Saturday, May 16, 2015

Houston 3-1 Portland: 3 (Damned, Dirty Things)

Why, Nat Borchers? WHY??
Check my (slightly mushy) rankings post, and you'll see that I still haven't decided whether the Houston Dynamo is having a good 2015, or a bad 2015. When you're trying to run a yardstick over your own team – specifically, one that coughed up three super-soft, Sunday league goals roughly 2 hours, 45 minutes and 40 minutes ago (as I type this intro, obviously) – that's something you want to know.

Then again, is it? Because those three super-soft, shitty (can I add the word , "shitty?") Sunday league goals pretty much tell the story of the Portland Timbers' 3-1 loss in stupid, sweaty Houston, Texas. To give some idea of the profound emotional dissatisfaction I'm feeling tonight, here's a killer detail: I wasn't even sure Fanendo Adi's goal went in in real time. I only clued in when Diego Valeri embraced Adi and the people around me started clapping. Yes, this is no one's fault but mine, but tonight’s loss has a handful of "proud" owners.

Before reading the Riot Act in Three Parts, let's pause to touch on Houston. The Dynamo didn't have a great night tonight, so much as an effective one. Their players followed up when they needed to (Houston's 3rd goal), stayed switched on during half-broken plays (their 2nd goal), and they stood tall and brave against all the soft serve crap that the Timbers threw at them. Sure, that boils down to batting away a series of warm-up pitches. The last possession stat I saw (probably halftime) showed Portland in the lows 60s and Houston in the high 30s. That only goes to show that possession is as least as much fetish than potential. When it comes to putting possession on a pedestal, lord knows I've stuffed in the ball-gag, put on the chaps, etc. It's gotta work, y'know, or it's just awkward performance art, no matter how private (no image; don't worry).

The whole thing with possession was going to be one of my talking points, but a better one bumped it off the list. Regardless, the list below comes in the order in which each point preoccupies me. Feel free to contest...

1) Darlington's (Slow) Devolution
Nagbe's supporters – a camp I join from time to time, by the way – will point to his assist numbers in 2014 to argue that he remained an effective part of Portland's line-up that season. That comes in answer to the (sharp) decline in goals-scored from 2013 to 2014. (For the record, I need to credit a buddy of mine for getting "2013 Nagbe" in my head tonight; I'll gladly name him if he wants to be named.) To bring the conversation to 2015, the general argument there has been that Diego Valeri's absence forced Nagbe to carry the offense – which he did to his least as far as that credit carries him at major retailers. That's where the debate comes in: one thought forever lurks around the corners of the conversations about Nagbe this season, e.g. whether he does enough to carry the play to the opposition. With tonight's game, there should be absolutely no debate – as in, anyone who names Nagbe the man of match tonight is in the kid's entourage. "Darling" was flat-out goddamn terrible tonight. In fact, he played far enough out of character that it's fair to wonder if he didn't do it on Caleb Porter's orders. He opted to pass most of the time and, when he did carry, it was one of his patented, maddening lateral runs – one of those cases where it'd be wiser to let the ball do the (goddamn) work. His brain seemed to freeze around the area, in particular: he would stand with three defenders around him, swing a couple feints in the general area of the ball, then retreat and, again, pass laterally. The defining maddening moment came in the second half (i.e. when hope still beat in all our hearts) when Nagbe turned toward the Houston defense with 10 yards of space in front of him and Alvas Powell wide to his right. A player of his considerable talents should abso-fucking-lutely have driven toward that back-line and made them think really, really fucking hard about what to do; instead, Nagbe took two steps and dished the ball wide to Powell, who could do nothing but trot slowly forward while he waited for more Timbers players to come forward (more on this later). For all his bright spots, this has been Nagbe for much of 2015. Sure, he's created chances, even if secondary ones (only 2 assists people; you can look it up), but Nagbe's trajectory has trended toward increasing conservatism. Tonight, more than any other night this season, he seemed compelled to drop deep and attempt to dictate the game deep. Which I'm, oh, 85% sure is. not. his. god. damn. game.

I talked about seeing what Portland could get for Nagbe in the off-season. Yeah, I'm typing pissed and tipsy, but I'm back there tonight. If he's not going to use those goddamn skills, what kind of superhero is he?

2) Bad Memories
Raise your hand if the full 2014 season is seared in your memory as a superlatively shitty experience of watching the Timbers cough up one stupid, goddamn goal after another. Keep those hands raised if tonight didn't bring back memories of that annus horribilis. The sense of helplessness you felt on seeing Nat Borchers let that ball bounce overhead, then seeing Will Bruin race in behind, all by his lonesome on goal? Didn't that remind you of that time you found that puppy and took it home to your parents and asked if you could keep it, only to have them tell you, "we don't need another goddamn mouth to feed," after which they took that puppy to the pound and lacked the human decency to tell you that he/she (you didn't check; you didn't really know how at that age) would find a better home, but instead they told you that the pound kills puppies after about a week, and shit happens, and where's dad's beer and what are you staring at, leave me the fuck alone? Each of the three goals that Portland let in tonight felt like handing puppies over to the pound. Something irredeemably stupid happened in each case: 1st (Bruin unmarked on the edge of the six); 2nd (three players collapsed toward the guy near the ball, leaving Giles Fucking Barnes wide open to score; that's Barnes as in the guy I warned everyone about in my preview; WTF, Caleb?) wide open 10 yards from goal); and, 3rd (the Borchers nightmare noted above). Look, I know these guys are professionals and I have no doubt at all that they are presently looking themselves in the mirror and crying (post on Instagram, please; I think it'll help somehow). Now, I do mean that; I am 100% sure that every player who slipped up tonight is grieving more and more fervently than I ever will, but, the point is, fucking up early (e.g. 1st goal) meant that Portland had little chance to enact any sort of game-plan in Houston. They got back in, then they fucked up again. And again. "Partying like it's 2014" isn't even a good lyric. And it's a worse habit, so knock it off.

