Thursday, May 28, 2015

Timbers Top DC United - I Even Caught Parts of It

The only thing missing is a beer.
Sending me to watch a soccer game live is like dropping an infant into a room full of mirrors, crinkly stuffed animals and buttons that make noises when pushed. I get very, very distracted. By everything (I haven’t quietly "made" at a live game; so far so good). When I'm not staring at everything but the game, I'm talking to the person I came with. Damn close to non-stop, too. Because I like my friends.

So, anyone looking for in-depth, closely observed match analysis probably ought to check elsewhere (the stuff in there on Gaston Fernandez is interesting in a "hey-a-friend-of-a-friend-who-you-will-never-meet-did-this-interesting-thing" kind of way). Happily, the couple articles and the box score I checked this morning matched my fuzzy impressions of the game (which degraded to downright wooly by the 85th minute), down even to wondering if everyone played that little bit better because they’re all afraid that Will Johnson will holler at them...

Yet I think that’s the key: the Portland Timbers, as a whole, just played a better game last night. And, shit, buried the lead again, the Timbers beat a thrown-together DC United side 1-0. They didn't appear to do anything drastically different, either. Dairon Asprilla had a beast of a run, bulling and stumbling through and over three DC players (that one got the crowd all whooped-up) and he looked great on both sides of the ball, and I guess that’s a good short-hand for what went right out there. The Timbers, as a whole, shelved the occasional hesitant listlessness that has weighed so heavily on the season and instead played with good, solid aggression. Basically, they chose not to suck. Perhaps out of fear of Will Johnson.

And...that's where the analysis dries up. After that, I agree with some general observations made in other people's analyses/articles – e.g. I’d rather see Maximiliano Urruti out there than Fanendo Adi, uh, let’s not carried away with one win, um, this wasn’t DC’s best, first team, etc. Oh, to part ways a little with one comment, I would like to see Asprilla start over Rodney Wallace. No shade on Wallace, really, but I think Asprilla has a couple more tricks in his bag. And we need tricks, people.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

This Site's Official Policy on FIFA....

...fuck those guys.

No real news here - just wallowing in schadenfreude - but absolutely thrilled to hear about the arrests in Switzerland. Slimy fucks have left a trail all over international soccer for far too long.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

MLS Week 12 Rankings: The Underdogs Punch Upward and Taintward

Step One: Just getting into the truck.
This will remain a power rankings post – and those rankings will come up (or near the) top – but the bulk of the content below discusses what I saw, or thought I saw, in the games from Major League Soccer's 12th Week. Without going too deep into the thought process, single-game performance and overall form don't always run on the same track – an argument supported by several games in MLS's Week 12. In some ways, then, this boils down to separating head (analyzing a game) from heart (arguing one team is better than any given other). Should be easier to readers, too, in that they read about the games they want to and skip the rest.

Speaking of, I tucked in for a full meal during Week 12 (as in, three courses):
Toronto FC v. Portland Timbers
Colorado Rapids v. Vancouver Whitecaps
Seattle Sounders v. Sporting Kansas City
View that selection of games through the right lens (e.g. Cascadia tinted) and you'll notice a pattern: this space might adopt the practice of watching the Cascadia teams every weekend, picking other games as necessary to reach my full complement of three games. Stay tuned...

...and shit weekend for Cascadia, yeah?

So, what kind of weekend was MLS's Week 12? Underdogs bit up, for starters. The Philadelphia Union put in the biggest bite when they took a piece out of the New York Red Bulls – at Red Bull Arena, no less – but the Montreal Impact’'s jawed on FC Dallas leg bones, while the Rapids gave a not-sharp-enough Vancouver a little nip. After that, a couple late "moments" built on reputations (here, I'm looking at the lucky Los Angeles Galaxy mugging all three points from the Houston Dynamo) or put a dent in them (see, the Chicago Fire channeling Lazarus to come back against the Columbus Crew). Beautiful goals were set up (for Colorado and Montreal) and players were sent off – too many for the New England Revolution. But what did it all mean for the rankings?

Not a lot, as you'll read below. Too many good teams looked bad in Week 12, but that doesn't mean all the heretofore crappy clubs crawl up to their places on the league ladder. Climbing one rung doesn't automatically translate to an inevitable climb to the top of the ladder; it just means you went up that one rung. Big whoop.

