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.

Diego Chara, Symbol
Man of the Match usually goes to the guy who experienced the most joy in any given match. I'm going to switch up the honor a little and put forth Chara as a symbol of Portland's sad little afternoon. For all Chara's good moments, nothing defined his game better than his sloppy, NFL-esque tackle on (forgive me for being vague) an Orlando attacking player at or around the midfield stripe. Like the rest of the Timbers, Chara was that fatal step behind once or twice today and Orlando made the most of those slips. Rookie Cyle Larin bumped his first goal in MLS off his chest on a play where Villafana got beat wide and both of Portland's central defenders got beat to the near post inside their own six-yard box. Orlando raided Portland's penalty area several times today, but breakdowns of that magnitude were still rare because the Timbers generally scrambled away the danger. Orlando just made the chances they got count...or on the second attempt, as when Chara (again) encroached on Kaka's first penalty kick attempt. Kaka put away the second crack, and that put the game out of reach.

What Orlando Did Right
Emergency defense. For all the good stuff in Orlando's game – e.g. moving the ball better, stuffing passing channels pretty much all over, actually scoring, etc. – the one aspect where they most dominated came with putting out the various fires that Portland ignited in their penalty area. As many times as Orlando committed the infamous crime of letting the ball touch the ground inside their own 18, their defense positively swarmed any Portland player once that ball fell to his feet. Fanendo Adi had a couple turns at settling the ball, then shifting, then shifting again, then trying to shoot, only to have three players between him, the goal, and any form of useful space; Maxmiliano Urruti had at least one of those as well. The point is, Orlando broke down, but they always recovered. That's why Portland never scored. It didn't hurt that Shea owned all right, title, and interest to his side of the field (because not a lot of balls went in), but all that scrambling saved Ricketts from having to do all that much.

Judged Not Guilty
As noted above, I thought a couple Timbers players turned in solid performances. Even the guys who suffered bad moments enjoyed some bright ones – e.g. Villafana letting in the game-winning cross on the one hand, contrasted with Villafana and Rodney Wallace working a move as fluid as the one that Wallace and Nagbe produced to create that goal against LA; or Powell salvaging his generally weak night with some smart approaches to Orlando's area (sadly, these moves died as approaches). Only two players didn't put a foot far wrong for me tonight: Darlington Nagbe and Fanendo Adi. Both players have carried Portland as far as they've gone through their first five games – and I write that as someone obsessed with finding faults in Nagbe's game, in particular. Nagbe took two cracks at goal tonight, at least one of them a peach, something I've been pleading for through TV screens and in person all season. Adi battled like a boss tonight and probably had Portland's best looks inside the area. It probably says everything that only these two players put in what struck me as clean games tonight. I'll be very curious to see what everyone else thinks...

Formations, Subs, and Adjustments
I came into the game praising the 4-4-2; there's a tweet out there that proves it. By the end of the game today, I had questions not just the formation, but about starting personnel as well. Being only lately interested in formations, I've never really done the math on what happens when a 4-3-3 (which Orlando played) meets a 4-4-2 (Portland's set-up). Logically, the 4-3-3 should boil down to an additional body toward the top of the field. OK, but Orlando seemed to turn over Portland at or around the center stripe again and again and again. So, what did the extra body in midfield buy Portland? Or, more to the point, what did the two-man pressure that Urruti and Adi work so well against FC Dallas buy the Timbers? Not a lot, as I saw it. Orlando transitioned the shit out of the Timbers all night, and maybe that was down to that extra body near Portland's goal. Even when it didn't create chances, it kept the Timbers leaning backwards all day.

Caleb Porter tried to address this by, first, pulling George Fochive and swapping in Jack Jewsbury. Given my biases, I read that as an attempt to introduce a passer over a destroyer. When that didn't work (and it didn't), Porter pulled Wallace for Dairon Asprilla. For the second week running, I think Asprilla's introduction sharpened up the Portland attack, even if it didn't sharpen it up enough. It also bears noting that I would have preferred to see Porter sub out Urruti, who wasn't good tonight, instead of Wallace, who was better. And I don't care about Gaston Fernandez. Let's set him aside for now...

I guess my point is that I'd rather see Portland start in a 4-5-1. I want Asprilla on the field, I want Wallace on the field, I want Jewsbury on the field, and, for now, I want Adi on the field over Urruti...that was hard for me to say...gimme a minute...

For me, Porter generally made the right adjustments tonight. I think I'm arguing that he should have made them sooner. As in the start of the game. I'm still wrapping my head around this argument, but I think there's something to it. I'll pick this up again at mid-week. Hmm...

Tough loss. Doubly tough for being unexpected. I saw a couple tweets about this being a terrible game in which Orlando was simply the least-worse team. I disagree. I think they earned it. And that's means there’s work to do on our end. OK, all for tonight.

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