|Off camera: 7 other toddlers on their cans.|
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!
1) Portland Is Stuck with Fanendo Adi...
The stats may or may not back this up, but I counted, oh, four decent chances for Portland – and two of the closest came from Adi. More to the point, the Timbers' best spell of the game commenced with his arrival. Part of this could be that the team has trained with that shape for most of the season – I mean, that's why Adi has started up top most of this season, right? And why the club pays him DP bucks? At any rate, coherence is a slippery thing in soccer: if I can't say for sure that Portland committed more numbers forward at a certain point, I'm not going to say it, so the only thing I can say for certain is that the Timbers' attack – e.g. the one conspicuously absent from the first half "highlights" – produced all its chances in the second half. And all the ones created within the box came about when the Timbers had Adi to play into. So, love him, hate him, fail to recognize him in a police line-up, Fanendo Adi is Portland's most consistent scoring threat. Goddammit.
2) ...And He Needs Help
Timbers players don't like shooting toward goal. I can't explain this. Having reached a place in their careers where they're paid to play soccer, one would think that Timbers players understand that the object of the game is to put that round thing they're kicking around (e.g. the ball) into that big rectangular thing that holds up a net (e.g. the goal). They don't act like they know this.
3) The Curious Case of Darlington Nagbe
The kid started the game so hungry tonight. He actually got mad out there, way back in the first half, when Osvaldo Alonso who seized his arm and stopped him from breaking. Maybe Alonso wouldn't have done that if someone told him that Nagbe will not shoot on goal unless he has absolutely no other option. Given the head start Nagbe had on all other Timbers in that moment, the shot probably would never have occurred.
3a) Yes, I'm Being Pissy (Sorry)
Nagbe did tee up a shot midway through the second half and it was a good one. The man played some great passes throughout the game and, as usual, did more than any other Timber to unsettle the Sounders defense. To the extent that happened tonight. Which, again, didn't happen much till Adi came on. Sadly, it wasn't enough to bring general coherence to the proceedings, which has been the case all season.
3b) I'm Not Sorry
My point is that Nagbe could be so much more effective as a player if he used the openings he's so goddamn adept at creating to take shots on goal. Every Timbers fan has seen him score beautiful goals. More to the point, this would force opposing defenders to worry about him shooting, which, in turn, takes them away from other Timbers players, thereby giving Nagbe someone to pass to, someone who could very well be unmarked and close to goal. So, why he doesn’t like doing this? Speaking for the fan base, we would like very much to share such special moments with him.
4) Shape v. Pressure
Happily, I can turn to good thoughts now: take away that mo-fugly goal and the Timbers kept a really solid defensive shape tonight. They defended corners pretty well, Nat Borchers stood Dempsey up nicely, and more than once. Actually, both Borchers and Liam Ridgewell looked sharp, ready, and head-on-swivel alert till the disaster (aka, the Rose-Dempsey Situation, aka, the lone goal of this stinking pile of offal). What struck me most about the overall shape, though, was the passive nature of it. I ranted/lost my fucking mind last week about how Portland played New York City FC, but tonight's match made me wonder if Caleb Porter hasn't directed his team to a more bend-don't-break system – i.e., a game of lying deep to absorb pressure instead of stepping aggressively all over the pitch to win the ball. I preached the latter in my preview for this game and, clearly, this advice fell on deaf ears. I'm not bothered, honestly, so long as Portland keeps the sort of shape they kept tonight. Not a lot got through and that's the basic requirement for any sound defensive performance. Bottom line: Portland let in one goal tonight, and that's not crime, even when it's as god-awfully shitty as that one.
4a) The Flip-Side
As several people who watched took in tonight's game with me pointed out, the Timbers won't win any game till they start scoring. Part of the offense showing up boils down to sending players forward. No, I'm not talking about sticking Kwarasey in the opposition penalty area after the 85th minute; I'm talking setting up overlaps with fullbacks, creating overloads on one side by cheating one of your d-mids toward that side while the other copes with the potential, resultant counter-attack best as he can, because maybe that other player's presence can give a heretofore isolated winger one more option when he's got two players in ugly, shitty rave green trying to shut him down. In so many words, I'm talking about taking chances to win the game. Unless I'm very much mistaken, Portland committed four, maybe five players to attacking Seattle's goal for much of the game tonight. If your club is that goddamn scared of the counter, it's fair to wonder if they're so scared of losing that they can't win.
5) What's Really Freaking Me Out About This Season
The introduction of Dairon Asprilla and Ishmael Yartey involves a transition. Another transition will follow when the club gets Diego Valeri and, presumably, Will Johnson back out onto the pitch. The fair question is, how much of the season will be gone by then? The Timbers are fortunate in that Major League Soccer has a fucking criminally forgiving playoff structure that means the club can phone in/fuck up half the season and still make the playoffs. Hell, the Timbers could ride a well-timed hot streak to MLS Cup and win the fucking thing. And I'd like to tell MLS, as a competition, that they've created an objectively terrible playoff format that wastes months upon months of fans' lives. All these games I'm presently watching and worrying over could mean absolutely nothing come August.
The scary thing is the possibility that both teams operated on that assumption tonight. That's the only excuse for that tepid turd that we pawed with our eyes tonight. Sure, Portland played passive, but Seattle looked to be playing the same game. So, yeah, a pox on both of your houses. Fans from both cities paid for this shit: (I'm guessing that) about 40,000 went to the stadium, while a couple hundred thousand more watched at home; what we got were two teams half-assing their approaches to goal and this produced the stalest of stalemates until one team half-assed defending badly enough to let in a goal.
Sadly, I was pulling for the team that half-assed the crucial moment. For what it's worth, I still believe in Adam Kwarasey. It's the Timbers offense I'm not entirely sold on. And I'd be in a full-blown panic about that, if only MLS let me experience intense emotions.