RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Monday, February 8

14-Man Micro-Metaphysical Roster: PORTLAND TIMBERS FC

{Portland Timbers' supporters raising a Bob Ross banner; they used antifa symbol for their's  & got in a battle with MLS over being able to use it, which the supporters ending up winning}

[14-Man Micro-Metaphysical Roster is a football metaphysics methodology calculating minutes played per the last 50 competitive matches for a North American football club, weighting that shit more heavily for most recent matches, and using them calculations to list the 14 players constituting the strongest psychic force on a club’s current path. This is done at Football Metaphysics Space twice a month for the Premier League clubs in England, and now we’re trying to do it for the top clubs in North America, one per month, alternating between MLS and Liga MX. Joining me, Raven Mack, is American soccer game expert and MLS aficionado Mike Dikk. Venmo @ravenmack23.]

Why would you write about American soccer the day after the cultural spectacle that is the Super Bowl? Even in half-speed pandemic times, American football dominates the sporting discourse in this country, partially due to the fact American soccer is such a shitty version of international football, operated by a league built to mimic major American sports cartel systems, and only attracting top international talent as a partial retirement opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond that’s actually a big pond but full of minnows. It seems like a dumb time to kick back off the North American part of Football Metaphysics coverage, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Why? Because fuck American football. It’s as much a cause for the rise of fascism in America in the past decades as anything else, and having Joe Biden’s creepy smiling ass before kickoff instead of Donald Trump doesn’t change the fact it’s a commercial parade of military and alcohol excess, layered with patriotic imagery, all the while ignoring the continued human exploitation involved in grown men concussing themselves into neurological oblivion for a tiny percentage of the profits that go into the elite group of white men’s pockets that actually run the league.
But also, fuck American soccer. MLS wants so hard to build itself off that same model, and is actually threatening a lockout of players right now, as the rest of the world actually plays football in a somewhat regular replication of normalcy, albeit with partial or zero crowds. MLS decides it’s best to scare off what international talent it has with talks of austerity, which would further hurt the already hurting American version of the international sport that dominates the sporting discourse most everywhere else on Earth.
So as we kick off the schedule of alternating an MLS and Liga MX club every month, it makes sense we start in Portland, with the Portland Timbers, the representative club of a city who has been in the news constantly for violent battles between far right extremists and leftist agitants. Weirdly, the political landscape of America is urban liberals who ignore the poor people in their midst, even while displacing them, and claim to be oppressed by a super-conservative minority politically. On the other side of this is a vast semi-rural and rural expanse, populated by bumpkins who have been trained to identify is delayed-activation billionaires, who claim to be oppressed by a socialist elite. All of this is magnified by digital misinformation, and what we’re left with is a political clusterfuck of non-critical thinking that’s just as likely to end America as it is to settle down and find some unity behind some fucked up shared trauma.
American soccer fans tend towards the liberal side of that scene, although we did see such amazing things as crowds at FC Dallas matches booing the Black Lives Matter moments last season. But American soccer fans are fucking idiots too, just not as bad as the types that boo black lives mattering. American soccer fans have tended towards the Bruce Arena/Bob Bradley mode of thinking that American soccer is just fine, we just need to kick more ass. Foreign seasoning for young stars or a more inclusive youth pyramid system, or even a fucking actual pyramid system with relegation and promotion at the professional level – none of that is needed. We just need to strap on a patriotic headband like Rambo or Hulk Hogan, and go kick ass like America always does, because we’re America, so that’s what we do. Except somehow we’re still not able to. The likes of Landon Donovan and company can run roughshod over Trinidad & Tobago or Guatemala, but seems to struggle against Uruguay or Serbia. We are far from elite.
The reason I say all this is because the World Cup is coming to America (and Mexico, and Canada) in 2026, and I honestly believe -–in true Football Metaphysics fashion – that the best thing for American soccer (or football) is for America to continue to fall apart as an empire. A solid and stable neo-liberal America would be good for MLS – and mean more clubs in gentrifying cities to draw in the microbrew hipster crowd that is the MLS’ sourdough bread and organic butter, but wouldn’t do shit to make American soccer better. American soccer needs broken borders, and poor kids from trailer parks playing defense, and kids from hyper-competitive urban environments playing striker, and fucked up lanky GKs from broken parts of the country finding solace minding the nets. The next five years, in terms of football metaphysics, will be a battle for the soul of American soccer moving forward. I mean, let’s face it – the only reason MLS exists is because the USA had to manufacture a professional league to justify getting the World Cup in 1994. For that I’m thankful, because it gave us the foundation which we must now destroy, and build from the rubble. 2026 will be over three decades since that launch, with MLS just hitting it’s 30s and a mid-life crisis where it can either fail (like previous American soccer leagues) or adjust its identity to something more sustainable. But I don’t really give a fuck if it survives or not. I just want degenerate dirtbags – of which America has no shortage of – to realize they can make money ALL OVER THE ENTIRE EARTH playing soccer. Not just in America, and concussing themselves stupid, but literally anywhere on Earth. Right now, American soccer is still a private school event, where the wealthy and connected are the only ones who can make a go of it. Sure, MLS itself looks much more diverse, as they’ve made an effort to do so in recent years. But it’s still not a sport in this country that draws from the wretched of the Earth, pulling the super-competitive and athletic types that exist in raw abundance among the classes simply trying to survive capitalism. I am hopeful that trend changes in the next five years, as America’s inequalities become more and more obvious, and we hopefully start murdering the extremely wealthy every now and then. Thus, we begin our return to North American football metaphysics in Portland, with the Timbers. This is a club which existed in multiple forms, in the ‘70s in the old North American Soccer League, in the ‘80s as a semi-pro club, and then the first decade of this century as the second level upstart club looking to gain acceptance into MLS proper, which – as is always the case – requires termination of the existing club and it being reborn as a new corporate entity under the umbrella of the MLS. So here we go. And welcome Mike, who joins me as an American football expert whiteboy this month. [RAVEN]

