Friday, September 30, 2016

MLS Snapshot: Week 31 Begins and Another in a Long Series of Posts Explaining How I Make Peace with the Fact That I'd Totally Let Nagbe Leave

 He knows what time it is.
[NOTE: Linking policy:  I’m going to limit my linking in these things to the recaps to each of the games;’s recaps are pretty thorough, easy to navigate, so if I you muck around in those things, you'll find most of what you need.]

Look into my eyes…Major League Soccer Week 30 (31? It was 30, right? Shit! Breaking the spell!) Look into my eyes….MLS Week 30 never happened, MLS Week 30 never happened, MLS Week 30 never…hap….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………

Wow! Time to dive back into the hot MLS action after that short break for [Re-Education.] [Cheery picture of Dear Leader.] [Re-Education.]. Hi, friends!! MLS Week 31 kicked off early, just the way we like it!! There were just four games to clock Wednesday night. I’ll pick through the highlights in the next couple paragraphs, but there’s only one real reason this post’s going up at all: something triggered my Darlington Nagbe obsession. I tucked that at the end, everything in its time, and so on.

OK, proceeding now, per the proper procedures, here are some things you should know from this week’s games! And, apologies, I don’t mean to dissent, but, in the interest of the party, I feel compelled to point out that, every so often, MLS Live repeats segments. Actually, it’s once every game. And yet, I am ever so thankful for everything! Long live Dear Leader Garber!!! (Ugh, can’t keep that bit up. Sorry.)

Wednesday night was all about the Eastern Conference, what with six Eastern teams vying across four games. The games all mattered, though how much depended quite a bit on where one lives. Put another way, in the normal course of events, a guy couldn’t give a shit about the Chicago Fire visiting the Seattle Sounders. Lord knows the teams didn’t do much to keep neutral tuned in. Even the goddamn goal was predictable. And yet, here we are Portland Timbers fans, checking the rearview. Where a most unwelcome sight looms into view.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Timbers Tumble in Texas...And It All Made Sense. It All Made Sense

Depressingly uncomplicated, actually.
"You see results that are head scratchers."
- Caleb Porter, Timbers head coach, post-game
I expected moments like Houston’s Raul Rodriguez biting too hard on Portland’s Darren Mattocks' run, a lunge that allowed Mattocks to follow Darlington Nagbe's leading pass into the space behind (we all know how this one ended, ball off post, Diego Valeri (of course), doing his right-place/right-time thing to tap the in Portland’s goal, no, it’s equalizer!). Or maybe when Valeri later picked the ball off (again) Rodriguez and Portland almost scored. Both of those came during a solid 20-25 spell in the second half, a time that, according to the script I’d written in my head, looked right side up. It fit the standings, after all, plus...we're the better team, right?

But was the game right side up in those moments? Was this really a “head scratcher?” That’s the thrust of Porter’s comment. It tracks my preview post, too, and a handful of tweets I put out the week prior: it tracked the assumption that, because this was Portland’s best chance for road points at this point in the season, those road points were therefore available. The logic leapt from “A-to-C,” in other words, but without any more reason than Houston’s weaknesses and/or unknowns. That’s weird because the empirical evidence points to something else, something much, much simpler.

The Portland Timbers are terrible on the road. Goddamn, clarity is refreshing. The equalizer noted above, one that I took as some kind of given, only warded off a 3-1 loss that felt inevitable by the end. The question is why I (and, I'm assuming, other Timbers fans) expected something different. I mean besides wishful thinking and blind faith. The Portland Timbers suck on the road: that's not just reality, it should be the first sentence written for every Timbers away game. "Well, obviously, the Portland Timbers suck on the road." And it'll be true. Until it isn't.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Previewing the Portland Timbers Most Winnable Road Game, and the Rest of MLS Week 30

