Sunday, October 25, 2015

Portland Rocks the Rapids: Happy!

31 weeks in the making, yo. Secret formula.
Well, that was fascinating. Twitter broke down halfway through – don't know if that's just my service provider, my phone, or Portland Timbers fans melting twitter (please let it be the latter) – so I couldn't launch (frankly, broadly ignored) bon mots throughout the course of the game. Still, holy shit, and welcome to the playoffs, Portland! And at a spot that lets you host the next round? Absolutely goddamn delectable! I'd like to think the club, the players, and the front office has been aging this particular barrel of grapes, so that it can age properly, but I'm closer to think it involved some kind of prison-specialty "home-brew," something utterly spontaneous, a little desperate, etc.. And yet, helluva win. Three straight wins with a goal differential clocking at 10 for and 3 against spells momentum in any tournament. And that's where Portland is right now, after a one-way railroad win over the Colorado Rapids. Can I get a huzzah?

As much as I talked about "unlocking Nagbe" across various posts and tweets over the past week, I'm nothing like sure it was that simple. Like it or not, the Timbers have MLS's most complicated player in no one thought Landon Donovan would pass that particular torch anyone, but there you go. What does he want most: it ("it" being optimal professional success and all its trappings), or the love of his children, or a trip to Cambodia, a week in a Vegas(-area) brothel? No one will ever know for sure, at least not until some specific set of data points gets settled definitively. All I know is that Nagbe picked it up the Burnished Crown of Inscrutability without anyone noticing. Or maybe he just picked up pieces of it. Jesus, is it hard to tell, or who?

Setting aside mysteries for now – these are questions that time will answer – Nagbe bought, owned, sold, and re-bought at an extraordinarily-inflated value Sunday night. He defined omnipresence by putting in a couple odd tackles in the defensive third, and carrying the ball out of the back on a minimum of [random number generator] five occasions[?]. At the same time, he popped up around the goal just as many times, whether to score, play in someone else to score, or to simply set off panic in Colorado’s defensive third. Put together - and, here, I'm talking less about tonight than the season as a whole - Nagbe played the engrossing role of the talented friend in the crowd. He attends your show and, knowing he's super fucking talented, you invite him on stage, where he proceeds to lay down a shredding guitar solo, a magic act, and a tap routine that changes fucking history. And without props or equipment. You're left to think, why the hell isn't he doing this every week and getting paid, son? Somewhere in there, you come to understand that you’re the kind to spot talent, rather than possess it. (Um, personal problems, as yet unresolved. Judy? Where are my anti-depressants?)

That, my friends, is what Darlington Nagbe did tonight. A free-kick goal from range (did not know he could do that); a looping header from am angled Lucas Melano cross (again, did not know he could do that), then, most impressive of all, he put on a short-passing, smash-'n'-grab clinic until he spotted Jorge Villafana wide to the Colorado Rapids left, allowing the latter to score a slop-shit goal off a deflection, but who the hell cares about the provenance as a goal, so long as it ends with the payoff? The Timbers scored another still late in the game, that one through...gimme a minute...involved Dairon Asprilla, who I want to succeed for mainly selfish reasons...uh, it was Fanendo Adi, right? (Sorry, my personal internet is down just now; and I won't look it up later, because nothing matters except what Darling did for us. For me...OK, unplugging from that character. Fun though.)

The point is that it was all very comprehensive, and that Nagbe led the way for a huge number of chunks of it. It's the role he's been dying to play, like some creepy fucker who's just born to play Jeffrey Dahmer, only, here, it's a positive. As in someone who sets out to play Nagbe will be portraying the life of a handsome, decent, non-homicidal, non-body-melting professional soccer player, and family man,, that sounds like a boring goddamn movie. In terms of the game I just watched, though, it's goddamn Miracle on...the Relevant New York...

I'm not going to go on about the game beyond what's above. All I'm thinking about right now is Sporting Kansas City, and the good/bad proposition of squaring up against them. The pisser is, we could have had the Los Angeles Galaxy, a team that's in something like free-fall right now; KC was just another pin stabbing viciously at the bubble of the Galaxys’ reputation; they’re putting a little something together over recent weeks, KC has, and Portland was part of that…so, tricky. I think Portland could beat either team at this point, but it’s wise to be cautious, even with PLUS fucking +3 Momentum as they roll into the post-season...

...look, can I just say I'm probably gonna cry if Portland loses in the knock-out round?

At any rate...hold on, let me just wipe this tear away...the Timbers, and their fans, are deep enough in 2015 that there's little point in dissecting the particulars of any given game (that's just micro-dissecting – i.e. dissecting the smaller pieces of something, like, say, Lucas Melano'’s decision making tonight, or Alvas Powell's), I thought I'd try something both responsive, and truly novel.

