It is a virtual truism that sequels are never as good as the original. And yet here I am, cashing in all the good karma I lucked into last year with my first "Why the Timbers will win" post. It's kind of like the Transformers sequel, but without the special effects. Or Michael Bay's
cocaine truck trailer. So basically an annoying whiny loser who's way too into cars soccer. Still, bear with me. After all, if you're reading this, you're probably as desperate for the Timbers to win as I am, and it can't possibly make things worse.
Actually, scratch that, it totally can. That's the issue. Last year, I ran through LA's roster, and honestly believed the Timbers could win. Not only that, an in depth look convinced me that the Timbers could run LA out of town. Sure, I would have needed to be pretty drunk to actually go on the record and predict it (and to be fair, I was), but it wasn't that crazy. LA was old, slow, and coming off a demolition of Vancouver, and pretty much just wanted to go home. Sound familiar? It shouldn't. Sadly, as hard as I squint (and as much as I drink), KC still looks like a team tailor made to annihilate the Timbers. Have you seen their strikers? And they aren't even really clicking yet. Vermes' formations are basically the beautiful soccer we have been waiting for all...well since forever, really. At 7-0-0, they are dominating the league in a way thought to be unthinkable, at least since the dark days of shootouts. Most terrifyingly, their defense is arguably more impressive than their offense. With the exception of the last 10 minutes against Vancouver, they completely shut down opposing offenses for something like 350 minutes. Somewhere Troy Perkins just did a spit take. And yet, despite the fact that I have no real reason to do so, I honestly believe the Timbers will beat SKC. And not just beat them, either.
- The last 10 minutes against Vancouver - I refuse to believe Vancouver is better than Portland. I can accept many things in this world, but every man has his limit, and that's mine. That's not to downplay the Whitecaps, I recognize they beat us quite often in USL, but their epic mismanagement of last year should be enough to keep them below us for at least a couple of years. Let's put it this way, if a front line of Kris Boyd, Darlington Nagbe and Jorge Perlaza isn't better than one made up of Hassli, some Italian dude with three names who doesn't even really want to be there and the soccer version of David Eckstein, then basically everything we have assumed and been banking on for the last two years is wrong, and we might as well clean house and start over.
- I believe our forward play will improve - The main issue with our forwards seems to be (big surprise) the service, the same as it has been since the move to MLS. Kris Boyd is a great player. Kris Boyd is not a creator. He needs the ball at his feet. The Chalkboards for the past few weeks have shown him moving ever further back in search of said sphere, without much success. We've all seen what he can do to a backline when he is given the opportunity, but the question is how to get him the ball. Everyone has their own opinions, but let's be honest, most of them are moot. I'm not even 100% sure John Spencer knows how to use the internet, much less the google fiddly bit in his browser. Still, here goes: MOVE NAGBE THE #%@$ BACK (I even translated it into Scottish for him). Nagbe is really the only creative presence who can link up with Boyd. While I recognize that hell will freeze over before JS benches Cap'n Jack, I hope against hope that he realizes that Perlaza, Boyd and Nagbe as an attacking force in the middle is far more effective than whatever he's been trying so far. Hell, move Jack onto the wing if you have to, and drop Alhassan. He drifted out there a lot anyway. Spencer needs to find a way to get the ball to his best forward, and I honestly believe he will figure it out. No time like the present.
- Screw Jimmy Nielsen - This is somewhat irrelevant, but its worth saying. He comes off as a jackass, and besides, it gives me an excuse to link to this. Suck it Denmark, Peru will always be better.
- Darlington Nagbe - He is on the verge. If Spencer can find the proper place for him on the field, he could be one of the best players in MLS. I'm counting on him to have a breakout game. More importantly, I'm counting on him to be a leader. So far, he's mostly followed the lead of other players. There's nothing wrong with that, he's young and inexperienced. But he needs to step up, and I think he will. He is one of the most talented players in the league, if he works his ass off, his teammates will listen, and he can provide the spark that the team has been missing. I say he does it.
- Captain Jack - I've made peace with his spot in the lineup, or at least convinced myself I have. For whatever reason, he has not played well this season, but he is only one year older than the player who literally single handedly carried the Timbers through half a season last year. I believe he is still capable of that kind of performance. Maybe not as consistently, maybe not as complete, but I believe he can gut out a spectacular performance, and I think if he does it, it will be against his old team. I'll touch on this more in a bit, but it's time for the leaders on this team to step up. Captain Jack has to be a part of that. And for whatever reason, I think he will. Call it Stockholm syndrome, but I think that if he goes 90, he plays a role in at least one Timbers goal (and probably another, although I'm not sure for what side).
- The Timbers Army - I know the Timbers haven't exactly been lighting up MLS, and the season is still young, but this game is critical. A win here, or even a good showing, gives the Timbers the confidence that they can hang with any team in the league. I have to think that the Army knows this, that they want this win badly, for the team and for the future. I expect the energy to be electric, and will be disappointed if it is anything else. Forget the nonsense about song selection, whatever you sing, sing your heart out. I think the TA plays a huge role on Saturday, and helps the Timbers break their mental block
- The Mental Block - Because that's what it is. It's 11 players with a crazy case of the yips, all at the same time. Passes that should go through aren't, challenges that should succeed are failing. Shots that should go in aren't even getting taken. The Timbers are young, a midtable team with playoff aspirations because of crazy playoff structure. But they are talented, and have a legitimate shot to beat anyone at any time. They need to pull together and back each other up. No more fingerpointing or raised arms. There are no such things as fatal individual mistakes in a team sport, only fatal team mistakes. I put this on Spencer. He needs to get them playing like a team above all else.
- Because, as they might say in Scotland, We're the #%@$ing Timbers - I don't really expect a lot from the teams I root for (See Nationals, Washington), but I do expect pride. If you lose, you lose, but leave everything on the field. I don't know Kris Boyd personally, but he doesn't strike me as the losing type. Nor does Troy Perkins, Eric Brunner, or Nagbe for that matter. They need to get this team together, and
tear into them, actually, never mind on that. When I started this post, I was upset with the Timbers, but the more I write, the more I remember why I love them. This team is talented: they hung with LA only to fall off in the end, and they could have beaten RSL with a few breaks. Chivas was bad, but that was tactical more than anything else. What those players need to do is get the team together and tell them that they have what it takes. That all it takes is one win to change an entire season. That they are the #%@$ing Timbers, and that they are not going to let some team named "Sporting" beat them, regardless of record. Then, those players need to put the team on their backs and will their team to a victory.