While recent reports show that MLS is getting higher attendance numbers than the NHL and NBA, it should come as little surprise given soccer's long history in the United States.
Newest Timbers player Mobi Fehr has a unique and global perspective on the game. Born in New York City to a Swiss graphic designer father and Japanese teacher mother, Fehr moved to Tokyo when he was six. After starring in the youth teams of J League Division 2 side Tokyo Verdy 1969, Fehr eventually came on the radar of the U.S. Soccer Federation. He went on to become a key member of the U.S. national team U-17s, U-18s, and U-20s and was part of the US team at the 2011 U-17 World Cup.
Hang Up and Listen, Slate's all-sports podcast, was back at it today discussing Adrian Peterson's amazing comeback from knee surgery, baseball's West Coast power shift, and an interview with NBC Sports Stan Van Gundy.
But toward's the end, when they get into their "oppo tacos"--a reference to the surprise of an opposite field home run in baseball--co-host Stefan Fatsis opens up a discussion of the new National Women's Soccer League and the collection of new teams, crests, and names. Quickly running through the rest of the league, Fatsis describes Thorns FC as, "The only team in the new league with a sense of style and smarts."
He goes on to sing the praises of the new team crest, the uniqueness in having a soccer fan help design the logo, and how these things matter.
"Smart team's take this seriously," said Fatsis. "I'm definitely taking my daughter out to Portland to watch the Thorns play."
Surrounded by family, friends, former players, current players, university staff, and fans, Caleb Porter had an emotional farewell to his University of Akron community last night in a special goodbye ceremony on campus. The Akron Beacon Journal's Maria Ridenour was on hand to write about it:
University of Akron President Luis Proenza began coughing midway through his tribute to departing men’s soccer coach Caleb Porter on Wednesday night at InfoCision Stadium, prompting a member of the catering staff to deliver water to the podium.
“It’s not my throat, it’s my emotion,” Proenza said.
Those feelings eventually overcame Proenza. While recalling the celebration after UA captured the school’s first team national championship in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2010, Proenza said Porter gathered his players and delivered “one of the most impassioned, emotional communications of teamwork and family that I’ve heard.”
Recalling the scene and Porter’s words, Proenza broke down and cried.
“I don’t know why, it’s been two years,” Proenza said as Porter came onto the riser to hug him.
Even after the two-hour event ended, Proenza couldn’t explain what had happened, barely able to choke out a few words about the special bond he felt with Porter.
Watch the powerful moment in question at the 4:50 mark:
With Darlington Nagbe scheduled to get married on Saturday in Cleveland, he came to the event along with numerous MLS players including Seattle's Steve Zakuani, Houston's Kofi Sarkodie, and more. Calling all of his current, former, and any past Zip players up with him to the podium, Porter was gracious and emotional.
"This program has a long tradition of excellence," he said. "It’s bigger than any coach, any player."
It is clear that Porter had a tremendous impact on numerous individuals both on and off the field and established a dedicated spirit of energy and success while in Akron.
That spirit is one that his successor, Jared Embick, will now takeover having been elevated from assistant coach to head coach. The New York Times Goal blog delves into that challenge and Akron's hope of continued success.
But as Porter and Akron turn the page on his time there, Portland remains ever eager on his Rose City arrival.
Dan Itel, MLSsoccer.com Timbers beat writer (and Hillsboro Argus sports writer), has a strong commentary piece today on MLSsoccer.com about the recent flurry of Timbers trades and moves. Looking back at the expansion year and taking it through to Caleb Porter's hiring plus the last two weeks of moves--as well as some looks into the future--Itel says the new makeup is a markedly different direction than two seasons ago.
It’s why the Wilkinson-Porter team shored up the midfield with road-tested guys like [Will] Johnson and [Michael] Harrington – more no-nonsense, less step-over. And Porter’s fingerprints were all over Wednesday’s acquisition of forward Ryan Johnson and goalkeeper Milos Kocic in a trade for promising young ‘keeper Joe Bendik as well.
Johnson is a proven talent in the league – he’s bounced around a bit but established himself as a double-digit scoring threat every season in the right system – and Kocic should be a worthy challenger to incumbent Donovan Ricketts.
Itel grants that questions remain but overall believes Portland is aiming for "Less gambles, more guile. Get used to it."
Liviu Bird of the excellent New York Times Goal soccer blog has an interesting story today about how MLS is leveraging league assets to create a central scouting resource specializing in the Central and South American region that is available to all teams.
