The next year is going to be extremely busy as we prepare for NHL Seattle’s inaugural season. A branding announcement is expected in the first quarter of 2020, more staff needs to be assembled, and we have the always exciting expansion draft. As we get closer to puck drop, I want to restart a series that I began to write a few years ago. The game of hockey moves fast – and I mean extremely fast. It can be challenging to follow, especially for those new to the sport. A lot is unfolding on the ice simultaneously, so I want to help simplify it a little. For the next few weeks, I am going to break down certain aspects that will help organize the chaos and open you up to the sport I love. I want to begin by discussing one of the most essential parts of the game – space. There is a saying in hockey that “space and time create success.” You can talk about zone entries, possession, shots, and passes, but without space, you have nothing. There are a few techniques used to create space on the ice with the most common being “the cycle” and “the switch.” I’ll break down cycling the puck next week, but for now I want to introduce you to the switch. Using the switch to create confusion among defenders. In the above video, you will see #89 Alex Tuch carry the puck across the blue line toward his three Golden Knights teammates. It may appear counter-intuitive regarding creating space on the ice, but you will notice it does exactly that. By skating toward the two Calgary forwards, Tuch forces what is known as a switch – mainly, calculated chaos among the defenders. He draws the two forwards toward him, creating space for a freed up #81 Jonathan Marchessault along the boards, before dishing the puck. While this is unfolding, #26 Paul Stastny can be seen at the top of your screen, driving toward the net and exposing the back of his blade for a tip. But what he has also done is draw the shorthanded defenders down low and created space for #71 William Karlsson at the top of the right circle. The Calgary penalty-kill maintained their shape (“a box”), but the move from Tuch to start the entry allowed them to get behind the defense. At that point, Calgary became disconnected from the Golden Knights players and got caught watching the puck – allowing for a great cross-ice pass and one-timer from Karlsson. One of the best techniques for creating space on the ice is confusion, and that is precisely what the switch does. It forces two defenders to commit to the puck briefly and opens up space for one of your teammates. Another example of a switch from the same game can be found here when Calgary enters the zone on a four-on-two odd-man rush. Rasmus Andersson, #4 for Calgary, takes a pass from the point and drives to the corner. This forces number #27 Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights to leave his man, #77 Mark Jankowski. Jankowski begins to wrap around the net while facing the puck to create the pass option if needed. Instead of passing the puck, Andersson follows Jankowski around the net and creates confusion for the two Golden Knights defenders. In a perfect world, #81 Jonathan Marchessault for Vegas would have left his man and cut in front of the net to pick up the players wrapping around the other side with Theodore staying on the post to mark his man – initiating the switch. Instead, both players were caught marking the same man for a brief moment, which allowed Andersson to get a clear shot on the net. Both of these examples revolve around creating confusion while having an odd-man advantage. Let’s look at an example where a team has established possession in the zone, five-on-five. Using the switch after establishing the zone. The Colorado Avalanche are currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference, and much of their success comes from their ability to use their speed to create space. It’s not uncommon to see fast skaters, such as Connor McDavid, Andreas Athanasiou, and Nathan Mackinnon, make these long circling arcs around the zone. This creates chaos among the defenders, and as we have discussed, chaos leads to space. In the above clip, you will see #29 Nathan Mackinnon come curling around the top of the circle toward #28 Ian Cole. Mackinnon draws both defenders toward him, which creates space for Cole at the blueline (“the point”). A quick back-pass to Cole creates confusion among Vancouver as to who will pick him up. You’ll see #18 Jake Virtanen step up to cover him while #70 Tanner Pearson fills the spot he just left – both players now focus on Cole. As Mackinnon continues to cycle around the zone, it creates significant space at the top of the point. #49 Samuel Girard of the Avalanche, recognizes what is happening and cuts in to fill the void. Cole then feeds him an easy pass, where he has all the time in the world to post a shot on the screened goalie. These examples are only a couple of many but the concept remains the same – create space and you create opportunities. If you have the chance to sit down and watch a game or two this week, keep on eye out for this. Look for players moving the puck into busy areas of the ice then watch where their teammates establish their position. Hopefully, it’ll help you understand the game a little more. Until next week, wheel, snipe, celly. (we’ll cover that later)
