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LA @ Portland: The Story - Part Two


The Portland Timbers had lost their innocence. Portland's 2011 maiden MLS campaign was a fairytale in many respects, as a club awash in ground-breaking support and spirit made memories, mistakes too, but had a mostly charming year.

2012 was not so charming. Expectations were ratcheted up by Merritt Paulson, and the Timbers shedding of the expansion tag meant that no excuses were afforded by anyone around the team. Yes, Portland wasn't an expansion team in 2012. But they didn't learn enough about failure in 2011 to operate any other way.

John Spencer, Gavin Wilkinson and Paulson, a trident of egos and clashing ideas made for a miserable atmosphere around the Timbers. Spencer had no respect for his superiors, Wilkinson and Paulson were fed up with the aloofness and disrespect coming from a coach whose bullying tactics were amounting to a horrible year.

Paulson sacked Spencer on June 9th. The manager was told of the decision the night before, and the Timbers made the unavoidable choice to move on. It was a necessary choice, but the Timbers should have known things would get worse before they got better.

Gavin Wilkinson stepped to the plate. Wilkinson does his job as GM well enough. He's big on analytics and scouting. Generally, he's hit and miss. He does have Paulson's ear though, and he is as engrained in the Portland Timbers setup as anyone.

As a coach, however? As interim boss for the rest of the 2012 season, Wilkinson had no new ideas. He had no grasp of how to best deploy the team he put together, or how to motivate that team whatsoever.

It was a cauldron of turmoil in Portland. And who else came in, for Wilkinson's first match at the helm, than those Los Angeles Galaxy.

LA, at this point, are the defending champions of Major League Soccer, but they'd started the 2012 season poorly. The Galaxy were bouncing back, though, and they were playing an unpredictable Portland team at a good time.

Kris Boyd was a good friend of John Spencer's. In fact, Boyd signed with Portland because of a close relationship with Spencer's brother-in-law, Billy Davies. Davies, now the manager of Nottingham Forest, turned Boyd towards Spencer's Timbers.

Spencer hailed the signing of Boyd as the equivalent of Rangers signing Lionel Messi, but while the hype was high, Boyd's quality was not.

Although he scored enough goals - barely - Boyd's demonstrative, bitter attitude matched that of his coach and friend's in the pair's final two months in Portland.

Nevertheless, Boyd started for Wilkinson. And two minutes into the game, he scored. It was an absolute dream start.

The Timbers Army were in disbelief. The feeling was a sort of happy confusion - perhaps the sacking of Spencer and another home slaying of LA was going to be the start of the Timbers' revival?

It was fools gold. Because after that goal, Portland was offensively bad. They wouldn't close down players in the midfield. They lost 50-50 balls, and sank to the depths of their play. It was barren, empty soccer. David Beckham had acres of space to blast a shot from 25 yards in the 19th minute. It was in from the moment it left his foot.

Then Beckham, four minutes later, lashed in a free-kick. No doubt on that one either. It was as inevitable as the foul that set it up. Kosuke Kimura gave away an astonishingly dumb penalty just two minutes later. Landon Donovan put it away.

LA were enjoying their football. They were racing down the field, scoring for fun. They were playing cocky, creative stuff, and Portland didn't have the energy to stop them. Two minutes later, Donovan destroyed the left side of the Timbers defense, and his cross to Keane made it four.

The boos started. It was dreadful from Portland. As Keane flew into his trademark celebration, it seemed like LA could score 20.

Then just five minutes later, Kris Boyd blasted an uncatchable free-kick that was parried into the path of Kimura, who tapped it into the net to make it 4-2.

Keane scored 15 minutes after the restart. It was more playground defending. Boyd scored a late free-kick to make the final 5-3. It was Boyd's best game for Portland, and it's telling that it came in the days after he quit on Portland as Spencer was removed.

The final score was flattering for Portland. It was never close. It was a class operation in LA against a broken operation for Portland. LA won another MLS Cup. The Timbers staggered to the 2012 finish line in the same toxic atmosphere which engulfed the entire year.

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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