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.

Chicago Fire 2-2 DC United (DC ties ably on the road; bad news for their playoff opponents)
Portland Timbers 2-1 Philadelphia Union (Look, the rest of the post is about this)
New York City FC 2-2 FC Dallas (best teams battled and it looked like it, too)
Colorado Rapids 0-0 San Jose Earthquakes (holy shit, did this game look dull as advertised)

So, there’s that. Now, to get back to Portland, which means getting back to Darren Mattocks, holy shit, did that cat have a game. More things went right, and more players had good nights, but, so far as I’m concerned God owes Mattocks the goal he should have put past the Union’s Andre Blake (no video?! Unconscionable; scorned even by the A/V department). I mean, looking at the thing (were you able to), that save surely cost Blake some part of his soul. (Mild) exaggeration aside, I’m comfortable calling Mattocks the majority shareholder of the two goals Portland scored, even he actually needed Diego Valeri’s hard run to score the first and even if Fanendo Adi’s touch might have been decisive for Portland’s second. None of this would have happened had Mattocks not tortured Rosenberry so…yeah, let’s go super-villain, so exquisitely, to leave the rookie twisting, doubting his own ability, even his very place in the universe...I pity the youngster his dark night of the soul. (Kidding. It probably took just a couple drinks and well-timed bro-hugs to make Rosenberry feel whole again.)

So, yeah, even allowing for that missed free header Mattocks had a great night. But (surely you saw this coming), there’s a question in there that neither can nor should go away: where the hell was that all year? Does Mattocks require a rookie counterpart to shine so brightly? If one takes the body of Mattocks’ MLS work, and if one considers his unfortunate boast-diction (that’s the issue from a boast mating with a prediction) that he would score 20 goals in a season back when he played for the Vancouver Whitecaps, the way Mattocks played last night begs the question of where all that focus and control went to hide for…hate to say it, but the balance of his career?

You know who should be mulling over that same question more than any other Timbers player? Lucas Melano. Has Melano had a night as a Timber as dominant as the performance Mattocks put in Saturday afternoon? I’m not saying that he hasn’t; I’m just saying that I can’t remember one and, yes, this part of the conversation will never go away, and I don’t think it should, but how anyone call Melano worth the price the club paid?

I’m going hard on that point for the simple reason that production from the wings defined the difference between Saturday’s game and any one of the many past games where the Timbers failed to get production from the wings. It’s the difference between eating at the big-kid’s table and begging for scraps. What Mattocks did to Rosenberry complemented the good, reliable work that Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi do week in and out for the Timbers; it gave them room to work, opportunities to isolate against defenders one on one. Wing play matters, basically, and you feel the season-long absence when you see it come together. And so, and this comes from a place of love: again. No, seriously, if Mattocks or Melano want continued employment with this particular, best team in the Pacific Northwest, again. We need to see it again, so, AGAIN.

Beyond that, the game played out pretty close to what I expected – e.g. lots of back and forth, a goal pulled back (almost immediately), high tempo, Adi running over Philly’s youthful defenders with his body, guys like Richie Marquez (victimized on the 2nd, decisive goal) and poor Joshua Yaro, e.g. the guy who split the shit sandwich with Rosenberry, and who got sent off before game’s end. There’s one other thought to pick up from my late (late, late) preview post, and that’s where Portland played Darlington Nagbe. They (well, “they,” because I don’t actually know who “they” are, as in the people who feed the line-ups to the broadcast crew) listed Nagbe as the other wing, but, based on what I saw, he dropped deep and inside often as not, where I want to see him play, really. Oh, and Nagbe coulda got a call when Yaro (again) swung a foot at his head as Nagbe was about to nod home a third, unrecoverable goal for Portland (that’s a word? “Unrecoverable?” That’s lazy, people). Nagbe wasn’t bad or anything. Per the preview, he was just...that.

I didn’t catch how many shots Adi created until I re-watched the mini-game today, but he played a bigger role than I saw at first viewing. Diego Chara also had a big influential night and, personally, I’d like to think that Chara’s recent run of form has calmed the (somewhat justified) grumbles about the Timbers’ defensive midfield; the tandem that features Jack Jewsbury playing deep-ish (and handling set pieces) while Chara searches/destroys/surges forward feels like it’s working, if only at home...

...and that’s the real test, isn’t it? How all this plays on the road? Three of Portland’s last four games come on the road, so it needs to travel well, if not to make the playoffs, but to hit them with that certain spring in the step that all Timbers fans want to see? As much as I like the loose line-up I dropped into that playoff post, I don’t think that the Timbers are actually playing that far from it. As often noted in this space, formations are lies, propaganda to beguile enemy intelligence…so, to put that another way, I think this is as good as it gets, for good or ill.

OK, two more thoughts before shutting up shop for a few:

Pick Your Poison...and Pray It’s Not Poison
In all honesty, I think a lot of the gushing about Mattocks above grows from shock. The Jamaican has matches like this…annually? Twice a year at most? There’s Melano waiting in the wings, of course, but my one thought here is this (and this assumes that Caleb Porter isn’t deploying both/either player with an eye to the opposition): I want to see Porter choose between Melano and Mattocks and stick with him through the rest of the season. In spite of what just happened, I’m not sure which player I’d choose between them. What I will say is this: go with the guy who’s most comfortable playing wide, and in isolation against defenders. I make this case on the theory that Portland needs width in the attacking third, because that opens up space for the rest of the attack, gives them channels to run in, etc. Whichever player Porter believes is best qualified to deliver that, well, that player has my vote, my support, even my willingness to do his laundry once in a while.

Dropping to the Point of No Return
On at least two occasions in the 50-60th minute, I saw Portland’s defenders lined up in something close to a line of four deeper than the six yard box. There may be some sound theory of defending that says this is OK, but I only know that makes me damned uncomfortable, mostly for the way that posture almost inevitably leaves space between the defenders and the midfield inside the 18-yard-box. I’ve said it before and, with apologies to that magnificent dead horse, the Timbers should not pair two defensive midfielders who like to keep the game in front of them at all costs/until the game is no longer in front of them. Someone needs to step up and neither Liam Ridgwell, nor Steven Taylor seems interested or willing. So, again, why not try someone new. It's not like Taylor's killin' it in there.

OK, that’s it. As we all no doubt know, Portland faces the Houston Dynamo next weekend, and in Houston. I watched (as much as I could stand of) the Dynamo’s Saturday game against Real Salt Lake (25 awful, awful minutes; took meth, still struggled). I’ll be scouting Houston later this week, but, the short version goes like this: so long as the Timbers don’t cough up the ball in dumb places, they’re a decent bet, at least, to pick up all three points. Till then, oder bis spater.

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