Thursday, July 20, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-4 Real Salt Lake: #Shook

My disappointment, shown to scale.
Where do I begin? To tell the story the story of how great a love can be?

Only it wasn’t. Damn, damn, blast and dammit. (Shit, gimme the reference?!)

I smiled through a lot of losses for the Portland Timbers in 2016, we all did.  They did, too, and, trust me, it was much, much, much worse for them. Still, we felt less than optimal and, well, noted. Look, we have a right to our feelings, too. We do. Shut up.

At any rate, tonight’s loss to Real Salt Lake, 4-to-a-participation-ribbon-1, and at home, well, that poses questions. Several of them, in fact. Fans, or at least me as a singular person among them, looked at what the Timbers did in the off-season and, broadly, it made sense. Or sense enough. And, yes, one of the things the Timbers did this off-season – let’s just call him David Guzman - was, in fact, gone tonight (there were other things, however, who were present). So was Diego Chara. So was Darlington Nagbe, Liam Ridgewell. Uh, Alvas Powell…hmm, is that everyone? Is it ballpark? If so, isn’t that good enough.

And, honestly, sorry for all the commas. Jesus Christ, mugged by caveats.

Still, the team had Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, plus the team started the shiny new bauble fans have bayed for all season long, new centerback, Larrys Mabiala. The Timbers had enough of the players who carried them to a slightly positive record (7-7-6 record, with a +3 goal differential) that the omens didn’t spell “holy shit” in blood on the walls.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-2 Chicago Fire: On a Good, Irrelevant Threat

What we can do. You've been warned. Also...please don't fight back...
I want this to be brief. That is my intent. We’ll see how I do. Also, how are you?

As for me, I’m good. Between excitement and information, that game left me feeling like part three in menage a trois. A good menage a trois (also, never…have…never mind). Some of what the Portland Timbers did in that game (what game? Shit, spaced the lead again...sorry! Portland drew the Chicago Fire at home 2-2), felt like a long walk on the sunny side of the street. The ball movement by individual Timbers midfielders – whether first touch or sharp-to-inspired passing – was league-beating, and for long stretches. Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, especially, have arrived at a plane where it looks as if they hear the echo of the other player calling for the ball in practice and, from there, they just respond to the muscle memory. Those two, along with Fanendo Adi, Dairon Asprilla, and Vytas Andriuskevicius, and, sometimes, Darlington Nagbe, (fuck it, obligatory “fire” metaphor) blew Chicago’s ashes apart (I am so sorry).

All true, but all that ran out sometime between the 70th and 75th minute – or the 75th and 80th minute – I’m working without notes tonight (and video; ‘bout time) – I could have been 65th to 70th for all I know, but, the free-flowing stuff died a quick death, even if it wasn't early. Part of that came with Chicago’s decision to pack it in – something they did by pulling Luis Solignac for Jonathan Campbell (decent young CB; just noted) – but it truly did look like more than that. For one, if you re-watch the tape, and if you’re seeing what I saw, you’ll see Nagbe and Blanco dropping to the top of the attacking third, and further by that time, but also basically stop running, and letting Ben Zemanski step to the fore to see what he could…it wasn’t that bad, honest; seriously, the Timbers scrapped to the death and that’s like half, I think, of what I want to see, because wins are OK, but sucky wins are depressing, just like most goal-less draws, just noting it. Moreover, their passes, Nagbe’s and Blanco’s I mean, along with just about everyone else’s, got sloppy as hell, especially between the 70th and 85th. Portland ran their damn legs off, basically, even they did it in something valiant, determined. So long as Chicago stayed vertical defensively, and so long as the Timbers’ collective legs held out, Portland shredded the Fire like confetti. I haven’t checked the boxscore yet, but I’d be shocked it if showed anything but dominance for Portland (UPDATE: Yep, it did.)

Counterpoint: The Timbers first team can do that, but what do they do when Plan A doesn’t come off - or, as happened today, if Plan A runs itself legless? Or what happens when a crucial piece - Adi, likely, just sayin’ – falls out of the picture in the future…if that’s not something you want to contemplate, I totally get it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Portland Timbers: Scholastic Meditations

Yo, up there. Got anything?
There’s something subtly ominous about the name, “Children’s Mercy Park.” That didn’t come through in yesterday’s 1-1 draw between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. Just…noted…

So, how we feeling, Timbers Nation? I left twitter for the night shortly after the game (right? please, god, no drunk tweets…wait! I wasn’t! Never mind), but people had already started teasing out lines of argument before then: was this a squandered result, another couple of points dropped in a season when Portland’s bag for points seems to have a couple holes (contextual interpretation), or was this a good point to get on the road against one of Major League Soccer’s stronger home teams (call this the “one-game-at-a-time” interpretation)?

Even as I see the value of getting that point – moreover, of having a real (and entirely justified*) opportunity to take at all three points – the contextual interpretation holds up better for me. (*Tim Melia’s chest 100% bumped Fanendo Adi’s trailing leg.) Fun as it is to muck around in the details – in this case, say, whether to file SKC’s equalizer under Alvas Powell losing a mark (if so, why did Jake Gleeson yell up-field (specifically, toward the general area in and around Ben Zemanski)) – the big picture slips out of focus when one spends too much time there.

I’ve phrased this a couple ways so far this season, and addressed different parts of the same idea in different posts – e.g., switches going off, or having faith in the depth – but they all get at the same idea: the 2017 Portland Timbers are impressively consistent, in that the same general things happen just about every game. That doesn’t mean no outliers exist, whether for good or ill, but, arrange those in a random pattern (as done here), and those outliers even out to match the larger trend: a reliable attack (and one starring most of the same characters) pairs with an unreliable defense and the uneven results follow therefrom. Is there some clear, useful “why” to this? First off, um…

Monday, June 26, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-2 Seattle Sounders: When Your Tifo Game Is Your Last, Best Hope

Our shared lives....
After taking in the (condensed) Hell of the Portland Timbers’ midweek loss to Minnesota United FC, and then enduring the auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong that Portland coughing up a late 2-2 draw to the Seattle Sounders, a moment that made a mockery of a truly wonderful tifo, I have several things to say/note, or that make me wanna go fetal…

First, see the title.