This week features the top 2 teams in the NFC West facing off in a high-stakes game. It’s a must win if the Seahawks are to have any hope of taking the top spot and not find themselves fighting for the Wild Card. Despite its significance in terms of playoffs, the San Fran/Seattle rivalry provides enough drama for the match up on its own. Although Wilson does have the rivalry advantage with a 11-3 record – featuring a tough 26-23 loss the last time they played, this may very well be the most complete San Francisco team the Hawks have faced since 2012. As a group, the 49ers’ opponents are 22-43 — having won just 33% of their 65 combined games through week 9. While demolishing some opponents such as the Carolina Panthers, a 28-25 thriller against Arizona was, by general consensus, disconcertingly close. For the moment I would like to focus on the defense of the 49ers, as the Seahawks offense will have to find a way to unlock it if they are to have a chance. The most amazing thing about the 49ers in 2019 is their performance on third down. The team have held opponents to a conversion completion of 27.5%, nearly 12 percent lower than the average of 39.1%. If you exclude the statistical anomaly of the Mudbowl 9-0 win against Washington, the 49ers have allowed 4/31 on third down in the last 3 (normal) games. Few can deny the thought that the NFC runs through San Francisco this year. An 8-0 record is the result of a defense ranked third in points while also sitting first and seventh for yards, defense. The opportunistic defense clocks in at 16 turnovers, good enough for fourth in the NFL. While they dominate the passing attack, the relative weakness appears to lie in the run game – ranking 22nd in all teams for yards per rushing attempt. This appears to be a discrepancy when you realize that the 49ers have 30 sacks, 3rd most in the league. The 49ers play a system that overwhelmingly uses Cover 3. It’s the bread and butter of the defense and is definitely worth a look. Before we dig into the 49ers specifically, we need to understand the Cover 3 in general. So how does it work? As the name suggests, the defining trait is the three deep defending zones roughly 10-15 yards the line of scrimmage. In the 49ers’ system, that will leave four underneath zones and four rushing players. It is of common belief that Cover 3 is the fewest number of deep zones you can comfortably defend the deep ball with. As such, it is a lot weaker than the now dwindling Cover 2 in underneath, intermediate, and short passing areas. The formation has a long history as a fringe option along with rotations such as Cover 4 or zone blitzes. Its role of deep middle protection was more often filled by the iconic Tampa 2 which sunk a linebacker deep into the weakest part of the deep area. Over time, league changes and tendency evolution drew more attention to the Cover 3 as the basis for an entire scheme and became the buzzword after the 2013 Seahawks found great success with a modified Cover 3. As the passing league developed and the deep ball became the NFL’s signature play, Cover 3 saw increased usage to slow the long bomb. As for the four underneath zones, they are split across horizontally and most schemes will place them at even depth. Some schemes have been known to drop the corners back slightly or move them closer to the line-of-scrimmage. The real deliberation of the underneath portion is due to personnel. If you have four defensive backs, using three deep zones with one shallower, teams start to struggle? Variations of Cover 3. Cover 3 sky. The 3 deep zones are taken by the outside corners and the middle safety. The strong safety must take the responsibilities of an outside zone underneath. Has to be the one closest to the boundary. Cover 3 Buzz. 3 deep zones are the 2 outside corners and the middle safety again, but this time the Strong safety takes an inside underneath zone. This is the one that Seattle used extensively in 2013. Cover 3 Cloud. 3 deep zones utilize both safeties and one outside corner. The last corners position is flexible so he can drop into one of the outsides underneath zones or can be used to go into man with the guy opposite. He can also take a really shallow outside zone in case of crosses, screens, drags, and curls. It can also be really useful in run support to immediately shore up an edge and make the runner turn back towards to middle of the field and back into the jaws of the defense… Figuratively. Cover 3 blitz. Simple. In buzz and sky, the strong safety will line up wherever (up next to the free safety, down by the slot, roving the middle with the LBs) and he will attack the gap opened by the D-Line. In cloud, a cornerback will blitz. While a LB or slot corner can do this, the unassigned DB has to fill their zone. The 49ers will use every single variation of cover 3 to change the weaknesses to strengths and throw off the opposition. Now that we know what it is, let’s look at how it works and how it can be beaten. Key points of cover 3: Much stronger against deep throws. Not in situations such as four verts, with four go routes but this is normally unlikely or anticipated. Some cases very weak to short horizontal passes. As corners bail deep and linebackers drop into position to cover intermediate throws, soft edges emerge. Occasionally partially negated in cloud. Easily spotted as corners take 5-7 yards off to shorten time to zone. No use defending deep if the other guy gets there first. Two inside underneath zones means at least six in the box. Likely seven or eight in an expanded box or tightened formations with lots of TEs. Middle runs can be well defended if the line and backers are good. In buzz and sky, safety can also get involved. This is a very rough approximation of the cover 3. The orange dot is a marker to show how the zones would be played if the ball was placed here. The blue are the deep zones, yellow are the underneath and the red circles are the weaknesses of the Route. The deep intermediate Seams are the most vulnerable and, if you see a slot receiver or tight-end get vertical immediately, it is designed to attack this very seam. Verts and HOSS concepts are very effective at targeting these weak-spots. With what we call the 2nd (linebackers) and 3rd (defensive backs) levels talked about, let’s discuss the importance of the defensive line. In the usual cover 3, you will have 4 rushers independent