MLS Regular Season
This one is for all the marbles.
The Portland Timbers head north to take on the Seattle Sounders on Oct. 7 at 6pm PT. Currently sitting atop the three-team standings for the Cascadia Cup between the Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Sounders, the Timbers could return home with the coveted cup if they draw or win at CenturyLink Field.
Unable to make it north for #SeattleAway? Do not fret, we'll be hosting a big bash at one of our esteemed Timbers Pub Partners but we want your help in deciding where. Vote on the poll at right to have your say about who should host and where you'll want to be when you watch this historic match.
The poll ends September 26 at 5pm PT.
Starting this Saturday, September 22 when the Timbers play Real Salt Lake (5pm PT NBC Sports, KXL Radio / La Pantera 940), fans will be able to receive automated text, score alerts on their phones. The free service (standard messaging rates may apply per your cellular provider) includes automated alerts for goals and red cards, as well as notifications for kickoff, halftime and the end of the match. The service is for all first-team matches and will send messages in real time.
You can sign up now; just text ALERT to 27299 to join.
In his latest Throw-in column for MLSsoccer.com, Jonah Freedman opines on how a precedent can set up a team's expectations. Whether it's the Cascadia Cup, Brimstone Cup, Trillium Cup, MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup or more, Freedman posits that no matter the silverware, these trophies matter. They can help define, or at the very least, begin to define the direction a team aims to take. Given how close the Timbers are to winning this year's Cascadia Cup in what has been a difficult season, Freedman asks,
So what are fans supposed to make of these trophies? For Portland, it’s a sign of progress, a symbol of success upon which they can hang their hats in their second MLS season. It is perhaps a springboard to future glory, when a young team with a young coach can do great things as they evolve.
Darlington Nagbe has had a very busy couple of weeks. His former Univ. of Akron head coach, Caleb Porter, was named head coach of the Timbers. He had a camera crew follow him around for MLS 36 for NBCSports. He helped out with a special project with MLS Digital and EA Sports that will air soon. His jersey is one of the top selling kits in MLS. And he came in at #15 on the MLS 24 Under 24 list.
But Saturday presented a rare opportunity to reunited with an old friend in Seattle Sounders midfilder Steve Zakuani. Both teammates under Porter while at the Univ. of Akron, the two had yet to actually take the field with each other due to Zakuani's leg injury that had kept him on the shelf for almost a year.
In a great article on SoundersFC.com, Zakuani spoke about playing against a friend with whom he shares a long history:
“It was great, you know. Last year, I didn’t get to play against him, so this year it was just good seeing him out there, and getting the chance to go against him,” Nagbe said. “It was fun. We both had fun.”
Like Zakuani in 2010, Nagbe is having success in his second MLS season. Zakuani was tied for the team-lead with ten goals in 2010, while Nagbe has six goals for the Timbers with still six games left on the schedule.
The success comes as no surprise to Zakuani, who has been carrying the Nagbe flag for years.
“I’ve known Darlington for a very, very long time and always said he’s a great player. He’s maturing more and more,” Zakuani said. “I still think he has a long way to go, because I think he has so much quality. I was happy to, for the first time, play against him at this level. I wish him to continue to become a good player.”
Zakuani goes on to talk about his friendship--he'll be in Nagbe's wedding in the offseason--and says that he'd like to share the pitch with him some day again on the same side:
“He’s someone I like to always look out for and I wish him to keep playing the way he’s playing right now,” Zakuani said. “I wish maybe one day in the future we can play again together. But at this point he is with Portland and I’m with Seattle.
The Akron roots run deep for many players across MLS. Nagbe was reunited with with another former Zip and close friend, Teal Bunbury, earlier this season both for an adidas commercial and on the field. Moreover, wunderkind Vancouver Whitecaps rookie Darren Mattocks, yet another former Akron teammate of Nagbe's, tweeted today about his thoughts on Nagbe's inclusion in the 24 Under 24 list.
