There was a sense of inevitability on March 11 at Providence Park.
As the second half unwound, the game of soccer between the Portland Timbers and St. Louis CITY SC took on all the sophistication of a high school match.
OK, that description is a bit harsh, but there certainly wasn’t much flow to things as the newest team in Major League Soccer chopped up the action as much as possible, lobbed direct forward passes, and walked away with its third win in as many tries.
It might seem strange, but St. Louis was the team with a clear identity and the team that ultimately determined the terms for the match. As the second half progressed, it felt like the Timbers needed some luck if they were going to tie it up. The luck didn’t come and they fell 2-1.
The most deflating part of the evening came early. Cristhian Paredes made a sprint in behind the defense, then crumpled to the ground and pounded the new turf at Providence Park with his fist. Stretchered off, he joined an impressive list of injured attackers: Felipe Mora (left knee), Sebastian Blanco (left knee), Dairon Asprilla (right knee), Tega Ikoba (right knee) and Yimmi Chara (right hamstring). David Ayala (right knee), more of a defensive midfielder, also is sidelined.
Portland’s two goals this season at Providence Park have been scored by defenders. That’s a tribute to young players Juan Mosquera and Zac McGraw. But it also speaks to the lack of pop up top.
None of those injured attacking players is expected back soon. The good news, according to coach Giovanni Savarese, is that Paredes’ hamstring injury appeared to be less severe than Chara’s.
“We’re very thin, but we still have to be able to put up a good fight,” Savarese said.
On Monday, March 13, the Timbers made official the acquisition of Franck Boli, an Ivory Coast striker, from Hungarian club Ferencvarosi Torna Club. But that does not mean the center forward who hails from Ivory Coast will solve Portland’s ills right away.
With three of the next four games on the road, including a Saturday, March 18, match at Atlanta United, it appears we’re destined to witness another sluggish start to a Timbers season. Because we’ve all seen this play before, and because the injuries explain much of what’s (not) happening, the panic level should be low.
But that doesn’t mean the struggle should be taken in stride.
“It’s just down to finishing chances and we just have to be better at it,” Eryk Williamson said.
It’s a refrain that’s all too familiar at the start of a Timbers season.
Thorns preseason continues
The Portland Thorns’ lastest restart continues with preseason games Wednesday, March 15, against the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team and Saturday, March 18, against OL Reign. Those are the last two of a three-game “tournament” at Providence Park that began with a 1-0 win on Sunday, March 12 over Racing Louisville.
Mike Norris, the new head coach for the Thorns, said he wants these games to entertain the fans who show up. But the focus is on growth and gaining comfort with new principles along with new players.
“There’s an element of being ready for the season opener there’s an element of how we build to be ready for the end of the season,” Norris said of the approach to these preseason games.
The Thorns play their first counting match on March 26 at home against Orlando. In addition to preparing the team for the season, Norris has continued to work on filling out his staff. Nadine Angerer is still the Thorns’ goalkeeping coach and former Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius is back as a Thorns assistant coach. On March 10, Norris said he was “very close” to completing his coaching staff.
“It’s been a very lengthy process. For the right reasons, we’ve had to go through a lot of processes in terms of making sure we get the right people,” Norris said. “We said to the staff and the players, we want to take the time to ensure that we get the right people versus being rushed into it.”
While the Thorns prep for the season, Portland players Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie were two of the four Canadian Women’s National Team players who testified on March 9 before a parliamentary committee about unfair treatment from Canada Soccer, including, but not limited to, a significant pay discrepancy between members of Canada’s men’s and women’s national teams.
During the March 9 hearing, Sinclair gave a personal example of the rift between Canada Soccer and the players, reportedly stating:
“On a personal note, I’ve never been more insulted than I was by Canada Soccer’s own president, Nick Bontis, last year, as we met with him to discuss our concerns. The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say and then later in the meeting referred back to it as, ‘What was it Christine was bitching about?’”
It’s a Women’s World Cup Year and Canada won the most recent Olympic gold medal so, one figures, should be in the mood to make noise at the tournament in Australia and New Zealand. For now, though, the fight for fairness and respect is center stage for Canada’s players.