Saturday, June 20, 2015

Portland Timbers Just Sort of Walk Over the Houston Dynamo

Wait. Will he still have a number?
The Portland Timbers won.

I think that's a sufficient explanation. The Timbers out...did the Houston Dynamo in every meaningful facet of the game. Unless they snuck in another one during bathroom breaks (at home; no line) or during the intermission where I had to regulate on some howling UFC action between cats, the Dynamo produced two oh-so-close shots all night: the goal that should have counted for Raul Rodriguez off an early corner for Houston combined with Ricardo Clark’s pick on Jorge Villafana. Later, Clark (again) almost scored the infamous Juggling Recumbent. He would have pulled it off, too, if it wasn’t for that meddling crossbar...

It's possible Clark was the most potent player on the field tonight. He just lacked the supporting cast to make anything. Back to Houston's highlights...

...those two moments came damn close to changing the script in Portland tonight; had the Dynamo scored the first one, in particular, it's hard to know how the Timbers would react. When’s the last time they had to come back into a game after going a goal or two down (May 30; not so long ago, as it happens). To their credit, Portland did plenty to make those two moments isolated events. Most to the point, Portland made and finished two great chances, both of them lousy with Argentines. Fans got a cherry on top when Diego Valeri came off the bench and showed enough flashes to get arrested in any civilized state. Well, given the right setting.

Before moving on to Timbers, Timbers talking points (not all caps), just a thought or two more on Houston. The Dynamo looked pretty clueless out there tonight, something that probably had a lot to do with having Brad Davis and Giles Barnes missing. Impressed as I was at all the panic Clark created all night (very), he pulled enough of that out of his ass to make one worry that the next thing he pulled out would be a vital organ. Another thing for Houston to wrestle with was how readily the Timbers got around Kofi Sarkodie all night. Portland keyed on his flank enough to imply a pre-planned line of attack; the payoff the Timbers achieved probably won't go unnoticed. More than anything else, though, the Dynamo was undone by sloppiness all over the field. Errant passes, passes that went behind, or ahead of players’ runs, or, worse, flat-out give-aways like the one Horst coughed up to Maximiliano Urruti, or…some damn mess out of the back or another. Sorry, want to get to the talking points...

1) Passing the "Pap" Test
Cigars all 'round! We are pregnant with central defenders! Norberto Paparatto has looked calm, collected, and overall just fine, nearly every time he’s suited up for the Timbers this season. Nothing short of my club’s current four-game winning streak leaves me feeling safer or more satisfied than having three healthy central defenders on the roster, whose skill-set ranges from solid to pretty goddamn good. Set the Colombian barracuda (that'd be Diego Chara) snapping around in front of them – along with the odd blind-side lunge from Will Johnson and I’m feeling rather serene about the Portland Timbers overall defensive structure. Portland's goal looked fairly secure before, but Paparatto coming online makes me feel like the club snuck one of those money-dying canisters into the mix (i.e. cover we they didn’t even know...fuck it. Never mind.)

2) Hitting the Pits Perfectly
No more analogies after this one...NASCAR is the definitive bridge too far. Anyway, I'm stretching the pit stop analogy to say that, for me, Portland head coach Caleb Porter nailed both subs and squad rotation tonight (by that I mean he’s calling his racer in...stop. Just stop). Better still, Rodney Wallace played tonight like he understood perfectly the upside of he and Dairon Asprilla swapping starts (or, to posit an alternative theory, like he had been told that he could regain his spot from Asprilla given a sufficiently-inspired string of performances); that beautiful side-footed flick to a wide-open, yet clearly surprised, Liam Ridgewell broadcast confidence and general good vibes in Wallace’s mind-set. The Timbers have depth all over the field –fans are even finding some comfort with Gaston Fernandez in Valeri's role – and it's possible they all understand the upside of the situation. Porter has been just as shrewd with his timing on substitutions. It can be subtle, too: the commentators read Taylor Peay's late, late entry as a tribute to his solid performance in the Gold Cup at mid-week. If they're right – and I'd like to believe they are – well played, Mr. Porter. All in all, though, it's very satisfying to see Porter take a thoughtful approach to keeping as many players as possible whole for the duration of the season. Or at least to see the appearance of it.

3) Villafana fer Cap’n!
Yes, the wee drunken man who lives inside my mouth won't stop raving about Villafana's night, and credit to Sueno for turning it in. His Man of the Match night was the game of Villafana's season so far, especially on the attacking side of the ball. That said, the way Jorge terrorized Sarkodie all night makes me wonder whether the Timbers give up just as much every other weekend they don't write Villafana into the attacking scheme. In the end, I'm entirely content with Villafana's season. I also don't look to him to change games. That only makes it more satisfying to see him do it lately, because that gets a fan daydreaming about other secret talents buried on the roster. Maybe George Fochive can fly or something...

It's worth remembering that just five days ago, most Timbers fans worried mightily about the season sinking beyond rescue; I certainly did my share of hand-wringing in the public square (a small one, but still public). Villafana feels a little like a talisman for the Timbers this season, or at least the early portion of it: the team has played his game, in a lot of ways: hard to beat, but not hard to keep at bay, either.

That's the next step for the Portland Timbers: to rise above the rugged competence that has kept the team in play so far this season and see what they can do about getting to the top of the Western Conference. Keep setting Jorge free. Or maybe someone else. Just start flying at everyone else and see what happens. What the Hell, y’know?

To be clear, though, I don't actually think Villafana should be captain. Just a symbol. Until we can find a better one. Like Prince did. Hey. Villafana sorta did the same thing with that Sueno nickname, yeah?

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