Saturday, May 2, 2015

Portland v. Vancouver: 5 Things, Real Quick…Well, 6

The level-up this club needs (see talking point that shouldn't exist)
Because the "Overall" thing below.

The best thing I can say about the Portland Timbers 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps is that it means the team doesn't step into a pretty goddamn soft May with a foot slicked with dog shit (Side Note: This morning, my dog's poop had a milky sheen on it; I know that's not good, but is it fatal?). Yeah, four of the next five games are on the road, but they include: the Montreal Impact, the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, the Colorado Rapids, and DC United. And, for the record, not in that order; check your local listings, etc.

OK, on to the game. 5 Talking points come below, with the 6th talking point being...

Broadly speaking, I'm encouraged. The Timbers looked sharp in the second half, particularly, and I can't imagine why that was. I mean, what changed around, say, the 50th minute? Beats me*. Portland generally possessed the ball more effectively, somehow found the better passes when they needed to, and, all in all, the ball stayed in front of Portland. And, golly, what a great segue to the first talking point!

1) Where the Hell Was Vancouver?
My preview for this game contained two fairly clear, general predictions, with two somewhat vague riders. Those were (starting with the clear ones): 1) that Octavio Rivero would a goddamn pain in the ass (check!); 2) that the 'Caps would defend pretty well (check!); 1a) suggested that Rivero would benefit from really good players serving him with the loving attention of a parent doing the airplane trick to get their kid to eat (uh…...not so much); and, finally, 2a) that Pa Modou Kah was good for one clear fuck-up per game (not today!). To unpack all that, Rivero did his busy-body best to harass the crap out of everyone from Portland's midfield to its back-line; the reason why 1a failed to come together was that wasn't getting service from Mauro Rosales or, especially, Pedro Morales. As a result, Rivero had to drop as far as the center stripe to get the ball. While Rivero is relatively Darlington Nagbe-esque in terms of the ball sticking to his feet, all that meant he spent too much of the game too far from Portland's goal. On one level, yay Portland! On another, that boils down to an off-night for too many of Vancouver's key players. As for the defensive side, the 'Caps just did well, and credit to them. Even when the Timbers poured it on (more later), Vancouver consistently had enough bodies between any given Portland attacker and the goal to weather all the storm the local side could manage. And that, children, is how a game ends goal-less.

2) Portland's Best Players
* Of course I know what changed: Diego Valeri came on at the 50th minute. And, yes, this changed the game. More on that later. First, credit where it's due.
First of all, Alvas Powell often dribbles several yards beyond his oxygen supply – I mean, the kid got lucky to pick up that penalty kick (which Nagbe squandered, if barely, and respectably (more on that later, too) – but he has become one helluva a defender. Bottom line: Powell needs to get quicker and cleaner when he gets into the attacking third; my faith in his ability to do this grows abso-fucking-lutely directly from how much Powell has grown as a defender. Given that the man (yes, it's time to set aside the word "kid") has raised his one-on-one defending game to the edges of the stratosphere in just two years, I believe, and firmly, that he will sort out what to do when he's near the opposition goal, and soon.
Second, tonight, Diego Chara played what was, for me, not just his best, but his most visible, game of 2015. When I talked about getting players into the attack in my preview (and, full disclosure, I nominated Jack Jewsbury for the job), Chara did that tonight. Neither expertly, nor effortlessly, but Chara got up there and, hell yes, he played a starring role in keeping the 'Caps pinned to their own area. It wasn't Chara's fault that no one else failed to capitalize.