This'll make sense by the end (Credit: 3dmetrius)
“This is MLS. The regular season breaks everyone, and afterward some are strong in the broken places. Those are the teams that figure out how to win titles.”
- Matt Doyle, The Armchair Analyst, September 19, 2016
I used to describe Major League Soccer’s regular season (or I did once) as an extended dress rehearsal that leads up to the playoffs. I think the quote above adds a wrinkle to the thought and a good one, in that it hits at some challenges that my shorter version understates. As each of MLS’s 20 teams work to become one of the two casts tapped for the final production (MLS Cup), circumstances force them to throw understudies onto the stage if their first-choice leads fall ill (or just start sucking) and, when both the lead and understudy fail, they suddenly have find entirely new actors, get them caught up on the script, the blocking, etc. As if that’s not complicated enough, some key players get to acting up on the set, so the, uh, money guys (? referees...look, it’s not a perfect analogy) send them off to rehab (fines/suspensions), and that just blows more holes in the cast, and so on. Next thing you know, the sets on fire, the director’s banging the producer, and someone forgot the goddamn breakfast spread.

Anyway, enjoying the MLS regular season is about enjoying that team-molding/team-building process, really, as opposed to the individual match results. It’s working those casts into shape, so they won’t melt under the spotlight when the competition to reach the final production really heats up.

Speaking of process, I’m working toward posting to this space only once a week. I’m not exactly growing the audience (I’d like to thank erratic posting and jumping between platforms for their contribution), and, to be open about it, so long as not all that many people are reading either of them, I’m just more interested in posting other stuff right now. I figure it’s my irrelevance, so I may as well enjoy it. Anyway, I plan on posting on Mondays and to lead with Portland Timbers stuff, while still going global as I reasonably/brief(ish)ly can on the rest. I’m less interested in total coverage than perspective and talking points. I’ll see how that pans out and go on from there. OK, turning now to a fairly regular (and final) preview-only post...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Timbers Crack Philadelphia's Bell; PLUS, MLS Week (Probably) 29, the Results That Mattered

The only, ONLY setting where I'd take a Mattocks MVP pick.
The Portland Timbers picked up a required (2-1) win over the Philadelphia Union this past Saturday (this is per a twitter poll, in which 49% of 65 voters deemed this a 100%-must-win game, and with 35% of those same number sticking it at a still-high 85% must-win). Yes, it was a good win, Portland put up a lot of chances (Philly did all right, too), the usual suspects for Portland had their usual good nights, but, honestly, raise your hand (even if I’m calling you a fucking liar before I even get to the meat of the sentence) if you saw Darren Mattocks having the game of his life in Timbers green last Saturday night.

And, to people in the Philly area, give Keegan Rosenberry a hug if you see him. For Darren Mattocks did have a most indecent way with the promising rookie.

I’ll go deep on that later (what? No, not the Rosenberry thing? A joke!!), but, in a twist, I’m going to slip my usual “Results that Mattered” in Major League Soccer’s Week...29(?) into this post before diving deep into the Portland Timbers (like any good, or even aspiring business, I’m consolidating, streamlining produc...I mean, content. Of course I mean content). And, so...

The Results That Mattered, MLS Week (Probably) 29 (in one/two paragraph(s)):
In spite of my perception that they sometimes looked better than their hosts, the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps quite likely put an end to the latter’s playoff dreams, but, I gotta say, Kasey Keller is wrong in slipping in the loose notion of “putting the ball into a dangerous area," because Seattle’s one, thin goal came from patience and smart player movement; if the Montreal Impact were anything but hide-yer-eyes shit at home (ask their fans! they’ll tell you (see the deluge of “boos!” at half-time and the final whistle), I’d rate New England’s trio of (nice) goals (in the 3-1 win), and their comparative quality a little higher, but Montreal is in something close to total collapse…I mean, Ignacio Piatti missed a sure goal (no video, dammit), and is that Famine I see trotting down the hill?; I’m less impressed by Columbus Crew SC’s 4-1 blowout win over Orlando City SC than I am wondering how anything but immaturity doesn’t make a team shift away from defending that badly/high; meanwhile, in the Rockies, Real Salt Lake and Houston put on an affair so desperately boring (and yet so suggestive of a fairly real slowdown in Utah) that Alex Lima’s lone pickpocket goal against a clearly-bewildered Jonathan Stertzer (who had company) felt like poking a corpse with a stick - and that's a bad sign for an RSL team who played scared and confused when they need to be swinging smartly; shifting eastward a little, wouldn’t you know it, but that beautiful bastard Landon Donovan not only scored a slick, meaningful equalizer to make a 2-2 road draw against Sporting Kansas City, he made the approach play that lead to it fluid (shit!); finally, the New York Red Bulls reminded the league that they, and Bradley Wright-Phillips can score at goddamn will...all while proving that they give up goals in something painfully close to the same spirit.

