Friday, October 30, 2015

Timbers Top KC: On the Most Epic Night in Portland Soccer History

We're all Patty Hearst now.
[Editor’s Note: The bastards at MLS Live have yet to release the full game to the archives and I don’t have cable. As such, the deeply detailed conclusion to this report, which I promised yesterday, yeah, that ain’t happenin’. Time’s too short.]

[A Note from Randall: I went through and chopped out some of the kudzu from the original post while Jeff’s back was turned. The man loves his words and analogies irrationally and too well.]

Between getting home late [Thursday] night, drinking all the water in the entire goddamn neighborhood, trying and failing to relax using a (literally) numbing variety of sleep aids, and waking [Friday] morning with a pack of wild dogs tearing at the wrinkled matter between my ears [we’re talking about one of those existential hangovers of the soul] […cut more stuff…], I had [to put off posting] anything about the Stockholm Syndrome spectacle that the Portland Timbers put its fans through last night until [today].

Having reviewed the [severely, unjustly limited] tape, I’m going to put [my best foot forward, the one without athlete’s foot] to [make some sense of that rare, magnificent thing, the genuine historic game]

…and I’m still coming to grips with how I’m not going to die in a bar Sunday afternoon from watching all those games. So, check your local news for that one ("Man Dies in a Hillsboro, Oregon Bar: Could This Story Be More Depressing?") We're talking David Blaine-level feats of street magic idiocy.

[Editor’s Note: Caught Randall, the little shit; locked him in cellar with a two pound bag of carrots and a case of Snapple. Everything’s below is different. Moving on.]

I’ll begin by saying that I learned a thing or two last night. For one, I learned that men over 40 should not yell for two straight hours. The medical term for this is “stroke risk.” Whatever, I earned it: the goddamn terrible ref (Armando Villarreal), whose series of coin-flippingly perverse decisions put health and safety at risk, let the physical crap get out of hand, and then came a penalty kick shoot-out that…that…look, the thing existed in a world beyond sensation, in spite of itself. The level and frequency of wobbly penalty shooting was enough to make a member of the English National Team blush; a less invested audience would have shifted out of tension and into impatience. And yet, could anyone at Providence Park have been anything short of all-in?

I want to pick up the Stockholm Syndrome theme because I think it’s endemic to sports fandom. The defining rule of one team per trophy means that, with each of Major League Soccer’s competitions, major (MLS Cup, the long lusted-after CCL trophy) and minor (U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield), means that 19 teams miss out every single time. For those 19 teams, a given fan’s peace of mind, his/her sense of the season, turns on how early into the journey his/her club falls. 12 of MLS’s 20 clubs are now officially out of the running for MLS Cup; only one of those, e.g. the same Sporking…ooh, typo, but I like and am sticking with it. Anyway, of all the clubs out of the running for MLS Cup, only the same Sporking KC club has a consolation/prize trophy to validate their season.

Stripped of variables like the quality of the players, a good coach at the helm, various curses (looking at you, Toronto FC) every team in MLS has a 5% chance of winning one of the three domestic trophies. Even with the variables in play, the sheer mass of vagaries built into MLS as a competition, argue in favor of sticking with that 5%. Basically, disappointment is the likeliest conclusion to any season for virtually every soccer fan in the country. And yet a fan is bound to his/her club. He or she pushed past expectations of disappointment, or even abuse for fans in Chicago, Colorado and Philadelphia, and just invests in the club. In that sense, then, fans are captives, sometimes abused ones, and yet they always love their captors.

The team rewards its fans on a good day: think of Thursday as the sort of day when our collective captors give us a little more chain and drop some fresh fruit into the will-sapping gruel they normally serve. Regardless, the Portland Timbers did us all a solid when they lugged their proverbial “big, brass balls” longer and further than they had to, or arguably should have. We all just witnessed history, which is a privilege anytime it actually happens. I know I’m thrilled I was there for it. Super fucking glad, honestly. It was an honor to share the evening with each and every person in that stadium, as well as the unknown thousands watching at home.

