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.

The pisser is what might have been. As noted in my preview, NYCFC has not so far faced Major League Soccer's elite (such as it is; who, exactly, is impressing this year outside of New York Red Bulls?), and still they've compiled a wretched record (now, 1-3-3). Worse, I've watched teams like the Philadelphia Union and the Colorado Rapids play circles around these guys – hell, Philly found ways through and around them just this past Wednesday. Philly! Which also means New York had four days' less rest than the Timbers. Portland passed on that edge, managing only a couple stumbling raids. The team excelled in one, and only one action: back-pedaling towards Kwarasey's goal. At least they did that fucking together.

Hold on...FFFFFUUUCCCKKKKKKKK!!! OK, think I’m done venting now. The talking points below of this won’t be constructive precisely, but it might read a little less livid.

I'm Sorry, Have We Met?
I call complete, total, and non-stop bullshit on the passing accuracy stat contained in the box score. I endured that goddamn mess and there's not even a remote chance that Portland completed 81% of their passes. Or it could be that stat merely records that a Timber touched the ball first without a thought for the value of that touch – e.g. whether said player held it for even half a second or just fell on his bottom. Or maybe a massive tally of one-touch back passes between Darlington Nagbe and just about everyone else on the team goosed those accuracy numbers way, way, upward. Atrocious trapping aside, the Timbers thumped one aimless ball after another upfield to either a New York player or an empty space – particularly in the first half. While the sample size wasn't large (six people, or so), the comment I heard most today was, "they don't look like they've ever played together." Ding-da-ding-da-fucking-ding! I bet the Faeroe Island's national team looks more cohesive, even after a six month layoff.

The Definition of Insanity
C'mon, we all know this one: trying something that doesn't work again and again. So, please, can Portland stop forcing the ball to Fanendo Adi with his back to goal? This is flat-fucking-out not in Adi's wheel-house. So, kindly, come up with a new Plan A.

Aggression, or a Decided Lack Thereof
Portland's one decent win of the season (e.g. not this one, which I rank with picking up $5 for a blowjob in the bathroom at a truck-stop Arby’s) saw them throttle FC Dallas before the ball left the back line. The Timbers played a 4-4-2 in that one, with Adi and Maximiliano Urruti running down the ball before it left Dallas' defense. Portland went another way today; the club gave Dairon Asprilla the start and fielded another new player, Ishmael Yarty, for the first time. To be optimistic about it, maybe that change in formation played a role. Maybe Caleb Porter advised a bend-don't-break approach to containing New York’s "slick possession game." Whether it's a stupid formation, confusion over individual defensive roles, or bad advice, the Timbers gave an expansion team too much respect and even more space. Personally, I expected Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury to boss the midfield; I expected better coordination between those two and the centerback pairing of Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell. The tone should have started with Chara, but he looked uncharacteristically passive, and it bled all over the team from there till everyone slipped and slid all over the goddamn field (hat tip: Heart of Darkness). Again, the only thing anyone did in concert today was back-pedal. Portland exceled at that.

Getting to the "O"
Try to think of one memorable goal the Timbers have scored this season. I just went through six of the seven (um...) and only Adi's opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy looks anything like planned or pretty (credit to Urruti for his, 'cause it’s clever enough to be pretty). The point is, Portland hasn't figured out their attack and they've got the one goal per game to prove it. I think the general mood among fans has been patient, because everyone understood that Portland has functioned without its brain for all of 2015, or, as that brain is often called, Diego Valeri. OK, that is what it is. Nagbe, more than anyone else has shouldered the load, but he does it differently than Valeri – e.g. he gets a defense on its heels, dishes a pass that some other Timber swipes at, or maybe just crosses, or he shoots, the ball bobbles loose, this coughs up a rebound, Adi scores, etc. etc. The difference here matters: apart from scoring often enough to keep everyone happy, Valeri is a great force multiplier. He makes the players around him better by playing them the ball in a way that allows them to score elegant, even easy goals. Or just to make a better pass with less to think about. That's huge, he's great, and full credit to him, but, bottom line: the team and fans are living on slop. Worse, there's only just enough of the mush to go around.

The larger, more important point: a team that relies this much on one player can't be consistently successful. Every team loses players, even key players. But the adaptation has got to be better. Whether it's personnel, formation, style, approach, something has to make up for that player. Or the team will wind up an also-ran. Even in a league that lets over half the teams into the post-season.

It's the Seattle Sounders next week. Raise your hand if you're feeling optimistic.

If your hand just went up, I need what you're smoking. And I'll take a double.

No comments:

Post a Comment