3) Valeri
Did I tear up a little when he came on? Yes...and it wasn't at all manly.
I'm not going to go (too far) overboard here, but even a half-fit Diego Valeri made Portland visibly better. Oh, I can get pissy: he under-hit a couple passes – a heel-flick he attempted may or may not have led to one of Vancouver's rare, better breaks in the second half (can't remember, because beer, +) – and his touch didn't look its usual utterly optimal, but, all in all, Valeri did what Valeri always does – e.g. hits the pass that no one else seems to see, and he hits it well. He found space with his idiomatic aplomb as well...and, anyone who says they didn't almost fucking faint when they (first) heard/(then) saw him on the ground clutching his knee is the worst kind of fucking liar. But, I digress. The best thing I can say here is this: I watched exactly 76 minutes of New England's game versus New York Red Bulls today; what I saw in New England was a team that knows how to move the ball around the opposition's penalty area with movement and passing that any team will struggle to cope with. Tonight, Portland did that after Valeri came into the game.

3a) Portland Was Praised for Its Possession Game the Last Two Seasons; Do You Think That Was Coincidence, or the "Valeri Effect" (TM)

4) Meditations on Superfluity
No small number of people predicted that Nagbe would vanish once Valeri returned. While Nagbe didn't...quite do that tonight, he was reduced to cameos in the second half. And maybe that wasn't causal, because he didn't exactly turn in a stellar shift in the first half, either. Part of this went back to the 'Caps' Russell Teibert playing as his shadow for big chunks of the first half. The second half, however, is where it gets interesting. First, Valeri came on for the largely ineffectual, Ishmael Yartey, I think (can't look; need to see the rest of the MLS results cold); Gaston Fernandez came next (um....really drawing a blank here), then Fanendo Adi (for Maximiliano Urruti, right?): bottom line, the Timbers had all these attacking players on the field and...well, how exactly do they fit together? This is, in no small way, the puzzle of the past two seasons – three, if you count this one. For what it's worth, I think Fernandez is utterly superfluous, not just the team's tailbone, but its third arm. From what I gather (admittedly, on half-clarified information) Dairon Asprilla didn't even suit up tonight, so that sort of forced Yartey into action and...underwhelmed. Still, I'm willing to give him a shot, even if I'm not encouraged based on tonight. For all the love I give him (it's considerable, trust me), Urruti didn't really impress that much either, tonight. What I'm getting at here is that I don't know that Portland head coach Caleb Porter has a clear starting XI, never mind it's configuration.

4a) I Think the Next Stretch of Games Provides a Great Time to Figure It Out

5) Defense
We looked good tonight. Again, this might go back to Vancouver's struggles to be relevant, never mind effective (take that, Canada’s best team!), or it could boil down to how well both Powell and Chara played tonight. Still, the Timbers played some calm, solid "D" tonight. Hu-fucking-ZZAH!

And, with that, my brain is officially empty. I won't lie: the result wasn't good. Yes, Nagbe needs to bury the penalty. And, yet, that leads to a 7th, potentially fatal, talking point (oh, who am I kidding? I'm on nine, here goes):

6) Darlington Nagbe Is Not Clutch
And that's his defining weakness. Look, I love the guy's talent. He freakin' carried this team through the first part of this season, one in which the Timbers started less cold than they have in the past two years, but the man has the killer instinct of a kitten. Period. Ask yourself, when's the last time Nagbe took charge and fucking buried a game? Speaking for myself, I can't remember and, goddammit, that means something.

OK, now, I'm spent. Still, when I say the next month matters, I'm not just talking to hear the sound of my voice. Portland needs 9 points from those games, minimum, because they simply won't get an easier run of games than this any time soon. OK, done for reals. Talk to anyone who wants to listen later.


  1. Enjoyed the write-up and agree with the Valeri points. Also, hope Powell sticks around with us for as long as he can.

    (Also, "Did I tear up a little when he came on? Yes...and it wasn't at all manly." Come on, what is it, 1950? Men can show emotion too! Let the tears flow!)

  2. Ah, Portland...a man never has to look too far to have his emotions affirmed.

    Thanks for reading! And commenting. Keep 'em coming...

  3. Haha. Well, I do live in Kathmandu, so you had to look a little further than you think. Any @ MTL predictions?