On the responsive side, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson tweeted at some friends of the blog, asking the following...and, I didn't write it down, and can't find it without spoiling at least one result I'm DYING to know, so here's a paraphrase:
"@PortlandTimbros Why aren't you saying something positive about today's game so you can prove it's not all about snark and negativity? (LOVE ME! WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME?!"
That's at least in the ballpark...yet, while I'm not fully associated with that collective of manifestly solid citizens, I did respond to Merritt's tweet (with snark, at a minimum). I also feel Merritt's point of view, especially given the sweet, sweet falsetto on which the season ended (that's "high note" for those just tuning in). As such, I'm going to close out this, the final, regular-season post of 2015, by saying something nice about every Portland Timber who suited up for the team this season. Unless, I absolutely can't avoid it, all comments below will be happy, positive, and will highlight what any given Portland Timbers does well, or even the best.

And, what the Hell? Let's go alphabetical, shall we?

Fanendo Adi
Easy: best striker in Portland Timbers history. His hold-up play did actually improve over 2015, probably due to Caleb Porter telling him to stop flopping.

Dairon Asprilla
The shot he pinged off the post tonight demonstrated his capacity to free himself to take one; I think he's got upside and I'd give him more time...somewhere. Is he playing for T2? If not, that is stupid (OW! Fuck! Sorry. I asked Randall to give me a small electric shock every time I so much as hinted at something negative.)

Nick Besler
Um, he didn't look awful in the preseason. Not bad to look at me, maybe? Easy on the eyes?

Nat Borchers
Reads the game like a scholar, which makes up for 90% of whatever limitations he, say, that clearance that led to Colorado's goal (OW! Randall?! The fuck, man?!), wind up on the wrong side of a wash (as in, he does enough good to balance out a lot of bad).

Diego Chara
I'd like to see him try something other than cornrows. Look, I just think he might look sharper with something else, that's all (Randall! Get the fuck away from that button. Now!). Also, he's been the rock on which Portland stood all season long. If he's not team MVP, I...will do absolutely nothing besides feel a little disappointed. He 100% deserves it, though.

George Fochive
Tenacious. I saw him play a crap pass tonight and what he did after – hound the ball and player until both just sort of gave up (I swear, the ball deflated to show passivity) – is why I rate this kid as Chara's real-life successor. He'll get better. Can't top his mentor, for one.

Jake Gleeson
So, I don't watch T2. I'll just say that I am highly confident that he did great down there.

He started for Portland once. That's better than not starting at all!

Jack Jewsbury 
Living motherfucking embodiment of an old-movie tough guy. He provided a minimum of six inspired moments/experiences this season. More than exceeded expectations for me; has earned himself and full and happy life after Timbers, for me.

Will Johnson
I dubbed him Portland's "talisman" for a block of games, so, yeah, I rate him. Brutal year for Johnson and, speaking for myself, I'd like to see the club keep faith. Why? Because he gives enough shits that you could build a house out of it. And who knew he was 28? (To at least one person, no need to volunteer, I know you know).

Adam Kwarasey
Most improved, which, here, is a distinction with a difference. I was really uncomfortable with him for the first half of the season, but totally feel confident in him now. Feel good, inc.

Anthony Manning...
...has a job! As a professional athlete! Good for him! Yay!!!

Lucas Melano
Has been swallowed in too many games so far (Randall, I swear, if you even look at that thing...), but I saw some really good things in the LA game – good movement, passing that puts a defense on its heels, etc. – that, with his speed, I'm starting believe in his upside.

Darlington Nagbe
This man is strong in a way that's sometimes too subtle, the kind that absorbs all kinds of punishment, but still endures. Real strength, I mean. All the same, maybe he was too passive in standing up for himself about where he plays, and for too long? (OWW! Randall?! OK, yeah, I deserved that.) I like him as a late runner, so I like him deeper on the field; push Valeri high, I think; pair him with Melano, use Adi to change the look...I'm just suggesting that Portland has pieces and options, peeps.

Michael Nanchoff
He is more handsome than me! I think I saw him on the train this year! Going west?! Was that you, Michael?! (Sorry, I don't have much of a sample size for him.)

Norberto Paparrato
Came out of a difficult 2014 to become, 1) a damned good back-up, and 2) (what had better goddamn be) a genuine threat to either of the starters if they slip more than...4 inches.

Taylor Peay
I think this kid defends pretty well. I also think there's merit in reverse engineering the outside back position, so coaches think less about converting midfielders to fullbacks, than trying to teach fullbacks how to cross. OK, who's next? Ah, crap.

