Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Houston v. Portland Preview, More Rope Is Dope; + MLS Week 11 Previews

It's all good. VALERI!
I'll start with a brief confession: I’m a little limited when it comes to actually studying games. Oh, the number of games I've started swearing to keep a close eye on a certain player, or to watch a team's approaches to a game to where I'll get some sense of why they're playing a certain way. This comes off...rarely. Sure, if someone points out a detail, I'll pick it up pretty quickly, but, in the final analysis, though, my "analysis" boils down to "that guy kicked the ball good."

Self-flagellation now over, it's time to turn to MLS's Week 11 offerings, starting with the Portland Timbers, the mighty, mighty, tighty-whitey Portland Timbers. Huzzah! I'll run through the rest of the games, briefly, after running the ruler over...

Houston Dynamo v. Portland Timbers
A Look Back in Angora
Hat-tip to Ed Wood (or Tim Burton) for that subtitle, but last weekend's win over the Montreal Impact seems to have Timbers community feeling new uncomfortable things - like optimism. Diego Valeri's 70+ minute return made for the big (obvious) news, as did the fact and manner of his game-winning goal (hey, why not re-live it?). Portland got rolling (in the 2nd) and everything just looked...more coherent in the attack than it has all season. Part of me wants to argue (again) that one player's absence shouldn't hurt a team so much; another part of me shrugs and settles into this "que sera, sera" mind-set of feeling thankful to have the Franciscan back on the fold (seriously, something vaguely monastic surrounds Valeri, that blend of seriousness, rigor, humility and sincerity). The defense continues to be sound and, check this out, turns out the Timbers are a pretty good road team. That's a good thing seeing as they're on the road again this weekend. Sure, there's probably some stat about the Timbers turning in shit results after a win, but I'm going to wallow in the bliss of my ignorance, thanks.

Moving onto Houston...

In General
I feel like I've got a pretty tight bead on the Dynamo. Put that down to them being one of MLS's mystery teams of the young season, exceeding expectations one week, and disappointing the hell out of everyone the next. For what it's worth, I think they're playing above themselves 2015 and for reasons that makes sense in the big picture. New head coach Owen Coyle inherited a re-build-in-waiting from the departed Dominic Kinnear; as presently constructed, this team has two years tops. The Dynamo didn't rebuild much the past the off-season, even if they've made some progress lately (how much? beats me); they only added a (possibly great) defender here, maybe a rookie there. They're biggest signing, Erick "Cubo" Torres, won't arrive till summer and, while it's generally assumed he's got real upside, it's not so clear how he'll fit in with the Dynamo. So maybe some very real credit goes to Coyle; maybe he's the reason why they're playing that one, tentative step above. Maybe he has them believing their own mythology.

The bigger deal is that Houston has inched toward getting more players on stage, so to speak, by putting an end to the series that started their season – i.e. The Tyler Deric Show. More on this later...

Key Men...Good and Bad
Giles Barnes. Odds are you will hear that name during the broadcast; odds also lean in favor of whatever you hear being bad news for Portland. The Englishman spoiled the holy shit out of Toronto FC's home opener and he's started the season something like possessed (and his previous seasons didn't exactly suck). Fast, talented and versatile, Barnes seems to have pretty decent license to roam wherever behind Houston forward Will Bruin (who also has better numbers than I thought); he'll drop deep, go wide, strike from range, score with his head; yep, he's a pain in the ass. Bruin can be, too, but, between them, he's the player likelier to miss a good chance. I'm not saying test that, so much as...if Portland has to play the odds and cover one and not the other...just don't think about it for long. No need.

As noted earlier, Houston has a hell of a goalkeeper in Deric. The kid has done one better than stand on his head this season (which possibly involves otherworldly shit like levitation) and more than once. Back-to-back four goals-against games (links above) proved he's mortal (he was surprised as anyone, I think), and that's transitions nicely to another part of this conversation...

David Horst wants it more than anyone else ever will, yet without necessarily having the capacity to take it. In the absence of the potentially great defender alluded to above (La Liga import, Raul Rodriguez) Horst has paired with another rough and rugged central defender, Jermaine Taylor. Who was on the field when matters, obviously, and I think Portland's going to get the pairing that allowed 8 goals in 11 games (Rodriguez and Horst/Taylor), and not the one that allowed 8 goals in 2. The point is, through injury, inexperience and, ah, personal limitations, Houston has half a good central defense. And the team defense can be wanting as well. And that's another segue...

