Sunday, March 6, 2016

Timbers Top Columbus (Again), Through Distorted Lenses

When I look at the world, I only see the cracks.
I was told tonight – or, rather, I was reminded – that I tend to approach subjects from the negative. It's a fair point, all in all, especially seeing as how most of the thoughts I have about the Portland Timbers first-ever March win in the Caleb Porter Era (long may it last; or may it last so long as Caleb brings home the sweet, sweet bacon) do lean a little toward the negative – e.g. Dairon Asprilla is good, but is he good enough? Lucas Melano is fine, but at that price?

There are rose-tinted lenses, then there are whatever the fuck I wear. All I know is that I'm pretty sure the bastards aren't Ray-bans. In an attempt to go against that trend, I'll start with all the things about tonight's epic (in the context of past months of March) win over last year's final victims, Columbus Crew SC.

Jermaine Taylor Is Fine at Left Back
Yes, he's never going to transform Portland's attack from that position, but I think that anytime the Timbers have a game where they want a lock-down(-ish? –esque?) performance out of a left back, Taylor offers a pretty reasonable option. His speed is decent and, this is key, defending is his strength. So, there's one plus.

Alvas Powell Is a Fine Right Back (yes, that's right back)
Powell had a great defensive game today; the best bit came when he so powerfully shielded the ball from Columbus' Shaun Francis, that, in the grips of child-like enthusiasm, Francis could only show his appreciation by climbing on Powell's back for a piggy-back ride. Wheee!! In all seriousness, I would love to ship Powell to...mutually better pastures. Trouble is, I can't do that until Portland replaces Powell with an upgrade. Here, I'm talking about a right back who visibly upgrades Powell in the attack while defending, oh, 3/4 as well as Powell. Basically, I rate Powell pretty damn highly as a defender, while I'd argue he attacks...less well than he should.

Liam Ridgewell's Hero Moments
Ridgewell, of whom I bitch often, played a couple tricky moments with Platonic aplomb – by which I mean, he could not have popped two dangerous crosses over the bar with his head better than he did, when he did. Speaking as a general hater, I'd say that Ridgewell's time with (was it?) Brighton Hove Albion (I probably made up that name, so I'll expand: Brighton Hove Albion Steak and Kidney Pie, Bob's Your Uncle, Pip-Pip Cheerio, Mate FC) appears to have paid off entirely. Ridgewell looked like Portland's better centerback tonight, and that makes me real, real happy.

Adam Kwarasey
He looks like the goalkeeper I expected around mid-May last season. My chest swells with satisfaction at the thought.

All in all, for everything bad the Timbers did today, they did something good. Moreover, I think Portland impersonated a well-oiled machine more than a few times this afternoon – see their second goal, in particular – but, as implied in the above, I found most of my happiness with the Timbers defense. Then again, that could have been due to the disturbing fact that said defense had too many high-profile moments, times when they were visible precisely for being exposed. During the national broadcast, one chatterbox or another mentioned that Diego Chara got into it with Ridgewell and Nat Borchers. And maybe there was something to, we get to the negatives.

Tony Tchani and His Notable Holdings of Land
Columbus' midfield trio of Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, and Tony Tchani are sincerely fun to watch. At their best, they work this wonderful ladder effect that starts with Trapp, before passing through Tchani, who moves the ball upfield to wherever the hell Higuain is at any given moment. Higuain goes all over and does pretty amazing things, but the essential fulcrum turns on the relationship between Trapp and Tchani...and this is exactly why I wonder about the noteworthy number of times Tchani was able to push into the Timbers' defensive third facing forward with the ball at his feet. Higuain has the better bag of tricks, but, when it comes to feeding runner in the channels between the fullbacks and central defense, Tchani has few equals in MLS. And he had time to find those seams a lot tonight. Good for him, bad for Portland. As such, I'd love to see this shut down in future. Especially when there's a guy like Higuain running all but loose up there, guys who can do (or just attempt) amazing things.