Anyway, the Week 12 rankings are below. The number in parentheses after each team’s name still notes the number of times I've watched a full game for said club (12 semi-abusive nights and days with Portland; and counting), but I did throw in the previous week's ranking for each club, too.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Toronto FC 1-0 Portland Timbers: The Real Meaning of #RCTID

RCTID, aka domestic bliss.
About three years into a real relationship – as in a sexual, monogamous, in-it-for-the-long-haul sort of arrangement – all the failings that you once laughed at become the grating quirks and habits that make you want to either leave, or set up a very, very active Tinder account. There's a decision to be made at this point, obviously, staying in or getting out. And, with the Portland Timbers, I, and just about everyone else who calls themselves a fan, is committed for the long haul, warts, farts, terrible hygiene, bad breath, philandering, perverse, diaper-based sexual preferences, and all.

But, lord, the Timbers try the patience of ten GGG saints...

I watched the game next to a guy who laughed non-stop all the way through the first half. I thought it was fitting, if in the spirit of a long-suffering wife laughing at her husband’s impotence. I know the feeling because, right now, I feel nothing short of contempt for my club. After weeks of having faith that Portland has a shot to get some kind of result from every game, the gears shifted after this one. My default belief going into every game is that Portland will lose.

To keep with analogy, every win will become my constantly drunk wife remembering our anniversary for the first time in three years. All together now...AWWW...

So much hate to spread around. I want to hate Adam Kwarasey because, as I tweeted during the game, every cross that flies over his box looks like the first one he's ever seen. And yet he's not the problem: not only did he make (a minimum of) three solid saves, he even improved on crosses as the game wore on. And, once again, Darlington Nagbe turned in another...let's call it a head-scratcher. The man has turning sickness – i.e. the disease one sees in wildebeests with their brains eaten full of holes where they turn in circles till they die in the dirt – and yet he probably set up Portland’s best, few chances, or the passes that led to the same. I want to fault the defense, but, after setting up a shooting gallery for Toronto FC and/or Sebastian Giovinco over the first 20 minutes, the back four shut down pretty nicely overall. And yet I did manage to hold onto a bundle clear, satisfying hatred...see talking point #4 below.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Toronto FC v. Portland Timbers: A Clash of Fine China

Next-level Red Rover....
To shorten these preview posts a bit, I’m going listicle on the Portland Timbers’ previews and, when looking ahead to other games, I’ll stick to talking up (or down) only those with a good hook/angle. And, yes, this Wednesday game business is driving me goddamn nuts, because Sporting Kansas City v. New England Revolution? That there was a quality match-up, friends. It looked just as good on the menu as it did when it arrived on the table. (A missed penalty, a dubious penalty, big soccer players making big soccer plays; had it all, I tell ya!)

On to the main attraction: Toronto FC v. Portland Timbers. First, let’s set the stage...

Toronto FC. The buzz-boys of 2015. Major League Soccer’s big spenders. As Twitter announced yesterday, they spent over three times what the Timbers did to create their roster (just north of $20 million versus just short of $6 million). And what has all that scratch bought them? Three points fewer than Portland – though they can go even on points by winning this weekend and a keep a game in hand to boot.

Will they do it? The trends read better than the results, at least some of them. TFC started 2015 on a seven-game road-trip. Said trip started great and ended well, but a chasm yawned between in the form of five straight losses that surely reminded every Torontonian of a deeply-cursed former life (shudder to think of the atrocities committed by the former selves of every player who has ever pulled TFC’s red jersey over his shoulder). But two wins in their final road games (cough, Orlando, cough, in the bad days, cough, cough, Philly!) sent TFC rolling back to an embiggened BMO Field confident and hungry. The schedule handed TFC an opponent that looked entirely beatable, too, in the Houston Dynamo. A clear day broke. Toronto fans provided the theater, chanting and marching their way to the field. Promise swelled like the biggest, ripest fruit the club had ever seen...only to burst into a rancid puddle when Houston cut into the skin.

Toronto didn’t do so great against the New England Revolution last weekend, either; most reports I read said the draw flattered them, so there’s that, too. So, will Toronto make that big, beautiful stadium bounce when the Timbers come to town?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

MLS Week 11 Divine Comedy: Real Rankings, People...

I mean, they're more or less all the same, yes?
(...and some as yet unaddressed discomfort with the same.)