3) The Numbers Game
Happily (for all concerned), I can keep this brief. The Timbers need to decide that they want to win games. That means committing numbers forward before being two goals down at the 80th minute. In one particularly telling moment tonight, late first half, I think, Valeri picked up the ball about 25 yards from goal. He checked over his shoulder for support and, seeing no one there, he drove toward goal and managed a respectable, if low-percentage, shot on Tyler Deric's goal. It says everything that, on checking Valeri saw no one. Most attacks tonight featured two Portland players in the box and two guys lurking a little deeper. Those sorts of numbers will work one time out of, oh, 15-to-20. And, to dump on Nagbe a little more: when you pass the ball wide, why the hell don't you continue your run forward to get an extra body in the box? Nagbe checked that kind of run at least 3 times tonight, and in the first half alone. Just, y'know, try it once. Mix it up a little?

Sigh. Shit, shit night for the Portland Timbers tonight. Adam Kwarasey made some weird decisions, but he made his share of saves, too. So, Man of the Match...Christ. Uh, I've gotta go with Diego Chara again. Everyone else screwed up more often and, for all the plays he killed going forward, he still disrupts with the best of 'em. Everyone else was more or less flat. Worse, they didn't help me figure out what to make of Houston at all!

Thanks for nothing but a(n expected) hangover, guys!


  1. I wouldn't necessarily call my self a pure "Nagbe supporter," but I'd definitely lump myself into the category of a Nagbe defender. This year, Nagbe has 2 assists on 10 PTFC goals, an assist for 20% of our goals. Last year Nagbe had 9 assists for 59 of our goals, an assist for 15% of our goals. We're on pace to score 34 goals this year (1 per match!) and if Nagbe's number hold, he'll end up with 6.8 (say 7) assists. I know that's not the type of player we want Nagbe to be, but it's not far off from his production last year for total assists and he'll have a higher assist/goal ratio. Just like you, I rewatch the matches at least once per week and I've noticed that Nagbe has done a decent job of putting others in a position to score. The problem is that PTFC is not scoring (obviously). Like, no one is scoring. As I mentioned, we're on pace for 34 goals, less than 60% of what we scored last year. Bottom line, we need to score. I'm a genius! /s

    I rambled a bit and might not have had a solid point, but I guess I'm saying that while Nagbe has only 2 assists this year, our forwards aren't scoring with the same frequency as last year. Last year Urruti scored 0.76 g/90 min and Adi scored 0.54 g/90 min. This year Urruti is at 0.21 g/90 min and Adi is at 0.44 g/90 min. Adi isn't too far off his production from last year, but Urruti is killing us. Is this Nagbe's fault for not feeding them the ball so they have a better chance to score? Maybe. Is it Urruti's fault for not scoring goals when given the opportunity? Maybe. Something needs to change and I predict it "Will" change.

    Been enjoying your pre/post-match write-ups. Thanks!

  2. Bringing the number, eh? I see how it is. Math. P-shaw (I think I misspelled that dismissive onamon…fuck it. Can’t remember how to spell that one. And Google is giving me two spellings, one of which actually looks like an onomatopoeia. Hmm…)

    Point(s) taken. I’m working on something about Portland’s history with forwards, who are currently competing with some other theories as to what’s getting in the way of Portland’s drive toward TOTAL VICTORY this season. The basic argument runs that, on some level, the Timbers have managed without forwards before, so….yeah, what gives? I’ll flesh out this theory upon confirmation.

    And yet this is precisely where Nagbe’s driving me nuts. I passed through his 2015 numbers (can't link to them just now) on the way to proving another point (which will go unproven for now) and particular item surprised me a little: Nagbe has 17 shots on the season. Thought he’d be lower there, courtesy of my permanent impression that he never shoots the ball. Numbers be damned, because I find meaning in that impression. What’s maddening about Nagbe is that he’s got elite level talent, but, for all that, he produces average numbers. Nagbe’s talent for holding onto the ball in traffic and going around players is rarely, rarely matched in the league. If he can’t find a way to level-up with the tools he’s got? I dunno. His trajectory points the wrong way for me.

    I do the “angry father” thing with Nagbe more than any other Timber and that’s a little unfair. He fits into a grander scheme for sure. Just don’t know for sure how all the data points fit together.

    Thanks for reading! Commenting! Fun!