the Columbus Crew by a 3 to 2 result. For the felines, the predictions are based upon questions and their reactions, while our human participants speak in their own words and style.

Spot loves soccer bags. It's her way.

Spot - Scoreless draw.  

After losing last week in the competition, I thought Spot would be clamoring to get back on track. However, she remained elusive when asking her about the match. To each question, it was her "Nyuh" face and walking away. Maybe she knows something we all don't, but I interpreted her action to no goals for anybody.

Tortie is hiding but she can still predict soccer.

Tortie - 7 to 5 Timbers.

Tortie was very excited about everything, as there was tons of eeps and meows. I counted 7 for Portland, 5 for New England and two head butts for the morning food choice of Purine One Hairball formula, so we'll go with that. This food doesn't seem to create as many hairballs as I thought it might, though.

GB asks where is the food. Seriously, I can't find it.

GB - 3 to 1 Revolution.

When I asked about this match, GB was very unresponsive early in the questioning, being rather coy in his responses. When Jennifer finally asked about the result by saying, "If New England will win, look away from me.", GB complied and looked down at the couch. With 3 thumps of his tail and 1 head butt afterwards, GB predicts the home fans won't leave Providence Park very happy.

Scarf plus Vegas equals good.

Kip - 3 to 1 Timbers.

Stop me if this sounds familiar - a match up of two sides with impressive offensive players but defenses that could be questionable. New England has a solid collective of attacking options - Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez, Kei Kamara, Daigo Kobayashi, Lee Nguyen - and midfielders that can churn about, but it's been the defense and a relatively unknown keeper that have been question marks. Portland is a bit cranky after the loss to the Crew, so I expect them to be better prepared, especially with a Nagbe and Guzman available.

What a squad of referees may look like (J.Kesgard)

Jennifer - Timbers 1, Revolution 4.

New England's not doing so well out of the gate this season. That's why a loss to them by a considerable margin will be especially embarrassing for Portland. The Timbers have already scored enough goals this season, so the rest of the year will be a mediocre trickle of halfhearted attempts. Someone may succeed randomly this match while the refs aren't looking, so that's why I didn't through all in on a shutout loss. I already know I'm going to get so tired of winning this predictions game.

It's Rick, everybody! (R. Curwen)

Rick - Timbers 4, Revolution 2.

New England started the season with two losses on the road, 0-1 to Colorado and 1-2 to FC Dallas before slamming five goals past Minnesota United FC last weekend in a 5 to 2 home victory. The Timbers should be back to full strength in the midfield with the return of Nagbe and Guzman from international duty. The defense remains a concern with Ridgewell and Vytas still out. With that in mind, I'm going to change my prediction from 3-1 to 4-2.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Getting Caught Up with Story Ideas

Get your random news here! It's randoriffic!
I've already spent time in this space talking about the need to find time to write, so imagine my surprise that after the thirteenth entry, I'm now so buzzing with ideas that the writer's block was sufficiently in place. I even tried the suggestion of scheduling time to write, but it was interrupted with a night of clearing out my email inbox and a second night of falling asleep with my laptop open after eating a big slice of cake. I'm sure many can imagine the sight of me with a laptop open and completely sawing logs, but trust me, it's not nearly as entertaining as my words make it sound. It's just that there are too many ideas for me to flesh out in a full entry, so I'm trying something that I used to employ back in my old blogging days - the dreaded composite story! Just consider this my version of a clip show without the flashbacks to explain the various jumps in story, and you'll get the program here.

The inspiration for this comes for a very odd place - my American Government class back in high school during my senior year. My teacher, who was also my long distance running coach, made an executive decision in the fall that we would have reading time during the week. To help us in this endeavor, the school would bring in copies of this new-fangled national newspaper full of colors and graphs. You guessed it, it was the infancy of USA Today, and we were at the forefront of it. After the sports section was pulled out of every copy (it took him a month to remember to do this before it really happened), each student got a weekly copy to read for 30 minutes. I rather enjoyed the Money section as I had become interested in the stock market and money indexes, which inspired my eventual choice of major in college, Economics. I read through the States At A Glance section to see what news Idaho had made that was print worthy outside of natural disaster information or "You won't believe what this person did". But my attention always turned to the column of that famous news person, Larry King.

I didn't grow up with cable TV, so I had only my imagination to help me understand the various posts that alternated between odd celebrity drops, a firehose of consciousness, and short attention span theater. I can only imagine what it was like to edit this post each edition, but I couldn't get enough of the ramblings and was disappointed that it was eventually discontinued. Maybe it was the informal approach to his posts, the ability to segway from topic to topic using ellipses, or the fact that once I saw King live on CNN his chaotic approach to writing was finally explained, but his posts always had some points of interest. I might not have agreed with everything, but there was barely a topic that he didn't cover at one point - and if it was interesting enough, I found myself actually doing research to find out what he was talking about. Our times are far more complex and the rants and ramblings are far more complex and emotional, but I always considered King a way for me to relate to my mother. She still listened to Paul Harvey every day, who was a legendary newsman that spun folksy stories and commentary daily. As I learned more in high school about the world, I grew apart from her and sharing my daily dose of King tidbits while she talked about Harveyisms was how we were able to connect. So in the spirit of rambling and bad suspenders, we have...

My vantage point for Timbers when they play here.
Timbers v Crew: It was going to be a struggle with Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman both on international duty, but overall, I thought the effort wasn't bad. Fanendo Adi and Dairon Asprilla both scored in the first half, but the Crew were able to counter the goals and took the 3 points with a late goal from rookie Niko Hanson in his MLS debut. Asprilla wasn't as adept defensively as Nagbe, but the real big adjustment was Amobi Okugo trying to fill in for Guzman. It's a lot to ask anybody to duplicate what Guzman brings to the Timbers, but it was obvious Portland had trouble covering space when the Crew pressed. This forced some adjustments from Jake Gleeson, Lawrence Olum and Alvas Powell, but not enough as the Crew were able to create chances and get the home win. While I don't completely expect that Portland can replace Nagbe and Guzman if they are both gone, the dropoff in effort and performance isn't as dramatic as we've seen in previous years in terms of talent. It's only 1 match and Portland wasn't going to go undefeated through the year, but there were some areas of concern for me - the passive approach in the second half that let the Crew dominated the possession, some of Gleeson's decision making (to leave the line or not), and who can fill in for Guzman long term. There's plenty of time to work out Guzman's back up and possession isn't always going to be that one sided, but I hope this isn't a sign of issues to come.

Raiders moving to Vegas: I love Las Vegas and visit quite often, so when the news that the NFL is going there, it was exciting for many reasons. Growing up a Denver Broncos fans, this situation might actually improve my ability to see them in person instead of trying to find seats in Denver, an arduous task at best. However, I'm also upset for many long time Raiders fans - my father being one - for losing their team. He's loved the Raiders for as long as I can remember, and while he hasn't been to a game live, he watches them every week on his satellite TV service. When they left Oakland the first time in 1982, my father stopped watching games in protest as he was so frustrated about the move, but he eventually came around and forgave the team. Upon their return, he made another promise to finally get to Oakland, but that never happened as they will move to the Nevada desert in 2020 and he's not interested in going to see a lame duck side. For me, it's ironic that for being such a popular league that is making money, the Raiders are 1 of 3 franchises that are moving to a new location because their previous city decided not to pay for all of or part of a new stadium - St. Louis to Los Angeles, San Diego to Los Angeles and now Oakland to Las Vegas. As an economics major and sports fan, I firmly believe that cities and teams need to work together on facilities to ensure both sides can feel invested in the process, but no team should hold a city hostage to get a new facility. If a plan is done right, it can work wonders - just look at the Timbers' stadium deal in Portland as an example of happens when good policy benefits everybody.

