Tuesday, April 28, 2015

MLS Divine Comedy, Week 8: A Shooting Gallery and Its Victims

Not pictured: RSL, Philly, and NYCFC.
It is a sincere relief to approach this big Major League Soccer Week 8 wrap without leading it with a big, explanatory preamble on post mechanics. It's all soccer below. Specifically, you'll see me play god with each of MLS's clubs, sorting them, by their actions or lack thereof, among The Saved (those in Heaven), The Damned (those cast down to Hell, yea), and...those just biding their time while they wait for The Big Level Up (Purgatory)...which reminds me: does anyone go from Purgatory to Hell? Any Catholics out there? Little help?

Some quick notes on the weekend: I'm calling this one the Shooting Gallery Weekend. Scores blew up all over with a couple clubs winding up on the wrong side of an offensive beating. The New England Revolution roughed up Real Salt Lake something fierce at home and they posted the score-line to show it; the Chicago Fire did the same to New York City FC, but, there, the numbers lie, because the Fire could have put up 10 in that one (NOTE: small exaggeration); then there was the slow-bleed that Columbus Crew SC inflicted on the Philadelphia Union: put another way, sometimes they couldn't miss the beating, other times, it slipped in like a thin little shiv; either way, a lot of clubs endured flat-out demoralizing losses during the Week 8 weekend.

Then there was Sporting Kansas City v. Houston Dynamo, an affair that featured both clubs punching even and wild with the Houston Dynamo...even if KC got a little help from the referee that let them sneak in a crucial rabbit punch.

One other, general observation: first, go to the Results Map (aka, My Favoritest Thing in the Whole World); next, move your cursor through all the games each and every MLS club has up to the 16th game of their season. My point is that, by the 16th game of the season, just about everyone should have a pretty goddamn good idea where the club stands. Yeah, yeah, that sounds facile, even random. Bear with me: look at each of those games and really consider where each of the clubs are right now that any given will face in the weeks between here and Game 16. Well, Game 17, actually. As I look at it, it's a helluva a sample for all concerned. More on that later…

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sounders v. Timbers. On Being Proud (Because You Have To)

Off camera: 7 other toddlers on their cans.
First of all, holy shit, was that a boring, boring, boring game. Cascadia "Clash" my considerably hairy ass (no image). One can find twice the intensity at Sunday afternoon croquet amongst toddlers.

For the first time ever, Seattle Sounders fans and Portland Timbers fans have something in common: the experience of watching two teams do absolutely everything in their power to not fail. Yes, this was the equivalent of watching your five-year-old learn to ice skate. All you non-parents out there, cherish this moment, maybe take a still from the game and post on your refrigerator. How boring was it? (Your answer: "I don't know!"). The referee concocted fouls just so he could dish out a couple yellow cards for something to do.

Anyone who watched knows the game's one and only turning point: one long throw, one soft shot by Seattle's Andy Rose, which was followed by Portland's Adam Kwarasey pattng the ball over his body and nearly into the goal like some kind of misguided kitten; I think Clint Dempsey claimed it, which only goes to prove the point that forwards are shameless as Hollywood starlets. In the end, the game ended in a 1-0 Seattle win.

I'll keep my comments on the Sounders short: if you're proud of that one, you're dyed rave green down to the roots of your wool. That's to say, you’re the kind of person who joins cults. Speaking of, did you know that your personal path to enlightenment starts with buying me a Mercedes? I'm happy to take checks.

Now, to turn to the Timbers...jesus, where to begin? I know! With bullet points!

Friday, April 24, 2015

MLS Week 8 Previews: Seattle v. Portland, The Thrilla in Vanilla! (And the other games)

Week 8 has already kicked off, by now, but there's plenty of MLS soccer ahead this weekend. Topping the bill this weekend, The Only Game That Matters, The Thrilla in Vanilla, yep, that's right, Seattle Sounders FC v. Portland Timbers.

And, to all those other rivalries out there, you're doing it wrong. (Kidding (inspired by #3). I enjoy everything about Seattle v. Portland, but I couldn't give less of a shit about that stuff.)