With this week, I officially begin the work of formally ranking all the clubs in Major League Soccer. As always, this project deserves a caveat – mainly because the essential task at hand boils not just to separating apples from apples, but red delicious apples from red delicious apples. It's not all baffling, obviously. I mean, some are disgusting mealy messes, but what about the ones with thick, shell-like skins? Are those better than the ones that have that weird chemical slick texture on the outside? In plainer terms, the real challenge comes with calling one club better than the other in a league that has been consciously managed to make all the clubs as equal as possible. My people call this parity (yours might call it maize).

Personal headaches aside, I decided to retain the Heaven, Purgatory, Hell frame. Each team will still be assigned a ranking, but I'll also place those rankings within those three ultimate destinies, the meaning of which is identified below. Oh, and I'm adding a new angle this week: arguing in favor of three results as the most significant of the past weekend. Let's dig in, shall we?

I managed only two and a half full games this Week 11 (stupid blackouts, and wicked cable companies!!):
Houston Dynamo v. Portland Timbers
San Jose Earthquakes v. Columbus Crew ('Quakes finally on my personal viewer board!)
Philadelphia Union v. DC United (just the second 1/2 here)
As always, the number in parentheses after each team's name is the number of times I spent the full 90 with them in 2015. That's as opposed to the previous ranking. I don't do that. Uh, sorry?

And now, the biggest, most important results of MLS’s Week 11

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Houston 3-1 Portland: 3 (Damned, Dirty Things)

Why, Nat Borchers? WHY??
Check my (slightly mushy) rankings post, and you'll see that I still haven't decided whether the Houston Dynamo is having a good 2015, or a bad 2015. When you're trying to run a yardstick over your own team – specifically, one that coughed up three super-soft, Sunday league goals roughly 2 hours, 45 minutes and 40 minutes ago (as I type this intro, obviously) – that's something you want to know.

Then again, is it? Because those three super-soft, shitty (can I add the word , "shitty?") Sunday league goals pretty much tell the story of the Portland Timbers' 3-1 loss in stupid, sweaty Houston, Texas. To give some idea of the profound emotional dissatisfaction I'm feeling tonight, here's a killer detail: I wasn't even sure Fanendo Adi's goal went in in real time. I only clued in when Diego Valeri embraced Adi and the people around me started clapping. Yes, this is no one's fault but mine, but tonight’s loss has a handful of "proud" owners.

Before reading the Riot Act in Three Parts, let's pause to touch on Houston. The Dynamo didn't have a great night tonight, so much as an effective one. Their players followed up when they needed to (Houston's 3rd goal), stayed switched on during half-broken plays (their 2nd goal), and they stood tall and brave against all the soft serve crap that the Timbers threw at them. Sure, that boils down to batting away a series of warm-up pitches. The last possession stat I saw (probably halftime) showed Portland in the lows 60s and Houston in the high 30s. That only goes to show that possession is as least as much fetish than potential. When it comes to putting possession on a pedestal, lord knows I've stuffed in the ball-gag, put on the chaps, etc. It's gotta work, y'know, or it's just awkward performance art, no matter how private (no image; don't worry).

The whole thing with possession was going to be one of my talking points, but a better one bumped it off the list. Regardless, the list below comes in the order in which each point preoccupies me. Feel free to contest...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

MLS 2X6: Sending Off DeRo; The (Imaginary?) Jewsbury/Johnson Situation + 6 More!

First of all, and son of a bitch, somebody pinched my feature title (yes, yes, almost certainly before I first used it, but still)! It turns out that the Portland Timbers' official site carries a feature titled 2 X 4. It's pure puff-piece to me, but I’m not about to go toe-to-toe with a media behemoth like I went with the obvious solution – e.g. add a couple inches to one side.

That said, since I'm rarely going to be timely posting this thing once-per-week, I really need to kill on content. Or at least produce an amusing read. Gulp.

