Strong's Notes: Never Mind The Beckhams
One of the great things I’m discovering as we go along in this first MLS season for the Timbers is that before every game I’m saying, “Wow, this one is going to be great!” and each week, there’s a really good reason for saying it. Not just because of the cities we get to visit, or the opponents the Timbers take on, but because each game has represented a new chapter in the team’s growth. Take last week for instance: Chicago Fire was the home opener, a chance for the first win, followed Sunday by a matchup against FC Dallas and the reigning MLS MVP and a quick second game in front of the raucous JELD-WEN Field fans. Each was a ton of fun.
We can say the same for this week’s game: a chance to find out how much of last week’s success was due just to the home field advantage, or whether this Timbers team really has turned a significant corner. It comes against one of the league’s glamour teams in one of its glamour venues. “Wow, this one is going to be great!”
From a Timbers perspective, this week is all about consolidating the gains made in the wins over Chicago and Dallas, while tightening up the lapses—as much in concentration as anything, it would appear—that led to nervous moments down the stretch. Heart palpitations notwithstanding, some digging in the Elias Sports Bureau revealed this week that the Timbers were just the fourth team in MLS history to go 3-0 up inside an hour in two straight matches. So just how much better can this thing get, especially when you consider the Timbers will be joining up with their new Colombian Designated Player midfielder in SoCal: Diego Chará?
Now they get to test all of their newfound confidence and firepower against perhaps the most celebrity-stacked side in MLS, the LA Galaxy. Let’s be clear: this team is much, much more than just flashbulbs and gossip mags. The Galaxy won last year’s Supporters’ Shield with the best regular season record, are tied for the best record in the league right now—albeit with more matches played than anyone else—and just ground out a three-game, 10-day, East Coast road trip with significant injuries and suspensions, and did it all without losing a game. They are also brimming with confidence as they return home and get some well-known names back into the lineup with full expectations of showing the new boys what’s up.
It’s okay to say out loud what everyone’s thinking
Listen, I get it: head coach John Spencer doesn’t want to give any opponent too much respect—or too little. His players need to focus on nothing more than lining up against nameless, faceless jerseys with different colors on them. The last thing sports fans in the Northwest ever want to do is be star-struck by something coming out of Southern California. But can we all be honest with ourselves and admit that it’s cool to see the Timbers play against David Beckham and Landon Donovan?
The fact of the matter is that ALL OF US were screaming our heads off in joy less than a year ago when Donovan scored against Algeria in the World Cup. As much as those who went before him deserve credit, most soccer people I talk to say Donovan is the best field player we’ve ever produced in this country. Next to him is a true global icon in David Beckham, and one of the most successful soccer players in the world. Not to mention a number of us—no names here, just saying—who’ve had both of them on our team in FIFA 11. So can we all just stop trying to hide that fact?
That being said, who among us isn’t looking forward to seeing a Timbers player lay a hard tackle on either of those guys?
Never Mind The Beckhams, Here’s The Galaxy
However, this LA team is much more than their famous stars. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is the defending MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, having set a team record for goals against average last season. Defender Omar Gonzalez is a towering presence at 6’5” and will prove a handful for Kenny Cooper to deal with. Beckham’s partner in midfield, Juninho, has a cannon shot and has made some very talented ‘keepers look silly with goals from distance. And let’s not forget the league’s best goalscorer the past four seasons, Juan Pablo Angel, who might be partnering with a Portland kid, Chad Barrett, at forward. All that without even mentioning coach Bruce Arena, the best manager in US National Team history.
As you can see, this is a stacked Galaxy team playing in front of their home crowd, on a field that’s quite a bit wider than JELD-WEN—says Sal Zizzo, “it makes a big difference”—looking to flex their muscle a bit against one of the league’s newest teams. This will be an achievement to get a positive result for Portland, especially a win. Luckily, the Timbers have every chance to do just that.
Randy Newman’s got nothing on Colin Meloy
The Timbers are, unquestionably, one of the hottest teams in MLS right now. They’ve rocketed up the standings, and now are tied for tops in offensive output, after two straight wins at home, all following a not-to-be-forgotten draw at New England Revolution.
Jorge Perlaza is on track, Jack Jewsbury is playing with house money in front of goal, Kalif Alhassan is still haunting the dreams of FC Dallas defenders, and every player who struggled in the early losses has found their form. On top of that, you’re starting to sprinkle in names like Darlington Nagbe, Zizzo, Troy Perkins, and Chará.
We’ve seen plenty well so far how important a good start is, not to mention the first goal of the game. We’ve seen what can happen if the Timbers can get in an offensive flow, and they’ve learned the lesson of what happens if you don’t play the full 90 minutes. As good as Donovan, Beckham, and the Galaxy are, they don’t possess anything that’s insurmountable by hard work, effort, concentration, and a little bit of flair from the Rose City XI.
In my opinion, we’re past the point of saying, “They’re an expansion team, it just won’t happen tonight,” to, “Hey, if the Timbers play to their capabilities, why can’t they win?” That’s an important step for any expansion/first year/promoted/whatever team to take. Thanks to the home fans, the Timbers have taken that step. Now, it’s time to keep making it happen away from home, amongst the bright lights of Hollywood. This one is going to be great.