#EpicFailFriday for #WillMyBusArrive: After sharing the story of my transit experience, I've now experienced some of the worst service that I've witnessed ever from the local transit company. I can understand situations and accidents happen, but for the past 2 Fridays, my bus line has had 1 bus make the regular timetable between 4 pm and 6 pm when there are 5 regular scheduled runs at each half hour. On St. Patrick's Day, no bus appeared but I was able to get a ride home; on the following Friday, I got a lift to the Rockwood DMV to catch another line to get me close to home. One of my biggest issues with our current bus service is that there is no notification system if a bus is not running for any reason; yet I can get emails about any delay within the corresponding train service telling me everything from elevators out of service to bridge lifts. To me, it's ridiculous that any modern transportation service can't notify interested riders via alerts of a bus delay within the same business day. I have an Android app that tracks buses by satellites and Google maps that is fairly accurate and approved by the company, but even it is clueless about missing buses until it's too late and I've already been waiting for hours. I've stopped notifying them of any delays because honestly, I'm tired of getting the standard boilerplate apology about it. At least for me, they seem to care about trains and little else, which is too bad for those of us that depend upon buses for our daily transport.

Shadow Work, Part 2: This article that I shared back on March 15 has ended up being my most popular post so far, and I very much appreciate the many comments and thoughts that people shared about it. However, it also emphasized the toughest part about dealing with shadows - talking about it isn't nearly enough to deal with them. The best way I can describe shadows is put out by one of my favorite musicians, Travis Morrison, front man for the Dismemberment Plan in their song, the Ice of Boston - "Mainly because knowing about that would involve knowing about some pathetic, ridiculous and absolutely true things about myself that I'd rather not admit to right now." Shadows retain power unless you come up with ways to deal with them, and honestly, talking about them isn't nearly enough which is why breaking them is so difficult. I've dealt with trauma so much in my life that I hadn't realized that I've always operated with anger as a major operating force within it. It was very easy to find sources to fuel it as well, but I'm tired of living in that reality. Over the next few months, I want to talk about this process while being mindful of divulging too much to keep certain things private. It's great to talk about it, but it's also time to make some real change to overcome the shadows - and hopefully break the cycle because it's about time. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Live Sports Blog - College Baskeball & Soccer in a Single Day.

I went there when the basketball wasn't very good.
I have had a lot of wonderful sports moments over the past few years. My sports fandom was created and nurtured by my grandmother, who was the biggest Denver Broncos fan I had ever met - I couldn't even call her during games as she was that obsessed. It was simply amazing to watch them win a Super Bowl in 2016 - especially considering what happened in 2014. Just weeks prior, the soccer club that I have been supporting since 2001, the Portland Timbers, finally hoisted their first championship in winning MLS Cup out on Columbus, Ohio in rather dramatic fashion by a 2 to 1 margin. While these are impressive accomplishments in their own right, I've now watching another institution that I know and love with perhaps make history in their own right. In just over 30 minutes, my alma mater, Gonzaga University, plays for the right to advance to their first ever Final Four if they can beat one of the upset darlings of this year's tournament, the Xavier Muskateers.

I graduated from Gonzaga in 1989, which fell between the John Stockton era (the Hall of Famer graduated in 1984 and left to do great things, but he did serve me a burger and beer once back when) and the current run that started in 1995. That year, the unknown Jesuit school advanced all the way to the Elite 8 rather unexpectedly buoyed by some magical performances, and now, the team is a regular participant in the annual NCAA tournament. They've never advanced to the actual finale, however, but they have a chance today if they can outlast Xavier. With the Timbers playing today as well, I thought this would be a lovely time to put forth a live blog of my thoughts as the viewing goes on.

2:51 pm - I had to turn off the pre-game show when they went to puppets. Oh, wait, these guys are more entertaining that the real announcers. I'm sorry, but sometimes, TV tries too hard to be entertaining. Sometimes you just have to let moments live and create their own memories.

2:55 pm - My grey boy, GB, comes over to give me a much needed head butt before the festivities start. I think he knows I am nervous. This is a big deal.

2:57 pm - the puppets are back and GB has taken Jennifer's seat on the couch. It's his way as he looks for the warm play to lie down and my lap is currently occupied by my computer. Only 12 minutes left until the tip off, but I do find it weird this game is on TBS. For me, TBS will always be the channel for Atlanta Braves baseball games and odd programming, but they've changed their profile by bringing on a lot of different programming.

3:01 pm - SAP Center? Uh, okay. I swear these arena names just get more odd as we go along. Some of these statistics are dizzying, but not as much as Karnowski's beard. Seriously, that guy would fit in around Portland with that thing.

3:06 pm - So Xavier has an urn of ashes that they carry about during the tournament. It's not people or Soylent Green, but it's actually paper copies of their schedule for the month of February. It was so brutal that the coach thought it would a good omen to burn them in effigy. Have to admit, it's a great story and they even have a keeper of the ashes. Then again, we are talking about a Jesuit/Catholic university and Catholics deal in ashes - a lot. I would know.

3:11 pm - They finally tipped off and the game starts out with a Gonzaga turnover. Uh, oops, then another turnover, followed by missed shots and a foul. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come, but the Zags finally tie it with a post move. I will try not to mix up my basketball and soccer terms today, but I'm not promising anything.

3:14 pm - Nerves are abound as we now have more turnovers than points. Or at least that is how it appears so far, but it's not like this is a big game or anything. Matthews with a 3 and the Zags are up 6 to 4.

3:17 pm - It's now 12 to 8 as the Zags hit another 3 pointer. This is getting more and more like a track meet as it's now 12 to 11 after a Gonzaga foul. Not only are there 2 Jesuit universities playing in this game, but neither have ever advanced to a Final Four. Somebody breaks that streak today, but we have a TV timeout. Karnowski is out as Gonzaga brings on Collins for him.

3:22 pm - Xavier hits a free throw, but the Zags have hit 4 in a row to stretch it out. The Muskateers feel like they can allow outside shooting and Gonzaga is happy to take the shot, but Jordan Matthews crashed the board. Now Xavier does the same to the Bulldogs. Yeah, this one will be in the 70's at this rate. 

3:29 pm - Hey, look, everybody, it's John Stockton. After a TV timeout, Collins blocks a shot to give Gonzaga a run. 18 straight appearances in the tournament for the Zags, and they won 35 of 36 games this year losing only once. Yeah, it's been impressive but it's still close as we hit 22 to 19 with about 10 minutes left in the first half. About ready to see if we have starters for the Timbers - Crew match which starts in about an hour.