of the other 2 units so they are free to run Stunts, crashes, and alignments however they so please. However, despite their independence from the rest of the team in terms of play to play adjustments, the defensive line plays a crucial role in both the pass and run defense. The Pass The job of any d-line when playing against the pass is to put pressure on the quarterback and disrupt the throw. As shown above in the weaknesses of Cover 3, the shallow flats can be exploited as the corners sink deep and the linebackers are unable to get to the edge quickly. To avoid this, defensive ends will attempt to use a speed rush to get to the outside of the tackle and actually block the passing lane to the flat. A good example of this is Nick Bosa‘s interception. Here is an Imgur album detailing that exact interception. Aside from this, the job is to create suffocating pressure and not allow enough time for scramble drills where everybody runs into random zones and the coverage all breaks down. The Run The job in the run game is to stay disciplined and not play hero-ball. For anybody who doesn’t know, hero-ball is a phrase, popular with coaches and film watchers, for a player who will try to be the hero and come of his assignment to attempt a high risk tackle, lateral the ball, or try an on-the-run crazy throw. Other examples are jumping a route for an interception and generally charging into boom or bust plays. It is the bane of a perfect game-plan and the savior of a terrible one. Bill Bellichick HATES hero-ball, while the play-style wrote Mike McCarthy’s checks for years. If a player attempts to shoot a gap and get a tackle for a loss but misses, he automatically creates a running lane where a player is supposed to be holding the block and not supplying breathing room. Cover 3 has 6-8 men in the box so there is no need to go for broke because, if you hold gaps correctly, there is nowhere for the Running back to go. The run slows. A player sheds his block and engages the slowed running back while the linebackers pour in to make sure if there is a missed tackle, no opportunities are created. The job of the D-line is to seal off any easy lanes, make a tackle if the player tries to force his way through, and let the linebackers clean up the rest. So How Do The 49ers Execute and Change this Gameplan? The 49ers are deadly effective in cover 3. As a deep defending concept, they are much more likely to give up the short pass or run, rather than the deep ball. This is by design. When a team finds themselves in a negative games script, they tend to abandon the run and look to move the ball in chunk yardage through the air. Because of this, if the 49ers have the lead, the opponents tend to play straight into the strengths of this 49er defense – eliminating the deep ball. Essentially, teams get desperate when the 49ers gain a lead and begin forcing deep routes. The better the offense, the better the defense. Even in close scenarios, the cover 3 makes teams work hard for every yard. Eventually the short passing, screen, and running game can frustrate an offense if they are proving ineffective due to the athletic defensive line, good position, and solid tackling defense. A coordinator will start to dial up longer throws with higher risks – feeding into the 49ers strengths. For example, to stop the weak zones from being exploited down the deep middle, the inside linebackers would carry the receivers up the field to stop a potential passing lane. To exploit this, several teams use what is known as the Ohio concept. The Ohio concept uses a streak route inside to clear out the intermediate middle while the outside receiver runs a 5 or 7 yard in-route into the vacated hole. Another important aspect is play action is that linebackers tend to aggressively play the run and open up the zones between the intermediate and deep zones. Again, this is only applicable where a run is expected so, when down in crucial situations, this is not applicable as the linebackers will play the pass rather than the unlikely play action. Sherman will occasionally help in run support while playing his deep zone responsibility by starting down by the line of scrimmage – much like the iconic Seattle Cover 3. The other corners and defensive backs are unable to completely hide the tip offs for cover 3 as they are not familiar with this particular style. The cardinals, right until the end, very notably stayed with the short passing game and allowed yards after catch to be the primary force. The week before, in Carolina, the Panthers threw seven deep balls, with one being caught… caught by Richard Sherman for an interception. Five of these balls came in the 2nd half. Carolina did have a 20 yard gain from a pass but that was Allens best of the day in terms of air yardage. They only threw 3 deep balls all game with one of them in the second half resulting in a masterclass 88-yard touchdown. The play occurred in a rare man coverage. Conclusion Though individually the San Francisco defense is highly talented, the strength of the offense and the scheming must be commended. They are very much a complete team. The opponent has never led in 50% of their games and find themselves constantly chasing the lead. Additionally, only one team has scored more than once against the 49ers in the 4th quarter. The explosive offense sets up a terrifying defense who are designed to not give up the big play. You can win against the 49ers, as the Cardinals nearly did, because they played to the weaknesses of the defense, instead of trying to outplay strength to strength. Expect Carson to have a big receiving day, short passes often, and an insistence on the run game. Even if you don’t believe the ground game create success, make a note of how many players are committing to the run, and look out for long play action gains if the ground game is stifled.
