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Countdown to Kickoff 2020: Portland Timbers
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Countdown to Kickoff 2020: Portland Timbers
Basic Info: Club Name: Portland Timbers
Location: Portland, Oregon
Stadium: Providence Park. Beautiful timelapse of the recent renovations.
Head Coach: Giovanni Savarese (3rd year)
Captain: Diego Valeri
CEO/Majority Owner: Merritt Paulson
USL Affiliate: Timbers 2
2019 in Review Final Standings: 14-13-7 (W-L-D), 49 pts, +3 GD, 6th in the West
In one word, the 2019 Portland Timbers season was draining. It was an endurance test for the players. It was an endurance test for even the most ardent supporters. And it was certainly an endurance test for a Front Office that invested serious capital into organizational infrastructure. Bookended by snowy affairs in the Rocky Mountains, a year filled with tantalizing potential melted away, leaving a passionate (some might say capricious) fanbase searching for explanations. So, what went wrong?
Well, it was always going to be an uphill battle from the opening kick. Starting with the coldest game in MLS history in Colorado, the Timbers faced a daunting 12-match road trip to accommodate the impressive renovations to Providence Park’s East stand. After accumulating 1 pt from the first six matches, including blow out losses to both FC Cincinnati (!) and then-winless San Jose, the fanbase collectively smashed the panic button entering a match against ex-coach Caleb Porter and his Columbus Crew. However, for the next few months, we witnessed a different team and a different mentality. Three consecutive quality victories against Columbus, Toronto, and RSL brought the team back from the abyss. And a subsequent win against upstart Philadelphia saw Portland finish its road marathon at a respectable 14 points.
Suddenly, the narrative flipped. Pundits consistently listed the Timbers at the top of their power rankings, and with 17 of the final 22 matches at one of the best home-field advantages in MLS, it seemed the positive momentum would prevail indefinitely. More importantly though, the Timbers had found their final piece to the puzzle: an elite, ruthless, and fiery DP striker in Brian Fernandez. Fresh off an impressive campaign with Necaxa in Liga MX, the Argentine became the first player in history to score in five consecutive regular-season games to open an MLS career. His clinicality and intensity raised the level of the squad, leading Steve Clark to don the classic Michael Myers mask from Halloween, declaring Providence Park as a “House of Horrors” for the opponent.
But as it turned out, the team never truly reacclimated to the friendly confines of its home pitch. After four months (incl. preseason) away from home, the squad’s lethal counter-attacking style was far more suited for road matches which provided no impetus to play attractive soccer. Away victories at elite opponents including NYCFC, Seattle, and LAFC provided a stark contrast to disheartening home performances against the likes of Colorado, Orlando, and 10-man Chicago. And soon, the atmosphere off-the-field began to match the team’s sudden struggles on the pitch.
Political viewpoints aside, the Iron Front protests and Diego Valeri’s contract impasse ignited an already contentious relationship between the Timbers Army and FO. Meanwhile, as the squad racked up disappointing home results due to uninspired offensive play, home attendance began to waver more so than years past. While the home sell-out streak remains to this day, the increased number of empty seats in Providence Park was a pretty blunt indication of increased apathy towards the organization.
And then, there was the cherry on top. After missing consecutive matches due to a reported “stomach bug,” it became pretty clear Brian Fernandez was not the same player he was in the early summer. With a complicated and somber family history, Fernandez had struggled with substance abuse issues in the past but seemed to be on the path to full recovery during recent years. However, in October, Fernandez entered the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, and just as his story arc in green-and-gold faded to black, the Timbers season finished with a whimper. Jefferson Savarino’s 87th-minute goal in snowy Utah knocked the Timbers out of Cup contention. Eleven months following an exciting run to MLS Cup, Portland entered the 2020 offseason weary, drained, and searching for a new beginning.
The Coach Giovanni Savarese
I expected 2019 to provide more clarity on Giovanni Savarese’s coaching aptitude, but as I sit here one year later, I’m still left with more questions than answers. Gio’s passion and fervor was a refreshing juxtaposition to Caleb Porter’s often smug demeanor, but his far more conservative style still ruffles the feathers of fans who yearn for the days of “Porterball.” While Savarese implemented a high-pressing, dynamic, and open style during his time at the Cosmos, he has yet to find similar success doing so in the Rose City. The past two seasons have exhibited nearly the same progression: start the season trying to play pressing-style soccer, get beat badly, and then resort to a conservative, counter-attacking approach.
The truth of the matter is the conservative style fits the Portland Timbers. When the defense is solid, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco are talented enough to win the game on the counter by themselves. However, this tactical inflexibility is essentially the sole on-field contributor for why the team struggled so mightily down the stretch. When teams packed it in and eliminated the possibility of counter-attacks, Portland could not break down the opposition, resorted to launching an MLS record number of crosses, and got scorched on counters going the other way. A taste of their own medicine if you will.
In 2020, Savarese has no excuse. There’s no road trip to start the season, he has a loaded arsenal of complimentary attacking weapons, and now it’s abundantly clear the Timbers must learn how to control games from the front foot. An identity is useful, but flexibility is a requirement to be great. The club wants to (has to) win now, and they’ve invested significantly into personnel and infrastructure to do so. Now, it’s up to Savarese to lead the team to silverware.
Departures Brian Fernandez (ST): This one hurts. There are no two ways about it. Fernandez truly convinced GM Gavin Wilkinson and TD Ned Grabavoy that he was past his struggles, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be the case. As Wilkinson stated in The Athletic, “if we could go back and do it again, we wouldn’t have done it,” adding “what I will say is the word fraud exists for a reason.” Rumors suggest Necaxa covered up a failed drug test, and MLS is currently launching a lawsuit to help the club recoup the transfer fee. While Wilkinson suggests Fernandez was a bust, the truth is he scored 15 goals in ~25 games in all comps, showing a ruthlessness in front of goal that rivaled the Martinez’s and Ruidiaz’s of the league. As people who have met him can attest, he’s a vibrant and kind individual regardless of the fact he continues to face difficult obstacles off the field. It's just such a disappointment that it didn’t all come together, and I pray for his health and safety.
Zarek Valentin (RB): This one hurts too. Zarek was a staple of the community, someone who embraced Portland as his home, and was as approachable as any professional athlete. With initiatives like wearing a rainbow ribbon in his hair to fundraise for homeless LGBT+ youth, Zarek was an ideal steward for the club and community. With our lack of fullback depth, leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft was far from a popular decision - one that strained an already frayed relationship between the Front Office and some fans. That said, as amazing as Zarek is, his lack of athleticism was starting to catch up to him. He even admitted some struggles down the stretch, and as more talented/athletic wingers enter the league, his minutes might soon reflect it. Zarek’s versatility, eccentricity, and civic involvement will certainly be missed though. Houston, you’ve got a great dude.
