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Progress without success for Wilkinson, Timbers

Mon, 08/20/2012 - 3:13pm
Cliff Pfenning
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It's been five weeks and seven games since Portland Timbers management fired coach John Spencer as part of a move to reinvigorate the team for a second-half run at a playoff berth.

All they've achieved, though, is a run to the bottom of the MLS standings.

Since July 14, when Portland replaced Spencer with general manager Gavin Wilkinson on an interim basis, the Timbers are 0-5-2 and lead only Toronto FC among the 19 MLS teams. They've fallen to last in the Western Conference, and have no chance at reaching the playoffs.

What's more (or less) they're at the bottom of the MLS Power Rankings, a showcase of the respect the team has generated among the league's observers.

The team traded popular goalkeeper Troy Perkins, and designated player Kris Boyd seems to play with less inspiration every game.

Can get season get worse?

Can the season get better?

If there is a better half of the season awaiting, it'll have to start Saturday when the team plays host to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second meeting between the teams, and the third game within the Cascadia Cup, the fan-created trophy awarded to the team that scores the most points in games between Portland, Vancouver and Seattle.

With a draw against Vancouver, May 26, and a win over Seattle, June 24, the Timbers (5-13-6, 21 points) lead the chase for the Cup with two games remaining against each of the Northwest rivals.

Both Seattle (11-6-7, 40 points) and Vancouver (10-9-7, 37 points) appear headed for the playoffs, but claiming the Cascadia Cup would at least be salvaging something for the Timbers and their fans.

Taking the Cup from Seattle would be a first for Portland with all three franchises playing at the same professional level.

The recent two-game road trip to Toronto and New York produced four goals for Portland, the first time the team has scored twice on the road since it joined MLS last year.

Although the tirp produced no wins, the offense and some inspired play from across the line-up seem to show the Timbers aren't ready to simply roll up and wait for the season to conclude, although they really only have four meaningful games remaining on their schedule:

Saturday, Vancouver at Portland, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15, Seattle at Portland, 12:30 p.m.

Oct. 7, Portland at Seattle, 6 p.m.

Oct. 21, Portland at Vancouver, B.C., 6 p.m.

Not like it wasn't on the runway

Mon, 07/09/2012 - 4:27pm
Cliff Pfenning
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It certainly hasn't been a boring first half of the season for the Portland Timbers, and got more unboring Monday when the team fired coach John Spencer.

Relieved of his duties, or removed, or however nicely you want to put it.

The Timbers were a team struggling to put any kind of consistency together, and the constant highs and lows possibly caused by frequent line-up changes made the decision not one that was hard to see coming.

The road losses had to be a factor as did that one, disheartening loss to Cal FC in the US Open Cup, which hits its semifinal stage this week.

If only Kris Boyd had converted that penalty kick in that game.

I'm one of the people saddened by the news. I liked Spencer. And, the team played well at home, which is ideally what you want out of a team. And, it played well against quality opponents - they were at their best against the league's best, twice beating the No. 1 team in the league at Jeld-Wen Field. The team scored in front of the Timbers Army, and wasn't that far away from being a playoff team, either - just four points from fifth place.

But, the road. Man, those road games were painful to watch. Saturday's game at Real Salt Lake was one of the most painful, especially the final 30 minutes when the Timbers got absolutely thrashed. The game brought up plenty of questions. Why wasn't Boyd in the starting line-up? Why was Kosuke Kimura, brought in only Thursday in a trade, in the starting line-up? Why put so much attention on the team's defense, when it seemed to play so much better with some offense taking pressure off the defense - as any team does?

Spencer had exactly one-and-a-half seasons to build the Timbers into something of a playoff contender, especially as more than half the league qualifies for the playoffs. Didn't happen, even though the standings show the team is just four points behind the fifth-place Los Angeles Galaxy and has played two fewer games. The Timbers play the Galaxy Saturday, too.

Despite the struggles of the team, Spencer seemed to have earned the rest of the season to get the team into the top five based on its strong play at home (5-2-2, 17 points) and record (4-2-1) against the best teams in the league - games that have almost all been played in Portland.

Owner Merritt Paulson handled the press conference Monday and made mention of a philosophical difference between coach and management, and he's the final decision maker. At least he was on hand to make the official announcement. However you look at this decision, you knew were it came from. Paulson has done a great job of being visible and representing the franchise in a manner not a lot of fans get - in any of the major leagues. He at least seems to have a clue to where he wants the Timbers to go, which is something the Trail Blazers do not seem to have.