For the third time in 4 years, Toronto and Seattle will battle for the MLS Cup championship this Sunday. The difference this time, Seattle will be the ones hosting the MLS’ biggest match. In the two previous matches, which took place in 2016 and ’17, the two teams split time with the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. Seattle won the first meeting on penalties, while Toronto got their revenge the following year with a 2-0 win in regulation. The two squads seemed to be destined to meet for a third time, to break the “tie”. The paths that led to this Cup Final were vastly different for Seattle and Toronto. How We Got Here: For Toronto, their season was nearly another wash. After starting the season with 5 wins in their first 8 MLS matches, the team went winless in the following 8. Toronto looked like a team that was on the outside looking in when it came to the MLS playoffs, let alone the MLS Cup. But, the team found their groove as the season progressed and thanks to some favorable results from other clubs, found themselves as the East 4 seed as the playoffs began. Entering the playoffs Toronto was down their top striker in Jozy Altidore, who suffered an injury at the end of the regular season. Some would have written them off with that fact, but Toronto ended up playing their best football of the season once the playoffs began. In their only home playoff match, they took down D.C. United and Wayne Rooney 5-1. They then went on the road and took down the top two seeds in the East in back-to-back weeks, NYCFC 2-1 and Atlanta 2-1. The team is riding a wave that seems to be all momentum heading into Sunday. The Sounders had a much different season. A team that is used to highs and lows, actually never found themselves below the playoff line at any point during the season. In typical Seattle fashion, they got two key wins at the end of the regular season that locked up the West 2nd seed for them. That was huge, as it made sure they would host the first two rounds at home. First up was FC Dallas. A match that took everything the Sounders had, saw them get the 4-3 win. Next was Real Salt Lake, who Seattle shutout 2-0. The big West showdown was then set between the new age LAFC and old school Sounders. The experience was the difference as Rave Green got the 3-1 win at Banc of California Stadium. The stage was set for a championship trilogy. The Matchup: These two teams only met once during the regular season with Seattle coming away with the 3-2 win at home. But considering that game was all the way back in April, not much stock can be held on that result. On paper, these teams are very similar. Both are well run organizations that rely on veterans to lead the way. The teams have the experience of having their cores winning big games together, while adding new talent to help get them to the top of the mountain again. With that being said, Seattle has the better of the two rosters when it comes to form and pure talent. Jordan Morris, who is in the best form of his career, has seemed to be unstoppable of late. Stefan Frei is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in all of MLS, and is known for big moments. Nicolás Lodeiro has been the MVP of Seattle since he came over in 2016. Raúl Ruidíaz is arguably the best player between both squads. Not too mention players like Torres, Roldan, Kee-hee, Svensson and Smith. Seattle will need contributions from all in order to win their second Cup. Toronto has plenty of talent of their own and like Seattle, they have been here before. Where Toronto is hurt, is the likely absence of Jozy Altidore. Their star striker was quoted saying “I’ll need a small miracle to play..”, and if that is the case they are at a disadvantage. Toronto still has Michael Bradley solidifying the midfield, but he isn’t the player he once was. Erickson Gallardo will more than likely be the forward for the team but isn’t a typical number 9 player. He is what they call a “false 9” meaning he will fall back to midfield more than he will play forward like Ruidíaz. He is great at creating opportunities but will have a struggle getting past Seattle’s backline. Alejandro Pozuelo, who has taken over for Sebastian Giovinco, is a star in the making and will be key for them in the matchup. He and Bradley will have to hold down the middle of the pitch. Prediction: 70,000 plus will be inside CenturyLink field when these two teams clash. It will more than likely be the most attended sporting event in the stadium’s history and the second-largest crowd for an MLS Cup Final. Those fans will be expecting a win, but will they get it from their home team? Both teams are coming off runs that very few outside of their own fanbases saw coming. Both teams have been in big matches before. Both teams have great coaching and stars that can make a difference in the matter of a second. One team has an advantage though. Seattle will be at home in front of a crowd that has never been seen before in the Pacific Northwest. They have the motivation of the 2017 loss to this same Toronto team and a roster that is healthier and in better overall form. The Sounders will win this match, it will not come easily by any means though. The two clubs will feel each other out for much of the opening 45, with few great chances coming early. When the second half comes around, Seattle’s home-field advantage will be more prevalent. With the crowd behind them, the Sounders will score two second-half goals to win. Securing their second MLS Cup title in front of 70,000 Seattleites.
