Saturday, May 19, 2018

Portland Timbers 2-1 Los Angeles FC: A Song for the Unsung

Yes, that fucking good. "Everyone around the world...C'MON!!"
To venture into personally unfamiliar territory, seeing Liam Ridgewell pull up gimpy made me nervous. I’m generally cool on Ridgewell, but I’d also bought into this idea of balance and roles within recent Portland Timbers starting elevens, and balance between roles, and that idea seemed…threatened when Ridgewell lay face-down on the turf contemplating his bad luck, and by the idea of any given piece coming out of it. And so early in the game, too…

To spare one last thought for Ridgewell, I’m happy he played his way (back?) into my heart and confidence (just…I’ve always been a hardass with Ridgewell) before whatever injury struck him today, god speed and scare the shit out of the other guys as soon as you can, Liam, and thanks! Conversely, I was absolutely fucking thrilled, 1) to see Larrys Mabiala continue to look like Portland’s best central defender and, 2) that Julio Cascante came in, had at least two massive moments, and, one threatening ball skipping between his legs aside, looked like he could start if circumstance or Giovanni Savarese came calling. And the team has Bill Tuiloma in the back pocket inside its back pocket, and he’s been competent, if not good, and all that together could mean a stable central defense for the length of the season. Even if you think a great defense is the worst part of a championship team (it is), they matter immensely, and the Timbers have a sorted, solid defense, or at least one that keeps delivering - even via the understudies. And that leaves them only needing a slick attack in order to achieve unicorn-awesome, a real thing, look at the internet.

Before leaving the defense, I want to salute Zarek Valentin for starring in this afternoon’s game. My sense that I saw his face as much as anyone else’s and more than most hints at how often LAFC attacked Valentin’s flank, and all the LAFC clearances he sent back into their attacking third after set-pieces kept Portland in at least three attacks. I'm sure other players' names will get more mention after the game, but I think the broadcast booth mentioned Valentin’s more during it; he was everywhere he needed to be and a quarter-step early. Based on the past three, four weeks, Valentin wants to stay on the field pretty damn bad. That’s…just great.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Portland Timbers 1-0 Seattle Sounders: Good Vibrations

Before you say that's tacky...the tip's green?
This steps either into or around the main theme, but it’s such a good way of describing the game…

I watched the Portland Timbers clip (or more?) the Seattle Sounders 1-0 at home in Seattle, and with a Sounders fan. We talked steadily throughout the game, bringing up details when prompted by the game or otherwise, but we rarely got out of our respective man-spreading sprawls on his couch. Not many of the few shots/saves/near-misses that came before the one that counted lit the kind of fire that makes the body lurch involuntarily, and few of them came after any kind of sustained pressure.

As the time ticked down, things got a little more tense. The Samuel Armenteros trip/flop (we report, you decide) was probably the first time something riled me out of my slouch, but the real shift came after Sebastian Blanco skipped his shot over Stefan Frei - and, yes, hold that thought, because the time Diego Valeri slipped by two sleeping S.O.Bs and nearly scored stirred up the room a little as well, but I digress. At any rate, the Sounders fan, a guy I’ve known for (literal) decades, started…emoting after Blanco’s goal, and that's his normal state. From there to the end, he started cursing Seattle’s missed passes, missteps and bad decisions, and, after a wee pile of fuck-ups, he had to…step away for a moment. And that’s kind of the lesson.

For as long as this game looked destined for dueling zeroes - i.e., about 87 minutes, yeah? - stakes was low. Skin went into the game after Blanco’s goal, and that’s when it got fun.

87 minutes from 90 is a long time to wait for any kind of decisive emotion, but you know what they say about patience (they’re for it, and imply its holiness), and that’s the main theme alluded to at the top: the most encouraging thing about Portland right now is that they’re finding ways to win stubborn games like this. Each of the Timbers’ consecutive 1-0 wins (the other one) required them to overcome some relevant detail - e.g., they had a road-jinx to grapple with in the win against the San Jose Earthquakes and a five-man backline (aka, a stacked defense) to overcome against the Seattle Sounders. For what it’s worth, I think Seattle’s formation posed the bigger challenge; solidly mediocre as that side has been all 2018, they’re defending well, and, outside a couple howler moments, that really didn’t change this afternoon.