1) A Legend Quietly Departs Stage Left (Tres Canadien)
And that quiet piece is curious because, as pointed out in a "what all did he mean for Canadian soccer?" think piece, Dwayne DeRosario didn't play quiet. A showy goal celebration defined his career (on top of pulling off one of the most memorable political moments in MLS history*) and, prior to the last couple seasons, De Rosario could flat-out fucking ball (more on that later). As has been pointed out all over, DeRosario could have got a long (tortured) Landon-Donovan-esque arrivederci had he retired right – that's as opposed to doing well short of a whole lot for Toronto FC last season and posting a whisper via Twitter. Happily, the tributes came in regardless (even archived ones) and DeRosario absolutely earned it. He was every bit Donovan's peer, a ready answer in any argument about who was the best player in MLS for everyone who didn't like Donovan. Now, personally, I always preferred DeRo, who was gritty and inventive were Donovan was practiced and polished (to diamond clarity, it bears pointing out). Hit that first link above and you'll see why DeRosario had his haters, too, if for vastly different reasons than Donovan. With the latter, it was an argument about phoning it in, while it was a whiff of arrogance that dogged the former throughout his career. Well, screw that: I like my players messy; that's why I didn't really take to Donovan until, 1) his freakout departure to Cambodia, and 2) I could no longer ignore all the, uh, records.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Houston v. Portland Preview, More Rope Is Dope; + MLS Week 11 Previews

It's all good. VALERI!
I'll start with a brief confession: I’m a little limited when it comes to actually studying games. Oh, the number of games I've started swearing to keep a close eye on a certain player, or to watch a team's approaches to a game to where I'll get some sense of why they're playing a certain way. This comes off...rarely. Sure, if someone points out a detail, I'll pick it up pretty quickly, but, in the final analysis, though, my "analysis" boils down to "that guy kicked the ball good."

Self-flagellation now over, it's time to turn to MLS's Week 11 offerings, starting with the Portland Timbers, the mighty, mighty, tighty-whitey Portland Timbers. Huzzah! I'll run through the rest of the games, briefly, after running the ruler over...

Houston Dynamo v. Portland Timbers
A Look Back in Angora
Hat-tip to Ed Wood (or Tim Burton) for that subtitle, but last weekend's win over the Montreal Impact seems to have Timbers community feeling new uncomfortable things - like optimism. Diego Valeri's 70+ minute return made for the big (obvious) news, as did the fact and manner of his game-winning goal (hey, why not re-live it?). Portland got rolling (in the 2nd) and everything just looked...more coherent in the attack than it has all season. Part of me wants to argue (again) that one player's absence shouldn't hurt a team so much; another part of me shrugs and settles into this "que sera, sera" mind-set of feeling thankful to have the Franciscan back on the fold (seriously, something vaguely monastic surrounds Valeri, that blend of seriousness, rigor, humility and sincerity). The defense continues to be sound and, check this out, turns out the Timbers are a pretty good road team. That's a good thing seeing as they're on the road again this weekend. Sure, there's probably some stat about the Timbers turning in shit results after a win, but I'm going to wallow in the bliss of my ignorance, thanks.

Moving onto Houston...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MLS Divine Comedy: Week 10: Losers Looking More Clear

Some weekends, a man just can't get in enough games to feel fully up-to-date and informed. And sometimes it's MLS Live that thwarts the effort, courtesy of the perhaps overly-expansive black-out on the national broadcast games (C'mon, guys; 48 hours? Srsly?) Some weekends, it's Mother's Day. There's probably an overlap somewhere in there...

In editorial notes, I'm going to goose this post's content going forward. The main shift will be to dub three results the most important of the week just passed. (Also going against past practice, I'll resist over-elaborating what I mean by that.) The other piece to that will be saying less about each club as I explain how I sorted each between Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I'm tweaking with a good formula mentally, so that'll probably start next week. Hell, this could shift to straight-up power rankings by then...calling 'em "power rankings" means one less thing to explain.

With the busy weekend schedule seriously limiting the time I could ignore everyone to stare at TV/computer screens, I took in only two full games over Week 10:
Montreal Impact v. Portland Timbers
DC United v. Sporting Kansas City
I was gonna watch the shit out of the New York...derby? Soccerwarz? (Just drop me a line when everyone agrees on a name.) All I know is MLSLive has a crappy, frustrating interface...and, again, the stupid national broadcast thing, with the attendant deviant sex acts for the stupid, parasitic cable companies, plays its twisted, market-averse role in all this. That said, that game looked awesome!! Just intense as hell on the field and all Sound and Fury in the stands. The early (probably justified) sending off of the Red Bulls' Matt Miazga didn't hurt (and all the glorious pro wrestling theatrics that went along with), nor did the did-he-or-didn't-he offside moment for New York City FC. The whole thing ended with the righteous win for O.G. New York. (That's New York Red Bulls, to the odd new visitor; this site has lingo.)

