Saturday, October 1, 2016

Portland Timbers Cash Out in Commerce City

Damn poppies are almost shooting sarin gas by now...
It was always going to be about which team could swipe the till. A smash ‘n’ grab. The Portland Timbers’ Diego Valeri went close a couple times in the first half, real close once, but he never broke through to score. The Colorado Rapids did, though, and on one of Portland’s first real breakdown of the game. Marlon Hairston slipped past Vytas Andriuskevicius (is that right? again, didn’t look it up!), then pinched between the sadly hesitant Scylla (uh…Ned Grababovoy) and Charybdis (Diego Chara; I’ve always been partial to Charybdis), to gallop toward goal close to the end-line; he found Sebastian LeToux wide open near the spot, which left only wrong-footing Jake Gleeson with a reverse to the back post. Then the Rapids set up (more) shop, then Portland died slowly, so slowly…1-0 loss, man. Dammit. There's nothing worse than playing a team that can defend, but can't score.

What a boring game. You're lousy hosts Colorado (No hors d'ouerves?) And yet, it was consequential. Colorado got all three points, plus a playoff berth. The Timbers got nothing. Well, I guess they got a couple things: the flutter of hope in the eye-blink midst of Valeri’s “infiltrator” slips behind enemy lines; also, the question of whether Portland’s most effective attacking option really was having Valeri feed off Fanendo Adi’s knock-downs/scraps lingers, and it should. With the surer options queuing up for the doctor's office, the line-up looked limited from the off. Playing Grabavoy and Nagbe on the wings meant Portland had no wings (which goes some way to explaining the attacking tactics, but it wasn’t a lot, and it isn’t nearly enough, not while running down an ever-narrowing stretch. And now there are just six power-ups (fine, points) left for the Timbers to put toward getting over that sweet, silky red velvet rope….and, dude, if Rihanna’s in there, I’m totally asking for a selfie. My duck face is sick.

There’s not a lot to say about this loss. To get the obvious out of the way, yes, Portland sucks on the road. I've hit Valeri's moments above (for twas all we had) and, after him, Grabavoy was the only player who threatened (feebly), and once should have threatened (where the hell was Diego Chara looking in the 56th minute?) Colorado’s goal. After that, all the things that seemed good relied on assists from Colorado to make it happen. For instance, before anyone argues that the defense looked good today, just pause and think how often the Rapids menaced the Timbers goal outside their one, shining moment. Before I lose that thought, let me just say that, after the past few games, it’s important to note that I don’t think either Liam Ridgewell or Steven Taylor were responsible for that goal. I’m not sure Alvas Powell was either, even though LeToux was probably his man. Look, shit happens fast. Besides, Powell had a great game besides.

The point is, shit happens, shit happened, and the entire game turned on keeping Colorado from scoring a goal before Portland. When they didn’t, all concerned sat back to endure this game’s most likely scenario going in. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Colorado had really come close to scoring until they did. The Timbers’ Gleeson made at least two great saves after, but those shots resulted from the game opening up, which it only did after Colorado scored and Portland had to let the opening happen…when I think about, that’s the most troubling thing about this game, i.e., that Portland looked worse after. As it turns out, when Colorado has space to play, they’re not so bad. I’ll spare you my first impulse metaphor (a classic, but I couldn’t make it make sense outside of itself; know what I mean?), but waiting for the Rapids to break a team down might be the source material for the thing about watching a pot and waiting for it to boil. (Anyone?)

I do want to stick to Colorado for a paragraph, because they’re a fascinating expression of one approach to the game. At some point, one of the Timbers’ broadcast guys talked about the way the Rapids “keeps thing tight” as if that’s the team’s first choice. I doubt the Rapids aspire to gutting out 1-0 wins (and I bet they’re particularly aggrieved when they score three and giveup as many), but it is something they’re forced to do. Based on what I saw out there tonight, LeToux was the only Rapid who had some sense of how to bring other players into the attack. Colorado couldn’t find Shkelzen Gashi, he couldn’t find his left foot when they did, Hairston looked slow against Vytas every other time he touched the ball, except that one time, disastrous at band camp. So, yeah, I think that’s the Rapids' norm, I’m just not sure they like it. They just steal points and, as a result, they’re utterly reliant on their defense. Sam Cronin had another solid night (his personal highlight probably came with tracking Darlington Nagbe into the box to avert an attempted one-two with Adi; low light…well, he had a couple), but the player I want to flag is Jared Watts. Because he was everywhere tonight. The guy with the long blond hair, pulled back?

When I talk about what I want to see Amobi Okugo do for Portland, it looks a lot like what Watts does for the Rapids. Throw every middling athlete cliché at Watts that you like, but he reads the game quickly and closes space aggressively. At age 24, and weight light-as-a-feather, he has the range to make his reading come good. I have no clue whether that applies to Okugo, but that’s neither here nor there. I think MLS has a number of defensive midfielders who could slap the word “former” in front of that designation and adapt to a central defender’s role. Watts plays like that: he’s nimble, mobile, he senses when his teammate might get beat and collapses accordingly; finally, when he dribbles out the back, he doesn’t look like a stoned ogre. Just sayin’. If Portland could pair a guy like that with Ridgewell, I think the defense could get a couple years out of the arrangement, maybe get Nagbe in a place where he works, etc.

Anyway, that’s all hypothetical. The reality is that Portland choked. Even if they choked under entirely understandable circumstances, so long as they want to keep their fate in their own hands, they needed the points tonight. I don’t know the other results yet (Update: I do now, and shit.) so I don’t know how much ground Portland did or did not lose against Sporting Kansas City. What I do know is that the Seattle Sounders play[ed] tomorrow yesterday (again, goddammit), and that any points they get out of that further separates Portland from the purgatory and the Promised Land. And I guess that matters, even if the Promised Land doesn’t feel so promising this season.

Sad, sick, and thankful that I don’t have to figure out some way to get sick before every home game, and shit. Anyway, till Monday. Or maybe Wednesday.

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