The Seattle Seahawks just got Russell Wilson another big-play weapon in Josh Gordon. Gordon was released by the New England Patriots this afternoon. The Seahawks have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL, led by MVP candidate Wilson and dynamic speedster receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Gordon has thousand-yard receiving potential and has a chance to take the ball to the endzone every single time he touches it. He’s had two season-long suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but the Seahawks think this is a good move. With Tom Brady, this season Gordon has 20 receptions for 287 yards and a touchdown. He has career totals of 240 receptions, 4113 yards, and 20 touchdowns. And has only lost one fumble. Let’s see how this affects the run first options of Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer. The Seahawks were 28th in waiver order. Update: Gordon should be available for the 49ers game next Monday according to Pete Carroll. They need to run him through some physical drills first to confirm availability. Be sure to check out Nate’s preview of the game against the Bucs on Sunday.
Last night, the Seahawks pulled out an amazing victory behind a near perfect game from Russell Wilson. Before the game, the Seahawks put the man who saved football in Seattle (ironically, from moving to the city their opponents now reside in) into the Ring of Honor and his family raised the 12th Man Flag in front of 70,000 teary-eyed fans. There are only a handful of people in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor (Allen was, appropriately, the 12th inductee) and all of them are deserving. For Paul Allen, though, including him there doesn’t seem to be enough. The trucks were literally packed and moving the Seahawks to Los Angeles before Allen stepped in got CenturyLink Field (nee Seahawks Stadium) built and purchased the team. Behind his vision and leadership, the Seahawks won a Super Bowl. He’s responsible for getting in greats like Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, Lofa Tatupu, Bobby Engram, Doug Baldwin, Marshawn Lynch, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Tyler Lockett, and so many others. Adding Paul Allen to the Ring of Honor isn’t enough. It really isn’t. Neither is doing something along the lines of naming the field after him. Paul Allen Field at CenturyLink Field doesn’t really work, now does it? No, it should be Paul G. Allen Stadium. Sadly, this won’t ever happen. Before the season started Century Link upped their naming rights deal to extend through the 2033 season and is paying over $163 million during that time. Allen’s estate could easily buy that out, but we all know that will not happen. Paul Allen should be properly immortalized. The stadium that should bear his name, as the Super Bowl winning team that packs it through the fall and winter months would not exist if not for him. Let’s honor the man properly. Let’s name the stadium after him and put a statue of him up by the 12th Man Flag pole.
- Editors' PicksOpinionPortland Timbers
After a deeply disappointing home loss to D.C. United, the Portland Timbers (13-4D-12, 43 pts, 7th in West) head into the home stretch of the season. Despite constant belief that “games in hand” and “home field advantage” will automatically launch Portland into a decent playoff spot, the Timbers ended Sunday night in 7th place. Again. While Portland still does have that game in hand and four out of five remaining matches at Providence Park, this team is still largely facing the same questions it has all year. Despite relative success in the U.S. Open Cup, Portland have failed to put together three consecutive MLS wins since last school year (remember that weird pocket of victories in Columbus, Toronto, and Salt Lake?). Heading into a midweek match against the usually-formidable New York Red Bulls (12-5D-13, 41 pts, 6th in East), Portland need more than a win—they need a convincing one. New York is having an off year by their standards, coming off three straight losses and the Timbers will likely have their starting lineup back in the attacking half. This will be the second match of five in fifteen days for the Timbers, but defender Jorge Villafaña didn’t seem too concerned about if affecting them on the field: “It’s all out. You can’t save anything [when on the field]. Having matches every three or four days…we like it, and we just try to do everything possible to be ready for the games.” The biggest tactical flaw in Portland’s offensive system has been in the Timbers’ inability to break down defenses…do I sound like a broken record yet? While this issue was on full display against D.C. in Sunday’s loss, it was without key starters Sebastián Blanco and Brian Fernández. As Diego Valeri reminded us postgame, “we did it last week,” referring to the game-winning goal against Sporting Kansas City in which all 11 of the opposition’s players began behind the ball. FiveThirtyEight’s MLS Playoff projections for the Timbers have decreased a couple percentage points since the last time I wrote about them, and the most likely playoff spot is one that would require a