|When life gives you grapefruit, make grapefruitade.|
In my brief (won’t lie) researches for this post, I noticed the MLSSoccer.com’s injury page lists Diego Valeri as “OUT,” with an “undisclosed injury.” On reading that, I hit up twitter, where @KipKesgard helpfully informed me that Timbers Brass will decide Valeri’s fate/health on game day. Now, personally, I’m guessing that Brass’ll slip a little “happy, numb, numb” into Valeri’s veins, and pray his hamstring doesn’t explode during or after the match. After all, Sunday’s game, when the Portland Timbers will face the Vancouver Whitecaps in BC, will be that most exotic of creatures in Major League Soccer, a decisive game.
I think Valeri will make it, and it’s fairly important that he matters out there (so whatever drugs they use better include active ingredients that confer at least the belief in god-like strength and self-belief, e.g., whatever Tom Cruise is on). For the reasons why, I’m going to pass on @Shotboxer told me when I asked him for notes (because I didn't watch it) on the Timbers’ midweek draw-that-was-a-loss to Deportivo Saprissa (the bit I’m fixating on in bold):
“I think we played well enough given the circumstances. In the first half it felt like our passing was crisp and in form. I think part of that was Saprissa played like a team with a point lead on the road on a weird and wet pitch. It was fairly clear that we couldn’t break them down. Regardless petty good effort for a team with little depth and its two best players out.”
When you need to win, you need to score and Valeri sure seems like the guy most likely to make that happen (see: 13 goals, 7 assists; and, holy poop, how did Portland win 2015 with Valeri at those numbers?!). Aside from Fanendo Adi, not a lot of other Timbers have posted the kind of numbers to steel fans’ spines, but Adi will be busy bodying up against the ‘Caps Kendall Waston, one MLS’s bigger defenders, so, yeah, now would be a great time for Lucas Melano to come good on the investment. Or for Darlington Nagbe to channel his inner rage demons (think about all that time on the U.S. Men’s bench, darling, and let it make you powerful!) and post a hat-trick. Speaking of Waston. And Vancouver…
This season might have tasted as bitter as (lesser) yellow grapefruit for Timbers fans (stupid hope!), but for Vancouver fans, it’s closer to yellow grapefruit steeped in cocktail bitters, five varieties of hops, lemon zest, and the juice of two unripe persimmons. In MLS, success and failure can be the difference between falling five feet and falling six, but ‘Caps’ fans frustration runs a little deeper. Timbers fans can easily relate to getting burned by bad/forced trades (for them, it was Steven Beitashour and Gershon Koffie, players whose names come up in just about every post-mortem) and a shitty defense, but imagine how much more it’d hurt if Valeri sucked and Adi didn’t exist. With former star Pedro Morales suffering an off/over-compensated year (see comparison with Valeri at the end), Kendall Waston playing timid (is that it, really?), and the disheartening plus ca change experience of having Octavio Rivero in or out of the line-up (as in, it didn’t matter whether he was there or not), Vancouver simply never had a chance. And, as pointed out here (which, along with a couple other items, inspired that summary), Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson “ran out of ideas” when Kekuta Manneh went down, or so the argument goes. (I’ve wondered from time to time which MLS coach would be out next and Robinson’s regularly makes my short list; apparently, ‘Caps fans see the logic).
Portland’s bringing a skeleton crew to Vancouver this Decision Day, but their hosts will meet them Sunday with a roster that hasn’t worked for much of the season. The Oregonian’s preview names the usual suspects (e.g. Waston, Morales and Ousted – who didn’t play last weekend against the San Jose Earthquakes (and for allegedly interesting reasons)), but talk out of (OK, just one) Vancouver outlets treats two of them as low-lights/anchors for their season. I didn’t go the full 90 with Vancouver all that much this season, but that comes closer to my impression as well; even Ousted’s fallen off based on what I’ve seen (though he did make the Eighty Six Forever’s short list of bright spots; then again, when I thought he might have got the start due to Ousted’s form, Paul Tornaghi looked really good against San Jose). The point of all that isn’t to crap on The O’s coverage, but to suggest that Vancouver’s brightest lights haven’t shined for some time. I’d even argue that the rot was apparent by the end of 2015, when Portland comfortably knocked them out of the post-season.
In other words, yes, more stupid (fucking) hope!
The O’s coverage reads better on Portland’s side of the ledger: leading the backline really does look like it’ll fall to Steven Taylor (shit!), and it looks like Nagbe will play as a No. 8 with a No. 6 to back him up (here, I second the response to the poll I posted on twitter yesterday; I, along with a majority of respondents, think that’s Nagbe’s best role per playing style and disposition; begs troublesome questions about what to do with Diego Chara going forward, yes? Who the team just signed to a contract extension, yes?). Crap, sorry for that long parenthetical, but the point is, I think we know the shape of the defense (Vytas Andriuskevicius at left back, Alvas Powell at right back, and (probably) Taylor and Taylor at the center, with Amobi Okugo perhaps somewhere in the mix depending on what happens with Jack Jewsbury’s hip flexor. Like that or hate it, the good news is that the attack it has to contain isn’t much. If I were Robinson, I’d hit the gap between Vytas and the defense hard through either Nicolas Mezquida or Christian Techera, try to generate a little chaos, see you can’t bumble in a goal. Between how Portland defends them and Vancouver’s size, set pieces also feel like a concern. Still, the ‘Caps have scored only eight goals since August 1. And that signals something about how Portland should play this one.
In a word, aggressively. Valeri or no Valeri, Portland should throw caution to the wind and as many dudes forward as they reasonably can. What I said about Waston v. Adi above makes me leery of fixating on that particular route to goal, so, again, numbers, numbers, numbers. Assuming he can play, Darren Mattocks shouldn’t lack for motivation against a former club who side-eyed him for as long as he played there, so get him some “happy, numb, numb,” as well and get him out there. Give Melano whatever the hell he needs, send Vytas flying forward, etc. etc. etc. And there’s one more wrinkle I want to mention: Christian Bolanos is a terrible defender; he either doesn’t do it, or he fouls when he does, giving up dangerous set pieces. Alphonso Davies is good, but also 15. What I’m saying here is, watch who Vancouver plays on the wings and go after the relevant side, because they could be defending with just a fullback on that side.
At any rate, no, Portland hasn’t won on the road all season. If there’s a team with the shape, structure and demeanor to allow that to happen, it’s Vancouver. So, yeah, your dice, Portland.