I have a soft spot for the Portland Timbers. My dad was a Timbers fan back in the old NASL days when he lived in Portland working for Bell Telephone (I love how “worked for Bell Telephone” instantly dates my dad, just as “worked at a video store” already dates me). I’ve seen a picture of him wearing a Timbers jersey and sporting a beard and enormous glasses, looking like the sixth member of Jethro Tull. His socks were knee-high and his shorts were shorter than the ones he would not let my sister leave the house wearing fifteen years later. It was a groovy time. He would go to matches with thousands of other un-shaved hippie-dippie Portlanders crammed together in the old, not-remodeled Civic Stadium. The stench must have been unbelievable.
My first professional soccer match was a Timbers match. My dad took me to see one of the post-NASL, pre-USL incarnations of the Timbers. I have no idea what league they were in, and I have no idea what assemblage of part-time Foot Locker employees and mid-40s German expats they played. I do remember that they played on a field that appeared to be painted concrete, and that no attempt was made to cover up the infield dirt belonging to the minor-league Portland Beavers. I also remember you could clearly see the dent in the wall from where that guy ran into the Flav-r-Pac sign. I never understood why they never did anything about the huge, obvious dent in that sign.
So, I’m happy to see the Timbers back in the big leagues and doing well. Portland really is a great soccer town; Portlanders tend to love anything that’s quirky with a cult following, so soccer is the perfect sport for them. The atmosphere at their home matches has been great, and it just goes to show what a psychological sport soccer is: the Timbers are 5-0-0 at home, 0-3-2 on the road.
That being said: obviously, I’m 100 percent for United. I’m a Washingtonian now. I have short hair. I wear a tie to work (at least, to one of my jobs). I call it “soda”, not “pop”. My sense of self worth is based entirely on how important other people think I am. I’m D.C. through-and-through.
United didn’t have a competitive match last week, so they had some time to heal from their latest epidemic of hamstring pulls. The good news is that it looks like Wolff will be back, though Davies is unlikely. Several other players have various pulls and strains, but I’m not going to bother compiling a list because six or seven other guys will probably pull a hamstring by sneezing, eating breakfast, or getting on the team bus between now and the match.
There is no favorite in this match. True, Portland are perfect at home over five matches, but I’ve seen them play: they don’t impress me too much. They’re all grit and not a lot of talent. United are sometimes all grit and often at least a little bit of talent (sorry, guys: that’s the most favorable characterization I can make at the moment). On paper, United are the better team. Portland can’t stay in the expansion team honeymoon phase forever.
Some things I’d like to see:
The post-snub breakout game from Najar. Honduras didn’t call up Andy Najar for the Gold Cup. Fine with me: not only does Najar stay with United, but we’re spared the potential nightmare of watching Najar put a hat-trick on the red, white, and blue. Players often have great games immediately after being snubbed by their national team: I remember Taylor Twellman ripping United immediately after missing the 2006 World Cup roster. Hopefully, Najar will have one of those games on Sunday.
Blake Brettschneider. Here’s a sentence I didn’t think I would be typing at the beginning of the year: this team needs more Blake Brettschneider. Look, I’m not completely sold on his ability, but I feel that United need his type right now; our strikers are having a heck of a time holding the ball. If Wolff starts (and I hope he does), then United could benefit from a physical presence up top. Given that our other striker choices are Ngwenya and Quaranta, we might as well go with the guy whose skill set matches what you need.
Some attacking presence in the midfield. My recommendation after the last match: make your midfield Pontius, McCarty, Fred and Najar, with Dax playing defensively and either Fred or Najar in the attacking role. Which raises the obvious question: “Fred?” Yes, Fred. I did not shed any tears when Fred left after 2009, but he’s been okay this year. And the engine room of McCarty and Simms just isn’t generating enough offense. So, I don’t care how the guys do it, but I’d like to see United’s midfield feed the strikers and create some offense.
No more than four hamstring pulls. Look: D.C. United, road game, turf...you’re looking at a minimum of three hamstring pulls. Keep your cleats laced up, Brandon Barklage — you’re probably getting minutes. And four hamstring pulls, I can live with: That’s barely one-eighth of the roster. But five hamstring pulls would be excessive. If United have eight hamstring pulls and have to forfeit the match, then they may want to consider having a meeting to discuss possibly re-evaluating their training methods.