The deeper story of Week...this past week is this: Major League Soccer’s top teams, the very best, firing-on-all-cylinders crowd (e.g. FC Dallas, New York City FC, Toronto and the Red Bulls; UPDATE: throwing the LA Galaxy into this mix...think I'm done...yeah), punch close to even and put on fantastically entertaining games. All this gives me high hopes for the finals. And now, to turn the conversation elsewhere, here are the rest of the results, the ones that so predictable, so irrelevant, that no one but their truest fans would give a cold, wet shit to hear even one word more about them.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Portland v. Philly Preview (And Obsessing Over Nagbe) and MLS Snapshot 09 17 2016

A glimpse behind the scenes.
Still tinkering around the goddamn lab, moving around chemicals, playing with lasers, etc.; I'm basically trying to invent a method that will allow me to provide good coverage of Major League Soccer, while watching more than I read and posting shorter.

And, yes, this is an extraordinarily stupid predicament. But I have a special purpose. I just know it.

At any rate, I want to get back to previewing the weekend stuff, not so much to say what’ll happen (because, it won’t), but to look at trends for each of MLS’s 20 teams (or where they exist). These might predict results, but they’re more interesting insofar as they continue narratives, and more interesting still when they disrupt them. Anyway, Starting with the fresh, local angle...say, did you hear about that dogfight down the road?

Portland Timbers (10-11-8) v. Philadelphia Union (11-10-8)
(3 p.m. PST, Saturday, September 17)
The fact that the MLS Show (or whatever they call that particular iteration of the studio show with Russ Thaler and Calen Carr) brought up Darlington Nagbe – specifically, citing his one goal on the season (true), followed by the question of “what does he have to do” to guide/push/encourage/urge/drag the Portland Timbers into the post-season – deep breath – that allows me to pretend that I’m responding to that point as opposed to picking at a scab that I’ve removed, oh, 20 times over the past two seasons. Calen Carr then went on to identify Nagbe as part of Portland’s top three players – e.g. the triumvirate of Nagbe, Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi.

The great big fallacy in there is this: Nagbe does not lead. Apart from the spell to start 2015, when Valeri's absence foisted the responsibility upon him, Nagbe has never lead the team. He might be the Timbers' most talented player, but, when he takes the field, he just goes out there and does...that. "That" works better in some games than in others, but it's always just...that – e.g., an essentially random series of events, some of them combining power and elegance at a level that's rare in MLS. But, broadly, it is and remains...that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

MLS Review, Week 27, 09 12 2016: Global Player Management, Best GKs, and Weird Players on Your Roster

No. It's nothing. Just how MLS sets up its playoffs.
Only one thing to lead with tonight: I want substitutions and, more importantly, injuries (dunno, like Sebastian "Fucking" Giovinco going down a couple weeks back?) included in the 20-minute games. I mean, how am I supposed to avoid reading anything about soccer when this basic, essential information never comes out? Wait, what? So you’re telling me that I can’t get out of this? Goddammit...

Wait, one more: thank you, New England, for that great, big yellow reminder of the bad old days, the goddamn football lines days. Get your own goddamn stadium, Bob Kraft. You've got the goddamn money.

On the plus side, check it out: same format two weeks running. Hey...this one might stick...

