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.

Kwarasey Answers (Some) Kwuestions
While by no means flawless last night (see: patting the ball around on the turf like a kitten on your kitchen floor on two occasions), Portland 'keeper Adam Kwarasey asserted far better control of his area last night. He also barked at his players a little, or at least shot them a dirty look or two; being old-school, I like 'keepers who yell. He also finally pulled off a save that I remembered after the game better than his errors (go ahead, relive the game, just mind Kwarasey's double-moment at about 2:45). For a guy who previously plied his trade in Norway, he's puzzling on crosses, but last night, he put in a solid shift as "sweeper-‘keeper." I see that as his strength, and maybe that's the learning curve – e.g. Portland's defense learning to play to Kwarasey's style.

Shackling Dallas' Danger-Man
Dallas didn't have a great night, and a lot of that had to do with how well Portland bottled up Fabian Castillo. The speedy Colombian had, at most, a pair of dangerous runs, but even those required him to navigate a thicket of Timbers' defenders. With my nerves on edge for so much of the game (small wonder; I just noted the timing of Kwarasey's "wonder" saves), I sort of failed to appreciate how much Dallas' struggles in the attack grew from Portland's defending. They threatened most on set-pieces – which is very Dallas – but they didn't gain much in the run of play. And that was down to good team defending, especially high pressure.

Gimme a 4, Gimme a 4, Gimme a 2!
As noted at the top of the highlights, Portland stuck with the 4-4-2 they took into Vancouver last weekend. And, for me, it paid off. His goal was inventive and very well-taken (and, again, possibly offside), but Urruti didn't have a great night on the offensive side – e.g. his passing was loose, he struggled with controlling the ball more often than usual. It's worth having him out there, though, because the man runs. Urruti not only starts Portland's defense, he makes it start strong; two consecutive weekends with the opposition's attack throttled in the crib makes a case for that at the very least. Moreover, I wonder if having two forwards instead of one doesn't help with holding the ball higher up the field, in that it offers two little collections of attacking triangles instead of just the one Portland gets with Fanendo Adi in there alone. With Chara out there nipping at heels, I think Portland has enough defensive solidity in the middle of the field that Caleb Porter doesn't need the extra body in midfield. Speaking of Porter...

Porter Pushes the Right Buttons
And I’m just talking about Oscar Pareja's (oh, SNAP!). Urruti scored the game-winner off a short, sharp feed from Dairon Asprilla, who had just entered the game a moment before. While I don't think Porter's decision to put on Dairon Asprilla caused that goal to happen – credit to Asprilla for that, and Darlington Nagbe – the decision to use Asprilla off the bench has made the Timbers better in each of the past two weeks. The question going forward will be who Asprilla replaces, something Wallace simplified last night by way of not having the greatest night out. Whether it's switching to the 4-4-2, seeing how to use Asprilla best, seeing who needs to come off and when, I think Porter’s having himself a pretty smart season.

And...yeah, I think that's it. Wait!  I don't know if everyone caught the stat, but Portland seems to play better under a full moon. They're undefeated on those games, something like 7-0-3. I get this, because I've seen Teen Wolf. OK, now that's it. Good game, good weekend. Bring out Orlando City FC.

* NOTE: Chara really loves scoring on or around his birthday. Like last night's cushion, last year's brace against Seattle came on April 5.

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