Saturday, May 9, 2015

Timbers Survive the Impact....And Well (Enough)

How did you not see me? Fucking sitter, dude...
Can we all agree that first half featured some of the worst chess-match bullshit that anyone has seen all season? Because I was in public, I had to whisper the word, "liars," when I the broadcast posted the half-time stats. All the same, they lied. Honoring all that futility with some assumption of effort and intention is advertising, people, an attempt to sell a bad product to a gullible public.

Thank god, then, for the second half, where both teams, the Portland Timbers in particular, came out flying. Montreal punched back just as hard. In fact, Jack McInerney pushed back hard enough to negate what could have been the Montreal Impact’s equalizer. Jack Mac's tying goal was called back, instead – and rightly so - so the game ended with a 2-1 win for the Timbers. And the winner...well, the gods had to let that thing of beauty stand, didn’t they? Go Diego, go. Go Diego, go.

This was a deceptively good performance by the Timbers, and a patient one. That Montreal afforded Portland a full half to sort them out doesn't exactly speak well of the Canadian outfit: it's down to them, after all, to make all those points in hand come good and today's effort was no way to do it. When the game finally opened up, Portland proved to be the better team, and by some distance. The Timbers announced their intentions in a beautiful, bolt-out-of-the-blue sequence around 50th minute. And (going purely on memory), it went something like this: Fanendo Adi knocked down the ball to Rodney Wallace, who pinged the ball into Diego Valeri; Valeri dished to Darlington Nagbe, who dribbled a couple times, shuffled the ball back to Valeri, and then broke forward; Valeri dropped this subtle little reverse pass into Nagbe, who was now on top of the 18; Nagbe then found Barack Obama, who then found Stephen Harper lurking a little wider; Harper tapped the ball over to Pope Francis, who had a clear line on go...shit. I think my memory stopped working somewhere in there.

Suffice to say, Portland played the kind of sequence somewhere around the 50th minute (+/- 5 minutes) that most reliably unlocks a defense. Smooth, fluid, and full of moving parts: that's how good soccer players win soccer games, people: passing and movement. As much as I appreciate an athletic, slaloming dribble, passing and movement is the two-word secret to the beautiful game.

And...let’s go with 3 other thoughts.

1) A Great Defense (with a chink in the armor)
Yes, my heart did almost push past my tongue and out of my body when it looked like Montreal had scored the equalizer. I guess the ol' ticker was trying to run as far as possible from 2014 as possible and it didn't trust me to move fast enough. Had the Impact equalized fer reals, though, it would have been a shame. Portland's defense looks good enough that I'm finally prepared to call it genuinely improved. Personally, I credit Nat Borchers with the telling change in...experience? Attitude? Coordination? Much as he's done over the past few games, Borchers is great at stepping to attacking players, he follows the movement of the game really well, and, generally, looks a step or two ahead of a lot of what's going on out there. I'd also like to take some time to credit Alvas Powell, who had Portland's right damn near locked down. Jorge Villafana didn't look bad out there, either, nor did Liam Ridgewell. The only place where I saw Montreal getting too much space today was near and around the top of the 18 – the spot that's on Diego Chara and/or Jack Jewsbury to cover. It didn't matter, thankfully, not with the back four playing the way they are, but any day your team confines the opposition to half chances is likely to be a good one. And yet...

...the Timbers still haven't entirely leveled up on corner kicks and/or set pieces from the wing. Thankful as I am that he improved as the game went on, Adam Kwarasey started the game with some Keystone moments – e.g. utterly fanning on one cross and awkwardly fisting (very deliberate choice of verb) a ball wide some few minutes later that could have spelled real trouble. Sure, Kwarasey was at fault on those occasions, but the ball touched grass in Portland's penalty area on more than one occasion and that's a team thing. And, as we all know, no es Bueno. There's simply too much scrambling, still, in how the Timbers manage a set piece. Yeah, that's a quibble given Portland's very respectable goals-against numbers. But Portland's best moments defending corners came on certain occasions and by a certain player.

2) (Faint Praise) on Contributing
Adi continues to overwhelm. His most telling moment came when he broke through Montreal's high-ish line and he started sprinting toward the Impact’s goal all on his lonesome. A Montreal player – Bakary Soumare, I'm guessing – caught up with him probably three strides later and took the ball, as cool as you like. Later in the game, Adi had a break in even more space and he pushed the ball...god, 10 yards in front of his run, which allowed a defender to take it off his foot cleanly. So, yeah, Adi's limited, in that his speed isn't great, his dribbling isn't much better, etc. All in all, Adi's pretty much a hold-up guy, and not a great one, the kind of player who can find himself a couple yards, get his head up, and make a decent possession pass. He’s not the killer-ball type, even if he played one on the rare occasion. He is a decent shooter of the ball given the right circumstances – as in when he leaned his header toward goal that Montreal's Evan Bush saved (really well, too), only to see the rebound nodded in by an a ridiculously lonely Borchers (no one should be that lonely on a soccer field; no wonder he looked for a hug after). All the same, Adi cleared Portland's lines more on corner kicks more effectively today than any other Timber. So, he did his part today and well. If on the wrong side of the field.

And, finally...

3) The Brighter Side of Redundancy
Earlier this week, I complained that Portland's line up contains too many seemingly duplicative players - Dairon Asprilla and Ishmael Yartey, specifically. Well, the way Caleb Porter managed his subs today makes me wonder if I some of the ramifications of those signings, or that I at least overlooked the positive ones. While I can’t quite talk apples-to-apples on this, by the time the game ended, Portland had replaced three attacking players (I think it was Adi, Valeri…Nagbe?) with Asprilla, Yartey and Maximiliano Urruti. Now, the cool thing about this was how much one of those three players’ attacking sequence resembled that 50th-minute, partially fictitious, attacking sequence noted above. That basic concept impresses all on its own because it means that, health and form provided, the Timbers can bring on players with fresh legs, but without having to change their approach the game. Sure, changes in tactics and personnel are generally good things, because those force defenders to change what they’re doing, but it’s also nice to know that Portland can stick with what’s working, too, only with fresh legs in play.

OK, that’s it. Wait, no. I’m giving my man of the match to Rodney Wallace today. As much as I assume that Valeri brought the coherence today, Wallace looked like his old self, stretching the defense, bolting toward the opposition area and so on. I found that as encouraging as anything.

OK, that really is it. Good win today. And, damn, does it feel good to say that.

No comments:

Post a Comment