#1: STEVE CLARK – If I played a very marginalized sport in my home country and I had a common boring name like “Steve Clark” I would definitely work on changing it. This is a vanity searchers nightmare. Anyhow, Steve is the primary GK for the Portland Timbers and has a 73 rating in what I consider the bible of my soccer knowledge, aka FIFA 21. 73 is pretty top tier for MLS so don’t let the boring name fool you. This guy is actually good and earned the “save of the tournament” for that weird MLS covid bubble thing they did last summer. Raven had me write something that I don’t even know if it will see the light of day, but in that thing I wrote about how goalkeeper stats are kind of bullshit to me and there’s no way of actually knowing if a goalkeeper is good. There’s even less of an indicator if a goalkeeper is good in MLS because it’s honestly hard to tell what is genuinely “good” and what is “dumb luck” in the league.Steve is 34 which is old by most standards but he’s a goalkeeper and this is MLS so he’s practically 19. [MIKE]

#2: DIEGO CHARA – Chara was Portland’s first designated player ever after they became an MLS franchise, coming north from Deportes Tolima in his native Colombia. He’s been the catalyst for the Timbers ever since. Now 34, and joined on the club by his younger brother Yimmi, you’d think Diego’s best days were behind him, but he made the MLS Best XI list last season. He also obtained his green card in 2019, which means he’s considered a domestic player for MLS roster purposes. The Timbers have a couple of guys carrying green cards, which allows them to stretch the number of foreign players allowed each match. In fact, clubs are supposed to be allowed 7 roster slots for international players, but the Timbers currently sit at 9. And that’s not counting the green card holders. But clubs can also trade international roster slots, which means some clubs just outright buy the slots from other clubs. I don’t know, the shit is all fucked up at this point, and unfortunately America is way better at lawyers than soccer. [RAVEN]