Claude Dielna (CB): The most puzzling move of 2019, it didn’t take an acute observer to recognize that Dielna struggled in MLS. Wilkinson and Grabavoy took a one-year flier on Dielna to be the 4th-stringer, and the outcome was fairly predictable. He possesses a silky left foot which allows him to pick sharp passes out of the back, but he can’t run, can’t jump, and can’t defend 1v1. All of those attributes are pretty essential requirements for playing CB in any league, so it’s no surprise to see the organization not renew his contract. In the end, I wouldn’t suggest Dielna self-immolated like many horrific Timbers CBs of yesteryear (see McKenzie, Raushawn), but I highly doubt anyone will be pining for his return.
Foster Langsdorf (ST): Langsdorf may be used as an example of a Homegrown the Timbers failed to move through the ranks, but letting him go makes sense (unfortunately.) In a 2019 season essential for his development, he failed to make any significant impact at the USL level, and at 24, he would’ve entered the 2020 campaign in the exact spot he did the previous two seasons. Despite some clever finishes in the 2018 USL season, he’s not a legitimate option for the first team in this day in age - especially when similarly-aged strikers Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and Jeremy Ebobisse boast far more developed skillsets.
Modou Jadama (CB/RB): Jadama made two total appearances for the first team over two seasons, including one start at RB at Montreal in 2019. To be frank, he didn’t particularly shine as an MLS-caliber player during that time, so his opportunity to cement himself in the organization’s plans came and went. Now at Atlanta United 2, I think he’ll be a good fit for a full-time USL position, although we probably could have used CB depth with Bill Tuiloma’s injury.
Kendall McIntosh (GK): McIntosh was an undersized goalkeeper whose frame and athleticism is reminiscent of the likes of Nick Rimando. For the most part, he was a career T2 netminder that was far too raw in some areas to mount a challenge against experienced keepers like Jeff Attinella and Steve Clark. Now a member of the Red Bulls via the Re-Entry Draft, I doubt McIntosh finds many more minutes outside of the USL, but he seemed like a good dude and we all wish him the best.
2020 Outlook: So, where does that leave us for the 2020 season? Well, pretty close to the same spot we found ourselves last year. In the preceding two seasons, it was clear the Timbers possessed enough talent to capture silverware, yet surpassing the final hurdle proved to be too much. As a result, continuity in terms of roster management remains among the league’s most stable. Ultimately, Portland took the field March 3 in Colorado with 10 of the 11 starters from MLS Cup the previous December, and this season, the only departure considered a surefire starter was Brian Fernandez.
However, the main difference in 2020 comes down to the acquisitions. The Timbers FO utilized the abnormally long break to load up with an arsenal of talent, providing a stark divergence from the quiet transfer window in 2019. As much as I want to compliment the FO for its hard work this offseason, acquiring fresh blood was essential. Key pieces of the core including Larrys Mabiala, Diego Chara, Sebastian Blanco, and Diego Valeri are all exiting their prime window, and the Timbers must capitalize before that window slams shut. Consequently, four of the five names you’ll see listed in the acquisitions section below were brought in to have an immediate impact and elevate an already talented squad.
As a result, in terms of pure on-paper talent, this is a Top 5 caliber MLS team. Whether Savarese can coalesce that talent into a functioning, dynamic, and successful unit is an entirely different story however. It honestly feels like a boom-or-bust type season, and I’m worried about how they’ll navigate the natural roller-coaster swings that MLS’s parity generates. So, I’ll leave you with this: if the Timbers figure out how to maintain defensive structure without resorting to a conservative shell, they’ll be one of the best teams in the league. If not, all bets are off.
Acquisitions: Jarosław Niezgoda (ST): The Polish DP doesn’t have to single-handedly replace Brian Fernandez’s goal contributions, but make no mistake about it, the Timbers brought Niezgoda in to make an immediate and profound impact on the scoresheet. At only 24, Jarek arrives with a high pedigree having notched double-digit goals in multiple seasons for one of Poland’s powerhouses in Legia Warsaw. Ultimately, it makes sense European clubs like Bordeaux and Torino were sniffing around the striker, as he’s quite mobile for his size, can finish well with both feet, and is clever with his movements inside the box. And say what you will about the Ekstraklasa, it has a strange knack for producing efficient goalscorers, including Niezgoda’s Legia predecessor Nemanja Nikolic.
However, there is a massive catch: Niezgoda has struggled with injuries throughout his career. In a league famous for physical play, and on a team that has experienced its fair share of injury-riddled seasons, Jarek’s fitness is a legitimate concern. While his congenital heart issues seem to be held in check, Legia fans are quick to mention “he's made of glass, and it's hard to keep him in shape for the whole season.” The Timbers’ physio staff will have their work cut out for them to keep Niezgoda on the pitch and scoring goals.
Note: Niezgoda has yet to feature in preseason due to the recovery timeline from a heart ablation procedure during his medical. We likely won’t see him in the XI for the first few weeks of 2020.
Felipe Mora (ST): Niezgoda’s injury-checkered past is an important factor for why Mora’s arrival is such a critical addition. The 26-year-old Chilean seemingly fell into the Timbers lap in a series of fortuitous circumstances, as they acquired him on a TAM loan deal from Pumas in Liga MX. Normally, Mora would be a DP caliber acquisition, and in fact, he was considered a serious target for the final DP slot last year before the club opted for Fernandez. However, after falling out of favor, Pumas were willing to let him go in a manner that accommodated Portland’s limited remaining budget space. Mora provides a divergent style from Niezgoda’s channel-running and Ebobisse’s hold-up ability. He operates on a true poacher’s instinct, and his industrious approach will provide a complementary presence to any of the other strikers.
Dario Župarić (CB): If there’s one offseason acquisition that is more critical to the team's success than the others, Dario Župarić is that guy. Throughout the Timbers MLS history, CB has easily been their most troublesome spot, and they’ve yet to replace Liam Ridgewell’s contributions since his departure last year. Say what you will about Liam’s off-the-field persona: his magnetism, leadership, organizational skills, and distribution were undoubtedly influential to the club’s performance.
Župarić, for lack of a better statement, is essentially the true Ridgewell replacement. At 27-years-old, the Croatian arrives with 90+ matches under his belt at Pescara in Italy and Rijeka in Croatia, a club that has already produced productive MLS players like Héber and Damir Kreilach. Early reports in training regard him as “smooth and confident,” and even if that confidence has gotten the better of him occasionally, those characteristics exemplify why Gio had never received “more messages from friends saying you’ve brought in a very good player.” In the end though, the pressure is on Dario to perform on the pitch. MLS athleticism poses a unique challenge, and there’s little flexibility to compensate for any struggles. His adjustment to MLS must be quick.
Yimmi Chara (RM): Recognize the last name? In a courtship that has lasted as long as the Timbers MLS era itself, Wilkinson finally brought the youngest Chara brother to the Rose City. Acquired as a DP from Atletico Mineiro, there is concern about whether Yimmi’s G+A output will justify the reported $6 million transfer fee. Throughout his career, he’s never been the type of player to light up the scoresheet, but it’s difficult to dispossess him and he provides lightning-quick pace that this roster lacks. With multiple attacking options, I honestly don’t anticipate much pressure to fill the stat sheet, and his familial connection to the organization should facilitate a more seamless transition. Plus, it’s difficult enough for the opposition to face one Chara - it’ll certainly be a pain in the ass to confront two.