midweek road win to advance. Sitting back and counterattacking has treated Portland well in the past, especially in the playoffs, but with the embarrassment of attacking riches, it would be much more satisfying on the ol’ blood pressure to see some better crosses to green shirts in the box. Any squad with the three aforementioned players should have the ability to score consistently, especially when key links such as Diego Chará, Jorge Moreira, and others are in the mix. That’s at least four or five starting-caliber MLS players on almost any squad in the league. Savarese knows they’re capable, and so do they. So do the fans, analysts, and writers alike. The Timbers have the tools to get it done, but the critical touch, pass, or finish is often lacking—which is why this season has become so frustrating. We all promised ourselves things would get better. Excuses were made, and convincing results are still yet to come. While the on-field product has been a mixed bag to say the least, many Timbers supporters are dealing with a much larger issue—one that has nothing to do with goals, standings, or tactics. Those who know of the Iron Front saga are concerned. Those who have been affected are enraged, and you may be as well, upon further examination. (I will not be recapping said saga in this article, but you can find great reads on it here and here. I also encourage you to do your own research or ask any seasoned Timbers Army supporter; most will be more than happy to explain.) The Timbers front office has effectively boxed itself into a catch-22: abiding by MLS’s controversial Fan Code of Conduct has clearly not fared well, and making the TA happy will likely beckon a (previously nonexistent) backlash of conflict from the other end of the political spectrum, which has already begun. For many, this season will be overshadowed by a newfound distrust in upper management, regardless of what transpires on the pitch. We all promised ourselves things would get better. Excuses were made, and convincing results are still yet to come. The story of this season is yet to be determined, and the ending might not be all sunshine and roses. The Timbers could realistically tumble out of the playoffs in the early rounds, or even miss them altogether. The ongoing talks between scarves and suits could also go nowhere, potentially leaving core supporters with a personal choice between the team they love and the beliefs they hold. These are worst-case scenarios, of course, but are nonetheless hypotheticals that need to be taken seriously. So what would the best-case scenario be? First off, it would be fantastic for the Timbers to win, and then win some more, and then win a whole lot more—f*ck it, maybe even win a trophy. No matter what happens in the stands, on Twitter, or in conference rooms, winning will always be better. Even if no common ground is reached by MLS and its supporters, a Portland playoff run would only give more exposure to the Iron Front issue, and probably the symbol itself. As far as an agreement of the Iron Front issue, I’m honestly not certain as to what an ideal result would be at this point. To those heavily invested in the dispute, the front office has done irreversible damage. Timbers Owner Merritt Paulson has already rubbed the Timbers Army the wrong way by siding with MLS, and some in dissent have even gone so far as to cancel season ticket renewals. The best course of action would seemingly be to remove the word “political” from the MLS Fan Code of Conduct, but as mentioned earlier, I fear this may create an even more violent conflict between right and left, one that has escalated considerably over the past few years in this country. No matter how much the Timbers front office foreseeably apologizes, removes the ban, or kisses the feet of the Timbers Army, everyone will have known the course of action they took. They made a clear decision to obey Major League Soccer over the will of its most devoted fans, a choice that comes with consequences, some of which they are surely yet to face. Major League Soccer is always desperate for attention. If you’re an American soccer fan, you know this. You have sat through countless promotions, commercials, and advertisements for anyone willing to front the bill. One in particular, Audi, uses the motto “Goals Drive Progress” to fund MLS academies. They use it in Golden Boot graphics, goal highlights, and Taylor Twellman even wrote an article about it. All that is great, and is necessary to build a strong league, but the hypocrisy presented here is laughable—MLS’s recent goals have silenced supporters, certainly not driving progress. In order to score goals, a team must consistently create chances—the Timbers in particular need to take charge of possession, progress the ball, and be proactive. Complacency can be useful in certain settings, and it can lead to goals when provoked, but absorbing pressure can only work for so long. Creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking are of the utmost importance. If Savarese’s men can make this happen on the field, one can only hope that they will lead by example for our friends in the front office.
