Timbers, Blazers making NW proud

In the Bleachers with Billy


For years, I've watched professional Northwest sports teams, and while they have played well at times, seasons usually end with my heart on the ground in several pieces.

I'm used to it. In fact, I've come to expect it.

When a team sets an all-time record for most wins in a season – the 2001 Seattle Mariners – and then promptly loses the league championship without even getting a shot in the World Series, they probably will never win the big one.

I've accepted that, but still hope and pray the Mariners decide to find some help at the plate.

But I'm not going to make this column about the Mariners; I'll give all you a break from me sobbing about how their scouting and talent evaluators have failed at baseball.

Just this once, though.

There are two Oregon teams playing some outstanding basketball and soccer this fall, and I'm pretty excited about it.

The Portland Trail Blazers of NBA fame have jumped out to a 9-2 start, including a seven-game (and counting) winning streak, which was extended after a 108-98 win against Brooklyn on Monday.

With a capable bench and a true center in Robin Lopez, the Blazers are much more complete than the mess that was last year's team, save for Damian Lillard's Rookie of the Year honor.

Like I said earlier, this is exciting, but I find myself reeling myself back in toward reality when talking about the Blazers.

Could they be overachieving? Absolutely. They hoist up long-range jumpers like they are in a Pop-A-Shot contests with kids at Chuck-E-Cheese, and while they are hitting them at a 42 percent rate, I don't think that will last forever.

Statisically speaking, it won't. They have beaten only two teams with a winning record this season, so let's not break out the ticker tape and confetti for the parade across the Steel Bridge just yet.

Since this season is an actual 82-game grind (none of that lockout-shortened garbage like last year), I'm more interested in what the Blazers' record is 30, 45 and 60 games into the season.

If they hit the checkpoints correctly and are in contention for for a playoff spot, then I'll start to really go bonkers.

I might even wear my Blazers hooded sweatshirt and trucker cap on the same day. My point here can be boiled down to the phrase "cautious optimism."

I love it when the Blazers win. After that dark era of being known as the "Jail Blazers" ended, I don't feel embarassed to walk through a crowd of people wear the Portland pinwheel. In fact, I enjoy them more now than I ever have, because when you see what the absolute worst thing looks like, you appreciate what you have.

The other Oregon team I'm talking about is the one that essentially kicked the Triple-A Portland Beavers baseball team out of town. That would be, of course, the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.

The Timbers are in the midest of doing something incredible and almost unheard of in pro sports.

A nice outing inside the friendly confines of Jeld-Wen Field could put the Timbers in the MLS Cup final in just the team's second year in the league.

I'll be completely honest here - I didn't get into soccer until I went to college at Pacific University in Forest Grove, an area where soccer is exploding in popularity due in large part to the MLS franchise.

Now, after attending countless Pacific soccer matches - and even a couple Timbers matches - plus hours of studying, I'm pretty confident in my soccer knowledge. With that said, there's something special going on in Portland right now, and it's going to continue.

With new head coach Caleb Porter. hired from the University of Akron after winning an NCAA national championship in men's soccer in 2010, and a group of hungry, passionate players, this team will win a championship before its basketball counterpart. And it's going to be this season, too.

The Timbers have a tall task in front of them on Nov. 24, already down 4-2 to Real Salt Lake after the first match of the two-legged series (that's soccer's wacky spinoff from the best-of-five or seven series used in other sports).

The Timbers can't just win the match by a goal or two; they have to win it by three or more to satisfy the rules. In a two-legged series, goals are added together (known as an "aggregate" score) over a home-and-home series.

The team with the most goals combined over the two matches is the winner, even if a team technically loses a match. Portland is nearly invincible when it plays in front of the Timbers Army (and those folks do a great cover of the childhood classic "You Are My Sunshine"). Portland has a goal differential of +18 at home, and just +3 on the road. That tells you how much of a home field advantage the Timbers have in downtown Portland.

I think they'll beat Real Salt Lake 4-1, and march into the MLS Cup final.




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