3:39 pm - My pre-game consumption of Gatorade and decaf coffee finally caught up with me, so I had to step away momentarily. Looks like Gonzaga is trying to pull away with 3 pointers as they lead by a 30 to 25 score. Another 3 by Williams-Goss and the lead is now 8, but Karnowski has his second foul as Bluiett drives in for a layup.

3:45 pm - So just found out it's Amobi Okugo in for Guzman & it's Asprilla in for Nagbe, but otherwise, the Timbers are playing the same players that destroyed Houston 4 to 2 last week. Gonzaga gets a foul, but Williams misses 2 free throws. For such a good team, they make shooting free throws an adventure. But a steal and drive give the Zags a chance to attack. Right now, it's 35 to 29 Gonzaga with 3 minutes left or so.

3:53 pm - Mathews just hits 3 free throws to push the lead to 9. Lead is now 11 with another 3 as Gonzaga is trying to pull away a bit before the break, and I'm getting excited for a food break where I can heat up some soup and unleash the beer choice of today. FYI - Timbers starters are Gleeson, Powell, Olum, Miller, Valentin, Okugo, Chara, Asprilla, Valeri, Blanco & Adi. Bench is Attinella, Myers, Farfan, Zemanski, Barmby, Mattocks, Ebobisse.

3:57 pm - Williams has been huge for the Zags in the first half as the lead remains at 11. Xavier is hanging tough as I would expect them to as they get a foul on Perkins to get free throws. Just like that, Xavier cuts it to 7 after a turnover and deep 3. Yeah, it's going to be that kind of day around here, isn't it as we head to another TV timeout.

4:02 pm - Strangest play I've seen was Gonzaga fighting for a rebound and bouncing the ball off the court and into the Xavier basket for 2 followed up by a running jumper for the Zags. Macura then hits a three quarter court shot running, but it was released just after the buzzer and doesn't count but it was a huge shot. It's 49 to 39 at the half and the Zags are 20 minutes away from advancing. Wow.

4:07 pm - Blah blah blah blah blah, highlights, something something dark side. Nooksack skookumchuk blargety blergh burp. I think Greg Gumbel just woke up from a nap.

4:18 pm - A player hits a three quarter court shot and I fumble a soup can trying to hit our recycling basket in the garage and it bounces harmlessly away. This is why my basketball career never progressed beyond 7th grade where I scored a grand total of 2 points in 34 games. I played in nearly every game, but only attempted 3 free throws and a total of 10 shots. Not exactly professional material.

4:27 pm - Gonzaga gets the first basket of the second half, but Karnowski gets his third foul as it remains a 10 point game within the first minute. It's a key moment of the game because the Zag big men are starting to pile up the fouls as Williams - Goss just hits another 3. I was hoping they would be further along, so I will have to track the Timbers on the computer while watching this.

4:30 pm - Johnathan Williams is having a huge game for the Zags so far with key baskets and rebounds. It is 59 to 42 as the Zags are on a 10 to 3 run to start the second half, and Xavier is having issues keeping up. Granted, this team knocked off Arizona so they are hardly a pushover, but Gonzaga isn't making it easy with their ability to hit from outside. At the TV timeout, I turn over to see Ross and Jake with their pre-match words as they prepare to call Timbers - Crew. It's going to be a lot of back and forth on the TV for the next hour.

4:35 pm - This is unacceptable. Both the basketball and soccer are on commercial. Can somebody out there do a better job of coordination here? Please and thank you.

4:39 pm - Williams has turned this game on its ear. After Gonzaga runs a great play to get a dunk, Xavier hits a 3, then Gonzaga misses but Williams runs down the break and then gets a running leaner. It's still a 14 point lead for Gonzaga, but Xavier is keeping it interesting with effort and playing hard. I just heard the Timbers have kicked off, so we'll be paying attention as best as we can through the next bit.

4:45 pm - so I flipped over to Timbers to hear that Asprilla scored early to give the Timbers a 1 to 0 lead as Gonzaga continues to lead in their game as we hit a TV timeout. It's a 15 point lead and Xavier is starting to pile up fouls although Collins for the Zags has his fourth. I was slightly thrown off for a second until I realized that Portland was wearing the secondary kits for this one.

4:50 pm - Gonzaga has stretched their lead to 18 when the Xavier coach gets a technical foul for arguing. Williams-Goss misses the free throw as the Bulldogs are trying to push the lead to 20 as Karnowski gets fouled trying to spin for a basket. He's at the line but it's starting to get to crunch time for the Muskateers. I guess the Timbers match is now level as somebody forgot to cover Meram on a corner kick and he easily puts in the goal. Asprilla was on a nice break there for the Timbers, but the ball was just away from him. So it's 18 point lead for Gonzaga and all level for the Timbers.

4:57 pm - With the other game at a break, I flipped over to watch Higuain flip a ball to Ola Kamara with the Timbers stretched out. With Jake Gleeson out of his goal to try and defend, Kamara chipped it easily into the goal for the 2 to 1 lead for the home side. It's only 20 minutes in, but it appears the Timbers are having some struggles early after Asprilla gave them an early lead. DOH!

5:04 pm - It's now 20 points for the lead with 7 minutes left, but the more Xavier throws up the shots, the more they are pressing. Gonzaga is running some clock now to try and keep the lead going. After a turnover, it's now 22 points as Collins cleans up a rebound. I am not going to get too ahead of myself here, but it's looking good for the Bulldogs even with 5 minutes left.

5:10 pm - It's down to 19 points with 4 minutes left as I flip back to hear about Valeri hitting the post and Asprilla having a good look. It appears the Timbers are very much in this match, but they've not had much luck since getting the early lead. Blanco took a hard knock and is still down, but Petrescu decided to not call a thing. The replay shows that the ball got stuck on Asprilla's feet but it was a clear break away as Valeri curls a shot just away from the left post. Wow.

5:15 pm - the best play of the second half was from one of the court attendants trying to clean up one of the keys, but Xavier turns it over and Josh Perkins has a break away dunk. The girl gets out of the way before the dunk, but it was a pretty wild play and it should be all over the Internet. The lead is now 22 points with just about 2 minutes left as Gonzaga gets it to 80 points.

5:18 pm - it's under a minute and it's a 21 point lead, and Gonzaga has done it. Coach Mark Few clears the bench and it looks like Gonzaga will get their first ever Final Four berth. Hachimura hits the Zags' twelfth 3 pointer and this one looks to be officially done. I can finally grab a beer as my alma mater will live to play another day. Wow!! I know what I'm wearing to work on Monday!

5:33 pm - So I had to find my beer of choice for the day - a Portland Brewing IPA. This was my choice for the Timbers match, but now it's a bit of a celebratory pint for my Zags. I was a little frustrated with the Timbers and their situation until I saw Adi's goal just before the half. It was a great leave off the Powell cross and the big guy didn't miss it. He had a swing and miss minutes earlier that led to some crazy antics and Diego Chara nearly getting his second yellow for a hard bump. It's now 2 all between the Timbers and Crew, which at least for what I saw from the match seems deserving. Both teams are getting up and down the pitch, and while Portland is doing okay, they clearly miss Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman.