After putting up such ornate framing, it’s time to turn to the game, what happened in it and what it might mean going forward. Anyone who read this post’s first iteration knows that I cut and pasted the thing into something other than what it was (and something better, hopefully). One crucial confession, however, needs to stay in place: which I’ll preserve in the block quote below:
“Talking about what needs fixing is sort of this site’s Prime Directive. The urgency of a do-or-die game runs said Prime Directive right the fuck over: all I could see [Thursday night] was the ball and where it was or wasn’t going. I was too busy pleading with Timbers players and all the gods whose names my mouth could still form to get the ball in the correct fucking goal (this was a short list in the end, outside of gods named “Oowwauggghhh, FUCK!!!”). This lead to some weird things.

“First of all, I can only remember the goals that came in extra time: Krisztian Nemeth’s, the one that put KC up a goal late and forced my heart into my throat, and Maximiliano Urruti’s; but I only recall the latter as a bulge in the net. I only know who scored the other two (Rodney Wallace, for Portland, and Kevin Ellis for KC) from reading a couple write-ups today.”
I left in a couple hasty first impressions as well, but I’m only keeping the three I liked. Here are those:

- I want to nestle inside Nat Borchers’ beard for as long as this season continues. It bet it feels safe in there. (Just saying it again, Borchers has been excellent this season; second only to Diego Chara for me in terms of importance.)

- Things got steeply fucking worse when George Fochive came on. Last Word on Sports slipped a graph into its review (supplied by the Armchair Analyst) that pointed to a decision on Portland’s part to bunker and try to ride out the win. Whether or not that was true*, Fochive stood out time and again by playing the ball behind and generally away from teammates. By the time he stepped up to take his PK, I had zero faith that he’d put it away.

- * Oh yeah, Liam Ridgewell lumped a ball straight up the middle during this period, and..I think that’s when my voice gave out. And the little vessels in my brain went, “pop!”

OK, onto the new stuff.

As I read match recaps of game, the one idea that I kept coming across was Portland’s “domination” of the first half. This is precisely why I’m cranky about not being able to review all, or most of the full, archived game, because the 20-minute mini-game simply can’t capture this. Not being able to directly verify that – and I need to verify due to the gaps in memory and perception noted above – leaves me stumbling through this post like some stoned, half-prepared teenager trying to mumble his way to a solid C on an oral presentation. Again, fucking MLS Live. To carry on, dutifully…

Up to the point when Wallace scored Portland’s opener, that condensed game showed an early feast of corners for the Timbers, a couple cracks in the KC defense that Sporking quickly patched up (Matt Besler got a pretty big shout-out in ExtraTime Radio’s review), and a couple fouls by KC that most people (ETR’s neutral professionals included) agree could have been red cards (again, my frothing frustration with Villarreal is both fresh and totally justified). The box score gives Portland a meaningful edge in shots overall and…and…hold on, just digging into the interactivity of the box score feature. Holy shit. Anyone else know about this? Feel like I’m in one of your higher end science museum for kids. What’s this button do….ooohh…..

Anyway, the numbers that best match my memory of the game show up in Portland’s possession and passing accuracy stats. The accumulation of give-aways proved maddening by game’s end; as noted above, Fochive was terrible on this score, but he had plenty of co-conspirators by the end of the second half. Possession with Purpose forwarded a decently plausible theory that the shift brought on when Fochive came on for Lucas Melano cratered Portland’s possession by ceding too much of both the field and the ball to Sporking KC. Again, I thought I saw this earlier, again, I confessed to not remembering the goals, which are sorta a big deal, so take a big lick of salt before swallowing this here shot of tequila.

