“Wise Men Say – Only Fools Rush In”

“But I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.”

It must be the 85th minute  (you either understand this, or you don’t!)

It has been so long since I have written about football (or “soccer” for my US friends and associates and sundry others:  although more and more of them do now refer to it as football – but I digress) and there really has been much to ponder, mull and just generally poke at to see what happens in the world of football.  For the sake of brevity, we shall only look at the goings-on in the US; which are actually rather exciting at this time.

Clint Dempsey steals the number 2 shirt in Seattle.

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Dempsey is one of my favourite players and has been since he was a New England player.  His signing for Spurs last year from Fulham just cemented that.  And really the weekend move from Tottenham to Seattle is massive.  To quote Paul Atreides “the sleeper has awakened” and now that Seattle has decided to go for it, they have shown that they will not fuck around.

They have tied up the best US player, and the national team captain, and paid a market value transfer fee and will pay market value wages for him.  Clint Dempsey will strut his stuff in front of the second best fan base in MLS (and North America) for a club that should be thinking about competing with the biggest clubs in the world.  This is a sign that the MLS is coming.  And to quote Fox Soccer analyst Rob Stone “LA Galaxy, you are on the clock!”

Caleb Porter has the Timbers playing football the right way in Portland.

calebporter

I will admit that I was very skeptical when it was announced that Caleb Porter would coach the Timbers.  It was going to be very hard to follow John Spencer who while seemingly unable to organize a fart in a bean factory, was affable and brutally honest.  But the football played by the Timbers has been of a consistently high level in all phases of the game:  and it is entertaining to watch.

Now, I am tempering my comments by stating that I believe this to be a three-year project as Caleb Porter has a future far beyond coaching an MLS team and that everyone involved in running the Timbers is doing a good job of tempering expectations while still accentuating the positives such as the massively improved road performance without glossing over the issues still needing to be resolved such as too many draws.

Merritt Paulson has the business end of the Timbers pointing in the correct direction

paulson

It would be very easy to stand pat and reap the rewards of sell out after sell out, but the exceptional owner of the Timbers, Mr. Merritt Paulson, dug deep and made shrewd pick-ups this year in Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Michael Harrington.  Signing Mikael Sivestre was looking to be a stroke of genius until his knee blew apart.  Instead of hand wringing and tears, the team went out and found Pa-Modou Ka who has shown why he has played at the top level in Europe in Holland.

This has allowed the team to develop Andrew Jean-Baptiste who looked top class the second he set foot on the field last year.  Everyone loves the center back who hammers strikers with crunching tackles and flies into the header, but every team wants the center back who is elegant, refined and who reads the flow of the game (but can still kick lumps out of an opposing player) and that is Andrew Jean-Baptiste. I just hope that the Timbers are able to keep him (and Darlington Nabge) and he becomes a great player here.

The new soccer first stadiums are fantastic for the league and for experiencing the game.

blue hell

I grew up at White Hart Lane and Villa Park and Vicarage Road while watching Spurs, Villa and Watford play in various divisions in the League.  I learned about watching fantastic footballers such as Glenn Hoddle and Andy Gray playing in games that were intense and meaningful and I also learned just as much about the game watching shit players playing for shit teams on a cold Saturday afternoon as they played on a swampy field in driving sleet or rain.

The fan experience was exactly the same.  We sang the same songs and cheered our heroes on and were as defeated as the players were when they lost.  That is the fan experience that is bringing the MLS into the national conversation as to the best sport.  Fans are choosing to actively participate with their heroes and the new stadiums are built to be intimate.  I would love to see something similar to the new KC stadium for the Timbers even though Jeld-Wynn can only be classed as a “house of horrors” for any opposing team.

seattle fans

Seattle has incredible support and I used to go up to Sounders games regularly before the Timbers joined the MLS.  Philadelphia and KC have amazing fan bases as does Houston and Real Salt Lake and they all have fantastic stadiums..  These are the homes of real fans that sing their songs, chant their chants and generally have an amazing time at the game.  If America was not so vast it would be wonderful to see what kind of travelling some of these fan groups would do…

Jurgen Klinsmann just might know what he is doing!

jurgen

For a while there, several years back, the luster sort of began to tarnish on the brilliance that is Jurgen Klinsmann.  The US men’s team had a less than spectacular series of games and then a rocky start to the so called “hexagonal”:  the six team playoff for World Cup spots where it is actually harder to not qualify than to make it to Brazil.

To quote Brian’s mother “e’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy!”  Or at least that is what the media was intimating.  But Herr Doktor Klinsmann was brought in to do much more than just qualify the team for the World Cup.  He was brought in to nudge the team from regional power to global power:  and he might just be well on his way.

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The US is very fortunate in that it has had three very good national team coaches in a row – I would love it if England had managed to accomplish that.  What Klinsmann did with Germany was amazing and he set the stage for the new German domination of the game at club level.  German players are commanding top wages and transfer fees worldwide now – many of them got their international debuts under Jurgen Klinsmann.

Joachim Loew, who is also a fantastic manager, is reaping the benefits of this now:  much as I expect Caleb Porter to reap the rewards when he becomes US national team coach after Klinsmann decides he’s had enough.  This is why I feel there is a time frame for the Timbers current plan.

The US National team had an easy time of it at the Gold Cup.

nick rimando

Well this is very true – but it is not because the competition was weak.  The US team showed up well prepared, fit, highly motivated and functional.  Every game posed challenges and through a combination of good tactics, good adjustments, good players and good coaching, each game was won.  And this was really a B team:  but it played exactly like the A team and showed that the US has depth at every position.

In fact several players deserve a lot more of a look as number ones.  Perhaps several starts should be in the offing for Nick Rimando as he was superb in goal.  There are now five legitimate strikers who offer everything from strength to speed to guile to size and Jurgen Klinsmann used different combinations to exploit the weaknesses of the team he was coaching against.

landon

Tactically, the US team has taken the quantum leap on the field from being the hunted to being the hunter.  They now set up the team to win rather than to not lose and very few teams do that and it is the mark of a manager who has supreme confidence in himself and his players.  I also love the fact that he made Landon Donovan play his way back into contention for a roster spot – nobody is more important than the team.

Sometimes enough is enough  

holden injury

Stuart Holden could, and should, have been a great player.  Watching him limp off in the 20th minute against Panama was incredibly sad since it was probably the final time he will wear his national colours.  England’s Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen come to mind as being the last players to go out this way with severe injury after severe injury sapping everything that was once so great.

A four year spell featuring a broken leg, then another broken leg plus mashed cartilage and now a torn ACL after a relatively innocuous collision might be the end of the international career of Stuart Holden.  This is the player made to fit into the midfield with Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey – now he just needs to recover and get his Bolton career back on track.

Politics will always be part of the beautiful game…

rainbow tifo

Soccer always has been a politically charged sport – that is why Real Madrid v Barcelona is so huge in Spain. It was why the citizens of Brazil used it as the backdrop to air their grievances with their government and FIFA. It is why there is always such trepidation when Roman club Lazio and its “ultras” host teams from the UK or Germany or plays against Roma as they have a very right wing fan base.  And it is becoming a vital part of the game here.

I was incredibly proud to stand in the North End and be part of the amazing rainbow tifo that was shown in a recent Timbers game to show that the Army supports all.  What is developing here is an amazing anti-hooligan culture where the emphasis is on loving your team.  We welcome everybody who supports the Timbers.  We love all of the Timbers players and proudly display their national flags for them.

PTFC

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