Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Portland Timbers: My take

I like soccer.  Whether you call it soccer, ''football'', futbol, or footy, matters not.  I've always kind of liked it, at least at an international level.  The crowds for a lot of European soccer matches always had an electricity about them that was very foreign to me, yet so intriguing.  I've always been a huge a fan of the World Cup, especially since the U.S. hosted in 1994.  There is something cool about nations fighting it out on the pitch to see who will come out on top.  The World Cup is so much more than one month of soccer, fought between 32 nations.  The qualifications start up to a couple years before, and many nations hopes and dreams are already squashed long before the opening ceremonies and first kickoff even take place.  Once you appreciate the entire process, you can really appreciate why the actual "World Cup" is such a big deal.

International league soccer has always been a little harder to follow.  Sure, when an English Premier League came on, I would try to tune in.  The crowds are so passionate and vocal, it's almost hard NOT to watch.  Sometimes the teams and results almost become irrelevant to the actual experience.  But in the U.S., following league soccer is tough, even in the age of instant information and 500+ cable channels.  Especially when I am already allotting so much time following sports that actually take place in my own country.  I mean, there are only so many hours in the day, right?

When the MLS came into play in 1996, I gave it a look, but something just wasn't right.  The stadiums were too large, and the crowds were too small.  Not to mention the talent level was obviously more than a few notches below the top foreign leagues.  It was hard to even get excited about my local team, the Chicago Fire.  Let's face it, the Fire were taking a back seat to way too many other things in Chicago.  Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Hawks, traffic, politics, weather, actual fires, etc.  Even when the Fire moved into their smaller venue at Toyota Park, I still just never found the time to show interest in them.

But I digress.

Fast forward to Thursday night------------>

I heard about an MLS game that was taking place on Thursday.  Portland vs. Chicago.  Now, for all I knew, Portland and Chicago could have been the biggest rivals in the MLS.  I had no idea that this was even a big deal, let alone a HUGE deal to the fans in Portland.  To me, on the surface, it was just another  wagering option on an otherwise slow betting Thursday night.  Then, a few more people mentioned it, and a few more.  So I decided to tune in, despite the late 10pm (Chicago time) kick off.  During the pregame, it became VERY clear, that this was not just some "event" for the Portland faithful.  Perhaps this was the Timbers first MLS game, but it was very evident that their supporters were far from soccer newbies.  They were energetic, vocal, and everyone seemed to be in the best of moods.  So, I had to dig a little further.

It seems the Portland Timbers have been around for quite some time.  Almost as long as I have been around, in fact.  I suggest this LINK to their official site for a little background into their history.  This may have been the Timbers first ride on the MLS "bull" (at home at least), but it was hardly their first rodeo.  If I did not know any better, I would have guessed the match was taking place somewhere in dreary ole England, as it was complete with rain and all.

The climax of the pregame festivities came at the National Anthem.  Listening to, and watching the National Anthem's in an international soccer match is one of my favorite things in the world.  The passion shown by the players, and fans alike, is hardly outdone in any sporting arena.  (And this is coming from a Chicago Blackhawks fan).  So, when the Anthem finally commenced on Thursday night, I was quite taken aback with it, in a very good way.  I will let the Timber's Army show you for yourself......

I mean, if you're not moved by that then.........well...........I feel sorry for you.

Turns out Portland, Oregon is quite the soccer town.  I seriously doubt this was a flash in the pan, one time kind of deal for them.  Their passion for their team runs very deep, and this is not the trendy, hip thing to do in town.  In fact, the Timbers Army has been around for some time now, complete with their own WEBSITE, chants, songs, and even instructions, for beginners and veterans alike.

Now, I'm not some expert businessman, or marketing genius, but why it took so long for the MLS to get a team in Portland is beyond me.  Obviously, the red tape and logistics of it all are probably very complicated.  But it seems to me that this is EXACTLY the type of franchise the MLS needs to not only survive, but to thrive in the US sports market.  Let's face it, the MLS is NEVER going to supplant any of the big four sports in the U.S. (NHL, NBA, MLB, and NFL.)  That's just a fact.  But once the MLS

Or, perhaps I am being naive, and American soccer has already found it's place, and I am just now discovering it for what it is.  What I can tell you is this,  until last Thursday I had never watched an entire half of MLS soccer before, and had it not been such a late start, I'm sure I would have watched the entire match.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have NEVER been more excited to see another MLS game as I am right now.  I know most the games are not televised nationally, but I will do my best to find a way to tune into the next Timbers match, be it home, or away.