Second, I want to bury this idea about “bad defending,” because I view that as a too-broad argument for a more specific phenomenon. Generally speaking, the Timbers don’t defend badly as a unit, so much as they keep making horrific, this-will-make-your-mother-hate-you mistakes in defense, and, because they follow from bad decisions in the precise/specific/defining moment, those kinds of fuck ups are harder to remedy. There, I’m talking about Jeff Attinella coming off his line on Minnesota’s third goal and taking out not one, but two defenders, or the way not one single player in Portland’s defense tracked Clint “Fucking” Dempsey wandering into the space that opened up when all three of Portland’s last-line defenders dropped off on Seattle’s equalizer…the line was immaculate, then, if distinctly Maginot in nature and quality. Basically, the problems seem based less on structure than bad decisions by individual players.

I’m not saying Portland’s defense doesn’t blow the fundamentals from time to time – see the pocket that Christian Ramirez settles in to score Minnesota’s second goal (yes, keeping a good line is fundamental) – but everyone’s in some reasonable approximation of where they should be for Minnesota’s first (Okugo just got a bad touch, and the resulting own-goal; then again, where’s the reaction to that overload?). The same goes for Joevin Jones’ opening goal on Sunday: Portland’s defenders were in decent position – and I’m not saying that a couple player didn’t react like corpses (looking at you, Alvas Powell, Lawrence Olum) – but, honestly, Jake Gleeson’s rebound went straight back into the natural progession of Jones' run, who didn’t so much follow up as found the ball rolling lazily into his stride, and that’s just the gods tickling the odds in one direction or the other. As suits their fancy, the whimsical bastards…

Bottom Line: set aside the details and Timbers fans get the same outcome: every Timbers game now amounts to an exercise in anxiously turning the crank on a Jack-in-the-Box and waiting for that fucker to pop and scare the shit out of you/ruin your day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Colorado Rapids 2-1 Portland Timbers: It Was Sebastian Blanco’s Birthday, Then Everyone Fell Asleep

Anyone got tape? Maybe we can stick this damn thing to "on."
Once they settled into the first half against the Colorado Rapids, the Portland Timbers played some of the most polished soccer of the season, good let-the-ball-do-the-work passing, great, alert first touches on the ball – especially from Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, who both wrong-footed a succession of defenders in midfield; on the right Dairon Asprilla and Zarek Valentin managed possession with smart, almost casual interplay that suggested comfort and a shared confidence in the project. When the whole thing fired just right, Colorado wasn’t even chasing the ball; they could only reorient their lines of defense to the next threat.

Even better, the day dropped hints that Portland had finally figured out how to get attacking impetus out of Sebastian Blanco, who made dangerous runs into curiously open seams at least a couple times before and after burying the goal that gave the Portland Timbers the early lead. The rest of the half continued like that and, somewhere in there, it occurred to me that yesterday felt like Blanco’s birthday, the day when everything he touched would come out all right and that we would walk off the field the hero, with his teammates buying his rounds and reminiscing of his moment(s) with a twinkle in their eye that said, “yes, we will always remember this day.”

By the time the second half started, I had this middle-aged electrician from Michigan marveling at the madness of the Trump presidency on one side; maybe ten minutes later, this guy from Ethiopia sat on my other side, and I just could not stop asking questions about and country, and just tripping over the idea that I was talking to a random guy from the other side of the world in a random Hillsboro, Oregon bar. The game would take care of itself, Sebastian Blanco would get his birthday beers, maybe even birthday sex…

…it later occurred to me that I have no fucking clue when Blanco’s birthday is. The whole thing was based on a fantasy. (The guy from Ethiopia was real, though, and fascinating. He was happy to talk to someone who didn’t think Ethiopia was in Europe. He told me people have asked if he was from somewhere near Italy. “I mean, look at me,” he said. “Do I look like I’m from Italy?”) As it happens, the more relevant bit of foreshadowing came when a super-loose Roy Miller back pass gifted Dominique Badji two consecutive shots on goal, either of which he really should have buried.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Colorado v. Timbers Preview: A 72% Chance of Boredom

Five heads still comin' at ya, motherfucker!!!
This Saturday night, the Portland Timbers will visit the Colorado Rapids – and fans of both teams will be asked to endure this…at least Rapids’ fans are used to it.

I did some light scouting last night – e.g., reviewed some (condensed) tape, tried to check in with the locals by way of SB Nation’s Burgundy Wave, but they only do match reports, sooo…here's what I found on those condensed tapes.

First, I wouldn’t put a ton of stock into the Rapids’ home record. It’s solid, at 4-2-1 (unlike their road record, which is abysmal, also irrelevant), and it’s true that two of those wins came in their last two games. One of those – their 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City – even registers as impressive on paper, but, per the condensed game, they didn’t win that game so much as survive it; SKC looked to have a lot of the better of the game (and the boxscore bears that out). Colorado looked better against Columbus Crew SC – they kept Zac Steffen respectably busy early – but they still trailed late and, while more than luck carried them through it, their first goal against Columbus was the only one from all three games that looked like something they could do again. In other words, it's not every game opposing defenses will gift them a win by losing Alan Gordon at the back post (or, ideally, Fanendo Adi).

It’s the familiar formula against Colorado, then – i.e., see they don’t accidentally bounce the ball into your team’s net, while making sure your side knocks at least one goal into their net (though a couple, three goals certainly sounds better) – and, voila, three points! And that could be easier this season than last - they're broadly middling in terms of MLS defenses - and it could be easier still on Saturday: injuries/risks to the back-line (and all over, really) have forced Colorado to cobble together defenses/a team in recent weeks; they’re only really stable at fullback (and then, not that great; Mikeil Williams/Eric Miller, in particular, shouldn’t give pause to anyone but the Rapids coaching staff). In the center, Kortne Ford (rookie, homegrown) has been the only constant over the past three games, but he, along with preferred starters, Axel Sjoberg and Jared Watts, is “questionable” for Saturday. With preferred back-up, Bobby Burling out, I’m guessing “questionable” will become “probable (with cortisone)” for one or two of Ford, Sjoberg and Watts, but Colorado’s defense isn’t 100% present regardless. For what it’s worth, Ford has looked good when he plays, and I rate Sjoberg pretty damn high; Watts, a converted midfielder, falls off without Sjoberg, so there’s that to file away.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-0 FC Dallas: On Good Problems to Have

