Tuesday, August 8, 2017

This Station Signing Off: Well, There It Is

Brought garlic, a stake, a silver bullet, a nuclear weapon...
I’m hereby shutting down Conifers & Citrus. You see, I’ve got this other, much less-trafficked side project going on, so…

Yes, I kill blogs, literally, like they kill Jason or bankable stars on soap operas, but, in all honesty, this time feels different. I haven’t plowed through the all condensed games since well before the Gold Cup; haven’t listened to even one soccer podcast since, oh, March; and I stop reading halfway through the one or two articles I start each week. I sometimes sit through that show with Caleb Carr and Susannah Collins and…I don’t know, something about that feels sorta fucked up.

Anyway, yeah, broadly I’ve stopped giving a shit.

I’ll still watch some games, but I'll do it on my time and without talking about it - e.g., like a normal person. The desire to pick apart, joke about, or speculate on what I’m seeing snuck out the back door without so much as a goodbye (silent, deadly, and lightly tragic). I think I just ran out of new things to say. Just under a week ago, I was telling this guy that I know as much as I’ll ever know about soccer, like, right now, and, seeing as I’ve got no more interest in learning more, well, there it is. I tried to read a book on tactics once. I fell asleep looking at the cover.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think I ever brought anything more to the table than breadth. Watching the rest of Major League Soccer let me measure Portland against the rest of the league, to see what they had and that we didn’t. (And who noticed how rarely I used the word “we” in the posts? Never felt right, that’s why.) Take away that context, and I’m just another half-educated twit watching one team play a succession of other teams that I basically know nothing about. Without the other teams' “status” for reference, about the only way I could say anything truly novel would be if I watched games closely enough to the flag in-game tactical adjustments. Because I’ve never been able to spot that kind of thing in 20+ years of trying, well, there it is.

As recently as Sunday, I thought I’d gut it out the rest of the year, but, looking at what I’ve posted lately (actually, couldn’t be moved to do even that), I didn’t see the point. So, yeah, traffic’s slow, grill’s turned off, and both cooks have already started drinking. The shop’s closing early.

I’ll be adjusting my social media presence, replacing the “Conifers & Citrus” name on my twitter handle with something else, etc. (that “etc.” also includes blocking the 100+ porn bots that follow my twitter). I’ll direct things to the other site (A Project of Self Indulgence), going forward and shifting that will probably take a couple days, just so I can keep anyone who cares current. Keep following what I’m doing if you want to, but don’t feel obliged. It’ll be some mixture of politics, culture and music, and…something else. I’m still wrestling with what I want to fill the balance my idle hours.

God willing I’ll make it something productive. Then again, God’s dead, last I heard.

Thanks to anyone who ever read this – and a sincere THANK YOU to anyone who ever read this site regularly, or even told me they appreciated my writing. You never really know if anyone is happily receiving the transmission till that someone tells you, and getting positive feedback truly does wonders for overcoming writer's block. I’ve made acquaintance with a lot of good people doing this, and have actually met and got to know more than a few solid citizens. As much as I want to list a bunch of names and give everyone his/her due, I know it’d end in some boilingly misguided attempt to be acknowledge everyone, only to inevitably leave off someone both deserving and important, and they’d feel like shit, and I’ll feel dumb and like shit, and so on. With that, I think the only person I can properly acknowledge would be (to use his twitter handle) @shotboxer, aka, the human gateway drug, through whom I got to meet and talk to many, many good, smart and interesting people. I hope I run into some of you again, and not too many days from now.

It’s been fun, honest. Trouble is, it stopped being fun. And, well, there it is.

Oh, and if I told you the number of posts on this site that I’ve written blacked out, you wouldn’t believe me. And I’ll confirm neither numbers, nor percentages.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Portland Timbers 3-1 Los Angeles Galaxy: Rich Kids Slumming

Looking for LA in their current home...
So, how much did your stomach sink when the Los Angeles Galaxy equalized within minutes (a minute?) of the Portland Timbers early goal in yesterday’s early morning game? Per the cliché, all’s well that ends well, but not even having enough time to tweet out a caveat fantor (not actual Latin) did leave me wondering today about the thickness of Portland’s glass jaw.

Fortunately, the Galaxy, who have been shit lately, continued to muck around their Personal Hell Sewer (TM). By game’s end, they could barely play out of their own half, never mind out of pressure. They got buried time and again in their left defensive corner; the Timbers’ pressure didn’t even need to be thorough to throw off LA; the mere sight of an opposite colored shirt saw LA give away the ball.

I set out, here, with an effort to not roll into one of those posts, one where I shit on the parade and then walk before it in unembarrassed nudity. No self-flagellation is in order because, bad as the trends have been for LA (0-6-1 in their last 7; e.g., bad), Portland had a couple bad habits to shake off as well – e.g., no wins at home since June (are you fucking kidding me?), and with a mental meltdown shit-show home loss to Real Salt Lake in that same wretched mix. Still, the Timbers did win today, cruising to a 3-1, and that’s what they needed and what we wanted, etc. But, guys, c’mon. Playing a train-wreck of a team at home? I mean, what’s the likeliest thing to happen? (Psst…LA loses. And suck it.)

