Thursday, July 20, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-4 Real Salt Lake: #Shook

My disappointment, shown to scale.
Where do I begin? To tell the story the story of how great a love can be?

Only it wasn’t. Damn, damn, blast and dammit. (Shit, gimme the reference?!)

I smiled through a lot of losses for the Portland Timbers in 2016, we all did.  They did, too, and, trust me, it was much, much, much worse for them. Still, we felt less than optimal and, well, noted. Look, we have a right to our feelings, too. We do. Shut up.

At any rate, tonight’s loss to Real Salt Lake, 4-to-a-participation-ribbon-1, and at home, well, that poses questions. Several of them, in fact. Fans, or at least me as a singular person among them, looked at what the Timbers did in the off-season and, broadly, it made sense. Or sense enough. And, yes, one of the things the Timbers did this off-season – let’s just call him David Guzman - was, in fact, gone tonight (there were other things, however, who were present). So was Diego Chara. So was Darlington Nagbe, Liam Ridgewell. Uh, Alvas Powell…hmm, is that everyone? Is it ballpark? If so, isn’t that good enough.

And, honestly, sorry for all the commas. Jesus Christ, mugged by caveats.

Still, the team had Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, plus the team started the shiny new bauble fans have bayed for all season long, new centerback, Larrys Mabiala. The Timbers had enough of the players who carried them to a slightly positive record (7-7-6 record, with a +3 goal differential) that the omens didn’t spell “holy shit” in blood on the walls.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-2 Chicago Fire: On a Good, Irrelevant Threat


What we can do. You've been warned. Also...please don't fight back...
I want this to be brief. That is my intent. We’ll see how I do. Also, how are you?

As for me, I’m good. Between excitement and information, that game left me feeling like part three in menage a trois. A good menage a trois (also, never…have…never mind). Some of what the Portland Timbers did in that game (what game? Shit, spaced the lead again...sorry! Portland drew the Chicago Fire at home 2-2), felt like a long walk on the sunny side of the street. The ball movement by individual Timbers midfielders – whether first touch or sharp-to-inspired passing – was league-beating, and for long stretches. Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, especially, have arrived at a plane where it looks as if they hear the echo of the other player calling for the ball in practice and, from there, they just respond to the muscle memory. Those two, along with Fanendo Adi, Dairon Asprilla, and Vytas Andriuskevicius, and, sometimes, Darlington Nagbe, (fuck it, obligatory “fire” metaphor) blew Chicago’s ashes apart (I am so sorry).

All true, but all that ran out sometime between the 70th and 75th minute – or the 75th and 80th minute – I’m working without notes tonight (and video; ‘bout time) – I could have been 65th to 70th for all I know, but, the free-flowing stuff died a quick death, even if it wasn't early. Part of that came with Chicago’s decision to pack it in – something they did by pulling Luis Solignac for Jonathan Campbell (decent young CB; just noted) – but it truly did look like more than that. For one, if you re-watch the tape, and if you’re seeing what I saw, you’ll see Nagbe and Blanco dropping to the top of the attacking third, and further by that time, but also basically stop running, and letting Ben Zemanski step to the fore to see what he could…it wasn’t that bad, honest; seriously, the Timbers scrapped to the death and that’s like half, I think, of what I want to see, because wins are OK, but sucky wins are depressing, just like most goal-less draws, just noting it. Moreover, their passes, Nagbe’s and Blanco’s I mean, along with just about everyone else’s, got sloppy as hell, especially between the 70th and 85th. Portland ran their damn legs off, basically, even they did it in something valiant, determined. So long as Chicago stayed vertical defensively, and so long as the Timbers’ collective legs held out, Portland shredded the Fire like confetti. I haven’t checked the boxscore yet, but I’d be shocked it if showed anything but dominance for Portland (UPDATE: Yep, it did.)

Counterpoint: The Timbers first team can do that, but what do they do when Plan A doesn’t come off - or, as happened today, if Plan A runs itself legless? Or what happens when a crucial piece - Adi, likely, just sayin’ – falls out of the picture in the future…if that’s not something you want to contemplate, I totally get it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Portland Timbers: Scholastic Meditations

Yo, up there. Got anything?
There’s something subtly ominous about the name, “Children’s Mercy Park.” That didn’t come through in yesterday’s 1-1 draw between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. Just…noted…

So, how we feeling, Timbers Nation? I left twitter for the night shortly after the game (right? please, god, no drunk tweets…wait! I wasn’t! Never mind), but people had already started teasing out lines of argument before then: was this a squandered result, another couple of points dropped in a season when Portland’s bag for points seems to have a couple holes (contextual interpretation), or was this a good point to get on the road against one of Major League Soccer’s stronger home teams (call this the “one-game-at-a-time” interpretation)?