5:44 pm - Portland earns an early corner kick and another and nearly took the lead with Adi getting a header just over the bar. Great way to start the half as the Timbers try and pressure to get a tie breaking goal. It's still 2 all and neither side has made any updates to their playing eleven.

6:00 pm - After a spirited start to the second half, it seems like the match has gotten a little static. Silviu Petrescu has had an abysmal half making calls as Artur should have been ejected for a studs up foul on Blanco, but it appears that Petrescu is just off. Ethan Finlay earned a free kick after he kicked Blanco's leg and fell down, and then now, Valentin was called for a foul for pulling the shirt slightly. Another Crew corner is coming here, but it looks like the Timbers are fighting to find some energy out there.

6:25 pm - It's been tough to watch the Timbers as they've not really been able to get much forward so far. The defense has been playing back on their heels and pushed back, which allowed the Crew to circle about. Niko Hansen hits a rebound goal off a cross that Ola Kamara punched in forcing a Gleeson deflection, but he was out of position and the defense was stretched. It's 3 to 2 Crew and Barmby (who entered for Valentin) just missed getting the equalizer. The Timbers have looked a little rusty, and while I understand they are missing 2 key pieces, it's obvious that Portland really can't account for their approach when Nagbe and Guzman are out. Granted, Columbus is a better side that we realize, but still, the Timbers should be able to find room and chances to attack the goal. It just hasn't happened.

6:37 pm - so while Gonzaga advances, the Timbers lose 3 to 2 versus the Crew when their defense wasn't able to overcome the constant pressure. While this one would be convenient to blame on who wasn't here - Guzman and Nagbe - for me, this one comes down to inconsistencies on the Timbers. The defense, which has been so good at collectively staying organized and compact, got stretched against a Crew side that isn't normally known for pushing teams. The officiating was quizzical at best in many of the calls, and the Timbers were lucky to have just a few yellows on this evening as Petrescu was a bit random for my taste. I get the Crew were more aggressive, so that gave them some benefit, but for me, falling down on the moment of contact is such a stupid way to draw calls. Yet the Crew were able to do this consistently because of their pushing tempo and advantage in possession. I know that the Timbers were never going to go undefeated on the season, and I will give them credit for fighting for the two goals that they did get, but honestly they looked out of sorts and you can't always blame that on who is gone. It's important to be consistent with who you have, and the Timbers did too much defending in the second half and it cost them in the end.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Timbers v Crew Predictions - Can Timbers make it 4?

Welcome back to the Timbers prediction thread. Last week's impressive win over the Houston Dynamo by a 4 to 2 margin gave Spot, Tortie and myself bragging rights for picking the winner, but nobody was able to predict the accurate score. This week's opponent is the Columbus Crew, and the last time Portland went all the way out to Ohio was in 2015 - and we all know what happened then. The prediction thread has also gained another participant, who is very famous for her prognostication skills.

Spot loves soccer bags. It's her way.

Spot - Portland wins.  

Spot was generally pleased with picking the winning team, but as with last week, she refused to provide a score. She head butted my hand more when I asked about the Timbers, so it would appear she's taking the boys in green once again. Perhaps someday she will actually provide a score, but she is also a cat. The fact she actually responded is impressive.

Tortie is hiding but she can still predict soccer.

Tortie - 2 to 0 Timbers.

Tortie appeared excited about choosing the 2 goal margin correctly, but upon further review, it was the fact I had the brush. When I asked about Timbers or Crew, she eeped more about the Timbers. When asked about the score, she flopped down twice on her side for Portland and ran off when I asked about the Crew. Okay, sounds like 2 to 0 for her.

GB asks where is the food. Seriously, I can't find it.

GB - 1 to 0 Timbers.

GB was very sleepy when I talked with him about the match, but it could have been his busy day of begging for food or attention that had him exhausted. He yawned when I asked about the Crew, so I think that means Timbers. Score wise, I got one headbutt and then he left the room, so I would imagine that as a 1 to 0 score.

Scarf plus Vegas equals good.

Kip - 2 to 1 Timbers.

After calling the win in somewhat of a track meet score, I was excited about the Timbers 3 - 0 - 0 start with 10 goals scored versus 3 conceded. Offensively, this team is off to an incredible start, but Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman are both out for the weekend on international duty, so Portland is not at full strength. However, the pieces that are traveling should be enough to get a win considering Diego Valeri has as many goals this year as the entire Crew. Defensively, Columbus is adjusting to new players but their strategy of playing conservatively might keep the tempo down just a bit. It won't be free flowing soccer, but Portland should get 2 goals and the Crew will score one to make it interesting. We always win 2 to 1, right?

Caleb Porter reacts to Jennifer's latest very accurate prediction.

Jennifer - 7 to 0 Crew.

"Oh, joy! Another year of spouting off about my favorite topic. Well, maybe tenth favorite or so...

Nothing lasts forever, especially a positive Timbers streak. It's all over, folks. We've had a short reprieve from the wailing and tears, but they will return with a vengeance this Saturday. Keep the tissues handy as the goal differential disintegrates along with multiple ACLs"

Sunday, March 19, 2017

After first half struggles, Timbers dominate Dynamo for 4 to 2 win

This guy once was everywhere, now he's not going anywhere
Strangeness was certainly in the air before the Houston Dynamo were set to play the Portland Timbers in week 3 MLS action. Both sides had gotten off to strong starts - Portland's offensive arsenal has been impressive in 2 different matches while Houston has seemed to reignite the career of Erick Torres by adding new options up top. With Portland and Houston undefeated to start the year, the experts were calling this the biggest match of the early season, and I'm glad to say that it didn't disappoint in many aspects. After the first half that saw 2 very odd penalties and a lethal Dynamo counter give them the lead at the break, Portland stormed back with 3 goals in a wild second half to post an impressive 4 to 2 victory. What made the result more noteworthy was what Timbers Coach Caleb Porter called the "next man up" philosophy of this early season due to injuries.

After losing Gbenga Arokoyo to a season ending injury, Lawrence Olum has been stellar as one of the center backs, but after Liam Ridgewell suffered a foot injury, Olum has been paired with Roy Miller for the past 2 matches since Miller joined the team from Saprissa recently after being signed in the offseason. Left back Vytas suffered a calf injury in the season opening win over Minnesota United, but young back Marco Farfan held up well in the Timbers 1 to 0 victory over Los Angeles and was expected to get the start versus the Dynamo. However, Farfan succumbed to a bout with stomach flu, and Porter went to the "next man" in starting Zarek Valentin along with Miller, Olum and Alvas Powell, who has also been dealing with a knock since the MUFC match. Porter was buoyed by the news that David Guzman, who left the Galaxy match with a shoulder injury, was able to start alongside Diego Chara to support the fearsome foursome up top of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Fanendo Adi. This group has produced 6 goals in 2 matches, but Houston's defense had been solid early in their own right.