Blake Bodily (LM): The HG left-footer is a fairly highly-regarded prospect coming out of the Pac-12, and he showed flashes of quality during his time at T2 a few years ago. With the depth on the wings, I can’t imagine he’ll see much of any first-team minutes. I could be wrong, especially if things go south for any reason, but let’s revisit this signing a year or two from now.
A word on everyone else: Goalkeepers:
Steve Clark (GK): Without a doubt, Clark was the surprise player of 2019. Boasting the highest save percentage and second-lowest GAA in the league, Clark made numerous highlight-reel saves after taking over for Jeff Attinella in late April. While the occasional mental lapse defined much of his career up to this point, the 33-year-old was nearly flawless in all phases of play last season. However, there’s legitimate concern that this outstanding form is not replicable throughout the next campaign. After Attinella’s regression to the mean following a career year, one can understand why the Front Office might have been apprehensive to give him a sizable pay raise - even if his performances warranted it. That said, Clark’s got the new deal in his pocket and will certainly be the starter opening day vs Minnesota.
Jeff Attinella (GK): As highlighted above, few Timbers had a more ill-fated 2019 campaign than Jeff Attinella. After a torrid 2018 season, Attinella’s performances were marred by poor decision after poor decision until his year concluded with season-ending shoulder surgery. You have to feel for the guy too, as for the first time in his career, he entered an MLS regular season as the unquestioned starter. We’ll see how he recovers from the shoulder injury, but if Clark’s consistency remains and Aljaž Ivačič shows promise, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Timbers move him while he still has some value.
Aljaž Ivačič (GK): If there’s a Timber who had a more disastrous 2019 than Jeff Attinella though, it’s probably Aljaž Ivačič. The 26-year-old Slovenian was acquired last offseason to be the goalkeeper of the future, but a significant leg surgery last February took him out of team activities for most of the year. When he did return with T2 in late summer, things did not look great to say the least. It is undoubtedly difficult to adapt to a new country, but Ivačič’s struggles were worryingly apparent. Most of his goals conceded for T2 looked similar to this, where he was either in the wrong position, extremely hesitant to come off his line, or strikingly late to react to the opponent. These are fundamental issues that can hopefully be chalked up to rust and then addressed with a full preseason. If not, Aljaž might go down as one of the worst signings in club history.
Jorge Moreira (RB): Moreira possesses the talent to be the best RB in the league, but sporadically found himself a liability last season. After years spent with Argentine powerhouse River Plate, the 30-year-old Paraguayan was naturally inclined to push up the pitch since his teams had often dominated the game’s flow. As a result, the Timbers’ conservative style and league’s athleticism caught him off guard, as he had an unfortunate propensity to be out of position early in 2019. However, he mostly adjusted over the course of the year, and his power, crossing ability, and dynamism are crucial to the team.Even with the occasional poor clearance, Moreira is a lockdown starter and few RBs in MLS have his offensive weaponry and pedigree. His loan only lasts until June 30 however, though I’d fully expect the Front Office to lock him down on a permanent deal.
Update: the Timbers right-side defense has been tragic this preseason, and much of that has to do with Moreira’s play. He’ll have to re-adjust or else he’ll revert back to being a liability again
Larrys Mabiala (CB): With his pearly-white smile, cool demeanor, and commanding aerial ability, the big French-Congolese CB is one of the most respected players in the Timbers’ locker room. In a position that is a perennial revolving door of underperforming wreckage, Mabiala has been the one “written-in-ink” starter since mid-2017, and his veteran savvy is integral to the squad’s success. But at age 32, Larrys’ value is not embodied by his individual qualities but more so the partnership he forms with Župarić. His physical presence will always be vital to an otherwise undersized team, however, he lacks the turn of pace and distribution ability that would place him among the elite CBs in MLS. As a result, Larrys and Dario must discover how to paper over each other’s weaknesses by performing to their unique capabilities: Župarić covers ground well and can initiate attacking movements while Mabiala handles physical strikers and cleans up loose balls in the 18. In the end, his consistency will be as influential as any player on the roster. If for any reason he performs below the norm, there is simply not enough quality depth behind him to overcome it.
Bill Tuiloma (CB): Tuiloma is not spectacular by any means, but he’s an ideal player to provide sporadic minutes. The 24-year-old Kiwi is cheap, versatile, and possesses enough technical quality to score the odd banger. It’s a shame a calf injury will rule him out for the next few weeks, as the team could use his flexibility for spot duty at CB, RB, and even defensive midfield. If he recovers fully and Župarić struggles to adapt to the league’s athleticism, expect him to mount a challenge for starting minutes.
Julio Cascante (CB): The Costa Rican CB is best described as a high-ceiling, low-floor player whose ceiling continues to lower year after year. As far as backup CBs go, he’s probably adequate, but the guy went from a fringe national-teamer to virtually off-the-radar since his arrival in Portland. Though his height and build forge a formidable aerial presence, he’s yet to resolve occasional mental lapses and improve his subpar distribution. But Julio’s most maddening characteristic is his inconsistency. Perhaps the best thing you can say about a Cascante performance is that you didn’t notice him. Unfortunately, he tends to stick out for all the wrong reasons. Maybe a little more familiarity with the league will help the 26-year-old raise his level in 2020. I’m not exceedingly hopeful though.
Jorge Villafaña (LB): El Sueño hasn’t been the same player since his departure to Santos Laguna after MLS Cup 2015. Still an excellent crosser, Villafaña really struggled with pacey wingers towards the beginning of the season, although there are some whispers he was often gutting through minor knocks. Even with an uptick of form over the course of the campaign, there is legitimate concern he’s lost a step and will be a liability in the backline. I love the man as much as the next guy, but I’d say the uneasiness is valid. Let’s hope he proves us all wrong.
Marco Farfan (LB): The lack of confidence in Villafaña would be less of an issue if Zarek Valentin were still suiting up in the green-and-gold because Marco Farfan is as fragile as a potato chip. The HG LB is not the most athletic individual, but his technical quality is probably proficient enough to play at this level. Farfan still has to evolve as a 1v1 defender, though he’ll certainly get looks this year if he can manage to stay healthy.
Note: We still need a backup RB. It could be former NYRB, IMFC, and Dynamo player Chris Duvall. 20-year-old Venezuelan Pablo Bonilla is another option, but he’s at T2 for the meantime.
Diego Valeri (CAM): When all is said and done, I hope MLS fans and media take a moment to appreciate just how good Diego Valeri was. Since 2015, we’ve witnessed impressive names take home the Landon Donovan MVP award including Giovinco, Villa, Josef, and Vela. Sandwiched in between those names you’ll find Diego Valeri. Only the ninth MLS player to reach the elusive 70G, 70A Club, Valeri took the Timbers from a hapless expansion side to a perennial playoff contender. And from my admittedly biased perspective, I don’t think he gets enough credit for doing so. But don’t take it from me, take it from Albert Rusnak, who accurately captures the true essence of the Maestro in this interview. For the miracles performed on the pitch, his importance and presence in the community are just as admirable.
However, times are changing for Valeri, and it’s best exemplified by the fact we almost lost him over a contract dispute this offseason. By taking a TAM deal, Diego not only affirmed his commitment to the organization but allowed them to make moves to best ensure he doesn’t retire with only a single major MLS title to his name. I’d expect the Timbers staff to exercise more load management with him this campaign, but by no means does that change his status as a pillar of the club and community. Build the statue.
Sebastian Blanco (LM/RM): Sebastian Blanco is one of those guys who never seems to score a bad goal. The fiery Argentine may not be the face of the franchise off the pitch, but the decision to extend his DP contract over Valeri is a hint towards Blanco’s importance on the field. After posting his second consecutive double-digit assist campaign, Blanco’s quality across all attacking midfield positions is unquestioned. That said, 2020 is a pivotal season for the Timbers’ oldest Designated Player. Soon to be 32, the clock is ticking on Blanco’s heyday, and he’ll certainly aspire to outperform 2019’s underwhelming tally of six goals from 106 shot attempts. Now surrounded by a wealth of complimentary attacking pieces though, I’d expect a rejuvenated Seba come March. Bet the over on six goals.
Diego Chara (CDM): If there’s anyone who can conquer the inevitability of fathertime, Diego Chara is the guy. Soon to be 34-years-old, Chara’s performance metrics — involving areas such as speed and distance covered — reached all-time highs last year. His importance to the club over the past decade cannot be overstated, and we were all ecstatic to see him finally partake in an MLS All Star Game last season. The Colombian possesses a pillowy first touch, an immense soccer IQ, and a fearless presence in the middle of the park, and there simply will be no replacing him when he finally does choose to retire. But to be honest with you, I think he’s still got a few more Best XI caliber seasons in him. He just ages like a fine wine.
Andrés Flores (CM): Hell, I’m just gonna copy and paste exactly what I wrote last year because it’s still just as applicable. Andres Flores is like a Toyota Camry - solid if unspectacular. He doesn't have the sexy style that will garner all the attention, but when push comes to shove and you need to get from point A to point B, he’ll do the job (at a very low price too!). Look for him to assist in spot-duty once he returns from injury, but his most important contributions will likely be found in the little things off the pitch.
Cristhian Paredes (CM): At only 21 years of age, the full Paraguayan international started over 30 matches the past two seasons and has also emerged as the surefire midfield partner to Diego Chara. After a 2018 campaign that saw a significant adjustment period, Paredes looked far more composed in 2019, adding late-runs into the box into his arsenal midway through last season. However, no longer on loan from Club America, Paredes will face more organizational pressure to be a day-in, day-out starter this campaign. His ranginess and ability to break up play are unquestioned, but he needs to become a bit cleaner on the ball and more confident playing out of tight spaces. That said, there’s a reason the club has invested more capital into the promising midfielder: he has the potential to be a significant contributor for years to come.
Marvin Loría (LM/RM): In the next few seasons, I’d wager Marvin Loría will become the poster child for the Timbers youth development structure. With a comparatively underdeveloped and shallow Homegrown talent pool, Portland picks up guys like Loría out of foreign youth programs to develop through the Timbers pipeline. The 22-year-old Costa Rican international showed significant promise last season, and he can play a true inverted winger role - a unique style in terms of this roster. While he may see time at LM and CAM, I love him cutting in from the right, as he can deliver bangers like this and allow Jorge Moreira to bulldoze forward. At a league minimum salary, Loría provides the cheap and talented depth which makes this attack’s outlook so promising. I can’t wait to see what strides he makes this season (once he returns from an underpublicized/undisclosed injury).
Andy Polo (RM): Not many people in the Timbers fanbase understand why Andy Polo is still on the roster, let alone competing for starting minutes. In 2,860 MLS minutes, the Peruvian winger has only managed a dismal one goal and three assists - a statline that is considerably worse than ineffective wingers of the past including Kalif Alhassan, Sal Zizzo, and Franck Songo’o. He’s not an outright liability, and occasionally puts in a shift defensively, but he essentially exists solely to occupy space. Now entering his third season, Polo’s best string of matches came as the third CM in a 4-3-2-1 just before the 2018 World Cup. He’s since gathered looks in preseason as a #8 in a 4-3-2-1 and showed flashes but is still incomplete. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Tomas Conechny (CF/LM/RM): The 21-year-old Argentine enters the 2020 campaign a relative unknown, and though the club thought enough of him to exercise his full-time purchase option from San Lorenzo, his fit on the squad has yet to be fully discerned. Rumored to be one of the better headers-of-the-ball on the team, he showed occasional creative sparks in late-game situational appearances but has yet to prove he deserves starting minutes. We hear quotes akin to “he doesn’t yet know how good he can be,” but it still isn’t obvious that a particular position suits him well or if he even possesses a skillset that allows him to be a difference-maker at this level. For all intents and purposes, he’s likely to end up Diego Valeri’s understudy even if Conechny has yet to show the same precision and danger at a playmaking second-forward role. As a result, it remains to be seen if the high-rated prospect grows into a significant piece of the puzzle or if his lack of positional clarity ultimately hampers his development.
Dairon Asprilla (RM): Dairon Asprilla plays at an all-star caliber level if one of two things are true: the Timbers are on the verge of postseason elimination or he’s playing on T2. If neither of those two things are true, he’s often more useless than a turn signal on a BMW. Some wonder if he possesses compromising pictures of Wilkinson or MP, otherwise there’s very little to explain why he’s one of the longest-tenured Timbers - especially considering he’s been in-and-out of the doghouse almost every year. Word out of training suggests he’s been one of the best players in camp, but we’ve been down this road before - if it’s not Oct. or Nov., Asprilla often looks lost on the pitch.
Sidenote: 99% of Dairon’s shot attempts get thwarted due to his foolishly long windup, but when he does get a hold of one, they stay hit.
Eryk Williamson (CM): The HG midfielder (by way of D.C.) found starting minutes in spot appearances last fall, and he looked competent if unremarkable. For T2, Williamson often occupied more advanced positions, but I think he projects best as a ball-shuttling #8 in this squad. In particular, I can see him fitting into Andy Polo’s old role as a CM next to Chara and/or Paredes in a 4-3-2-1, as his passing and combination play provide a diverse look from the other two. Overall, Williamson finds himself in a decent situation to get game action this year, and I’m interested to see how he develops and grows in confidence in 2020.