Even as I see the value of getting that point – moreover, of having a real (and entirely justified*) opportunity to take at all three points – the contextual interpretation holds up better for me. (*Tim Melia’s chest 100% bumped Fanendo Adi’s trailing leg.) Fun as it is to muck around in the details – in this case, say, whether to file SKC’s equalizer under Alvas Powell losing a mark (if so, why did Jake Gleeson yell up-field (specifically, toward the general area in and around Ben Zemanski)) – the big picture slips out of focus when one spends too much time there.

I’ve phrased this a couple ways so far this season, and addressed different parts of the same idea in different posts – e.g., switches going off, or having faith in the depth – but they all get at the same idea: the 2017 Portland Timbers are impressively consistent, in that the same general things happen just about every game. That doesn’t mean no outliers exist, whether for good or ill, but, arrange those in a random pattern (as done here), and those outliers even out to match the larger trend: a reliable attack (and one starring most of the same characters) pairs with an unreliable defense and the uneven results follow therefrom. Is there some clear, useful “why” to this? First off, um…

Monday, June 26, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-2 Seattle Sounders: When Your Tifo Game Is Your Last, Best Hope


Our shared lives....
After taking in the (condensed) Hell of the Portland Timbers’ midweek loss to Minnesota United FC, and then enduring the auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong that Portland coughing up a late 2-2 draw to the Seattle Sounders, a moment that made a mockery of a truly wonderful tifo, I have several things to say/note, or that make me wanna go fetal…

First, see the title.

Second, I want to bury this idea about “bad defending,” because I view that as a too-broad argument for a more specific phenomenon. Generally speaking, the Timbers don’t defend badly as a unit, so much as they keep making horrific, this-will-make-your-mother-hate-you mistakes in defense, and, because they follow from bad decisions in the precise/specific/defining moment, those kinds of fuck ups are harder to remedy. There, I’m talking about Jeff Attinella coming off his line on Minnesota’s third goal and taking out not one, but two defenders, or the way not one single player in Portland’s defense tracked Clint “Fucking” Dempsey wandering into the space that opened up when all three of Portland’s last-line defenders dropped off on Seattle’s equalizer…the line was immaculate, then, if distinctly Maginot in nature and quality. Basically, the problems seem based less on structure than bad decisions by individual players.

I’m not saying Portland’s defense doesn’t blow the fundamentals from time to time – see the pocket that Christian Ramirez settles in to score Minnesota’s second goal (yes, keeping a good line is fundamental) – but everyone’s in some reasonable approximation of where they should be for Minnesota’s first (Okugo just got a bad touch, and the resulting own-goal; then again, where’s the reaction to that overload?). The same goes for Joevin Jones’ opening goal on Sunday: Portland’s defenders were in decent position – and I’m not saying that a couple player didn’t react like corpses (looking at you, Alvas Powell, Lawrence Olum) – but, honestly, Jake Gleeson’s rebound went straight back into the natural progession of Jones' run, who didn’t so much follow up as found the ball rolling lazily into his stride, and that’s just the gods tickling the odds in one direction or the other. As suits their fancy, the whimsical bastards…

Bottom Line: set aside the details and Timbers fans get the same outcome: every Timbers game now amounts to an exercise in anxiously turning the crank on a Jack-in-the-Box and waiting for that fucker to pop and scare the shit out of you/ruin your day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Colorado Rapids 2-1 Portland Timbers: It Was Sebastian Blanco’s Birthday, Then Everyone Fell Asleep

Anyone got tape? Maybe we can stick this damn thing to "on."
Once they settled into the first half against the Colorado Rapids, the Portland Timbers played some of the most polished soccer of the season, good let-the-ball-do-the-work passing, great, alert first touches on the ball – especially from Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, who both wrong-footed a succession of defenders in midfield; on the right Dairon Asprilla and Zarek Valentin managed possession with smart, almost casual interplay that suggested comfort and a shared confidence in the project. When the whole thing fired just right, Colorado wasn’t even chasing the ball; they could only reorient their lines of defense to the next threat.

Even better, the day dropped hints that Portland had finally figured out how to get attacking impetus out of Sebastian Blanco, who made dangerous runs into curiously open seams at least a couple times before and after burying the goal that gave the Portland Timbers the early lead. The rest of the half continued like that and, somewhere in there, it occurred to me that yesterday felt like Blanco’s birthday, the day when everything he touched would come out all right and that we would walk off the field the hero, with his teammates buying his rounds and reminiscing of his moment(s) with a twinkle in their eye that said, “yes, we will always remember this day.”