Sven Svensson (fine, Gustav Svensson) really stood out today. He’s the only Sounders defender who read Valeri’s earlier clean break into the area on Fanendo Adi’s tap-back, after all (see "nearly scored" link): were I a Sounders fan (auch, soap, soap! My kingdom for some soap (gotta wash out my mouth!)), I’d be passing how both Alex Roldan and Jordy Delem utterly spaced Valeri’s run through a rigorous “what it all means” analysis. And it was Svensson again, who almost cut out Armenteros’ feed to Blanco for the winner. Honestly, the Swede has caught the eye just about every time I’ve watched Seattle. I get the feeling that he and “Captain” Cristian Roldan have made some kind of silent pact to hold this ailing Sounders squad together till, oh, half their damn squad stumbles out of sick-bay.

Seattle had a couple reasonable forays this game - e.g., a nice sequence in the first half that freed (I think) Kelvin Leerdam in a ton of space on Portland’s left, and another in the second half, and before Blanco’s goal, where the Sounders absolutely should have scored. Nouhou Tolo had a clean shot on goal that he put straight to Jeff Attinella, but I didn’t see much outside of that. I just confirmed via the box score that Portland hardly lined up shots on Seattle’s goal - down to pissing away their advantage in shots (looking at you, Larrys Mabiala) - so this game played out as I expected, anyway.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

MLS Week 10: A League of Dilemmas & Ten Things

Neutral fans for Chicago v. Atlanta
“And there is that long ball to start things off for the Rapids.”
- Confirmation of general reality from the broadcast booth, #SKCvCOL
I don’t just love the unsubtle dig in at the Rapids’ in that line, it also sums up in a small number of words why I didn’t tune into Sporting KC v. Colorado. The same goes for SKC: I don’t watch them much because I feel like I know where they are. The same goes for Columbus Crew SC gutting out a goal-less road draw at the Seattle Sounders after going down a player (Pedro Santos…who really needs to check his shit) at the 15th minute: neither team is doing much right now and aren’t of much interest as a result.

So goes the process of elimination when I decide which games to watch every weekend on either side of whatever the Portland Timbers get up to. Because it’s half-driven by catching a spoiler - and only half; I still watched New York Red Bulls v. New York City FC, because that’s just good data (not to mention very impressive) - it’s a fairly imperfect method. For instance, I doubt anyone but fans of both teams and betting members of the sadomasochism community picked the Chicago Fire versus Atlanta United FC as a top bout for the weekend. Two other spoiled games lead me to that one, but I’m at least a little glad I tuned in because Chicago managed better than I expected, even playing at home; they also have a point of semi-major concern I’ll look at in one of the 10 Things below.

At this point in the season, though, I’m not sure Major League Soccer’s teams are so much rounding into either good or bad teams, as teams are sorting to, for lack of a better word, types. For instance, the Montreal Impact has to be the biggest “trap” team in MLS, terrible one weekend, lethal as poison the next, just ask the New England Revolution (but…more on that below). In Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, you’ve got the two teams likeliest to land 20 blows before you even hit the ground; New York City FC, on the other hand, has stumbled hard enough over the last month to fall from a permanent state of grace. The win against FC Dallas (again, more later) between two…just bad losses (NYCFC got shut-out in both and lost by a combined total of 7 goals) keeps the dreaded “glass jaw” label at bay until a bigger sample says otherwise, but, seeing a team who had rolled as fast as NYCFC take those hits…damn. (During the broadcast, Adrian Heath called the Red Bulls loss, “a shattering reality check,” or something like that.)

If you see omissions in the short (implied) list of top teams above, the team you have in mind might show up below. Might not, too. I’m confined to what I catch and I missed all the talkies and write-ups on this stuff this past weekend. Also, if you’re wondering where the Timbers fit into the puzzle above, I’ll wrap up with that after the 11th Thing down below.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

San Jose Earthquakes 0-1 Portland Timbers: Paredes...Polo...Paredes...Polo... am I.
First things first, what adjective would you, personally, apply to that win: impressive, inspiring, expected, or solid?