@darlingtonnagbe should be in the top 5 easily for 24 under 24. Just saying
— Darren Mattocks (@DarrenMattocks) September 17, 2012
Perhaps the biggest moment of all was Conrad actually attending the Cascadia Cup showdown between the Timbers and Seattle Sounders at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday. There were bagpipes, there was facepaint, there was yelling and as part of his indoctrination to the experience, Conrad became a full fledged member of the Timbers Army, No Pity scarf and all.
With two goals in his last four games, Bright Dike has been on a bit of a run as of late.
After being one of the first Timbers players ever signed in the MLS era, Dike ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the first MLS preseason game and missed much of the 2011 season. After a hard dedicated recovery, he came back to the team and was loaned to USL PRO side L.A. Blues earlier this season.
In ten games, Dike got his groove back and pocketed six goals. So while he wasn't there for the entire season, USL PRO was impressed enough to name him to the 2012 All-League Second Team.
In other MLS-related news in USL New York Red Bulls forward Corey Hertzog was a finalist for MVP after spending the season on loan with the Wilmington Hammerheads. The small but increasing number of MLS teams loaning players to the USL is a growing phenomenon as more and more teams look to further develop their players with more games and minutes. Timbers defender and 2012 MLS SuperDraft first round pick Andrew Jean-Baptiste was also loaned to the Blues in 2012 for six matches.
WATCH: Dike finishes off Zizzo cross against Rapids
Lies, damn lies, and statistics: How adidas' miCoach could change MLS (plus a cameo from Jean-Baptiste)
The Backcut has talked about the growing importance of statistics in soccer before. Manchester City is busy crowd sourcing ideas by releasing reams of stats from last year's campaign while MLS has already made much of the same information available through their excellent Matchcenter Chalkboard.
But now none other than the immenent tech geek bible Wired takes a look at the new adidas tech wizardry behind their new miCoach system and its potential impact on the league through their excellent Playbook blog.
Starting off at the 2012 MLS Combine in Florida, the article talks about how a number of draft eligible players taking part in drills and scrimmages--Portland's eventually drafted Andrew Jean-Baptiste among them--were outfitted with prototype miCoach trackers that fed information about speed, location, heart rate and more.
It’s far flashier than such antiquities as a timed 40, but not much different in that the athletic attributes it measures have little to do with sport-specific skills like, say, passing the ball.
Still, proper dribbling technique is more easily taught than absurd acceleration through a defensive alignment, which is why University of Connecticut defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste started turning so many heads.
Jean-Baptiste was among those participating in the miCoach trial ahead of a league-wide rollout next season. As four Adidas reps roamed the sideline holding iPads displaying real-time readings from the field, coaches and team officials filtered by with raised eyebrows and the occasional question. Everything was proceeding as expected until Jean-Baptiste took off on a sprint across the pitch and his measurements exploded.
“Ten to 12 teams’ staff people crowded around me at once,” said Jan Mueller, a manager for the miCoach line. “They were watching intently, and then began asking a lot of questions.”
Given the long established importance of statistics in sports such as football, baseball and basketball, MLS is looking to push the envelope as to what kind of stats become more important for soccer. And not just for coaches and players, but for fans as well. The aforementioned Chalkboard feature is already readily available for fans and writers alike to breakdown certain elements of a game with heat maps, pass completion rates, shot locations and more.
miCoach adds another layer into the player performance aspect by breaking down individual elements to a very specific level. And while much of that in-game analysis of miCoach may not be something that fans will have immediate access to, MLS Digital general manager Chris Schlosser says in the article, “We’re working on what we feel like is a game-changer in the digital match experience — a whole new way for consumers to experience the game."
And even coaches who are intrigued with the possibilities of what miCoach could bring to the table such as Philadelphia Union head coach John Hackworth, there's still a belief that not everything seen on a computer screen tells you everything you need to know about a player.
“We’ve always had lies, damned lies and statistics,” said Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee. “For example, just because a guy is covering a lot of ground, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s smart running or that he’s in the right place at the right time. That’s a statistic that needs to come with experience. So some of these measurements are going to be useful, but some aren’t. We’ll just have to see which ones fill a void.”
In that capacity, miCoach readings will fit right in with the rest of soccer’s statistics. There’s another school of thought, however, that presents an even warier eye.