The Dynamo have watched Torres, a former Chivas USA player known for lengthy goal scoring streaks, struggle to acclimate to the side in 2016 after he was acquired by the Dynamo. Dynamo Coach Wilmer Cabrera has not only embraced getting Torres more involved, the team went out and signed two Honduran attackers, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. With Juan Cabezas joining the club as defensive midfielder alongside holdovers Alex and Ricardo Clark, Houston has shown an ability to counter attack at a moment's notice, and the new backline in front of goalkeeper Tyler Deric - former Galaxy defenders A.J. DeLaGarza and Leonardo and newly signed Adolfo Machado joining DaMarcus Beasley - has done well collectively to overcome the few chances that have come their way. Much like the Timbers, Houston's defense relies upon proper positioning and movement to cover marks which starts with 1 on 1 defensive, but they also expect that Beasley and DeLaGarza (or whomever is playing their fullback role) to get forward as much as possible to aid the attack.

The Maestro continues his torrid start to 2017 (Portland Timbers)
After a couple of early misses for both sides, the Timbers would get on the board in the 11th minute courtesy of a Valeri penalty kick. A cross from Blanco into the Dynamo box hit Beasley's tucked in arm, but Center Official Allen Chapman gave Portland the early lifeline and Valeri didn't miss as he smashed the effort past Deric for the early 1 to 0 lead. The goal seemed to settle in Houston, however, as they turned up the pressure out wide and pushed attempts throughout the next 25 minutes to keep Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and the defense on their toes. In the 37th minute, Houston got the equalizer after Miller had been judged to bump Torres just outside the Timbers box for a free kick. Torres took the restart that struck Chara in the elbow inside the box, and Chapman awarded the penalty for the visitors. Torres beat Gleeson easily to level the score, and then unleashed one of the oddest post goal celebrations I have ever seen. It appeared the teams would hit the break level, but Houston caught Portland's defense napping off a counter, and Quioto found plenty of open space to run into a pass from Elis in the penalty area, and with his easy finish, it was 2 to 1 Dynamo at the break. Timbers fans were very upset at Chapman's calls and the officiating crew left the pitch to a chorus of boos from the home side.

Porter indicated in his post match comments that he made 2 stark adjustments to the Timbers attack - push Nagbe out wider and ask Valentin to push forward to keep the Dynamo midfield more central. The adjustments along with increased tempo allowed Portland to press further, and after key misses from Chara and Nagbe, Valeri got his second goal in the 58th minute to draw Portland even. With Valentin pushing wide off a through ball from Adi, the Timbers defender put a cross to the spot that was just over the head of Guzman but in the wheelhouse of Valeri, who headed it past the keeper for the goal. The pressure continued for several minutes with chances for Adi, Guzman and Nagbe, but after a blocked shot for Darlington, he found his rebound and dropped a lovely through ball for Guzman in the box, and the defensive midfielder scored his first goal as a Timber in the 66th minute to push the score up to 3 to 2. The press continued throughout the rest of the half, and Adi entered his name in the scorebook in the 88th minute off a Guzman through ball that caught Houston outnumbered. Adi was able to outmaneuver 3 Dynamo defenders and Deric to slot his shot in, which was impressive considering he had missed similar chances earlier in the half.  The Dynamo registered their only official shot on goal in the second half in stoppage time, but otherwise, the visitors were kept in check through the final whistle.
I'm shocked David Guzman even played due to injury (Timbers)

The result gave the Timbers their 3rd win in March and a now perfect 3 - 0 - 0 start. While the goal scoring was impressive, I was amazed by Guzman even playing after his shoulder injury, and he was simply stellar in patrolling the midfield. While the defense had a couple of rough patches, I have to complement Valentin for stepping in - apparently he didn't know about starting until game day when he got a text from Porter - while Olum and Miller did reasonably well. The hold up play for Adi and Blanco helped stretch the pitch all night, which allowed Valeri and Nagbe to distribute and move more freely, especially with Chara and Guzman holding the middle. It was a signature win, but the team can't celebrate this too much as they have a key road match on March 25 when they visit Columbus. Portland will be without 2 key players - Nagbe and Guzman have been called up for World Cup qualifying matches for the U.S and Costa Rican National Teams next weekend - but the mantra of next man up has certainly worked so far for them in this wonderful start to the 2017 season.

My man of the match really comes down to 3 players - Adi, Blanco and Guzman. Adi was simply outstanding at occupying space and defenders, and that forced Houston to leave other players open, mostly Nagbe and Valeri. When they failed to contain Nagbe, it gave Valeri all the space he needed. Blanco was another aspect of using space, but I watched him also tirelessly run back and recover on defense countless times. With Porter choosing not to use any substitutes, I do worry about some guys getting run down even in the early season, but Blanco is showing easily why he should be a lock to start when available. I didn't think Guzman would even play after partially dislocating his shoulder versus the Galaxy, but he showed extreme toughness to not only play, but excel for the full match. Kudos should also go out to the defensive line, which played very well for long stretches and kept Gleeson from having to deal with much.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Resurrecting the Timbers Prediction Thread

You never forget your first. (K.Kesgard)
It's nearly game time for week 3 of the 2017 MLS season and this year's Portland Timbers have accomplished something that their 2016 team couldn't do - win away from Providence Park. While the team has caromed close to going winless away from Portland in a full season on 3 occasions - 2 road wins in 2011, 1 road win in 2012, 3 road wins in 2013 - Portland tied a rather dubious mark by not winning a match away from the Rose City in 2016. After their impressive thrashing of Minnesota United FC in their home opener, the Timbers traveled to Los Angeles to play the Galaxy in week 2. In 9 previous visits to Stub Hub Center, the Timbers have earned just 1 win and 3 draws, but their 1 win was fairly impressive - a 5 to 2 thrashing back in October 2015 that helped catapult the Timbers towards their dramatic MLS Cup victory. With several injuries affecting the defensive line - no Liam Ridgewell or Vytas available - Portland used an impressive effort by Sebastian Blanco and some timely collective defense to defeat the Galaxy 1 to 0.

What was more impressive about the match was the identity of the Timbers' goal scorer - and it wasn't even his birthday. Diego Chara tallied the lone goal in the 8th minute that actually was started by a Galaxy set piece that the Timbers were able to clear and the ball fell to Blanco, who sent Chara forward on a wonderful forward attack with a wonderfully placed through ball. Chara ran onto the ball, headed it to Diego Valeri in the Galaxy box, and the Maestro drew the defense over to him before slotting the ball back to Chara for the easy tap in. Portland did have a few other chances on the day, but they weren't able to score anything more, but they didn't need it as the collective backline of Alvas Powell, Lawrence Olum, Roy Miller and Marco Farfan collectively held an undermanned Galaxy team to just 2 shots on goal in 13 overall shots attempted. The Galaxy were hurt by the ejection of defender Jelle Van Damme for two yellow cards within moments of each other - the first for dissent, the second for impeding the progress of Timbers midfielder David Guzman - but they scrapped to keep the match interesting. The Timbers were harmed by their own roster adjustment as Guzman had to leave the match with an undisclosed shoulder injury after the play with Van Damme, and he was replaced by Ben Zemanski.