What I Expect They'll Do
Buried in the middle of this Armchair Analyst column is a statement that captures Houston's dilemma this season:

"They tried a 4-4-2 for 180 minutes and gave up eight goals. Then they went back to a 4-5-1 and got shut out on Tuesday. There appear to be no easy answers for this team, which has won just once in the last nine games."
Personnel versus formation; formation versus personnel: whatever caused the disastrous slip, I'm sure the Portland Brain Trust has investigated. There's another quote floating around out there (can't find it) that discussed the difference it made having Alex Lopez on the field instead of Dynamo evergreen/one-day-assist-record-holder Brad Davis. Unless something changes in the injury report, the Timbers will face the same, reportedly more dynamic attack that dragged TFC across Hell last weekend. This would take them away from the usual get-it-wide-and-cross-it approach (aka, fucking meatloaf again?) for which Houston is notorious and, in terms of entertainment value, feared. I expect that the Dynamo will (cliché alert) go more direct, maybe even play centrally. Both Beasley and Sarkodie are fully-modern fullbacks who like to get forward, but I think they'll cross less and combine to get inside more (note where Beasley was when he lured Michael Bradley into this stupid, stupid foul). I expect Bruin to hold and Barnes to storm out of midfield. The midfield pairing, probably Ricardo Clark and Luis Garrido, will likely sit back and duel Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury in a battle that isn't about winning, so much as it’s about not losing.

As for Portland...
What I appreciated most about Portland's win over Montreal was the thinking nature of it, the way the Timbers allowed the Impact a few swings in order to know what to expect if (fuck it, going with when) Portland tried to open it up. I think that's appropriate against Houston as well - i.e. a risk worth taking and one they'll likely survive. 'em: let Barnes search out the game, while keeping him from taking it over; make it hard for Bruin to receive and hold up the ball (and allow him to make the bad decisions he often makes); keep Portland's defenders at home early to absorb Houston’s attacks. On the attacking side, prioritize simple possession and playing out of any kind of press over trying to kill Houston with a series of killer/attempted-killer passes. That doesn't mean switch off and play on auto-pilot - what's on is on, just don't get greedy - otherwise, combine patience with alertness and, once measure has been taken and recorded, the Timbers should get on 'em until they become the stink on shit.

The assumption here is that Houston is beatable. Again, Portland is a good road team and, in case no one has counted, guess where 3 of Houston's 4 losses on the season came? Yep, at home. There's something to think about...

Right, on to the rest of the mess.

DC United v. Orlando...
...already happened. Think I know what happened, without actually knowing what happened.

New York City FC v. Chicago Fire
Both clubs need to get on track (there is no back, people), but history and spending means Chicago needs it more. Ah, the curse/blessing of being an expansion club. If David Accam doesn't play for the Fire, set expectations to low. If he is, he will have so much fun against NYCFC!

FC Dallas v. New York Red Bulls
This is...whoa, hadn't looked at the full slate till now, but, wow, this is the clear marquee match-up for neutrals this weekend. With Mauro Diaz almost 100% and Fabian Castillo lined up to hit the soft spot of New York's defense, it’s deeply in the Red Bull's interest to keep the line of engagement high.

Montreal Impact v. Real Salt Lake
With Montreal needing to trade in those points in hand for 3 golden points, they really ought to carry the game to RSL. But can they? Assuming they can't (as I am; because, defense) talk of RSL's attack getting on track 4-4-2 comes at a good time.

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Seattle Sounders
Between the Cascadia angle and overall form, this makes for a comfortable #2 marquee match-up for neutrals this Week 11. Vancouver needs to remember that Seattle will never roll over like Philly. Seattle’s challenge boils down to coping with a slick, complicated attack. Should be good.

New England Revolution v. Toronto FC
After last weekend, I'm guessing TFC isn't exactly sad to be away from noisy, judgy home. Unfortunately, they'll be facing a Revolution team that can pull apart/rip through their suspect defense – and one eager to put a game to bed after a toddler break-out last weekend.

Sporting Kansas City v. Colorado Rapids
The Rapids are loading up on strikers, but they'll come too late for this one. They won't play for a draw, but they're likely to get one...unless, that is, KC can keep building on their more recent offensive outings - e.g. the ones where Dom Dwyer puts away his chances. If he does, this one threatens blow-out more than most.

San Jose Earthquakes v. Columbus Crew
A different kind of chance for each team: fan opportunity to make Avaya a fortress beckons for San Jose, while Columbus has a shot at a good run. San Jose plays .500 ball, so it won’t come easy for the Crew. And San Jose is coming off a decent week. Probably the #3 for neutrals...

Orlando City SC v. Los Angeles Galaxy
One team dropped trou' to show some impressive balls last weekend; the other had their head coach raising his hand to admit fault. That's Orlando and LA, respectively. And their respective form should mean anything can happen in this one.

Philadelphia Union v. DC United
Until further notice, the Union are MLS's magical 3-Point Fairies. I still don't know what happened against Orlando on Wednesday, but DC should hunt for 3 against Philly, even if it's on the road.

Done for this week. Nothing left to do but watch 'em and see what happens.

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