Friday, February 12, 2016

Portland Timbers' Tussle with RSL, Cool As You Like

Screenshot of video: McInerney being restrained. Maybe.
I’m sitting here looking at the notes I took while watching last night’s game and I’m thinking, jesus, did a monkey write this? And was it blind? (Answers: no, and no; and, yes, my handwriting is worse than a blind monkey's). But, seriously, folks...

I wouldn’t say that the Portland Timbers “put away” Real Salt Lake last night, but they handled them all right and, generally, or at least to my occasionally wandering eye and oft-snacking body (hey, had to fast for a blood-draw the day before), looked the better team. That held, in balance, until the subs came on. And after the game got a little weird. Let’s touch on that first, the “weird game” thing...

I hinted at this on twitter when the announcement was made: my antenna pricked up when Yura Movsisyan returned to RSL. I have plans to elaborate on this on another space and by way of another medium (tease), but I rated Movsisyan fairly highly when he was with RSL back in the late dicketies (or aughts or 2000s; choose your phrasing). As such, I watched Portland v. RSL with that on my mind.

I had also decided to make an effort to track Jack McInerney through his first start (or half-start) for the Timbers, but not just him: I was also keeping an eye on Dairon Asprilla and Andy Thoma.

And then the ref cocked it all up by…informally, I guess(?), ejecting both Movsisyan and McInerney. God, refs are such dicks.

Taken as a whole, it was sort of a fascinating incident. From what I gathered, both head coaches, Caleb Porter (for Portland) and Jeff Cassar (for RSL), asked the ref to let the incident slide and allow both players to remain on the field. In essence, they were asking the ref to sort of acknowledge (embrace?) the informal nature of the game and, by way of that, the entire concept of “Preseason.” And that’s a pretty weird ask, at least if you really think about it; in loose existential terms, this was something of a junior high moment – i.e. a rough equivalent of the cool kids trying to convince the school dork to bend the rules and, say, smoke a cigarette around the back of the school, or steal tools from woodshop. (Disclaimer: The author hereby declines to admit or deny whether the specific scenarios cited above are real-life examples.)

The ref refused to go along in the end, a choice I take with appreciation for his professionalism and disappointment for him personally…that square little shit screwed me out of vital observation time. Fuck it. Taking a smoke break...

At any rate, the game.

All in all, the Timbers looked a little more “preseason” to me than they did in the Seattle game. Darlington Nagbe, in particular, surprised me a little in that he coughed up the ball more often than usual; he even got dispossessed once or twice, which is not the Nagbe I know. In keeping with this site’s tradition, I blame Jurgen Klinsmann. In spite of such little details, Portland generally bottled the ball and possession in RSL’s half for as long as (most of) Portland’s first team was on the field. On the downside, I don’t recall a ton of chances…whoops, speaking of.

The first thing I did after pulling up the archived feed was to hop on twitter to bitch about the Timbers’ site showing the final score right on the damn screen, SMACK UNDER THE STUPID VIDEO WINDOW, in fact. (Again, 100% inexcusable; demand that this be fixed, etc.) Righ away, I noted that the video came on with the game in progress. Shortly thereafter (and, frankly, quite a bit longer than it should have taken), I noticed that the score already read 1-0, which, courtesy of irresponsible choices made with regard to captioning, I knew to be the final score of the game. God. Damn. It. Yes, the feed missed the game’s one and only goal.

They played it back later, of course, and, while I wouldn’t call it a terrible goal or anything, I have to admit that, on first noting that Lucas Melano scored the goal (also shared in the fucking caption), I was hoping for something a little more inspiring from Portland’s young DP. Because I really want said inspiration. More on this later...

As noted above, both teams made wholesale changes somewhere after halftime (I think; confessing that the bubbly might have introduced little pockets of empty air into the brain) and, once that happened, RSL started to get more of the game. Fairly late in, they had this fascinating short little fella running around the center of the field – Amass Amankona, I think his name is – who helped with this, on the way to piquing my interest. To their credit, Portland’s bench responded confidently enough and earned the shutout. I like the look of Portland’s depth based on what I’ve seen this preseason, which both comforts the soul and speaks pretty well of Timbers2.

That’s all I have for the general observations. There’s a whole season ahead for all concerned, which means there’s little need to get too deep into the analysis. Just some loose talking points to throw in here.

- What is Lucas Melano’s best position? I’m asking because, personally, I’m not at all sure. At the same time, getting this right feels like a big, big deal. Get it right and I LOVE Portland’s ceiling. Get it wrong...I’m wondering if Portland won’t undermine one of their bigger investment.

- Asprilla did not blow me away last night. Do give him full credit for his hand in the goal (pretty sure he was involved), but I didn’t see Asprilla make a lot of offense happen last night. I did, however, see him blow a pair of crosses – one of which featured him misplaying a simple ball that, had he played it right, would have found Diego Valeri in a large public park of his very own about 20-25 yards from goal. Until, or even if, that Winger To Be Named Later shows up, the Timbers have placed a lot of faith in Asprilla. So, yeah, this matters. To offer a little comfort, when Ben Polk took over that wide right spot, I thought both he and Portland looked better.

- I liked Thoma’s short day well enough. For my money, he looked better than Zarek Valentin has so far, just simpler and cleaner if nothing else. Given that, I assume that auditions for the left back spot vacated by Jorge Villafana will continue. For a while.

- Given how little time he had out there, put it this way: Oh, JackMac, we hardly knew ye. During his short time out there, though, McInerney turned in at least one nice, composed piece of possession play; that’s nice if only for the way that it suggests he may have some more tools in his kit. For as long as McInerney’s been in the league, and for all the times I’ve seen him play, his time with the Timbers will allow for the kind of scrutiny that gives fans (if only Timbers fans) a real sense of what he brings as a player. Looking forward, personally...

- McInerney Addendum: I caught a couple tweets this morning in which people applauded one Timber or another for sticking up for his teammates (St. Snark, who seems like one hell of a nice fella). I interpreted those tweets as referring to McInerney, but that could just be because I already had this thought in mind. I’m OK with McInerney barreling in like that, but only wish he was a little smarter in how he did it. If nothing else, that kind of stuff builds good team spirit, so, even if it’s calculated (e.g. McInerney’s kissing a little butt, etc), yeah, I’m good with it, and risks notwithstanding. In fact, the whole incident flashed me back to former Timber, Mike Chabala, who, if memory serves, jumped very avidly into that sort of fight in his first game. What the hell? Call it endearing.

OK, that’s it fer reals. For the record, the Timbers looks pretty good to me. That sense of what each player is supposed to do and what they’re about appears to be sufficiently in place that I expect they’ll fall back in step reasonably well this year.

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