Suffice to say, I was pleased with the result but I wouldn't have predicted this result after the struggles from last year. In my former outlet, we had the weekly exercise of putting together predictions for the upcoming match with a predicted winner, the scoreline and even some thoughts about who might score. Over the years of completing this, I tried virtually every method to come up with my predictions - actual research, asking my cats, using a Magic 8-Ball, consulting a random number generator, using intuition, or just wildly guessing - and I can say that there was no one method that worked better than anything else. I also didn't consult much week to week about my actual picks, so there was a point in the 2015 season when a reader pointed out that after 20 matches, I had predicted 19 wins and 1 draw - probably not the most realistic of records. But I always had fun with the exercise, and it was a source of pride when the actual predictions came true, so in keeping with the new site, I thought it would be fun to bring it back for this year. And this week's opponent, the Houston Dynamo, is undefeated as well, so the match-up is garnering lots of attention.

Each week, I will post the predictions from my crew of expert commentators - and in coming weeks, I will even add other predictions from randomly chosen fans. Think you can beat this expert crew of soccer experts? Well, give it your best shot for pride - as our budget doesn't exactly allow for massive prizes or certificates.

Our first participant is my cat Spot, our eldest female who is a Maine coon that is obsessed with sports bags and magically appearing on a lap without an invitation. When I asked about who would win between Houston or Portland, she said "nyunh" after Houston and nothing after Portland, so I took that as a Timbers win. However, she ignored several attempts to provide a score, which is just like what a cat would do.

Secondly, we turn to Tortie, our youngest cat who is secretly a ninja that loves frogs. She was probably the most eager to participate, so maybe she knows something. She meowed more about Portland that Houston, and when I asked about goals, she eeped 3 times after the Timbers and 1 time after Houston. So in recapping her entry, it's Portland 3, Houston 1 and it's now time to chase the froggy about the house.

Our third member is the esteemed GB, who is a perpetually hungry but very loving boy that recovered nicely after being shot by a pellet gun when he lived outside. He reacted to both teams positively, and I got 2 head butts after asking about Portland and Houston, so I took this to mean it would be a 2 all draw. Considering both sides are undefeated, this might actually be a smart play for the grey boy.

Number 4 is myself, and obviously this is a tough match to call a winner within. Houston and Portland are both strong sides, and the Dynamo has been buoyed by Erick Torres finding his scoring touch & getting support from Romell Quioto. Defensively, Tyler Deric has taken over the goalkeeping and the patchwork backline with Leonardo & A.J. DelaGarza has held up well. The Timbers, however, have been offensively stronger than anticipated, so I'm calling this one as an official shootout. It should be a 5 to 4 result with goals from Fanendo Adi, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and even Timber Joey gets one. Unfortunately, the Timbers will concede a few and it will be a track meet.

That's all for this week, so to recap, Spot is predicting a win based upon an unknown score, Tortie is calling for a 3 to 1 win, GB has a 2 all draw and I'm predicting the track meet score. I will try to post this each week, and who knows who else might be included in our weekly panel. Talk to you all soon!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dealing with My Shadows...all of them.

Apparently I like beer and wearing funny hats (K.Kesgard)
I promise that this blog won't always be about serious topics or passively aggressively yelling about buses, but I also said in the beginning that this wouldn't be always about sports and soccer either. As a writer, I believe there are times where you have to push beyond your bubble and talk about subjects that make you uncomfortable. One of my high school teachers always told me "You can never get any better doing the same thing every day," but I did make her laugh when I said in response, "At least I could be an expert on repetitive behavior." It might have been really funny at the time, but considering that I just turned 50 at the beginning of this year, ruts are what you avoid while driving, not what you want your life to be about. Sometimes, living that is easier said that done.

We are all products of our environment - the experiences and situations encountered to get us to this very moment in time. It's easy to wax nostalgically and say things like if I had made different choices or followed different paths, things might be different; but we are where we are because of the path that got you to where you are. That might sound really confusing, but as I've gone through various incarnations of self help and counseling, it all seems to fall back upon the above statements. Life seems to follow the exercises of pondering the alternatives while often regretting or processing the options that were followed. Combine this with the fact that life itself is in a state of near constant flux with new chapters popping up regularly, it is no wonder that many struggle with the simplest of tasks. Our world has gotten more open with technology and communication that brings the world closer, but information gathering can be like drinking from a fire hose. It's easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted just trying to keep up, but many of us learn skills when we are younger to help us adapt and deal with it all.

So imagine if you will that your younger skills were developed simply to avoid being whomped on, literally or metaphorically. I had always thought my earlier days were relatively happy with the usual challenges that crop up growing up as an oddball in the land of potatoes, but the reality was that I lived in constant trauma. My mother, herself a victim of years of abuse, had surrounded herself with egotistical, aggressive men after she divorced my father, and the impressions of their actions fell deftly on my psyche for years. She, being the product of years of Catholic school and repression, laid her own recipes onto the table, so you could safely say that I dealt with trying to get through my days in one piece. When I left for college, my sister became the target and she rebelled massively as was her style, but she was also unhappy that her one source of normalcy in the house was off to other horizons.

This was taken right after my men's group training in 2015.
I also grew up around men that never really expressed any emotions outside of anger, and when other feelings came up, it was time to bottle them up as unproductive or unnecessary. Emotions aren't important at all unless they help you get what you want or hurt somebody else. This whole story plays out a nice narrative when I move to the big city and work for a living. While there are plenty of tasks we do because the managers tell us we need to, having control over your own path can be liberating and freeing. For those of us dealing with trauma, however, it can be a life sentence of indecision and buffering; if you are fed messages that you aren't good enough or worthy for anything and nothing is really happening, it's easy to believe the clippings. Because it was difficult to trust yourself or much less others, I found it easy to be friends in many groups at a surface level. When it came time to talk about places and people from the past, I could dredge up enough happy stories from college and some family anecdotes to piece together a back story. Dating, on the other hand, was a different story because that forces you to either be truthful and hope you can live with the judging or conveniently share bits and pieces in a way to craft out a plausible past. I didn't think it dishonest, it was more fashioning the best foot forward to make the best impression possible.

The problem with this track is it's easy to lose track of yourself if you aren't being truthful to who you actually are, especially when you finally meet someone that you care about and love more than anything. You have to put away the facades and best impressions, because that person will see you for who you are, warts and blemishes and everything. I lost my mother to cancer in 2005, and while that might be a tragic development for some, the fact is that she caused it by giving in to a lifelong addiction to smoking. I went from grieving about her into a wonderful relationship, and I never gave myself a chance to process any feelings or emotions, especially not having the good examples on how to process them. So take some well placed guilt, lack of emotional processing, years of trauma impression and go into a relationship dynamic that is challenging for even the most healthy soul, and see what happens. As much as I didn't want to, it was easy to replay traumatic events when the right influences were put into play.

