Friday, July 31, 2015

Introducing, the Once-Explained Conifers & Citrus Interest Rankings

Barbarella. If you haven't seen it, jesus! Get on it!!
The physical, existing object is very straightforward, even simple. The...1, 2, 3rd item in the right-hand side-bar will keep a permanent, floating record of the number of times I have watched each and every club in Major League Soccer during the then-current season. It is titled, the "Conifers & Citrus Interest Rankings." I made the title font larger to make it stand out, so, hopefully, it does. At any rate, it is intended as a plain, if loose measure, as to how much each and every club in Major League Soccer interests me.

This feature will remain on that same side-bar, and reset to zero one season to the next, and for as many seasons as this blog continues to discuss the Portland Timbers, Major League Soccer, or whatever better, technologically-, perhaps genetically-enhanced, adaptation to either or both follows! Long may it live! (For as long as it interests and amuses me!)

I have some notes on this, before posting this and, literally, walking away from it (after one...OK, two, announcements on Twitter).

I like tracking this data and find it useful and informative on a number of levels. Listing the number of times I've watched each club is a pretty tight bullshit detector, for one. Notice how I say I find the Colorado Rapids fascinating, but how well does that jibe with the fact that I've watched only 4 of their 20 games (so far) this season? Yeah, yeah, the answer's obvious: they don't score all that much and too many of their games end in draws. (Draws can suck! There, I said it!) Basically, going nowhere (or seeming to) is not interesting! Next!

I've added three games to New York City FC's "viewed" tally in recent weeks, due mainly to wanting to see what their new sigings - e.g. the new, old kids like Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, who started arriving this summer...which assumes they ever take the goddamn field. (Lookin' at you, Frankie L. The World's Most Interesting Man has already put in 25+ minutes, so, yeah, what the Hell?) The point is, playing well, or even just weird, piques the interest (see: my sudden urge to spend more time with the Houston Dynamo), much like adding foreign/unknown/hyper-aged-players-who-may-or-may-not-stroke-out-on-the-field does.

Finally, yes, I am a homer. I've missed one Portland Timbers game this season (OK, OK, all things considered, it's actually closer to 2 1/4 games, but that's, like, total time lost between all of 'em! Shit! Don't judge!!!). This will always be the case and, in all honesty, this site is supposed to lean toward Portland in its coverage. This doesn't happen for a lot of reasons (chief among them, I'm pretty sure that anyone who likes the Timbers as much as I do is following a lot of the same content), but, yeah, I got dreams. Two posts a week on the Timbers. there's something to aspire to.

And I guess that's where this ends. If any random visitor (e.g. not a Timbers person) ever thinks I'm letting my ass do the talking about his/her team, please check the side-bar before lacing into me for having not the least clue what I'm talking about. Because I might have that clue. Might, I said. Because that that number is not dispositive. Everyone has bad opinions. Then again, most people have good ones, too. The balance depends on the person. My goal is to be in with the good group...

Anyway, there's a sidebar to the right that has all this in there. I do hope that it's useful and informative to someone.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

MLS Week 21: On DPs, Foreign Players, MLS's Backbone...and Jurgen Klinsmann

Speaking of fucking legends.
Thanks to the Gold Cup, the domestic soccer week – Week 21, for those keeping track – overflows with talking points. Add all the transfers (which, full disclosure, I am barely tracking) and the most polite thing you can call me is desperately, graspingly behind. Which argues for an image of a behind being grasped desperately.

There is, however, one addition of which I'm proud: e.g. the new sidebar that transfers this site's disclosure as to how many times I've watched each and every Major League Soccer (MLS) club in action over a full 90 during the 2015 season. I'll update that every week rather than embedding it in these weekly posts.

As for the contents of the post itself, it's what it was last week: a shot (one big idea) backed by a six pack - e.g. six talking points – that came to me while watching the following games over Week 21:
FC Dallas v. Portland Timbers (already written up; sorta)
Chicago Fire v. New England Revolution
New York City FC v. Orlando City SC
Oh yeah, went East Coast-heavy this weekend. Also, given how late this is going up (my never-met goal is always Monday night), here's to hoping that the thoughts that came to me are random enough to be novel against the larger soccer backdrop...because what's the same shit worth if it's just later?

