I think I must have some kind of aphasia, because I swear that I have been looking at Darlington Nagbe’s name in print all season and not seeing the “g”. It’s not like I’m the most detail oriented person even in the best of circumstances. But usually if I see something 500 times I can get it right. Oh well, I guess this is not the worst sin in the calendar.
Speaking of calendars (admittedly of a different kind), a look at the actual calendar tells us that the long nightmare of the end of season interlull is almost over. This could have been an extremely dull period. Let me correct that: it was an extremely dull period, although who could fail to be engaged by such delectable fare as the encounter between Latvia and Liechtenstein, or San Marino and Moldova, or…well you get my point. In any event, the boredom of this period was enlivened somewhat by the grim scenes in Krusevac on Tuesday, where Serbian fans hurled racist abuse (and a fair number of objects as well) at players of African descent on the England U-21 team. England defender Danny Rose received a red card after the final whistle for kicking a ball in anger after being exposed to monkey chants from the Serbian fans for the balance of the evening. The whole thing nearly ended up in a mass brawl, as Serbian players and team officials clashed with their English counterparts.
For their part, several Serbian players have said that they were angered by gestures that Rose and other English players had made in the direction of the crowd. At times like this, it is common for those with cool heads to say something like: Rose should have reacted more calmly to the situation. I reject this. Monkey chants and other overt expressions of racism are completely unacceptable. Criticizing the victims for their human reactions to dehumanizing abuse does injustice to them. There is quite simply no excuse for the behavior of the Serbian crowd on Tuesday night and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed Rose and the other players for walking straight off the pitch.
It might be different if it was clear that there would be some sort of official recognition of what had happened, or if there was any likelihood that consequences would ensue. Sadly, although the English FA will be submitting a dossier to UEFA on the matter, the likelihood that anything of consequence will be done is negligible. Lazio were recently fined £32,000 after their away support engaged in racist chanting during a Europe League match at White Hart Lane. That might seem like a fair amount of money, until one remembers that Niklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 during the European Championships last summer for wearing underwear with the wrong sponsor’s logo on it. UEFA’s actions speak a lot louder than words here.
And, of course, then there is the matter of the denial by the head of the Serbian FA not only that there was any racist abuse in the game, but that there is any racism in Serbia more generally. This is ridiculous on its face. There is racism in Serbia, just like there is racism in the UK, in France, in Italy, in the United States, and so on. The real question is: to what extent is it abetted by the authorities? John Terry was suspended, stripped of the national team captaincy, and hauled into court for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. Something of this nature happening in Serbia (or Poland, or Russia) can only be imagined with great effort. To her credit, the Serbian Minister for Sport Alisa Maric has come out publicly calling for the formation of a committee to address the situation.
Now on to matters of more immediate concern to our beloved readers: tomorrow’s match away to Vancouver. This would be a wonderful match to win. Certainly, I would like nothing more than for the Timbers to claim the Cascadia Cup. It would be a nice consolation prize for the fans after a season that has been, to put it midly, extremely disappointing. But perhaps a goal of equal magnitude would be finally win a match on the road. If memory serves, there have only been four teams to go through an entire MLS season without a win on the road, and while winning the cup would be nice, staying off of that list would also be delightful.
Perhaps the thing that is most galling about Portland’s road form is not so much that the results haven’t come, although that is wretched, but that we simply have not looked that good. I’ve been wracking my brain and going back over old columns trying to find a road match in which result was not entirely commensurate with the quality of the performance that the team put forth. I can’t find one. Through the magic of the interweb, I’ve managed reviewed a large proportion of our road matches. Three things really stand out.
1. This is a team that tends to start slow. Perhaps this is not the greatest flaw, except for the fact that it happens again and again. For me, this is a problem with the coaching staff. You can say that these are professionals and that they should be able to get up for matches without the manager ginning them up, but once the manager has recognized the problem some sort of remedial measures need to be taken.
2. This is a team that cannot defend consistently over 90 minutes. As a person who has watched a lot of Arsenal matches, I feel as if I am well placed to comment on the subject of outrageous defensive lapses. Portland’s defense has been very good at times, especially given the fact that there was such a paucity of momentum going forward. They are, however, really prone to the catastrophic botch.
3. This leads to my third point which is: Portland simply doesn’t have the necessary offensive capacities to turn things around. After so often giving up the opening goal, it usually all they could do to get it back to a draw (and quite often this was beyond them).
These three issues are all interlinked. I would love to sit here and say that I was confident that the match with Vancouver tomorrow would present something in terms of contrast. The fact of the matter is that these issues have been going on so long at this point that they are a part of the fabric of the side. They are probably the sort of things that will only get address during the summer. For now we can only hope for an untoward change in form to lift our collective spirits.