Die, motherfucker!
Let’s face it: attrition loomed large tonight, as one Portland Timber after another threatened to limp off the field. Only two did in the end…the team’s starting centerbacks. No big whoop…

So, yeah, both Liam Ridgewell and Roy Miller left the game, to be replaced by a Tetris-esque shifting of players/positions, and Timbers fans endured scares here and there throughout the game – whether it was Fanendo “Brace, Y’all!” Adi hurting (was it?) both ankles or Diego Valeri lying on the ground for two minutes that felt like five games’ worth of no one knowing how to make the Timbers’ attack work – but Portland hung (hanged? nah, think I got the verb right) on for the 2-0 win against visiting FC Dallas, aka, the team most likely to (what? win the league? be broadly awesome? prove the reality of The Youth Movement?). And, while that win was mostly encouraging, caveats attach to this thing like remoras that suck blood and eat happy thoughts…

…still, good win. This was my best-case scenario, so, hell yeah, I’m happy. It’s just that…I know stuff that lets me (makes me?) look at this game, and Portland’s last, with the coldest, deadest eyes since zombies.

First, the bad news: this is not The Best Possible Version of FC Dallas. I’d actually argue that, for a team without Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges (who is…just holy shit good), and Kellyn Acosta, Dallas played above their available level. God knows they made Portland labor to score – even as both goals resulted from the kind of fuck-ups that drive coaches to drink and/or early retirement. All in all, Dallas defended well enough tonight, but, when Adi stumbles just so, and after the kind of lucky bounce that only happens when a team presses allows Sebastian Blanco to feed him the simplest of passes, and when the other goal comes off another complete collapse, you credit the team that scored first, and ask what exactly went wrong for the other team very shortly thereafter.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes: Searching for a Word...

Locked and loaded...
Well, the Portland Timbers won, beating the cranky, visiting San Jose Earthquakes 2-0. It wasn’t a terribly inspired win, especially late in the second half when San Jose bunkered to stop the bleeding. Portland tried to draw them out by dicking around with the ball outside the bunker, and the ‘Quakes bit from time to time, but, for the visitors, it was mostly about riding out the game, minimizing the damage, etc.

To my eye, this game looked a lot like last weekend’s 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, only this time Portland didn’t make a fatal mistake. Portland looked both energetic and the better team, but they didn’t get a ton of great looks; I mean, I see the eight shots on goal in the boxscore – and I saw the three shots the Timbers bounced off the posts – but Portland also racked up 24 crosses, and that feels more true to what I saw last night. Flip to San Jose’s side and you’ll get a pretty clear sense of how lopsided the game was. San Jose didn’t do jack – even with many of the players I view as key suited up, e.g., Anibal Godoy, Marcos Urena, etc. I expected more from them, personally, but they did get cut off at the knees…

I thought referee Kevin Stott called a weird one – and not only with the rapid-fire (and, frankly, wrong) pair of yellow cards he dropped in the same minute to send San Jose’s Darwin Ceren to the showers. Stott would very indirectly even things out in second half stoppage when he didn’t call a gapingly obvious penalty when ‘Quakes’ keeper David Bingham tripped Portland’s Fanendo Adi in the box. (Portland scored anyway, so, up yours Stott! (Yeah, go to hell, buddy!)) It was kind of global, the weirdness, including things like calling advantage when there wasn’t an advantage worthy of the name, and I think Stott’s steady failure to call actual fouls in the minutes leading up to Ceren’s sending off contributed to how he and others (Urena stood out here) started caroming all around the field. Again, the most important thing a referee can do is set a tone that keeps the game competitive and minimally violent. Setting the tone with a second yellow so soon after the first feels a little like shooting the tenth in a series of jaywalkers to send a message.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Scouting San Jose, With Excessive Scenery

It's in there somewhere...
About a week ago, I glimpsed an Armchair Analyst tweet that said something about the San Jose Earthquakes attack coming online. On reading the section of the article, I immediately decided I would no longer cover all of Major League Soccer. All those 20-minute condensed games were burying the goddamn lead, just as I had feared…

…nah, I decided to stop because I couldn’t cover everything without going over seven pages – e.g., that point where I’m basically writing out of spite. When I stuck to 10 or 20 talking points, I fretted about the value of everything that hit the cutting room floor. My notes never did make any goddamn sense either; shit looked like ancient Greek written through doses of shock therapy. So, yeah, fuck it. I took my weekends back.

The plan is to watch/preview only the teams the Portland Timbers will play in their next game. With that, Conifers & Citrus will be devoted only to what the Timbers did in their last game, and thoughts on who they will play in their next, notes on the meaning of the game, if any, etc.Yeah, right...

So, does tonight's game against the ‘Quakes at Providence Park mean anything special? Well, last night I put some thought into what number of losses constitutes a death sentence to any given MLS team’s playoff hopes. Didn’t look it up or anything (haven’t figured out how to phrase the search, and the actual research sounds…unpalatable), but the drop-dead tally feels like something over 10 games, certainly. 12 or 13, maybe? Portland has five losses already, so it’s just this thought.

At any rate, that note on Hyka got me wondering (there’s video, too), not least because I had a couple vague recollections of collapses by the Timbers defense knocking around my memory. I also recalled some game when all of San Jose’s new guys played to expectations; they really took that team apart, I remember. Something told me I’d seen Danny Hoesen, of all people, look like maybe he could liven up the ‘Quakes attack. Man. Who was that?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Seattle Sounders 1-0 Portland Timbers: That Little Bit of (Fucking) Quality

The "little red man." (At least you're as creeped out as me.)
Well, I had big plans to watch the condensed version of the Seattle Sounders FC narrow, weird win over the Portland Timbers before posting thoughts on it. Postponed writing about it a day – killed some brain cells, lost some memories in the meantime (plus, another day older; gets more relevant all the damn time) – to give MLSLive time to post the condensed version…which they have still yet to do. And, no, there’s no way in Hell I’m sitting through that whole game all over again.

With that, you’re stuck with my lousy memory, or just taking a pass on reading this. As always, no judgment…

This happens more often than soccer fans like to admit – i.e., games that feel like a lot of things happen, while, at the same time, not a whole lot actually happens. The boxscore for this one proved as revealing as I expected it to: the Timbers topped the Sounders in many of the key categories – attacking stats, most notably (fun little sidebar: Portland ended the day with 19 shots, but they’d fired 15 of those by around the 50th minute; hold that thought) – but one number should jump out, and on two levels: both teams put just three shots on goal. On the first level, sure, Portland out-shot Seattle 19 attempts to 8, but, if you’re wildly flailing shots at goal, what good are Portland’s 11 more attempts toward the plausible vicinity of goal, really?