All in all, though, as much as the Timbers struck me as sloppy and impatient in possession (and I accept it got worse as the game wore on), the central feat of their performance comes with going to toe-to-toe against a Sporking team that often relies on “setting the tone” – or, non-euphemistically, they foul often, hard and with less shame than they ought. Maintaining that level against the Vancouver Whitecaps team that comes to visit tomorrow – i.e. well-rested and with a “robust” presence of their own in central midfield and defense – becomes a very real challenge, if not an area of concern. I expect Vancouver will let them play more than KC did, but cracking that strong, central core won’t come without some hammering. So, god damn the short turn-around.

Since I can’t dig deep on the game (grrr…), I thought I’d close with thoughts on the three Timbers players who received too little praise for the win, at least in my estimation. In no particular order…

Rodney Wallace
Fortunately, the mini-game featured enough data points to highlight Wallace’s considerable contribution to the win. He did more than score the scrappy, opening, coulda-been-a-winna goal (which he finished ever so well), e.g., how often he stretched KC vertically, he hard he battled on set-pieces, etc. etc. etc. It does even deeper, though. When I took a tour through the Conifers & Citrus archives for a sort of big-concept post a couple weeks back, I noted how often I gave positive notice to Wallace; a recount taken just now pulled six examples of uncomplicated praise for Rodney, and across the length of the season (there were also three instances where I advocated for throwing Wallace on the trash heap; still, twice as many good as bad!). The point is, Wallace enjoyed a solid 2015 and, for me, too few people gave his season the credit it has earned. A lot of the talk has centered on Melano since he came on board – and,  yes, that comes in both good word and bad – but Wallace does a very respectable job of opening up space for Portland. His decisions aren’t always perfect – Rodney flails in crosses and lost-cause shots with the best of ‘em – but he’s also a helluva an asset and an even better bargain.

Dairon Asprilla
Very few people I talk to rate Asprilla as highly (irrationally?) as I do; I even snuck in a compare/contrast with Melano in a modest little hit-piece on our young, costly Argie about a month ago. I’d also that Asprilla lent support to my estimation of him with that performance in extra time, and even during the shoot-out. Yeah, yeah, the assist is the obvious thing, but the mini-game also featured a strong dribble/distribution sequence that did Darlington Nagbe proud (think he was even the recipient). Asprilla didn’t get much opportunity to contribute this year, never mind shine. I view that as a mistake, even as I’m as hard-pressed as anyone to come up with how Caleb Porter, et al. fits him in. My two-word answer to that: squad rotation. Along with every club in MLS, the Timbers need more of it.

Maximiliano Urruti
Urruti did very well to knock in the goal that saved Portland’s season, because, hot fucking potato. Seriously, if you’ve ever tried to re-direct a ball moving that fast I’m confident it didn’t look nearly as good as Urruti’s did. It goes without saying that it hasn’t been Maxi’s year. It’s also fair to argue that, like Asprilla, he didn’t get much of a chance either. To be clear, Fanendo Adi earned his role as First Forward (thinking First Violin for some reason), but, 2) again, squad rotation, and 1) I think Urruti’s approach to the game syncs up fairly well with how I believe Portland attacks best…

…think I’ll leave it there, otherwise, I’ll go on for another two pages. I know there’s a reckoning coming with players like Asprilla and Urruti; there are others besides, but I think Wallace is safe (better be safe, dammit). I just think this is something that the Timbers organization needs to work through very carefully, and the above players’ contribution to an historic win shows why.

As for the Vancouver series, it sucks a little to acknowledge how damn unfavorably it lines up. Portland starts with a home game on heavy legs, followed by a road game. There is a key detail in the equation – namely, that both Portland and Vancouver travel well, 7-8-2versus 7-7-3, respectively. And that strikes a curious balance in that it alludes to the possibility that Vancouver could trouble a tired Portland club at home, while also staying open for return service in the second game at BC Place.

