Sunday, August 28, 2016

Portland Timbers 4-2 Seattle Sounders: On the (Cleverly Disguised) Road Ahead

Wait...did they just score again?
I was lucky enough to get a late invite to today's game, and I couldn't be more thankful (thanks, anonymous person! You're the best!). I mean, how often does one get to live 45 minutes of happy incredulity, one of those moments where one can have a dozen coins in a row land on heads, and without being Professor Barnhouse?

It was a fascinating sequence, really: first, Vytas Andriuskevicius' goal eased the anxiety; Fanendo Adi's goal evidenced signs of the entire team's commitment, and, no less crucially, his; Lucas Melano scoring the third foretold either his personal redemption or the breaking of the sixth seal...wasn't entirely clear on that one; but, when Steven Taylor scored Portland's fourth goal and while standing on his feet, that's when a fog of sassified complacency sank onto the field to mingle with the afternoon heat.

To remind/inform, as the case may be, "sassified" comes from Clarence Carter's epic Strokin' (seriously, if you don't know this song, hit that link) and, as Urban Dictionary reminds us, it "[describes] the feeling following magnificent sexual gradification (sic)." (Guys, c'mon: it's "gratification". Does anyone even edit your copy?))

Things were going swell, I was smoking a cigarette, musing at the ceiling, etc., when a funny thing happened. That would be the Seattle Sounders scoring their second goal. Sure, there was one before that, but, in my state of bliss, that one only felt like Steven Taylor scored two goals on the day, one of them a helper for a brutally beleaguered opposition. When the Sounders scored that second goal, though, something changed. I haven't mentioned this yet, but I watched the game in the midst of Seattle’s fans. And, holy shit, does your body react when what you want to happen is the absolute opposite of what everyone around you wants to have happen. Put it this way, it borders on fight or flight, only without the irrationality.

The game ended 4-2 to the Portland Timbers in the end. After Jordan Morris nodded home from an unacceptably open space far too close to Portland's goal (and with Nicolas "Freakin'" Lodeiro  standing ready to play in the pass in the middle of a pasture with enough time to contemplate the meaning of his shot for each of the world's religions), the Timbers took a deep breath, re-centered, and like any good team (*****), they proceeded to play cool, possession soccer with an eye to bleeding the stamina out Seattle's legs.

Portland returned to the front foot by game's end, and that was actually encouraging, especially with the recent run of games that saw the Timbers play uptight and concede stupid shit. Today didn't prove that Portland can calm a game any time they need to; it showed that they can do it. On one level, I see that as a positive. This game, though, happened against a team that, in the words of a two-stick that a  Seattle fan brought down for the occasion, was "headless." We'll never know what Clint Dempsey's presence would have meant out there for Seattle today, but, in all likelihood, he would have translated to a little more possession and inventiveness on Portland's side of the field. That "proof of a negative" scenario didn't mean a thing today, but it will mean a lot when Portland plays the rest of the teams they face down the stretch – i.e. teams that didn't have to re-invent the way they play on three days' notice.

That point takes this post to the real meaning of today and, really, all the other stuff that happened in Major League Soccer this weekend. A hell of a lot of the Western Conference stalled this weekend: the Los Angeles Galaxy couldn't break down the bumbling Vancouver Whitecaps; Sporting Kansas City looked thoroughly second-best against the Philadelphia Union, and Real Salt Lake hurt and helped Portland's chances by tugging on a handful of the Colorado Rapids' jerseys (OK, that one's a stretch, especially because, finally); I guess that FC Dallas' win over the Houston Dynamo didn't matter, what with both teams far enough on the right side of Portland...but I took that trip into the weeds for no real good reason, 'cause here's the deal:

True, today's results put Portland just three points behind SKC, and only five points behind the Galaxy, but the race against Seattle is still the one that matters most. Why? Because, even without Dempsey, and today's collapse aside, they’re the only team in the mix that's riding a handful of upsides: Lodeiro coming on really did make them a better team going forward, but there's also the return of Ramon Torres to Seattle's back-four. Torres, so long as he stays fit, has been an upgrade what the players Seattle has been able to field, both today and in the short time he played for Seattle last season. If Dempsey manages to come back before year's end (and, as much as I hate Seattle, yes, I don't want a player of Dempsey's stature to go out on a heart that can't keep time), they will be dangerous, as in they will pick up points, which 100%-obliges Portland to do the, feel me? That's a note for the team, not the fans. All y'all are a happy, optimistic bunch. If I've learned nothing from all those damn polls, I've learned that.