Welcome, Duck fans and haters alike. It’s that time of year again—that sinking feeling of a title feeling slipping away is setting in already. Throughout my two decades on Earth, this fan base has been brought to the ultimate brink of success and dragged back through the mud. We have seen Heisman finalists, injuries, and championship appearances drift in and out, building one of the biggest national brands in collegiate sports along the way. This list serves not as a tear-jerk, but as a badge of self-loathing. Relive the worst of the worst now before it happens again. It is a place to gather all your most hideous fears and release them. So have a stress ball, Kleenex, or whatever else you might need—just not YouTube. Don’t do it. And remember: no matter how sad you get, at least we’ve never gone 0-12. Finally, before we begin, a clarification: I was born at the turn of the century. I grew up studying the 1994 and 2001 season highlight tapes religiously. This list will not cover those. Yes, the Stanford loss in 2001 was during my lifetime and kept us out of a natty, but I’m not gonna act like I remember it. This might as well be titled “Most Painful Losses Since 2005 or so.” Go figure. These are the games that make you want to dig a hole and hide in it; the ones that make you cringe when remembered; the ones that you thought you could bury forever. You know the feeling—you likely felt it last Saturday. So, without further ado… Honorable Mentions: Stanford 2013, Rose Bowl 2009-10, UW 2016, Civil War 2016, Cal 2007 10. Arizona 2013: The Surprise Collapse The 2013 Ducks were coming off a tough 26-20 Thursday night loss to Stanford on the Farm two weeks prior, and the 9-1 record meant we still had a shot to make the Rose Bowl, even if the National Championship was out of reach. A convincing win against Utah the week before made this shellacking in the desert even more of a shock—the Wildcats came storming out of the gate behind KaDeem Carey’s 206 yards and 4 TDs. The Ducks trailed 28-9 at half and mustered only a touchdown for the rest of the game. This loss was crushing, as it demoted us from #5 at the time to an Alamo Bowl appearance (following a classic Civil War battle, might I add). Silver lining: at least we actually won the Alamo Bowl that year. 9. Civil War 2007: The (Original) Missed Field Goal Spoiler: this is the only Civil War on the list. The little brother in Corvallis rarely gives us much trouble these days, but the first decade of the 2000s was when the rivalry was at its best. The 7-4 Beavers and 8-3 Ducks took very different paths to get to the 2007 Civil War. Mike Riley‘s team started 2-3 before winning six of their last seven coming into Autzen. The 2007 Ducks, well… more on that later. With the score tied, Walter Thurmond III blocked a Beaver field goal with a minute to go, setting up what should have been a game-winning drive for… *checks notes* Justin Roper & Co. The Ducks missed a 53-yard FG with 26 seconds left, but a leaping call gave the Ducks another shot after the 15-yard penalty. Without spiking the ball, the field goal unit rushed on and Matt Evensen missed a 40-yarder as regulation expired. In double overtime, James Rodgers broke a tackle in the backfield and scored a fly sweep touchdown, while Jonathan Stewart was stopped short on 4th and nothing. The Ducks went onto crush a ranked South Florida in the Sun Bowl, but even Beaver fans will admit the Ducks blew the Civil War that year. Silver lining: we won two of the most important Civil Wars ever in the next two years, and have only lost to the Beavers once since this game. 8. Alamo Bowl 2015: The Bad Snaps Oregon’s 2015 season was full of mistakes, mostly surrounding the quarterback situation with Vernon Adams in and out of good health. Despite close losses to Michigan State and Wazzu and a home blowout to Utah, Oregon ended the regular season with six straight wins and had a good chance to earn an eighth-straight 10-win season. A really, really good chance. The Ducks took a 31-0 lead into halftime of the Alamo Bowl, but they knew trouble was afoot as soon as Adams went down with a concussion in the second quarter, along with starting center Matt Hegarty. The Oregon offense scored zero points in the second half, and the backups could barely complete a snap. TCU clawed their way into overtime before stuffing the Ducks in 3OT, as I helplessly tried to explain how dismal American football was to my Costa Rican exchange student. Silver lining: the Timbers won MLS Cup a few weeks before and this was the beginning of the end for Helfrich. 7. Auburn 2019: The Bo Nix Game Our most recent high-profile choke-job was in yet another national spotlight, with a chance to avenge the 2010-11 BCS National Championship Game loss in the only ranked matchup of Week 1. The rest of the season will determine the true significance of this game, but we will be haunted by a dropped touchdown, a missed chip shot, and conservative play calling, among many other things. In all, the Ducks made only three touchdowns out of five trips to the red zone, and were ultimately defeated by an imperfect throw from a true freshman quarterback. Silver lining: TBD 6. Stanford 2012: The Missed Block The 2012 Ducks were special. Marcus Mariota’s freshman season started with a 10-0 record, demolishing every opponent along the way and averaging 55 points per game. The only thing that stood between the BCS #2 Ducks and a shot at Bama in the National Championship was, well, nothing. Mariota was streaking down the right hand side, with only empty turf in front of him, ready to seal the game with a flawless touchdown run. He even had De’Anthony Thomas as a blocker. But Thomas failed to see a Stanford DB come up from behind, shoving Mariota out of bounds and capping the run at 77 yards. Mistakes and missed field goals ensued, and the Cardinal kicked a very Stanford-like 37-yard field goal to win by three in overtime. This was the only game where I saw most people leaving the stadium in tears. Everyone except fate knew which team should have won the game. Said Chip Kelly: “You’d love to have some words that could kind of take the pain out of it. But there aren’t any.” Ditto. Silver lining: The Ducks went onto win the Fiesta Bowl in Chip’s last game at Oregon. 