#3: DIEGO VALERI – Valeri comes from football-crazed Buenos Aires, which exports a seemingly endless number of Argentine humans who excel at the sport far beyond the nation’s population would suggest. Valeri played for his hometown Lanus club in Argentina, and had a loan briefly to Europe (FC Porto in Portugal) before getting loaned to Portland way back in 2013. This began a permanent move that has seen Valeri become a force for the club, winning MLS Player of the Year award (unfortunately named for Landon Donovan) in 2017, and even obtaining a green card as a permanent resident here in the States. Now at the age of 34, he’s far beyond his prime footballing years that’s going to see him move to Europe, and the money he makes in MLS is likely comparable to Argentina, and far less physically intense, so to an extent Valeri has lucked into a pretty good life here. Valeri was hot on the heels of that high watermark 2017 season when current head coach Giovanni Savarese took over steering the club, and Valeri has been an elder statesmen for the club, and a fan favorite, and key to Savarese’s success as manager. With as much turnover as MLS rosters tend to have, it’s interesting that their two top guys have been there for the better part of a decade, both coming in from South America. Portland, more so than most clubs, has embraced an international look, and done so with guys like Valeri who get a green card and US-resident status as soon as they can justify it. This is more in line with how Liga MX clubs operate, and long-term, were MLS and Liga MX to ever form a joint league system of some sort around that 2026 World Cup, it bodes better for a club like the Portland Timbers than most other MLS clubs with a more insular outlook. [RAVEN]

#4: JORGE VILLAFAÑA – Villafaña is a Mexican-American with US citizenship who went to high school in Anaheim, and was captain of that soccer team. In 2007, he won a reality show called Sueño MLS, which earned him a try-out with MLS. He landed on Chivas USA, the failed attempt at having a Mexican soccer club in the US system, but it established Villaña’s career firmly. He was traded to Portland way back then, in 2014, but after two seasons, he was sold to Santos Laguna in Mexico, where he competed for a couple of years, before coming back to Portland in August of 2018. Now 31, just this past month, he was traded to the LA Galaxy, meaning he gets to return home to the Los Angeles region, and Southern California. Internationally, he established himself as a starting member of the USMNT during their failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which is probably not a career highlight necessarily. In another not necessarily a highlight moment, while with Santos Laguna, and helping them win the Clausura 2018 Liga MX finals, he and his wife got robbed after visiting a currency exchange store in a Torreon, Mexico, shopping center. Villafaña and his wife went to the store, looking to turn $20,000 American dollars into 400,000 pesos, but the store didn’t have that much on hand. Upon leaving, they were immediately followed by a couple dudes with guns, who promptly robbed them of the money. This occurred between the first leg of the finals, and the second. To his credit, despite not coming in as a sub in the first leg, Villafaña did sub in for the final half hour of the second leg, which was his final appearance in Mexico before going back to the US. He fucked around and found out. [RAVEN]

#5: DARIO ZUPARIC – I’m eternally fascinated by the Yugoslavian diaspora of nations, and football players. So a Croatian dude who ended up playing in Portland is quirky to me, especially since he did not come as a high profile designated player (which skirts the MLS salary cap partially). Zuparic’s heritage there was always Croat, born and bred in the Zagreb region, though his first international appearances happened with the Bosnia & Herzegovina U19 team, as his parents were Bosnian Croats. By the U20 level, he had moved to Croatian nationality in terms of football, but he was never good enough to make the senior national club. He did reach the top Croatian league, playing for HNK Rijeka, who are the third wheel in terms of esteem in Croatia behind the two major clubs of Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. Zuparic signed with the Timbers in November of 2019, but remained with Rijeka until the end of the year, but appeared in 19 of 24 Portland matches last season, establishing himself as a stubborn and stingy eastern European defender in their back line to complement the South American flair up top. To be honest, it’s pretty good football metaphysics for an American club. [RAVEN]

