Usually it’s the first day of the season that’s like the last day of school. When you’re in school, the summer break brings the prospect of long empty days to be filled with the things one enjoys. Similarly, the opening of the season brings the prospect of weekly entertainment. That’s how it is under normal conditions, but this season has rather reversed this. The season has had so many painful moments and has featured such a long period when we were effectively out of contention for anything of substance. Perhaps it’s all for the best that it will finally come to an end.
There is an important sense in which this season has been on hold since the middle of the summer. The firing of John Spencer was a necessity when it happened. The team had no consistency, no guts, and no sense of an approach that would lead to better results. Then we entered the netherworld of the interim manager. I can remember a discussion of the topic between sunshine and myself in which the conclusion reached was that Gav had made his bed and was now going to get a sideline view of what it was like to sleep in it. Sadly, this meant that we all had to snuggle up as well.
The hiring of Caleb Porter in midseason was always going to be inconclusive, since there really wasn’t that could be done with the personnel on hand. Porter’s decision to fulfill his commitment to the University of Akron could be read as speaking well of his character. On the other hand, one could also imagine that he mightn’t have wanted to wade into the swamp of this current season. Certainly, we’ve all seen just how bad things could get under the current regime, both under Spencer, and in the interim. Perhaps Porter thought it best to allow the supporters to drain this cup of the old regime to its bitterest dregs. At least now when he arrives he will have a certain amount of goodwill, and perhaps the honeymoon will last a bit long.
If the latter was part of his thinking, I expect that he will quickly be disabused of that notion. One thing that can be said with certainty about the Timbers fan base is that the standards are high. This team needs to be turned around, and quickly. There is the basis of a competitive side (we can talk later about just who is comprised therein) but changes must be made, both in terms of personnel and approach.
Well, that is for a later time. The task at hand is to finish strong and to compel the best team in the league to enter the playoffs on the back of a loss. It will be very interesting to see what kind of side the Quakes send out for this match. On paper it is meaningless, but there is the matter Chris Wondolowski his challenge to the single season record for goals. Wondolowski, for those who don’t know, is only one goal short of tying Roy Lassiter’s record of 27 goals in a season, set during the league’s opening season in 1996. The Quakes have said that they are going to give Wondolowski every chance to tie or break the record. This suggests that they are going to start a real first team side for this match. There is a certain logic to this. At times like this the risk of injury to key players has to be balanced against the goal of maintaining playing rhythm going into the postseason.
I tend to think that they are going to go for it for real. Organizing things in such a way as to provide their star with an opportunity to achieve a major personal milestone is the kind of thing that is read by players as a gesture of earnest and support from the club. Moreover, all too often we have seen teams limp through a “meaningless” game at the end of the season only to carry that form with them when the playoffs actually start.
And then there is this little tidbit: there is every likelihood that Andrew Jean-Baptiste is going to play at centerhalf for the Timbers tonight. Jean-Baptist made four appearances early in the season (the last of which was his start in the Independence Day loss to Chivas) and has featured as an unused substitute on four other occasions. Personally, I thought he looked pretty good against Los Bimbos in March, but his other appearances made it pretty clear that he has a ways to go before he can really claim to be ready to make the jump to this level of football.
At 6’2” and weighing 200 and change, one can read his style of play pretty clearly from his dimensions. In a lot of respects, Jean-Baptiste is a shorter, rawer version of David Horst. He’s noticeably bigger and less mobile than Mosquera, and this (in addition to his lack of experience) could really spell trouble against one of the most prolific offenses in the league. On the other hand, this is probably as good a time as any to get him some time on task and see what he can do. There is not much at stake here, and this is an opportunity for him to cross swords with about as high powered and attack as he is ever likely to see in this league.
It would be nice if we could finish this season with a win. We’ve certainly showed that we can beat them on our day. Moreover, we’ve finally broken the duck on the road and demonstrated that, if we play together and stay organized, we have the capacity to get a result. I win today won’t necessarily mean much, but it would be a nice way to go into the off season, during which some rather unpleasant decisions will have to be made.
Just for scheduling purposes, the MAC schedule runs through the beginning of next month, with a couple of further matches possible depending on how the NCAA soccer finals work out. For whatever it is worth, the Zips are 12-1-2 this season, with their only loss coming away to Notre Dame. We should get Porter’s full attention starting around the beginning December. Hopefully he can bring this level of success to this level of the game.