Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On Nagbe, and Rallying the Wounded

Klinsi v. Nagbe
A nice, very Will-Parchman-esque post went up yesterday asking whether the Portland Timbers Darlington Nagbe sabotaged his chances of playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team for so long as Jurgen Klinsmann may reign thereover by refusing an invite to the friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand. First, confession time: I totally missed this whole chain of events; honest, I thought Nagbe was not only in camp, but also on the roster; turns out he wasn’t and, factually, I still don’t care. Second, I think Nagbe made the right decision, because 1) bullshit friendlies; 2) he would have played chump minutes, assuming he played any minutes at all; 3) Nagbe’s club very much needed him more, trust me on this.

Parchman’s piece dwelt on the lose-lose nature of this dynamic – i.e., Nagbe screwed himself due to Klinsmann’s essentially vengeful (petty? let’s go with petty) nature, while Klinsmann hurt the National Team by losing a player of Nagbe’s…particular set of skills – but there was one phrase in the whole mess that, me being me, I zeroed in on:
“…it’s fair to say Klinsmann was still attempting to figure out where Nagbe fit in his ever-shifting tactical construct.”
Isn’t this universal, really? Or, to phrase this as an actual question, have the Timbers figured out where Nagbe fits, really?

In spite of playing one of his better attacking games of the season last weekend, this space has argued, and probably will always argue, that Nagbe isn’t a winger. There are multiple reasons for this (e.g. disposition, proclivity, where Nagbe makes the most difference, etc.), but, yes, I believe Nagbe’s best in the middle and I’m good sticking to that argument. Dissuade me if you wanna.

What stood out for me still more – and this is both for club and country - was the question of who Caleb Porter and/or Klinsmann should pair/combine with Nagbe in that central role, if/when he goes there. Portland’s close, or as close as they’re gonna get for now, with Nagbe as a “winger” that drops deep for the ball to help with transition/make surging runs from deep (again, not a winger) with Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury playing behind him. There will be an adjustment next season when Jewsbury retires, and there’s always the hope that the Timbers can thin Nagbe’s support system (for that is how I see it) down to one player (e.g. Chara, but not Chara) to get a little more into the attack, BUT, but that need for cover is sort of the problem. It’s the subtext of all the frustration with Nagbe.

To bring this back to the U.S. Men and Klinsmann, part of me doesn’t blame him for taking a pass on Porter’s perennial headache. For all his skill, Nagbe presents a square-peg problem for any roster. (Just to flag it, tho, Parchman’s copy on Klinsmann’s tactical approach is good, dark comedy.) To rephrase that, why would anyone think Klinsmann, a man who’s more motivational speaker than coach, would have the chops to solve a problem like Darling?

I do want to close this section by putting a question to one and all, myself included: how would you get Nagbe to a place where he’s never been before – e.g. into a U.S. Men’s starting eleven? How would you make him work in there? Yep, that’s a head-scratcher.

Rallying the Wounded
As all Timbers fans know, the team has two must-win games over the next five days (tonight, v. Deportivo Saprissa and on Sunday v. the Vancouver Whitecaps). And, as most Portland Timbers fans know (look, sorry, but I’m catching up) have some…challenges when it comes to available personnel, some certain, some probable. To start with what we know:

Ben Zemanski is out for both games, but he’s been out for most of the!

Fanendo Adi out for tonight’s game, but he’ll be around for Vancouver.

Both Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell will be out for the Vancouver game due to yellow card suspension. (That’s bad., just unequivocably.)

Diego Valeri and Jack Jewsbury are each hobbled by some form of knock that will limit them to some degree, and probably for both games; the same goes for Darren Mattocks, though the latter can sub, apparently. All three could (reportedly) play both games, but Valeri and Jewsbury seem unlikely tonight and the latest I have is that Mattocks only has substitute minutes in him.

So, how to handle it? With an eye to getting wins out of both must-wins, here’s my vote:

For Saprissa: Seeing as he’s only got one game to give, play Chara as aggressively as possible and, honestly, give Mattocks as many minutes as he can handle, run him and Chara into the ground if you gotta. I’d rest Valeri, period, unless rest won’t cure anything, because it won’t do Portland much good to make the playoffs if Valeri isn’t there. I’d be tempted to start Jermaine Taylor because, barring other options, he’ll be starting Sunday and it seems wise to get him as game-sharp as possible before that. On that same line, do you pair Taylor with Steven Taylor? I get light-headed at just the thought, frankly, but what are our options? (Seriously, WHAT ARE THEY?) I guess Jack McInerney starts at forward, but Porter could start Lucas Melano if he really wants to get jiggy (see below), and I guess that means Grabavoy gets his home swan-song in Jewsbury’s spot. Does this necessitate a formation change or anything? Um…

For Vancouver: Lucas Melano starts, but I’d still push Mattocks for maximum minutes (unless Melano just tears it up against Saprissa…no, I can’t see it either). Adi starts, obviously, but the big question will always be Valeri: do you start him and try to put away the game early, or bring on Valeri late and only if needed (as in Portland’s losing, or it’s a draw). I’m currently leaning toward trying Valeri as a game-changer, and starting Nagbe in front of either Grabavoy/Jewsbury, if Jack can make it, or Grabavoy and…shit, Amobi Okugo? Nick Besler? In defense, does Portland have an option besides Taylor and Taylor (which sounds like both a bad idea and a stuffy insurance agency).

I’ll close with this: I don’t know all of Portland’s options, especially when it comes to T2, so I won’t pretend I do. I invite anyone who feels moved to enlighten me to enlighten me. Otherwise, that’s all I got. In closing, 1) who thought it’d come to this at the start of the season; and 2) who believes Portland’s still in either competition?

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