Saturday, March 26, 2016

U.S. Loses to Guatemala: The End of an Era in a Sane World

Yeah, yeah, she's dead. We can do worse.
I'll keep this short. In spite of past promises, of course.

When Jurgen Klinsmann first coached the U.S. Men's National Team, American fans were told there would be a transition period. This would be the time when Klinsmann would implement a new system that would make the U.S. Men better, more sophisticated, better prepared to "take it to the Big Boys of international soccer," your Spains, your Germanys, your Brazils, your Argentinas...uh, honestly, I don't really know what comes after those teams.

The U.S. looked confused in those early days, unsure of how to implement Klinsmann's "proactive system," how to dismantle any opponent calmly and with composure. Still, we were all assured that it would come, that Dear Jurgen would show us the way.

Anyone who watched the U.S. lose to Guatemala tonight – and, no, I don't give a lazy, disinterested fuck if that game happened in Guatemala, because I'm told that the U.S. hasn't lost to Guatemala since Reagan (partially) occupied the Oval Office (look Nancy Reagan was our fucking president back then, just like Woodrow Wilson's wife seriously might have been the first female president) – should completely appreciate one damningly unavoidable point: after six-plus years under Klinsmann, the U.S. men still have no goddamn idea what they're doing when they take the field. They concede the first goal more often than not, so they're always playing from behind, etc. The U.S. spent the first half against Guatemala lumping long balls to forwards running into space? That's progress?

Worse, even had a couple decent U.S. shots gone in, what would that have really meant in the long term? Where are the green shoots? Where is any tangible sign of improvement with the U.S. National Team? And if anyone points to wins over Germany and the Netherlands last year, or whenever the hell that answer is this: the cold, stark reality is that the U.S. lost tonight to Guatemala, one of the most stagnant teams in CONCACAF, a side that trotted out at least three frankly ancient barrel-chested players. And I'm not knocking barrel-chested guys, heading there myself, but I'm not a professional soccer player aiming for a World Cup, now am I? As much as CONCACAF has improved, it remains a fucking minnow region on the global scene. That is 100% NOT fucking improving on any scale that isn't devised, defined and calibrated by Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer.

By any plausible appearance – yes, I'm hedging mightily here - U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made a mistake hiring Klinsmann. And, like the fuckwits who run the global economy (say, what's Gulati do for a living again?), rather than admitting he made a mistake, Gulati doubled down before a 2014 showing at the World Cup tournament that saw the U.S. do no better than it has in the modern era – e.g. the time since 1990, then the U.S. pretty much started automatically qualifying for the World Cup. So, per Gulati, all of you should totally take out subprime loans today. And do it on the beach, or maybe on a flood plain because nothing will ever change, housing prices will always go up, and what's climate change?

What about Klinsmann's prior success as a coach, both with the German National Team and with Bayern Munich? As we all know, Bayern had the sense to chuck Jurgen after a fairly short period of time, mostly because he was more obsessed with the Fitness Gospel than with sorting out tactics and personnel. As for Germany, yes, the man undeniably mined the German nation for the new young talent that it desperately craved. Here's a funny thing: if you mine for talent in a gold mine (e.g. soccer-mad Germany) guess what you get? You get fucking gold. Yes, if you dig in a gold mine you get gold. This isn't complicated. In other words, what happened here is pretty straightforward: Klinsmann identified talent among a rich crop of German players, guys who get minutes on some of the best teams in the world, and he set them loose on the world stage. Surprise of surprises, he did well with that. Not well enough to win a World Cup – that came later, and there's a story there, for sure – but he laid a foundation that someone else built into a renewed, invigorated Mannschaft.

