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Blazers heading for disastrous season

Portland needs a run of wins, and fast
By Cliff Pfenning

What a difference five months makes in the NBA, at least in the Western Conference.

Heading into the final game of a six-game road trip Monday in Chicago, the Portland Trail Blazers are 5-12 overall and carrying a four-game losing streak. That's good for 14th in the 15-team Western Conference, which puts the Blazers ahead of only one other squad- the Golden State Warriors at 3-14.

Golden State and Portland played in the conference final in June, with the Warriors winning in four games to reach their fifth consecutive NBA Final.

Injuries and roster changes have depleted both squads, but the Blazers seemed more likely to survive and contend for a playoff spot for the seventh consecutive year.

Even the recent addition of longtime NBA veteran Carmelo Anthony hasn't affected the team's results, as indicated by the 110-104 loss at Cleveland Saturday, the Cavaliers entering the game with only four wins themselves.

Damial Lilard and CJ McCollum seem to be carrying their weight in the backcourt, averaging 50 points per game between them. Anthony, after a year off from the game, has averaged 13 points per game in three starts. But, the stats and solid individual games just have not combined enough to turn into wins.

Portland's signature win so far, 115-109 at San Antonio Nov. 16, started the road trip with some hope as the team reached 5-8. But they got routed at Houston the following game and have not put together four solid quarters since.

The Blazers have a very key stretch starting Wednesday when they return to the Moda Center for four straight home games against teams that are all .500 or worse this season. Those teams include Minnesota, which is No. 8 in the conference just 3.5 games ahead of Portland.

 

 

Timbers, Thorns made some memories

Portland got an entertainment overload this year
By Cliff Pfenning

In early May, Brian Fernandez arrived at Portland International Airport and was greeted by an anonymous person, who stood next to him, lit up with a big smile and had someone take a photo of them together. 

Fernandez, a 24-year-old Argentinian, had just been signed by the Portland Timbers from his team in Mexico’s Liga MX, wore a long-sleeve shirt, faded jeans, and hat and had a guarded look on his face as if to say, “who are you? And are with the team?” 

Then more people showed up for photos, and then more. As the photos progressed, Fernandez seemed to figure out these were fans and he just landed in a hotspot of soccer fandom - and his face lit up, too. Soon, Fernandez started showing up on social media with a beaming smile when anyone noticed him and asked for a selfie. And, why not? Portland loved him and he performed.

Fernandez had one of the all-time great introductions to a new team starting slightly more than a week later. Having arrived on May 6 after the team paid an estimated $10 million for his rights, he scored his first goal May 15 after being inserted late in the match at Houston. Then, he scored again - twice - in the next match, and again in the next match. Fernandez scored in this first five Major League Soccer matches, something that had not been done since the league began in 1996, and added scores in two US Open Cup matches giving him nine goals in his first seven appearances in a Timbers kit.

Portland vaulted from being just a team to a contender for another trip to a league final, something it did just last year. But, then all the optimism came crashing down. Fernandez stopped scoring in every game and ended the season in substance-abuse rehab. Emotional sideline outbursts lit up social media, as did rumors of contract negotiations. And, of course, there was the Iron Front, which led the Timbers Army into a national discussion of civil liberties. That was the Timbers.

The Thorns, the women’s side of the franchise, were equally dramatic starting with the Women’s World Cup. The team had four players on the winning US side, which vaulted into nation attention for its success and dispute with USA Soccer over equal pay with the much-less successful men’s team. 

Portland led the National Women’s Soccer League for much of the season and seemed headed for another trip to a final and third league title when suddenly it stopped scoring, and closed out its season with a half-hearted loss in the first round of the playoffs.

Both the Timbers and Thorns lost their first playoff match and had their seasons close out this past weekend. As the playoffs head toward crowning league champions, Portland fans will only be able to follow from afar. And yet, it was not a boring year. 

The 2019 season might have been the most memorable, at least in terms of story-telling, since the franchise initially arrived in 1975 and led fans to claim the monicker of “Soccer City, USA.” In fact, that 1975 team was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in September.

