Sunday, March 29, 2015

'Caps Top Timbers: Your Official Angry Gods Warning

I'm going with Ridgewell...
OK, let's have it. One of players on the Portland Timbers has clearly slept with his mother. Results can only turn that wackily wrong when the gods intervene. So, to the guilty party, kindly raise your hand. Or gouge out your eyes. I think that worked for some guy back in the way back.

It could be I'm just pissed that the final 20 minutes, as well as the game's defining moment compels me to re-write a few talking points. Before the...goddamn it. I hate when I forget the lede. I'm talking about the 2-1 loss/gut-punch that the Vancouver Whitecaps dealt the Timbers last night. Results being what they are, there is no meaningful bright side, just the mildly comforting thought that Vancouver's Sam Adekugbe can empathize with the feeling of an unexpected hit to something tender.

Anyway, the re-written thoughts numbered exactly two. Before the Timbers got clicking late in the game, I was shaping an argument that Portland's central defensive pairing of Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers counted as the one thing that went right all night. The related counter-point dubbed Darlington Nagbe a play-making failure, a man too extravagantly gifted to do the important little things well. By the time it was all done, Nagbe had risen to the occasion and Ridgewell and Borchers would combine for a gaffe straight out of slapstick. From a very, very unfunny comedy.

I'll unpack those undone assumptions below, along with a couple other bitter, bitter thoughts. Any reports of men crying blood this morning in the Portland metro area? No? Damn it. Still, no confessions. Hubris still has her hold.

Liam and Natty (OM-fucking-G! Nat Borchers nickname can be Natty Bo*!! YESSS!)
Till the wrongful death of this game – here, I'm talking the "you got it, no, you got it" defensive blunder that let a through-ball trickle to heretofore MLS cast-off, Robbie Earnshaw (hereinafter known as "That Goddamn Pass"), Ridgewell and Natty Bo had put on solid and steady shifts. Borchers wrestled with the 'Caps Octavio Rivero damn close to a pin; Ridgewell not only defended well, he provided some real forward momentum from the back by way of three or four passes that split the first two lines of Vancouver’s defensive wall and surging out of the back on a couple other occasions. I was comfortable enough with the pairing to have faith that the team can risk committing extra numbers forward when needed, so long as ol' Liam and Natty Bo run the show at the back. I am still comfortable with that idea. Borchers is a hell of a lot more mobile than I thought – Ridgewell does just fine there, too – and they seem to work together effectively, at least so far. Until That Goddamn Pass, the most dangerous moments that Portland allowed/created were the series of set-pieces – like the one Nicolas Mezquida knocked in for the 'Caps first goal...of which, more later.

Leaving Nagbe's Switch "On"
Dairon Asprilla’s introduction to the game is the only clear-cut change I can associate with Nagbe's late resurgence. Asprilla definitely added something – his nifty little play around two 'Caps players should rule highlights from the weekend – and that, for all I know, gave Vancouver players someone else to chase, thereby freeing up Nagbe. Our Darlington drove me nucking futs for the first 70 minutes. As much as I swear that the man could amble all over the pitch with the ball at his feet for the full 90, that is not the object of the game. It's putting that ball into the big netted things at the end of the field. Nagbe should carry a lot of the attack, but someone needs to remind him – repeatedly, apparently – that he doesn't have to carry all of it. I'd argue that Nagbe can raise his game – as he did last night – by holding the ball and moving with it for two beats, or three at most, before doing something with it. Ideally, this will be decisive and game-winning, but the simple idea of letting the ball do more of the work and generally keeping the ball circulating between attacking threats would benefit both him and the club enormously. Hell, just using those two-three beats to get himself up for a shot would be grand – as, again, he did last night around the 70th. At times, Nagbe seems to feel that he has to play out of trouble all the time just because he can (seriously, the man is incredible at this).

Kwuestions About Kwarasey
No, the 'Caps opening goal wasn't great. Credit to Mezquida for getting it on frame and everything, but I'm with TSN's broadcasting crew when they say that Kwarasey was in position to save that. But he didn't. He also looks surprisingly uncertain coming off his line for crosses, an idea I simply cannot wrap my head around with a guy who came up through the Norwegian leagues. Norwegians, unlike the Timbers, can cross the damn ball. As much as I'm willing to accept that Kwarasey will need some time to adjust to playing in MLS, I'm officially in a place where he has to win me over. Based on what I've seen so far, he's not a great shot-stopper and the stuff above about coming off his line leaves me fairly concerned about the Timbers’ present goal-keeping situation.

Crossing 101
Does Portland Community College offer courses on crossing? I'm not saying the Timbers should take it – not when they're good enough for other options (see, the last 20 minutes) – so much as I'm saying that Portland, as a team and an attack, sorta sucks at crossing the ball. Portland had two noticeably strong periods last night, at the beginning and end of the game (and both lasted about 20 minutes each), but a painfully barren period stretched between them. And, during that time, their first, second and third idea for offense was getting the ball wide to Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell, particularly, who the club seemed to want to isolate on the right by pulling Nagbe inside. Floated, over-cooked crosses followed blocked attempts followed floated, over-cooked crosses for 40 or 50 minutes and Portland never came remotely close for the entire period. The problem isn't confined to the quality of the crosses, either; the players are serving to just one guy far too often – Fanendo Adi, typically – and one too often standing static between two defenders – friggin' huge ones when it comes to Vancouver. The attack on really got rolling when the Timbers combined getting the ball down the flanks with stuffing players inside the channel between the fullbacks and the centerbacks – something they started doing with Chara and Nagbe. Simply put, the Timbers are not a crossing team.

Anyway, that's enough for now. There's a bunch more rattling around in my head. It's nice that the crushing disappointment of the loss has some company up there.

Three points out of 12 on offer. No es Bueno....

* National Bohemian, a crap beer popularly known as Natty Bo. The crap beer in some points East.

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