Second level: that’s what I mean when I suggest that not a lot actually happened yesterday. From Portland’s point of view, they managed to turn in a better performance than they did in recent road games against the San Jose Earthquakes and Montreal Impact (a good thing), but those three paltry shots on goal tell a pretty clear tale: Portland didn’t have much luck penetrating Seattle’s area, the Timbers mostly played around the defense, and not through them and so on. A lot of credit for that goes to Gustav Svensson and Chad Marshall, in central defense, and gadfly Osvaldo Alonso and gadfly-in-waiting Cristian Roldan playing in front of them. Portland’s shots from range weren’t terrible on their own; they’re only bad in the sense that they were the start and end of what Portland could generate for offense.

Monday, May 22, 2017

MLS Week 12 Review: A Game of the Week, 10 Thoughts, Then Bedtime, MFs!!

Yeah. You feel the breeze, don't ya?
I’ll start with a brief bad news, good news set-up. It might be good news, good news, depending on a couple things.

First, I’m busy enough with other stuff I’m excited about (music, mostly*), that I only want to delve deeply into soccer only once a week. I might sneak in a post here and there and, ideally, kick out a steady stream of polls on twitter, but I haven’t yet rearranged my mental space to make that work. Sit tight. And if you start hating the music stuff (and the politics…so, SO sorry), feel free to ignore/unfollow. Not trying to piss off anyone, just going where the spirit moves me.

Second, I count flagging Toronto FC’s Victor Vazquez early as one of my brighter insights of 2017. As such, I want to more of that and less long-form explanations and about 10 fewer “brain-farts.” Also, I intend to raise the brain-farts to the dignity of “thoughts.”

Finally, I will keep watching one game besides Portland Timbers v. _________ every week (this week's write-up, btw). Reviewing that, plus the 10 thoughts will be my weekly Major League Soccer post. And that’ll go up Sunday nights. And, hey, done with the preamble. Eat shit, Thomas Jefferson…

Minnesota United FC 1-2 Los Angeles Galaxy (of which, I really only saw the second half)
Sincerely ugly for stretches, (the second half of) this game played out with everything rolling Minnesota’s way…except when it came to moving the ball up the middle with any sort of menace. And when you think that little of LA’s Joao Pedro (like me), that reads like the Loons don’t know how to get up the middle. What they do (or just what they did against LA) well, however, is slowly compress the opposing team until they can start shelling them with crosses – and that’s not a terrible idea with Christian “7 goals” Ramirez roaming the box. (And who got the assist?)

Still, careful readers might have noticed that LA won the game – and in Minnesota (home team first, and all that). Credit LA’s Brian Rowe for that…and probably also Minnesota’s reliance on crosses for offense. For all the pressure they put on LA (and on other teams, generally), they can get impatient with their timing, and that makes a low-upside tactic go a little lower. Minnesota fought like hell for that equalizer, which only makes Ramirez’ own-goal more of a shame.

LA, for their part, has no business feeling smug. The problem begins with how a player as hot as Romain Alessandrini can produce so few goals. Gyasi Zardes has been a big part of the problem, that’s by way of being gone to start the season and rusty as nails in an old barn against Minnesota. Again, when someone’s supposed to be your team’s star…

The other thing about LA, they are wimps in the tackle (well, apart from you know who). Minnesota picked up most of its momentum just by way of sticking into their tackles. Part of me says this wasn’t an isolated incident…

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Montreal Impact 4-1 Portland Timbers: On Playing Stupid

Timbers: Put down this book NOW. Do not read!!
In some parallel universe, Diego Chara opts against responding to a hard shoulder charge by Ignacio Piatti by giving his little love tap to the wrong cheek – specifically, the one Piatti’s head. But, so what? We live in the universe where Chara did something just fucking stupid, got himself sent off and the law of averages ruled in the Montreal Impact’s favor, and heavily by the end. The 4-1 score-line might have flattered Montreal’s overall performance - I’d say this one felt closer to a 3-2 loss – but, whatever good the Portland Timbers did in the attack, they frittered away with dumb-shit defending.

And, oh well, guess Timbers fans will have to wait to learn the level of Portland’s starting eleven; Chara’s brain-fart certainly saw to that. There’s something in that, too, lending the Timbers’ 2017 campaign an air of constipation (of which, does that word have a denotation outside of pooping, or is that only a connotative meaning?), as if the damned thing just won’t take off. The team started the season with Liam Ridgewell injured (of which, meh, so what?), then they lose Darlington Nagbe for a couple games at the exact moment the team needed all hands pulling to regain a little momentum. In that context, Chara’s wee eruption of stupid frustration feels like the next chapter in a very undesirable narrative. Sigh…

It takes little imagination to guess at what set off Chara. Just over five minutes prior, Jair Marrufo awarded Montreal the kind of penalty that will likely not stand once video review becomes Law of the League. Sebastian Blanco did little more than tap Blerim Dzemaili politely on the shoulder, and, when the Impact’s new Swiss designated player took a hard seat on the turf, that was enough for Marrufo…and his apparently limited grasp of physics. As such, when Piatti barged into Chara, it’s possible, maybe even likely, he dipped into that same well of grievance when he delivered that soft slap to Piatti’s cheek. Again, Diego, wrong cheek, kid. Next time, do what David Guzman did, like, 10 minutes later and go in for a late, cheap foul…no, never mind, don’t do that. Just keep it in check, son.