The Shot: My Kingdom, My Kingdom for Fine-Ass American Forwards!
Somewhere in the middle of Simon Borg's vast, broad tantrum about the Gold Cup semifinals, he did what a healthy number of American pundits do – e.g. more or less absolve Jurgen Klinsmann for his complete, utter, and wage-defying adequacy. In Borg's defense, though, he smuggled a pretty sharp observation into the conversation - specifically, he argued that anyone coaching the Yanquis (aka, the U.S. Men's National Team) will struggle due to the thin collection of quality forwards at his (and maybe, some day, her) disposal. His argument rounds out decently enough when one considers how many goals the aging Clint Dempsey scored for the U.S. during the just-past, little-mourned Gold Cup tournament – and, no, we're not counting the Cuba game, which was a goddamn free-for-all in which it's possible that I could have scored. OK, no, not me.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Portland Timbers' Loss to FC Dallas, in a Big Frame

Adi was about this aggressive...
Because this is one to two days late (by my usual pace), I thought I'd try to add a little value to the post by stitching the Portland Timbers into their place in the Western Conference milieu. First, and because it serves the larger plot, let's explore the Timbers rather outsized loss to FC Dallas last Saturday night.

I'll get to the game in, literally, the next paragraph, but I do want to pause to praise the Dallas bugler who includes at least two Texas classics in his/her in-game repertoire – e.g. the theme from Dallas and "Deep in the Heart of Texas." Sa-lute! Now, the game...

The best thing one can say about it is that the Timbers pushed past being four goals down deep into the 90 and scored a late, late, if meaningless goal. How meaningless? Well, Dallas' three- goal-gap contributes visibly to the Timbers now -4 goal differential (please, refrain from dissecting the logic of that statement). Though still on the right side of the crimson, velvet rope that separates "winners" from losers (use of scare quotes both intentional and attributable to MLS's stupid playoff format), Portland's recent run has left them vulnerable to getting over-run by the teams below them – hence the point of the "milieu" project.

On that late goal, though, some unseemly squabbling preceded it. The new guy, Lucas Melano, drew the penalty and, (presumably) wanting to show his team a little more of what he can do, Melano also offered/insisted on taking the penalty kick he earned. In a show of poor manners for the new arrival, two longer-term Timbers, Fanendo Adi and Gaston Fernandez, both, they insisted on taking the same penalty. Adi won in the end, mostly by grabbing the ball and turning a deaf-ear to further input from the Argentine Delegation. To his credit, Adi stepped up and buried the penalty kick. Though it was, as noted above, meaningless.

Yes, yes, there's typically a process in place that decides who takes penalty kicks, it probably is Adi (though I say that without any knowledge of the relevant process), and process is process, and without it there will be chaos, etc. Given the stakes involved in the game in question (low, low, low; one "low" for each goal against), and given the larger, more pressing task of bringing a new (expensive) player into the team, it strikes me that the larger, wiser gesture would have been to let Melano take it, score it, and thereafter envelope him in the hot, ample bosom of his new club. There's healthy competition and there's back-biting rivalry...follow the modifier to see which one think is best for Portland.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

FIFA, Their Cups, and My Raging Discontent

OK, maybe half of that ass.
The U.S. Men's loss to Jamaica, and the concomitant early exit from the Gold Cup, put me into a head-scratching funk, just like it did for a lot of American fans. That said, I think I caught a different bug. The short diagnosis goes like this: the loss to Jamaica, and everything about it, didn't piss me off nearly as much as the fact that the U.S. can still reach the Confederations Cup. The long version follows, which elaborates on how totally and ridiculously ass I find the larger situation.

While I forgot the mechanism – that is, the playoff for CONCACAF's Confederations' Cup spot between the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup champ'eens – it sounded familiar once people started talking and tweeting about it as last night's semifinal slipped further and further out of reach for the U.S. And it's fair on paper: here, in CONCACAF, we just happen to play our regional tournament on a two-year cycle, as opposed to the more common four-year cycle, and, with the Confederations Cup happening once every four years, they had to come up with some way to decide on which team gets to fly the flag... the Confederations' Cup...

...which is like a half-assed World Cup...