It’ll be very interesting to see how Portland plays that first leg. Wide-open sounds very dangerous on paper. I’ll close on that. Damn. If nothing else, 2015 ended really well.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MLS: The 2015 Play-In Primer

Id of the site.
Rather than pretend to actual, informed knowledge, I'm beginning this with the following confession/warning:
Sometime around the beginning of September, my interest in general Major League Soccer games and information slackens. For instance,'s Kick Off holds less interest – perhaps because they’re just not all that interesting any more. And when I watch the mini-games, I'm usually a bit looser than I am earlier in the season. Or I'm usually a bit tighter, depending on the era in which you're reading this (nice gams, btw). And, to dig a little deeper and pull the rest of the confession out of my pocket, I...I have skipped a mini-game or two. [Gasp!] It’s just that, things have taken a certain shape by this point of the season. Or at least I think I have. Whether that's right or wrong, well...I...
Look, I have nothing to add to that statement. Basically, at some unknown point in every MLS season – and this is since I can remember, honestly – a time comes when I feel like I know enough about each of MLS club that I can switch off a little. Or just I do. At least this year, I'm getting both information and confirmation on teams from podcasts, and that stuffs cotton in some of the gaps, but once I get the sense that the questions have run out...

I guess that's it. I stop having questions. Or maybe questions go past their expiration date at a certain point in any given season – for instance:

Q: Is the Chicago Fire going to turn it around?
A: They're not. They're just not.

OK, that's enough o' that shit. Time to talk, maybe even predict, the play-in round. As has been said (roughly) in the now immortal Bill O'Reilly clip, "fuck it, we'll just do it live! We're doing it live!" No, notes, no checking the web for information: it's just a full, big-picture state of...things. That pop in my head. It's like word association, just like a game of charades! Yes, this'll be fun. (It’s not going to be fun.) OK, time to get into it, and in order…well, some kind of order. I’m just going left to right on this thing.

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?)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Portland Beat (the Crap) Out of LA: The Bearable Lightness of a Mystery Solved

Portrait of the author after Tuesday's ETR...
Last night, I decided to break my oft-stated vow to never watch a game a second time. That’s the space-time altering power of last Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. As all Timbers fans know, the game broke sharply in the Portland Timbers’ favor, and that’s a hard thing for long-time, occasionally-suffering Timbers fans to wrap their heads around mentally, psychically, even emotionally. Oft-punchless Portland dropping a five-spot? That’s freakin’ unheard of (this year). And contentment? That’s for people from places where clouds don’t blot out the sun. And happiness. Clearly, this situation recommended a little investigation into how chickens and eggs lined up, because repeatability is a goal when it comes to that kind of thing.

When I took in the mini-game on a midnight dreary (or blurry or hazy; or just Sunday night), I got the spirit all wrong: I took in the game the same way I’d enjoy a favorite movie – i.e. waiting for my favorite lines, so I could parrot that back to the screen and laugh like an idiot. Because I was watching soccer instead, I just smiled like a dork at each goal and whispered to myself, “just the best, right?” (Because my family hates soccer; hell, Judy barely cares and I haven’t seen Randall in weeks.)

That said, a devil in the details didn’t escape notice: 1) how was Dan Gargan left alone to block Fanendo Adi (that was Portland’s second)? 2) just where was Omar Gonzalez going when Nagbe hit LA with La Disjoncteur de Retour (Portland’s 4th; ht: google translate – that’s “back breaker” in French, a phrase I hereby introduce and hope to use often)? 3) you gotta sleep late and do something dumb to make Jorge (Villafana) look like Lionel (Messi) (the set up the Timbers’ fifth goal). Subtle, what-the-fuck qualities touched on even the “good” goals - e.g. 4) was Lucas Melano’s pass actually intended for Adi on the first goal; and 5) did Steven Gerrard miss Diego Chara’s run because he looked right over the wee Colombian’s head?