Every MLS team is organized below between states of their post-season after-life: Heaven (clearly post-season-bound); Purgatory (neither they, nor I, know what the fuck they're doing); and, obviously, Hell (long-term prospects point toward lakes of fire and ice and/or eternal suffering). And...let's go.

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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The 2 X 4: Best Defensive Duo in MLS; Portland's Puzzling Pieces + 4 More!

This is not a 2 X 4, but it showed up in a Google search for "2 X 4"
So, I decided to retire (the little-noticed, and therefore likely, unmourned) 3 Big Ideas, 5 Little Thoughts. I named that still-born little beauty "The 3 X 5” for the length of its short little life. Ah, memories. Still, the problem was obvious: what does 3 X 5 have to do with Conifers or Citrus? Nothing.

So, welcome to the 2 X 4. There is no more legit cut of wood known to mankind, people. And it’s a di-rect (if manufactured) descendant of a gen-u-ine wood product, a subtle improvement, if you will, upon the majestic conifer. It will still involve Big Ideas and Small Thoughts, just two of the former and six of the latter. And, in keeping with this site’s connection with the Portland Timbers, one big idea will focus on them. All the same, that’s going to be the second big idea...look, I think about this other stuff, so I may as well lead with it from time to time. And…away we go...

2 Big Ideas
1) Best Central Defensive Pairing in MLS
This one’s been bouncing around my head for a couple weeks now. I’m pretty sure it came to me the day I spotted Clarence Goodson’s name next to Victor Bernardez’s in the San Jose Earthquakes’ starting eleven. Then and there, I said to myself (quite possibly out loud), "Shit, that's gotta be close to the best central defensive pairing in MLS." So, I test the theory.

Now, we can throw out some candidates right away – e.g. my Portland Timbers. Though positively stoned on hope for the long-term prospects, the most positive thing I can say there is that they've worked things out and they haven’t. Toronto FC goes out the window as well because, new acquisitions aside, well, TFC just has a shitty defensive record and they damn-skippy don't play for Philly because, damn; the Houston Dynamo, on the other hand, imploded their defensive record only recently.

At any rate, that's the dead fruit in the grass a-molderin' (where the Hell is this hillbilly tone coming from? The lumber thing?). To find the finest fruit, the stuff substantial enough to make strong branches sag, I've picked through all the MLS rosters and checked some starting line-ups. The player combos listed below strike me as the Top 5 tandems playing in MLS right now. As in, right now, which temporarily rules out RSL, due to Chris Schuler’s injury. Finally, yes, they’re listed in order and, yeah, I had to get a loose on definitions with #2.

How to Avoid the Impact: A Primer to Montreal v. Portland (and Week 10 Previews)

Ah, high school lit....great goddamn short story.
Yessir, Major League Soccer officially hits double digits this weekend. Yep, one step closer to all of the players taking the field in these games wearing the importance of occasion like the ability/beauty impediments from Harrison Bergeron. Soon, we'll see how they cope...

This week, like every week, begins with the preview for the game closest to home: the Portland Timbers' visit to the wilds of French Canadia (no typo). Once that's done, I'll touch briefly on the rest of the games for the weekend ahead, as in, what the Hell is UP, MLS, with this Tuesday game bullshit? (Not that anyone watched that one; Houston Dynamo v. San Jose Earthquakes...shudder.) There's also a game on tonight, of course. It could very well be going on as I type this. I'm talking about Real Salt Lake v Los Angeles Galaxy. Let the record show that, sight unseen (seriously; I don't lie about this stuff), I'm calling this one a dreary 1-0 for LA. Feel good about that, seeing is this one's like a game on a cloudy night (e.g. no stars). (Almost happened, it turns out; I just saw a headline that said LA got Rimando'd. HA!)

Anyway, on the main event. Well, for some of us...

Montreal Impact v. Portland Timbers
Large parts of Quebec are terra incognita to most folks, even most Quebecois I reckon. I mean, have you seen the friggin' province? Goes on forever, I tell you. And that's fitting, in a way, seeing as, more than any other MLS club, Montreal is this year's undiscovered team. Setting aside the CONCACAF Champions' League (CCL), Montreal has played just four league games this 2015. They didn't do well in those, obviously, hence the whole "bottom of the table" business. And yet, all those games in hand can spell opportunity. Had one watched nothing but Montreal in the first leg of the CCL final, he/she would be thinking, holy crap that's a lock-down defense and that Piatti guy (first name, Ignacio) is one lethally-weaponized sneaky shit. On the other hand, if one watched the second leg, the second half in particular, he/she would think the Impact couldn't defend a punch from a toddler.