Then Again, Tchani Is Always Good for Dumb Fouls
Seriously. He's sort of a hot head. See the one that set up Diego Valeri in a really dangerous spot.

A "Three-Dimensional" Chess Match
If tonight's game was a coaching chess match – and I think it was – Caleb Porter won it, if narrowly. Diego Valeri got loose in dangerous places on the field as often as any player today...just let that sink in for a second. Diego. Valeri. Got loose. "A surging run from midfield" was the flavor of the day, and guys just lined up to take it: if it wasn’t Tchani, it was Darlington Nagbe; if it wasn't Trapp, it was Diego Chara. Valeri, though, he seemed eternally open in the gap between Columbus' midfield and defense, and that's great for Portland; it could be the effect of, as the broadcast duo pointed out, Valeri feeling free to "take chances" with Nagbe and Chara providing cover; one of them went as far as talking about Valeri playing "beneath Fanendo Adi." (Which would be good, even if it means making Jack McInerney surplus to requirements.) The vertical spacing today – which was pretty damn big – let that happen. That's a credit to both coaches who both, and forgive the phrasing, played to play today – by which I mean they played to win the game by scoring. Well-justified faith in both defenses let that happen, and that's the right spirit. I couldn't track some factors closely enough – e.g. did Columbus push Tchani high, thereby opening space for Valeri? was Tchani always free because the Timbers tracked Higuain? – to say why this or that happened. As such, I'm only commenting on the phenomenon, and not the cause. Portland made two chances count tonight, though, while Columbus managed just the one (incredispectacular as it was; again, see: Kick, Bicycle). The same player almost nabbed a second, one that would have been only marginally less impressive, but that speaks to how well the Timbers back four/goalkeeper combo held up. Again, and as implied above, they were my stars tonight.

Fanendo Adi: The Cleaning Crew?
Crew SC's defense handled Fanendo Adi pretty well today. He had a few touches where he likes having them (i.e., in and around the area), but he had to drop back to find the game from time to time, too, which is something he's less good at. With Adi (somewhat) bottled up, at fair chunk of the attack went through the outside channels of Portland's forward line – i.e., through Asprilla and Melano. I'll eat this if the stats prove me wrong, but the ball seemed to go down Asprilla's side most often. Portland crafted at least two great weak-side openings for him, one that he squandered outright (over the bar), another that he at least put on frame. Generally, though, Asprilla served up more of what I call "disruption" – e.g. omnipresent stress among the defenders - but without the neat, clear moments that lead to, say, goals. Asprilla did, however, provide the magic moment when magic was needed, that is, when he put the winner on a platter for the largely quiet Adi to tap home. My main response to that is, more please. Better still, Melano started that play with a cross to Asprilla on the back post. The Timbers need that sort of thing for the attack to work this year. If Melano and Asprilla can't get going this season, most teams will be able to suffocate Adi and, through that, suffocate the Timbers attack. Every goal that Melano and Asprilla (or even that Jack Barmby kid) scores this year, is one more that Adi doesn't have to. Even if Melano and Asprilla (and Barmby) just look goal-dangerous, they force defenses to react to them and that creates space for Adi and all manner of virtuous circles that emanate therefrom.

That's it for tonight. At time of writing, Portland has a full season ahead with no clear signs of trouble. Given that, steady as she goes seems the best course. In other words, only go Barmby when the situation dictates...and I'm not sure it won't dictate before too long. Sorry! Just the way my brain works.


  1. Asprilla is good, but too many times did I catch myself yelling at the screen for him to let go of the damn ball. So many missed opportunities to move the play forward in the final third because he held on to the ball for 2, 3, 5 seconds much too long. I would get whiffs of "Aw yes, here comes another goal" and then I'd be like "LET GO OF THE FUCKING BALL AND MAKE THE FUCKING PASS!" It just looked sloppy not passing just to try and get a shot.

  2. Yes. There is something. And maybe that's it. Filing away this angle so's I can watch for it. Thanks for commenting!