We hold these truths to be self-evident that not all seasons are created equal. It is ironically fitting that the Portland Timbers pass the halfway mark of the 2014 campaign on a day where we celebrate with fireworks. As anyone with fireworks experience can tell you, they don’t always light off as planned—some are beautiful, and some are duds. In concurrence with the Portland Fire Department, we warn you to beware of duds.
After shellacking the visitors on their home field three days earlier in the Open Cup, last Friday night's rematch with Sporting Kansas City was full of promise. The result, however, was a microcosm of how the 2014 Timbers differ from their more successful 2013 counterparts: if you punched those Timbers, they punched back. This year, they succumb to a 24’ Lawrence Olum goal, scored out of the disorganized defending of a long throw-in. Precious little offense was generated out of the remaining hour-plus of play, and the match ended 1-0 to the visitors.
Not that things couldn’t have been different.
Ten minutes prior to Olum’s game-winner, Fanendo Adi scored what appeared to be the opening goal for Portland. The linesman begged to differ, flagging the newly-minted Designated Player offside by a margin so narrow, you need to use Metric to measure it. And seeing as how this is Independence Day, we will not use Metric. So we’ll call him off by a foot. Or a knee.
At this point a year ago, the Timbers had 30 points, seven wins, nine draws, and one single loss. Friday was their fifth loss already, and Portland sits a full ten points behind last year’s pace.
This season feels like the plight of Sisyphus. Caleb Porter, standing in for the disgraced former King of Ephyra, has watched his team push hard to establish themselves as legitimate playoff contenders in the difficult Western Conference, only to see them fall back down as they attempt to cross the elusive red line.
A victory could have propelled the Timbers to the lofty heights of fourth place. They instead sit in seventh, tied on 20 points with Friday’s opponent, the L.A. Galaxy.
The good news: three of Portland’s four wins have come on the road. The bad news: L.A. are unbeaten in their last five, winning three, including last week’s “big” California Classico in front of over 50,000 at Stanford Stadium.
These are two teams remarkably unaffected by the World Cup. Only Omar Gonzalez – not Robbie Keane or Landon Donovan – made it to Brazil. While the big USMNT International was heroic in defeat to Belgium, there’s no chance he’ll play in a league game three days and 6,000 miles later.
As the game comes to a close tomorrow night, we will hear the first fireworks burst in air. In the back of every Timbers supporter’s mind, as we mentally whoosh our scarves during the Star Spangled Banner, we’ll all secretly yell “and the home…of the…TIMBERS!”