Tonight, I set out to educate myself on the Montreal Impact, at least to the extent (literally) possible (because, time). So, I sat down to watch condensed versions of Montreal's last three games in MLS. Which comes perilously close to taking in Montreal's entire oeuvre. At any rate, here is what I learned...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

MLS Divine Comedy, Week 9: Some Souls Settling for the Long Haul

Getting bigger. Thought I'd focus on the positive...
Well, OK, there went Major League Soccer's Week 9. And, no, I don't know what the Hell do to with Tuesday's game. Week 9? Week 10? Some weird outlier that we can all ignore? Who is it? Ew, Houston Dynamo v. San Jose Earthquakes. Um, I hereby formally move that this game, and all its particulars, be stricken from the league record. Any seconds?

Week 9 wasn't the most exciting of weekends - the scoring wasn't high as it could have been, etc. – but it did confirm some trends surrounding some MLS clubs. And, yes, I write that fully cognizant of the fact that 25 regular season games remain in the 2015 season and that, yes, all kinds of things can change: new personnel, current players finding new levels of comfort, etc. etc. That said, some clubs appear trapped too deeply in certain patterns, failings, and personnel shortcomings, as will be reflected below. I will identify them specifically all that way at the end. Feel free to skip down to it, but I'd appreciate it if you, y’know, took the time to skim the reasoning.

Overall, the most striking thing about this 2015 season gets at the heart of everything that is right, and that is wrong MLS. First, take the Montreal Impact out of the equation and you wind up with a pretty damn modest gap between first place teams in the teams chasing for playoff places. For instance, just seven points (presently) separate "good" FC Dallas from a "bad" Houston Dynamo. That's great, in one sense, all that parity, a league of roughly equal teams means every club has a better chance of staying alive for more of the season.

Unfortunately, that reality very directly begs the question of why every frickin' team has to make the post-season. So long as you've built the league so that no set of elite clubs are likely to run away with it, doesn't the playoff system then just double-down on parity, thereby making it redundant? Expect this line of thought to go on for a very, very, very long time. Even as I keep watching three or four games every weekend that mean, frankly, not a whole lot. Speaking of, I took in the following three games this weekend:
New England Revolution v. New York Red Bulls
Portland Timbers v. Vancouver Whitecaps
Sporting Kansas City v. Chicago Fire
OK, enough with the blah, blah, blah. Every MLS team is organized below between states of their post-season after-life: Heaven (clearly post-season-bound); Purgatory (neither they, nor I, know what the fuck they're doing); and, obviously, Hell (long-term prospects point toward lakes of fire and ice and/or eternal suffering). And...let's go.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Portland v. Vancouver: 5 Things, Real Quick…Well, 6

The level-up this club needs (see talking point that shouldn't exist)
Because the "Overall" thing below.

The best thing I can say about the Portland Timbers 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps is that it means the team doesn't step into a pretty goddamn soft May with a foot slicked with dog shit (Side Note: This morning, my dog's poop had a milky sheen on it; I know that's not good, but is it fatal?). Yeah, four of the next five games are on the road, but they include: the Montreal Impact, the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, the Colorado Rapids, and DC United. And, for the record, not in that order; check your local listings, etc.

OK, on to the game. 5 Talking points come below, with the 6th talking point being...

Broadly speaking, I'm encouraged. The Timbers looked sharp in the second half, particularly, and I can't imagine why that was. I mean, what changed around, say, the 50th minute? Beats me*. Portland generally possessed the ball more effectively, somehow found the better passes when they needed to, and, all in all, the ball stayed in front of Portland. And, golly, what a great segue to the first talking point!