With that out of the way, it’s preview time.

Seattle Sounders FC v. Portland Timbers
For starters, the gap between how I see the Portland Timbers and how other (maybe) smart(er), and definitely better-connected observers see them has the noodles that make up my brain unraveling a little. The team I watched fumbled all over that tiny Yankee Stadium pitch with all the grace and confidence of a teenage boy (or me) trying to undo a bra (look, it's not my long suit). Portland eventually got to what NYCFC couldn't – e.g. bumbling the ball over the line – so they won. Even the one thing the Timbers did well didn't look so graceful. Yeah, yeah, Adam Kwarasey won Save of the Week (start watching about 1:10 in there). I mean, that's a no-look save in the end (the vote is rigged; stupid democracy). The man flinched. (Not judging; I would have flinched and squealed.)

While not everyone saw the game - and see the Timbers' season as a whole - differently, enough people do to make me question my perspective and/or sanity. To me the Timbers look like a eleven guitar players simultaneously playing eleven different solos. Calmer people answer back with numbers – e.g. the Armchair Analyst reminding me of Darlington Nagbe's impressive chance creation statistics, followed by the Soccer Made in Oregon noting that Nagbe created as many chances in the second half against New York City FC as a lot of players do in an entire game.

But, damn me if I can't stop evil, doubting questions from popping into my head: what, exactly, does "chances created" mean? What's a "chance"? Portland v. NYCFC didn't feature a ton of clear openings.

Basically, the whole week has felt like everyone telling me the sky is orange, while all I see when I look up is blue. All that has me of a mind to take a different approach to the preview this week, say, weighing Portland's constituent parts against Seattle's constituent parts and seeing how they stack up. Here goes:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MLS Midweek 3 X 5: Small Montreal's Mad Night and the Ballad of Eddie Johnson

Yea, let him fumbleth the ball.
Time to wrap up Major League Soccer's Week 7 with some deeper observations of trends, teams, and realities. Think I'll call it "MLS Week __, 3 Big Ideas, Five Small Thoughts." The goal is to add this to the weekly post rotation, which, happily, is finally taking shape.

Before getting into those, I do get in a little reading during the week, plus a couple podcasts. The insights I pick up in those readings serve as a nice corrective to my Divine Comedy/Rankings posts, which I very deliberately (or at least very deliberately intend) to post before taking in other people’s thoughts and opinions. It’s sort of an external bullshit detector. With that in mind, I’ll kick off this post with...

The Department of Corrections
Most of my blown calls reside where I do – e.g. the Pacific Northwest. First, Vancouver: a league-leading record and near-universal good opinion strongly suggests that my resistance to their early-2015 success has tip-toed into perversity. A couple podcasts (ExtraTime Radio's and SBI's) pointed out the obvious: in basic terms, the 'Caps play more conservatively on the road and open it up at home like, uh, all smart teams do; in other words, see the win over the Los Angeles Galaxy for their top-end and take keep those four road games (three of them wins) in perspective. Speaking of perspective, the Portland Timbers. My Portland Timbers. Why that win over New York City FC – again, "that win" - got me on the ledge (i.e. prompted me to "abandon all hope," as I did in the Week 7 Divine Comedy) I'll never know. Several people with a little more distance had the perspective to observe that a win, no matter how ugly, works like a savings account. Those three points your club barely earned will still be there if/when the results pick up because, say, a key player comes back from injury and gets the attack going, or maybe the defense full incorporates two new players in crucial positions. So, yeah, I got a little unhinged. The rare feedback I got (I don't get a lot) tells me I'm not alone in my frustration, but, yes, I over-reacted. To a win.

OK, on the main event!