I tried years of self help and meditation to try and quell the shadows, but it was hard to process what was going on without a sounding board. I finally found a therapist that was exceptional at listening and challenging me in the right ways to get me to trust and finally open up, but I wasn't able to continue with him after some insurance challenges and him suspending his practice temporarily. Where I have gotten the most traction in this situation is starting to do men's work in 2015 at the advice of a dear friend. Most men have trouble in relationships with other men, and so the thought is being able to break down the barriers and process emotions with other men in a healthy way can be beneficial for all involved. I went through extensive training through the Mankind Project in May 2015, and later on, I joined into a group with other men where I meet weekly to help process my issues. It's not therapy, but what it does is try to teach respect and accountability while also making it safe for men to process what they are feeling in a healthy way.
Coffee is good, but it doesn't answer everything about life

It's tough for me to type these words because much of this isn't really common knowledge to many, and the few paragraphs that I am typing here barely scratch the surface of what I dealt with while younger. But I need to share this because the biggest reason why I do men's work is to become a better man. I understand being human and making mistakes, but I also know that being a better person means being authentic and genuine with your thoughts and actions. Shadows - those parts of us that we don't like to deal with because it's scary, fearful or uncomfortable - keep us from being our full self, and so it's important to confront them. That, however, is more easily said than done because when there is stress, frustration, emotion and everything in between, it's difficult to remember being our better self and we say or do things we immediately regret. Being a recovered Catholic, there are a few things that I know better about me than anything - I can get stuck in my brain really easily, and I can do guilt like nobody's business. But guilt is essentially nothing more than the shadow distracting you from what is important.

I don't want to talk like I'm an expert on this, either. I'm still in the early stages of dealing with it all because it seems so overwhelming at points and I have flashbacks and issues that crop up regularly. And while I admit men's work has helped me in many ways, it might not be the answer for others. What I do know about this is this - we live in a complicated, angry, frustrated world right now where it seems like the perks often end up with the ones that talk the loudest, get angry the most and demand everything. The truth is that while we might not get everything we think we deserve in life, it's easier to be receptive to those gifts that do come our way if we are being the truest versions of who we are. Finding that true version of who we are should be the life's goal for everybody, and that starts by not living in fear, anger, and guilt. I tremble as I type that because I often forget that simple message because it's easy to get caught up in the trappings of our world, but keeping that in mind is the easiest way to find the gold inside of each of us that we should be showing to our world. Thank you for reading, and until next time!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The story behind #WillMyBusArrive

This might explain why it doesn't show up on time (K.Kesgard)
With the new site going, I indicated that there would be posts that didn't involve soccer or sports in general. I have had a few people ask me what is the deal with tweeting about whether my motor coach arrives on time or not. It seems awfully passive aggressive to direct anger like this on social media, but then again, anybody that has been on the Internet over the last few months knows it can be a very volatile place. One person talking about whether something follows a schedule or not might seem like nothing, but honestly, I wonder if the world of customer service isn't nearly what it once was. The whole concept started simply with one guy and a smartphone that was entertaining himself by sharing thoughts about the coach being on time, late or a no show, but when people started commenting about it, I knew I might be onto a fun topic especially with my history in transit.

I grew up in the land of blue astroturf, potatoes, and gems; my stepfather drove a special minibus for the local urban stages authority, so we got free transit passes. That was how I got about town if my parents weren't able to take me to activities - catching the local line. At that time, the routes were limited and changed depending upon the day, but then again, most residents believed cars rule and other vehicles drooled. It was even odd to be catching to get to school instead of taking a yellow monstrosity like others, but it did allow some flexibility during the sports seasons to get home. When I moved to the world of lilacs, bulldogs and Jesuits for college, I didn't own a car, so getting about town involved either bumming a ride, walking, biking or the coach. Being a broke college student, my money was strictly reserved for food and alcohol, so I spent little time getting to know the transit infrastructure.

It would be great if all vehicles could get along. (K.Kesgard)
All that changed after graduation when I was trying to find a job and ended up visiting Portland. My girlfriend during my senior year of school broke up with me after graduation, but her mother made me a promise that I could come visit the Rose City and stay with her to try and find my first job. While I was pleasantly surprised at the offer at the time, I was even more shocked when I called her in August and she was excited to have me visit and stay at her apartment even after the breakup. Upon my arrival, I was given plenty of advice about things to do upon moving to Portland - buy an umbrella, find a good coffee house, get a good jacket, and learn the layout. I was given a all zone pass for my use with a schedule booklet, and she said take the stage everywhere - it's the best way to learn about the city.

For the 2 weeks I was here, I interviewed at 7 different companies located in downtown, but I spent the afternoons riding various routes about town. With the color coded, animal inspired division for the varying paths, it was so easy to know which coach took you where. I was fascinated at the concept of making the core of the downtown a transit hub, especially since I would be living here without a car. I was able to see the kitsch of early NW Portland, the grit of inner SE, the sprawl of the westside, the history of North Portland and all parts in between. Granted, the rides took forever at points and it seemed like some of the paths turned all over themselves, but I never felt so connected to a place before - and I became a poster child of the transit program. I grabbed every schedule I could find, purchased the full matrix of options and took the coach everywhere.

This town has the oddest traffic ever. (K.Kesgard)
Living out in West Portland and Beaverton, I lived near major lines and scheduled my life about where I could get via the motor coach - to the golf course, the bars, the restaurants, the grocery store. With reliable transport, it worked like a charm despite the lack of spontaneity if I wanted to go outside the grid. One of my high school friends moved to town months after I became a resident and he allowed me to use his truck from time to time, but for the most part, I got to where I needed by transit or foot. Over the years, the plan worked with a few minor issues relating to the weather - or the occasional Saturday work shift downtown on the same day the Rose Festival parade was on. Even years later when I moved to NW Portland in a studio apartment, I still traveled by large vehicle wherever possible. Because the neighborhood had most services within walking distance, I didn't venture too far from this zone and it worked - until the fateful day when my office decided to move to East County.

I figured I could survive this because it was a reverse commute of heading from downtown east, and once I figured out the plan, it was relatively painless. The authority had been expanding their options to add more train lines, so at first, it was as simple as one train to a shuttle during work hours. When a line extended its reach out on Sandy Boulevard past my office, it gave me slightly better options in case my shifts ran late, but otherwise, my perfect carless existence was struggling at points if I needed to get to work. I could try to bum rides but most of the time, it was quitting before the last shuttle ran. My life got easier when I could work from home via remote access, but I was hoping that things would get better when I moved out to East County after moving in with my girlfriend (now wife) in 2005. Instead of relying on multiple lines, it was one loop that I could walk to easily to get to the center. Imagine my surprise when that hasn't been the case. Over the years, the route has been altered, added to, subtracted, and tinkered with. The drivers regularly rotate and when it became a full route, the performance went out the window. There are plenty of afternoons where I am standing around and wondering if anything will show up and if the schedule is just a suggestion or not.   

Me in my natural state after work. (K.Kesgard)
I have worked in customer service long enough to know it's a tough gig. It's difficult to manage to customer expectations at points, but being honest and communicative usually helps. The more I tried to talk with people about my line, however, the more I got the usual boiler plate responses of "We are looking into it. Sorry for the inconvenience." I know these lines well, because they usually mean little to nothing and it's a placebo to make the comments go away-We aren't interested in changing or feel we can't, so just deal with it. I got tired of saying anything, so I just stopped caring. It was at this time that I started to tweet and found more people talking about the same things. I'm not going to go down the rabbit holes of waste and problems in large agencies, but I can safely say this - I pay a lot each month for a pass and I only expect that my line show up around the schedule. I understand issues happen, but when there is an outage or accident, I have no idea the motorcade isn't coming. There is no notification system whatsoever, so I can't make any alternate plans to get home. I receive 11 billion emails if a train is broken, but nothing if a route is off track. I know they can track vehicles, but I can't understand why they can't notify us of an issue.