1) Where the Hell Was Vancouver?
My preview for this game contained two fairly clear, general predictions, with two somewhat vague riders. Those were (starting with the clear ones): 1) that Octavio Rivero would a goddamn pain in the ass (check!); 2) that the 'Caps would defend pretty well (check!); 1a) suggested that Rivero would benefit from really good players serving him with the loving attention of a parent doing the airplane trick to get their kid to eat (uh…...not so much); and, finally, 2a) that Pa Modou Kah was good for one clear fuck-up per game (not today!). To unpack all that, Rivero did his busy-body best to harass the crap out of everyone from Portland's midfield to its back-line; the reason why 1a failed to come together was that wasn't getting service from Mauro Rosales or, especially, Pedro Morales. As a result, Rivero had to drop as far as the center stripe to get the ball. While Rivero is relatively Darlington Nagbe-esque in terms of the ball sticking to his feet, all that meant he spent too much of the game too far from Portland's goal. On one level, yay Portland! On another, that boils down to an off-night for too many of Vancouver's key players. As for the defensive side, the 'Caps just did well, and credit to them. Even when the Timbers poured it on (more later), Vancouver consistently had enough bodies between any given Portland attacker and the goal to weather all the storm the local side could manage. And that, children, is how a game ends goal-less.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Portland Timbers v. Vancouver Whitecaps, Plus MLS Week 8 Previews

A fate to be avoided....
All the best stuff happens in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference for Week 9: DC United hosting Columbus Crew SC; New England Revolution v. New York Red Bulls; hell, even Philadelphia Union v. Toronto FC, if only to see if either the Union can sink deeper than the ocean floor, or Toronto can’t revive any team’s dreams of a better season.

I’ll get into all that below (briefly*), but I have to start with my preview for the game that hits closest to me.

(* I’m sure I’m not the only person who reads some of what I post here and thinks, "Yes, yes, you’re very clever. Please kindly get on with it.")

Portland Timbers v. Vancouver Whitecaps! Part Dos!
I somehow got it in my head that the Timbers had its best outing of the season the last time they played Vancouver. A couple errors in thought, there: 1) the win over FC Dallas – i.e. the hopeful highlight of this worrisome 2015 – came the weekend after; and 2) it turns out I crapped all over everything and everyone except Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell up to and until they 70th minute. It appears Portland turned it around after.

Related note: my gods, I am a bitchy, bitchy man. Good thing I don’t coach the team...

At any rate, my review of Portland's loss to Vancouver makes for interesting reading – especially in light of the somewhat trying times between here and there. First, and I note this fully aware that he has generated a lot of what offense the Timbers have managed, I stand by comments on Darlington Nagbe (e.g. the stuff about how long he keeps the ball and why he should shake that up – and more than a little; see second talking point). Second, and most painfully and obviously, mind the persistent, recurrent defensive gaffes; further, note that if it’s not Borchers and Ridgewell, it’s Kwarasey (see; MLS Week 8, e.g. "The Playful Kitten Goal"). La plus ca change, etc.

This week, however, something will change. Timbers fans know neither when, nor for how long, but the Timbers brass have been talking up Diego Valeri's return for this Saturday's game. This is, unequivocally, good news. No one player has made Portland's attack better, or more coherent, than Valeri over the past couple seasons. And yet, it's very, very wise to temper near-term expectations. Not that I’m speaking from actual knowledge, but I don’t think he’ll start, or even go 60 minutes; moreover, I wouldn't want Valeri out there for all that long. Ease the man in, and for the love of Christ do absolutely nothing that even remotely risks aggravating his injury. Ahem. All I want just a taste of Diego, a little early-season, one-nibble appetizer that will assure me that I’ll enjoy, what will be, a five-course goddamn extravaganza served up by Chef Valeri for the rest of the goddamn season.

As such, the rest of this preview (not much to go; stay with me!) will assume no, or minimal Valeri. On to some bullet points:

1) How I Want The Timbers to Line Up
And, wow, I LITERALLY just changed my mind on this. I was about to advocate for the 4-4-2 with an eye to getting the Timbers' overall line of engagement higher up the field. Given that the 'Caps attack best when they attack in transition, this feels like the opposite of what Portland should do. To throw something out there, I believe that Portland's 4-2-3-1 is a 4-5-PR-Stunt-1 – that’s to say, I think the club lays that out to put an attacking line-up on paper, while the team functions in a fairly defensive shape. I’m OK with this. Albeit with a caveat...