That same script doesn't hold up when you try to find gold in a silver mine, or, worse, a copper mine. I honestly don't know the talent level of the U.S. player pool. None of us do, because there is no test but the Klinsmann's years to tell U.S. fans where their national team is now. I only know it's nowhere near what one sees in Germany, or Spain, or Brazil, or Argentina, or even much of Africa, the rest of South America, Mexico, and select parts of Asia and Central America. What I do know is that blaming the player pool is a dodge. It's pushing one's own failures onto something that can't be controlled, which is a hell of a lot like saying your dog ate your homework. Failure is failure is failure. And, more to point, this failure came after some version of progress and success, so....

Klinsmann was hired on the explicit assurance that he would improve the U.S. National Team. Period. The U.S. has clearly not improved, and by any applicable measure, and, at this point, I don't give a fuck why it happened. After last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the moronically contrived CONCACAF Cup, all I know is that the U.S. Men cannot do any worse than they have under Jurgen Klinsmann. The only counter-argument to all the above – literally – is for patience, that we all wait for Jurgen to unearth the next gem. The answer to that line of argument: name the first gem. Why the hell are Kyle Beckerman and Clint Dempsey still vital to this team after all the players Jurgen Klinsmann has brought in? Anyone blaming the player pool is adopting the opposite argument of what has made the rest of CONCACAF improve, so far as it has: by making the fucking most of what you've fucking got. That is Klinsmann's clear, and sole failure: he never even attempted to find out what IS best from the pool he has. And, objectively, time is running out.

Bottom line: the one thing we know is that we cannot fix the player pool in the short term. The one thing we can do: fire the fucking coach. Again, this was someone hired, and retained, on the premise of taking us to the next level. At this point, anyone who does not believe that the U.S. has actually regressed is like Sunil Gulati: they just don't want to admit that they were wrong.

Probably. Look, I know it's hard, but look at the evidence. It’s damning. And, yes, this is short for me.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Timbers Draw RSL: On Patience and/with Gamesmanship

Hmmm...sleeping together did not fix things...
So...what is the rule on mulligans in Major League Soccer? Surely they have one, maybe tucked somewhere within all the byzantine shit about how to fit a roster together?

I guess what I'm saying is, mistakes were made last night during the Portland Timbers awkward 2-2 draw at home against Real Salt Lake. What we know is that, both teams made something together last night, I'm not sure either side feels all so great about what happened, there was some bad behavior, etc. Has anyone checked with the RSL camp? Anyone else think they'd be open to a do-over? Think about, Jamison Olave out for the next game, Kyle Beckerman out for the next game....then again, Juan "Burrito" Manuel Martinez got away with that late lunge on Darlington Nagbe. (Happily, it sounds like Nagbe will be all right.)

I saw this match live, for the record, which rarely passes into my brain the same way as it does when I watch on TV – just...more distracted at a live match – so I filled in the (some? maybe?) gaps with the 20-minute mini-game this morning. The video missed a couple biggies – e.g. where the hell is my replay on Fandendo Adi's allegedly offside opener for Portland, and what kind of foul led to Plata's free kick. And Adam? The hell was that? Why did you run off the very happy rails on which this game was running, Mr. Kwarasey? This is goalkeeping, son, not preparing to sit down on a pleasant patch of artificial turf.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Portland Can't Find a Way Past San Jose...which is true of that city generally (a mess, I tell you).

San Jose's defense. I mean, how do you get through that?
Somewhere around the 60th minute (think it was the 58th, but not checking), the ball squirted out to Darlington Nagbe, who stood just outside the Portland Timbers' 18. With the ball under control, Nagbe looked up to find his options. Inside one second, unable to find an option worth passing to, Nagbe raised his arms in clear "fuck-it" frustration; by the time the full second had passed, Chris Wondolowski had poked the ball off Nagbe's foot and the San Jose Earthquakes took one more run at the Portland Timbers' goal. This was just one reason today's game ended 2-1. San Jose frustrated the holy shit out of Portland.