Week 27: Results That Mattered (In Brief)
Sure, Orlando City SC started the week by tearing through the Montreal Impact, but that whole affair had enough of a ball rolling downhill vibe to make the equally lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy (complete with this classy peach; and wouldn't you assume that Alan Gordon and Jelle Van Damme get along just swell?) feel closer to the Floridians actual level; LA, meanwhile, saw the generally stable Brian Rowe reduce (one link/name per gaffe) what could have been a stellar week into a merely great one, not that LA looks like anything but rolling all the sudden (first choice defense helped tons-ish); more than a few games turned on struggling teams showing why they’re struggling, as the Philadelphia Union did when they drew a Montreal team that they would have beat comfortably had the quality and variety of their attack found a compliment in their (still too young/error-prone back line); the most telling result of the week came when a struggling Vancouver Whitecaps team rolled over a dying Columbus Crew team (seriously, Gregg Berhalter’s the next coach to go), a game that not only saw Erik Hurtado finally presented with a ball that not even he could miss, but one that the commentating crew perfectly/accidentally summed up the broad situation for both teams when they noted that “a tie doesn’t really help either of these teams”; going the other way, New York City FC finally had the loss everyone expected of them against the New England Revolution (and in some style for the home team), a detail that’s only slightly less surprising than the fact that NYCFC has been mostly healthy for as long as they have with so many broken hips waiting to happen on that roster; elsewhere, the Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson single-handedly undermined his team’s (contemporarily pointless) revival with an inexcusably stupid outlet pass and Oscar Pareja went nothing-or-double on FC Dallas’ perfect home record against the Colorado Rapids and the Rapids won, Dominique Badji shit all over that, and is playing with Tim Howard like playing with a SUPER-athletic version of your dad (e.g. permanent inadequacy?); don’t let the Seattle Sounders’ draw versus/at the San Jose Earthquakes fool you, because they stole that point on a fluky free kick (and from a player who was, per the 20-minute version, largely invisible throughout; and, finally, Bill Hamid is god, don’t you ever, ever forget it, because the New York Red Bulls, who well, truly and broadly outplayed DC United on Sunday but still drew them 2-2, never will.

The Results That, Honestly, No One But Their Fans Give One Wet Shit About
Sporting Kansas City 3-3 Houston Dynamo
Portland Timbers 1-0 Real Salt Lake (well, it did and it didn’t; more here)

OK, moving on to the “ranking” segment. I changed the names of the groupings below with an eye to better fitting each MLS club into the grand scheme of the 2016 season. Rather than get too cute with this (bad habit), I just explain the terms as I mean them next to each title.

Great (Almost certainly in the playoffs and good enough to reach MLS Cup)
FC Dallas
New York City FC
New York Red Bulls
Toronto FC
Los Angeles Galaxy

Good (Good for playoffs, less good for MLS Cup)
DC United
Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
Philadelphia Union
Portland Timbers

Bloat (Might go home early (no playoffs) or late, but they’re mostly filling bloated playoffs)
New England Revolution
Montreal Impact
Orlando City SC
Seattle Sounders FC
Vancouver Whitecaps

Dead (Nothing left, but making another team feel as shitty as they do)
Chicago Fire
San Jose Earthquakes
Columbus Crew SC
Houston Dynamo

That’s how I see them, loosely, even as I acknowledge that some of it probably reads as downright weird – e.g., why DC, a team currently outside the playoffs rates higher than Montreal, and equal to Philadelphia. I respond (right or wrong) by pointing to trends and structure: DC is hardly tearing it up (two wins, two loses, six draws in their last 10, 12 points), but their “bones” look better than the other two, and Montreal...well, they’re sinking (three wins, four losses and three draws...wait, 12 points). Then again, for all the crapping I did on Philly above, their (narrowly) out-performing DC generally (three wins, four draws, three losses; 13 points). There’s also the thing with keeping Seattle in the “Bubble” mix while casting aside San Jose, something that’s especially odd given that San Jose should have won that game, and on a couple levels. The thing is, they didn’t. And results matter now.

What can I say? I like speculation...and, to close out, here are 10 more things I like/hate:

1) Best GKs in MLS
It was well before DC clawed the rest of the way back into that draw against the Red Bulls that Taylor Twellman set Bill Hamid apart as something special within the universe of MLS goalkeepers. Nick Rimando made that cut, too (and for good reason; as I tweeted today, some Portland parents will be able to terrify their children into behaving by telling them that “Rimando will get them” if they don’t), but that only got me wondering about what other MLS teams have ‘keepers on the same level. For me, the more remarkable detail comes with the guys who are falling off, e.g. the ‘Caps David Ousted and, lately, even the Union’s Andre Blake; these guys are still solid, the latter especially has huge upside, but, more than any other, ‘keeper is a position where the colossal fuck-ups stick around. Outside Hamid (who is a legit freak), I think the list of the true saviors is pretty damn short. Maybe Andre Blake, but he’s showing some wear (I still have faith, kid!). I dunno, maybe Luis Robles? The point is, it’s a select group, so teams that have that lock-down ‘keeper should feel blessed.

