Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sporting KC v. Portland Timbers: One Boring Game, Many Talking Points

Eyes on me, Darlington. Be the ball...
Well, that happened. A goal-less draw against Sporting Kansas City in Kansas City. So, what does it mean?

Maybe it's a general early season thing, but I caught the same thing from the Portland Timbers (and Kansas City) that I caught when watching the New England Revolution play to an equally frustrating result against the Montreal Impact earlier today. One half of the team was all the way there, while the other half wasn't. Of particular significance: the New England broadcast recalled naming Kelyn Rowe as New England's match in that club's blow-out loss against Seattle Sounders FC. That's only remarkable because last week's (general) consensus man-of-the-match for Portland, Darlington Nagbe, had something of an off-night tonight against Sporting KC. There's a reason for that...on to the bullet points:

A Rotating Cast
Most of my personal goat players from Week 2 – notably, Dairon Asprilla and Alvas Powell – were Week 3's better performers, while most of Week 2's brightest stars – notably, again, Nagbe, but also Fanendo Adi, Rodney Wallace, and Jorge Villafana – didn't do so hot in Week 3. It's not as straightforward as that – for instance, both Adi and Wallace came closest to scoring for Portland – as opposed to it being a question of degrees. To give an example, KC's Jalil Anibaba and, particularly, Jimmy Medranda, basically owned the side of the field that Portland tried to hold down with Wallace and Villafana. As for Nagbe, well, the game sort of swallowed him whole. Or, more to the point, KC mauled Nagbe's worst habit – i.e. dribbling around in circles while he thinks about what to do. I tell you, what that kid needs more than anyone else is some fiery-eyed guru to look cold and dead into his eyes and say, "just act, feel the moment." That said, I want to highlight Asprilla because, tonight, he looked the part: aggressive, confident, willing to shoot from range, crashing the box at appropriate moments. Even if he didn't have his defining moment, he put himself in a place to have it. And that beats the shit out of a kick in the head. Maybe we'll get 'em all firing at the same intensity one day. Anyway, next...

Lack Defensive intensity...But.
I have this moment in my head, when Medranda (again) over-ran Portland's left side and he got fairly deep without anyone really stepping to. With all that time, he picked his head up and picked, I'll do this from memory, bear with me. It was...mmm, I'm going to say Paolo Nagamura free in at least five yards of space about 25 yards from Portland's goal. Nothing came of it – because, 0-0 – but that spells all kinds of unacceptable risk. At some other point, Villafana offered Medranda an inside lane that nearly became another breakdown. The point is, the Timbers backed off a lot tonight and let KC play. They didn't do this all over - it mostly happened in the defensive third, in fact - but it was significant that so many of the game's bloodbaths occurred in the middle of the field. Call it drawing the line of engagement in the wrong place, I guess, but Portland enabled some seriously nervy moments. Fortunately, and if only after the first 20 slightly hair-raising minutes, I thought the Liam Ridgewell/Nat Borchers tandem looked pretty sound. Basically, the defense wasn't all that bad for Portland long as you're a fan of leaving too much to the last line of defense. For the record, I'm not.

Scuttling Your Own Sub(s)
Once things well and truly sputtered, the Timbers let 15-20 pass before inserting new players. As much as I get letting things play out (till the bitter, bitter end), I felt Wallace was basically ineffective past the 40th minute. And I don't think he was ever subbed. So, yeah, basically, I would have left Asprilla in and yanked, Wallace. Or Nagbe. OK, that personal issue aside, I get frustrated with and will generally never understand, how long it takes coaches to get subs into the game. Yeah, I remember that Caleb Porter yanked Asprilla around the 50th last week, and good for him on that. Too often, though, coaches – and it's not just Porter – insert subs into the game at the 85th minute and past. Jeanderson came into the game in injury stoppage tonight and all I can think is, for what? The final whistle is going to blow before he finds his goddamn feet. So, c'mon, Caleb. Give the subs a chance or don't make them at all.

To illustrate the point, consider this: did Maximiliano Urruti ever touch the ball during his time on? I don't remember it if he did and that's kind of the point; my one memory of Urruti tonight was him watching a cross sail 10 feet over his head as he hustled to the six. Urruti is a vastly different player from Adi, and he should cause the team to take a different approach to the game. The Timbers didn't tonight and, as I see it, it's because they didn't have time to re-wire their approach.

Uh, I guess that's it for Portland. I wasn't disappointed necessarily, but I do think that the team might (see: due caution) do better with a couple tweaks – e.g., I'm comfortable seeing them drop the general line of engagement closer to the defensive third (at which point they engage with the mad intensity of kamikazes) – but I'd also like to see them take advantage of how much they can alter the attack by swapping in fresh offensive players. And, yes, I am out of ideas after that. Cold comfort...

About Sporting KC (no bold font for the enemy!)
In all honesty, I thought they looked better against FC Dallas than they did against the Timbers. I take that as a good thing. I'll review the highlights tomorrow to confirm, but, the odd chance aside, they came up close to empty through most of the 2nd half. Dom Dwyer, especially got swallowed by the game. In general, though, I think they have a strong central back pairing in Matt Besler and Ike Opara, the midfield of Roger Espinoza and Paolo Nagumara, and, even if I don't get it, backed by Benny Feilhaber, will never be easy to boss around. Finally, in case it’s not clear from some of the stuff above, I like Medranda A LOT. The weirdest thing about tonight is how much Graham Zusi struggled...along with whoever was behind him. KC played to their right a lot tonight, and not without some justification.

Like a lot of people, I still think KC has a decent season in them. And that's the take-away from tonight: if Portland didn't edge KC tonight, they definitely punched even with them. And in KC. In the final analysis, I lost $12 on the game tonight, but I gained a little confidence, too. Not bad.

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