“Since a number of our players were coming down from Central and South America, we decided at that point to think about ways that we could help our teams in their scouting and recruitment efforts,” said Lino DiCuollo, the league’s vice president of player relations and competition, in a recent phone interview. “So one of the things was to start cataloging all the games in many of the leagues in Central and South America where we were getting players.”
Building an interconnected web of technical tools involving video of matches, WyScout, Opta, and Statbridge, while weaving together in-country consultants that can assist teams with information, the system is similar in part to endeavors created by Major League Baseball and the NHL. MLS' structure also allows for the cost to be shared.
“Instead of paying to have a consultant in Bogotá, clubs are basically paying one-nineteenth of the cost,” DiCuollo said. Many clubs still have dedicated scouts in these areas, and it is common for members of their technical staffs to make trips to Central and South America to find players. But instead of having to rely on just one or two games as an evaluation period, staff can go to the league catalog for more video to make educated decisions on transfer targets.
With the recent talk of Timbers scouting trips to Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina to search for potential new players, it's an interesting complimentary piece to learn more how the league as a whole looks to evaluate new talent.
It is not every day that your local paper does a Sunday editorial about the local college soccer team. Sure, you might hear about the local football team heading to the conference title, or how the baseball team won a championship.
It is also not every day that that editorial celebrates the style of play that said local college soccer established and how that innovation can impact an entire city.
But that is just what Akron Beacon Journal editorial page editor Michael Douglas did today. While watching the NCAA College Cup, even though one of his own alma maters made the final, Douglas laments the absence of Caleb Porter's Akron Zips and the creative way that they play. Going on to discuss the tremendous impact Porter had in not only creating a unique style but then explaining what that meant to Akron as a community, Douglas is proud of Porter's accomplishments in establishing an overall desire for innovation across industries in the city, admiring of his decision to take on new challenges with the Portland Timbers, and certain that the legacy of "Porterball" will remain in Akron.
What leaves the strongest impression is the style of play. Akron long won respect for its soccer program, from Stu Parry to Ken Lolla. Porter elevated things dramatically, with his possession game, elegant and attacking, college soccer with a new element of purpose and plain fun to watch.
Watch the Zips play, and the echoes are apparent, of the “total football” of Johann Cruyff, the brilliant Dutch star, now in his 60s. The more current comparison is Barcelona, where the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi break down the opposition with their relentless short and exact passes.
The achievement of Porter resides in his innovation, applying these principles, building on the strengths already here and producing something new. Possess the ball, and the other side chases, as you play offense and defense at the same time. Porter has talked about the Zips wanting the role of the “deciding” side, dictating the flow and the opportunities.
. . . . .
The word “revolution” may be too much. But we have been watching a remaking of the game.
“This is Akron” is the cry. It points to what is distinctive, the soccer here what you cannot get elsewhere.
And it carries a wider lesson. What must Akron and other aging industrial cities do to prosper? They must build on their core strengths. They must keep and attract talent, Porter reaching across the country, from Washington state to Texas, from Massachusetts to Colorado.
In addition, they must be organized for innovation and distinction.
It is an essential read into learning just how much Porter meant to the Akron community but also a testament to what his soccer vision could mean to his new home in Portland.
"It's the best environment I've been in," [Jesse] Garcia-Aguilar said. "They push us every day to become better. They treat everyone here as young pros; that's what I really like about it. They give us a lot of support. And they tell us the truth because we need the truth to become better."
With the Portland Timbers arrival into Major League Soccer came a mandate from the league that the club would need to start a new academy system. During the 2011 season, the Timbers began with an Academy staff that set up regional training centers around the state, administration of the Olympic Development Program, and some pre-academy teams.
Those pre-academy teams gave way to full fledged U-16 and U-18 squads that began play this fall. Most recently the team was in Florida as part of the overall U.S. Development Academy Winter Showcase.
But one element of the new academy that caused some issues upon launch was the requirement from MLS that academy players could no longer participate in their high school teams. But the academy system was built to utilize best practices from the Timbers and MLS to help develop players to the highest level they can be it for college soccer, the Timbers' first team, or even the U.S. national team.
Academy co-director breaks it down thusly:
"They're getting lots of very good practice with and against the best players," Smith said. "We are trying to develop players that ultimately and eventually can play on the first team. But also can we help get all these kids get recruited into top college programs and push them as far as they want to go?"
Dan Itel of the Hillsboro Argus as well as beat writer for MLSsoccer.com, does an in-depth look into the new academy system through the eyes of two of its players, Jesse Garcia-Aguilar and Alejandro Segovia of the Timbers U-16 squad.
Adjustements, new challenges, and a greater sense of development are all at play as the future of Timbers soccer begins in Portland. Give the whole piece a read.