2) Shelf-Life and Revival
A phrase that kept popping up in New England’s win over NYCFC was this: “That was the first goal since _______ for _______.” That’s as decent, if broad, a shorthand as you’re going to find for what went wrong with the Revs this year and, arguably last: “underperformance,” in a word. It’s less surprising when perennial strugglers like, say, Juan Agudelo...well, struggle (and credit to him for recognizing just how badly NYCFC organized on this one), but what happened to a sky’s-the-limit player like Lee Nguyen between 2014 and today? Or even supporting cast studs like Kelyn Rowe (who also had a game) and Diego Fagundez (who didn’t have so much a game, as a moment, again, courtesy (in part) of Agudelo). Good players are the guys who do it year after year after year, your Bradley Wright-Phillips’ and your Chris Wondolowskis (I love that phrasing, like there are dozens of them all over). The real question, though, is when and how New England’s once-Golden generation reclaims its potential. That win over NYCFC, and their second goal in particular, hasn’t happened so much since, well, 2014.

3) On the (Short/Long?) Road to Respectability
Like more than a few players in MLS, Fabian Herbers was a terror against Montreal (watched all of that one) until that final, defining moment when he wasn’t – e.g. when it was time for the kill. Herbers stands in neatly for the Union as a whole, a team that’s young, full of promise...and that’s where it ends, with the promise. Philly might very well have the best stable of game-changing players off the bench – e.g. Ilsinho (who came into 2016 heavy, but, so, when he can make that many men look silly), the clinical Roland Alberg, and, now, Charlie Davies. That’s just 1) off the bench, and 2) a shit-stack of variety. Those are some of the best subs in the league. The Union also added veteran sacrifice/savvy in Alejandro Bedoya, a player who looks like he checks a lot of the key “leadership” boxes that the Union needs. But that’s the rub: it’s not just Herbers, but the entire goddamn defense that has to come good before Philly can become a fixture in the Eastern Conference. It’s a cool project, though, because that’s what they’re after. Pulling it off, figuring out when to pull the plug and on whom when the inevitable sophomore slump comes? That’s going to take a shit-ton of brain power. Good times, though. I mean, what’s not to love?

4) Houston’s Salvage Project
Coming at it now, from the other side, when you look at the Dynamo’s doomed, yet improving roster, who do you keep from that bunch? I mean, this is a tough, tough roster to decipher, and not just because so many of its key players are older – e.g. Ricardo Clark, DaMarcus Beasley, or even Boniek Garcia. Then there’s the defense, a collection of guys that took Collen Warner to make ‘em work even close to effectively. So, I guess that’s your starting point: Warner, but who else? For me, you start with Alex Lima, who has been the brightest spot for them; after that it’s Will Bruin, Raul Rodriguez (who, for the record, I used to hate), Clark till he’s 35, Sebastian Igbeagha (why not?), Sheanon Williams and Joe Willis. The rest aren’t irredeemable, average don’t always play average (see, David Horst), but, like Philly (and probably every club in MLS) there’s a core here, and one young enough to build toward something…replacing Clark and Beasley, though, that’s the first step. God knows how you do it, but carefully.

5) Pareja/Cassar: When to Play with House Money
A couple teams gambled on my theory of squad rotation this past weekend, none more so than Dallas’ Oscar Pareja (who has done this before, and with worse results). I’d argue RSL’s Jeff Cassar did the same when he rested Javier Morales for Jordan Allen, or even Chris Schuler for either Jamison Olave (he was suspended, yes?) or Aaron Maund. Dallas, however, serves as a better poster-boy for the project. Dallas sits atop the Western Conference standings, and the league as a whole, and they play tomorrow night in the U.S. Open Cup final, which means there’s a trophy on the line, and that’s when you need your best players, right? They also had that season-long home undefeated streak in their back pocket, too, but it didn’t pan out, and that only made it more fascinating to watch Dallas throw on one star after another (first, Mauro Diaz, then Mauro Rosales, then Michael Barrios) to keep the home undefeated streak live. Still, they tried to keep it live cheaply as possible, and, well there it is. This bears watching, obviously: if Dallas wins the triple, or even the double, or even just one trophy, what does that say? RSL’s situation was no less interesting – I mean, they have to rest JaviMo – but their margins? Thinner. It’s not an all-purpose solution, the squad rotation thing. That’s all I’m getting at.