So, general manager Gavin Wilkinson is in as interim coach. At least he has some coaching experience, and successful coaching experience. A couple decades ago, there were plenty of teams that had coaches who were also general managers in professional leagues.

Thanks for the entertainment, coach Spencer. Now, let's see how the Timbers can continue to make the season more entertaining - by beating Los Angeles Saturday for starters.

 

Memorial Day clean-up

Sat, 05/26/2012 - 4:38pm
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When the weekend of war movies on American Movie Classics begins with "The Dirty Dozen," it's not hard to realize the weekend is more about ratings than actually honoring soldiers who fought in battle.

But, it sucked Tom Brokaw in. Guess he was more focused on the Clint Eastwood films, "Flags of our Fathers," and "Letters from Iwo Jima," and the stories they told than the actual point of the holiday weekend.

It's the point of the holiday that always has me wanting more, because it never fully gets to where is should be. The weekend starts and ends with honoring the nation's soldiers, past and present, for the sacrifice they made. War movies are a great way to spark interest in that.

But, that's it: "thanks. We're a safer society because of you."

It would be an outstanding step forward for the nation's leaders to publicly acknowledge the nation's veterans, especially those who fought in battle, with an incredibly bold statement: "it's because of your service and sacrifice that we've better learned how to not get into future military conflicts.

"You gave your body so that we could figure out how not to go to war in the first place."

One of ways they can do this is by better funding athletics.

"You died in Vietnam so your grandkids could have better access to fields, gyms and swimming pools so they can be healthier and a more vibrant part of their community.

As it's an Olympic year and the World Cup is starting its qualifying process, this is a perfect time to showcase the new understanding of Memorial Day, especially for one candidate for President - Mitt Romney.

Romney has publicly promoted that if elected he'll expand the military. To expand the military, you need fear.

"All you veterans, you died so we could make warfare look cool and lead us right into the next one."

So, sports. The Olympics. The World Cup.

The soccer world is far more happy than the rest of the world - it has a team for Palestine, which is not recognized as a nation by a large part of the world because it's territory is within Israel.
Israel and Palestine. They can play together in soccer, although not in the same qualifying region: Israel (Europe), Palestine (Asia).

Soccer. What if the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan with soccer fields instead of tanks and helicopters? The U.S. contracted Aghan workers to construct 100 turf fields across the nation and let the Afghanis figure out if they wanted more support from the U.S. by getting the Taliban and Al Queda to calm down.

"We have to blow up those soccer fields because the U.S. is just trying to sell more Nikes, and we can't infect our nation with capitalism that makes our people happy through soccer."

Then, instead of sending more armed forces across the world, the U.S. government worked to better fund youth and high school athletics, including constructing more turf fields in every region from Alaska to South Beach. It renovated pools, built modern community centers and funded high schools so that anyone with the interest could compete on a team.

And then, when those fields in Afghanistan started producing teams, the U.S. flew some of them to the U.S. for a soccer tour.

Instead of subsidizing the U.S. military in Afghanistan, the U.S. would be subsidizing soccer in Afghanistan.

I look forward to the day when the U.S. government, as part of Memorial Day, promotes what it does to stay out of military conflict just as much as it does to honor its veterans.

The cost of war. It's a key point of so many war movies, but it never seems to get any traction with the government. And, it's not likely to in the future as long as AMC has films to showcase like "The Dirty Dozen."

Terry Porter for coach

Mon, 05/21/2012 - 6:26pm
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Remember Terry Porter?

One of the all-time greatest players in the history of the Portland Trail Blazers?

Porter once coached in the NBA, but his name has seldom been brought up as a possible coach of the Blazers, a team without a coach.

What about Terry as coach of the Blazers?

Porter has been a reporter for the Blazers, an assistant with numerous teams and a head coach in both Milwaukee and Phoenix. Currently, he's an assistant in Minnesota under coach Rick Adelman, who was his coach in Portland.

Portland's management could do a heckuva lot worse that hire Porter as head coach.

He's got a significant background in Portland as a player, experience as a head coach in the league and people love him here.

In chasing Steve Kerr to be general manager, the Blazers have established that they'd do whatever it takes to get their man as GM. What about Terry Porter as coach? He expressed interest publicly in the job last year, although only if the team came after him.

The Blazers could do a heckuva lot worse than chase after Porter as head coach, but that's kind of what they've been doing lately - a heckuva lot worse.

Fill That Opening

Mon, 05/14/2012 - 3:20pm
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The poll question on the oregonsports.com front page last week asked, “Will the Blazers have a new coach by the June 28 NBA Draft?”  In short, the answer is "no," because they may not even have a General Manager by then. 