Monday, April 20, 2015

The MLS Divine Comedy, Week 7

Philadelphia? Hello, and sorry. To the left, please.
For Week 7, I decided to return to, but re-name, the whole "Sinking, Swimming, Treading Water" concept. Thought I'd reference the classics instead, with an homage to Dante's Divine Comedy: going forward, these posts will divide MLS's clubs between Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. That distinction is self-explanatory, yeah? And the arrangement should last even through the playoffs – that is, a club can remain in Purgatory in the post-season, for no man* resides in Heaven till he hoists MLS Cup! I’m keeping Hell pretty small and that's less about me feeling all New Testament, than about the passage to the playoffs seeming very much wide open. Good works and grace have nothing on stupid parity and the stupid playoff format.

(* Here, "man" shall mean, exclusively, a male professional soccer player, who plies his trade in the officially recognized domestic North American Division 1 soccer league, dba, popularly MLS.)

As happens more often than I should admit, the past weekend didn't come together so smoothly. I made it through only two games in their entirety:
Seattle Sounders v. Colorado Rapids
New York City FC v. Portland Timbers
With that entered into the record, I did watch the first 30 minutes of FC Dallas v. Toronto FC, it struck me as indecent to watch Nick Hagglund suffer more, not unlike Noah's daughters who wisely took a pass on seeing him rolling around all drunk and naked. The rest of the games I took through MLS Live's condensed matches – which, again, I can't recommend enough. Once again, the number in parentheses after each team's name records how many times I've spent/suffered the full 90 with it. I'll do better in catching full games going forward. Probably. The heart's in it.

The summaries for each team will be shorter than previously. All the detail stuff I once tried to work in – e.g. flagging some player, a trend, or a concept that's in the air or on my mind – will go over to a mid-week post going forward. That'll be me making sense of the week.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On the Portland Timbers Dirty, Dirty Win Over New York City FC

I've got....two tickets to Paradise!
I don't want those three points, not without taking a shower before and after the Portland Timbers take them. If today's filthy McNasty 1-0 win over New York City FC proves anything it's that a win can feel sleazier than even a craven loss. I felt bad after the loss to Orlando City SC, but I'm still groping for the word that captures the essence of this win. That said, "groping" gets in the general ball-park – especially when prefaced with the word "unwanted."

I kept seeing the same word today the few times I checked my Twitter feed: "ineffectual." That must have applied to New York alone, who surely compiled an impressive edge over the Timbers on possession (wow, 54.3% to 47.7%? Bullshit. I demand a recount!). New York slipped through Portland's midfield like cones on the practice pitch for much of the game; the Timbers let them do it with defending that either fell between, or combined, unfortunate adjectives like passive and reactive. While yelling at the screen, the most I could sputter out was "someone?"

The real pisser here is that, per the proud tradition of "full internationals" (still called "friendlies" thank god; the marketing guys don't always win), the Portland Timbers faced New York side without their money-men, players like David Villa, Mix and Adam Nemec. (OK, the last guy is a stretch; in the meantime, raise your hand if you think Frank Lampard might never come.) Yes, the Timbers squeezed out that turd of a win against New York’s B-team. Portland made Andrew Fucking Jacboson look EPL-ready, people. They made rookie Khiry Shelton look like a goddamn star (and you did Oregon State U. damn proud, kid).

My personal silver lining begins and ends with Timbers' 'keeper Adam Kwarasey. He had one shaky moment – a cross inside the six that he didn’t go to, but still caught – but at least two of those five saves kept the Timbers in long enough to bungle in the abomination later re-named the game-winning goal. Still, Kwarasey is growing into his role, not just making saves, but taking better command of his area. He's not barking orders nearly enough for my liking, but he came out effectively, and often enough, that he’s my one shining light on tonight's game. Literally.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

MLS Previews: NYCFC v. Portland Timbers. And All That.

It's ON!
Right, preview time. Major League Soccer (MLS), Week 7. Let's see if this week finally makes sense of anything. Just going to jump right in with the main attraction (for the locals). Yea, the last shall be first. Pretty sure that’s in the Bible.

New York City FC v. Portland Timbers
(Sunday, April 19, 4 p.m.)
I have just taken in New York City FC's (NYCFC's) last three games in form of a delicious, condensed paste. The following is my report.

