Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Playing off

Did I mention that my beloved Timbers won the Major League Soccer title this season?

Oh, yeah. Sorry.

So I've walked around just slightly pleased this entire December because of this, and I just realized why because I watched Rog and Davo talking with the lovely and intelligent Rebecca Lowe on Men in Blazers last night.
Turns out that the Lovely Rebecca is a Crystal Palace supporter (see the little stuffed eagle on Davies' shoulder? That's "Kayla", Palace's eagle mascot). She was talking about the distress that Manchester United fans are feeling this season even though the Scum are within the top half of the Premiership table and in a position that fans of other, more mundane, (read: Palace) clubs would normally consider supremely enviable.

But that for ManU fans this is anything but. The Red Devils have been losing and drawing, not scoring, and generally looking moderately crap for much of the 2015 campaign, and this gives the over-accustomed-to-success-ManU-fans huge, huge sadz.
Lovely Rebecca's observation was that this was because these overprivileged mamzers were, in her words, "forced to face Life", that is, Life as the Rest of Us have to live it; full of disappointments, failures, heartbreak, people we love who like us "as friends", movies starring anyone ever appearing on American Idol, nonalcoholic beer.

And that hit be right between the eyes because the story of a Portland Timbers fan has been failure for nearly 40 years.

The original Timbers came oh-so-close, going to the old NASL "Soccer Bowl" championship match in 1975 but losing to Tampa Bay.
Between that year and last month the closest the Timbers ever came was...close.

We won the old USL in league play - winning the "Commissioner's Cup", the regular season record - in 2009 but proceeded to shit the bed against the damn Vancouver Whitecaps. We won the Western Conference in league play in 2013 but failed to beat Real Salt Lake for the conference playoff.

That's kind of been the "Portland Story"; win regular season games, go to the playoffs, lose.

Until, two years ago...

The Portland Thorns had a fraught season in 2013. Starting the season ripping out five wins and a draw the Thorns were top of the table in the middle of May. But by mid-June the team had slipped down to third of eight. In August the team lost two, drew one, and won one, nearly dropping out of championship contention.

Portland went to Kansas City to play the Blues - who had split the season series 1-1-1 with them including a home defeat in August - and shipped two goals in the first thirty minutes. The team looked beaten and out of ideas.

But some of the players refused to lay down and die. Tobin Heath scored just after the half hour. Christine Sinclair finished a brilliant run dishing to Tiff Weimer who scored just past the hour mark. And Allie Long drove the nail in 18 minutes into overtime.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, impossibly, for the final 210 minutes of the 2,190 minutes the Thorns played in 2013 the team played like...well, champions. They crushed Western New York in the championship match to win the first NWSL title.

The storyline of this Timbers season is freakishly similar.

At the beginning of October the Timbers stood in seventh place in the MLS Western Conference, out of playoff contention having lost a gutting 1-nil home decision to Sporting Kansas City. The team had scored only 31 goals in 31 games.

They were out of the Open Cup. They had finished behind both Vancouver and Seattle in the Cascadia Cup.

It looked like lights out.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, impossibly, the Timbers began to win.

They won their last three regular season matches to finish third in the Western Conference.

They won an insane play-in round match against Kansas City that went to twelve rounds of penalty kicks after 120 minutes.

They comfortable disposed of the Vancouver and Dallas sides that had finished above them in the West.

Then they won the championship match.

Both Portland's professional soccer teams have now won their leagues. Within two years of each other. Both teams will now wear the star above the club crest that forever shines as the sign of a championship season.
I have to confess something here.

I'm not a big fan of "playoffs", in any sport. My feeling has always been you play a sports season to decide who's the best. You win the season, you win all the matches, you win. You're the champion. That's it. No frigging "wild cards", no "play-ins", no gimmicks. Play the games, win, that's it.

But boy friggin' howdy am I glad that the outfits that run American soccer don't think like I do.

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