Sunday, August 2, 2015

Timbers Draw in Super-Suburbia: Is This Acceptance?

When we needed to boogie...we got this.
Between the time Major League Soccer first shrunk (e.g., contraction, around 2000, yeah?) then expanded (like, 2005, to ongoing), if you asked me to name a match-up that I would never regret missing, the reply came quick and sure: the Kansas City Wizards v. the San Jose Earthquakes. Something about that pairing read...just awful to me, so bad that I think my vision went blurry anytime my eyes fell upon it.

A lot of things have changed since then – San Jose left California, came back after a Texas sojourn; the Wizards' organization finally grasped how silly their name sounded and changed it, etc. I've even grown to appreciate Kansas City's blunt-nose style, especially now that it's cleaned up a little, but San Jose. Damn. Just find it hard to get up for any game against, or involving, San Jose. And, this afternoon's draw against the Portland Timbers? Didn't help.

Some portion of blame for the snooze-fest goes to Portland, of course. It takes two to trip through the tango and neither team managed to get the footwork right today. Adequacy. I saw a lot of adequacy out there, and on both sides of the ball. The Timbers were more adequate for me...wait; is it less adequate? What I mean to say is the Timbers looked better to me, but not quite enough to be good. Or maybe the Timbers tickled the bottom of competence, and that’s better than adequate, surely? Right?

To put it another way, the Timbers did more to win, and it would have been fine had they won, but, all the same, I'm not surprised that they didn't win tonight. I mean, playing like that? Nah.

So, what happened? For one, it wasn't so long ago that San Jose looked pretty solid on defense. They hit a rough patch (short, if deep), but that can mean everything from an off-night or three to a defensive formula turning from champagne into vinegar at some speed or another. With San Jose, at least in 2015, this read more like a case of bad performances, or maybe bad match-ups. That's to say, I rate San Jose's defense, generally, while also accepting they have off-nights.

Relevant to that, I am, of late, worried about the Timbers attack. Waiting for Diego Valeri to come back feels only half-finished; it's like dad came back after a long, mysterious business trip, but he's still living out of boxes and he's on the couch most nights. By which I mean, he's home, and yet he's not all the way home. Valeri is clearly invested, so that's not the issue. Valeri looks more frustrated than I've ever seen him, which usually points to giving many shits; he also looks confident with the physical battles, which reads like another good sign to me. All the same, it still looks like he's got some kinks in his joints...

...and is that why he shanked the PK? Could be. Could be.

For all that, most Timbers players turned in decent shifts: Rodney Wallace impressed me, at least energy and decision-wise (what's after that? got me); Fanendo Adi sent a couple good rips in close proximity to goal, and did some decent back-to-goal stuff; and Diego Chara and Will Johnson (and in that order) had solid nights in midfield. The defense held up fine, too, and that’s good. Kwarasey had two, maybe 2.5, good moments for every shaky one. Hell, maybe it’s even 3-to-1. He was fine tonight.

Fine. Everything was fine. The Timbers had a couple balls ping off the woodwork – one of them a penalty; ah, what should have been... - and San Jose didn't do all that much. The question is whether they can do all that much?

Between the two games and the all those mini-games, I've definitely seen sharper play from San Jose. Tonight, though, they bumped against their ceiling. San Jose attacks fairly predictably – they like getting in behind and wide, from what I've seen, and they certainly stuck to the script. This can be effective, but, because it's predictable, it obliges San Jose to do it well. And, unless I'm completely mistaken (peeking at the box score,, I look more right than wrong), they didn't tonight. Or Portland's defense held up well. That's good, of course, because a good defense should hold up well against a predictable attack. Which assumes it's predictable. It's not a great test, in the end, but not every game will provide a test; some will just be a slow day at the office. And that's fine.

The problem with the attack, though, goes deeper than waiting on Valeri’s full, holistic, all-parts-on-deck recovery. The team had to adjust to Valeri's return; moreover, they had to do so as Valeri adjusted to his own recovery. I'd argue they're all still adjusting to that process: I’m guessing that Valeri hasn't reached a point in 2015, where he can do everything he could do in 2014 – and that's the best I can explain what I'm getting at above. Assumptions about what Valeri can do, what kind of passes he can get to, situations from which he can extricate himself and get the ball upfield, etc. All that's still in flux. Or at least I hope it is, because better would be...better.

And now here go the Timbers futzing around with the forwards again. The steady rotation between Adi and Maximiliano Urruti keeps the team guessing already, but now there's another player in the mix, no matter how justifiably, in Lucas Melano. All that reads to me like more adjustments, more time in the bad kind of transition (i.e. the long, gutting process of your team discovering, or rediscovering, its feet as opposed to one of those slick, five-pass counterattacks that just rip the fucking pants right off the opposition).

I can't think of any bullet points for this one. The over-arching thought – it's more of a worry, really – comes down to wondering if Timbers fans don't have another season to wait before the Timbers get the current players mixed into something lethal. And that assumes a good blend of ingredients, of course. Yeah, they added a new guy. I'm OK with that. It's not like anyone was satisfied with the old arrangement. But, yeah, change is stressful. And it’s sort of a theme this year.

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