Yeah, yeah, some credit accrues to L’Impact. To begin, yay, me!, for noting before the game that Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla made for nothing like a let-off in Montreal’s line-up. Indeed, the kid (only 18 years old) specializes in stripping the ball in dangerous places; managed it at least three times yesterday; used it to finally and totally break Portland’s back when he set up Montreal’s fourth goal for Ambrose Oyongo. Credit Portland, however, for keeping even a 3-1 advantage precarious for as long as they did. The team fought till Guzman’s legs basically stopped working, going close at least three times immediately before Oyongo shivved ‘em…

…the thing I can’t let go of, though, was what now feels like a betrayal of Diego Valeri’s immaculately-timed goal.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On the Portland Timbers' Revealing(?) Draw Against Atlanta and (Barely Touching) MLS Week "11"

Goddammit, the 80s....
Yeah, yeah. I’m way behind on this stuff, but, look, someone died, I had to help plan my first funeral, and that shit’s time consuming. As such, the only MLS game I could watch this weekend was Portland Timbers v. Atlanta United FC. So, this week, it’s all and only about what happened when Atlanta came to Portland, Oregon. I’ll comment very, very generally on the week’s results, because I feel like I’ve got something there too. At any rate…hold on, wait.

Also, I’m doing this from memory; I don’t have time for even the condensed game at this point. I had this really compelling conversation about the service industry going on during the second half, and the damn game was how many days ago? Feels like a fucking lifetime…by which I mean, more than a little vagueness ahead. But that game did stir some thoughts…

Think I’ll start with this: the first few games of the year pumped my expectations for Portland’s season pretty high (the LA win, though, first road win since Rome fell? C'mon, you loved it). Stupid high? Maybe. (And are we there yet?) Felt good, the idea that Portland made just the right moves, solved the key problem(s) (honestly, I thought they’d solved only one problem, but, also, all of that problem with David Guzman), but some part of me thinks the Timbers have settled into what this season will actually look like. Think the Facts of Life theme song. And if you don’t know what that is, skip looking it up, that’s just your garden variety sit-com; not that’s there’s anything wrong with loving it, just have some goddamn perspective on what you love. And google the damn theme song.

Hold on. Just did it. Here you go. Back to the game…

Monday, May 8, 2017

MLS Week "10" Review: Game of the Week (NYC v ATL) and 20 Brain-Farts

Just something I found googling the word "mediocre." Ties in with a line...
I want to start this Major League Soccer Week 10 in Review with a concept I slipped too softly into my write-up on San Jose’s sucker-punch, 3-0 win over my beloved Portland Timbers…of which, this week wasn’t shy on sucker-punch wins, whether it’s the Philadelphia Union’s at-long-last 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, or Minnesota United’s surprising-only-because-2-goals home win over Sporting Kansas City. Why a man in an expansive mood might even cast a curious eye over the Houston Dynamo’s 4-0 curb-stomp on Orlando City SC…because, as the man in the broadcast booth said, but for Joe Bendik, that one would have ended 6-0 or 7-0…

…but back to the concept. The Timbers looked like headless blind chickens out there, unable to think, never mind connect, and that got me wondering about how much any given team actively plans its Plan B. How much thought goes into how to play in the event that your team has to play, say, without Carlos Rivas, as Orlando did this weekend? How much game planning does a team plan for contingencies? How much can a team do? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think whatever it is takes a team to either MLS Cup or the Supporters’ Shield….speaking of the latter, anyone else getting the impression that winning MLS Cup is a shit-poor indicator for success in the subsequent season? All I’ll say is that I’m starting to collect data…and I’m lookin’ at you, Seattle.

Big question, that, but it’s time to move to the long-lived tradition of Conifers & Citrus Game of the Week (right?). This week I took in the full 90 of New York City FC’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United FC…or tried to. Damn wifi crapped out when the second half kicked off. So, I formed the impressions below based on the entire first half, followed by watching the condensed game on MLS Live. And, with confessions and caveats out of the way, this is what I saw.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 Portland Timbers: That Day the Team Showed Up…Stoned, I Guess?

A universe that bounds angels to the earth.
We all should have seen it coming as early as the 16th second (yes, second) when David Guzman skipped past a loose slow-roller at the top of the Portland Timbers’ defensive third, with prospects of a lethal counter on the horizon.

Look, it was bound to happen. Off days are inevitable, especially in a league like Major League Soccer, which seems to operate as if it exists in the Harrison Bergeron Universe. If a team comes out flat as the Portland Timbers did last Saturday, it loses, universe notwithstanding. Sure, off days happen, and I can’t see the Timbers coming out that flat any time soon – at least not unless they want to chuck the career (guys, don’t…changing jobs sucks) - but the outlines of something ominous lurks at the back of this one.

With so much to unpack, where to begin? Ah, I know! How about a jinx/prediction:

“With too many of San Jose’s new guys failing to pan out (Danny Hoesens), or not panning out enough (Tommy Thompson, Jahmir Hyka, and Marcos Urena), and Chris Wondolowski shooting blanks even on the rare occasions he can find the ball, the ‘Quakes feel like a one-goal-per-game team right now.”
That was me, by the way. Anyway, pull Tommy Thompson out of that equation and every other player in that sentence played to the direct opposite. Danny Hoesens got dangerous time and again – including when he kicked off the chaos that led to San Jose’s first goal – Jahmir Hyka scored (though, in honesty, he’s been all right), and Chris Wondolowski put some shine on his shooting boots before this one, because he bagged two quick-twitch classics (or just goals) in this game. Hell, even Marcos Urena shot well today – yeah, the same guy who’s limp-dicked his share of tries (not fronting there; for all the things I do competently on the field, absent a good wind-up, I’ve got a weak shot).

That's how one team beats another 3-0. Still, who knew it would be Florian Jungwirth, a defensive midfielder converted to central defender, apparently (if only according to the broadcast booth), who fed Wondo for both of his goals. And that’s where I flip the microscope to Portland’s side.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Major League Soccer Week 9.5 / 10: 2 Glances Back, 11 Glances Ahead

Oh. Teddy bear's optional, I hear.
Let’s glance ahead to Major League Soccer’s “10th Week” – which, incidentally, will be one of the final weeks that I’ll feel compelled to bookend with scare quotes. I think the schedule catches up with the titular “week” as of May 17. And I’m no less sure it’ll fall behind again. Something, something, circle of life…

A couple games already passed in Week 10, but fuck those games, because of my…let’s go with refraction period. Look, I’m a guy, I need to pause between weekends, etc. Also, neither game produced anything by way of surprises – I mean, of course Sporting Kansas City ground down the New York Red Bulls at home (it’s what they do); and we all had every reason to believe that Toronto FC, since returned to a righteous path, would hold off Orlando City SC at home (in an admittedly scrappy affair).

Then again, with all four clubs in action this weekend, that feels like a good place to start the comments on some notes and narratives that I see heading into Week 10’s action.

Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC
Their “Ws” look lonely enough this 2017 that Seattle better hope that TFC walk into CenturyLink with weary legs. The league did both clubs’ fans a disservice when they allowed one team from last year’s MLS Cup to play on a short week. Toronto’s the better team right now – especially with Sebastian Giovinco back on track. Everything else is working. At home, anyway.

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City SC
For me, Orlando punched high enough their over their allegedly weak road form against TFC last night that, unless the travel saps ‘em, I’d expect a fight. Cyle Larin should trouble Houston’s backline and Carlos Rivas should make them chase across two lines; with Houston both scoring goals and leaking them, this one could become a duel.

Philadelphia Union v. New York Red Bulls
Holding LA goal-less in LA feels as close to momentum as Philly can get at this point – it sure as hell beats chucking a three-goal lead – but the Red Bulls, even fatigued, feel like a team designed to punish another team struggling with self-esteem. The Union needs this one. Where’s your money?

Minnesota United FC v. Sporting Kansas City
I can barely stand the thought of devoting another 90 minutes of my life to SKC, but this game still feels intriguing as any this weekend - and lord knows how much I’d love to see Minnesota beat them (sorry, SKC, but also, get bent SKC). The Loons have improved, but with Feilhaber playing like he demands to carry the whole damn team, and with Dom Dwyer looking two years ago good? Add that Gerso Fernandes fella – and I think Minnesota sweats this one. A lot.

OK, hopping to this week’s, and every week’s, edition of The Main Event:

Monday, May 1, 2017

FC Dallas 2-2 Portland Timbers: Plus MLS Week 8.5/9 Review (Chunky!)

I mean, I feel GOOD, right?
If you start from the premise that FC Dallas remains the best team in Major League Soccer, the way the Portland Timbers forced not just a 2-2 draw out of them, but made Dallas earn ev…well, six good inches of that draw, says something. And the absence of Diego Valeri drops a nice exclamation point at the end of that. As in, it says something! (It says yay! See? YAY!)

And, here it comes, my 19th nervous breakdown and the 22nd iteration of these things, but, seeing as I had a short week, this is how it is this week: Timbers up top, the rest of MLS at the back, aka, the Conifers & Citrus mullet – which will be a one-off, so may we never speak of it again. The latest plan going forward (23rd iteration, at a minimum) will feature a stand-alone Timbers post, then a featured match/summary of Week ___, and I'll end that post with 20 “brain farts” about the week just past, as I do below. And, for what it’s worth, I like the “brain fart” concept because I requires less of what makes me a terrible, terrible person – e.g., hyper, several-dimensional elaboration. Or just bullshit.

First, wish me luck because, if you know me, you know I suck at that. Second, do feel free to argue any of those 20 points, or to demand elaboration. I really am trying to shorten these things, and for multiple reasons.

With that, let’s get back to Portland’s win…I mean, draw in Texas.

In spite of some wee shifts – e.g., Sebastian Blanco picking up where Valeri limped off – these were the Timbers we know and, as always (and perhaps too easily), love (good play, people; we should at least demand that; or results; or flowers; just…standards, people, or they’ll stop respecting us). It wasn’t perfect by any means – and for either team – but, a couple inevitable slips aside, both teams kept the ball basically in front of them, and forced the other team’s defense to make the better play in most situations. When the slips happened, though, they generally found punishment waiting…with the clear exception of Cristian Colman’s wild shank over the bar…and, kid, when you’re presented as a solution for a team, that’s just not good enough.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Major League Soccer Week 8.5 / 9: A Glance Ahead

Say, anyone else see that they played the CONCACAF Champions League final. A Mexican club won. No way…

I tried the tweet-storm thing for these previews and, personally, I think they don’t suit me. I’m a long-form kind of guy, even as I’m aspiring to be shorter. Also, I spent so much fucking time trying to squeeze my thoughts into 140 characters. As criminal as foot-binding for a guy like me (if without the vile societal/gender hierarchies of oppression. Just reaching for a dramatic metaphor…putting it down now. Backing away…stupid, stupid, stupid!).

At any rate, moving on to preview MLS Week 8.5/9 (nope, not yet “real” Week 9; still only seven teams have played eight games (also, we are the Portland Timbers, we come from the future (as in we’re one of the seven teams)). The approach here is supposed to be brief and casual – I don’t actually want go that far beyond 140 characters on these, I just wanted a little more room to breathe for bad jokes. I will say one thing, as I read’s Power Rankings, or even just stray notes among the various editions of this week’s editions of The Kick Off, I kept bumping into a thought that drives me fucking crazy – talking up a team’s accomplishments without any reference to who they played. For instance, sure, it’s neat that Minnesota United FC picked up its first clean sheet, but, guys, they earned that against the Colorado Rapids and at home. That matters, almost as much as the clean-sheet itself. The same goes for the Houston Dynamo blanking the San Jose Earthquakes: Wilmer Cabrera’s defensive adjustment may or may not work out, but the ‘Quakes are bad this season on offense, so…

If you want me impressed, let’s talk Orlando City SC giving New York City FC a good Bronx cheer.

Anyway, I’ll mostly rely on the league's injury report for this stuff – though somebody needs to wake up the damn intern, because he/she is leaving a lot of names hanging without status, e.g., Alex Crognale for Columbus? And I’ll get better about reading news. Promise. Even though that’ll probably start and end with The KickOff. Speaking of injuries…

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MLS Week 7.5 (Explained Inside) Review: A Reset Weekend

Goals. Well, part of them.
All right, let’s do this. Nice and compact. May bunny pellets replace my usual explosion of verbal diarrhea. And sorry about all that if you’re eating, but that’s just what came to me.