If the goal of a sports team is entertainment, the 2019 season for the Timbers and Thorns might be the most entertaining for any team that’s not going to win a league title. Fernandez arrived, Diego Chara finally played in a league All-Star Game, Diego Valeri reached the 70-70 mark and Steve Clark played stellar in goal in a season that started with 12-straight road matches. And the Thorns had the thrill of the World Cup and an early-season rise to the top of the league in spite of all those road matches only to slide in a historic level.

And, there was the Iron Front.

It all started March 2 in Denver, where so much snow landed on the field the second half had to be stopped to dig out the lines so everyone could see where the field ended. The match started at 18 degrees - the coldest in league history. Portland led 3-2 and had a man advantage in extra time, but the Rapids scored to force a 3-3 draw leading Timbers fans to snap their fingers and think what could have been with just a little more defense. 

The Denver result was a huge missed opportunity because the team lost its next five matches and was at the bottom of the league with just one point after six weeks.

The switch to Clark in goal seemed to start a turnaround. Portland won its next three matches as rumors of the Fernandez deal swirled across the land. Then he landed and the franchise really took off and the team rose to as high as No. 5 in some weekly power rankings. And then they started playing at home after the $85 million expansion of Providence Park finally finished up. Fans in the Timbers Army began arriving at the stadium half a day ahead of matches to be allowed in an extra 30 minutes early, continuing the city’s love affair with the franchise. All those home matches, though - 17 of the remaining 22, led to a thought of the players becoming complacent. The Army wasn’t complacent.

With politics sweeping the nation ahead of the 2020 Election, the league’s ban on political signage hit the Army due to its support of a symbol from 1930s Germany. The Iron Front, three arrows pointing downward diagonally, represented a group that opposed facist Nazis until 1933. The symbol, being waved on flags across the North end of the stadium, drew the league’s ire, especially after politicians in Washington starting deeming anti-facists as terrorists because of the violence that often erupted when they showed up to events organized by White Nationalists.  

With the team, somewhat incredibly, banning fans from matches, all manners of protests were tossed about on social media, from just not showing up, to walking out, to not purchasing concessions. Eventually, it turned into a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the Aug. 23 match with rival Seattle, which included Seattle fans. Being televised by FOX, the stadium had never been as quiet. 

A month later, the league relented and eased its policy on fan support to allow for the Iron Front.

The protest received national attention, but it also received on-field attention as the team lost 2-1 and social media lit up because owner Merritt Paulson apparently cussed the fans out - linking the protest to the loss. 

The Timbers were potentially headed for as high as second place in the Western Conference, but a late-season collapse halted that dream. Portland finished the season with one win and three draws in its last six matches - just six points of a possible 18, and missed second place by just seven points, falling all the way to six instead.

A 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake ended the season, Oct. 19.

Still, Chara, perhaps the team’s most revered player, played in his first All-Star Game in his ninth season in the league.

Valeri, the league’s MVP just two seasons ago, reached the level of 70 goals and 70 assists, becoming only the ninth player in league history to accomplish that feat. 

And, Clark, who started the season as the back-up to Jeff Attinella, had two entries on the online Save of the Year ballot - the lone keeper to have two entries.

The original Timbers, the 1975 squad of 17 primarily British players that reached the NASL final in its inaugural season, received a spot in the Hall, Sept. 24. The five members on hand for the ceremony at the Multnomah Athletic Club, noted the season was highly memorable for the fan support - two playoff crowds topped 30,000 fans, and the length of the season - 10 weeks by their memories. The regular season actually lasted 14 weeks, May 2 through August 9 for a 22-match schedule. To save money, the team’s East Coast road swing lasted nine days: four matches in nine days, including matches in Hartford, Conn., and Boston on consecutive days (played before crowds of 2,582 and 1,518, respectively).

The Thorns set an attendance record for their 2019 campaign, closing with an average of 20,098 fans per game - better than more than half of MLS teams. The World Cup buzz might have had something to do with that as four of the team’s starters: Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnet and Adrianna Franch, helping the US win the Cup, closing with a 2-0 win over The Netherlands, July 7. 

The Thorns had five other players in the tournament as well, including team captain Christine Sinclair.

Portland opened the season with its bevy of international players and scored eight goals in its first three matches before the World Cup called for talent at the start of May. The Thorns had three wins, a pair of draws and just one loss in the six road matches it played before opening at home, June 2, with a 3-0 win over Chicago. With 11 of its remaining 17 matches at home, the team was on fire.

When the US starters returned for a July 24 home match with Houston, magic erupted in a 5-0 victory before 22,329 fans. The Thorns closed out August with a 3-0 home win over Chicago and had 10 wins, six draws and only three losses for the season. Then, the goals ended. 

Over the remaining six weeks, the Thorns scored just one goal and managed to rack up only four points in the standings from a potential 15. Meanwhile, North Carolina, the defending league champion, won eight of its final nine matches, a stretch that included a 6-0 win over Portland, and finished first in the league standings for the third consecutive year.

With a 1-0 loss at Chicago, Sunday, the season came to a halt, leading into much-needed discussion of the future of the women’s game. In the NWSL, that includes league sponsors (Budweiser became the official beer sponsor), media rights and expansion franchises, one of which is due for Louisville, Ky., in 2021. And, the US women’s team salaries.

Put altogether, FC Portland had a truly memorable year, without winning a title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thorns show off home magic

Portland handles Chicago 3-0 before Providence Park faithful
Staff report

Portland's NWSL return to Providence Park could hardly have gone better in front of a raucous, sun-drenched crowd of 19,461 fans Sunday afternoon with the Thorns beating the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 to move into second place.

Playing without nearly half of its regular rotation due to the upcoming World Cup, Portland got a pair of goals from Midge Purse and one from Simone Charley to improve to 4-1-2, 14 points. The season began with six road games.

Thorns fans can watch for four team members on the U.S. National Team - midfielders Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, defender Emily Sonnet, and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, as well as Christine Sinclair playing for the Canadian side. In addition, Ellie Carpenter is with the Australian side and Andressinha is playing for Brazil.

The World Cup begins Friday with the league taking a week off for the opening round. Portland next plays at North Carolina, June 15, and again in Portland June 21 against Utah.

 

 

 

Timbers energize the Rose City

It's a 3-2 loss to LAFC, but Portland shows off to the world
Staff report

After three months and 12 games on the road, the Portland Timbers finally played in front of home fans and didn't disappoint other than on the scoreboard.

With mid-season signee Brian Ferenandez scoring his fourth goal of the season, the Timbers pushed Los Angeles FC all the way to a sideline rumble during second-half added time before dropping a 3-2 decision before 25,218 fans at remodeled Providence Park.

Fernandez scored on a bicycle kick in the 84th minute in front of the Timbers Army as the team rallied from a two-goal deficit for the second time. Cristhian Paredes scored Portland's first goal in the first minute of the second half to cut a 2-0 deficit in half. LA then scored in minute 54 to advance to 3-1.

Carlos Vela opened the scoring in the sixth minute, taking an errant pass from Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella and firing it past him for his league-leading 16th goal of the season. LA added a goal by Diego Rossi in the 34th minute.

The match was the second victory for LAFC between the teams, although the first one finished off 4-1 in March in LA. With Fernandez leading the effort, the Timbers appeared as a different team, especially playing from behind.

Portland has 11 days off before its next contest at Seattle in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. The Timbers play at home again June 22 against Houston.

 

Portland celebrates in the sun

Late goal by Blanco beats Seattle, scores fourth-straight win
Staff report

The hottest day of the year turned into the hottest ticket of the year, and the Portland Timbers didn't disappoint Sunday.

With a stellar connection between Samuel Armenteros and Sebastian Blanco and simple chip from 10 yards away to provide the scoring in the 86th minute, the Timbers won their fourth-consecutive game of the MLS Season, with three of them at Providence Park in front of the 21,444 screaming masses.

Blanco's goal was his team-leading fifth of the season, and made a positive memory of what was largely a bland meeting of the franchises for the 100th time, historically, through the NASL, USL and now MLS. The bitter rivals managed just 15 shots combined in the match, and only three were on target - each goalkeeper made just one save.

Jeff Attinella recorded his third-consecutive shutout for Portland.

Portland moved into a tie for fourth in the Western Converence at 14 points after having started the season with just two through five games. The Timbers are also one of four teams in the league without a loss at home, although only one has played fewer home games - DC United, which has played at home just twice in advance of opening a new stadium in two months.

The win was the first step in the Cascadia Cup, as well, between the teams.

Portland next plays host to FC Los Angeles, which is second in the West with 20 points and recently opened its own stadium near the Los Angeles Coliseum.

 

 

Thorns draw with Houston

Portland readies for home match against Orlando Saturday
Staff report

Forward Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic recorded her first goal of the season and helped the Portland Thorns earn a 1-all draw at Houston Wednesday night in NWSL action.

Portland improved to a tie for fourth place with the Orlando, which will play at Providence Park Satuday at 12:30 p.m. The game is set to be carried on Lifetime.

Crnogocevic's goal came in the 25th minute and was her first in the league since joining the team from Germany's FFC Frankfurt. At 27, she is the leading goal scorer for the Swiss national team and led her German side to the 2015 UEFA Champions League title.

Houston tied the match in the 57th minute. The Thorns dominated much of the match, holding possession of the ball for nearly 70 percent of the 90 minutes and attempting 541 passes - more than double those of the Dash. But, even with completing more than 80 percent of their passes, the team managed just four shots on goal.

Christine Sinclair recorded an assist on the lone Thorns goal, which was her 10th assist with the team.

 

Timbers ready for Sounders challenge

The 100th meeting between two of America's top rivals is Sunday
Staff report

It's a match for the ages set for Sunday at Providence Park: Timbers vs. Sounders.

The 100th meeting between the two clubs - starting in their NASL days - will begin at 1 p.m., with fans of the Seattle Sounders having been ushered in more than an hour ahead of Portland's army of fans.

Of course, Portland's diehard fanbase will have begun showing up at least two days prior in order to secure their treasured spots within the Army's section 107.

The match's historic nature spawned a video entitled "The Rivalry" that even got a response on Twitter from Ken Burns.

Both teams worked their way into the Major Lleague Soccer's history book in the recent past with Portland winning the MLS Cup in 2015 and Seattle winning the following year. This season, though, has been a challenge for both teams as the Timbers managed just two points through the opening five games - all on the road, and the Sounders managing just five points in its first seven games.

Sunday's match, though, will feature teams riding on optimism. The Sounders won their match Wednesday in Toronto against the league champion from last season, while the Timbers have won their past three games to move into a tie for sixth and just two points from third in the Western Conference.

 

Timbers, Thorns eye weekend goals

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Both teams play another round of road games - as doubleheader
Staff report

The Portland Timbers and Thorns are preparing for a rare event in professional sports these days - a doubleheader.

Both teams play in Chicago Saturday at Toyota Park, the home field for both the Fire and Red Stars. Saturdays matches are set for 3 p.m. for the Timbers and Fire, followed by the Thorns and Red Stars at 5:15.

It's the only doubleheader of the season, and first of its kind for both Portland teams.

The Timbers head into the match with a point after a 1-all tie at Dallas Saturday, a match in with the team saw its first red card of the season handed out to Lawrence Olum after a pair of yellows. The draw was the first season point for new coach Giovani Savarese.

The Thorns opened their season with a 1-0 loss at the North Carolina Courage, a match that saw goalkeeper Andriana French produce what turned into the Save of the Week via the NWSL website.

The Thorns have two weeks off after Saturday to prepare for their home opener, April 15.

The Timbers continue their season April 8 at Orlando City before returning for their home opener, April 14.

 

 

Beavers prep for Baylor rematch

4CAST: NCAA Tourney, Hawks, Timbers, Thorns, Pac-12
Staff report

The NCAA Tournament established game times for the Sweet 16 Tuesday, and Oregon State got a 4 p.m. slot against second-ranked Baylor in Lexington, Ky.

Oregon will play Central Michigan Saturday at 3 p.m. in Spokane, Wash.

Baylor is 33-1, while OSU is 25-7, but has a 3-0 record against the Bears all-time. The Beavers beat Baylor in 2016 to advance to the Final Four for the first time. It's the third-straight year OSU has reached the Sweet 16.

Oregon heads for the Sweet 16 for the second-straight year after advancing to the Elite 8 last year. The Ducks are 32-4, while Central Michigan is 30-4.

2. WINTERHAWKS HEADED FOR PLAYOFFS

The 72-game regular season came to a close with a 5-4 loss to Spokane Sunday for the Portland Winterhawks, but the season begins anew Saturday. Portland, which finished the regular season at 44-22-1-5 for 94 points, plays the Chiefs in a seven-game series with the first two games in Portland Saturday and Sunday.

The Hawks-Chiefs series is one of eight that starts the first round of the WHL Playoffs. The winner will advance to the Memorial Cup, which will be played for the 100th time this year.

3. TIMBERS/THORNS EYE LEAGUE PLAY

The Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers return to the pitch Saturday with league matches. The Thorns, who drew with Houston 0-0 Saturday at Merlo Field, open NWSL play at North Carolina Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Portland won its second NWSL title last season.

The Timbers, 0-2 in MLS action, play at Houston Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Portland has scored just once in its two games, and is looking for its first win under new coah Giovanni Savarese.

4. PAC-12 SOFTBALL, BASEBALL

In Pac-12 softball, Sixth-ranked Oregon is 25-5 heading for a weekend off before a three-game series with rival Oregon State March 29-31 in Corvallis.

Oregon State recovered from a 12-0 loss Saturday to beat Cal 8-3 Sunday and earn a 2-1 series win in Corvallis. Oregon State is 19-10 heading into a three-game series at UCLA Friday.

In Pac-12 baseball, top-ranked Oregon State is 18-1 on the year, matching the 1951, 1962, 2013 and 2017 teams for the best record through 19 games. OSU has won 13 consecutive Pac-12 games dating back to the 2016 season. The Beavers start a three-game series with Washington on Friday.
 
In other Pac-12 action, Oregon starts a three-game series with Cal starting Friday. Oregon is 8-2 at home this season.

Blazers look to next streak

After Houston loss, Portland has more key games ahead
Staff report

The win streak is over, but it certainly put the Portland Trail Blazers on the map of teams to watch for as possible title contenders.

Next up is Boston.

James Harden scored 42 points, including a pair of 3s down the stretch, and the Houston Rockets snapped the Blazers’ 13-game winning streak with a 115-111 victory on Tuesday night before a rowdy crowd at the Moda Center.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the league for a reason,” Portland’s Damian Lillard said afterward. “We’ve just got to make a few more plays and make a few more shots if we want to beat a team like that.”

Portland’s winning streak was tied for the second-longest in franchise history. The team also won 13 consecutive games in 2007.

Al-Farouq Aminu had 22 points, including six 3-pointers, for Portland. The Blazers had also won nine straight at the Moda Center before the loss.

Jusef Nurkic had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Lillard added 20 for the Blazers. But, Lillard’s backcourt mate C.J. McCollum had just six points on 4-of-15 shooting, and combined with Lillard to miss all 12 of their 3-point shots combined - easily their worst performance of the season.

And, yet, Portland lost by just four to drop to 44-27 overall.

Chris Paul added 22 points for the Rockets, who have won six straight and 23 of their last 24 and have the best record in the NBA at 57-17.

Boston is second in the Eastern Conference at 48-23, 4.5 games behind Toronto, which is 53-19.

 

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