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.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes: Searching for a Word...

Locked and loaded...
Well, the Portland Timbers won, beating the cranky, visiting San Jose Earthquakes 2-0. It wasn’t a terribly inspired win, especially late in the second half when San Jose bunkered to stop the bleeding. Portland tried to draw them out by dicking around with the ball outside the bunker, and the ‘Quakes bit from time to time, but, for the visitors, it was mostly about riding out the game, minimizing the damage, etc.

To my eye, this game looked a lot like last weekend’s 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, only this time Portland didn’t make a fatal mistake. Portland looked both energetic and the better team, but they didn’t get a ton of great looks; I mean, I see the eight shots on goal in the boxscore – and I saw the three shots the Timbers bounced off the posts – but Portland also racked up 24 crosses, and that feels more true to what I saw last night. Flip to San Jose’s side and you’ll get a pretty clear sense of how lopsided the game was. San Jose didn’t do jack – even with many of the players I view as key suited up, e.g., Anibal Godoy, Marcos Urena, etc. I expected more from them, personally, but they did get cut off at the knees…

I thought referee Kevin Stott called a weird one – and not only with the rapid-fire (and, frankly, wrong) pair of yellow cards he dropped in the same minute to send San Jose’s Darwin Ceren to the showers. Stott would very indirectly even things out in second half stoppage when he didn’t call a gapingly obvious penalty when ‘Quakes’ keeper David Bingham tripped Portland’s Fanendo Adi in the box. (Portland scored anyway, so, up yours Stott! (Yeah, go to hell, buddy!)) It was kind of global, the weirdness, including things like calling advantage when there wasn’t an advantage worthy of the name, and I think Stott’s steady failure to call actual fouls in the minutes leading up to Ceren’s sending off contributed to how he and others (Urena stood out here) started caroming all around the field. Again, the most important thing a referee can do is set a tone that keeps the game competitive and minimally violent. Setting the tone with a second yellow so soon after the first feels a little like shooting the tenth in a series of jaywalkers to send a message.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Scouting San Jose, With Excessive Scenery

It's in there somewhere...
About a week ago, I glimpsed an Armchair Analyst tweet that said something about the San Jose Earthquakes attack coming online. On reading the section of the article, I immediately decided I would no longer cover all of Major League Soccer. All those 20-minute condensed games were burying the goddamn lead, just as I had feared…

…nah, I decided to stop because I couldn’t cover everything without going over seven pages – e.g., that point where I’m basically writing out of spite. When I stuck to 10 or 20 talking points, I fretted about the value of everything that hit the cutting room floor. My notes never did make any goddamn sense either; shit looked like ancient Greek written through doses of shock therapy. So, yeah, fuck it. I took my weekends back.

The plan is to watch/preview only the teams the Portland Timbers will play in their next game. With that, Conifers & Citrus will be devoted only to what the Timbers did in their last game, and thoughts on who they will play in their next, notes on the meaning of the game, if any, etc.Yeah, right...

So, does tonight's game against the ‘Quakes at Providence Park mean anything special? Well, last night I put some thought into what number of losses constitutes a death sentence to any given MLS team’s playoff hopes. Didn’t look it up or anything (haven’t figured out how to phrase the search, and the actual research sounds…unpalatable), but the drop-dead tally feels like something over 10 games, certainly. 12 or 13, maybe? Portland has five losses already, so it’s just this thought.

At any rate, that note on Hyka got me wondering (there’s video, too), not least because I had a couple vague recollections of collapses by the Timbers defense knocking around my memory. I also recalled some game when all of San Jose’s new guys played to expectations; they really took that team apart, I remember. Something told me I’d seen Danny Hoesen, of all people, look like maybe he could liven up the ‘Quakes attack. Man. Who was that?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Seattle Sounders 1-0 Portland Timbers: That Little Bit of (Fucking) Quality

The "little red man." (At least you're as creeped out as me.)
Well, I had big plans to watch the condensed version of the Seattle Sounders FC narrow, weird win over the Portland Timbers before posting thoughts on it. Postponed writing about it a day – killed some brain cells, lost some memories in the meantime (plus, another day older; gets more relevant all the damn time) – to give MLSLive time to post the condensed version…which they have still yet to do. And, no, there’s no way in Hell I’m sitting through that whole game all over again.

