Thursday, August 26, 2010
NSC Minnesota Stars – Portland Timbers FC (21-08-2010)
Living in Indiana, I have few chances to see my Timbers play. In fact, one of the closest USSF Division-2 Pro League teams is NSM Minnesota Stars, which plays in Blaine, a suburb of Minneapolis. Rather than driving the 600 miles (960 km) direct, I took a detour through Grand Rapids, Michigan (to see the Danish metal band Volbeat rock The Intersection). After meeting my old Romanian friend R. in Minneapolis, where we had an excellent burger at Matt’s Bar, we drove to the National Sports Center (NSC).
We arrived almost an hour before kick-off and were impressed by the number of cars on the huge parking lot in front of the complex. We soon found out that the small groups of people tailgating were the only soccer fans; the rest were there for hockey and other sports on the self-proclaimed “world's largest amateur sports and meeting facility”. We walked to the ticket office and bought a (pathetic) ‘ticket’ for $13 plus tax (the first time I have to pay tax on a game ticket).
We entered the stadium and took a place in the shade, as it was a warm Saturday evening, though not very humid. At that moment only some 2-300 people were in the stadium, mostly families with young kids. I couldn’t hear the official number during the game, but I did understand that this was the highest attendance of the season (with only one more home game to go!). This is very disappointing for a Second Division team, as I doubt that there were more than 2.000 people in the stadium that evening. On the upside, the crowd was pretty multicultural.
Given the fact that Portland is 1.730 miles (2.785 km) away from Minneapolis, I wasn’t surprised to be the only Timbers fan in the stadium. However, I later found out that there were three more: one local, and two who had flown to Minnesota for the game. Respect! Allegedly, they were hiding among the Minnesota ‘ultras’.
The game started pretty poor: Minnesota pressured and Portland disappointed. Overall the passing was slow and bad. R. started to complain, feeling vindicated in his opinion that US soccer is not worth watching (even though we used to go regularly to Hungarian games, which were often not much better). Around the 20th minute Minnesota put a good pass in the box, but the direct shot was saved by the goalie.
It would take until the end of the first half for the Timbers to finally create some kind of chance. Around the 40th minute the Portland striker turns away from two defenders and shoots at the goalie. Two minutes later a Stars player runs at the goalie, pressured by two Timbers defenders, and shoots at the goalie. Half time score: 0-0.
The second half remains poor, but at least Suzuki entered the game for the Timbers. The old Japanese midfielder shows more class than all other players together, even if he also quickly disappears into mediocrity. There are two contested moments. In the 48th minute Suzuki is fouled from behind in the box, but gets no penalty. Two minutes later a Timbers defender stops the ball with his hand in the box, and again no penalty.
In the 67th minute the Timbers striker goes alone at the goal and absolutely clearly goes for the penalty. The goalie did lightly touch him, but the striker should have gone for the goal. Anyway, the Timbers did get a penalty and converted it: 0-1. Although this opened up the game a bit, the quality of play remained very low. The only notable chance led to two great saves by the Minnesota goalie.
Portland’s sneaky 0-1 win was not necessarily undeserved, but didn’t take away from a bad game. If the Timbers want to make any impact on the MLS next season, they need almost an entirely new team. Then again, at least soccer is well grounded in Portland. In Minnesota, the Stars seem destined for the same fate as the Minnesota Thunder, which folded last year.