I don’t bring all the above up to sow seeds of doubt; I am not a fun-sucker (sun-fucker? maybe). Having now re-watched (as much of) the game (as I am willing to, e.g. the second half…but, hey, all of it; huh, who knew the vow would hold up), I can address all the above questions/statements as follows: 1) Omar Gonzalez had to step to Melano, thereby stranding “Sleepy” Dan Gargan; 2) off night for Omar all ‘round, really; 3) Leonardo’s flailing non-intervention played the parts of “late” and “dumb” to the hilt; 4) still think no (but helluva a job by Adi to corral it), and 5) nah, Gerrard just plain switched off.

Defensive mistakes are meant to be exploited, so the Timbers did nothing less than recognize the gift horse(s) and ride it (them) to a thrashing. Still, the Timbers did plenty right, starting with burying the kind of tricky chance they haven’t all season (thinking Adi’s first here). Moreover, Portland came back into the game like with the calm intent of a slasher movie villain who walks after his quarry, safe in the knowledge he’ll eventually run him/her down. Liam Ridgewell fired a pair of warning shots before the dam burst and it all came together in a slow, satisfying constriction that built pressure on LA until their weak spots (e.g. Leonadro) split at the seams and everything came undone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

MLS Post-Season Handicapping. And a Little Mockery

Forgot the watermelon, motherfucker...
"....every team in @MLS has at least 10 losses. Never happened before."
- The Armchair Analyst, tweet, 10/19/2015
I'm fairly certain that I've argued IRL that 2015 has been one of Major League Soccer's weirder, more mediocre seasons; for all I know, I said the same somewhere in this site's archive. Whatever, it points to a deeper reality about MLS – i.e. that this league only rarely produces great teams. With allowances for argument, here's the short list: DC United's original (and slow-starting) team, or the Chicago Fire's first, Eastern-European-kissed outfit; the Houston Dynamo put together a consistent team, if not a great one, for a couple years' domination in the mid-aughts; a couple New England Revolution teams graced the same era by playing "Beautiful Losers"; one could also throw in the Columbus Crew's "Touch o' Argentina" '08 outfit (bit of a stretch; good team, though), or the exquisitely-balanced Real Salt Lake team that roared straight outta Sandy, Utah to become one of the league's steadiest sides until, oh, this weird 2015. There's probably a great Los Angeles Galaxy team in there, but fuck those guys. (OK, yes, goddammit; they're the pace-setters for MLS till further notice.)

A closer look at each of those clubs, and what they accomplished in the relevant seasons, would probably wipe some kind of smudge over their shine, but let's enjoy their memories even if we have to embellish a little.

This season, though. 2015? It's worse than a crap-shoot. It's just plain crap, albeit with a good collection of highlights in person and game-form. Overall, the quality presents less a spectacle of sporting excellence than asking fans to watch 20 teams try to haul an oiled-up watermelon to the top of a mud-pile. And that mud-pile is pretty fucking oiled up, too. Matt Doyle's tweet, quoted above forwards the spirit of the argument: whichever club wins MLS Cup at the end of this hillbilly wrasslin' fest won't brag too long, nor answer too loudly when asked about the latest, or even new, star that hangs over his club's crest...then again, me being me, I'd cherish the Portland Timbers winning MLS Cup this weird year that little bit more. I love all my chilluns', and the challenging ones a little more...

Speaking of the Timbers, here's something worth pointing out: the fan-base is restless (or it could be that my personal, most direct sample is demanding and fidgety?). Even if they can't agree on what changes to make, it/they generally want changes made to a team that's widely viewed as a couple steps behind good enough. To be clear, I am not casting aspersions here; go back through the archives of this thing and you will know petulance (see the time I had "nothing but contempt" for the club; yep, hissy fit; and yet it came in the most parental thing I've ever posted about the Timbers). Besides, what's so wrong about wanting the club that you ask Jesus to look after when you're signing off at night to be all of what they can be?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Timbers Top RSL And Hope's Clever Disguise

We don't do silver linings here....
As I tweeted earlier today, there really isn't much left to say about the Portland Timbers in this 2015...and yet I found a way to say all kinds o' shit below. The central premise, though, is true: Portland will either make the Major League Soccer playoffs, or they will miss them. They took a big step toward tonight, with a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake. The Timbers very probably put RSL's playoffs hopes to the sword...fuck it, they would have done the same to Portland given one single moment of brilliance...