History aside, though, this game will probably always be about VAR…whatever the fuck that stands for. (What? How many acronyms do you rattle off every day without knowing the root words?). As anyone who watched the game knows, the Galaxy had a Gyasi Zardes goal called back – and correctly – but I’ll be damned along with a school of the most wholesome nuns if I ever would have spotted that infringement in real time. Hell, it took many, many slow-mo replays for the commentating crew to catch the actual infringement (Zardes’ goal-hungry hands getting in front of his head (why, kid, why?) on the way to knocking the ball down to his feet to poke home.)

Monday, July 31, 2017

Houston Dynamo 2-2 Portland Timbers: An Unwelcome Comparison

Also, these get fucked up real fast.

A couple, three weeks back, I posted a poll on twitter that gave a quartet of projected overall records (e.g., 6-5-3, 4-7-3, 8-2-4, etc.) with which the Portland Timbers would see out the 2017 season. I don’t remember the exact numbers (and that tweet lies buried beneath an avalanche of anti-Trumpublican venting), but I landed on each of those projections by going through the rest of Portland’s schedule and divining results based on the opposition, the venue for each game, and some vague potential plotlines for each opposing team going forward. I felt like science, people (if only social science).

How’d I do so far? I had the home game against Real Salt Lake carved in stone as an easy Portland win (violently nope!), and yesterday’s draw against the Houston Dynamo as a certain loss – both of those across all scenarios. As for the road win against the Vancouver Whitecaps, I put that down as either a loss or a draw, so…yeah, fucking psychic over here. If anyone out there wants help picking the ponies, I offer reasonable hourly rates. (A friend helpfully pointed out that I got the total number of points over the past three games right at least – four points out of nine.)

If I sound less confident than I used to over the past couple seasons about what’s happening with the Timbers, I guess my rebuttal is, can you blame me? If this team played soccer like it thwarts expectations, they’d win the triple every year.

As for yesterday, the best excuse I can offer for a bogus (and silent) “Lock of the Week” prediction was that the Dynamo team I expected didn’t show up. Part of that had to do with the twin Honduran terrors – Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto – starting the game on the bench. Portland countered with a line-up close enough to its starting eleven – and that’s even with Lawrence Olum starting in central defense (more later), and Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco starting on, at least what I assumed were the opposite of their usual assignments in the 4-2-3-1.

The Timbers opened the game strong (literally; just re-watched the condensed game and the team held possession through Nagbe’s opening shot inside the first minute), and they continued to find one another in space all the way to Diego Valeri’s opening goal. Some bad defending provided either the secondary or primary assist (Zarek Valentin fed Valeri, but, holy shit, did Leonardo make at least one terrible decision in playing that pass), but the Timbers earned that one. The team looked comfortable most of the evening, especially on the ball; the passing was respectably crisp and all concerned looked lively in spite of Houston’s sticky East Texas heat.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-2 Portland Timbers: On Trade-Offs and...Just Noted...

Found this searching "terrible mom." And, well, I'm not NOT listening...
I’m going to start by saying that the natural, obstructed lighting at BC Place drives me fucking nuts. Players slipping in out of shadows like ninjas should be cool, but it’s not.

Turning to other mysteries, the central mystery, in fact, is what to make of the Portland Timbers' 1-2 road-theft at the Vancouver Whitecaps. And this mystery comes with a body too – last week’s bender/collapse against Real Salt Lake – and that adds a bit o’ juice. If only we had a nun outfit…

To slip into that nun outfit, maybe take a twirl in front of the mirror, maybe the Timbers fell victim to an RSL team that stepped out of the right self-help seminar (or Mike Petke gave them super-soldier drugs; or cocaine; maybe those are two words for the same thing, I do not know; I’m just not sold that the “dogs” speech saved their season). Look on either side of RSL’s win over Portland, you’ll see a great result on one side and a strong performance on the other.

As observed in my notes on the dissection of said body, I listed the several ways Portland came to the party light (e.g., the key (hmm….) missing players (more later)). The same applied, however, when the Timbers stormed over the northern border; the team had a couple different players missing – say, Diego Chara, present, Fanendo Adi, absent/presumably forced by Caleb Porter to don a dunce cap from the starting whistle to the final one while he sat this out. Still, the same rough team that, from the moment Kyle Beckerman stuffed Portland in the hole, got utterly overrun/badgered to madness for the rest of the match last week. Largely present, accounted for, and eager to improve.

One final piece of data: the seven points RSL picked up over their past three games accounts for over a quarter their total points for the season (that's of 24 points total). And while, no, Vancouver hasn’t blinded anyone with its play this 2017, they’ve been better all season than RSL; plus, they had the Timbers at BC Place – again, that same Timbers team that…well, just hasn’t been the guys we met at the start of this process (by which I mean just this season; Bachelor/Bachelorette reference?). Or, more bluntly, that’s Portland’s first win in six, so what the fuck happened and what does it mean?

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.