Also, I have my poll…

Over the opening 30 minutes, just about everything around and about the Portland Timbers felt good, loose, and something heartwarmingly-close to cruise control. Whenever that changed over the next 60 minutes, Portland ‘keeper, Jeff Attinella, held up to the task; his 36th minute save might have knocked the socks off, but I got the bigger boost later in the game, when he lunged forward to clear a ball about 30 yards from Portland’s goal - i.e., well inside no-man’s land. Attinella played that moment with confidence, like he knew where the people around him would either be, or go, when he stepped forward. The general trends look strong and real, but that detail - a growing sense of who does what, when and where on the field - goes farthest in terms of making me think Portland could have places to go this season. (Mostly*.) With five road games behind them (e.g., Portland  has home games in the bank), and a 1-0 win picked up last night against the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium - I feel like I’m going to go home happy more often than not in 2018.

Whether glorious or not, Attinella’s saves amounted to rounding up to some dangerous strays because the Timbers won this game on their merits. Alternately, it could be argued that San Jose lost this game on their faults; Anibal Godoy’s knack for the hard, pointless foul took the honors, but, contrary to Ross Smith’s mid-second-half commentary, Portland transitioned at will against San Jose, and for most of the game. San Jose responded in kind more often than I’d like - especially from minutes 55-75 - but they never could break through. And, when they did…Attinella.

So, again, impressive, inspiring, expected, or solid?

The team kept good shape for most of the game, and didn’t give the ‘Quakes much, but the Timbers hardly racked up chances. I know Fanendo Adi had a few (left foot, kid) - the kind that inspire the “oh, shit, that was close” stomach drop a little more than the rest - and the game played openly, as a whole, but I didn’t get the shooting gallery I saw as a real possibility. In fact, this game looked ever more likely to end goal-less as the game clock clicked higher. Beneath the lack of drama, though, a specific tension that would finally turn the game developed. As he got overwhelmed, little by little, Godoy resorted to more and dumber fouls, starting with his clumsy tug on Diego Chara in the middle (or thereabouts) of the second half. When Godoy finally fouled Diego Valeri in a dangerous place, but…c’mom, how many times does that free kick go missing? Or, more bluntly, it didn’t really occur to me to cross my fingers or anything else when Valeri stepped up; that’s the difference between hoping for something to happen and thinking it will, never mind expecting it. And, can I say it? Valeri hit that with textbook perfection. No, not like the shitty textbooks Texas dumps on the country like Chinese steel, but one of the good ones. I’ve seen prettier, big-bending free kicks than the shot Valeri dipped over San Jose’s wall, but not many that followed directions that neatly. San Jose’s ‘keeper, Andrew Tarbell (who is good), set his wall, took his position in the gap left behind, and Diego “Bless’d King” Valeri, chipped the ball over the wall, beyond Tarbell’s reach and - HELLO, beautiful! - first road win of the season!

Monday, April 30, 2018

MLS Week 9, 10 Things, And How You Know About a Team

Went uplifting this time. See TFC? Basement trolls can be awesome!
Hello darkness, my old friend. (Also, Paul Simon and/or Art Garfunkel was a worse lyricist than you remember. Trust me.)

As advertised (I can say that now, right? I've been doing this long enough?), I’m still wrestling format to ground and feeling…just really pointless guilt about leaving things out. Can I be of service? (Please, let me be of service!) Per some number of the several pathologies that drive me, here are all the past week’s results, or the one’s I remembered to include:

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Real Salt Lake

Atlanta United FC 4-1 Montreal Impact

Toronto FC 2-2 Chicago Fire

Philadelphia Union 3-2 DC United

Columbus Crew SC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

New England Revolution 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

Minnesota United FC 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Los Angeles Galaxy 2-3 New York Red Bulls

Colorado Rapids 1-2 Orlando City SC

New York City FC 3-1 FC Dallas

Los Angeles FC 1-0 Seattle Sounders FC

I’m going to try to take all the above loosely and dedicate the “10 things” segment to expansions, details, theories and myths, that kind of thing.

This felt like the first decently predictable Week of the 2018 season. Or, better, I can offer either a detail or a narrative that reasonably explains every result above. The same goes for the opposite result in each case, and welcome to Major League Soccer, The League of Relativity, but the results make most sense in this timeline. For example, based on most data points you’d expect NYCFC to beat FC Dallas at home, and for Atlanta to beat Montreal at home, while neither anticipating how much Dallas would contain NYCFC (by 200-250 fewer passes, roughly), nor how long it would take Atlanta to unlock Montreal (70+ minutes, and trailing most the while).