Scouting New York City FC
NYCFC's opposition over the past three games has been, to put it metaphorically, the stuff that the cream rises above: the Colorado Rapids, Sporting Kansas City, and the Philadelphia Union. Two of those teams have worn the "League-worst" label at some point during this brief 2015 season; in fact, Manchester Jr. (aka, NYCFC), faced the Rapids during a stretch when their goal-scoring slump was simultaneously record-breaking and allergic. In that time, New York's second team put together a 0-2-1 record. And that basically makes them New Jersey, right?

In NYCFC's defense, they played one of those games during an international break, which robbed them of Adam Nemec (meh); that same week, I think an injury/suspension/whatever robbed them of their marquee player/attraction, David Villa, plus a couple other guys who may or may not matter (Sebastian Valesquez and Shawn Facey). When KC came to visit that week, well, to put it unkindly, the Missouri club faced a team smack in the middle of the MLS median. New York fielded the average of the average, players like Andrew Jacobson, Mehdi Ballouchy, Jason Hernandez, Patrick Mullins, and even Ned Grabavoy. I can name some other names besides (say, Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert), and, personally, I rate all those players as somewhere between quality (Grabavoy, Wingert, and Hernandez) and solid depth (Jacobson and Ballouchy). They lost to KC that night, if narrowly, but, to borrow a cliché, KC can’t score in a brothel with bank-roll, so there's that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MLS Week 6 Review: The Hot (and Cold) 10

Little shits won't even start running...
(Shit! Hate when I come up with a name for a feature after I post it. Oh well, enjoy the fucking toddlers!)

About 10 teams into this post-Week 6 status check on every club Major League in Major League Soccer (MLS), I noticed I was very tired. Just head dropping on the desk. That it was 11:30 p.m. didn't help. When I turned to the 11th team, however – think it was Sporting Kansas City – I perked up a little. Not enough to plow through the eight teams left, but that re-engagement signaled something.

The reality is, I won't have much to say every week about every club in MLS. Some number of them – let's go with half – don't really warrant more than a sentence. With that in mind, I'm limiting these grand weekly reviews, at least substantively, to the 10 MLS clubs who most interested me after the week just past. The other 10 clubs, I'll touch on, but they won't get more than a sentence. It's on them to become interesting, whether by being great (uh, no one), wounded (hello, Sporting Kansas City!), or deeply, deeply crappy (hola, FC Dallas!).

At any rate, the comprehensive thing kind of served its purpose. It captured that moment in the new season when every club had a chance to be great. With Week 6 in the books, little narratives are shaping up for most clubs. Are all of them coherent? Oh, HELL, no. Are any of them coherent? Uh, some more than others.

Put it this way: my analogy for MLS after Week 6 is a 30-yard race between toddlers – that is, it's very disorganized, sometimes endearing (aawww, they won!), and no club looks all that interested in the finish line. That's another way of saying the "Sinking, Swimming, Treading Water" thing (see past editions) never quite added up. At this point, the whole damn league is treading water.

Life being the motherfucking time-sucking treadmill that it most surely can be, I caught only two full games during Week 6. And one of the damn things broke my heart...should be obvious which one. Before moving on, let me pause briefly to again praise MLS Live's condensed game offerings. I feel a lot more secure in my judgments this week. Any, the two games I caught:
DC United v. New York Red Bulls
Portland Timbers v. Orlando City SC

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Orlando City Tops Portland Timbers at Home: A Game of Moments

Have things gone better? Absolutely, yes.
Earlier today, Orlando City SC came to Portland, Oregon, and shattered my confident predictions about old dogs pulling over a big one on a pack of young whelps. As many times as I felt a come-back coming on (just once, actually, about 65th minute), the Portland Timbers put together too few opportunities in what turned out to be a 2-0 loss, at home, to one of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) two 2015 expansion clubs.

What we have here is a dead body with many causes of death. Orlando deftly played around the high-ish press team defense that brought Portland reasonable success over the past couple of weeks. While several players had decent games, they had them in isolation from one another; in a word, cohesion was lacking. Just about every Portland Timber had moments today; trouble was, too many players had bad moments to match their good ones – especially the fullbacks, Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana.