By the time the second half started, I had this middle-aged electrician from Michigan marveling at the madness of the Trump presidency on one side; maybe ten minutes later, this guy from Ethiopia sat on my other side, and I just could not stop asking questions about and country, and just tripping over the idea that I was talking to a random guy from the other side of the world in a random Hillsboro, Oregon bar. The game would take care of itself, Sebastian Blanco would get his birthday beers, maybe even birthday sex…

…it later occurred to me that I have no fucking clue when Blanco’s birthday is. The whole thing was based on a fantasy. (The guy from Ethiopia was real, though, and fascinating. He was happy to talk to someone who didn’t think Ethiopia was in Europe. He told me people have asked if he was from somewhere near Italy. “I mean, look at me,” he said. “Do I look like I’m from Italy?”) As it happens, the more relevant bit of foreshadowing came when a super-loose Roy Miller back pass gifted Dominique Badji two consecutive shots on goal, either of which he really should have buried.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Colorado v. Timbers Preview: A 72% Chance of Boredom


Five heads still comin' at ya, motherfucker!!!
This Saturday night, the Portland Timbers will visit the Colorado Rapids – and fans of both teams will be asked to endure this…at least Rapids’ fans are used to it.

I did some light scouting last night – e.g., reviewed some (condensed) tape, tried to check in with the locals by way of SB Nation’s Burgundy Wave, but they only do match reports, sooo…here's what I found on those condensed tapes.

First, I wouldn’t put a ton of stock into the Rapids’ home record. It’s solid, at 4-2-1 (unlike their road record, which is abysmal, also irrelevant), and it’s true that two of those wins came in their last two games. One of those – their 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City – even registers as impressive on paper, but, per the condensed game, they didn’t win that game so much as survive it; SKC looked to have a lot of the better of the game (and the boxscore bears that out). Colorado looked better against Columbus Crew SC – they kept Zac Steffen respectably busy early – but they still trailed late and, while more than luck carried them through it, their first goal against Columbus was the only one from all three games that looked like something they could do again. In other words, it's not every game opposing defenses will gift them a win by losing Alan Gordon at the back post (or, ideally, Fanendo Adi).

It’s the familiar formula against Colorado, then – i.e., see they don’t accidentally bounce the ball into your team’s net, while making sure your side knocks at least one goal into their net (though a couple, three goals certainly sounds better) – and, voila, three points! And that could be easier this season than last - they're broadly middling in terms of MLS defenses - and it could be easier still on Saturday: injuries/risks to the back-line (and all over, really) have forced Colorado to cobble together defenses/a team in recent weeks; they’re only really stable at fullback (and then, not that great; Mikeil Williams/Eric Miller, in particular, shouldn’t give pause to anyone but the Rapids coaching staff). In the center, Kortne Ford (rookie, homegrown) has been the only constant over the past three games, but he, along with preferred starters, Axel Sjoberg and Jared Watts, is “questionable” for Saturday. With preferred back-up, Bobby Burling out, I’m guessing “questionable” will become “probable (with cortisone)” for one or two of Ford, Sjoberg and Watts, but Colorado’s defense isn’t 100% present regardless. For what it’s worth, Ford has looked good when he plays, and I rate Sjoberg pretty damn high; Watts, a converted midfielder, falls off without Sjoberg, so there’s that to file away.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-0 FC Dallas: On Good Problems to Have


Die, motherfucker!
Let’s face it: attrition loomed large tonight, as one Portland Timber after another threatened to limp off the field. Only two did in the end…the team’s starting centerbacks. No big whoop…

So, yeah, both Liam Ridgewell and Roy Miller left the game, to be replaced by a Tetris-esque shifting of players/positions, and Timbers fans endured scares here and there throughout the game – whether it was Fanendo “Brace, Y’all!” Adi hurting (was it?) both ankles or Diego Valeri lying on the ground for two minutes that felt like five games’ worth of no one knowing how to make the Timbers’ attack work – but Portland hung (hanged? nah, think I got the verb right) on for the 2-0 win against visiting FC Dallas, aka, the team most likely to (what? win the league? be broadly awesome? prove the reality of The Youth Movement?). And, while that win was mostly encouraging, caveats attach to this thing like remoras that suck blood and eat happy thoughts…

…still, good win. This was my best-case scenario, so, hell yeah, I’m happy. It’s just that…I know stuff that lets me (makes me?) look at this game, and Portland’s last, with the coldest, deadest eyes since zombies.

First, the bad news: this is not The Best Possible Version of FC Dallas. I’d actually argue that, for a team without Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges (who is…just holy shit good), and Kellyn Acosta, Dallas played above their available level. God knows they made Portland labor to score – even as both goals resulted from the kind of fuck-ups that drive coaches to drink and/or early retirement. All in all, Dallas defended well enough tonight, but, when Adi stumbles just so, and after the kind of lucky bounce that only happens when a team presses allows Sebastian Blanco to feed him the simplest of passes, and when the other goal comes off another complete collapse, you credit the team that scored first, and ask what exactly went wrong for the other team very shortly thereafter.