The eminent soccer writer Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated spent a good chunk of the preseason asking MLS players about the state of the league. In a recent article, he posted the answers to things like, "Who's the most underrated player in MLS?" and "Who's the most overrated player in MLS?"
Perhaps most interestingly for Portland fans was the question, "If you could play for one MLS team other than yours, what would it be?"
Among the top choices? The Portland Timbers.
Portland also humbly scored high on "Which team has the best MLS stadium atmosphere?" landing up there with Seattle though Wahl goes on to say,
Seattle has bigger numbers (more than 43,000 fans per game), while Portland may have an even harder core.
Read the whole piece here and keep an eye out for Part Two tomorrow.
From the rainy February of Portland to the snowy fields of the French Football Federation's national training facility in Clairefontaine, Timbers Academy co-director Mike Smith has traveled quite a distance.
Sent as part of a special MLS initiative to broaden league academy and player development, Smith was selected to partake in a extensive Elite Formation Coaching License program that involves close collaboration with the FFF as well as on-site observation and work with Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain.
Freshly arrived in Paris this weekend, Smith was whisked away to the training facility and snapped a few photos:
Got to the French Training center... how amazing! It was snowing here most of the afternoon. We were taken into the local village for savory crepes for dinner with the obligatory red french wine. The scenery is so rustic and cool but we are in the middle of nowhere in the snow! Am staying in Chateau where French Men's National Team stay. I am in Lizarazu's room.
Throughout Smith's stay in France, we'll post updates and photos as they come through.
The Backcut Podcast: MLSsoccer.com's Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle on the mysteries of soccer formations
Throughout the Portland Timbers time in Tucson, MLSsoccer.com had a small squad of crack writers and videographers covering the various MLS teams, preseason friendlies, and more.
Among them was Matt Doyle, MLSsoccer.com's Armchair Analyst, who was doing color commentary alongside play-by-play man Jonathan Yardley on the various Timbers matches all throughout The Desert Friendlies series put on by FC Tucson.
A longtime writer focusing on the tactical mysteries of the beautiful game, it has been said by some--probably me--that Doyle keeps a copy of Jonathan Wilson's groundbreaking book Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics under his pillow at night. It makes sense given that Doyle is basically the American version of Wilson mixed with Zonal Marking all with a focus on the intricacies of how American soccer--be it MLS, USMNT, or more--actually operates from a tactical standpoint. What's the difference between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 and why does it matter?
While in Tucson with the Timbers, I sat down with Doyle in the team hotel lobby to learn more about how he became the Armchair Analyst, where soccer formational analysis is heading and how we share a common appreciation for the Coen Brothers.
The Backcut Podcast sits at the intersection of Timbers, Thorns, soccer & culture to explore the unique elements of the beautiful game. You can subscribe to The Backcut on iTunes in the same feed as the Talk Timbers podcast.
“It’s a dream come true,” Radovcic said. “You play soccer, you go through college, and you’re like, ‘I really want to play after college,’ but only a few people are fortunate enough to be able to play after college. So to be selected in the draft, to that team, I am just so speechless and so grateful.”
Those are the words of Thorns FC forward/midfielder Nicolette Radovcic who just a few months ago was a marketing intern with the New York Red Bulls helping out at Red Bull Arena's Interactive Zone. The Rockaway, NJ native had 30 goals and 16 assists in four seasons at the University of Central Florida before being drafted by Portland 16th overall.
NewYorkRedBulls.com's Frank Della Femina has a nice profile of the new Thorns pick and how she's excited to jump from the Red Bulls to the new NWSL.
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.
Also of note on a heavy day of player movement across the league was MLS releasing the list of players eligible for Friday's Stage 1 Re-Entry Draft.
While the rules around the Re-Entry Draft can get arcane, let's try to break it down.
In the MLS Rule book, eligibility is determined by the following:
--Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years experience in MLS whose options were not exercised by their clubs (available at option salary for 2013).
--Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary (available for at least their 2012 salary).
--Players who are at least 30 years old with a minimum of eight years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them (available for at least 105% of their 2012 salary).
--Players who are not selected in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft will be made available in Stage 2. Clubs selecting players in Stage 2 will negotiate a new salary with the player.
--Players who remain unselected after Stage 2 will be available to any MLS club on a first come, first serve basis.
Once selected in the Re-Entry Draft, clubs must exercise the option for, or extend a Bona Fide Offer to, all players selected in Stage 1. Players that were out of contract may either accept or reject the Bona Fide Offer. Should a player reject the offer, the drafting club will hold the right of first refusal for that player in MLS. Players with option years left on their contract will automatically be added to the drafting club’s roster.
One key element to remember is that though the eligible player list was released today, teams are still able to negotiate with players up until a temporary roster freeze at 5pm ET on Dec. 6. As such, there is a good chance that there will be some alterations to the list between now and Friday.
Draft order is determined by reverse order of finish at the end of the 2012 season which means Portland will have the #3 overall pick. Once a team elects to pass on their draft slot, they are finished for the rest of the draft. The draft ends once all teams have passed. For more info on the specifics of Friday, click here.
The end of the 2012 MLS season draws nigh as the LA Galaxy host the Houston Dynamo in tomorrow's MLS Cup. A rematch of last season's final, this version presents plenty of drama.
Tune in at 1:30pm PT on ESPN to find out. Have your say on Twitter with hashtag #MLSCup.
Looking for a place to watch? The Timbers Army are hosting a viewing party to benefit AC Portland at Alberta Substation. Suggested donation of $5 gets you in with things getting rolling around 1pm.
As stated by sports business contributor Jed Hughes on Bleacher Report:
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