Portland fans floated toward the stratosphere with that first half today, the kind of place where it feels safe to dream of hitting the playoffs on a roll, and of stepping into the "who-knows-what-realm" of the post-season with some vital momentum. The Timbers aren't there yet, and that's exactly why the first 15 minutes of the second half had my stomach feeling empty and my balls crawling up quite possibly looking to fill the gap (were my balls trying to...hug me?): letting that game slip away, even allowing a third goal, would have worked like two dozen leeches on the team's back, only they'd be sucking confidence instead of blood. As noted above, the Timbers are nothing like out of the woods. Don't view this game as anything but the minimum necessary step in the right direction. And, yep, that's me back in "Angry Dad" mode.

OK, that's the narrative. Time for some stray notes...

Weighing Apostasy
A couple weeks back I tweeted that I had joined the 24-Hour Church of Alvas (Powell). Apart from that glorious melee in the second half, when Powell felled a minimum of two Sounders (Joevin Jones and Andreas Ivanschitz, plus...I think one other guy), Powell was fucking terrible today and in more dangerous locales than is his norm. Powell usually coughs up the ball when charging forward – i.e., where the oxygen gets thin and panic sets in for all but your better midfielders and forwards – and, while not great, it doesn't do a ton of damage that can't be undone. Today, though, he got caught in possession way too much, he made dumb passes way too often, and he dipped far too deep into his Bag of Emergency Defending for comfort; yeah, it was a bad outing for Alvas...and that only makes it weirder that Seattle pressed really, really hard down the opposite flank after the 75th minute. I guess that means the emergency defending held, but, holy shit, was Alvas bad today. Alvas is good by me – on his best days, he’s a lock-down defender on Portland's right, and that’s a fucking gift, people – but he caused jitters and problems all damn day.

Lucas Melano Is, at Time of Writing, a Bust
Sure, it was a neat goal, but the existence of an oasis doesn’t make a desert any more palatable. $5 million is "game-changing" money, and the Timbers invested that in a player who is, at best, an average winger in MLS. My biggest frustation, though, comes with seeing Melano give up on plays (at least two today) to meander off to bitch at the referee. Stop wasting our time and yours, kid, play the goddamn game.

(Fucking) Hero
You know who didn't suck today?  Diego Chara. I could be imagining this, but I think Chara single-handedly pulled the Timbers out of their early second half swoon; he started picking off passes, beating Seattle's players to their own touches, and generally making his general area of the field his rightful property. It was impressive and, as I see it, turned the game (If you didn't see this, don't tell me. I don't wanna know, I like happy thoughts (who doesn't?), etc. Look, today was unnecessarily unnerving, in a way that it shouldn't have been after Portland went up 4 goals, so, yeah, I'm partial to my fantasy(ies) today.)

Finally...This Week and Every Week Until Deliverance
From what I've heard, there was a time when an ancient Roman senator, a real dead-ender, hard-liner by the name of Cato the Elder, would end every speech by saying some form of "Delenda est Carthago" (or "Carthago delenda est," apparently; in whatever translation, "Carthage must be destroyed."). I read that as an intense expression of frustration and, in that spirit, I intend to end every post/column on every game where Darlington Nagbe fails to take either the final shot or the final assist with the Latin for "Nagbe Must Score."

***** I’m pretty firm on this: a team that doesn’t know how to keep possession, a team that can do this even when just trying to kill a game, is, by definition, not a good team.

Score Est Nagbe.

(See? Didn't forget it....wait.)

Score Est Nagbe.


  1. To score is Nagbe? My Latin was shit even on a pass/fail basis, but I think you need the subjunctive. This is present tense. Something like Nagbe scorenda est.

    "It says 'Romans Go Home'."
    "No it doesn't..."

  2. I love everything about this comment. I also have little doubt that you're correct. My Latin is entirely catch-as-catch can and Google translate didn't rise to the occasion.