Those of us of a certain age remember Northern Exposure, a quirky television series that ran on CBS from 1990-95. The series was set in the fictional town of Cicely, AK (though it was filmed in Roslyn, WA). The residents of Cicely were a collection of quirky misfits who came to Alaska looking for a place where they could start over.
Janine Turner played Maggie O’Connell, a Grosse Pointe debutante turned Alaska bush pilot because … well, why not? Maggie was single because, through no fault of her own, all her boyfriends died in freak accidents. No one could explain Maggie’s curse, but she did seem destined for spinsterhood. With a trail of bodies defining her romantic history, who’d be willing to take a chance on breaking the curse?
I mention Northern Exposure because the travails of the Portland Timbers’ back line remind me of Maggie’s boyfriends. The Timbers have lost two central defenders, David Horst and Mikael Silvestre, to season-ending injuries. Both Horst and Silvestre were playing well when they were rendered hors de combat. Horst steadied the back line with his heart and hustle. Silvestre did the same through guile, experience, and dependability. The loss of two players of such high quality would hurt any team. It would have decimated the 2011 and 2012 Timbers. This edition has shown character and resilience despite the loss of two top-flight central defenders. They’re a wee bit short of central defenders at the moment, though.
The back line was the Timbers’ Achilles heel during their first two MLS seasons. Disorganized, slow, and lacking cohesion, the back line made life in the box adventurous for Troy Perkins and his replacement, Donovan Ricketts. The Timbers played from behind way too much; it’s hard to win when your opponent can keep their 11 in their defensive half.
That was then. This season, the Timbers’ back line has been steady, dependable, and capable. Even with the injuries to Horst and Silvestre, their replacements have performed admirably. Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a raw but talented defender, hasn’t been spectacular, but the Timbers need steady and he’s certainly been that. An improved defense has allowed the Timbers to dominate possession, and it’s much easier to score when you have the ball.
With two central defenders down and out for the season, anyone playing in that position could be forgiven for wondering if they’re next. Jean-Baptiste has had his own injury issues this season, so Gavin Wilkinson went shopping for another central defender. What he came up with is Pa Modou Kah. If you knew that Kah’s a Norwegian international born in The Gambia and until recently playing in Saudi Arabia … you really need to get out more.
Never having heard of Kah, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. With any luck he’ll add much-needed stability, experience, and health to the central defender position. Perhaps Kah will prove immune to Maggie O’Connell’s curse.
Given what’s transpired this season, I suspect Gavin Wilkinson the names of a few more central defenders in his back pocket. Who could blame him?
Welcome to Portland, Pa Modou Kah. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here in the Rose City. Even more than that, I hope you’ll manage to stay healthy. Being a central defender for the Timbers has proven to be a very dangerous occupation these days.
I just hope no one mentions Maggie O’Connell to Kah.
Jack Cluth is on Twitter. Follow him at @yuppieskum