Saturday, May 31, 2008

Halfway Home

I have to admit I may have been a tad over-the-top with my "Six Points or Bust" post, but now it's not looking so far fetched. Not only was it the Timbers first win in seven matches, but it came against a team that player-for-player may be the league's best. At least the best Portland has seen thus far in the 2008 campaign.

We've just wrapped up the second DVD of our overnight bus ride from Montreal to Rochester and its absolutely pouring and pitch black at the moment. Good thing there is no traffic at 3:21 a.m. in the event that we hydroplane and turn this giant hunk of steel into a spinning top.

If the bus driver is telling the truth, we should be rolling up at the roach motel in Rochester within the next 90 minutes. Not sure if French-Canadian time is the same as the rest of North America, but that seems a little ambitious based on our prior Northeastern nocturnal coach rides over the years.

Match Musings - Game 10
  • 16 points from 10 matches is a pace for 48 and a nifty seeding in the USL-1 playoffs.
  • Chris Brown is quietly establishing himself as the club's most dependable goal scorer since Alan Gordon wore the Green and White (with neon yellow accents).
  • My computer is dying and this will have to be continued from the hell hole that is Rochester's team hotel later today.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Six Points or Bust

Time to take the Ax out on the Road again, this time to Montreal and Rochester. After a 3:20 a.m. alarm, the drive from Eugene to PDX, a round trip in the parking lot shuttle to retrieve the phone from my car, and leg one of a three-plane journey, the ATTR is checking in from LAX at just after 10 a.m. PDT. From here it's on to Cleveland (Cleveland!), and finally the land of Sacre Bleu (not to mention LaBatt Blue).

I'm flying with assistant coach Rod Underwood as the original 20-man travel party had to be increased to 22 due to one-game suspensions to Gavin and Taka, leaving the least essential travelers on our own itinerary. I'll apologize now for any typos as the people watching here in lipstick city is top notch. Rod and I are due in close to 9 p.m. EDT, about an hour and a half after the rest of the crew.

Well, how about that homestand? Yikes. Friday's match against Vancouver was frustrating, but Monday's affair vs. Miami was utter disappointment. I think the league is at an all-time high in terms of quality, which makes results at home even more critical than in the past. The way I see it, the only way to completely erase the Timbers' lost Memorial Day weekend is to rip off two wins on this trip.

Match Musings - Game 8
  • If I have to answer one more question from fans, friends or family as to why the Timbers don't score any goals, I may stop speaking altogether.
  • Vancouver is good. Again.
  • That color analyst on FSN has a face for radio.
  • Overnight bus rides don't mean jack in terms of winning and losing. Good news for the upcoming game at Rochester.
Match Musings - Game 9
  • Penalty kicks in Miami are celebrated like game-winning goals in the World Cup.
  • Taka Suzuki is tired of getting kicked.
  • It doesn't matter how good your team is, a collective mental meltdown can doom the best of them.
  • Weekday afternoon games should be reserved for recess.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ax to the Tube

Let this post serve as a recap of Miami and a preview of Vancouver. Now that's a lazy blogger if I've ever read one.

Actually, since returning to the Northwest late Monday, I've spent the bulk of the week attempting to replace the hideous blue tile around my fireplace with slate. Ambitious for someone as unhandy as myself, but at least a decent excuse for avoiding the computer for a few days.

The PR/Miami roadie just had a weird vibe to it. The one-point, comeback draw against the Islanders felt like a win, while the one-point 0-0 affair versus Miami felt like one that got away. Still, to come away from what many believe to be the toughest road swing in the USL (I'd argue that Portland/Seattle/Vancouver is no picnic either) without a loss is a quality result.

On the other hand, the Miami draw is justifiably magnified when you consider that rival Vancouver comes to town on Saturday with Portland's seven-match unbeaten string in 2008 and 18-match home streak without a loss (regular season) on the line.

My gut says that after ample time to train this week (Wed.-Fri.) and a chance to play at home after three straight on the road, the Timbers will come out blazing in this Cascadia Cup fixture. It also says USL-1 meal money leaves it hungry and sad.