...held the year before the World Cup... accomplish? Oh, goddammit!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

MLS Week 20 Review + The Bargain-Bin Starting XI

I know! Kennedy Igboananike at $800K? Madness!
I'm a late getting to this review of Major League Soccer's Week 20. I didn't even get links into the review of the Portland Timbers draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend, fer crissakes (links in there now; embarrassed by the delay). A combination of reasons led to that, all of which I will cover in the semi-traditional, semi-confessional prologue that always seems to top my posts. Said prologue will last exactly one paragraph, after which paragraph, the conversation shall return to MLS and the Timbers.

I caught only two whole games over Week 20, Portland v. Vancouver and the New England Revolution's home win over New York City FC. Worse, where I usually power through a full diet of 20-minute mini-games easily as a family of four goes through that first bowl of chips and salsa at your finer Mexican restaurants, I left chips and salsa on the table this weekend (or, more directly, I have yet to sit through Real Salt Lake's win over the Houston Dynamo). Worse, I experienced every game – whole, mini-, or live – at a remove, as if I watching television about someone else watching the games on television. I blame all of this on The Great Bon-Bon of Indifference, a chocolate confection possessed of the power to rob a person of his/her agency. Just...keep that in mind, at least for what it's worth, when you read the stuff on Week 20. The rest is gold. Or at least gold-flaked.

For Week 20's review, I'm going with a six-pack of observations and a big-ass shot; we're talking a three-finger at minimum, on the latter. As with any good night out, may as well start with the shot. You know the saying: "Liquor, beer, everclear." Or something to that effect. At any rate, the six thoughts that came to me as I watched the Week 20's game comprise the six-pack. As for the shot, well, that's courtesy of a gift I unwrapped six days late.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Timbers Ship Two Points North with Vancouver

Actually, I kiss your mom with this fucking mouth!

The ref for last night's game between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps sure pissed off a lot of people. At least that's what I gathered last night from a glance or two at twitter. Otherwise, and per personal tradition, I haven't read a thing about that game that one time, when the Vancouver Whitecaps came to visit the Portland Timbers and took two points home with 'em. One goal each, one point each. Ah, what could have been...

Twitter also told me about Will Johnson's post-match red card. I’m guessing it was dissent that caused it (and, like most of you, I've exhausted my imagination as to what Johnson might have said, but, having read nothing, I know nothing, still), and a lot of Timbers suffered possession by the same evil spirit: Rodney Wallace a couple minutes before, and Liam Ridgewell as much as a half hour earlier. The ref did go a little weird from time to time – see, the wild sequence that started with Vancouver's Steven Beitashour splaying himself across Rodney Wallace's path, which didn't earn a call, and ended with the 'Caps Jordan Harvey lunging after a lost cause and into Diego Valeri's ankles/lower legs, which foul did earn a card...

...speaking of, this entire season will entail some amount of anxiety every time Diego Valeri gets clattered, yeah? No avoiding it? Damn. Anyway, Harvey earned all of that red, for me; Diego Chara, on the other hand, picked up a baffling yellow for a clean tackle. (NOTE: Goddammit! They quality of these "key moment" videos is really declining; replays revealed more.) Yeah, the ref was sort of all over. All the same...seriously, Major League Soccer fans really should have internalized the level of refereeing by now. The players need to get there, too, even as they have cause for alarm by way of their livelihoods being at stake. But that's another post for another day.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gold Cup: The U.S. Frustrates Panama, and Honduras/Haiti Bores Neutrals

That some serious, long-term casting for bully and toady.
Holy shit, that was fun! The U.S. v. Panama was a damn good game. The way the first half ended with that roiling boil that threatened to pour over every side of the pot? It rarely gets better than when an underdog pops the Alpha with a surprise shot to the chin. Good times, good times...

Know what wasn't good times? Honduras' tournament-ending loss to a, let's face it, solid Haitian side. Somewhere in the middle of a lengthy rant that shifted from a specific point – e.g. the prolonged, pointless whine that Honduran coach Jorge Luis Pinto directed at that match's fourth official – to a general one – e.g. the general, embarrassing bitchy petulance toward referees by Major League Soccer players and coaches – the commentating crew noted that the second half of Haiti v. Honduras boiled down to Haiti inviting Honduras to try to break them down. And, lord did they have time for that rant about whining players. That game contained more dead air than a coffin.