Rumors have increased their swirls in recent weeks as candidates’ names continue to pop up.  Since Rich Cho got fired late last May, Chad Buchanan has been the acting GM, but he’s never exactly gotten a vote of confidence in public from the organization.  A month ago, Chris Mullin rumors swirled when he called back to back Blazers games for ESPN.  Steve Kerr’s name seems to come up weekly, but people seem to be ignoring the fact that Kerr is very happy with his TV gig, and loves having the freedom to be a family man, which was something he didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate during his stint in the Phoenix front office.  Atlanta’s Rick Sund’s name floated out there a few months ago, and nothing came to pass. 

Then there’s Mitch Kupchak from the Lakers and Geoff Petrie from the Kings.  Kupchak seems unlikely, but apparently his relationship with the Buss family has frayed in recent years.  Geoff Petrie has history in Portland, and a rough situation in Sacramento, where the team doesn’t know where it’s going to play in two years now that the arena deal fell through.  He used to work for the Blazers organization, and it seems Paul Allen wants to go in a new direction, so his name doesn’t carry much weight in the rumor mill.

This past week, the search has heated up, with Paul Allen conducting an interview with an unnamed candidate last Monday.  Portland announced this was in fact the third candidate they interviewed, after Steve Kerr and agent/former assistant GM Noah Croom.  They have also received permission to talk to David Morway, the Pacers GM that has successfully built the team with the fifth best record in the league from bits and pieces he picked up in the late lottery/mid first round.  Sure, Larry Bird is the architect, but that’s some pretty good on the job training Morway has received.

Morway is the best candidate name that’s come up, with his track record of rebuilding a team that was in shambles after the Malice at the Palace by drafting in similar spots to where the Blazers will be drafting for a while.  With the Pacers’ playoff run still going, don’t expect to get an answer from him, or many of the other candidates they’re considering.  There won’t be an answer before the draft lottery at the end of May, when the Blazers will know if they have one lotto pick or two, which could sweeten the deal for any prospective employee.  In the end, if Paul Allen and company are going to handcuff the GM and make the draft decisions anyway, why bother hiring one before the draft?  Seems like the position could be open for at least a bit longer.


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Lostradamus' All-NBA Ballot

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 12:53pm
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Last week, Sportsland, Oregon did an NBA playoff preview, covering first round series, awards, and All-NBA teams.  Then, Mike ‘Stats’ Donovan came on for a second episode to go deeper into All-NBA teams. 

Here are the All-NBA teams, as I would vote for them:

1st Team

F:            LeBron James

F:            Kevin Durant

C:           Dwight Howard

G:           Kobe Bryant

G:           Chris Paul

 

2nd Team

F:            Kevin Love

F:            Dirk Nowitzki

C:           Andrew Bynum

G:           Tony Parker

G:           Dwyane Wade

 

3rd Team

F:            Pau Gasol

F:            Carmelo Anthony

C:           Marc Gasol

G:           Steve Nash

G:           Russell Westbrook

 

This week, the playoff analysis continues, along with some Timbers, Derby, and Boxing talk from a great weekend of sports.  Check out Sportsland, Oregon here on oregonsports.com, recorded every Monday at 9 p.m. at Blitz in Portland's Pearl District.

 

Hawks get hosered by WHL

Thu, 05/03/2012 - 10:38am
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The awards for the Western Hockey League season were released Tuesday and they contained some startling results.

Actually, the startling point wasn't what the list did contain as what it didn't - there's no Portland Winterhawks listed. Anywhere.

Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, Defenseman of the Year, Executive of the Year, the Hawks didn't win one, or even finish second.

Of the 22 teams in the league, 14 got recognized within the 20 possible winners and runner-ups. The Hawks weren't one of them.

Last year, the Hawks were at least recognized a couple times, Sven Bartschi as runner-up for Rookie of the Year, and Mike Johnston as runner-up for Coach of the Year, on the way to the league finals.

This year, they're in the league final again, with no recognition from the league.

Ty Rattie? Player of the Week three times this season? Player of the Year?

If you look at the awards and don't see Portland there, that might give you the idea the team overperformed this season, which is not a bad way to look at the season.

Here's the award winners with Portland's top choices.