6) The Tricky Game of Finding Roles, Solignac Edition
The one thing that stood out in (the greatly condensed version of) Chicago’s loss to Toronto was both the volume and (broad) imprecision of the Fire’s pressure on Toronto. Chicago is, without question, a better team than when they started the season (to what extent, however, do they belong in the conversation at #3 above?), but they’re merely serviceable in too many spots – and no one better fits that conundrum than the oft-starting Luis Solignac. As he’s demonstrated over two teams, he barely qualifies as a striker. And yet, he’s not entirely ineffective, at with the caveat that any team he plays on wants him shooting on goal as little as possible. His movement’s good, he passes well…the whole thing becomes a trick of taking the skills a player has and making them work in a system. All I’m saying is that I don’t know that teams enough teams think about this with sufficient flexibility. Chicago might need some guys, but they don’t need an overhaul. Might be closer than Houston in the end.

7) Ciman Superman (and an Attendant Theory)
This one’s simple: Laurent Ciman chases balls wide too much , he goes forward too much, he (probably) insists on taking free-kicks, etc. The Belgian might very well have more talent in his left hamstring than all but his best teammates have in their entire bodies, but sucking at delegating is sucking at delegating. I feel like a couple coaches have lost their locker rooms, a list that starts with Gregg Berhalter, but one that meanders in the vicinity of Montreal. Between Ciman and Didier Drogba, a man who looks as interested in what he’s doing as I did when I pulled down that epic 2.3 GPA in the third quarter of my sophomore year in college, I wonder if Mauro Biello doesn’t have more ego to manage than he can handle. Ciman would do his team a big damn solid by holding that backline together, y’know, his primary mission?

8) Seattle, San Jose, and Bodies of Work in the West
(This was surprisingly hard for me to parse, but) Seattle went into their road game against San Jose with a 9-13-4 record; San Jose hosted them at 7-8-11. The Western Conference is actually lousy with losing records – e.g. see Vancouver’s 9-13-7, or even SKC’s 11-12-6 – but I still can’t quite put my finger on how the ‘Quakes look like the best of the bunch while not actually being the best of the bunch. Whoops. Forgot one: Portland is a thoroughly middling 10-11-8. What do you call this? Parity? Mediocrity? ‘Quakes excepted (or are they?), just about every one of those clubs had very good reasons to believe things would look better by now. So, why didn’t’ they?

9) It’s Where You Play ‘Em
While this follows a pattern similar to #6, it’s a bit different (if only in my mind). This past week, two players who suited up in Orlando purple – Matias Perez Garcia (MPG), and Brek Shea - looked more comfortable than either of them had in a while. I think I know how/why this applies to Shea – i.e., he’s not that great a defender, plus he’s a better presence closer to goal, he knows it, we know it, so, what’s with the fullback experiment? – but MPG actually makes for the more interesting argument. San Jose tasked MPG with play-making, something he wasn’t bad at, even as he is/was no Diego Valeri (or list your favorite creative player here). What I saw MPG doing this past week, though, and this was over a combined 40 minutes of action, was serve as a decent foil for slick little pass-‘n’-move sequences that split through a pair of teams’ (Montreal and LA) defenses. I understand that there’s a landing process for just about any player, but it is striking how Orlando seems to have found a better fit for MPG than San Jose (who is very system-driven) managed to land on. It’s probably a scouting thing, at least on the front end, but how often do teams miss what they’ve got?

10) Donovan. Goddammit
He came back, he acknowledged that it didn’t go so good, but, well, what to make of it? It’s got potential, even if, in part, it’s just another mystery to sort out in LA’s attack. The thing that’s sorta good/sorta fucked up about the whole thing, at least from LA’s perspective, is that they’ve got a new once-maybe-again-reliable path to/into goal that few teams in the league have game-planned for, and he’s probably likely to hit his stride in, oh, October, maybe November. Thereabouts. Hm.