The funny thing is, the damage doesn't always come from the likeliest areas. For instance, Brek Shea tore up Alvas Powell and Portland's right, generally, and yet Orlando's opening goal came from Villafana's side of the field. The Timbers clawed back from the moment that first goal went in, if half-heartedly, and they had some half-chances. Sadly, half never translated to whole and, as I see it, the Timbers attack never made Orlando 'keeper, and former Timber, Donovan Ricketts, work half as hard as should have to earn that clean sheet.

It's not inaccurate to say I lost interest when Kaka knocked in his second crack at the penalty spot...yes, if I was at the stadium, I would have walked, but that also segues wonderfully to the talking points.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Timbers v. Orlando City Preview; All MLS Preview. PREVIEWS!!

Y'know, I do see the likeness...
Just like every week, I'm trying something new this week. Sure, the Review/Preview served a purpose, but, a brief acknowledgement aside, we're deep enough into the Major League Soccer (MLS) season to be past that. In other words, past the briefest look back at the Portland Timbers previous week's outing, I'll turn my attention to what counts: the team that's a-comin' to town (or, in other weeks, that the Timbers will visit) in the weekend ahead.

After that I'll pass on some quick (promise!) thoughts about the MLS games for upcoming weekend. This space is going full preview, basically. Well, after rounding up the past week's Portland Timbers talk.

It starts with some good-esque news (and old news by now): Diego Valeri is almost, sorta kinda in full training (savor that picture, people, and memories of better, simpler days). As for the rest, the tiny sampling of the Timbers community I visit turned in a muddled sample – which was, perhaps, a mechanism used to cope with the confusing sensation of a first win. One popular statistic pointed to the Timbers' superior capacity for bouncing back after a loss. What stuck out most for me, though, even if I didn't state it directly as I would have liked in the second draft, was how well Portland defended – and all over the field. Other people caught this too (see those links, plus parts of #2). Some players came in for some well-deserved praise, whether it's right back Jorge Villafana, or a much-improved outing for Timbers 'keeper, Adam Kwarasey; MotM fixture Darlington Nagbe picked up the usual praise, but it was nice to see a quiet, solid pro like Villafana get another nod in another space. (Personal Note: someone who joined me for last weekend's game kept referring to Villafana as "George." I liked that.)

The big, satisfying take-away from all that is that Portland will be hard to beat. Now, time to measure that against this weekend's opponent, Orlando City SC. I've seen them 1 1/2 times in 2015. And courtesy of MLSLive's ABSOLUTELY FUCKING WONDERFUL "CONDENSED GAME" FEATURE THAT I ONLY JUST FOUND OUT I HAVE, I was able to take 20+ minute look at Orlando in action. Here's what I saw in that 20+, plus a little of what I know.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MLS Referees: Blown-Calls and Big Boards

Uh...penalty? Offside? No, corner kick!
I'll admit it. I kinda like it when referees fuck up. Broad exceptions apply, of course – e.g. failure to dish cards to keep games from degenerating into brawls, and related lapses – but, an unjust red card, a penalty that even the "fouled" player hesitates to claim, a phantom offside call that denies your side a game-winner: all of those help jack up the drama. And, sometimes, bring the comedy.

And. like most normal people, I don't like referees; as with most authority figures, they're only likeable as the butt of the joke.

Per that preamble, let us pause to both celebrate, and meditate upon, the virtuoso slapstick sequence of blown calls made by MLS Pro referee Fotis Bazakos, in the course of "managing" New England Revolution v. Colorado Rapids last Saturday.

The highlight in question turns on a penalty denied to the Rapids (start watching about 2:40). Before reviewing the tape, keep in mind that Bazakos had awarded a penalty to the Revolution's Charlie Davies for a little bump in the box only minutes before (it's in the highlights, too). Now, tune in and count the errors: 1) missing a clear hand-ball with no meaningful hand-to-ball/ball-to-hand distinction, which should have stopped the play; 2) awarding the penalty kick for what looks like a pretty clear foul on Gabriel Torres, which should have stopped the play, besides giving the Rapids a much-needed bump on breaking their 2015 duck; and 3) finally stopping play upon noticing the linesman's offside flag and proceeding to call the play offside even though the offside infraction occurred after the penalty kick.