WHL Player of the Year, Four Broncos Memorial Trophy

Brendan Shinnimin (Winnipeg, MB), Tri-City Americans

RUNNER-UP: Emerson Etem (Long Beach, CA), Medicine Hat Tigers

PORTLAND: Ty Rattie or Sven Bartschi

 

WHL Rookie of the Year, Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy

 Sam Reinhart (Vancouver, BC), Kootenay Ice

RUNNER-UP: Tim Bozon (Cureglia, SUI), Kamloops Blazers

PORTLAND: Chase De Leo or Nic Petan

 

WHL Goaltender of the Year, Del Wilson Trophy

Tyler Bunz (St. Albert, AB), Medicine Hat Tigers

RUNNER-UP: Ty Rimmer (Edmonton, AB), Tri-City Americans

PORTLAND: Mac Carruth

 

WHL Defenceman of the Year, Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy

Alex Petrovic (Edmonton, AB), Red Deer Rebels

RUNNER-UP: Brenden Kichton (Spruce Grove, AB), Spokane Chiefs 

PORTLAND: Taylor Peters

 

WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player, Brad Hornung Trophy

Mark Stone (Winnipeg, MB), Brandon Wheat Kings

RUNNER-UP: Ryan Murray (White City, SK), Everett Silvertips

PORTLAND: Troy Rutkowski

 

WHL Scholastic Player of the Year, Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Memorial Trophy

Reid Gow (Killarney, MB), Spokane Chiefs

RUNNER-UP: Jimmy Bubnick (Saskatoon, SK), Calgary Hitmen

PORTLAND: Derrick Pouliot or Taylor Peters

 

WHL Coach of the Year, Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy

Jim Hiller, Tri-City Americans

RUNNER-UP: Pat Conacher, Regina Pats

 

WHL Executive of the Year, Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy

Bob Green, Edmonton Oil Kings

RUNNER-UP: Craig Bonner, Kamloops Blazers

 

WHL Humanitarian of the Year, Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Trophy

Taylor Vause (Calgary, AB), Swift Current Broncos

RUNNER-UP: Brendan Gallagher (Delta, BC), Vancouver Giants

 

WHL Marketing / Business Award

Moose Jaw Warriors

RUNNER-UP: Spokane Chiefs

 

Belated Meta Playoff Preview

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 3:16pm
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The NBA playoffs have begun, and Sportsland, Oregon presents A Belated NBA Playoff Preview Pod.  A few Game 1’s are in the books, so there’s a bit of an advantage in throwing out predictions after seeing how the series have started out.  Frankly, none of the weekend’s results have changed my opinion on how the series would end up.  Without further ado, here’s a preview of the Preview Pod.  How meta.  Or is it Metta?

WEST

Spurs – Jazz:  San Antonio rolled an over-achieving Utah squad in Game 1, and there’s no way they would lose to an 8 seed in back to back years.  Yes, the Spurs overachieved this year also, but in a less surprising way.  Spurs in 5.

Thunder – Mavs:  Dallas had a great chance to steal Game 1 against a young team without much playoff experience.  Then the Durantula stepped up.  Look for the Mavs to even the series after going home, but ultimately dropping their title defense in 6.

Lakers – Nuggs:  Speaking of overachievers, my surprise pick of the year got in as a 6 seed and had the unfortunate luck of running into the Andrew Bynum Wall 10 times.  The altitude will allow them to get one at home, but Denver doesn’t stand a chance in the long run.  Lakers in 5.

Grizzlies – Clips:  What I predicted to be the most compelling series of the first round proved true when the Clips needed a 28-3 run to close out the game and win by 1. This one will go the distance, unless this collapse psychologically ruins Memphis.  Grizz in 7.

EAST

Bulls – Sixers:  What could possibly go wrong with having your superstar albeit fragile MVP out in the last 2 minutes of a game that’s already been decided?  An ACL explosion, that’s what.  Bulls advance in 6, but their goal was a ring, and that’s not happening anymore.

Heat – Knicks:  What many expected to be a thrilling first round series featuring the two free agent superteams has the potential to become a clunker after the Game 1 rout the Miami laid down.  LBJ vs Melo will have to wait until Game 2 to Heat up (Rim Shot).  Heat in 5.

Pacers – Magic:  Orlando stole Game 1, but the overachievers from Indianapolis will prevail in the long run against a shorthanded Magic team, unless it’s a case of addition by subtraction for Dwight Howard.  Pacers in 6.

Celtics – Hawks:  I lied.  This is the only series where my opinion has changed after Game 1.  Rondo’s suspension after bumping a ref has doomed the C’s, who were experienced and peaking at a good time.  Now, the Hawks should be cruisin’ in the ATL.  Hawks in 6.

Check out an in depth discussion on the rest of the Playoffs on Sportsland, Oregon. 

NBA Playoffs 1st round predictions

Sat, 04/28/2012 - 10:38am
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Philadelphia vs Chicago Most would think this is your standard 1 vs 8 seed match-up. However the Bulls are an intriguing team, they’ve played well with and without Derrick Rose all season. I can’t remember a team winning the #1 seed after having their star player out for so long.