That said, yes, I have to shit on the parade. Because rain isn't unpleasant enough, I have one big theme to address, one that puts no small amount of effort toward rubbing off the silver lining precisely to find the clouds. It grows from a mindset that I sensed around the people with whom I watched the game tonight. At game's end, the feeling expressed as a mixture of a lot of relief and a little shock: there was a sense of, holy shit, we won?

It's not so much shock, either: after all, the Timbers have picked 6 points out of the Rio Tinto safe this season. I'd also argue that Portland was the better team tonight – that's even before Jamison Olave got sent off fairly early in the second half. And yet, the...thing, whatever it is, hangs on a pair of thoughts, each of them containing a different impressions of Portland's offense. On the good nights, when Portland pounds the opposition goal with wave after wave of attacks (an endangered species in 2015), what pops into one's head is, "why won't the fucking ball go in?" Other nights, like tonight, when the attack is lean and opportunities few, the thoughts becomes a question: "can we steal it?" Those two diametrically opposed mindsets speak to vastly different impressions of one's team, and one of them shades toward the opposite of positive.

Tonight's win didn't require actual theft. Still, the game's lone goal resulted from the most basic, nakedly opportunistic approach in soccer – e.g. a ball over the top to a fast dude. Yep, Lucas Melano corralled a pass from Jorge Villafana (who should only get a secondary assist, with the first going to Melano's noggin) and out-ran two RSL defenders, until one of them (Olave) tripped his trailing leg on the edge of and/or just inside RSL's penalty area. Fanendo Adi took the ensuing, probably justified penalty kick (it wasn't a clear-cut call, but still a good one, for me), of which...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

On Klinsmann: Feeling Cooler Heads With a Phrenologist’s Fine Hand

I sense...resistance to a certain line of thinking...
A couple good and wise posts went up earlier today. One sought to place Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure in a...let's go with a more grounded context, while the other clocked the tenor of broad, hysterically seething national outrage directed at Dear Jurgen and declared it...let's go with excessive.

For those new to this space, I have, in the past, joined the aforementioned chorus of "broad, hysterically seething national outrage"; it's possible that, in the past, I have blamed Klinsmann for everything from the most recent U.S. Men's National Team loss, through a minimum of two forms of cancer (yep, prostate; that's on him), and up to a general sense that, dang it, things just ain't what they used to be. Apple pie has tasted like straight-up shit for years, I tell you.

With that in mind, I just want to say: they're right. I tweeted both posts because both Will Parchman (first link above) and Wes Burdine (second link) offered strong arguments as to why we should all just calm the hell down. And, as both authors pointed out, that is not the same thing as not wanting Klinsmann gone. And I still want Klinsmann gone (and, frankly, I don't get the argument that Klinsmann swallowing a demotion to the role of technical director alone is a blow his ego couldn't sustain, because ego slightly bigger than Montana; pretty sure he can take it; yes, yes, but would he? Do you honestly think I care?).

Call those posts a welcome corrective, then, not unlike a friend calmly telling you to walk away from that dude who said something about your mom (really, dad? To mom? Jesus). With this post, I intend to walk through their points with two main thoughts in mind: 1) to attempt to explain just why Klinsmann pisses everyone off so very, very much (which is to Burdine's point); and 2) to take a stab at assessing where the U.S. Men are right now (which is, somewhat, to Parchman's) with the World Cup qualification cycle just about one month into the future.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Brief, Polite Comment on Last Night's Game (and U.S. Soccer's Hostage Situation)

What I'm watching for when I watch U.S. Soccer these days.
OK, I just read a whole bunch o' crap on the United States' Men's National Team loss to Mexico last night. Had to, really, because I can’t claim to know the U.S. team like I used to: while I watch all the games that count, I haven't caught a friendly in a couple years (virtually always scheduled during, or immediately after, work; I'm not taking time off for a friendly, people), and, on top of that, I only read closely about the games I watch.

