Monday, October 12, 2009

No Joy in Soccer City

The beautiful October afternoon was perfect.  The enthusiastic rumble of nearly 15,000 fans in PGE Park came to us clearly from blocks away as we hurried to join them for the Timbers' rumble with the 'Caps.   We were running four or five minutes late because we'd had trouble finding a place to park.  But with reserved seat tickets and friends awaiting us,  we weren't too concerned.   

So it was with horror that we entered the stadium just on the heels of Vancouver breaking down our defense and taking a one nil lead.  Horror because on the Vancouver leg of the competition,  the Timbers had already gone down by a goal making the hill to climb two strikes high to start.  And additionally,  horror because so often Portland sports teams (not just the Timbers) have had sterling runs in the regular season and then stumbled at the moment of triumph.   The fear was not unfounded.  Hard though the Timbers fought,   the final 3-3 finish that afternoon was not enough to overcome the deficit carried back earlier from Swangard.   (Ironically,  the Caps now face the same dilemma in the final having lost to Montreal at home).

It's taken me several days to feel like I'm willing to write about the season and its outcome.  Frustrating is not an adequate word to describe the feeling- more like awaiting the arrival of the beautiful mail order bride for a year only to have her run off with your best friend at the church door.  Oh well, there's more where that came from.

Several things surface today, not long before the USL Championship final leg.   The loss of Cameron Knowles on the back line,  for whatever reason,  disrupted a defense that understood each other and was operating like the proverbial well-oiled machine.   Mamadou Danso was great at reading the attack and winning and clearing the ball but,  in my opinion,  didn't do it as constructively.   The defensive change left Stephen Keel leading inside, and I didn't sense he had quite as much confidence on his own.  Not to say either of them did poorly.

Early in the campaign,  a newspaper article quoted someone from the Timbers' office as saying that Keita had taken awhile to adjust to the climate change from playing in Malaysia to the cooler temperatures of Portland.   In many ways that made sense to me--along with all the other changes that confront any player making a big move.  In a very subjective way, though,  I had the impression that Keita's scoring spate, hot when it was hot,  began to cool when it got cooler.   Was there a correlation?  I don't know but that would be a scary position to be in as we head toward next season.   Global warming isn't like to make things that much different in 2010.

I also found myself worrying as the productive no losses streak went on---24 games is astonishing--how well the players would hold up under the pressure of being on top.   I've never been in that circumstance on a sports team,  but I have been on the soccer pitch in games when the sense of cohesiveness brought a win against high odds and more often on a pitch when the sense of anxiety sabotaged a game.   This season was a tough one in that regard.

I found myself,  during the home matches this year,  muttering a mantra of three words starting with "P".  I think they characterized all that was good in this season.  And I look forward to seeing them polished up and trotted out next season as well.   They were passing, poise and patience.    To the extent that the Timbers had those,  they were a pleasure.

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