5. USC 2011: The Incomplete Comeback After a Week 1 loss to LSU, Chip Kelly’s Ducks rattled off nine straight wins and beat Andrew Luck and #3 Stanford on the Farm. Only a bowl-banned USC, Civil War, and Pac-12 Championship Game were blocking another run at the title. The Ducks were #4, boasting 21 straight home wins and 19 straight conference wins. Moreover, an upset loss for #3 Oklahoma State during the week meant the BCS door was wide open for Oregon. Those dreams seemed quickly crushed against USC. The Trojans held a 38-10 lead with 3:28 left on the clock in the 3rd quarter, but the Ducks responded instantly. Freshman DAT took a kickoff return to the house on a fake reverse, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the Ducks had pulled within three. They stayed within three, drove down the field, and set up for a game-tying field goal from Alejandro Maldonado. They were still within three when the field goal sailed wide left. Also, LeBron was there. Silver lining: A Rose Bowl win later sealed a successful season, but we are left knowing it could have been so much more. 4. Arizona 2007: The Downfall of Dennis First-grade Me fully understood the implications of this game. On that fateful November Thursday, I had reminded all my friends at school that the Ducks had just beaten two top-10 teams, that Dennis Dixon was one of the best players in the country, and that the Ducks were 8-1 with a #2 ranking. Dixon had been injured the week before against ASU, but he sprinted for a 39-yard touchdown to open the game against Arizona. Later in the quarter, though, Dixon tore his ACL. The Ducks stayed in the game despite a pick six, punt return, and wacky fake-punt-pseudo-fumble not going their way, and cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t enough, and things only got worse until the Sun Bowl. 2007 remains a mysterious season; the hypotheticals of an uninjured Dixon haunt Duck fans, and Oregon was pushed to the national wayside before they could complete a full week at #2. Silver lining: Oregon captured revenge in the desert two years later by beating Arizona in a game that would have sent them to the Rose Bowl. They have still never been. 3. Stanford 2018: The GameDay Meltdown Visualize your textbook opening to your first weekend of college. You get to the dorms, become instant friends with your roommates, and gear up for the big game. What’s more, your school’s football team has a special quarterback, vastly improved defense, and a top-10 division rival is coming to town. By the way, ESPN’s College GameDay is on campus and your sign gets on TV. By the way, the scoreboard reads 30-7 with your team leading late in the third quarter. What could go wrong, you ask? Everything. Everything went wrong. A touchdown run that hit the inside of the pylon was overturned, and the stalled drive resulted in six points the other way. From there, the Ducks gave up pass after pass to Standord’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and the lead kept snipping down. Still, the Ducks controlled the ball and the game with less than a minute to go in the fourth, and kneeling the ball would have likely put the game away. Instead, Oregon pushed for a first down, and a fumble set up Stanford’s game-tying field goal. The Cardinal stuck to their guns in overtime, and I was left questioning my own sanity. Silver lining: rushing the field a few weeks later after beating the Huskies. 2. Natty 2014-15: The Zeke Game This was the year. This was the year to win the National Title. This was the year of the Heisman quarterback, the signature non-conference win, and the second chance. It was the year of the first College Football Playoff win—ever. It was the year that we dethroned Jameis and the Seminoles. But no. Ezekiel Elliott‘s four touchdowns buried Oregon’s hopes in the fourth quarter after cutting the lead to one in the third. Despite the final score, the Ducks definitely had chances to win this game: dropped passes, a Buckeye goal line stand, and the failure to capitalize on four Ohio State turnovers marked the end of a 13-win season for the Ducks, the most in school history. While it definitely wasn’t as close as the final game on this list, it was a blown opportunity at the highest level. Two seasons later, Mark Helfrich was fired and the Ducks were out of bowl contention. Silver lining: at least we don’t live in Ohio. 1. Natty 2010-11: Dyer was Down That’s all I really have to say. Both teams made heaps of mistakes, and the Ducks did everything they could to tie the game down the stretch. The miraculous was within reach, as long as our defense made one last stop. On a routine tackle, Michael Dyer slipped away from Eddie Pleasant and set up the game-winning field goal. Many people claim to have an enlightened view when discussing this play, but the bottom line is that it was simply unlucky. Pleasant, Dyer, and almost everyone else thought Dyer was down. I will not be pulling out the rulebook here, but I encourage you to do your own research on this one. In the end, a storybook ending to a perfect season popped up, paused, and sprinted down the sideline, an inch from becoming reality. Some day it may be. But for now, we persevere, and keep marching onto the next play, next game, next season. Such is the life of an Oregon Ducks football fan.