TIMELY VICTORY

Portland Timbers raise the trophy after defeating the Columbus Crew 2-1 in the MLS Cup championship soccer game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio.
Associated Press / Paul Vernon

The Portland Timbers are a most worthy MLS champion! The five-year-old MLS franchise won its first ever title, MLS Cup, in dramatic fashion, when it defeated host Columbus Crew, 2-1, at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 6.

The title went to a team that is one of the oldest in North American soccer; the Timbers franchise was a member of the old NASL (North American Soccer League) and in its first year in that league, it advanced to the title game, the Soccer Bowl, in 1975, eventually losing to the Tampa Rowdies. I played against the Timbers in Portland in 1978, when the team was led by former West Ham United (England) and Bermudan international, Clyde Best; and even back then, the city of Portland showed unwavering support for its Timbers, which is why the franchise survived after the NASL and after playing in the lower U.S. leagues.

The tradition of unwavering fan support continues today in the MLS, as Portland is one of the most successful franchises at the gates — and now on the field. It is among the top three clubs — along with the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps – that boasts sellout crowds every weekend during the MLS regular season. Its successful marketing and promotion of the sport is reflected in its game-day gimmick, Timbers Joe, the man who carries a large saw and maintains a huge log of timber and saws off a slab of timber for each player who scores a home a goal; the rounded slab serves as a sort of trophy for good play; there is also the Timbers Army, a boisterous group, clad in ‘Army’ green, Timbers colors and is omnipresent, not only at home games, but on the road. The Timbers is one of the franchises that has kept soccer alive in North America — kudos to owner Merrick Paulson and his family.

The title win was also deserving of the Timbers for other reasons; the team, which finished third in the Western Conference, had a ho hum season as it had to advance from the first round by an eleventh-round penalty shootout against Sporting Kansas City; overcame a strong Vancouver Whitecaps team, 2–0, and survived another dramatic, 4–3, finish in the conference championship — all on the road.

After the win, Timbers coach Caleb Porter had this to say: “It’s a great feeling, great feeling. All I could think about was sharing that moment with my players, we have been through a long season. We have been together through highs and lows and they deserve all the credit, they are the ones playing the game inside of the lines and they had belief. I don’t think it has fully sunk in completely yet. Good teams, when they make a run like this, they are so locked in, laser focus that there’s a next game. I don’t think it has sunk in yet that there is no next game, we are raising the trophy and we are the best team in MLS this year.”

The win had its share of drama and history: MLS Cup MVP, Timbers Diego Valeri, scored the fastest goal in MLS Cup history a mere 27 seconds into the game, and Kei Kamara’s goal in the 17th minute for the Crew was his fourth in the playoffs to lead all scorers. Portland became the 10th team in league history to win MLS Cup and only the third expansion club to do so; Porter — along with Bruce Arena (LA Galaxy, University of Virginia), Sigi Schmid (Columbus Crew, UCLA) and Steve Sampson (LA Galaxy, Santa Clara University) — are the only coaches to win MLS Cup and an NCAA (Div. I) college title.

Porter also is the sixth former MLS player to win MLS Cup as a coach.

Blatter, Platini banned

The FIFA Ethics Committee, after a meeting last Thursday, banned its outgoing president, Sepp Blatter, and aspiring FIFA president and current UEFA (European Football Association) president, Michel Platini, for eight years from FIFA and all soccer activities. The action stemmed from a $2 million payment in the past made to Platini by FIFA and approved by Blatter. The Ethics Committee referred to the payment, which is being considered for a criminal investigation in Switzerland, as a “conflict of interest and a disloyalty to FIFA.”

Blatter responded to the verdict by saying, “I will fight. I will fight until the end.” A stunned Blatter continued, I’m sad. It can’t go on this way. It’s not possible,” said the 79-year-old Blatter. “After 40 years, it can’t happen this way. I’m fighting to restore my rights.”

Platini, a Blatter protege who had positioned himself as the next FIFA president, called the verdict a “true mockery.” Platini was paid $2 million of FIFA money in 2011 supposedly for work as Blatter’s adviser from 1999-2002.

Blatter declared that he was innocent of the charges and that he regrets his situation. “I am not ashamed,” said Blatter. “I am sorry that I am a punching ball. I am sorry for football… I am now suspended eight years, suspended eight years. Suspended eight years for what?”

Said Platini said the charges were “orchestrated… by governing bodies that I know well” to discredit him. “I’m convinced that my fate was sealed before the Dec. 18 hearing and that this decision is just a pathetic maneuver to hide a true will of taking me out of the football world.” The former France international continued, “My behavior has always been faultless and I’m at peace with my own conscience.”

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