It wasn't always that kind of day, though. The Timbers largely dictated the opening. Right up to the 30th minute, really. That’'s when Wondolowski "did Wonolowski things," as Fox Sports' commentating team put it, this time breaking past Jermaine Taylor inside Portland's (sacred and inviolate!) six-yard box to meet a cross to the near post. So, there was that, a goal. Before that, Portland's Lucas Melano pinged a ball off the crossbar; Diego Valeri rode a tackle and put a seeing-eye toe-poke on goal, only to have San Jose's 'keeper, David Bingham, tip it to the outside of the side netting. Making matters worse, the ref missed it and awarded the 'Quakes a goal kick afterwards. In a replay of that shot later in the game, the video followed long enough to capture Valeri looking Bingham in the eye and saying, "tell him." With "him" here being the referee...and, yeah, even as I type that, I'm surprised Valeri bothered. Well, not so much surprised that Valeri bothered as I'm surprised to think he thought it would matter. Then again, of course Valeri would think that. It's not for nothing the man reads devotional literature...

For the first 30 minutes of this game, Portland attacked San Jose's defensive third in a way that promised an inevitable breakthrough. Wondo scored, of course, but the Timbers picked up after it, probing their way to San Jose's goal, and everything looked set to follow a narrative in which the question would be whether or not the Timbers could equalize. And, if so, where things would go from there? And so on.

It didn't turn out that way. In one awful (at most) five second sequence, Quincy Amarikwa – remember him? the guy who's finishing I questioned? – picked up the script, blow his nose on it, mic-dropped that sucker to the floor, poured gasoline on it, and set that fucker to flame. With that, and for the second year running, Portland again find themselves an early favorite for being the team on the receiving end of a Goal of the Year (memories...). If you didn't see it, do yourself a favor and watch Amarikwa's goal - which is even more impressive for the stuff that came before it. A lob over Adam Kwarasey from at least 40 yards out, it is a thing of perfect beauty. It also came right before the half and, arguing from the second half, it just plain freaked-out the Timbers. Even when Portland pulled back a hearteningly impressive consolation goal (sure, it's too little, too late, but that at least means Portland has ideas on how to score one of those elusive buggers), the Timbers' approach play presented as more desperate than methodical. Desperate can work, of course, but "methodical," by way of being controlled, typically works better.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Timbers Top Columbus (Again), Through Distorted Lenses

When I look at the world, I only see the cracks.
I was told tonight – or, rather, I was reminded – that I tend to approach subjects from the negative. It's a fair point, all in all, especially seeing as how most of the thoughts I have about the Portland Timbers first-ever March win in the Caleb Porter Era (long may it last; or may it last so long as Caleb brings home the sweet, sweet bacon) do lean a little toward the negative – e.g. Dairon Asprilla is good, but is he good enough? Lucas Melano is fine, but at that price?

There are rose-tinted lenses, then there are whatever the fuck I wear. All I know is that I'm pretty sure the bastards aren't Ray-bans. In an attempt to go against that trend, I'll start with all the things about tonight's epic (in the context of past months of March) win over last year's final victims, Columbus Crew SC.

Jermaine Taylor Is Fine at Left Back
Yes, he's never going to transform Portland's attack from that position, but I think that anytime the Timbers have a game where they want a lock-down(-ish? –esque?) performance out of a left back, Taylor offers a pretty reasonable option. His speed is decent and, this is key, defending is his strength. So, there's one plus.

Alvas Powell Is a Fine Right Back (yes, that's right back)
Powell had a great defensive game today; the best bit came when he so powerfully shielded the ball from Columbus' Shaun Francis, that, in the grips of child-like enthusiasm, Francis could only show his appreciation by climbing on Powell's back for a piggy-back ride. Wheee!! In all seriousness, I would love to ship Powell to...mutually better pastures. Trouble is, I can't do that until Portland replaces Powell with an upgrade. Here, I'm talking about a right back who visibly upgrades Powell in the attack while defending, oh, 3/4 as well as Powell. Basically, I rate Powell pretty damn highly as a defender, while I'd argue he attacks...less well than he should.