Renzo Zambrano (CDM): Another international brought through the T2 pipeline, Zambrano is essentially Diego Chara’s backup at the #6. Since George Fochive left following the 2015 season, the Timbers have struggled to find a suitable defensive backup in the central midfield. Renzo is now that guy. The 25-year-old Venezuelan appeared in 10 matches last season and struggled immensely in fixtures against Colorado and Atlanta, but showed flashes of positivity in thrashings of Houston and Vancouver. 2020 will require more consistency from Zambrano who doesn’t possess the same physicality or power as Chara - but then again, few do. As a result, if I were Savarese, I’d try to mold Zambrano into a fulcrum/anchor type midfielder in the form of a Uri Rosell or Scott Caldwell. He’s a capable passer, and if he simplifies his game to shield the backline, he’ll be an asset to the team. If not, he’ll likely over-extend himself, and his midfield partner will be forced to work more tirelessly to maintain solid defensive shape. Renzo is likely the first option off the bench whenever Chara or Paredes are unavailable, so his growth is critical to the team’s success this year.
Jeremy Ebobisse (ST): Since Niezgoda and Mora’s arrival, some fans and media have denounced the organization for burying the 23-year-old American on the depth chart and hindering his development. Here’s why I think that’s an overly-sensationalized viewpoint:
But the one factor people must acknowledge is this: Ebobisse still hasn’t developed the it factor that other MLS strikers have - at least not yet. When Fernandez arrived, his ruthlessness was a stark contrast to Ebobisse’s often less-goal-hungry runs and occasional lack of clarity in the final third. Jeremy is a decent finisher, even with a few missed sitters, but he’s still not consistent enough with the direct runs off the shoulder that separate good from great. He’ll hopefully continue to develop a wider range of skills, but he’s not yet the guy to put this team over the top.
- As Wilkinson has correctly identified, Ebobisse will miss a good chunk of the early season for Olympic qualification, and with Niezgoda’s injury history, there needs to be other legitimate options to start upfront (i.e. not Dairon Asprilla).
- In 2018, Ebobisse entered the season ‘stuck’ behind two DP-type strikers in Fanendo Adi and Samuel Armenteros. Guess who emerged on top? Ebobisse. There will be multiple competitions, two-striker formations, and rotations that allow him to earn quality minutes.
- This idea that the organization is almost trying to sabotage his development is an outrageous claim. Ebobisse was the only player on the squad to play in every match last season and only finished behind Chara, Blanco, and Valeri in terms of total minutes played. Granted, he played a fair few matches at LW (not ideal, but he wasn’t outright terrible), but the team did have its best stretch of success with him and Fernandez on the pitch together.
Predicted Starting XI:
Other likely options: 4-3-2-1 or 4-4-2
Best Case Scenario:
A top playoff seed and a challenge for either the Supporter’s Shield or MLS Cup. Savarese effectively implements tactical flexibility, Niezgoda and Mora combine for 20+ goals, and Cristhian Paredes takes the next step forward in his development. While Župarić locks down the defense, one of Valeri or Blanco mounts a Best XI campaign, and Diego Chara makes a second consecutive All-Star Game appearance. Sprinkle in a Cascadia Cup alongside a harmonious relationship between the Front Office and Timbers Army, and you have a damn successful year.
Worst Case Scenario:
Pretty much the opposite of what you see above. Niezgoda can’t stay healthy while the core pieces’ form collectively falls off a cliff. Those in the Army who hold a personal vendetta against Merritt Paulson blow a trivial issue out of proportion causing a full-on revolt from the supporter’s group. Savarese proves to be an average coach with exploitable flaws, and the team fails to qualify for the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference. Significant spending, no tangible results. A wasted year.
Well, either of those two scenarios could qualify as realistic. But like all Timbers seasons, it’s most realistic to be somewhere in between. There’ll be stretches of outright panic, and there’ll be other times where we all convince ourselves the Timbers will win MLS Cup. Some of the signings hit: let’s go with Župarić - while other signings underwhelm due to extenuating circumstances: probably Niezgoda (and his glass skeleton). The team finishes in the middle of the pack - a team that no one wants to face in October - but one that is equally liable to beat themselves.
Even for someone as pessimistic as I am, I won’t predict the worst-case scenario. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the discouraging feeling that the Timbers will squander its immense talent again. A disappointing 6th or 7th place finish is in store after another taxing roller-coaster season. However, I’ll go out on a limb to say Portland does win a Cascadia Cup or USOC - some sort of silverware that convinces everybody the obvious flaws can be overcome in 2021. Blanco has a great 2020 season. The other pieces show flashes brilliance, yet can’t quite string together enough consistency to let the attack fire on all cylinders. Savarese will keep his job but enters the 2021 campaign on the hotseat. It’ll be another case of “close, but not close enough.”
Online Resources Official Links: Website | Twitter
Local Coverage: Oregon Live | Stumptown Footy
Best Twitter follow: Chris Rifer
Best Read: Jamie Goldberg’s article on Fernandez didn’t age well, but it’s extremely important to understand his tragic life story.
Al Capone's Vault Wasn't Empty
submitted by MRuchia to nosleep [link] [comments]
Sorry Geraldo, title says it all.
Well, maybe not quite “all”.
While it’s true, that those five short words aptly describe the conclusion I’ve come to (after reading the testimony of my now deceased friend, and consulting the old journal he left in my care) they do little to outline the strangeness of the past 24 hours, and they certainly fail to explain the bizarre chain of events which placed a 32 year old secret in my hands.
Full disclosure? I’m not sure I can explain it either. Right now, my world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and every scrap of sense is being shaken from its pockets. If you want answers or understanding, then I’m afraid I just don’t have them. But as a long time lurker on this subreddit, I felt like I owe you guys the story.
Ok, so before we get to yesterday’s events, a quick recap of the past 3 decades. Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 The year is 1986; a complex of dark tunnels and sealed rooms are uncovered beneath the streets of Chicago. Though the on-site team find little more than dust and concrete in the first few days, a struggling TV studio sees something different amidst the rubble; a deep vein of unadulterated TV gold.
See, a number of these subterranean tunnel systems ran throughout Chicago, and it’s no secret they were used as smuggling routes, speakeasies and headquarters for the city’s most dangerous criminals during the Prohibition era. On top of that, the location of this particular tunnel system imbued the find with incredible significance, severing the brakes on the studio’s hype train.
The Lexington Hotel isn’t around anymore. Even in 1986, it was a derelict shell of its former self. However, in its heyday, the building served as the primary residence of a Chicago legend; the notorious mobster Al “Scarface” Capone. At the height of his power, the hotel, the tunnels beneath it and, some would say, the city of Chicago itself, belonged to him.
And so it was, upon the hollow foundations of a crumbling hotel, that a landmark TV show was constructed. The studio planned to fully excavate the newly uncovered tunnels, resolving to broadcast the effort live throughout the nation. After more than half a century, they were going to open Al Capone’s vaults, with every development revealed to the public as soon as it happened.