#6: LARRYS MABIALA – In our basic football metaphysics we’ve come to see as foundational for club success, we’ve identified three regular components. Up top, you need South American flair and gusto as a scoring threat. Your most perfect strikers are going to be South American, which is not to say others can’t occupy that role, but culturally, the rough and tumble world of South American futbol creates those who have a combative ability to score. Think Diego Maradona. Sure, you get guys who go to Europe and learn to flop like Neymar, but they’ve been turned cosmopolitan by money. A true and living striker is cold-hearted and would rather run through a tackle and score than fall down and draw a penalty. They go for the throat, rather than play lawyerball. On the back end, the industrial grime of existence in eastern Europe tends to build solid GKs and defenders. Maybe not entirely, but having at least that presence in there eliminates the sheen of glamour from your defensive unit. Defense, regardless of sport, is always ugly, utilitarian, and block housing-esque when done well. But the third component is the fulcrum which connects offense and defense, and generally speaking that is best done with a defensive midfielder, or a central defender with the ability to see and assist and even score goals. For some strange reason, Africa – specifically black Africa – produces these players in great psychic abundance. But we don’t have a ton of African players in MLS, because the immigration paths are not as direct here as they are across the Mediterranean into southern Europe, or backwards along colonial paths to former colonial overlords. Thus Mabiala is a rare gem of this type of player in North America, and has been a regular for the Timbers for nearly four years now. Born in France, and good enough as a youth to be part of the Paris Saint-Germain youth academy, as well as make an appearance for the French national U21 team, he switched international loyalties to the DR Congo, where his parents were from. He’s well-travelled, having spent time playing in England and France, as well as a long stint in the diverse and rugged Turkish Super Lig. He brings an immense wealth of experience to the Timbers, even as a role player. Few players in MLS have the international resume Mabiala does, and few defenders in MLS have the ability to score like Mabiala. Another solid piece of footballing metaphysics by the club. [RAVEN]

#7: ERYK WILLIAMSON – Eryk may have the most annoying spelling of Eric ever seen but he is also somewhat of a rising star in MLS. FIFA 21 also agrees he has the potential to be a guy that leaves MLS behind to play for like Dolskoynk FC in some country I never heard of, so I guess we should enjoy Eryk while we can. Eryk barely has more followers than me on Twitter and that’s just my current Twitter account, so it is safe to say more people know who I am than Eryk Williamson, rising star of the MLS. I’m kidding, obviously. It’s entirely possible the same amount of people are familiar with us both. Before I go I’d like to mention that I think the most important thing to know about Eryk is that he is the cousin of Queen Latifah so he clearly has me beat in the cousin department. [MIKE]

#8: JEREMY EBOBISSE – You’d think a striker surnamed Ebobisse who was born in Paris would also have an international history with the sport, but that’s not the case with Ebobisse. He grew up in suburban DC, in Bethesda, Maryland, and simultaneous to playing public high school soccer, he was part of a fairly prominent youth club system called OBGC Rangers. These are expensive systems where some kids get scholarships to play, so that you have a child of immigrants, like Ebobisse, excel alongside of and with guys named Chase, Carter, and Jake. That exposure got Ebobisse a scholarship to go play at private Duke University for two seasons, before joining the MLS on a developmental contract. His pinnacle as a Timber was likely the 2018 playoffs, where he started all six matches for them, including the MLS Cup against Atlanta United. He also scored the opening goal in their first-leg win against rival Seattle Sounders during that run. [RAVEN]

#9: YIMMI CHARA – Yimmi is the younger brother of club legend Diego Chara, whom he rejoined for the first time in a decade just over a year ago. Both brothers played for Deportes Tolima in their native Colombia back in 2011, when Diego became the Timbers’ first ever designated player. Yimmi spent a few more seasons for Tolima, making a name for himself, which allowed him to move to Mexican heavyweights Monterrey, be loaned to Colombian heavyweights Atletico Nacional, and even play for Brazilian heavyweights Atletico Mineiro, before transferring to the Timbers last year. Though less familiar to MLS fans than his brother Diego, Yimmi has actually made more appearances for the Colombian national team, mostly in friendlies, though he came close to making the 2018 World Cup squad. Neither is a superstar in Colombia, but football is probably still at a higher level in Colombia as an entity than America. Yimmi joining the Timbers is almost like the club getting a younger, faster, more seasoned version of their veteran star, which somehow doesn’t seem possible, or fair. With last season’s disjointed season, a more stable regular season for this year would’ve been imperative for Yimmi to establish himself as he could for the club. MLS feels almost part-time compared to the more intense schedules of most of the rest of this hemisphere, which doesn’t seem like it would work in favor of players who feed off of rhythm and momentum. When (or if) the MLS finally gets started this year, Portland’s success is going to depend on how easily Yimmi Chara gets into his rhythm, and how well he and his brother engineer and control the offense. [RAVEN]

