Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dog Days of the Timbers

An impulse buy nets me an official team set of last year's MLS Cup champions. 

In hindsight, this was probably an overpay by a few dollars, but for $4.99 I picked up a current year Topps Portland Timbers team set. I was expecting, foolishly, that this would be like MLB team sets where each set is a self-contained unit and not actually part of the flagship complete set, but that was not the case. Instead, I ended up with copies of the 12 Timbers cards from of the larger MLS set. I've been meaning to pull the trigger on a Timbers team set every season since they joined the top US league, but locally popular things are always going to be overpriced.

The design reminds me of the 2016 baseball design in that it sucks and would probably only look halfway decent in Chrome. Most (and in some cases all) of the backgrounds have been cropped or faded out, leaving the players to be playing in front of blurs and lines and patterns and that sort of thing. Almost every player is pictured with a ball, in hopes of reminding you that there aren't 20 players or so standing around on the field without an actual ball at their foot. MLS Soccer is an ACTION sport, and Topps won't have you thinking any differently.

I'll comment on each card individually, but I will point out that this has been a lackluster season for the Timbers. They've hung around in or near playoff contention for the entire season, but injuries have taken their toll and there has seemed to be a general malaise that's followed the team for quite some time now. I don't think MLS Cup Hangover is officially a thing, but last season's team caught fire at exactly the right time (late) and in exactly the right way (with a bit of luck). I'm a fan of what Caleb Porter has done in his time with this team, but what follows might not make it sound like I'm the most optimistic fan.

Fanendo Adi has been a goal scoring machine in his time with the Timbers, but he's been a bit off this season as rumors swirled that he'd rather be elsewhere. By most accounts, US pro soccer is on a slow steady climb, but it's still not the most ideal place for a player to show his talents. Topps, for their part, shows their talents by putting a few words on the back and some green polygons.

Alvas Powell is young. Topps really wants you to know how young he is. I get that there's a big push for youth teams and under-23 teams in this sport, but this gets a little more specific than slapping some "Future Stars" label on baseball players.

Borchers has the beard, the big goal against RSL last year and a torn ACL. He's one of the key members of the backline who has gone missing this season, currently replaced by Under 24 Powell and a guy who looks like a Karate Kid villain.

Ben Polk, the only player that I had to actually Google in this lot (good sign, actually!), was a Timbers Superdraft pick (note: not really more super than any league's draft) and has been playing for their second tier team, which I won't dare call a farm club.

Diego Chara was around from the start of the Timbers inaugural MLS season and currently leads the league in yellow cards. I assume he draws the ire of the other fanbases.

Jewsbury, the former Captain Jack (currently just Old Man Jack?) is one of the active MLS leaders in games played. (Borchers, for his part, is one of the active MLS leaders in games started.) Jewsbury was the captain of the inaugural team and continues to seem useful when called upon.

Kwarasey will forever be enshrined in Timbers lore for being a huge part of one of the most bonkers shootouts you'll ever see. An injury derailed his 2016 season, and longtime backup Jake Gleeson impressed well enough in his absence that Kwarasey left the team after regaining his health.

Lucas Melano is another young, but he gets a lot of playing time.

Nagbe was the Timbers top SUPERdraft pick in their inaugural year, selected 2nd overall, and has remained one of their stars throughout. He started riding the bench this year for the US national team. He doesn't score a lot, which can be a bit frustrating.

Ridgewell is probably the team's best overall defender, but he's also been among the injured.

Okay, fine, this one was probably worth the $4.99 by itself. Portlanders don't get to celebrate many championships.

Valeri has been a bit banged up himself the past couple of seasons, but when he's on, it's scary. Lately, no one has been on, and the Timbers are starting to see their playoff hopes slip away from them a bit. Hopefully they will get back on track on Sunday as they face the hated Sounders for the second straight weekend.

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