Sunday, March 15, 2015

Portland Timbers v. Los Angeles Galaxy: Building a Reputation, One Collapse at a Time

I see ya, Jorge! It's a-comin'!
Well, at least it’s familiar. Like that old shoe you keep wearing,. Then again, it's only because you can't afford new shoes. And yet the Portland Timbers spent money – designated player money, for one, and quite possibly a bump in salary (i.e. Nat Borchers probably makes more than Pa Modou Kah and/or Mamadou "Footy" Danso, right? – to fix the defense. And yet, there it was, that last-gasp dagger, the goal that slips between your ribs so often that the stupid wound just won't heal.

Each and every Timbers fan should fully it expect by now. I mean, would it be the Timbers without it?

OK, pushing past the daze to recap: the Timbers tied the Los Angeles Galaxy tonight 2-2, in Portland, and the game ended with two goals, one at the death (Portland's) and another after the death (LA's). All in all, it wasn't a bad game: the Timbers had the better of the first half – the first 20-25, especially – and they went into halftime with a justified lead; LA seemed content, in fact, to hit the lockers at halftime with an eye to re-grouping. When the second half came, either the Galaxy came out better, or the Timbers came out worse (I'm absolutely awful at telling the difference, frankly), but, regardless, LA looked sharper overall and clawed back a goal to get the teams level at 1-1. And it looked a whole lot like things would end there. Until Portland scored. Then it looked like Caleb Porter’s first career win in March. Until LA scored. Goddammit.

Anyway, tough outing, gut-wrenching ending. Here are the three things that stood out most for me...a theme unites the first two:

Playing Our Jack
I want to see Jack Jewsbury in the starting eleven until Will Johnson returns. To be clear, I want Jewsbury out there until Johnson is not just able to take the field, but ready to take the field. And I want him in midfield, not at right back: the club needs Alvas Powell to learn right back, even at the cost of any lumps. Getting back to Jewsbury, no, he's neither the fastest nor most skilled player on the roster, but he has got to be in the conversation for the savviest. More than any other Timber out there tonight, he held the team together, got them singing from the same sheet. Diego Chara doesn't do that; hell, I don't even think Johnson does that: that's Diego Valeri's skill and, hell yes, he does it better than Jewsbury. He's not around, though, which leaves Jack as the guy standing between Portland acting as a club and operating as a bunch of talented soloists. So, play him, Caleb. He’s bringing something unique. For now.

Nagbe's Ceiling
In terms of making shit happen, Darlington Nagbe did more than anyone to get the bowels churning...and, OK, dropping the poo metaphor, effectively immediately. Still, anyone who missed Nagbe's silky heel-slip to Rodney Wallace is poorer for having missed it; apart from leading to Fanendo Adi's cool-as-you-like finish, it was the prettiest thing that happened tonight. (Adi's second goal was fugly, even if timing dolled it up a lot.) But Nagbe...he's maddening because he continues to bump against a ceiling, one that won't get out of his way because his game lacks dimension. Few players in the league can do what Nagbe does with the ball at his feet – I'll be weighing his game against Sebastian Giovinco's before the clock tolls midnight tomorrow - but beating guys on the dribble is his first impulse. And his second. His third could be a sideways pass or a drop – OK, just talking shit now, but the point stands (for me): Nagbe doesn't create all that well. For all his assists in 2014, he doesn't really combine all that wonderfully. He's simply never going to join the elite until his passing and vision which point, he's world-class and the club probably loses him. Till then, sadly, Nagbe's ceiling might be Portland's ceiling. At least until Valeri returns.

Anyway, put one and two together and, for me, the problem becomes pretty straightforward: Portland has sound talent, but, absent Valeri, it lacks a player to make them function together well. Jewsbury does it, but on a lower level, and from deeper on the field. The best game-time comparison came tonight when Jewsbury was able to figure out how to find Jorge Villafana overlapping on two separate occasions; Gaston Fernandez tried as many times and failed.

Anyway, that's on my mind. OK, one more thing:

Fitting in the New Guys
By my count, that's three players: Nat Borchers, Adam Kwarasey, and Dairon Asprilla. How to rank these guys? Let's go with visibility, from least to most. Least would be Asprilla, clearly: he presents as a standard north-to-south player, the kind of guy who wants to strap on the shoes and run at defenders. The spotlight hit him tonight, when a nice diagonal isolated Asprilla in a one-on-one with LA's Robbie Rogers. Asprilla took a touch, then a second, I think he made a move – he might not have, but I want to believe he did – and, well, Rogers picked 'im clean. That was indicative. He had a shot at some point, but, otherwise, I saw Asprilla but didn't need to pay him any mind. Next comes Kwarasey, who felt far less sound than previously. I definitely fault him for his failure to come to the ball on Gyasi Zardes' goal (the first equalizer), but the issues were general: he didn't look great coming off his line and his positioning felt more fortunate than deliberate. Finally, Borchers...oh, Borchers. This one stings a little because I'm putting a lot on ol', bearded Nat, personally, and he played one bedeviling game this evening. Borchers fluffed touches, missed headers, and got beat by smart passes several times tonight. I would be ripping him, and ripping my hair out, had Fox Sports' Alexi Lalas not pointed out something that matters more: Borchers was just about always where he needed to be. Even when he made terrible touches or completely missed a header, he was exactly where he should be. To rank all this in terms of concern, I'd rank most worrying to least like so: Kwarasey’s discombobulation; Borchers' flubs; Asprilla appearing short of ready for prime-time.

That's enough for tonight. I have more thoughts, of course, many more. Pages could be filled about what happened at every position tonight and I haven't even mentioned LA, but space is what it is and I want to keep these focused. All in all, though, Portland needs two things: better passers and a steelier defense. More to the point, suffice to say the repetition is killing me. And the Timbers.

No comments:

Post a Comment