The aftermath didn't make the tape, but the whole thing started with Bazakos glowering dismissively at all the players pointing frantically at The Dicks' Big Board and pleading for reason and ended with the booking of Marcelo Sarvas, for his wholly reasonable dissent, and ejecting Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni from the game for his less-well-reasoned escape from his technical area. That, my friends, is fucking up as art. It also provides a striking image of the referee mind and mentality.

Monday, April 6, 2015

MLS Week 5: Sinking, Swimming and Treading Water: Green Shoots of Trends

So, you think you can suck as bad, Philadelphia?
I'm going to start this week with a point of complaint against the MLSSoccer.com website – aka, The Mothership, as I'm fond of calling it.

For the past several seasons, Major League Soccer (MLS) really outdid themselves by providing highlight reels that generally ran seven or eight minutes. No, it's not remotely comparable to watching the full 90 of a game, but one really appreciates those extended clips after trying to make sense of a game with highlights that regularly clock in at under 4 minutes. Those half-clips have somewhat undermined the entire project of offering vague impressions of each MLS club. Goddammit.

That said, making mountains of vague impressions is 75% of my bag, at a minimum. For instance, I'm willing to state, and with some measure of confidence, that Orlando City FC, whatever they think of themselves, are a playing and acting like an expansion team. Meanwhile, some other clubs have gone some distance to building a body of defining work, both negative and positive – e.g. the Vancouver Whitecaps, for the better (and can I please, please stop misreading this club; per the voice in my head...no), the Philadelphia Union, for the morale-sapping worse. The remaining 18 clubs fall somewhere in between, but, for me, it's too early to dub one team playoff-bound and another semi-officially moribund...though I'm eagerly awaiting the day.

In terms of watching games, I did pretty well this weekend. The full slate of Week 5 games viewed:
Chicago Fire v. Toronto FC
Colorado Rapids v. New England Revolution
Portland Timbers v. FC Dallas (yessssss…..)
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Los Angeles Galaxy* (* only half-conscious, but validated)
On to the feature: who's sinking, who's swimming, and who's treading water? As always, the little number in parentheses after each club's name tells all y'all how often I've watched them in 2015. You'll know what I really know by knowing that.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Portland Timbers Roll FC Dallas, 3-1

First, put on Asprilla. Then this guy.
It wasn't really clear to me how uncomfortable a one-goal lead made me until my bowels loosened after Diego Chara scored. Sweet, sweet relief.

Well, that was an eventful one. Liam Ridgewell getting cracked in the face with David Texeira's elbow (cough! cough! MLS Disciplinary Committee!...cough!); FC Dallas' backline defending like the Portland Timbers' often does (Nat Borchers didn't even have to jump); the Timbers defending like the Timbers do (Rodney Wallace on Tesho Akindele? Srsly?); Maximiliano Urruti scoring a pair of offside goals (yeah, I think he was off on Portland's 2nd, but no take-backs!): throw it all in a bowl, stir it up, drop Chara's insurance goal/birthday present* as a cherry on top, and you’ve got Portland's 3-1 win over league-leading Dallas. A night like that makes one's beer taste better.

We got this, too...which is profoundly unsporting, yet very, very enjoyable. (Situation explained? Maybe?)

What you didn't have was a pretty game, at least not for long stretches. Both teams conspired to condense the field, resulting in the ball bouncing around among a cluster of players. In one particularly stifled sequence, a blob of nine (or so) Portland players surrounded six (or so) Dallas players near the top of Portland's 18 with what looked like twenty yards to the touchline on either side. Made me think of the several rounds of pinball I played the night before.