When the long awaited night came around, an astounding proportion of the American nation tuned in to watch a small excavation crew, their uniforms emblazoned with the studio’s insignia, hammer, saw and dynamite their way into the depths of the complex. Representatives from the IRS stood by, eager to recover any ill gotten cash found at the scene. A team of coroners followed suit, slightly less eager, but wholly prepared to identify any skeletons that fell from Capone’s concrete closet.
And at the centre of it all, the host, Geraldo Rivera, marched emphatically through the hallowed halls of the Lexington, touring the abandoned upper floors, firing tommy guns, analysing the first few discoveries and, in every spare moment, waxing lyrical about the possibilities that lay within the vault.
By the end of the night? They’d found absolutely nothing.
The secret sections of the underground vault were bare. The few empty bottles found early in the broadcast, heralded by Geraldo Rivera as a sign of things to come, turned out to be the most significant discoveries of the night. A crestfallen Geraldo sincerely apologised to the American public and, once the cameras stopped rolling, walked to the nearest bar to mourn the death of his career.
The Mystery Of Al Capone’s Vaults was not well received in the weeks to follow. The public felt strung along, their viewership secured on the promise of intrigue, only to be left, quite literally, with nothing. It was ridiculed widely at the time, continuing on as a subject of parody and, even today, existing as a shorthand for anything that fails to fulfil its potential.
Speaking of things which fail to fulfil their potential…
1993, seven years since the airing of the ill fated broadcast, a child named Michelle Ruchia Polanca is born at her family home in Rockford, Illinois. My mother was Dominican, my father is Polish. Dad gets referred to in the present tense because he didn’t run off with a community college professor when I was 3 years old.
My dad gave me every spare moment of his time, spending the rest of his waking hours working his fingers to the bone to put food on our table. Nevertheless, despite his hard work, and the countless opportunities he afforded me, my adolescent brain decided things just weren’t fucked up enough for my liking.
For a host of reasons too petty and embarrassing to recount, I decided that school wasn’t worth my time. Instead, I found a group of likeminded morons and set about rebelling against the system in the most effective ways possible, you know; shoplifting from small businesses, throwing bricks at abandoned cars, drinking mixers of coke and vodka behind our local bowling alley with guys twice our age… things like that.
Cut to 2009. My increasingly shitty behaviour had finally reached a breaking point, and I found myself in front of a Young Offenders Court, mumbling to a judge who was far smarter than the excuses she was hearing.
An initial charge of Grand Theft Auto was reduced to Joyriding, as it was argued I had no intention of keeping the vehicle in question. The reduced sentence, as well as my first offender status, left me with a criminal record and 200 hours of community service. I would have taken 400 more to forgo the sight of my father, sitting in a rented suit, crying quietly beside me as the sentence was passed.
Looking back on it now, it’s fair to say he was my Geraldo and, in that moment, I was his empty fucking vault.
I got placed with a company called PatronAge, “Because Caring Never Gets Old.” It’s a charity which runs penpal schemes and visitation for the 30% of elderly people who are living alone across America. I was paired with a supervisor and, under his watchful eye, set out to visit the old and lonely residents of Rockford.
That’s how I met Ralph Helmer.
A retired construction worker and lifelong chess enthusiast, Ralph used to play a game everyday with his wife of twenty years, going so far as to call their relationship “a chess game that somehow became a marriage.” I encountered him two years after her passing, and within the first minute of meeting me, he pulled me away from my supervisor and marched me through to the lounge where a cheap board was waiting on the table for us, next to a photo of his wife in a polished silver frame.
I’d never played before, and my adolescent asshole brain was reflexively dismissive of the idea. But something about Ralph’s childish enthusiasm, and his unending patience as a teacher, made him impossible to turn down.
Almost imperceptibly, the games became a regular fixture of my week. Eventually I cleaned up my act; made amends with my long suffering father, got an apartment and accepted a full time job at PatronAge. I got promoted out of the visitation role a few years later, but that didn’t really matter; by this point I’d been playing with Ralph far beyond the fulfillment of my community service hours.
From a first glance, we would never seem a likely pair. However, over last nine years, despite all odds and despite an age gap half a century wide, Ralph Helmer became the best friend I had in the world.
On September 7th 2018, I attended his funeral.
It was a small ceremony. Too small frankly. Considering everything Ralph had meant to me, the influence he’d had on my life over the past nine years, I’d hoped to find the chapel packed to the rafters; full of people who shared my respect for him, who felt the weight of his loss as I did. Instead there were six attendees; my old supervisor, three family members, my father and I, looking on as the man who helped to save my life was lowered into the ground beside his wife.
Ralph’s family, two adult stepchildren and a teenage granddaughter, spent half the time staring at me with a strange hostility and the rest of the time looking bored. As the priest began his final speech, the epilogue to Ralph Helmer’s life, the granddaughter lowered her head, the light of a smartphone illuminating her black dress.
It took everything I’d learned in my court appointed anger management therapist to keep my mouth shut, and my eyes fixed ahead on my best friend’s casket.
Which brings us to this morning, the September 11th 2018, the day Ralph changed my life again.
Every morning, I take a walk through my neighbourhood; an exercise suggested by my aforementioned therapist which had grown into a habit over the following years. The hour long route that begins and ends at my apartment doesn’t usually take me past Ralph’s former home, but ever since the funeral I’ve found myself gravitating in that direction. I like to look over the yard as I pass by, waiting for the plants to overgrow and the weeds to come in, so I can do the neighbourly thing and cut them back.
Honestly, I’m just looking for a reason to visit again.
Today, as I passed by on the other side of the road, it became clear that the house already had visitors. On the curb outside Ralph’s home, resting beside the quietly swinging gate, stood a grey Dodge Cherokee. I’d seen that make and model before, most recently parked outside the chapel on the day of the funeral.
It was Ralph’s step-son’s car, and the open trunk was already halfway full with his father’s possessions.
I probably should have kept running. It was hardly any of my business, and it was entirely likely that Ralph’s family had a claim to the contents of his house. But something about their demeanour at the funeral, and the fact that only the most valuable pieces of furniture had been removed from the house, caused me to stop at the side of the road, and observe what was going on.
I suppose I stood there a little too long.
“What the… What the fuck are you doin’ here?! Maria!” Ralph’s step-son, a red faced gym rat in a tank top, marched out of his house towards me. Crossing the threshold of the gate, he stormed across the road and met me at the curb.
“Did you talk to Keiner?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My response was genuine, though the man in front of me clearly didn’t think so.
“Of course you’re here.” The step-daughter came next, lumbering down the path with a set of chairs under each arm and an empty silver picture frame in her free hand. Every syllable of her comment dripped with venom.
As she reached the car, I felt her look me up and down. Clearly unimpressed with what she saw, she began to load the chairs into the trunk.
“Michael, this is the last of it. Get in the car.”
“What’s going on? Who’s Keiner?” I asked, a swell of indignance rising in my throat.
Maria responded to my question by chuckling sarcastically, loading the chairs into the car as she spoke.