OK, that’s it. Back next week...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Timbers 1-0 Real Salt Lake: On Date Night and Silver Linings

Hmm...Movsisystem what dear?
I'm going to start this post by stating that I am happily married.

My wife and I go on date night every week, virtually without fail. It's a good practice, keeps us closer, attuned to one another in a one-on-one setting, etc. Most nights we do fine, some nights we fucking kill it, while other nights, well, they don't go so great. Maybe one of us enjoys it while the other one doesn't (a shit night of bowling/pinball does that), or maybe neither of us enjoy it and we spend the night staring glumly at the TV mulling over whether to say the thing that's really on our minds. No, not the thing I read in Cosmopolitan while buying groceries. The deep stuff...

Last night, when I tweeted/alluded that the Portland Timbers 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake left me less than thrilled, that's the vein I'm tapping. Yes, the Timbers won, and yes, that's a good thing. Honest to god, I'm happy, because sometimes a team just needs the result, because what's that but the chance to do it better the next time? That only gets more true in the post-season, and the post-season's coming. And that's good, and that's bad. I mean, we all know this by now, right? Right?

But that's what made the whole thing, well, kind of a shitty date night. Yeah, the Timbers won, yeah, they ran the gambit of "c" words on the way to getting there – e.g. capable, competent, composed, corpulent, crispy, CONCACAF, etc. – but the Timbers made only two clear chances (all half-chances besides), and they buried only one of those, and that was against an RSL that didn't pull much together. There wasn't a lot of threat coming toward Portland's goal, and Portland didn't do a raging lot going the other way, so, yeah, it was the soccer equivalent of a mediocre dinner, a brief, unresolved argument about what to do after, and the whole thing ending with getting stoned and watching something funny enough till you both pass out. #Bliss

I'm going to start the deeper dive with RSL, because how badly they sputtered gets to why it feels hard to get excited about this, a home win (more later). If you put a hand to someone's forehead and he/she couldn't sort out how to get around it, that's about where RSL was for most of last night (more later). Part of it was rotation – e.g. the decision to spell Javier Morales by starting Jordan Allen, or giving Chris Schuler (very good when whole) the start over [?] – but it came up short. Even when the right guys got on the ball – e.g. Joao Plata, Juan "Burrito" Martinez, and Yura "Cheatin' Heart" Movsisyan – they couldn't get clicking cleanly enough to do damage. They had a couple shots, they might have even "come on late" provided one defines that loosely enough, but, the cleaner narrative points to last night's win as a case of the road team defending pretty well, only to fall victim to one fatal (shockingly slow-motion) slip.

Look, Portland won. And I am happy. See? I'm smiling. Right now, I'm totally smiling. Grinning, even.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

MLS Snapshot, 09 06 2016: Small Week, Larger Conclusions

It was a shrunken weekend in Major League Soccer (THANK GOD!), which leaves me with fewer variables to wrestle into some kind of coherent shape. One thing, though, before getting into everything.

First, I'm only realizing now just how idiosyncratically soccer allows people to view it. While this applies to every sport (eh, who'm I kidding? We're special!!), soccer's wide open enough that it can be played just about any way one can imagine. I'm not envisioning a team winning the league playing a 9-1-1 or anything, so much as I'm pointing to almost infinite variables even within practical constraints of the modern game...and, ugh, nothing’s more tedious than someone saying, "you need X in the modern game." That’s nonsense, and ridiculous. We know this because someone always comes up with the next thing. Or they play something throw-back, like New York City FC did early in the season when they (allegedly) brought back the "W-M." (Did they really? Maybe. It was just something I read somewhere, but not there, but same point.)

Anyway, just tinkering with the layout this week. Starting with...