It also bears noting that I wasn't all that invested in whether or not the U.S. won – e.g. see the argument here that the Confederations Cup is more a silly cash-cow than a worthwhile tournament – and, yes, I am 100% a card-carrying member of the angry mob that hunts Jurgen Klinsmann on Twitter and in other outlets, and have leaned that way since before 2014 (when I called a truce in support of shared rooting interest – e.g. the World Cup).

So, there they are, caveats express (e.g. I see the USMNT play about half dozen times a year) and implied (I don't know much about the players coming up to press the old guys). I don't have much to say about tactics, line-up, or actual game-play because I'm not familiar enough with the team to really dig in there, or to talk in anything but a general way. That said, let's start by picking up that second parenthetical...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Portland's Drunk-Strewn Path to the After Party: On Faith and Its Opposites

Cherished. Pointless.
I posted a piece a couple nights ago about how Darlington Nagbe presents as the most likely savior for this manic-depressive (if medication-modulated) 2015 season (reference to meds acknowledges that the highs haven't been that high, nor the lows that low – more later). The argument for this is messy and, as it turns out, large. Real, real large. To put that another way, nothing that comes below will clear the tangles cited in the title.

Nagbe played a good game this past Saturday. The dead-end dribbles made their usual cameo, but Nagbe put a pair of thoroughly respectable shots on goal; that's on top of playing in Lucas Melano for the Portland Timbers' best attacking sequence on the night, a good shift for anyone. And yet, as all Timbers fans know, none of those three efforts, or any of the others, went in.  As noted in that same post, this is the sum of Portland's season. With Nagbe, specifically, impressive moments, even relevant statistics, don't matter against the broadly well-justified, oft-repeated knock on Nagbe: what good is all that game-changing talent if it fails to actually change the game?

I've carried image at right (and above) in my mind for about a month. I have a collector friend or two, the kind of guys who buy their favorite toys twice, one to play with and the other to save in pristine, packaged condition for a presumed later payoff. The investment piece pans out sometimes, but, other times, it ends with nothing but a grown man carting around kid's toys embarrassingly deep into adulthood. Even with his reputation taking hits (like this one!), Portland still possesses one of the most coveted toys in all Major League Soccer. Nagbe had one visibly great season (see 2013), one that had Timbers fans dreaming/drooling about future seasons. What we got instead were the past two seasons, which shifted the whole goddamn mess back to potential. It's as if some shady collector stuffed our Darlington back in the original packaging and shoved him back on the shelf for everyone to admire for...I dunno. By which I mean, I just don't know. What I do know is that I was always the kind of kid who ripped that toy straight out of the packaging because, honestly, the fuck's the point of a toy if you don’t play with it?

That same image was to top one of the most vicious hit-pieces to ever percolate up from the fetid sink of doubt and worry that bubbles in the depths of my body. The plan was to tick through each position on the Timbers line up and list the players from around the league – that is, just within MLS – that I rate higher than each player on Portland's roster. Look, I love these players and absolutely want them to succeed, but only two struck me as hard to shift in the end – Diego Chara and Nat Borchers. So, yeah, ugly post borne of ugly thoughts and, yep, Nagbe inspired it. And yet I can still call him Portland's likeliest savior. When it comes to questions of faith and certainty, Hamlet has nothing on me...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What Kansas City Has That Portland Needs

Once called "cads," now just douches.
"KC wasn't good tonight, really, but any team with enough talent, or even just a reliable trick up their sleeve, can steal any game against the Timbers on a night when they don't score...”
I dropped that into the post reviewing the Portland Timbers road draw against Sporting Kansas City about a month back. Terrible sentence, obviously, but who knew how well it would serve to explain what went wrong Saturday night against KC? And yet there's something, for lack of a better word, fitting about the goal that decided Saturday’s game.