Still, I’m a happy boy today. Here are some thoughts and reasons for that.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

MLS: Mopping Up Week 4, Prepping for Week 5

Ruffles on the wrong side, maybe?
Here, at Conifers & Citrus, we're always trying to come up with fresh ways to class up the content, to make it easy on the eyes, a cool drink for the mind, if you will. (OK, again, it's just me...doing my best.) In so many words, I'm pickier than a prom queen picking her dress just knowing that everyone's going to hate me if my dress is not perfect!

So, I keep futzing with it. And that dress looks like shit, dammit.

Anyway, some stray ideas came to me as I watched the pair of games I caught during Major League Soccer's (MLS) Week 4. Then some more ideas came to me during the week as I read, listened, and generally digested the domestic soccer scene. One idea paid a visit that had particular appeal: why not watch the match of the week from the previous week that seemed to have everyone talking. So, that’s where I'll start. (And, kindly, stick with this till the end because I get to Week 5 eventually.)

What Happened When the New York Red Bulls visited Columbus, OH
The effectiveness of the Red Bulls high press captured a lot press after Week 4. It forced lots of turnovers in dangerous places, certainly, and played a big role in New York taking three points with when they left the Buckeye state. I caught all that when reviewing (most of) the tape (I got through 60+, or thereabouts), but what struck me even more was what (the O.G.) New York club did on turning it over. Forget about Mike Grella's goal; thing of beauty though it was, it was also atypical. The speed and precision of the Red Bulls' short passing game impressed the most: good movement and quick, crisp passing twisted the Columbus Crew SC defense in all different directions, even when it didn't produce clear-cut chances every time. Ignoring that part of New York's game amounts to reading only every other page of the early-season book on them. As much as I doubt they can keep it up all year – hell, it might not even last to the next game, when they don't play a team as methodical in possession as Columbus – it's damned fun to watch when it's clicking.

That the Crew came damn close to giving as good as they got went a little under-reported as well. Columbus forced turnovers of their own pretty high up the field and had plenty of chances, too. All in all, this game topped its billing, even when watched knowing the final score.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Portland Timbers Review/Preview, Week 4/Week 5: Little Things, When Big Things Are Needed

Portland needs this guy. He's pinning stuff down blind.
Caught in a crazy, busy week here at Conifers & Citrus, I don't have the time to do the usual Tour d'Agony through all that Portland Timbers-related commentary and speculation. Then again, is it really necessary? I mean, we all know happened, right, in that distasteful loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps? A mighty comeback, even a near-win via Fanendo Adi's second crack at damn, dirty David Ousted (there's yer twitter handle, son; I suggest you take it), undone when That Goddamn Pass met a Keystone Kops Kaper from Nat "Natty Bo" Borchers and Liam [Nickname Pending] Ridgewell ("Ridgey" is wholly inadequate). It's a sad song, but at least we all know the tune.

Even with Matthew "The Armchair Analyst" Doyle threatening to provide numbers that demonstrate that Darlington Nagbe roared like a lion through March (on Twitter; and then Doyle provided; well worth the read), I'm done looking back...Oh, all right!

I'll keep my over-arching point short and sweet. Sure, the second defensive collapse of the season is a big, glum cloud, but a silver lining surrounds it: the Timbers played decently last week, and are playing decently enough, despite the absence of two key players (arguably more once one throws in Ben Zemanski, who can help kill games, and Jack Jewsbury, who (I don't care what anyone else says), provides a range of passing in deep midfield that helps the team overall). Portland has been in every game, complete with good-to-great spells. It's just pinning down the result that causes the headaches and absence of points.

This week's brief Tour d'Agony supported that point and it didn't. Stumptown Footy's Chris Rifer put together what was, in all honesty, a compact, yet nutritious review of the season so far in service of arguing that coaching isn't the problem. And, yep. Chris Gluck compiled a bunch of stats for the same site, which revealed where the Timbers came short. Or didn't. That's the funny thing with numbers, when it comes to soccer: too many damn variables – e.g. possession against this team isn't possession against that team. Gluck notes the averages, though, which I'm sure communicates something. Uh...moving on to the familiar ground of naked speculation.