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.

It's just that, Portland controlled the game without dominating it, and that's what a fan wants to see this late in the season (or am I crazy?). They only played through midfield when Darlington Nagbe decided to break some lines; otherwise, it was hoof the ball over the top to Adi to see what he can make of it (almost a goal, for starters). Honestly, Portland picked up this slim win at home, where they've been good, but what good does a thin win on your preferred terrain mean when one knows that's just postponing inevitable doom so long as Portland can't sort out winning on the road?

That's where the germs of optimism come (halfway!) in!

A Path Forward (on the Wide-Open Road)?
Based on what I saw (live, the 20-minute recap didn't show me shit), the Timbers deployed Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury deep yesterday; the team looked to Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and Darren Mattocks to break out on offense and, when that failed, someone humped it over to Adi to see whether he could knock it down for someone else. Thus the offense suffered (maybe?), but, with both Jewsbury and Chara playing deeper and snuffing out a lot of entry passes, as in, what RSL typically thrives on, the defense thrived. I might not want to see this game-plan at home all that badly, I think this has promise for the road...where Portland will play three of their last four games. Shit. I don't mind this, for the record, because I think Portland has good enough players to steal a game on the cheap. Especially so long as they don't lose that way.

Last Night's Stars (There's a Good Story in Here)
For me, the Timbers' best players last night were Nagbe, Adi and Alvas Powell. Powell not only locked down his side, he looked just a little bit more dangerous going forward; Adi assumed the responsibilities of direct play when (apparently) the Timbers didn't want to play through RSL's midfield; and, finally, Nagbe flipped the script time and again by doing by himself what the team didn’t do on its own (playing through midfield, only by feinting, dribbling, then bolting by the relevant obstacles, rather than passing around it). Powell's great (because lock-down defending is like a warm blanket), and who doesn't like Adi showing (still more) signs of versatility, but nothing satisfied last night like Nagbe's little taste of aggression. I don't care where Nagbe plays aggressive on the field, so long as he does it.

Last Night's Stars, Addendum
I think that's why Portland might consider cheating on defensive cover for the rest of the season: between Valeri, Adi, Nagbe, plus the (the only kind we get) odd winger, and an overlapping/crossing fullback, I think the Timbers can defend with personnel while cheating the offense a bit. Who knows? It might even keep players out of each others' way. Yeah, yeah, it's not glamorous, but it beats coughing up goals and chasing games. I want to see this on the road, and, unless they utterly need the result, at home.

Diego Chara Looks Real, Real Good Lately.
That's all.

Mattocks Melano
While I wish him the best, I don't think Mattocks is the answer for any team except as a forward. Sadly, I can't think of a team risking playing him regularly as a forward, thus his career. Therefore, Lucas Melano, who didn't play last night (for reasons I honestly don't know; sorry), looks like the team's best option at winger, which only means that the Timbers have no great options at winger, including Jack Barmby, though, given the circumstances, are we quite 100% sure on that? Maybe try Vytas Andriuskevius (sp? didn't look...but, shit, that's not right) up there? All I know is – and maybe I'm really late to the convo, but what's really killing Portland this season is a lack of viable width, at least not outside an overlapping fullback; then again, teams need space in the attacking third, channels, that kind of thing. It seems like everyone wants to play/cut inside. And that just makes it crowded. Small wonder Adi works better when he's out in front of everyone...

On the plus side, Portland was up 4 points on all comers last time I checked (this morning), and they've got a home game against the Philadelphia Union next weekend. That's great because, 1) home game, and 2) Philly's struggling to defend of late. The only downside to playing them comes with their multiplicity of attacking options, in terms of both variety and timing. It won't be easy, but, again, the Timbers like home and Adi is hell even for experienced centerbacks. And Philly's centerbacks aren’t experienced.

Steal another three points, steal another day to come up with something lethal. Or just the building blocks for it. The point is progress...


  1. I actually thought Mattocks had a nice game. Love the Date night analogy. That sounds familiar.

  2. I have to admit that I saw Mattocks put in a good cross or two, and he did this nifty move where he took the ball past (think it was) Chris Wingert, so fair point: Mattocks didn't do nothing out there.

    And thanks on the analogy. Had a crap one just this past Friday, so it was fresh....