The fact that the Whitecaps play at home against Seattle the night before doesn't hurt either.

I'll be switching broadcast mediums for Saturday's affair, heading over to the television side to serve as the analyst alongside Brian Davis on FSN. John Strong and Aaron Heinzen will handle the webcast side of things, and I'll likely be able to join them for the postgame show.

Match Musings - Game 7
  • The weather at kickoff made Friday's match in P.R. feel like Portland in April.
  • Former FC Blue and current Timber Miguel Guante is a bit of a media star in South Florida.
  • Cameron Knowles and Justin Thompson, when in sync and on their respective games, can shut down any forwards in North America.
  • I didn't see any Timbers supporters in either Miami or Puerto Rico. What gives?
  • No offense to Timber Joey Webber, but the Miami FC Angels were a little easier on the eyes.
  • That said, the Angels made up about one-tenth of the crowd at Tropical Park.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Quality Comeback

Friday's result on the Island of Enchantment was solid. Not just coming back from two goals down to draw 2-2, but also the fact that the Timbers had never taken a single point in three previous trips to Bayamon, P.R. and had been outscored 6-1 in those losses.

We made it to Miami on Saturday afternoon and the Ax to the Road took in the sights on Southbeach last night. A very unique place to say the least.

Match Musings - Game 6
  • Bryan Little is going to cause some serious heartburn on opposing benches this year if he plays like he did on Friday.
  • The local media covering the match have never heard of the universal "no cheering in the press box" rule.
  • The Islanders will have more wins than losses at home the rest of the year.
  • I don't like casinos and they don't like me. That has nothing to do with the match, I know, but had to be stated.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Checking in from P.R.

After a pair of flights sandwiched around an hour in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, we arrived in Puerto Rico late Thursday. We made pretty good time for a 4,000-mile trek, clocking in at 13.5 hours from my driveway in Eugene to the runway in San Juan. Of course after collecting our luggage and the normal wait at the rental car agency, it was about 10:30 p.m. local time before we formally arrived at the hotel. The digs are nice here at the Sheraton in Old San Juan. I may just have to go up to the rooftop pool that overlooks the bay in order to catch a wireless signal strong enough to post this entry.

Cruised around Old San Juan this afternoon and saw the sights. I'm sure the team has been laying low most of the day as it's hot and muggy outside. The 8 p.m. kickoff should help the Timbers more than the Islanders from a comfort standpoint.

Everyone appears healthy and ready to go. Notables not on the travel squad for this trip are Neil Dombrowski and Arsene Oka, but otherwise the regulars are in tact.

From a broadcaster's standpoint, I'll be engineering the webcast on my own tonight for the first time this season, so be prepared for a hiccup or two. My uberproducer John Strong has a real job now, which means he can no longer volunteer his mixing talents on most of the away matches.

Until the match...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Here We Go Again

It had been so long since a 4 a.m. wakeup call for the drive up to PDX that I didn't even mind it all that much this morning. Must be the initial road trip of the season excitement! Yes, today marks the first true Portland Timbers roadie of the 2008 season, and it just happens to be the longest - from a distance standpoint - as well. Our weekend whirlwind will take us through San Juan (P.R.) and Miami with layover stops in DFW.

I fancy myself a hardened road veteran at this stage, after a dozen or so years of traveling for soccer, but the first trip of the year (Seattle via motorcoach doesn't count) always seems to get the juices flowing. Hopefully, that translates from a blogging standpoint as well.

With everyone dressed in Timbers garb, it's only a matter of time before we all start getting the "What kind of team are you guys, anyway" questions from passers by. My stock answer in the past has been "dodgeball", but I think it's time for something new. Competitive cheerleading has a nice ring to it.

To be truthful, the folks in Portland are more tuned in these days than they used to be and generally know who the Timbers are, but the minute we leave PDX we may as well be a stunt hang gliding troupe from Arkansas. And don't even get me started on how painful it is to try and describe what the USL first division is to people.

The traveling squad has all arrived here at gate C9, so we'll be on our way soon.

