I’m convinced of the Timber’s capacity to become a “trailblazing” team in the MLS landscape and to even win the MLS within five years. You’re probably very likely to believe I’m crazy after watching the last four Timbers’ games, but hear me out.
The reason for my optimism is the fact that they have a solid foundation to build upon; professional infrastructure and a sold-out house every home game. Soccer is all about the fans. Thus remains the question; how far does the Timber fans’ loyalty go?
The current squad does not match up with the level of their fans, as I stated in my earlier post (http://footballtourette.com/2012/07/13/my-mls-experience-part-1-party-in-portland/). But while the team still left a decent impression against San José, it seems like things have only gone from bad to worse afterwards.
Firing coach Spencer didn’t lead to any improvement whatsoever and this musn’t come as a surprise. Firing a coach halfway through the season only shows that the pre-season homework wasn’t done right. Therefore it rarely changes anything unless you bring in a “big boy” as shock therapy or you have players on the bench waiting to get their shot, and then take it. Neither thing happened for the Timbers.
Dwelling about past games is of no use and I think that coach Wilkinson and his players have discussed it enough. Now it is time for board and management to move – and most of all think – forward. At least, so it seems to me. Where does owner Merritt Paulson want to take his team?
In my humble opinion, it’s time for a new approach. Play-offs seem unreachable but luckily for the Timbers, the MLS doesn’t have relegation. So no need to worry, right? Use the rest of the season to prepare for the upcoming one. How? Allow me to make two suggestions.
Suggestion One: Invest full-on in an efficient Youth Academy.
The Timbers need an academy that produces players who, between the age of 18 and 20, are able to start in the line-up. This way, guided by a few more experienced players and given the chance to play for 20,000 amazing home fans, they will develop further and maybe get to be sold to a European team and succeed over there. Once your reputation is made, you will attract more, better and most of all, hungry and ambitious players.
Bring in staff -technical and medical- that has experience with this and is willing to participate in the project. Is the appointment of new assistant-coach Sean McAuley a first step towards that direction? Hopefully, but it will take more than that. Installing a nation-wide scouting team that detects players before they’re twelve years old and that brings them, and if necessary their parents, over will be necessary too.
Portland is a city of innovation. They want to be different and more progressive than the rest of the country. Why not be different in soccer as well? Try to be more progressive here, it seems to me that the board’s current approach is quite conservative. I’ll explain myself in my second suggestion.
Suggestion Two: Leave the Anglo-Saxon trail.
I don’t wish to offend anybody but soccer has also been played outside of Great Britain for a long time. Scandinavians and northern Europeans are fluent in English, so communication shouldn’t be a problem.
Besides this, I’m also convinced that soccer in Britain is on the way down. The Premiership teams only survive through foreign investors and their key players are often from continental Europe or South-America. The Scottish League is of very poor level and thrives merely on a reputation from a few decades ago. Where are the great British players?
So maybe this is a good time for the Timbers’ board to consider bringing in know-how and experience from somewhere else and if I may propose something; why not Belgium?
You guys already love Belgian beer, Belgian chocolates, Belgian waffles and Belgian-style fries … I think you could get to like Belgian soccer as well. I think Belgians could also really like it here. Don’t worry about the weather, we’re used to rain and wind. Besides, the MLS is off in wintertime.
Belgian teams are on their way up in Europe (slowly, as to be expected from my countrymen). They’re financially healthy in a economically struggling world and perform exactly up to standards according to their budgets. European topteams have discovered this and all have young Belgian players in their ranks. The Seattle Sounders only recently found out how good Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne (all Belgian players) from Chelsea really are. And there is more where that came from …
Belgian coaches are also making a name for themselves in other continents as Africa and mainly the Middle-East (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE). There are good Belgian coaches available on the market. Interesting names for Merritt Paulson to contact might be Glen De Boeck or Tom Saintfiet.
Optimizing a Youth Academy costs time and money before you can reap what you sow. Maybe the Timbers could make an agreement with my favourite team, Club Bruges, to fill that time. They have talented young players who have a hard time getting in the line-up because of the fierce competition and pressure. Why not loan them out to the Timbers?
They could grow at Jeld Wen Field, and at the same time increase the level of the Timbers and inspire the Youth Academy players. So the current gap can be closed without losing level, but more likely increasing the level. Bruges can offer these players an experience abroad in a competition that is of the level of the teams they would send them to otherwise, but where they would rarely play for 20,000 people.
In my opinion this would create a win-win situation for both parties. Isn’t that what constructive business is all about? Soccer is big businnes …