“You know… he told us about you. You’re the car thief right? Young, pretty, comes to hang out every week. I told my brother, ‘I bet she loves to play chess.’ and low and behold…” The chairs clack together as she gestures theatrically. “Is that all you did for him?”
Placing the final chair into the car, and striding over to the passenger seat, she looked back at me with a look of smug vindication across her face.
“Honey, I don’t care. I looked it up yesterday, we got a case for Undue Influence.” She smirked, each syllable of that final term punctuated with the jab of a red shellac fingernail.
“Maria.” Her brother spoke her name as a warning, telling her to get into the car.
“We’re taking all this somewhere safe. If you want it, talk to our lawyer.” Maria climbs into the passenger seat as her brother starts the car “You wanna to step into a courtroom again then be my guest.”
I stood on the curb and watched them leave.
As they drove off, I heard an engine kick into life behind me. Looking around, I saw an old classic car (I think a Chevrolet Camaro?) in deep burgundy. It cruised past Ralphs house and down the road, turning the corner in the same direction as Maria and Martin.
I’d seen the car on my walk, but I’d thought it was empty.
I certainly didn’t notice anyone climb inside.
I spent the rest of the day at my Dad’s house. He said he needed some help cleaning out the garage, which I’m pretty sure was a veiled attempt to keep an eye on me.
I got home at 8pm, exhausted and criminally overfed. Walking down the corridor to my apartment, I became aware of the medium sized object that was leaning against my door.
As I drew closer, I discovered a hand delivered package. Thin but perfectly square, neatly wrapped in brown paper and string, with no note included anywhere on the package or the floor around it.
Picking it up and tilting it gently from left to right, I could feel something shifting inside a hard wooden container.
I quickly looked down both ends of the corridor, checking for someone who might have delivered it. Seeing no one, I let myself into my apartment, cutting the string with a paring knife and slowly pulling the paper packaging aside.
It was a chess set.
Ralph had owned more than a few, in fact, I’d seen a bunch of the more expensive ones in the back of his step-son’s car this morning. I’d never seen this one before however. It was large, cheap, the sort of board you’d buy if you we’re just starting off in the hobby and not sure whether or not to commit.
The first thing I noticed was on the grid itself. Written in what looked like correction fluid, was a set of letters, one in each box. Eight rows across and eight columns down.
I took a picture of the layout and have uploaded it for you here. If you can make any sense of it, then be my guest.
Placing it on my desk, I searched for the seam to get into the hollow section inside. Inside the hollow cavity, lay a visibly aged notebook; crinkled yellow pages in a jacket of weathered green leather, two yellow sticky markers poking out the top.
The note beside it was newer than both the journal and the board itself. I’ve typed the contents of this note up for you to read.
I realise you might have trouble believing the claims made in the documents below and, if that’s the case, then welcome to the club.
The Final Confession Of Ralph Helmer
To whom it may concern,
You hold in your hands the final confession of Ralph Oliver Helmer. If all has gone according to plan, this note, and the accompanying document, should have been delivered to a trusted confidant in the fulfilment of my last will and testament and therefore, should only be available to you following my death.
I have chosen this method of confession, primarily, out of cowardice. I have hidden from the consequences of my actions for a long time and now I have elected for them outlive me. I also hope that, by leaving this confession to the end of my life, I will have placed sufficient time between the incident in question and its present discovery.
An old man once told me that the secrets buried at an empire’s height, are more likely to be uncovered in its ruins. At first, I didn’t know what he meant but, in time, I’ve come to agree with him. Sometimes the truth must be buried in order to be revealed. It must be suppressed until the forces that would destroy it outright are weakened by time and fate.
I can only hope the parties involved with these events are themselves in ruin, that they may no longer pose a threat to you, as they have to me for the entirety of my life.
So, without further ado, my confession is as follows.
In 1987 I was part of a televised excavation project beneath the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. The program was produced by Westgate Studios, and titled “The Mystery Of Al Capone’s Vaults.”
It is popularly believed, by the 30 million viewers of this show, and by all those involved in the production, that the excavation was a disappointment, yielding no significant discoveries.
I can confirm that this is not the case.
Following the destruction of a concrete wall, as the program was running Geraldo Rivera’s interview with Buddy Rogers, I ventured into a previously untouched section of the tunnel system, accompanied by two of my fellow workers.
While the production crew were briefly occupied elsewhere, we stumbled across a discovery of incredible significance; three highly detailed, handwritten journals, all of them at least 40 years old, were uncovered from behind a wooden panel. At the time, we had no idea what we had discovered. All we knew is that the artefacts themselves would be worth a fortune, and that they would be removed from our possession, forever, as soon as the production reached us.
The decision was taken quickly, and undertaken unanimously. Moments before the film crew approached, I hid the documents at the bottom of my toolkit, where they remained until after the production wrapped. Once the show was over, me and my compatriots took the journals home with the intention of selling them once enough time had passed.
This is my confession. Al Capone’s vault was never empty. That is a convenient fiction used to conceal the robbery of its sole contents by myself and two accomplices.
I did nothing to atone for these actions in life, but I believe I have served my punishment. In every sense of the word, no fortune came from our actions that day. Instead, the theft of those journals, and my reading the words contained within, has proven to be the single worst decision of my life. It has led me to an existence of fear, betrayal and total secrecy.
The first of the three uncovered journals is included within this package. The truth contained within was buried in the 1940’s and, in the 1990’s, I buried this truth again. Perhaps it should remain so, perhaps it should be destroyed entirely. The privilege, and the burden, of this truth now rests with you.
Ultimately, I believe these journals can be an unparalleled gift or a tragic and inescapable curse.
In the end, that difference is simply a matter of wisdom.
I hope you are wiser than me
Upon completion of my first reading, I stared at the note for a good few minutes. I knew that Ralph had worked in construction in the past, but he’d never mentioned a TV show, and he always seemed like the last person who’d do anything remotely criminal.
I almost felt angry at the words on the page, for offering me a darker perspective of someone I greatly admired.
Moving the note aside, I found myself staring at the old journal, almost afraid to look at what was inside.
After a few moments of deliberation, placed it on my desk, and opened it to the first bookmarked page.
I've put it below for you guys to read and, if there are any developments, I'll update tomorrow.
Journal Entry; 1920
There’s a dead man sitting across from me, and I’m the only one who knows it.
It’s been the same way for the past two years. A good minute before the hammer falls on some poor sucker, I’m forced to watch it raise above their head, to see the last shreds of hope in their eyes as the downward swing begins. Some people round here would probably enjoy this feeling; knowing something the chump in front of you don’t. But honestly, I never liked it.
I just wanna warn them.
There were three guys across from me; Bob, Jay and Francis. Left to right they’re at 18, 12 and 11. I got a Queen face up, comin’ to 20 after the peek. Not a bad position for the house.
“What did you see there boy? Should I be worried?”
Bob laughs at his own wheeze, and sticks with 18. Even though he’ll lose this round it won’t matter to him. The money on the table was more than most would make in a month, but it might as well be pocket change to Bob Marino.
