Sunday, March 20, 2016

Timbers Draw RSL: On Patience and/with Gamesmanship

Hmmm...sleeping together did not fix things...
So...what is the rule on mulligans in Major League Soccer? Surely they have one, maybe tucked somewhere within all the byzantine shit about how to fit a roster together?

I guess what I'm saying is, mistakes were made last night during the Portland Timbers awkward 2-2 draw at home against Real Salt Lake. What we know is that, both teams made something together last night, I'm not sure either side feels all so great about what happened, there was some bad behavior, etc. Has anyone checked with the RSL camp? Anyone else think they'd be open to a do-over? Think about, Jamison Olave out for the next game, Kyle Beckerman out for the next game....then again, Juan "Burrito" Manuel Martinez got away with that late lunge on Darlington Nagbe. (Happily, it sounds like Nagbe will be all right.)

I saw this match live, for the record, which rarely passes into my brain the same way as it does when I watch on TV – just...more distracted at a live match – so I filled in the (some? maybe?) gaps with the 20-minute mini-game this morning. The video missed a couple biggies – e.g. where the hell is my replay on Fandendo Adi's allegedly offside opener for Portland, and what kind of foul led to Plata's free kick. And Adam? The hell was that? Why did you run off the very happy rails on which this game was running, Mr. Kwarasey? This is goalkeeping, son, not preparing to sit down on a pleasant patch of artificial turf.

The whole question of what might have been only gets all the more painful when you consider how this one started – e.g. with Portland pouring forward, Diego Valeri narrowly missing the goal inside the first minute, and that spivy little assistant ref (possibly) screwing Adi (and all Timbers fans) out of a goal (or doing his job…that’s the thing, we'll never know!). It's tempting to paint this one as just one of those nights, especially after the (black) comedy of errors that led to RSL's second, purported insurance goal (time to review your policy, a-holes! HA! Ha...ha...actually, that doesn't feel like much of a burn, because....well, just hop outside the parenthetical): how many times will a situation present in which Nat Borchers accidentally assists on a goal by bouncing a header off Yura Movsisyan and straight into a red-carpeted path toward goal? I talked to a couple fellow fans on the train ride home (including friend of the blog and podcast partner Emilio), and (memory's a little hazy, but) I think we had created versions both more elaborate and worse (e.g. questionable positioning) than what actually happened. Basically, the gods reached down from the heavens to yank Borchers' beard. We are merely the playthings of the gods...

However they happened, Portland found itself down two goals with about 30 minutes left to play. Actually, it's worth starting this from farther back in the game because, while RSL got the goal, they also gave up a player – Kyle Beckerman, for a challenge that earned a red perhaps more for its result than its intent (which isn't a bad way to all a red). As I saw it, the Timbers didn't look much like getting that one goal back, even playing a man for the 30 minutes before Movsisyan's second. Now, let us linger on the "whys" of that situation for a bit. I'll begin by swearing that, by the end of April, I will know how to make a gif and insert them where relevant going forward. (Ed. Randall – yeah  yeah, you said before the playoffs, then over the off-season...still, waiting on that first gif, ya bum.)

One particular play from early in the first half as struck me as emblematic of what limited the Timbers attack for much of the night – one I should be able to explain pretty well (but, again, gifs, dummy). Actually, if you go to the 1:36 mark on the highlight video (up top of post, just hit pl....never mind; you know this), you'll see the play...just in a more inconvenient form than, say, a gif. At any rate, what you'll see is  Valeri passing from just inside the Timbers' half to find Alvas Powell ahead of him on the right with lots of space ahead of him; Powell, then at the top of RSL’s defensive third, has two clear options: 1) he could hit Lucas Melano with a pretty big channel in front of him and a defender on his shoulder visibly in two minds as to what he should do if that pass happens; or 2) he could cross the ball into Adi. As you see, Powell went to Adi, and the sequence ended with a shot. OK, good enough, but I'm still left thinking of what might have been had Powell pushed that ball into Melano. Personally, I thought that the better pass: it would have pulled that central defender toward Melano, which would have opened more space in the area for an eventual shot on goal; I'm also not unconvinced Melano wouldn't have had a better pass available to him after that than cross Powell served in, something a little higher percentage.