“Soccer is so much art, and art is impossible to measure, like music or dance or paintings,” said Hackworth. “The beauty of our sport is that there are so many creative, imaginative and skillful moments, and you’ll never be able to truly quantify that.”
It's a fascinating read about some great tools MLS is leading the way with. Read the whole piece here.
How do you see the focus on statistics changing the game? Let us know in the comments below or send us a note at thebackcut(at)portlandtimbers.com
The third installment of the Portland Timbers Food Cart Alliance is coming to JELD-WEN Field this Friday as the Timbers take on Colorado Rapids (7:30pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940) in the form of Stumptown Dumplings, or Stumplings.
Stumplings will be serving up orders of six dumplings and two sauces for $7 out of the Soccer City Grill concession stand on the east side of the stadium.
Owners Justin Prasad and Nimesh Dayal started their food cart after ten years of friendship and even more in the hospitality industry. “We wanted to branch out,” said Prasad. After a month and a half of discussing the idea, Prasad and Dayal had their license and their custom-built food cart ready for business. “It happened much faster than either of us expected,” said Dayal. Stumplings celebrated their grand opening on May 31.
“I’ve always worked for someone else. Serving here at the field proves I can work on my own and can succeed,” said Prasad. “It’s exciting because it’s our idea coming to life. I just want people to connect the ‘Stumplings’ with Justin and Nimesh, and this is a great opportunity for us.”
Stumplings can be found in the Alberta15 food cart pod in northeast Portland, and is the third of four food carts voted to serve during a home match via Facebook.
PTFCA is looking for new members. Applications for PTFCA will be accepted for the remainder of the season. Another fan vote for the remaining two home matches will run in early September.
The Oceania Football Confederation--home federation for New Zealand Football--wrote a nice piece about new Timbers signing Ian Hogg recently that makes for a good read. A starter in all three matches for the Oly Whites at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Hogg played alongside Jake Gleeson who was also a member of the team.
"I'm just looking to take any opportunities I get given," said Hogg. And with Timbers GM/interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson and assistant coach Cameron Knowles also being veterans of the All Whites New Zealand national team, Portland has a growing Kiwi contingent.
Read the article here.
The article refers to Hogg's first goal in his senior national team debut during a friendly against El Salvador earlier this spring in Houston. It's a pretty quick run down the left flank that leads to a confident strike. See it here (Fast foward to the 29:41 mark, commentary in Spanish).
Then watch Hogg's first training with the team from last week.
Last week, famed English Premiere League club Manchester City announced a special program that would release loads upon loads of statistical information from the team’s 2011-2012 EPL season. They did this in a unique way to crowdsource ideas and analysis of players' performances. Gavin Fleig, Man City's head of performance analysis, told The Guardian, "The whole reason for putting this data out there is to open the doors. The data has value, previously it has been kept in-house and behind guarded doors, but there is a recognition now that clubs need to help this space develop."
Both Michael Lewis' Moneyball and Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s Soccernomics tell the story of the importance of statistical analysis in sports--Lewis' with baseball and Kuper and Szymanski's then building off of that to get into soccer. With Man City, their document is incredibly thorough and open to all after registering at their website. Broken out by player, there’s every match and every stat you could think of: Right Footed Shots off Target, Goals from Corners, Total Unsuccessful Passes Excluding Crosses, Corners and much much more. It’s a deep document.
But that kind of statistical analysis and, more importantly, access to it, is something that MLS has been similarly doing on a league-wide scale since last season as they rolled out their toolbox of features with Opta. Every Matchcenter page on MLSsoccer.com has up to the minute stats in game and the Chalkboard feature is filled to the brim with heat maps, pass stats, positioning information and more.
And with adidas’ new Smart Soccer platform having debuted at the 2012 MLS All-Star Game with an eye towards even more use in 2013, the importance of statistics and their meaning on the game becomes even deeper. See their latest ad running with quite a few cameos from Timbers players.
How do you see the focus on statistics changing the game? Got a thought? Let us know in the comments below or send us a note at thebackcut(at)portlandtimbers.com.