I know the people are trying, and my hashtag isn't meant to antagonize or upset any of them. It's simply my fun way of trying to deal with waiting - something that nobody likes doing ever. I wished there were more productive things to do in queue, but I'm not pulling out a laptop and trying to work in a waiting shelter - although I certainly see it all the time. It's just that in trying to do more, I feel our local agency is doing less with the current and the standard that once was in place isn't there. I rarely heard complaints about missing or broken coaches, but it's now a common refrain. I'm not expecting anything I am typing here to change the world, I'm trying my best to have some humor about a situation many deal with daily - and while it might not be a first world problem, I know it could always be a lot worse. I just wish that wasn't the case, but it starts with communication and a plan. Or maybe one guy and a smartphone.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Timbers dismantle Loons to start 2017 MLS season

My vantage point for the night (Jennifer Kesgard)
As I was preparing for the 2017 MLS season to open for the Portland Timbers, my thoughts immediately turned back to 2011 - the very first season of the Timbers in MLS. After several years of playing in lower division professional leagues, Portland was graduating to the top flight of American soccer and playing their first competitive match in MLS in March 2011. Their first opponent was the then-defending MLS Cup champions, the Colorado Rapids, in their home opener for the season and the defending champions completely outflanked an eager, but ultimately outflanked Timbers team by a 3 to 1 margin. Portland wasn't defending a cup title, but after some significant upgrades on their roster, the Timbers are among the sides experts are thinking could lift the trophy in December 2017. Their opponent to start their 2017 campaign was Minnesota United FC, making their MLS debut after many years of successful soccer in lower professional divisions until Major League Soccer made them franchise 21 for this year. Following a plan much like the Timbers did in 2011 - and having one of the architects of the early MLS Timbers on staff, Director of Player Personnel Amos Magee (Magee was an assistant with the Timbers from 2009 through 2013), Minnesota United was hoping to show they belonged. Unfortunately for them, the host Timbers unleashed an offensive onslaught with 5 goals from 3 separate players in an impressive 5 to 1 victory under a typical Portland downpour and another sell out crowd.

While the talk had been mostly centered around the additions of Sebastian Blanco and David Guzman to a stacked offense and whether former USL Timber Lawrence Olum would be the answer at center back for now, it was two holdover players that carried the bulk of the offense. Midfielder Diego Valeri netted two goals on the night - a 47th minute header off an assist from Blanco that was his first headed goal in MLS play, and converting a 82nd minute penalty effort - and assisted on the opening goal of the night. The other returnee that continued his very torrid spring - tallying 6 goals in preseason play - was forward Fanendo Adi, who scored a brace in second half stoppage time to continue his reputation as "the Orthadontist". Adi converted goal one after a superb end to end run from Darlington Nagbe, who took a deflected shot and drove it nearly to the 18 yard box around several defenders, but dropped a wonderful pass to Adi as the defense surrounded him. The Minnesota United defense couldn't stop Adi as he tapped in the shot with his right foot, but just 2 minutes later, Adi added the second off a throw when he outmaneuvered three defenders and Minnesota United keeper John Alvbage for a wonderful shot with the left for the brace.

I could hardly keep up on the tweets. (Jennifer Kesgard)
The scoring actually started back in the 14h minute when Blanco ran down a loose ball in the far southwest corner past MUFC defender Francisco Calvo to earn a free kick. While Blanco used some physicality to initially jar the ball away from Calvo, it was the return bumps and dropping Sebastian to the turf that drew Center Official Chris Penso to call the free kick right along the touch line. Valeri triggered the restart to the right post on the south goal, and defender Vytas was able to collect the free kick and head it towards the left post where Olum was lurking. The rangy center back chipped the ball towards goal and it crossed the line past Alvbage before Adi could collect the shot, and it set off a crazy celebration. For Olum, it was his seventh goal in a Timbers shirt - he had tallied 6 goals while playing for the USL Timbers in 2007 and 2008 - but it was a product of good movement and organization on set pieces. Portland certainly had other opportunities to score - Adi was pulled down in the box in the 5th minute to no call, while Valeri had a gift at the penalty spot in the 30th minute when Adi intercepted a ball from the MN defense in the Timbers box, but Alvbage was able to poke the ball away right to Valeri until Alvbage's teammates were able to recover - but it was just a single goal after some impressive ball and people movement.

Minnesota United struggled most of the night to try to find any offense, although midfielder Kevin Molino had a few opportunities from distance that barely troubled Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. There were glimmers of hope for the Loons with over 700 traveling supporters making the journey to Providence Park to support their side in song. Their efforts were rewarded in the 75th minute when forward Johan Vanegas, playing a lone striker role for the first 69 minutes until MUFC Coach Adrian Heath brought on Christian Ramirez as a second striker for midfielder Rasmus Schuller, found Ramirez at the top of the box between Olum and Timbers center back Liam Ridgewell. Ramirez was able to turn and shoot before Ridgewell could mark him, and the effort struck the net past Gleeson for the Loons' first ever MLS goal. 

In many ways, the goal reminded me a lot of the strike by then Timbers striker Kenny Cooper in the Timbers' MLS debut - it gave a glimmer of happiness for the new team after being dominated for most of the match - but one difference here was that the Ramirez strike pulled MUFC to within a goal at 2 to 1 in the 75th minute. The momentum was short lived for Minnesota United, however, once MUFC defender Vadim Demidov pulled Adi down in the box as the Timbers Army were singing "You Are My Sunshine" and Penso pointed to the spot. Valeri did the rest, Adi added a late flourish and the home fans were able to leave happy with a dominant result. 

Beer helps viewings. Is this how this works? (J.Kesgard)
From my perspective, it was great to see Adi and Valeri continue their offensive prowess after they were huge contributors to the team in 2016. However, the man of the match for me was Guzman, who worked tirelessly to dominate the midfield with great timed tackles and successful distribution. His work allowed midfielder Diego Chara to drift forward more in support, while Alvas Powell and Vytas continued their solid contributions with several successful overlapping runs. The center back duo of Olum and Ridgewell weren't threatened too much, and while there was one mistake on the night, they were calm and organized for most of the match. Another huge component of the success was the work of Blanco and Darlington Nagbe, who pushed the Loons defense wide all night courtesy of flanking runs, and that movement stretched an already out-manned defense even more. Even with all the platitudes for the victory, however, it's just one match of many - and Portland wants to avoid overconfidence after this one. Minnesota United isn't as bad of a team that they showed on this night - I think Schuller, Ramirez, Molino and Vanegas will be able to give teams fits once they figure out how to work better together - but they have the same problem as most expansion sides - not enough depth and limited talent. Portland gets a stiffer test next week when they travel to Los Angeles for their first road match of 2017 to face the Galaxy. It's another match on Fox Sports 1 at 4:00 PM Portland time, and the new look Galaxy will get their first chance to deal with the Timbers and their revamped offense.