As someone who holds no allegiance to any MLS team, or soccer club in any league for that matter, I think I have found a team that I can really support and root for.  I don't want to just jump on to some trendy thing that I happened upon, but really, we all have to start somewhere.  As a 36 year old adult, I am I far removed from the days when I may have questioned one's allegiance to a team or sport, or needed justification or proof of one's "fanhood" to a team.  I answer to myself, and you should do them same.  But if you are looking for an MLS team to root for, are just a curious soccer observer, or fence-sitter on the sport, I seriously suggest you check out the Portland Timbers.  I have a feeling you be welcomed.  And as with anything, you will get back, what you put in.

So, until the next Timbers match, I will leave you with a highlight of their first goal (at home) in MLS history from their 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire on Thursday night!!  Congrats on the win!!  The Portland team, fans, and city all deserved it!!!

Good luck!


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Friday, April 1, 2011

Chicago Cubs: Opening Day Thoughts

I thought I would share some thoughts about the Chicago Cubs, being that it is their home opener today.

Well, what CAN you say about the Cubs?  I suppose you can't say much about them if you don't include their historic run of being one the most losingest sports franchise in American history.  I know, I know, what about their back to back World Championships in 1907 and 1908??  Yes, that is impressive.  Not many teams can say they have won back to back World Series'.  Hell, a lot of franchises would be happy with just back to back playoff appearances.  Of course, back in those days, there were no playoffs, and the Cubs only had to best 7 other N.L. teams to make it to the World Series.  To put things into perspective, the world of 1908 was closer in years to the end of the American Civil War, then today's world is to World War II, or even the Kennedy assassination!  103 years is a long time, no matter how you look it. That's not to say they didn't have their chances.  Let's take a closer look.

Since their World Series victory in 1908, the Cubs have had plenty of opportunities to bring back the Championship to Chicago.  From 1910 until 1945 the Cubs made it back to the World Series 7 times.  Not too shabby, about 20% of the time.  Of course, there were STILL only 7 other teams to beat to get there.  Still, they never could get a win in any of those.  Only making it to a 7th game one time, in 1945, falling to Detroit at Wrigley Field.  That would be the last time the fall classic would be seen at Clark and Addison.

The Cubs wouldn't sniff the post-season again for some time. Of course, we all know what happened in 1969, with the "Miracle" Mets meteoric rise to the top and/or the Cubs choking away the NL East.  But in 1984, they finally made it back to the playoffs.  Now, MLB had adopted a "Championship Series" format by then, meaning the Cubs had to face off vs. the  NL West winner in the NLCS, to determine who would represent the NL in the World Series.  Everyone thought fate was on their side, but Steve Garvey and Leon Durham had other plans in mind.

1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, and 2008.  Ultimately, all the same results.  Failure.  In fact, since their 1908 Championship, the Cubs are a dismal 18-50 in post season games, and were victorious in only ONE post-season series, while dropping 13.  It's sad really, when you stop and think about it.  I think the Cubs have more statues and dedications to their dead announcers then they do World Series trophies??

Why?  Why so bad?  Why so long?  Why the Cubs?  Well, it's obviously been pondered over by many a baseball expert over the years.  Billy Goat curses, errors, Bartman, etc.  Personally, I don't have the time or the energy to expend on figuring it out.  I believe the bottom line is simple.  When you have mediocre ownership and management,  you end up with a mediocre product.  That philosophy is certainly not unique to just baseball.  But let's face it, the Cubs are mediocre, from top to bottom.  Now, there are a lot of franchises that are just as mediocre, and a lot that are worse!  What separates the Cubs from those teams, is that they have been mediocre for a loooooooooong, looooooooooong, time.

But, now they have new ownership!!  Will that change things?  Is next year, finally here?  I guess only time will tell.  Personally I think they still have a lot of work to do to compete with baseball elites franchises.  And let's face it, they are a business.  The driving factor behind a successful business is making money.  And the Cubs DO make money.  Perhaps the new owners will find ulterior motives and make the Cubs just as successful ON the field, as they have been off.

So, enjoy the game on this opening day!! Whether it's watching at home, getting updates at work, or freezing your butt off sitting in your overpaid seats, and leaving in the 6th inning to go stand in line to get into a trendy bar!!!  At least baseball is back, right?  Just be sure to have your car-window-W-flags ready to display in case they do win!!


Disclaimer:  I am short the Cubs today vs. Pittsburgh! (wink wink)

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