#10: FELIPE MORA – A Chilean striker who established himself as a goal-scoring threat south of the border in Liga MX the past few seasons, for both Cruz Azul and Pumas. He was loaned from Pumas to Portland last season, and gave the club 7 goals in 24 MLS appearances. The Timbers have a wide array of potential goal threats, but Mora, at age 27, could be their strongest one this upcoming season, at least from their sizable South American contingent on the squad. [RAVEN]

#11: CHRISTHIAN PAREDES – I chose to write about this guy because he has a real soccer guy sounding name, but outside of that there doesn’t seem to be anything notable to say. He plays...sometimes, and he has the potential to be good enough to leave MLS at some point in his career but as of right now he is just a guy who was pretty decent a couple seasons ago and less decent last season. I don’t know how soccer mechanics work so maybe they just put him in some formation where he is no longer allowed to score goals or do anything notable that I can Google. It is truly a mystery. [MIKE]

#12: SEBASTIAN BLANCO – Along with Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco come from Buenos Aires, and specifically the club called Lanus in that city. While Valeri’s been here for longer, Blanco’s become the offensive leader for the club in his time with the Timbers, coming in February of 2017 after having returned to Argentina after a failed transfer to West Brom in the English Premier League. Now though, pushing 33 years of age, will likely have to start making room for the younger players on the squad, although then again, this is MLS, so maybe not. Blanco’s a tiny little spitfire of a dude, which it seems like a quarter of all MLS clubs have tiny little Argentine dudes rocking their #10. [RAVEN]

#13: ANDY POLO – It might seem easy to assume the name Andy Polo is a traditional American soccer whiteboy from privilege, but no, it’s a trick because that’s not the case. Andy Polo is actually Peruvian, and came to America from the Mexican club Morelia. Earlier in his career, as testament to his rising star at the time, he was signed to a short term contract to European heavyweights Inter Milan. That was in 2014, and he left them for Colombian club Millonarios. He’s been with the Timbers for two seasons now, one on loan, then as a permanent player. Only 26, and making an $150K a year guaranteed salary, which is certainly not signifier of a huge international demand for Mr. Polo, but also is pretty good money for a non-demanding schedule. [RAVEN]

#14: BILL TUILOMA – A New Zealand-born player of Samoan descent, who at one point was contracted to Marseille in Ligue 1, suggesting a pretty high trajectory for a player from New Zealand, much less Samoan. Samoa has not been known for producing many international footballers, so Tuiloma always played for New Zealand internationally. Australia considers itself part of Asia for footballing purposes, which means the OFC federation is now New Zealand dominating a bunch of smaller islands. Australia moved to the Asian confederation because it allowed them an easier path to World Cup qualification, because the Oceania Federation got half a slot, meaning whoever won had to beat a club from Europe or South America to get into the World Cup, which of course rarely happened. Now, with the expanded field that will start in 2026, Oceania Federation will have a team qualify, which means basically New Zealand will qualify. Tuiloma’s only 25, so this means ultimately he’s likely going to get to play in the World Cup in North America, as a competitor, in two matches where New Zealand gets waxed by better countries. Tuiloma only actually played a couple matches for Marseille’s senior squad, and came to Portland in July of 2017, where he’s been an off-and-on rotated member of their squad ever since. [RAVEN]

No comments: