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Timbercasts, Part 02: Morrisonic

I sit down for an interview with the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts.

As I mentioned in the intro to the first part of this series, a good podcast can pull you into the room with the hosts. It feels like hanging out with good friends. For three years, I got together with two of my favorite friends every week. I was the quiet one sitting across from them, taking in the conversation. At least, that’s the way I felt as I met with the best friends that I never had, Pat and Pete of Morrisonic, one of my favorite Timbers podcasts.

The real friendship, that of hosts Pat and Pete, goes back almost 25 years, and is evident in their easy chemistry both on and off the pod. Their flowing and often spontaneous conversations around the Portland Timbers and other notable topics are of the quality you might feel compelled to eavesdrop on if you heard at a bar.

Pat conducts the straightforward format with a kind of enthusiastic matter-of-factness that flirts with the extreme edges of optimism and pessimism. He is quick to tell Pete (and listeners) how he feels—even if that feeling is sadness or depression, and if its root is personal. If it’s due to a withering defeat on the field, such as the Timbers’ injury-ridden fizzle-out at the end of 2017, hey, he’s got plenty of other reasons to be bummed, and, as he often reminds listeners, he doesn’t watch soccer to be sad.

Meanwhile, Pete brings the quantitative analysis skills of his day-job to bear, making the show rival or exceed journalist and team-affiliated pods such as Talk Timbers and Soccer Made in Portland in breaking down a game.

Currently kicking off their fourth season, Morrisonic offers much more than just soccer news to Timbers fans. It’s a great listen to learn more about soccer tactics, find community amongst shared triumphs and fears, or just to feel like you’re visiting with friends.

It’s good to have something to look forward to. Just as I anticipate the next Timbers game, so do I, too, feel a twinge of excitement when the next episode of Morrisonic pops up on my pod player. Give them a listen and see if you begin to feel the same.

In the meantime, sit down and join me vicariously in a conversation with Pat and Pete:

How did you get into soccer?

PAT: “I’m not sure I’m into soccer yet. I think I went to my first Timbers game in 1978, so in a way I’ve been a Timbers fan for a long time. I played soccer as a kid, like everybody did, and then when I was coming back (to Portland) to visit my family in 2003-05, I started coming to Timbers games. I loved coming, and probably went to two or three games a year. When I moved back in 2008, I started going to USL games. But I didn’t really know anything about soccer—I’m still not sure I know anything about soccer. I got a season ticket when they started (in MLS), but it wasn’t really until we had the podcast; sort of the function of the podcast was for Pete to teach me about soccer.”

PETE: “Which is silly, because I have less of a soccer history than you do, probably. I followed the US men’s national team lightly early on. About eleven years ago, I started paying more attention to soccer. It was around when my son was born, and we had a couple friends, one of whom was from Argentina, and so that became kind of my adopted national team. A few years after that, I started coaching my daughter’s team and did the D, F and E certifications, so I kind of got a little bit on the coaching track there for six years or so. Watching day-to-day soccer was more when I came here in the second Timbers (MLS) season. My first interest was how soccer was similar or different to basketball and hockey, two games that I played a lot in school and internationally while living in Kazakhstan and Austrialia—not professionally or anything. In Kazakhstan, I played six times per week with Americans, Turks, Kazaks and Russians, and in Australia with a corporate team. I’m very interested in the spacing between the attack in hockey, basketball and soccer. It’s quite similar. I started breaking things down more from there.

Pete, when did you get into the inner workings of soccer stats, and all that stuff?

PETE: “We never watched much Premiere League, but we did what, like four years of fantasy Premiere League?”

PAT: “When I was up here and you were still down there, we did fantasy Premiere League, and you just crushed everybody, because he actually did the stats.”

PETE: “So what I did was I would break down every player and game stat and game flow, and assigning the fantasy points back through that and certain things were easier to predict. That was when I started doing web scraping on soccer stats. This was well before Opta or any kind of detailed stat analysis. You could get effectively player stats and then what tended not to be very well reflected was…I remember one thing was guys who were taking a lot of shots but not scoring a lot of goals tended to be undervalued in fantasy. That was when I started breaking things down. Professionally, working with big data sets is what I do; unfortunately, I haven’t had much time in the last year-and-a-half to do much more.

The guys were hospitable, offering me tea and cookies. Pete secured the tea while Pat waited on the cookies.

“You take them out before they’re done, and they harden up as they get cooler,” says Pete to Pat, as Pat returns to mill in the doorway.

“Don’t you ever, ever talk to me like I don’t know how to make a cookie,” chides Pat.

“You were the one who told me on Friday that any amount of underdone is the perfect cookie, and then they wind up overdone,” reminds Pete.

“I just tested it and it’s not done,” says Pat.

“Okay,” Pete replies.

Can you explain a little bit more about your background and how crunching data fits into that?

PETE: “Basically what my post-college professional life has been for 23 years is getting paid to forecast things, but with a quantitative analysis bent: trying to forecast returns; forecasting risks or relationships; or testing how algorithms would have done historically…”

At this point, Pat walks in with a plate of cookies.

“So…I overcooked these cookies. You were right; I was wrong. It’s a new process, and they’re like hockey pucks,” he concedes.

They were still delicious, with melted chocolate chips and a slight stretch to the cookie. They were quickly consumed at a hungry-Santa-like pace.

What do you do for work, Pat?

PAT: “My firm helps foundations do something called impact investing. We help foundations make investments that match their missions: affordable housing; financial services; education in developing countries. Half my work is in Oregon, and half is in India and Latin America mostly.”

How did the podcast come about?

PETE: “Until this coming year, our seats were not together, so we would ride to the games together.”

PAT: “We had individual season tickets, so we would watch the first half; meet on the concourse; watch the second half and talk about it afterwards.”

(At the time, Pat was interested in learning about the process of making a podcast, in order to start a podcast company.)

PAT: “It turns out doing a podcast about something important is really, really hard. We would have long, contentious meetings about what the agenda was going to be; what we were going talk about; what our opinions were; and part of the way through that process, Pete and I were having hour-long conversations about quantitative research he was doing for no good reason about soccer, and at some point I just realized that it would be way easier to do a podcast about soccer.”

(Pat had to do some convincing with Pete—he wasn’t interested. The original format was based on Pat’s promise to Pete when asking him to do it that it wouldn’t take longer than lunch.)

PAT: “The conversation would take thirty minutes, we’d prep while walking to lunch, and then take fifteen minutes to upload it afterwards, and then get on with our day. Long story short, never started the company; still have the podcast, and that’s how I podcast on something that I don’t know anything about. Which for me is very freeing. I don’t know how I’d do a podcast about something where my opinions actually carried any weight.”

Are you doing the podcast now for yourselves or us fans?

PETE: “I think the mix has changed slightly through the years. When you first convinced me to do it, there were those reasons, and if you go back and listen to early episodes, there’s some external processing going on about life, the universe and everything, so it was definitely mostly for us. It changed a little bit. It’s not always the easiest to do. I have two kids; I have a job; oh, I’ve got to watch a couple games of the opponent. Sometimes it gets to be a drag. Now, there are actually people who get joy out of listening to the podcast and I enjoy being part of that process where somebody gets joy out of the product that I’m producing, so that makes it easier to get through the prep and carve out the time. I still think it’s mostly for us, but I’ve become more aware of the fact that there are people listening.”

PAT: “I think that’s fair. It’s actually been just a nice way to have a conversation with my friend once a week and, especially this last year, it’s been really nice, because it’s sometimes the only hour we spend talking about—don’t take this the wrong way—something dumb. It makes me very happy that people who listen to it enjoy it, and communication that we get back from people—I derive a lot of value out of that. I don’t give a rat’s ass if a single additional person ever listens to it. The idea of growing it, or the thought-process of what it would take to get more listeners or to take it to the next level; it’s really interesting, because a lot of good-hearted people often reach out with their ideas for how we could grow it or monetize it, and I take those in the spirit in which they are offered, but sometimes I think or actually respond that, ‘I don’t care how many people listen to this.’”

PETE: “We’re not looking for bigger broadcasting careers. There’s no kind of lofty goal, even in the back of our heads.”

How has the format evolved?

PAT: “Now, it’s closer to an hour than it used to be, but it’s still the same general format, and that format is a lot about committing to be able to do it every week. You have to have something that you can commit to every week. In some ways it’s good; in some ways it’s not so good, but it’s a format where we almost never don’t do it.”

PETE: “The key to the format is that there is a certain part that drives forward that comes from the week’s events: There was a game we watched, there is a game coming up, and there’s an ad. Then, you insert statistical analysis; ask a fake lawyer; what’s going to happen with our political environment; what’s going to happen with the world at large or Portland; and we put those in and we try to talk about them. We’re relatively consistent with what our message is there, but those things are way harder to talk about than, ‘who do you think had a good game,’ or, ‘what did you think about those key moments,’ and, ‘do they tell us anything about where the Timbers’ season is going?’ Those are really easy questions versus like whether our democratic mayor is really a humanist or not.”

That’s become one of the defining aspects of your podcast: the fake ad

(Pat originally wanted to do fake ads to practice the format of a commercial podcast.)

PAT: “The truth is, especially when I’m not that into soccer, sometimes it’s my favorite part of the podcast, so you gotta let me do something. Here’s the thing about Morrisonic: The first two years, there was a lot of planning, there was a lot of prep work. We have both gotten a lot more busy over the last year, so I believe in season three there was much less in-depth quantitative analysis, there were no ‘ask a fake lawyer’ segments, and the ads were mostly spontaneous.”

On “controvertial” political/social opinions

PETE: “People are going to self-select whether they are going to listen to it or not. They can either skip forward over the social commentary/political sections if that’s what they want to do and keep listening, or they don’t have to listen to us. We’re not going to shape the program around that.”

PAT: “What do I care if somebody doesn’t want to listen to my stupid podcast? The use of sports is that it’s an interesting lens to look at the rest of life, and so the whole ‘stick to sports’ crowd is stupid, because sports is dumb and it’s fun, and it’s a way that you talk to people about life. If you’re going to have sports and care about sports and talk about sports and then not use that as a jumping-off point for talking about other stuff in the same way that you do with your friends, that’s boring. Plus, we don’t get paid for ads, so we don’t care if people listen.”

PETE: “Neither our listener numbers nor our advertising revenue is really the metric of success.”

On Pat talking about personal life in the pod

PAT: “It just felt natural. It’s not that technical of a show. It’s interesting, too, because we get a decent amount of feedback, and Pete’s my favorite part of the show, and there are people who listen to have Pete’s expert opinion on soccer. I would say that’s probably 80 percent of our listeners, and then there’s 20 percent of listeners who like listening to me make stupid jokes and talk about my personal life, and they’re much more vocal (about wanting more of that).”

PAT, cont: “I would talk about that stuff more, but, two things: There’s not a lot of time for prep lately, and it’s hard to talk about important things, because then you have to actually consider your words very carefully, and talking about soccer, you can say whatever you want. So, we talk about that stuff less lately, because we don’t have the time to prepare for it appropriately, and that stuff tends to go on; it’s hard to have a short conversation about that stuff. The format of trying to get in and out in forty minutes, and even when we fail getting in at fifty minutes; sometimes we’ll start talking about stuff and then you’ll give me that look like we’re going long and then I just kind of…”

PETE: “That part doesn’t get planned.”

One of your show’s mottos is that you don’t watch soccer to be sad. Did losing the MLS Cup make you feel sad?

PAT: “No, because last season was a gift, because we knocked Seattle out of the playoffs. You can’t just want more, more, more, more. We were in the championship game, the other team looked imminently beatable and we lost. I was not bummed out by it at all.”

PETE: “I think I get bummed out by it. Losing is not fun as a fan or when you’re doing it. (However,) losing championship games and getting too bent out of shape by that…”

PAT: “That’s Boston shit.”

PETE: “Yeah, that’s the stuff I grew up with. The Colorado Rapids had a crappy year. Let us go through a year like San Jose, where they had two wins last year. Let us go through a season where we have two wins, and instead of grappling onto beating Seattle in the playoffs in an epic series, the thing we have to grapple onto was like (San Jose) beating Minnesota at home in April, and that’s the highlight of the season. At that point, maybe we test that, but losing a championship versus grinding losing, I’ll take the championship loss every time. To quote Caleb Porter, ‘don’t make your highs, too high, or your lows, too low.’”

So then what as a Timbers fan does make you feel sad?

PETE: “I think there’s a fundamental nostalgia: The thought that we are not going to watch Valeri and Chara for our entire existence, that’s something that makes me rueful. Time wins every time. Look at roster turnover. There have been a lot of hopes, and some delivery, and then those hopes are gone. There’s kind of a cycle that you can’t get away from, and from the personal, fan connection. Is it a bummer to see Alvas Powell go? Yeah, it’s a very bittersweet moment, and the way I think we try to channel that in the podcast is (to wish him the best).”

PAT: “I think there’s three very distinct eras of being a sports fan: When you’re younger than the players, when you’re the same age as the players, and when you’re older than the players. When I was young, I idolized players. Everybody goes through this. Then, at some point you’re in college and you look around and you realize, ‘some of these guys are my age. Is it okay to root for men my age playing a sport?’ Most people get over that; certain people never love sports the way they did when they were a kid, because rooting for people your same age is just different. I think that you get to a certain age as an older person—and now, we’re old enough to be most of their fathers—and so there’s a generosity that we feel to them that I wouldn’t have felt earlier in life. I think there’s also an inevitability to it that doesn’t feel as tragic. When I was (in my early thirties), and having a thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three-year-old player aging out of it, there was almost a real tragedy to that, whereas now, I’m like, ‘yeah, that was always the way it was going be.’ It’s gonna really work out for some of these guys; it’s not going to work out for some of these guys.”

PAT, cont: “What makes me sad about being a Timbers fan is that I don’t like that sports teams need to be owned by billionaires. People are fond of saying that Merritt is one of the better owners—I’ll just take that as given—but the fact that sports in-general is controlled by the children of billionaires is gross. When I occasionally think about just stopping from being a sports fan, it’s always about the economic models for who owns a team that are gross.”

Any changes in the coming fourth season of the Podcast?

(Unlike previous years, and for the first time, Pat and Pete will sitting be together at the stadium.)

PAT: “It’s a little bit of an identity crisis, because now we’ll actually talk about the game while it’s happening, so I’m a little concerned we won’t have anything to talk about on the podcast. The other big thing is that I quit social media, which was like half of the value that I brought to it. It’s a pretty interesting experience, because I don’t know anything, anymore. I was in charge of running the agenda with the topics, and now I don’t even really have the topics, because I don’t have social media to pull from. We’ll see how it goes.”

What is your favorite Timbers pod?

(Pat and Pete both say it’s Soccertouchdown, which will be featured in the next edition of the Timbercasts series!)

(Currently, Pete is running the @morrisonicpod Twitter account, and they can be contacted there or at MorrisonicpodAtGmailDotCom with listener questions. Find their podcasts here, or on most major platforms.)

Read part 01 of Timbercasts here.