2) What (Former) Captain Jack Said
"The reality is our main role is on the defensive side."
That comment came up in comments Jack Jewsbury made about Valeri's impending return. And there's something a little disturbing in it. Last weekend, especially, Portland punched even with an essentially punch-less Seattle Sounders squad; I read this as a failure to commit numbers forward. Even if you don't accept that particular premise, please assume it in service of the following point: if Portland wants to win – and this is until Valeri’s return – the team needs to send either FC Jack (new nickname for Jewsbury) or Diego Chara (nickname pending) forward with some regularity. This isn’t an easy call, by any means, because I feel both players suffer their own limitations, but I’d make it FC Jack; Chara covers ground and breaks up play more effectively, and I think his passing is safe to the point of being obvious. Bottom line, though: Portland needs another player closer to the attack and more often. Diego will provide this soon, but the club needs something in the now.

3) Scouting Vancouver
When I think of the 'Caps in the context of them facing Vancouver, one name sticks with me: Octavio Rivero. Yeah, his goals have dried up a little since his early-season days of stealing the 'Caps three points on the weekly, but his upside, and the challenge he poses, becomes immediately clear if you watch even what he did in a wild effort against DC United last weekend. In a word, the man is relentless. He's mobile to boot – which gets at the clammy, arrhythmically-beating heart of the matter. If there's a big weakness among all of Portland's defenders, it's tracking players. A slippery shit like Rivero requires a lot of attention. Worse, he's got a cast of great-to-rockstar midfielders feeding him. Key on him too much, another Canadian (actual, or honorary/temporary) gets free; go back to them, and suddenly you’ve lost Rivero again.

The second point is this: Vancouver's defense has exactly two weaknesses: Pa Modou Kah and Kendall Waston's temper. Both outside backs are really, really good – even their depth is sound. Basically, scoring on the 'Caps will be hard. Matias Laba being out does hurt them, but Gershon Koffie is a solid back-up. And Russell Teibert's a straight-up pest.

Bottom Line
I feel that patience is key. If the Timbers have to chase this game, it's going to be three-legged-race complicated. The advice I have reads like so: start in an honest 5-4-1 to feel out the game, but definitely shift that thing to that 4-2-3-1 before too much of the 90 is gone.

I have some faith in this one. Honest.

OK, on to the rest of the mess.

Houston Dynamo v. FC Dallas
I feel goals in this one. Houston ships 'em, Dallas scores 'em. But it's April/May, Dallas' Season of Suck. Plus, there's a cannon involved! Eeeeeee!

Real Salt Lake v. San Jose Earthquakes
The equation is a little ugly on this one: RSL struggles to score, but defend pretty well; same goes for San Jose (from what I gather: all I know for sure is that I’m honoring my personal pledge to sit through the full 90 of a San Jose game for the first time this season).

Philadelphia Union v. Toronto FC
Philly's desperate energy meets Toronto's capacity to genuinely ball when they want to...and to cough up back-breaking goals: throw this one in a box, shake it up, and dump the contents on the ground. More interesting than most games this weekend, if you ask me. If I'm the Union, I am absolutely keying on Nick Hagglund.

DC United v. Columbus Crew SC
Cold, calculating discipline (DC) against (intended) artistry (Columbus). Kei Kamara ability to win just about everything passed/lofted toward him helps even out the physicality a little, along with the Crew’s back of feisty Argentines. DC doesn't need the ball to beat anybody. Which makes them a little maddening.

New England Revolution v. New York Red Bulls
The next feature in what promises to be a fun 'n’' full weekend (exception: DC v. Columbus; and Portland v. Vancouver, probably; or if only for the locals). The thing to watch here: if Red Bull can't get their infamous/occasional roll-‘em-like-drunks press rolling, New England's going to take full measure of their defense. In other words, this sucker could get awfully revealing...

Los Angeles Galaxy v. Colorado Rapids
One injury-ravaged squad meets another injury-ravaged squad. Add heavy legs for the Rapids and a home game for the Galaxy and this one appears pretty straightforward: three points for LA, only without the valiant effort. I'm expecting 1-0. Sadly, there will be no grudge match for Marcelo Sarvas (not that he’s ever so much as hinted at that mind-set).

Sporting Kansas City v. Chicago Fire
Another one with promise. If you have not watched David Accam play for Chicago, do yourself a favor and watch David Accam play for Chicago. I'm guessing (and I totally mean that) that KC lives and dies in this one according to how well they boss the midfield. And I mean that in the negative sense. If they can keep Chicago in front of them, I think they get this one.

New York City FC v. Seattle Sounders
I simply cannot imagine this will go well for NYCFC...

All right. That's the weekend ahead. Savor this one, people. Then again, this is from the same guy who thought Week 8 would suck.