Now none of that changes things and the Bulls should make quick work of the 76ers.

Bulls in 5.

New York vs Miami Players might have changed but a New York/Miami playoff series still draws me in. Talk about star power you have 3 of the top 10 players in the league and 5 of the top 30. This is what you expect to see in the playoffs, just not normally in round 1.

The Knicks can pull out some games in the series but they’ll have to get great shooting performances from J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. Melo will do his thing but Amar’e needs to step it up and put on a consistent show each and every game. Even then it’s tough to envision the Knicks winning a series against the Heat.

Heat in 6.

Orlando vs Indiana Hmm well, I don’t think there’s much to say here. The Pacers are the strange team that you don’t think can win in the playoffs since their best player is Danny Granger, but they got themselves the best possible match-up.

The Magic are a deep shooting team based off Dwight Howard’s play, of course Howard isn’t playing so…not sure what they're going to do.

Pacers in 5.

Boston vs Atlanta Do the old/experienced, depending on your preference, Celtics continue their late season surge and move past the first round? Or do the surprisingly consistent Hawks, even without Harford, beat the vets?

I can see this going either way, but I think Pierce, Allen and Mr. tough guy want to show everyone that they’re not done yet.

Celtics in 6.

Dallas vs Oklahoma City A rematch of last years Western Conference Finals in team name only. The Thunder all seem to be there assuming Harden’s brain isn’t broken. The Mavs on the other hand are year older not as good defensive team and not as good at knocking down threes. But then again they seem to know what their doing in the playoffs. But, yes there’s a lot of buts, can you rely on Vince Carter? No you can’t.

Thunder in 6.

Utah vs San Antonio Ooooo, this could be a good one. The Spurs surprised everyone, not that anyone should’ve been surprised, with taking the 1 seed. They had the 1 seed last year but lost to the front line heavy Grizz. The Jazz well…have a great front line too. I like the Jazz, they have 4 real front line players, that’s 4 more than some teams.

The Spurs on the other hand, aren’t dumb and don’t tend to make the same mistakes more than once. I think they’ll learn from last year and won’t want to lose in the first round as a 1 seed two years in a row.

Spurs in 7.

Denver vs Los Angeles Lakers The Lakers are too old and they complain too much and they have a crappy coach and have an impact player out for the next six games. Denver is young and plucky and can score and can defend. Sounds like a miss match to me. Buuuuuuuutttt then again this are the Lakers with a huge front line and one of the most clutch players in history who despite playing what seems like 48 mins a game everyday for the last 10 years is playing like he found the fountain of youth.

Lakers in 6.

Los Angeles Clippers vs Memphis What? The Clippers in the playoffs? Oh yeah sorry that was my thought process the last 30 years of my life. Sure they went out and got Chris Paul and it paid off. They made the playoffs, too bad their going to get clobbered in the first round.

Memphis surprised a lot of people last year in the playoffs, but they were built for a slowdown playoff series. The difference between now and then, they added Rudy Gay back into the mix, giving them flexibility to play big or small or fast or slow.

Oh yeah, who’s Blake Griffin going to guard and not foul out?

Grizzles in 5.

Brandon Roy gives us the last great Blazer moment

Mon, 04/23/2012 - 7:59pm
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It seems strange to be talking about Game 4 of a playoff series, but the NBA lockout has caused the 2012 regular season to bleed into what would normally be the middle of the first round of best-of-seven series. But that doesn't matter, what matters is today April 23, 2012 is the one year anniversary of the last great Trail Blazer moment and what would turn out to be the last great performance of one of Portland's all-time greats.

After a January knee surgery, Brandon Roy was regulated to minimal minutes and a bench role. The one time savior of the of Game 4 showed us what we all missed.

Thanks to Pinwheel Empire for the video.

Roy’s moment.

I listened to excerpts of Brian Wheeler's call today and couldn't help but get chills. This happens sometimes to sports fans, whether it's a timely Kirk Gibson home run or a Miracle on Ice.

After that euphoric feeling I thought, "Wait, that was only a year ago?" That seemed strange to me. Think about what has happened since then. Roy only played in two more games for the Blazers then retired after another proposed pillar of the franchise, Greg Oden, had his umpteenth knee surgery and was cut from the team to find room for trade-away castoffs. And then Nate McMillan was fired mid-season.

Not only has the team changed dramatically in one year, more upheaval is on the way.

It may be a long time before Blazer fans have something like Brandon Roy and and his fourth quarter again. Thanks Brandon.

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