Jack Is Back - Without His Armband

Almost a half hour had passed since the clock struck full-time on the Portland Timbers 2-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact in week two of the 2013 regular season. Jeld-Wen Field was empty – no fans were lingering to gulp in the bitterness of a frustrating loss. Only two men remained on the playing surface: Jack Jewsbury, and a Timbers assistant coach.

Jewsbury was not happy – the Timbers everyman midfielder had returned from injury just in time for the start of the season, only to become an unused sub in the team’s first two games. So there Jack was, as his teammates showered and went home, fuming on the field in his full uniform, hitting crosses and through-balls and shots, while the assistant shagged balls and fed passes. Jewsbury lingered for 15 minutes, much the way a misfiring jump-shooter lingers in the gym after practices and games, firing up jump shots until he finally gets things right.

Jewsbury was staring down a potentially decisive pivot point in his career – at 31 years old, Jewsbury was fading away from new manager Caleb Porter’s first team. He had been replaced as Diego Chara’s central midfield partner by Will Johnson, the same man who replaced him as captain. It wasn’t the first time, or even the second or third time Jewsbury had fallen out of the starting lineup in his career, but for the first time, younger, more talented players were in the way of a return to the XI.

But the determination on Jewsbury’s face as toiled in the cold that night was obvious. He wasn’t about to let his career pass away without a fight. So it was no shock that Jewsbury started Portland’s very next game, in Seattle, and started the Timbers’ next two games after that. Jewsbury handy-manned his way back into Porter’s plans, clogging up the midfield, plugging a gap at full-back, showing the versatility and professionalism that made him indispensible to the Timbers in 2011 and 2012. There has been just one thing Jewsbury hasn’t been able to recover this year – the captain’s armband.

It was February 27th, 2013 that Caleb Porter slapped Jewsbury in the face. He gave away his armband, or rather, he stole it away, ripped it right off his bicep. Porter made Will Johnson team captain, and made Jewsbury “club captain”, a diplomatic role that serves no actual purpose. It’s not uncommon to see club captains – it’s a role given to aging players who can’t make the first-team anymore, but that club doesn’t want to strip the captaincy away from completely. So they make them club captain – the captaincy for retirees.

At the time, it made sense – Jewsbury was injured, and didn’t look like he would play much under Porter in 2013. In Porter’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Will Johnson and Diego Chara had the two central midfield spots locked up. With Jewsbury out of the picture, Johnson was undoubtedly the man to wear the armband – a fiery, vocal, tough leader who could take the club by the scruff of its neck.

Johnson seamlessly took over the captaincy, and wore the armband in the Timbers’ first two games of the season. But against Seattle, Jewsbury was back, walking out onto the pitch at CenturyLink Field. But something was wrong – he wasn’t in the front of the line.

Technically, the club captain is senior to the team captain. If the club captain plays, he should wear the armband. If the club captain can’t actually serve as captain when he plays, then the mostly meaningless title loses any kind of meaning whatsoever. Last I checked, Jewsbury wasn’t stripped of the captaincy – Johnson was only wearing the armband because Jewsbury wasn’t playing.

Jewsbury doesn’t have that problem anymore. Jewsbury has started three games in a row, played well, and will be starting for the foreseeable future. If he’s still Captain Jack, give him the armband back. It’s still his. He’s not done with it yet.

Being a captain means more in soccer than it does in any other sport. In soccer, the captaincy is more than a nice gesture – it’s a badge of honor with responsibilities, meaning, influence and circumstance.

In short, it’s a big deal.

If feels like Jewsbury got stripped of the captaincy – a fate he hasn’t done anything to deserve. With the way the roles are set up now, no one should be able to supersede Jewsbury and wear the armband when Jack is in the XI.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Will Johnson. This debate is in no way a comparison of Johnson’s leadership abilities versus Jewsbury’s. I think Johnson is a fantastic leader, and certainly the Timbers captain of the future. It seemed like that future was coming in 2013, but a determined Jewsbury made sure that wasn’t the case.

Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson should have kept Jewsbury as captain, and made Johnson vice-captain – so Jewsbury would take the armband when he started, and Johnson would take it when he didn’t – but that didn’t happen. Now Porter is in a sticky situation where it feels like the he is disrespecting Jewsbury, a man who has served the club incredibly well over the last two years.

Jewsbury isn’t the kind of player or the kind of person who would gripe to the media about the situation. But you can be sure that he’s stewing over it inside. The captain’s armband – an unmatched physical sign of respect in sports – can make leaders and drive teams, but it can also wreck them. Squabbles over who should be the captain have ripped apart teams down the years – in the 2010 World Cup alone, Germany, England, and France all were hurt from internal bickering about who would lead the country on the field.

Jewsbury and Johnson get along fine, there is respect to go around, and Portland shouldn’t be in a full-blown battle about who the team captain should be any time soon. But if there is one thing we know for sure, it’s that Jack Jewsbury won’t fade into the background without a fight. The transition from Jewsbury to Johnson was mishandled and poorly executed. Jewsbury was unfairly slighted. Let’s hope the Timbers don’t pay a price.

Alright guys, I don't believe I have to say this but, just in case, please do not submit anything racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise not appropriate for even the younger Timbers fans.

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