Let’s start with what happened over Major League Soccer’s Week 7.5 – again, I refuse to use the phrase “Week 8”until over half of MLS teams have played as many games, and only seven teams have played eight games so far. And, so, in no particular order, but the one the Good Lord gave us, here’s the rundown:

In the week’s early offering, the New England Revolution and the San Jose Earthquakes wrapped up like tired heavyweights, only neither club passes for heavyweights; the sleeping red (potential) giant that is Toronto FC woke up long enough to throttle the visiting Chicago Fire, with Sebastian Giovinco merrily shivving them all the while; in what was surely the most depressing two hours of the weekend, the Philadelphia Union carried their fans to heaven on the back of a three-goal lead against the visiting Montreal Impact only to pull them back into Hell’s Gutter by night’s end by allowing three goals the other way (though, again, damn Ignacio!); the Houston Dynamo’s roster rebuild sure looked better than San Jose’s (here, I think we have enough data to resist any claims of fatigue out of the Earthquakes' camp); the Portland Timbers reserves answered the call and faced down the Vancouver Whitecaps at home; and the New England Revolution might still be unbeaten at home, but that easy stat surely tastes bitter after DC United turned a likely loss into a bracing road draw (that said, this game was lousy with warning signs for the Revs). Elsewhere, the New York Red Bulls finally played like themselves, and that let them bury (probably) still-warm Columbus Crew SC; after threatening to get permanently tangled in status anxiety, FC Dallas showed what makes one good team better than the other by scoring the lone winner against Sporting Kansas City (and why do all the important games suck?); and, hey, Atlanta United FC introduced the lately-plucky Real Salt Lake to its ceiling – though I find it significant that that game could have ended 1-2. Orlando City SC took a poacher’s victory from New York City FC, courtesy of the silky-smooth (ahem) Cyle Larin, a result that underlined Orlando’s thoroughly sorted-shit (shit-sorted? Uh…got it) shit-sorted defense, the Seattle Sounders labored the widely-understood point that things don’t look so hot for the Los Angeles Galaxy right now, and, yes, any rational person would concede the…what do they call it…shit, shit, shit, “hospital death”(? - no, that's wrong) of the Colorado Rapids attack after it failed to breach an improved (but, c’mon, it can’t be that improved) Minnesota United FC defense (and this isn’t the only signal, either, but GOOD ON YA, LOONS!).

Or, in numerical terms…

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps: A Quick Rummage Through Our Back Pocket

Because not all back pockets are created equal...
Because I’ve basically stopped reading about soccer and can only make it through about 20 minutes of any soccer podcast, I got a little blindsided by yesterday’s starting line-up for the Portland Timbers. And I have the pre-game tweets to prove it. Just thankful I didn’t cough up something like, “Fanendo Adi’s contribution will define this game; nothing else matters” or “The Timbers need Jake Gleeson in goal or the entire goddamn house will come down.”

For fans, the cost/benefit break for these kinds of things doesn’t actually matter (con: you’re more likely to go home unhappy; pro: hey, now you have something to talk about before and after the game), because they’re gonna play the game regardless and, in that sense, the line-up is what it is. What can players and coaches do except play the hand dealt them by The Fates, The Furies, the referees – aka, the delegation from the Cosmos sent to every game.

Even with regular starters like Fanendo Adi out for suspension, and regular starters like Jake Gleeson and Sebastian Blanco missing through injury (the latter, only mostly missing), the Timbers knocked off the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 yesterday at Providence Park. That’s good as a stand-alone fact, obviously, and the Timbers played all right, the depth stepped up smartly enough, etc. The specifics of yesterday matter most in the sense of knowing what the team has in its back pocket (“what does it have in his pocketssss?”), at least when it comes to the subs, but, still, let’s mash all that together for a bit and see what the lump looks like when I’m done. I’ll start with Vancouver, sort of draw an outline of the shape of the challenge.

If you go back and look at those preview tweets, you’ll notice I flubbed pieces of the ‘Caps line-up as well. Their biggest changes came with sitting Alphonso Davies and pulling Christian Bolanos from the center of midfield to play at the midfield left in a 4-1-4-1 (dammit; I hate when the TV splits from the website on formation, but I think the 4-1-4-1 is more accurate). Presumably, Vancouver coach Carl Robinson did that so he could bulk up the midfield by starting Andrew Jacobson and Tony Tchani in front of Matias Laba – i.e., putting all that muscle in the middle, so that the Timbers couldn’t play through it. I won’t pretend to know whether having Davies’ moxie and talents on the field would have pulled back at least a point for Vancouver and, even as both of the breakdowns that lead to Portland goals originated from (essentially) central areas, the ‘Caps midfield gave their opposites a game. For me, the biggest open question comes with what Vancouver lost by having Jacobson play the role that Bolanos has been playing – and I’m flagging Jacobson here instead of Tchani, because when it came to late runs into the area, it was the former who most often made them. The ‘Caps did their best coming inside from the wings and they got a decent share of chances – two or three of them quite good, too. To take the next step, and not to knock the win overly, but if Jacobson knocks in Cristian Techera’s cross (he had a good afternoon) or if Fredy Montero’s chip over Liam Ridgewell finds the side netting, this post would read both differently and a little gloomy.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Toronto FC 3-1 Chicago Fire: Art and Scaffolding

Yep. Down to the visage of grim concentration.
After watching Toronto FC knock off the Chicago Fire 3-1 in Toronto, I logged out of MLS Live confident that the first headlines I read would hail the return of Sebastian Giovinco. And, yep. That’s entirely understandable because goals win games, after all, and Giovinco played like a man seeking to make whole his wounded professional pride…

…and, side bar, I think that’s what MLS really needs when it comes to foreign players; guys who play as if the stumbles they encounter in MLS somehow invalidates their accomplishments elsewhere. (Another sidebar: or guys like Diego Valeri, who feels a like an orphan who found a home.)

I’m going to lean into another cliché to explain this win: Toronto won this game in the middle of the field. Toronto’s trio – which put Michael Bradley in the hole behind Victor Vazquez and Marky Delgado – simply overwhelmed Chicago’s duo of Dax McCarty and Juninho, with Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of them; congrats to Toronto, too, for being the first MLS team to contain Schweinsteiger…proves it can happen. In recent weeks, Chicago has been able to get the ball in, near, and around the top of a team’s defensive third and keep the ball in there; they worked combinations from there (like this) that led to goals. Toronto’s midfield – and especially its back three – stepped aggressively to keep that area clear; any time it got in there, their defense swarmed to either pick the ball clean or force a bad pass.

Chicago couldn’t get a damn thing going as a result. The broadcast threw up another cliché – e.g., that Chicago was “having trouble getting hold of the ball” – and I landed on a more nuanced connotation for that concept, one broader than possession. Think of it as “handle” in basketball, something closer to a lack of control; Toronto basically strangled off Chicago’s preferred paths to goal and that killed them. A moment came around the 60th minute when Schweinsteiger made a clear attempt to haul the game onto his shoulders, but Toronto swallowed that up too. Pretty impressive outing.