They never did it. Honduras, I mean. They barely accepted the invitation to attack, and came close all of once. So, beyond congratulating Haiti for going through, the less said about that game, the better.

Fortunately, the night's second act made up for a grimly poor first and on multiple levels. Panama came out firing on all cylinders, pinning the U.S. back into their own half for large portions of the, well, the half. The Central American side put a young, fairly untried defensive set through a tricky set of wringers before the whistle blew for halftime. As someone who watched the game with me pointed out (and please claim via tweet, if you read this), the Panamanians serve up a mean cross – and that's something they carried into the second half. Panama knocked, knocked, and knocked again, until they finally scored the goal they needed to lift them over Haiti in the Group A standings.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

MLS Week 19: The Half-Rack (e.g 12 Thoughts/New Feature)

Still undecided. That's half a half of whatever, goddammit!
Well, I didn't promise promise I'd stay away from Major League Soccer. In fact, I think I've landed on something more satisfying than damn, dirty power rankings (not least because, as argued in the Week 18/Season End Rankings, I don't anticipate much meaningful change in terms of how MLS's clubs stack up against one another till the end of the season).

Time constraints being what they are, I sat through only condensed versions of every game in MLS for Week 19 (well, except Vancouver v. Sporting KC, which isn’t up, condensed-style, at time of writing). It looked like a great week based on those snippets, lots of goals, lots of bad defending, some wacky refereeing – i.e. one's daily diet of madness, basically. And huzzah!

Because branding is everything in these teenage years of the 21st century, I hereby introduce the Conifers & Citrus "Half-Rack": the 12 comments that came to me as I watched, in this case, all those condensed games. They're not talking points, even if as I view each of them as segues to larger conversations, and, ideally, I'll stray away from flagging the obvious. Even as I will sometimes fail, as when I point out that, holy shit, is that Sebastian Giovinco kid really goddamn good.

Last part to the preamble: was "half-rack" an East Coast or West Coast term? Not trying to start another rap war, but I spent enough time on both coasts, and have put enough mileage on my brain, that I can’t remember where I lived when friends (and, yes, family) asked me to "pick up a half-rack" on the way to this or that event, or when they just asked for a half-case.

At any rate, 12 Points, Comments, Ideas...Things unfold below...starting with a quick hit on my beloved, yet misbehaving, Portland Timbers.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Gold Cup Round Up: After Round One. Round One.

These are the results. And that's the ocean. Or one of the Great Lakes.
Now that I know I won't see all, or maybe even part of tomorrow night's, uh, second, first-round game between the United States and Haiti (or even the subsequent game that pits Honduras v. Panama), I've been trying to figure out what to with all that real estate I cleared in this space to cover the Gold Cup. A couple waves washed over me (some better than others, much like on a beach), I think I came up with something that can be useful, even absent direct observation of all the games under discussion.

Still, let the record show that I really do hope to catch a chunk or two of the U.S. v. Haiti game. It's just life that’s in the way. Again.

At any rate, the idea is that when I can't take in games, I'll at least do some research and put up a little framing for the tournament as it progresses. Call it being relevant, where I can't be authoritative, or even informative. (Then again, when the hell am I ever authoritative?) I plan on posting...something, no matter how loosey-goosey, after each round of games for all teams within this, uh, current, and ongoing, first round of the Gold Cup, e.g. the round-robin phase. Hence the awkward title, "After Round One, Round One," which, here, means the point in the first round of the Gold Cup when all the teams in all three groups has played, first, one game, then two games. When the latter happens, I'll subtitle the recap, "After Round One, Round Two." Get it?

Whatever happens with the mess above, tonight will take the form of so much spit-balling about the first round of results in the context of the first round of the Gold Cup. (Again, are we tracking? Sorry to use a legal term.) My only hope is that someone finds something useful down below.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

U.S. Tops Honduras in the Main Course (After a Nice Appretizer)

We are the world! We are the Turkey!
"...I only laced it with PCP."

And that's why I love the bar where I watch soccer most often. Because that's quality eaves-dropping...

