A relatively new club, a soccer specific stadium and supporters and an atmosphere that is the envy of many in the league. Yes, as TFC fans get to process yet another big change in momentum, another desperate price freeze and an open flirtation with bringing in the Argos, we get a timely glimpse of what might have been with a trip to Portland.
There are plenty of similarities on the field as well to TFC's early days, a struggling team, a British coach that didn't work out, and plenty of big moves that didn't work out, Kennys Cooper and Boyd for example, and a readiness to make big trades, and now here they are in their 3rd year, wobbling towards a possible playoff spot. For their sake, I hope it goes better from here than it did for TFC.
A big part of that of course will be picking up the easy points, and really, if you've got any pretensions of being a playoff club, TFC at home has to be considered the easy points. So there's a very obvious motivation for the Timbers to do well and claim their first ever win against the Reds.
For TFC, well it should be interesting to see what happens given the happenings back in Toronto this week. If reports that Kevin Payne pissed off a lot of the players are true, then we might reasonably expect a 'ding dong, the witch is dead' spring in their step, a new joie de vivre in their play. Also, if Leiweke is to be believed, then Ryan Nelsen's influence on the club's future has never been higher, the highest up 'football man' in the organisation as he awaits his new boss. Here's all the players' chance to impress him, to show him that they can be part of the next regime, that he should go to bat for them with the new guy when their future employment status gets reviewed. Nelsen's no lame duck coach who can be tuned out in the knowledge that he'll be out as well as soon as the new guy gets settled in. Personally I don't think Leiweke is to be believed, that his strong statements backing Nelsen were merely to get that message into the players for the rest of the season (at least I'd hope the new guy will have the chance to make his own decision), but hopefully it has at least put enough doubt in their head that they won't be shifting into cruise control for the rest of the season.
We interrupt the writing of this article to bring the news that Tom Anselmi has 'resigned' as COO of MLSE. He's already of course been out of the picture with TFC for a long time, to both parties relief I'm sure, and really this isn't going to affect anything at all, but he certainly had a large impact on the shitshow that is TFC and just how it got to this stage. So, despite all the nice things that a surprising amount of people seem to have to say about what a good guy he was, and despite the fact that I'm sure he got a more than generous golden handshake out of it all so probably isn't hurting that much, I'll take some time to do some revelling.
At some point surely, one of MLSE's teams is going to have some success somewhere, I'm thrilled that Anselmi won't be around to bask in the glory. Good riddance.
Anyway, moving on. Talking of proving points and impressing Nelsen, the absence of Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio and, erm, Kyle Bekker on Canada duty will of course give the chance for some new blood to get in the team and show they belong. The defensive replacements seem obvious enough, starting with Gale Agbossoumonde alongside Steven Caldwell instead of Henry. I think Agbossoumonde did ok in the appearances he got early on, it came as a bit of a surprise that Henry supplanted him, so hopefully he'll take his chance in these upcoming games and show he should be around next year. Meanwhile at left back, Jonas Elmer will finally get his chance to show us what he can do, is he worth the biggish money splashed out on him?
Jonathan Osorio's midfield spot is more up for grabs, with a few underwhelming options, Darel Russell or maybe Michael Thomas seem the obvious options alongside Jeremy Hall as I can't imagine this would be the moment Ryan Nelsen decides to go with something more ambitious.
Nelsen seems to like Reggie Lambe, and to be fair he's looked a bit better in the last couple of games, so it wouldn't surprise me if he keeps his spot, with Alvaro Rey once again on the bench.
Up front, is Maximiliano Urruti finally fit enough to start and get some serious time in, or will we once again have to go with the underwhelming Robert Earnshaw and Andrew Wiedeman combo? It's been over a year now, so the mature thing to do would be to give up with the 'greatest finishers in the modern era' gags. Maturity's not this blog's style though so don't hold your breath for the lame jokes to stop, but Wiedeman has been doing quite well this season when he's got the chance, and yes it is his finishing ability that sticks out. Despite Earnshaw's goalscoring record over the years, at this point, if only one of them does get the start alongside Urruti, or god help us Justin Braun, I'd hope it's Wiedeman. TFC are unlikely to generate many chances, and I genuinely think he's our best bet to find the net.
It should be interesting to see exactly what happens to the players Payne brought in in the transfer window. Are Urruti, Rey, Elmer et al examples of what Leiweke and Nelsen feel is the wrong direction that Payne was going in? Whether they get playing time with the depleted squad for the next two or 3 games should give an indication of that.
Portland of course have their own international callups to deal with, Ryan Johnson won't be there to score against his former club, and neither will Donovan Ricketts, which means we will get to see a Milos Kocic vs Joe Bendik battle in goal. Kocic's one game this season saw a gaffe similar to what we occasionally saw from him at TFC, gifting the opposition a goal, hopefully he can do the same here.
They didn't lose Will Johnson to Canada, presumably due to the injury he had, though there's a good chance he's probably recovered well enough from it to play in this game, which would be perfect, he's had a big impact for the Timbers as has Diego Valeri. If either, or both of them are fit to go, then they should cause TFC plenty of problems.
It really doesn't matter for TFC, and all the recent upheaval and the international call-ups give ready made excuses for a poor effort. Hopefully instead we get a re-energised bunch ready to try and impress. I actually think that could happen, and that might be enough to get a scrappy and uninspiring point out of this one, I'll guess 1-1.