Monday, April 17, 2017

MLS Week 7 Review: The Good, The Bad, The Tough

MLS. Only with fewer restraining variables.
First, the data dump.

Philadelphia Union 0-2 New York City FC
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Seattle Sounders
San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 FC Dallas
Montreal Impact 2-1 Atlanta United FC
Orlando City SC 2-1 Los Angeles Galaxy
Chicago Fire 3-0 New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls 2-0 DC United
Columbus Crew SC 2-1 Toronto FC
Houston Dynamo 2-2 Minnesota United FC
Colorado Rapids 1-2 Real Salt Lake
Portland Timbers 0-1 Sporting Kansas City

Those are all the games played and entered into the official record in Major League Soccer’s Week 6.5 (look, I know it’s annoying, but the calendar self-corrects, I think, Week 12). The question is what to make of them. To take a wild stab at that…

Tangoing Narratives
The low-hanging stories noted the weekend full of comebacks and late (sometimes late, late) goals. It’s not so much that both of those things aren’t some combination of fun and important, but San Jose has to squint tight to see inspiration in its late equalizer and David Villa’s amounts to a genius fuck-around and little more, but teams like Montreal, Orlando and Real Salt Lake came by the little spring in their steps honestly. I have solid arguments for all the above (San Jose needed every one of those 90 minutes for that one goal, Philadelphia is depressingly terrible [sad emoji], any win over the heretofore nettlesome Atlanta earns a little bump (especially when well corralled; red card helped), LA has the rep, even as they’re riding it beyond its legs, and any sign RSL can win sans snow is a good thing, respectively), but, all the usual caveats apply: we’re only 6 games into the season (for most teams…hold on…still wrapping my head around how…5 teams have played 7 games…MMMaatttthhhh……….), and, as always, MLS is a random-number generator in league form – and ain’t it a downer that I can’t get some crack about 20-sided dice in here? (22 teams…who does your branding, MLS?)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Portland Timbers 0-1 Sporting Kansas City: Say, That's Not Right (But It Is)

First, some context: my wife and I had gone on a date prior to the game, and that put me about two sheets to the wind at kickoff. I made it through the game, and then some, but I think I wrapped myself in Sheet 4 or 5 somewhere in there and, in every sense except actually being asleep, called it a night. With that in mind, I’m going to approach this from an impressionist angle.

A feeling sums up the Portland Timbers’ 0-1 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City: a sense of vague yet persistent frustration. Every time a Portland player faced an obstacle, he did it knowing that another obstacle stood beyond that one, and so on to what felt like infinity for some damn reason (or maybe Sheet 3, but I digress). By game’s end, most Timbers players looked not so much tired, as weary*. Enervation in game form: that’s what Saturday’s loss felt like. Running, but never moving, Sisyphus putting his shoulder to the rock again, etc.

Something told me that Portland would never score. I can’t even peg the time this occurred to me – did that come to me before or after KC scored their goal? – but I think I’d experience the former as resignation and the latter as despair, and how far are those two things, really? No team in MLS has had much luck breaking down KC this season, but the Timbers seemed likelier than most teams to do it. Instead, we got a double-layered shit sandwich: a loss at home against a Western Conference rival and an indication that KC’s has both the system and the intent to put their opponents in a submission hold for the length of the 2017 season. They’ll choke off games, basically, and that’s boring, but effective. And boring.

I just sat through the condensed game to fan the fires of memory a little, and here’s where I pick up that asterisk. * Portland’s best chances came late, so my memory failed me a little on that detail (but is that timing issue relevant? you be the judge), but I still maintain there’s a reason my chief mental impression of the night featured Diego Valeri seeming to just scream at referee, Drew Fisher. From the looks of it, it just came out as “WWWAAAAAAHHHHHH!!” It’s like Valeri performance-arted The Scream live, on-field, only instead of wailing about the horror of existence, his felt more like "do you believe this fucking guy?" as a madman's bellow. At least that’s how I remembered it…

Orlando City SC 2-1 Los Angeles Galaxy: Stage Fright?

Don't know what it is either. Just found it under "stage fright."
It’s not even summer and it already sucks to play in Orlando. As the broadcast booth reminded viewers incessantly during the game, Orlando has won every home game in their new stadium; at four games, that’s more than any other team in Major League Soccer history. That’s neat and impressive, certainly, but it’s a stretch to call Orlando a well-oiled machine.

Consider Orlando’s opening goal: Will Johnson can and will make that aggressive run (especially if one told him he could not), but I’d bet he doesn’t score that goal more than once in every 20 attempts. it was a wild shot, basically, one that took a lucky strike to go where it did. Next, consider Orlando’s most dangerous player on the day, Carlos Rivas. The more I watched Rivas – a fast player, certainly, but one whose speed papers over his technical deficiencies – the more he felt like a human embodiment of Orlando as a team; he, like them, is capable, but he’s not even sort of elegant. All in all, Orlando has a plan to beat opponents, but it feels closer to accurate to describe said plan as “concocted,” as opposed to “constructed.”

The Los Angeles Galaxy was the team they beat (2-1…am I just getting to that?), but it was close and came late, which just means it followed a familiar script for this weekend (lots o’ late goals). Cyle Larin bagged the winner around the 90th minute by overpowering Jermaine Jones in the area – and that also felt fitting. Jones spent too much of this game distracted by bullshit to the point of near-disengagement, so one final switch off wrapped things up nicely (or, in fairness, maybe Larin’s just too damn big for Jones). Jones, along with the rest of LA took far too long to get started; they might have even owed their late little roll to a couple personnel and formation changes by Orlando’s Jason Kreis (lookin’ at Luis Gil for Cristian Higuita, in particular). Whatever caused it, a handful of players bestirred themselves to give Romain Alessandrini – who has been LA’s only reliable danger-man – some goddamn help out there. Yes, even Giovani dos Santos.

If that sounds hard on the latter, blame anyone who talked up how LA would become dos Santos’ team in 2017. On the evidence (and with one big exception), he doesn’t seem to want it. If there’s a strange sub-plot in this whole thing, it’s the fact that LA looked better, more polished on those occasions when they did things well. Orlando, for their part, scored just one more goal and that’s what matters.