Thursday, March 26, 2015

Timbers Review/Preview, Week 3/Week 4

Start running on those legs and kill! KILL!!
This past weekend, the Portland Timbers choked a draw out of Sporting Kansas City. This coming weekend, they travel to the Great White North to kick off the Cascadia rivalry/fronting for 2015 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. (And, curse my wretched lot, I am going to miss this one, at least the live broadcast. Life, you see.) As always, let's start talking about what will happen by looking back at what happened last week.

So, that KC game. Was it two good, albeit colt-legged, teams canceling each other out (per the SBI podcast) or just a flat-out disappointment (per ExtraTime Radio)? Personally, I prefer to think of it as proof of the theory that it's easier to stop goals than to score them. In that vein, the one area of agreement was that Portland's defense held up pretty well. And that's pretty much it for meaningful happy talk. Coherence and creativity neither started, nor brought relief off the bench. Per my review, I felt Sporting stifled the usual suspects in Portland's attack, especially on the right, which could explain why I was able to single out Dairon Asprilla and Alvas Powell for the faint praise I offered. Anyway, the only person I came across who felt much of anything by the end of this...well, wet turd, was Back Office Gavin, who found inspiration somewhere in there to rage against pragmatism.

A sliver of a novel talking point emerged when one of Stumptown Footy's people dubbed Liam Ridgewell his Man of the Match. Nothing wrong with that, but I keyed in on Nat Borchers, if only for winning a pair of foot-races toward Portland's goal against KC's Dom Dwyer (which surprised me, actually; is Dwyer that slow, or is Borchers faster than I thought?). Visibility means good things or bad when it comes to defenders, but I was most interested in what all that said about the nature of Ridgewell's and Borchers' partnership, and how it normally functions. While it's almost certainly still a work in progress, I had assumed that Ridgewell would be the guy stepping to the play and Borchers the one laying back and reading – and those foot-races suggest Borchers as a last line of defense. Anyway, call it something to watch and, maybe, hold one’s interest during one of those inevitable slow games.

For both better and worse, the week that followed the game was far more interesting. On the (probably) good side, Portland picked up a new attacking player! Hurray! Elsewhere, however, a ball might have gifted Jack Jewsbury with a concussion/weekend off – and that right as Alvas Powell picked up an international call-up. And thus, as The Oregonian pointed out, the thin Timbers squad gets thinner. So, who backs up Alvas and, if need be, Jack? The O went with Taylor Peay for Powell and George Fochive for Jewbury. That's fine, beats a kick in the head and all that, but I'd argue that  the club gives up something with each absence – e.g. I'm guessing Peay doesn't get forward like Powell (though he might defend better), while I'm not picking up Jewsbury's (competent) range of passing in Fochive's game. I don't envy Caleb Porter the call on this one, though, all the same, it seems redundant to field two destroyers – which is how I read both Fochive and Diego Chara – so maybe give the kid, Nick Besler, a game to show what he can do.

Meanwhile, I doubt we'll see the new forward/winger, Ishmael Yartey out there, but I'm basing that on nothing at all, really. Anyway, there's the lay of the land. What does Caleb plant on it?

UPDATE: The good folks, and solid professionals, at Stumptown Footy posted a couple personnel updates today. First, Powell took a pass on his call-up, so he’ll be around tonight. I also missed that Diego Rodriguez was suspended by the MLS Disciplinary Committee. On Portland’s side of things, I’m happy that Powell is around, even as I continue to view him as the dodgy link in the Timbers defense. In other words, yes, I would absolutely run at Powell’s side tomorrow night, if I coached the ‘Caps. With Rodriguez’s absence, 1) I’m bummed I don’t get to see him again, because I am truly curious about his level; 2) as Stumptown pointed out, this could mean Pa Modou Kah returns to Vancouver’s line-up…the man we can all count on to do the “Squirrel” thing from Up. Only he’ll be saying “ball.” While half of Portland’s starting eleven sneaks behind him to score a goal.

Hold on. I'll start with Vancouver. I know the 'Caps pretty well, courtesy of catching them twice his year (Week 1's slow melt into suck against Toronto FC and Week 3's fortunate win over Orlando City FC). A couple things changed for Vancouver between those games: 1) they picked up and started a defender named Diego Rodriguez, who looked pretty damn sound against Orlando; and, 2) Kekuta Manneh picked up a deserved suspension for a flying two-footed tackle against Orlando's Aurelien Collin. So, plus one on defense, (possible) minus on offense. The "possible" comes in there because Manneh is, politely, streaky; he would have been scarier running at Powell, but that was never on the cards.

When it comes to playing Vancouver, the first rule it to avoid playing a high defensive line (see; FC, Toronto, first 30 of Week 1) – even with Manneh out – because new 'Caps forward Octavio Rivero gives all the reason you need. Yeah, yeah, three goals in three games, but Rivero finds all kinds of chances, enough to miss the kind of sitter that kills a reputation. He's not a bruiser like (the so-far profoundly disappointing) Dwyer, but his movement is slippery, constant, and effective. I'd expect Eric Hurtado out there as well, whether to replace Manneh or not, and there's the pace. Pedro Morales and/or Carlos Mezquida will feed them anyway they can. Steer clear of that high line and there goes the easy option. That only leaves managing set-pieces...yes, say it with me: Oh, shit (see #2).

So, that's what Portland has to defend against; what about what they have to attack? The short answer is a tall order: Kendall Waston is a goddamn giant and I already mentioned their new guy, Rodriguez (who, ideally, will reveal massive shortcomings this weekend); the 'Caps outside backs, Steven Beitashour and, now, Jordan Harvey, are solid and steady as it gets in MLS; Beitashour, especially, put in a great shift against Orlando. Worse, Vancouver covers their back four with two forceful players: Matias Laba, he who sports an "Underrated" t-shirt every single week, and the hard-and-fast Gershon Koffie.

While it's brave to step into the teeth of anything, it is also rarely wise. around the 'Caps? Maybe? My guess is that the 'Caps will invite Portland to play wide, while protecting the gaps between center and fullbacks (uh, this is standard, isn't it?). In my mind, Portland isn't great at crossing, or finishing crosses (or my brain is stuck on that point) and I doubt we'll get better with Waston impersonating a wall back there. I like the idea of playing our fleet little shits - e.g. Maximiliano Urruti – and having them move around and mix it up around the 18, a la the New England Revolution. And, yes, it bears noting that this is sort of a permanent game-plan with me, but Porter only tests it late in games – sometimes too late to get Timbers players shifted to the new approach (which, actually, was my sharper talking point from the review of the KC game).

Uh, I guess that's it. In all honesty, I was more confident about this game till I saw Vancouver play Orlando. As much as I think Portland has more weapons than (what ExtraTime Radio tells me is the sole threat for Orlando) the Kaka/Kevin Molino show, they're firing something less than true at this point. Maybe everyone gets their sights righted just in time for this one. And for Porter's first-ever March win in MLS...then again, I’m about to bet against it...

I'll pick this up again Monday, probably. Or however long it takes MLS Live to get past the blackout.

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