Monday, April 23, 2018

MLS Week 8: 10 Things, Heavily Weighted Numbers, And Those Who Defy Them

Results don't often vary, but can...
For reasons of sanity, I’ve decided to cut the “2 Games” piece out of these weekly round-ups of Major League Soccer. “10 Things” are all I have in me…and this is how it begins. (No, no, darling Barbara. I love you. I would never leave…).

That doesn’t mean I didn’t watch the mandatory number of games (I mean, someone’s watching, and failure to comply will result in a report to proper authorities…right?) - I watched Columbus Crew SC draw 2-2 to the visiting New England Revolution and the Los Angeles Galaxy coughing up two goals and all three points at home against Atlanta United FC - but giving featured games the paragraph or two I’ve given them eats a lot of time and, swear to god, I think it chases traffic away. I mean, if somebody keeps telling me something they wrote fts. two teams I don’t give a shit about, I’m not gonna read it.

I learned a thing or two, of course, and formed opinions, even if not closely held ones - e.g., I rate New England the better team, especially when both teams are gunning, and head coach Brad Friedel looks to have a good head for subs (and good subs to use); Atlanta never once left the driver’s seat, and a ton of that was down to Miguel Almiron (again), but I still somehow got it in my head that the Galaxy will end 2018 in the Top 3 in the Western Conference.

There’s more, lots more, pages upon pages of notes made on highlights, boxscores, and even a couple from the comments to the recaps (a guy posting as “Morningside Park” had some solid notes on New York v. Chicago. I don’t touch on everything down below, and can’t, really, but these are 10 comments on sights and sounds from MLS Week 8.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC: Pathetic Cobra, Cunning Mongoose

I started with seeing the things I expected to see - e.g., New York City FC’s Maxi Moralez finding seams between the lines to dart in and of like a hummingbird (pound for pound, just sayin’) - about 15 minutes into the game. The predicted spells of possession started to show about 25-30 minutes into the game, when NYCFC established a perimeter around the rough area of Portland’s defensive third (and with a pinch-in from both sidelines), and just…held that line and probed for weaknesses for as long as minute, maybe even three minutes at a time. The inexorable mechanics of a boa constrictor at work, and only a matter of time away.

To introduce a second unnecessary snake metaphor to the equation, a cobra is scary as hell until a mongoose shows up. I came into this game with a headful of dread (see twitter), and that had everything to do with NYCFC reputation, unbeaten, high-scoring, relentless; I’d seen them at least twice this season and never walked away without believing in their permanent upward mobility. To drag the cobra back into this, think when it hoists its head up, hood flared, poised to strike; that’s what each of those 1-3 minutes spans felt like (or, to introduce another metaphor, think a hammer hovering over a nail). When NYCFC settled into a rhythm after Portland scored their first from a Sebastian Blanco header, and camped out where I thought they would (just inside Portland’s half), I had flashbacks of both of New York’s comebacks against Atlanta United FC just the week before. More to the point, if you compare the league-wide hype-factor between Atlanta and Portland, a mighty river flowed from one, while a fitful trickle flowed from the other.

That’s respectively, in case you can’t tell. Seriously, I would have asked for tall odds for a bet on a Timbers win tonight - say 6:1. Saying they’d win by three would have shot the odds through the roof - say, 25-1, maybe even higher. And I think you’d get a taker or two on that 25-1 for a 3-0 win, the final score for this beautiful puppy. Just think what you could be doing now with all that cash, Doubting Thomas…cocaine and Vegas, man. Or just an eighth and Spirit Mountain. By Uber.

That said, I just checked the highlights and I’m struck by the full meaning of Blanco’s goal - e.g., the mongoose of the…second order metaphor. Even the title to the link is titled, “Sebastian Blanco loops an unlikely header into the net,” and that captures it nicely. Blanco  had to get a better line on the ball than 5’ 9” Anton Tinnerholm to score Portland’s first goal, and it didn’t necessarily feel like Sly Stallone leaning just a little bit more on during one of the qualies for Over the Top. As noted above, New York kept doing what they do, keeping the ball in front of them, finding Moralez ping-ponging between the back four and whatever midfield configuration then opposing team puts in front of that. It felt like they’d pin Portland in and, when the time was right, ripe, and most devastating, they’d strike. Not sure where I am for metaphors by now, but this feels more like a feline alpha predator at this point, that’s just to note where my head is right now. Moving on…