This was typical, as I saw it: Portland opted for the early ball from a wider position too often, rather than looking for a pass inside to get closer. The counter-argument to this is a familiar one – e.g. teams can fart around all day trying to find the perfect pass – but I will forever maintain that the Timbers sorta suck knocking home traditional crosses; I think even Adi prefers hitting the ball with his feet. And, sure, this amounts for arguing that something that never happened is somehow (far, far) superior – and, moreover, according to the actual evidence on hand, Melano was hitting the ball funny last night (see; wee Lucas' two painfully flubbed shots on goal last night) – but I think the way Portland plays should point the team away from simple crosses. It wasn't that Portland didn't do well in the middle of the park, so much as the team too often viewed it as nothing more than field of transit between the two flanks.

Even if they got there by means both fortunate and gifted by way of idiocy (the city of Portland thanks both you and your flailing arm, Mr. Olave), Portland pulled back both goals in the end (and thank fucking god Adi didn't get Rimando'd; not the best penalty ever taken). The wait made for a pretty frustrating night, one made even more so by RSL's deep, late commitment to gamesmanship. It probably started with Rimando making a trip to the hospital out of a clumsy challenge by Adi, but it continued through Olave's Long Walk off the pitch, Sunny Obayan's meta-moment of time-wasting (e.g. he wasted time to argue more about his time-wasting), but the moment of pure theatrical excellence came when, on being subbed and walking even slower than Olave, Movsisyan paused two steps from the touchline for a stretch. Yes, that was a "fuck you" straight to all 20,000+ in attendance, plus all 28 Timbers players and all members of the coaching staff and front office, but, as with a great goal, sometimes one just has to applaud moments of brilliance.

Allowing for the vagaries of mood, I'd like to end these posts on a high note (i.e., all bets are off if I'm pissy). Here, I'm looking for new possibilities with players, or if the team can improve by moving certain players around. Call 'em green shoots...

1) Asprilla/Melano
As implied above, I didn't think much of how Melano executed a few plays. While I get that players inevitably have off nights, again, I hold Melano to a higher standard. Going the other way, I feel like I found a $20 on the sidewalk every time Dairon Asprilla has a good night. Asprilla was more busy than good last night, for me, and I'm deeply conflicted as to where I put that guy’s ceiling, but the shot he put on goal, the one that led directly to Portland's first goal, provides a pretty good demonstration of the power of just plain keeping at it. Asprilla found a shot, and conjured an opening in fairly heavy traffic. Could have resurrected the game for all we know. At any rate, if Portland's going to use the flanks to get the ball up the field, that means we need good, consistent players out there, or at least consistent when they're not good. As such, I'll value Asprilla's endeavor well enough until something better comes along.

2) McInerney
Even as I'd argue that McInerney squandered two of his three chances, I place a high value on his knack for finding seams. The pass Valeri played to him in a narrow channel on the right, quite probably accounted for Portland's best chance of the night (no videon on this in the highlights, sadly; (gifs, asshole, GIFS! (ed. Randall)); it forced a big save out of Rimando, if nothing else. While I'm not quite to where I think the starting line-up needs to change to get McInerney in there, let's just say I'm looking into it (along with gifs?). If nothing else, I like seeing him out there somewhat early.

3) Borchers
Count me a fan of the way Portland has resorted to keeping Borchers toward the front when trying to come back into games. This pulled back a goal against San Jose, if a meaningless one, but it creates useful chaos for as long as he's up there. Nice desperations tactic, long may it live. Beats putting Chara up there to try to do the same thing, if nothing else.

4) Valeri
He started strong this year. Honest. San Jose was an anomaly. Valeri is part of what the team is doing right so far. This makes me happy.

OK, that's it. We'll kick around the next one in a couple weeks' time. There's an international week between here and there...


  1. I can either give you a 6-8 sentence tutorial on how to easily make (quality!) GIFs or I can make some for you...

  2. The tutorial would serve me SO much better. How do you wanna forward? I can send you my email over DM? (And thanks!)