Sunday, July 19, 2015

Timbers Ship Two Points North with Vancouver

Actually, I kiss your mom with this fucking mouth!

The ref for last night's game between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps sure pissed off a lot of people. At least that's what I gathered last night from a glance or two at twitter. Otherwise, and per personal tradition, I haven't read a thing about that game that one time, when the Vancouver Whitecaps came to visit the Portland Timbers and took two points home with 'em. One goal each, one point each. Ah, what could have been...

Twitter also told me about Will Johnson's post-match red card. I’m guessing it was dissent that caused it (and, like most of you, I've exhausted my imagination as to what Johnson might have said, but, having read nothing, I know nothing, still), and a lot of Timbers suffered possession by the same evil spirit: Rodney Wallace a couple minutes before, and Liam Ridgewell as much as a half hour earlier. The ref did go a little weird from time to time – see, the wild sequence that started with Vancouver's Steven Beitashour splaying himself across Rodney Wallace's path, which didn't earn a call, and ended with the 'Caps Jordan Harvey lunging after a lost cause and into Diego Valeri's ankles/lower legs, which foul did earn a card...

...speaking of, this entire season will entail some amount of anxiety every time Diego Valeri gets clattered, yeah? No avoiding it? Damn. Anyway, Harvey earned all of that red, for me; Diego Chara, on the other hand, picked up a baffling yellow for a clean tackle. (NOTE: Goddammit! They quality of these "key moment" videos is really declining; replays revealed more.) Yeah, the ref was sort of all over. All the same...seriously, Major League Soccer fans really should have internalized the level of refereeing by now. The players need to get there, too, even as they have cause for alarm by way of their livelihoods being at stake. But that's another post for another day.

Only somewhat apropos to all the above, I sat in the midst of the Whitecaps' road contingent for last night's game. The "Opposite Day" effect was interesting – e.g. the way most people around me lost their shit (in a good way) when things broke Vancouver's way, or the way they fell silent (there is only bad way for that) when the Timbers made good things happen. In a bit of a coincidence, those seats are behind at to the right of Erik Hurtado's family (very cute watching them interact with Hurtado during his warm-ups); there was also a Vancouver fan another row back and further to my right who did a hell of a lot of volunteer coaching. Nothing wrong with that, by the way, and he was really fair about Vancouver getting away with a hand-ball in the penalty area after one of Portland's second half quarters...and that provided all the confirmation of the ref's night that I needed.

Oh, and I don't want to forget this, but do Vancouver fans sing, "Just Can't Get Enough?" If so, I like it.

As for the game (finally), I walked away, let's call it morally satisfied. By that I mean it wasn't far from fair. Sure, Portland could have picked up a penalty kick, but the Timbers allowed several close calls, they didn't defend corners so well, they made some bad decisions in dangerous areas that gifted Vancouver the ball in tricky places. Portland gave nearly as well as they got, overall, showing a special fondness for David Ousted's (his) right post; think both Johnson and Fanendo Adi went close on that side. Valeri scored Portland’s goal, of course, and it was more weird than nice (as in, how does a 'keeper of Ousted’s quality let that shot in near-post?); and nice assist from Adi on that, too (and any truth that he took the salary hit to bring in...damn it! What’s his name? I know it's not Alyssa Milano, but I also know that rhymes with; not looking it up, screw it; I'll get it in time; anyway, did Adi take the hit (yep!). The attack is starting to look familiar, though, and that's great. Honestly, the glimpses are there, the defense is better, etc. Trends are good from where I sit.

Still, Vancouver did answer back with a screamin' goal from Matias Laba (and, oh, the angle I had for following that in), who, it has to be said, 1) enjoyed his usual solid outing (in spite of his funny, T-Rex-esque running style); and 2) really, really should not have been given so much goddamn space smach in the middle of (what I understand is) Zone 14.

A win would have been better, absolutely, but the Timbers didn't get one. Yeah, yeah, I just spent a big chunk of the first half of this post dissecting the ref's outing, but he didn’t decide the game, so much as raise the heat under a pressure cooker. If there's anything I wish the Timbers could take back from last night, it's the stupid cards. Refs will be refs will be assholes will be narcs, but keeping your head remains part of the job. And linesman? Straight-up snitches.

Anyway, I'll take a point here if grudgingly and with a short sigh of relief, if that makes sense. I'll end by hitting a couple things that occurred to me between leaving Providence Park, watching the condensed replay, and now.

1) My Darlington, My Obsession
Why, yes, I am obsessed with Darlington Nagbe (though not in any way that should concern Felicia, whose favorite color is a dandelion yellow and whose birthday is...kidding!). Watching him play is like searching a famous work of art for excusable flaws: everything that immediately catches the eye is step above and technically correct, but there's just something about that...line that fucks everything up. To keep with the analogy, I might have at long last spotted that damn line last night. Here's the frame: after a typical, dashing run that got the ball forward, Nagbe slipped the ball to the top of the(/our) left-hand corner of Vancouver's penalty area. The player he passed to (should have been Jorge Villafana) trapped and looked for options. And that's the thing: Nagbe could have been one of them (carefully avoided the word "should"), but he stopped his run. The more I watched Nagbe play, the more his movement appeared motivated by keeping possession as opposed to pushing the attack. This wasn't 100%-consistent – i.e., on a later play, Nagbe did just that – but, often as not, at least in last night's game, he would pass the ball forward, then drift back to a supporting position, as opposed to bolting toward goal looking for a pass. Is this the norm? Dunno, frankly. But I am going to start watching for it.

2) The Most Concise Statement on Adam Kwarasey Ever
"Kwarasey. Strange, low punch, but it works."
- One of the commentating crew; that "Ross" guy?
The key words there include "strange" and "it works." Maybe his goalkeeping is what happens when one mashes together Ghanaian and Norwegian cultures. All I know is, Kwarasey's brand of goalkeeping is like a magic spell that makes me shit my pants three times a game. And that's at a minimum. But I have two good saves in my mind, too, so I guess it works.

3) Prince Natty Bo
The scariest of the "close calls" noted above, came when Kekuta Manneh slipped through Portland's defense and rounded Kwarasey; Manneh slotted a certain goal toward the net, only to have Nat Borchers swipe away the shot at the sort of "impossible angle" reserved for the attacking end of the field. Borchers got in the way of at least three other shots beside that one last night and a lot of that is why I've always rated Borchers as a defender. In spite of one of the strongest pro-MLS biases you're ever likely to encounter, I have finally accepted that Ridgewell is Portland's key defensive player - hence "prince" to Ridgewell's "king" - but I'm still not at all clear on who makes for his best partner between Borchers and Norberto Paparatto. Borchers is often visible Рi.e. he makes those lunging blocks everyone sees Рbut that runs headlong into the famous clich̩ about defenders, i.e. they're at their best when you don't see them. Maybe that's the truth about Borchers, maybe it isn't. Like the thing with Nagbe, though, I'm going to start watching to see if I can't tell whether Borchers kills in blocking stats because he's scrambling after getting twisted in knots on the field.

OK, all for this weekend, at least on Portland. So much more to come about MLS...till then!

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