With that, you’re stuck with my lousy memory, or just taking a pass on reading this. As always, no judgment…

This happens more often than soccer fans like to admit – i.e., games that feel like a lot of things happen, while, at the same time, not a whole lot actually happens. The boxscore for this one proved as revealing as I expected it to: the Timbers topped the Sounders in many of the key categories – attacking stats, most notably (fun little sidebar: Portland ended the day with 19 shots, but they’d fired 15 of those by around the 50th minute; hold that thought) – but one number should jump out, and on two levels: both teams put just three shots on goal. On the first level, sure, Portland out-shot Seattle 19 attempts to 8, but, if you’re wildly flailing shots at goal, what good are Portland’s 11 more attempts toward the plausible vicinity of goal, really?

Second level: that’s what I mean when I suggest that not a lot actually happened yesterday. From Portland’s point of view, they managed to turn in a better performance than they did in recent road games against the San Jose Earthquakes and Montreal Impact (a good thing), but those three paltry shots on goal tell a pretty clear tale: Portland didn’t have much luck penetrating Seattle’s area, the Timbers mostly played around the defense, and not through them and so on. A lot of credit for that goes to Gustav Svensson and Chad Marshall, in central defense, and gadfly Osvaldo Alonso and gadfly-in-waiting Cristian Roldan playing in front of them. Portland’s shots from range weren’t terrible on their own; they’re only bad in the sense that they were the start and end of what Portland could generate for offense.

Monday, May 22, 2017

MLS Week 12 Review: A Game of the Week, 10 Thoughts, Then Bedtime, MFs!!

Yeah. You feel the breeze, don't ya?
I’ll start with a brief bad news, good news set-up. It might be good news, good news, depending on a couple things.

First, I’m busy enough with other stuff I’m excited about (music, mostly*), that I only want to delve deeply into soccer only once a week. I might sneak in a post here and there and, ideally, kick out a steady stream of polls on twitter, but I haven’t yet rearranged my mental space to make that work. Sit tight. And if you start hating the music stuff (and the politics…so, SO sorry), feel free to ignore/unfollow. Not trying to piss off anyone, just going where the spirit moves me.

Second, I count flagging Toronto FC’s Victor Vazquez early as one of my brighter insights of 2017. As such, I want to more of that and less long-form explanations and about 10 fewer “brain-farts.” Also, I intend to raise the brain-farts to the dignity of “thoughts.”

Finally, I will keep watching one game besides Portland Timbers v. _________ every week (this week's write-up, btw). Reviewing that, plus the 10 thoughts will be my weekly Major League Soccer post. And that’ll go up Sunday nights. And, hey, done with the preamble. Eat shit, Thomas Jefferson…

Minnesota United FC 1-2 Los Angeles Galaxy (of which, I really only saw the second half)
Sincerely ugly for stretches, (the second half of) this game played out with everything rolling Minnesota’s way…except when it came to moving the ball up the middle with any sort of menace. And when you think that little of LA’s Joao Pedro (like me), that reads like the Loons don’t know how to get up the middle. What they do (or just what they did against LA) well, however, is slowly compress the opposing team until they can start shelling them with crosses – and that’s not a terrible idea with Christian “7 goals” Ramirez roaming the box. (And who got the assist?)

Still, careful readers might have noticed that LA won the game – and in Minnesota (home team first, and all that). Credit LA’s Brian Rowe for that…and probably also Minnesota’s reliance on crosses for offense. For all the pressure they put on LA (and on other teams, generally), they can get impatient with their timing, and that makes a low-upside tactic go a little lower. Minnesota fought like hell for that equalizer, which only makes Ramirez’ own-goal more of a shame.

LA, for their part, has no business feeling smug. The problem begins with how a player as hot as Romain Alessandrini can produce so few goals. Gyasi Zardes has been a big part of the problem, that’s by way of being gone to start the season and rusty as nails in an old barn against Minnesota. Again, when someone’s supposed to be your team’s star…

The other thing about LA, they are wimps in the tackle (well, apart from you know who). Minnesota picked up most of its momentum just by way of sticking into their tackles. Part of me says this wasn’t an isolated incident…