Week 26: Results That Mattered (In Brief)
No, it wasn't close - it was almost embarrassing by the end (poor, poor Ken Tribbett; see below) – but the bigger take-away from the Chicago Fire's 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union is that Chicago's rounding into one of those end-of-season nightmares for any team pushing for the playoffs; New York City FC continued its swashbuckling rip through the Eastern Conference with DC United slashing scimitars at their butts in a last-gasp(-ish) 3-2 win; it was the details (see #8 below) of the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2-1 "goal-too-far" win that made the day so utterly depressing for Columbus Crew SC's fans; finally, the Colorado Rapids' flailingly impotent attack tells the tale of their 2-0 loss at the New England Revolution, but could it also tell the tale of a late-season collapse/early duck out of the playoffs?

The Results That, Honestly, No One But Their Fans Give One Wet Shit About
Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Red Bull New York (because Vancouver is cursed/hapless/awful)

There might have been another result in there...oh, never mind. It must not have been important (!!!). Anyway, moving on...

Monday, September 5, 2016

Downed by Dallas: Some Cheap Hope and a Remedy

I call it Plan P. You WILL remember!
I was able to believe that the Portland Timbers would find their way back into the game for quite a while. Until the 53rd minute, to put a number on it. That I felt like Portland had a chance against FC Dallas going in very likely had something to do with it; I mean, who doesn't want to see his/her hunches confirmed? And it's not like the Timbers didn't give people reason to hope: about five minutes after Dallas' opener a long ball from Liam Ridgewell found Lucas Melano over the top, who forced an error from Dallas 'keeper Chris Seitz, and one big enough to keep Dallas' defense dancing for a few full seconds. Even after Dallas raised the margin for victory to 2-0 at the very end of the first half, Melano meandered across the top of Dallas' attacking third, a move that, 1) threw off Dallas' defense and, 2) put him in position to later thunder a shot off the crossbar. It didn't go in, nor did Fanendo Adi's follow-up header. Still, think what drawing first blood in the second half could have meant to the contest. Or think what an answer to Dallas' first (soft) goal five minutes after it happened could have meant.

That paragraph above is loaded with a whole lotta what-might-have-been. Things felt decidedly over, sadly, once Walker "I Make 'O' Faces" Zimmerman blasted the ball over Jack Jewsbury's head and past Portland 'keeper Jake Gleeson for Dallas' third, final, and entirely sufficient goal in the ultimate 3-1 win (and with Steven Taylor clinging to Zimmerman's jersey like a damsel begging him not to leave). Zimmerman's goal launched the inquiry, basically, into what went wrong in Dallas this past Saturday.

I thought I had a pretty good narrative, one that I typed into my phone on the (long, almost interminable, really) train ride home. Those notes flagged details like a reminder of Portland's better days, back when the double pivot worked, germs of a theory on why Ridgewell and S. Taylor (goddammit, guys; sign fewer Taylors!) make for a lousy tandem, a belief that Dallas turned Diego Valeri invisible in the second half, and, finally, they argued that the Timbers have a "wing" problem. It all sounded very simple, basically.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

MLS Snapshot, 09 01 2016: (Loose) Rankings, 10 Topics, Timbers v. FCD Preview

See what I did there? "Review" became "Snapshot," and instead of tying this post to Week [DON'T CARE!], I just typed in the date, today’s date. That one little change just freed me to post on MLS without thinking about the day of the week. I’ll still try to avoid stale content...just less neurotically.

Uh, what else? Generally, I won't talk much about specific results, not unless my timing lands just right, or if there's something that I didn't see or hear someone else pick up on (in my incredibly infrequent forays into the news) (A choice that totally rules out bringing up (for long) Toronto FC’s Game of Total Loss v. the Montreal Impact (see injuries) – but, while we're here, I think they'll weather it; Toronto survived Giovinco's scoring drought and Jozy's back besides; I think they're a little likelier for the Shield than they are for MLS Cup). In the end, I think most games possess a certain je ne sais quoi, res ipsa loquitur, so it's best to just assume that most people have clocked the results and watched all the videos they're going to by the time they find me. By and large, I want this to be a space for stretching the envelope (too far), conflating small data points into burgeoning trends, and Magical Thinking (e.g., creative, and ultimately pointless, leaps).

I'm kidding. I do my best to stay grounded, but I really do love playing with puzzle pieces, even the ones I can't actually get my hands on. With that in mind, here's what I hope, pray, and shall hereafter strive to achieve in these Snapshot posts: