On Soccer: Portland Timbers not about star power
The buzz around Major League Soccer over the weekend was LAFC adding Gareth Bale, the Welsh superstar who helped Real Madrid to five European Champions League titles in his nine years at the Spanish powerhouse.
Bale is (so far) the flashiest player among several significant additions to MLS in the July 7 through Aug. 4 summer transfer window.
Bale, who turns 33 in July, has been a star since bursting onto the scene with London's Tottenham Hotspur more than a decade ago. Of course, he won't have Cristiano Ronaldo as a running mate like he did for years with Real Madrid, but this is another splashy acquisition for MLS in a market that needs splash.
Reports are that Bale agreed to a one-year contract with an option for an additional 18 months. He comes to Los Angeles on a free transfer since he was out of contract at Madrid.
The expected arrival of Bale and center back Giorgio Chiellini, a former Italy captain, in the summer transfer window is a case of the MLS rich getting richer. LAFC has the best record in MLS through 16 games, and upgraded an already strong attack.
But, how effective Bale and Chiellini will be remains to be seen. Bale's focus this summer will certainly be on preparing for the World Cup. He has captained Wales to its first World Cup in 64 years — it opens Nov. 11 against the United States. Bale needs to play to be in game shape for the World Cup, but figures to balance that with managing the rigors of travel in MLS.
Chiellini, at 37, isn't in his prime. But the presence of such a decorated veteran on the roster is significant.
In Portland, meanwhile, no splashy additions are anticipated. We are not a destination for world superstars. And MLS big-market teams need star power to attract eyeballs.
Still, it's natural to dream, and perhaps be a bit frustrated, to watch other MLS teams acquire proven talent — particularly given the struggles the Timbers have experienced in the first half of the 2022 season.
The 3-0 win over Colorado on Saturday, June 25 was encouraging — at least the second half of the match when Portland played with a confidence rarely seen this season.
The performance had to be a confidence boost for forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who pumped in two goals, the first an exquisite play where he controlled a well-played long ball from defender Bill Tuiloma with his chest and finished with authority.
Coach Giovanni Savarese, himself a former striker, said it's vital that forwards play with confidence, not feeling pressure to score every time they touch the ball.
"He looked comfortable in his runs, in his holding, in the way he connected. I mean, the goal was a special goal," Savarese said after Saturday's win. "This is the Jaro that we know."
The coach said the same thing about Eryk Williamson, who in the second half against Colorado looked for the first time like the player who helped the United States win the Gold Cup tournament last summer before injuring his knee. If Williamson can start to consistently play with such vibrance, it not only will help the Timbers playoff chances, but perhaps give the 25-year-old a shot at making the United States' World Cup roster.
Welcome back Steve Clark — When Houston visits Providence Park on Wednesday, June 29 (7:30 p.m., FOX 12 Plus), it will likely mark the return of goalkeeper Steve Clark. Portland's No. 1 keeper the previous three seasons left in free agency after the MLS Cup loss in December.
The athletic reaction saves Aljaz Ivacic has produced — including four needed stops against Colorado — explain why Portland decided it was time to turn the job over to the 28-year-old Slovenian. But Clark, 36, deserves what figures to be a warm reception from fans and former teammates — until the game starts.
Another Chara milestone — Diego Chara became only the second player in MLS history to be shown 100 regular-season yellow cards. No. 100 came in the first half against Colorado. He joins now retired Kyle Beckerman on that distinguished list.
Yes, 100 is a big number of cautions. But it speaks more about Chara's longevity than about his playing style. OK, yes, he is not shy about going in for a strong challenge. But, in his position, that is a job requirement.
Chara is a player who will be the standard by which all defensive midfielders will be judged for years to come — not only in Portland, but in all of MLS.
It's Sophia Smith's time — While world-class superstars aren't likely to join the Timbers, Portland soccer fans do have superstars to cheer.
Sophia Smith, for example.
In her return to her home state of Colorado on June 25, Smith scored twice for the United States in a 3-0 win over Columbia. Counting her two previous appearances with the Thorns, it was the third consecutive two-goal game for Smith. She now has five goals for the United States in 2022, and her eight for the Thorns are second in the National Women's Soccer League.
By the time you read this, Smith may have added to that tally. The United States played another friendly with Colombia on Tuesday, June 28.
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