I had to run down to Orange County this weekend to take care of some family affairs and was able to take in the Galaxy / Sounders game on Sunday night. I got to answer the standard lot of questions about “how Donovan would do in the Premier League,” “how mls compares to the European games I’ve seen,” and “if that was the Keane that played for Manchester United” – the questions we have all become accustomed to embracing when exposing friends and family to the sport we love. It’s been several years since I caught a game at HDC and the typical SoCal stereotypes being reaffirmed notwithstanding (e.g. the stadium was half full at kickoff, full around the 15th min, then started to clear out around the 75th minute), the play from the home team was night and day to what we get in PDX. It was utterly strange to be rooting against the Sounders in person and have their opponent play as a cohesive, competent side. I don’t need to rehash just how good the Galaxy are, any casual fan of the game can recognize that. Sunday night was a thing of beauty for any fan of the league. They played the game as a well oiled machine…moving for each other, passing into space, defending in an organized manner. This isn’t intended to envy their fans, but rather the current LAG squad does provide an opportunity for us to judge our aspirations for the future.
Over the last week or so there have been two “looking forward” pseudo-guerrilla marketing pieces on portlandtimbers.com framed in the context of a candid interview with Merritt. Understandably, Merritt is trying to provide some shards of optimism to provide the (ticketbuying) fanbase with hope for 2013. We’ve seen this before, but rather than the “we almost made the playoffs and just need to add a goalscorer” angle from last year we’re now getting the “Porter is the right man” and “GW has a blueprint that we’ve all agreed on” talking points. Frustratingly, it appears the context of the off-season discussion has been steered to “which players should we keep and which one should we part ways with?” The braintrust of soccer analysts at The Oregonian are conducting “stay or go” polls and SF is going through each player one per day re-hashing their 2012 performances. Even Paulson chimed in on the matter:
“I can promise you we’ll make some moves in the offseason,” Paulson said. “But as to whether it’s a major overhaul, I do think we have some quality pieces and it’s just a question of bolstering some positions and maybe putting some better compliments in place to what we have.”
“I’m driven to get this thing right and get the city a winner, and selfishly I want a winner myself,” he said. “But I think that a patient approach there is necessary. You need breaks to go your way, and you need some time. But I do think that this is not a case of a mass overhaul of a disaster of a last-place or near the bottom-of-the-table team. Just talking to teams that we’ve played, particularly good teams that we’ve played against, some of the quality we have is there.”
The question I have for Paulson is what exactly does he mean by “get the city a winner?” We’ve spent a lot of time on the Dike results vs skill debate and arguing the Perkins/Ricketts deal, or what Freddie Braun’s (who’s he?) future with the club is. But we have spent almost no time debating what the actual end-game is supposed to look like for this team. A few of us last year grumbled at the playoff goal. Soccer is a sport where the journey of building a team is much more intricate and philosophical than simply setting a goal as a benchmark and then pushing the current roster to strive for it. Simply, goals should be qualitative, not quantitative. Now, it appears we’re making the same mistake, but in a more toned down version. We’re going to “make the city a winner.” Well, what do you mean by winner and how are we going to get there? When you say winner do you mean a team that makes the playoffs almost every year? Or one that year in and year out is in contention for Supporters Shield, MLS Cup – and capable of completing embarrassing opponents in the playoffs, USOC, and performs respectably in Concacaf Champions League? If you intend to strive for the latter, what’s the roadmap for getting there? Allegedly, Gavin has a blueprint and he has presented it to MP and MP agrees with it. Out of character with most facebook comments on mls articles this one actually makes sense. Ryan Murphy sums it up nicely:
The offseason is a great time to sit back and reflect on successes and failures. To evaluate the status quo and determine if wholesale changes are necessary. Individual players come and go, the philosophy of the club should be the glue that holds the thing together from season to season. Unfortunately, we are spending all our time debating the ins and outs of each player and which ones will fit into Porter’s sytem (even though we don’t know what that system is yet), while disregarding the more important topics that should be addressed in this particular off-season. It appears to me that Porter alone is the “blueprint.” That he will implement his NCAA system here and provide direction to GW with regards to player acquisition...simple as that - problem solved. I’d like to be optimistic that 2013 will be a huge leap forward towards building a club perennially competitive in multiple competitions, but I’m not seeing any indications that the FO are contemplating the serious questions and taking actions that move PTFC in that direction. I’m worried all they’ve done is hire a new coach and the rest remains the same.