Alvas Powell
So, yeah, this prompted the comment above. While he doesn't do it a ton, there are nights when Powell is a liability on both sides of the ball – e.g. clumsy and clueless going forward (OW! Randall...wait. You know what? Bring it! I'm standing by this one), and a little unconscious at the back (foiling his own club's offside trap, and badly – OW!). His offensive upside hasn't been big enough since mid-season (SHIT! Randall?! Why is it hot?! OW!), and that's the sharp edge of his upside. So... (FUCK! Put that thing down! Down! Now! I'm done!)

Liam Ridgewell
I've clocked a lot of his mistakes this year, but I also believe that, setting aside whether he gets paid too much for it, Ridgewell does a lot of stuff that fans don't see – e.g. organizing the line, talking covering while Borchers attacks the ball, etc. Call this my working theory for now?

Michael Seaton
I'm happy we signed him! I'm guessing! (We signed this guy? When?)

Andy Thoma
Hey, still on the roster! Way to hang in the bigs, baby!

Maximiliano Urruti
His numbers are pretty good for what amounts to a third forward – four goals, three assists. Still, you have to think he wants more. I also think he could do more in a different system. What Portland has chosen hasn't been bad for them, necessarily. I'm just saying it's a choice. Via con dios, Gata...

Diego Valeri
Tough year for diacono enojado (that's "angry deacon"; again, ht, google translate), but he's a little like Johnson for me: the club would be barking mad to replace him without another full-season, reasonably health chance to get his job back. Valeri had enough moments for that, and enough fire for an entire season.

Jorge Villafana
The kid had a solid season punctuated with a couple spikes (see, those few games in June (I think) when his set-pieces couldn't miss; and those two plays over the last couple). I don't mind finding someone to push him, but discard this guy at absolute peril to your depth.

Rodney Wallace
It wasn't till I went back to read all my previous posts that I commented on how quietly well Wallace did in this game or that. By that I mean, Wallace has quietly had a good year. With great moments. Kinda like Villafana.

Andrew Weber
People really seem to enjoy his tweets or something related to them (that I don't know about, and might prefer to continue not knowing about...I'm not sure, honestly, but only know that, if I find out about them, that will decide the matter decisively).

Ben Zemanski
Get well sooner! (Seriously, what happened? Are you still in pain?) People still talk about the end of 2014, your strong role, in particular!

And that's it. All the above felt good in the end, because I'm pretty happy about the state of things. While I think the Timbers can probably improve next season – and believe that they should definitely try – I also think they should tread thoughtfully when they do it, because no one on this team should be discarded lightly.

Now that we're at the end of the regular season, I just want to close on the following note: I think most of what I've posted this year speaks less to persistent problems with personnel, than to trying to get the most out of the personnel Portland has. After walking through Portland's entire roster, I see a team that is young-to-rounding-into-prime; that same group has some decent talent. With that in mind, maybe Portland should focus on getting the most it can out of the current players, a position that suggests real caution about the next players the Timbers sign. And then they should sign the right kind of players who bring something new to the table. Just a thought/prescription, not a demand...

With this season, though, Portland has who they have. I don't know about anyone else, but, after the last couple weeks, I'm thinking that Portland's not out of anything right now.


  1. RE: Adi - "Easy" best striker in Portland Timbers history." I don't think so. There have been many forwards who were much, much better. He's emerging, but by no means the best striker in PTFC history

  2. I appreciate the opinion. Adi is far from the most graceful Timber to ever suit up, and he's limited besides. I've heard fans of a couple other guys (Ryan Johnson, and, from later editions, I know Maximiliano Urruti has his partisans, and there's a certain seller's remorse around Gaston Fernandez), and none of that sounds out of line. I rate Adi, though, for the simple reason that he's been the most consistent scorer in the team's MLS years. He needed service for every one of them - he even nicked a couple goals off Melano's work - but, still, he scored 'em. And, in that sense, it's easy to call his number. And fair, in my mind.

    I'm open to nominations for anyone not mentioned above. I can't think of anyone else to add.

  3. Re: Paulson's tweet

    He's right though. Everyone shits all over the Timbers when they lose or draw, but is hesitant to handout praise when they do well.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Paulson's definitely not wrong. It’s a little weird how people (myself very much included) get so sour on the team after a loss. Hell, I throw fits after wins that weren't just so (see, against Chicago and New York City FC in the archives). Then again, I’m not sure that pleasure is the first principle of sports fandom; feels like there’s something deeper in there that needs a richer diet. Anyway, what is it that we get out of this all this? Man, there’s a post…Existentialism and the Soccer Fan.

  6. Corrected a typo in my original comment. Nothing regretful or nefarious, I assure you...