Jay busts himself with a Jack and, always a bad loser, decides to take long angry walk to the billiard table. I know he’ll find his way back… a long angry walk is what brought him to my table in the first place.
That just leaves Frances, wearing a familiar look of misplaced confidence as the last few bills of his rest on the table.
I watch the hammer start to raise.
It’s not that I can see the future. Far as I know nobody can. I always had a pretty firm grip on the past though.
In this case, the last two face cards have already been played on the table. I’ve seen all the tens, eights, sevens, fives and threes leave the shoe over the last forty minutes, resting face down on the other side of the table. Frances is an optimist, sometimes that’s commendable, but sometimes it leaves you waitin’ on a 10 that’ll never come.
I hit him with a 3 and a 9, staring down at the table as I collect his money and set up the next hand. I busy myself with the work as he stumbles off to a house with no lights. I know it ain’t friendly of me, but I hate seeing the shadow that passes over his face. I’ve already seen it too many times and, once I’ve seen something, I have a real hard time forgetting.
When I look up again, I see a face I’m happy to remember.
“Always thought you were somethin’ special.” Lilian fixes me one of her sideways smiles, sidling over to me with an empty tray. She picks up the glasses from my table as I try and put some words together. “Boss is askin’ for ya. You steppin’ up in the world?”
The boss has asked for me lotta times over the years, but I still feel queasy at the idea.
“Who… who’s got the table?”
“Harry’s comin’ down, why, you plannin’ to keep him waitin’?”
I tell Bob Marino that someone’ll be right down for the guy. I give Lilian my best and make my way to the second floor.
It’s a long walk to Torrio’s office, and like I said, it never gets any easier. I’ve been in there a handful of times now, helping out wherever I can, but every time I meet the guy feels like the first.
I can hear conversation going on as I arrive at the door.
“... I wish it wouldn’t have to come to this but… it’s the cost of enterprise.” Torrio says that just before I knock.
There are three men in the office when I’m called inside. Torrio’s the one I know, sittin’ at his desk like normal. Across the table from him is some tall fella in a grey suit. I don’t know how but I can tell he’s from out of town.
The third man I’ve seen around, and I know by reputation. There’s no expression on his face as he looks me over, but I’m close enough to see the powdered outline of a scar across his cheek.
I try not to look at it too long.
“Shut the door kid.” Torrio says.
“You asked for me sir?”
“That’s right. Kid meet Mr Souza.” He gestures to the newcomer, who smiles. Torrio continues. “And have you met our man from New York?”
“Uh no” I say turning towards the man with the scar. “It’s a pleasure to meet you sir.”
“Al.” Torrio searches through his draws as he talks to the guy. “Give me a number between uh, 1 and uh... 130.”
“What’s this about, boss?”
“What do you mean “what’s it about?” Just gimme a number.”
I know where this is going. Torrio pulls the book from his desk, flicks through it for a while until he finds the right page, and hands it to Al.
“It was a Saturday night...” I begin, kinda nervous. “... and such a Sabbath as followed. Ex officio professors of Sabbath breaking are all whalemen. The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble; every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods-”
“Ok that’s enough.” Torrio waves me into silence. “How’d he do Al?”
The out of towner looks impressed, Al seems amused.
“Kid should be in the circus.”
“He’s read that book once, that’s all he needs. Memory like a steel trap.”
“Sounds like a liability.” Al stares at me as he says so.
“Nah, the boy comes from loyal stock. You wouldn’t know his father but the man was adamant his kid help out. How is your pop kid?”
“He’s good sir, he sends his best.”
Torrio smiles, before turning to the tall fella.
“This boy knows the tunnels better than anyone I know. Better than our own men, certainly better than any Johns I’m aware of. It’s like he’s got the whole map in his head.”
“That should prove be quite useful.” Souza speaks for the first time. He sounds British, and he smiles at me as he talks.
“Kid” Torrio continues. “Mr Souza here is lookin’ to use our tunnels for uh, what was it again?”
“Oh there is very little to it.” Souza says. “I am a... scientist, and an investor in people. I simply wish for a place of conference with others in my organisation. Somewhere away from common scrutiny”
“As I said, Mr Souza’s “organisation” is looking to secure discreet use of the tunnel system. They’ve offered a handsome retainer and a uh… compelling show of good faith.” Torrio grins. Usually he keeps a straight face about this stuff. It must be a whole lotta dough.
He nods his head over to Al.
“I’m leavin’ the responsibility of this deal with Mr Capone here. You’ll be working for him from here on out. Understand?”
“Good. Finish up your shift and get a good night’s sleep” Torrio gets up and shows me to the door. “I have a feeling tomorrow’s going to be a new day for us all.”
I left the the office, my heart pounding, and headed back upstairs. At the time I was worried about my new boss. Al’s reputation had followed him from New York. He was a prodigy, a born leader and most likely the next head of the entire Outfit, but he was also quick to temper, and those that angered him tended to meet their end quickly.
Looking back, I was worried about the wrong person.
I never found out what Mr Souza offered as a “show of good faith” but I think I can a guess. That night, while Al and Torrio were accounted for at the Four Deuces, someone lured Torrio’s boss, Jim Colosimo, out of his house and unloaded a barrel of lead into his chest. Colosimo was the only one standing in the way of Torrio’s bootlegging business, and the aftermath of his murder really was a new day for the Chicago Outfit.
The killer was never found. I suppose it could’ve been some nameless hood with a gun and bit of ambition. That’s certainly what people believe.
But none of them were in the back office that evening, and none of them were around for the business that would follow. None of them saw what was going on in the tunnels once Souza’s people started to arrive.
I remember, I left that meeting thinking I’d met the most dangerous man in Chicago, and I was probably right.
But it wasn’t Al Capone.
Six Nations outright prediction – England. With widespread changes in both playing personnel and backroom staff, this Six Nations has the feeling of a step into the unknown, so it seems prudent Outright Results Betting. Outright bettingis pretty straight forward and simply means to bet on the outcome of an event. For the purposes of Six Nations rugby, this could mean an individual match, say England V Wales, or the overall winner of the tournament. 2020 Fixtures. DATE Time (GMT) Fixture Venue; Sat, February 1: 14.15: Wales v Italy Six Nations Betting Odds. The Six Nations betting odds provide some great betting opportunity for rugby fans and punters. The winner market is the main Six Nations betting outright market. As it’s a fairly short tournament, this is often fairly fluid market with the Six Nations winner odds changing quickly after and even during matches. We price up our World Cup and Six Nations betting well in advance, letting you access outright betting, Triple Crown and Grand Slam betting markets whenever you want. We offer match and outright betting on all the major leagues including Aviva Premiership odds, Heineken Cup betting, RaboDirect Pro12 odds and Top 14 betting. Six Nations tournament format. This year will mark the 126th edition of the Six Nations, with the participating countries England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales as they play each other over the course of five weekends of fixtures.