It feels like something is missing today. Is something missing today? Well, yes, something is missing today--football.
This is the curse of a team that is doing well. Last year at this time we had more than our share of bad news and bad vibes and bad results because the Timbers were a bad team with a bad coach. Though we may not have wanted to, but because we loved the club, last year we were compelled to watch and hope that the next game would turn things around. The time between matches was easily spent, or uneasily spent--depending on your outlook. There was plenty to discuss and even more to complain about. The inevitable sacking of John Spencer loomed over ever word, as people waited for that eventual final word from the owner admitting that he got things wrong. Now, things are going swimmingly well and people are without those lightening rods to strike out at, so they find new lightening rods with which to disagree. All the while overlooking the masterpiece that has been played so far this season.
This vision Porter had to find players who could either immediately step into his system or would easily make the transition into the system is masterful. He has created art, but the execution of his art has been performed by the players themselves. These individuals have grasped the concepts and the spirit of possession football, but more importantly they have grasped the winning spirit. None more so than the captain. But then that had always been wired into him. His type is the type of competitor that does not quit. And though there are obvious personal goals bouncing around in his dance filled heart, Johnson is grounded enough to apprehend why winning is so important. After the Timbers comprehensive win against Wilmington in the USOC, the players and the manager had their opportunities to speak with media. Porter discussed the artistic drive to improve his vision, and Piquionne discussed how relieved and happy he was to finally score for the Timbers. But it was the captain who articulated best what that win meant, never forgetting why he plays:
“We were excited and right before we were going out, we found out that Seattle had lost and we would host the (next) game. As a Timbers player, I don’t know what more incentive you could ask for than to play another game in front of these fans."
Lost in the nightmare of last season was the two way support offered up on game day. The Timbers faithful showed up, they sang, they gave everything they could for the team, but something did not click. Whatever your theory may be regarding the talent or lack of talent or the manager or the general manager, that team did not get what it meant to play for us. Ultimately, that is what they are there for--to entertain and play for the people who shell out the money and love. And to win. There was a disconnect and that game against Cal FC exposed the failings of the entire club--top to bottom. The team could not execute a game plan because they were never given one.
Whether it was buying into an idea that stolid, antiquated tactics could win, or brining in overpriced and overhyped players who did little more for the team than wait for a goal scoring opportunity, or putting together a side made of other journeymen who had little idea of how to play together, someone failed. Players cried about not receiving the support from the club, or they cried about not getting the love from the supporters they never earned. And the supporters turned on each and every one of them. But this year, with the prime directive of fight, fight, fight, and win, the players have grasped what they are to do, the manager reminds them of what they are to do, and the supporters love them for doing it. But that statement from Will Johnson about why he plays, about why each member of the Timbers squad plays, should be remembered because that is why we support them.
And so now we miss Timbers football. Internationals have forced a break in the action, and we wait until next Saturday for the players to return. Personally, International football is hardly a sport I care to follow and even less support. It may well be an honor for an athlete to represent his country. It may. But that honor does not excuse the wretched product on the pitch or the inevitable injuries suffered by key players because they played teams manned by other players with inferior talents, who throw themselves about the pitch trying to uphold that contrived sense of honor. And while the aesthete may suffer the indignity of watching that mess, the true victims are the club teams and the club supporters who will lose the services of those players due to unnecessary injuries.
Similarly, other risks are taken with the health of players in Major League Soccer. Yesterday, it was announced that AS Roma would be the side to play against the MLS All-Star side this summer. Already people are discussing who should be awarded the opportunity to play. The season is only 13 games young and a discussion of which players have been so overly influential in the first third of the season is taking place? This is one of the big fallacies of the event, there are many, but this one takes the cake. It is near impossible to suggest that a player who has only put in 13 games is worthier than other players this season for such an honor. It neither represents the best players (Matt Besler, the defensive player of the year, was not even on the All-Star balloting), nor does it consider the clutch, individual play going into the final stages of the season. But more concerning is the additional game in a 34 game season, where fatigue is an issue. It is without question that when a player suffers fatigue the risk the he will suffer injury increases exponentially. The interruption of the season for a meaningless game that increases the risk of harm not only to the players but also the clubs is a pathetic invention for the league to promote itself. Though things are going well, we might benefit from remembering that the Timbers can hardly suffer any more injuries than they have.
Which finds me back to praying that our players return from international duty uninjured. This is an unenviable position, because the only time I prayed for the Rod Wall was not in regards to his continuing health, and now it is. What a difference a season can make.