A couple little known facts: first, I have a particular fascination with two vintage national teams, one of them being the Hungarian National Team of the 1950s, the so-called Magic Magyars (or maybe "Mighty Magyars") who welcomed the English National Team back to the international game with a massive slap upside their over-inflated heads. That team has conditioned me to expect...perhaps more than I should from Hungarians players. Second, Liverpool is "my English team," or they were before I officially tied the knot with Major League Soccer all those years ago. That brief connection to Liverpool affects me in much the same way as the thing with Hungary. Basically, and whether rationally or not, put the words "Hungary" and "Liverpool" in the same sentence as any given player’s name and you have my attention.

So, Krisztian Nemeth: I am on record as coveting him, and since preseason, where he put in some visibly next-level performances. He's no Sebastian Giovinco, but it doesn't surprise me in the least that Nemeth has posted solid numbers as an MLS "rookie." Though One-hundred percent capable of making his own shot – and he produced a noteworthy Exhibit A Saturday night - it's more significant, in the end, that Nemeth does just about everything he needs to well and consistently. I smiled in spite of myself on watching Nemeth spin three Portland defenders on his way to scoring the game's lone goal (four, if you count Diego Chara twice, as seems fitting), because, yes, I do rate him that highly, even as I'm forced to wonder why all that "Hungary" and "Liverpool" has done less for his career than a half dozen months in the American Midwest. Yes, yes, the past informs the present, etc. Moving on...

I lead with Nemeth (and, again, flirtatiously wink in his general direction; come to Portland, Krisztian, we have so much culture) to frame a key question: who is Portland's Nemeth? Who has Portland been able to look to this season with the ability and mindset to hoist the team onto his shoulders to lead, really lead, the charge on the opposition goal? There is no clear answer to that question. We have a couple candidates, true, but the way no answer leaps to mind is the sum of Portland's 2015 season.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MLS and How It's Made for Jurgen Klinsmann. And Experimentation.

Hold on...almost have it. Just another 15 minutes...
I have fallen down, considerably, when it comes to posting regular weekly reviews on Major League Soccer (MLS). I won't bore you with the details (WAIT, no! Listen! The format's SHIT! He doesn't know what he's doing! It's a three-ring circus of wounded elephants and drunken clowns, people! RUN!), but, bottom line, it's a problem with settling on a consistent, brief format that gives the average, or un-average, reader a reason to spend the time on this site. (HELP: this is 100% a hostage situation! Signed: Randall. Mom? Mom?! HELP!!)

That said, we are where we are in the MLS by now? An entire goddamn 30 (+ for some) weeks has yet to settle anything all that meaningful for all but, by my count, four MLS clubs (here, I'm going with the New York Red Bulls (who made the playoffs), the Colorado Rapids, the Chicago Fire, and the Philadelphia Union (all of whom will not (sorry, Philly, but you'll need all 9 remaining points just to catch Montreal). Every other team has some general sense of their fate, but each has to pass through a thicket of results and other details before they know how they're going into the playoffs – e.g. strutting or falling over the velvet rope. And there's seeding after that...

Given how little sorting gets accomplished in all this – think the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter spending half an hour on each student before declaiming - the question of why the MLS regular season drags on for so many months has dogged the league since its inception. The answers to such questions touch too closely on the big questions of life to come easily, but there are answers (see, when one investor loves another investor very, very much, they create beautiful little tax vehicles and build stadiums where they can compete in a way that protects their feelings while maximizing revenue. And, stork). I've pissed and moaned about this state of affairs as often as I could without turning into a boor, or a poor house-guest.

Today, though, I'd like to present the MLS regular season in what I hope will be a new light. Think of this post as a guest who arrived a little late to the party, and with a fresh bottle of bourbon. The good stuff, too, like I reached up to grab it instead of doing the ol' bear-crawl across the bottom shelves. OK, pouring you a drink? Do you take ice? Rocks or neat? Excellent. OK, ready?