Monday, May 12, 2008

So Long Seattle

Hard to believe that Saturday's match may have been the Timbers' final trip to Qwest field as a USL-1 side. In one sense, it's sad to see the northern section of the I-5 rivalry go on hiatus. On the other hand, not much good has ever taken place for Portland in the Emerald City.

Match Musings - Game 5
  • Outside of a blown chance by Seattle early in the first half, the Timbers had a better first half showing than their previous match vs. Rochester. It's still very encouraging that Portland is unbeaten on the year, yet has failed to put together a complete game to date.
  • One goal against through five matches is outstanding; Five goals for through those same five is pedestrian.
  • Seattle's home opener will go down as its highest attendance of the season thanks to a huge contingent of Timbers' supporters and the fact that the Sounders will move to Starfire soccer complex for the rest of their league tests.
  • Is is just me or does anyone else have a hard time believing the MLS version of the Sounders will draw big crowds on a consistent basis? Sounders FC has sold nearly 15,000 season ticket deposits (at $50 bucks a pop), but why don't those people ever go to see the current version?
  • Power to the people. Thanks to all that tuned in on Saturday for making the webcast the highest rated regular season match in the history of the Portland Timbers Broadcast Network. Hope to have you along in Puerto Rico and Miami this weekend.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tomorrow's News Today

It's already Sunday down under, which is when soon-to-be Timber Benjamin Totori will play his final match in New Zealand before heading to Stump Town. You can read all about it in today's, er, Sunday's NZ Herald.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Hitting the Road

After a four-match homestand to begin the 2008 season, the Ax will officially hit the road on Saturday via an afternoon bus ride to Seattle. The roadies to the Emerald City are barely road trips at all, considering there isn't any significant down time to explore. The most exciting thing to ever happen on a Seattle road trip - outside of beating the Sounders - was the bus blowing a tire. This is a big early-season match for both sides and the Timbers will have a better grasp of how they truly stack up with their nemesis after this one.

Match Musings - Game 4
  • Rochester is decent once again. I think that 0-2-0 start, including a loss vs. Minnesota, distorted expectations of what kind of Rhinos' club would show up at PGE Park last night. They will be in the postseason mix when it's all said and done.
  • Taka Suzuki is not on holiday. He's a 30-something World Cup veteran playing thousands of miles from home in a country not known for his sport of choice, but unlike others who have fit that bill over the years, Suzuki goes all-out, all of the time. He is a joy to watch and will soon have a Portland Timbers bobblehead likeness.
  • 10 points from four matches. Portland's best start ever and the best has yet to come. Several players have yet to distinguish themselves and with the arrival of Oka and Totori on the way, their won't be any need for Gavin Wilkinson to stand pat and rest on the squad's early success. I can't wait to see this team after 15 games.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


If I have one complaint about the USL's goal-of-the-week award, it's that they don't prominently display it on the front page of the USL website. So if you're like me, and couldn't find it right away, click on this link.

The latest GOTWA belongs to Portland's own Takayuki Suzuki - shocker, I know. The video clip incorporates both the USLlive angle and the endzone angle that has received thousands of hits on youtube. For those wondering about the hack announcer yelling "Tabasaki," that's a term dug up via google that allegedly means goal in Japanese.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sagare Back in the USL

Former Timber Jake Sagare is back in the USL after a year hiatus. The former left winger, who last played professionally with the Seattle Sounders in 2006, has signed with the Yakima Reds of the PDL. My guess is that he absolutely tears it up at that level and gets a late season call from a USL-1 squad in need.

It's a little late, but...

Match Musings - Game 3
  • Takayuki Suzuki's goal was one of the sickest strikes I've ever witnessed in person. Did I really read somewhere during the preseason that he was more of a set-up man? Rubbish.
  • Cups full of cash could take passing out of the game completely. Both goal scorers against Seattle were given a cup filled with cash that was collected throughout the Timbers Army. The cup went through the stands and when a goal was scored, the amount in the cup was earmarked for the player who bagged it. Now at this level, it's great for players to get extra dough anyway they can. But if you were leading a 2 v. 1 break and knew there was cash on the line, would you pass or shoot? If I'm the trailer making a back post run, I'd be yelling "I'll split it with you!"
  • Three games, 9 points, on pace for 90.