One other note before getting into the nitty-gritty. Like most of you, I read two (or more) things today that bunched my undies, e.g.: 1) the record-breaking number of people who watched the Women's World Cup Final; and 2) reports on the comparatively shitty pay that members of that same team made during the tournament leading up to said World Cup final. Yes, yes, women's sports don’t draw with anything like the same consistency as men's leagues do around the world, and, yes, that translates into what they get paid. Still, and even if just domestically, those same women drew a shit-ton of eyeballs for that final, so call this my (extraordinarily modest) call to see them reap some (meaningful) measure of the dollars spinning off that whirlwind. Because they earned it, goddammit. And if it's because the sponsors failed to show up, leverage that shit into the next contract because people, Americans, especially, totally watch the women's game. Make it right. I don’t care how it's done, but fucking pay these women what they absolutely earned.

And, with that, time for the two-course meal that was tonight's CONCACAF Group A kick off.

Monday, July 6, 2015

MLS Week 18 Rankings/Playoff Predictions + Timbers v. San Jose (- MLS Hiatus)

Eat it, San Jose! That's one tooth for each point and one for the goal!
For Major League Soccer's Week 18, I only had time for the Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes. That's it. And I only caught 60 minutes of that. The good 60 minutes from what I hear, but, yes, stupid, stupid, interfering life has once again mugged soccer and taken most of its valuables.

Then again, it is with a mixture and loin-stirring anticipation that Conifers & Citrus announces that this shite...whoops, "site," I meant "site." What a strange little slip. Anyway, Conifers & Citrus hereby announces that it will set aside all things MLS and most things Timbers in order to switch to total coverage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup for much of the month of July. Or, well, total coverage of Gold CUP, Group A, because, honestly, there's no fucking way I can do more than that. Seriously.

Said coverage kicks off...well, tomorrow, frankly. I'll go on a Preview Safari in the meantime and try to roll that into my comments going forward, showing off knowledge in the vain spirit Great White Hunters display the carcasses of animals they killed from a far remove (also, I'll pull out one chest hair for every minute it takes to do said homework, because, all man; also, at that rate, I can remove every last hair from chest in about an hour). As much as I'd like to preview the whole thing, I just plain ran out of time. All I can say is that I'll try to make it up to each of you, personally. Promise*! (* This promise is conditioned on limits on time, clear-headedness, and, again, damn, dirty life.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Portland Loses to Real Salt Lake Again. Competition/Venue Notwithstanding

We tried to wake him on the charter. He didn't look so good.
I'll start by owning some ill-advised tweets. For starters, when I said Real Salt Lake was "thin" all over and the Portland Timbers "thick" I overlooked the presence of Javier Morales and Joao Plata; the same statement also ignored Sebastian Jaime, the RSL forward who has been coming on of late, and Luke Mulholland, who has been RSL's ironman/most consistent contributors for going on two years (yes, it’s still true even if goal posts confuse him).

When I was tweeting what turned out to be utter crap, I was actually talking about RSL's defense, which had not only lost local legend Jamison Olave to a dodgy hammy, but also back-ups Chris Schuler and Justin Glad. In my defense, I said something about Phanuel Kavita...which is a thin defense seeing as he didn't play tonight. Aaron Maund did, I think, and he did fine. They all did fine. But does it matter who lined up for Real Salt Lake when the Timbers did so very, very little to put that defense under pressure? No, obviously.

Whether from fatigue, lack of real interest in the U.S. Open Cup, a pre-agreed upon lackluster night, the Timbers never really took the game to Real Salt Lake. Altitude wasn't an issue, Kyle Beckerman wasn't a problem (because, not there), so unless the entire Portland team gasped for air the second they stepped off the chartered bus, there's no not so much an excuse for tonight as an acceptance that the club, collectively, didn't want the U.S. Open Cup trophy (and the CONCACAF Champions' League spot that goes with it) nearly enough. And, so, they lost 2-0.

As much as I basically missed the entire first half, it didn't really look all that different, at a glance, from the second half – of which I caught every exceedingly dull minute. The Timbers got players forward, and more than once, but soft diagonals to the flanks generally replaced the passing and movement that Portland uses to create their best chances. And all the crosses that I saw got cut off three yards from the crosser’s boot, so, no, not very effective.