Saturday, February 25, 2017

Los Angeles Galaxy 1-2 Portland Timbers: Pleasantly Dull, Yes?

Third image...incredible...and stop spying on me, Google.
I didn’t need a ton from tonight. If the Portland Timbers showed some sense of purpose and direction in 2017’s preseason finale, I’d feel OK about things, up to and including sputtering throughout March. Why not, right? It’s a tradition. Still, any sign that a couple key relevant parts of the team had improved or stabilized would have been enough.

Up to the 75th minute (maybe, or thereabouts; somewhere in the deeper parts of the second half), it was possible to believe that Portland would exorcise two demons tonight – e.g., they’d win on the road and keep a clean sheet. That was a good dream while it lasted, but it’s not bad going into the regular season with one demon slayed, if only in the most glorified of scrimmages.

Yeah, Portland coughed up a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy – a stupid little piece of disorganization, too (both (big) marks got lost, basically) – but they won on the road, 2-1, too, but, all in all, I figure it’s a little like hitting a respectable jackpot – nothing big, about $250 – after tripping over a black cat while carrying an umbrella and walking under a ladder. There’s a clean metaphor in there, I swear, but, the point is, Portland won on the road for the first time in over a year. Is that stat 100% verified? No. It’s more an allusion, but you get my point. Unless you don’t. I mean that road wins have been rare, therefore problematic. Moving on…

Do I need bullet points? Trying without…

I think the defense looks better. Sure, there’s the unsettling absence of clean sheets, and, sure, I wondered how much Portland owed their last win to the Vancouver Whitecaps, 1) starting non-starters and, 2) being broadly shitty in the attack, even with starters. The same applies to who LA coughed up tonight: the Galaxy might have fielded starters, but none of them have come up with a clear sense of how to go forward, with or without his teammates. It wasn’t till Romain Alessandrini came on and just started running headlong toward them, that LA consistently attacked the Timbers midfield, never mind the defense, and even that didn’t last more than 15 minutes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MLS Barometer: Eastern Conference 2017

Doin' this shit old school.
As promised a few days back, I went through the (low-hanging; aka, SB Nation) local blogs to clock how each of them feel about the off-season rebuild in their market – and, by translation, how they feel about 2017 as a whole. I had my doubts (or outdated bookmarks), but I found an SB Nation blog for each of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference teams, which, courtesy of a visit from personal sanity, are the only teams I’ll discuss in this post. C’mon, 11 teams feels ample.

And that’s all the preamble I need, I guess. Um. Let’s go alphabetically.

Atlanta United FC
Source: Dirty South Soccer (great name, btw)
I relied on a few articles for this one: a roster projection, something that looks like a regular feature running under “tactics board,” plus a preseason match report for a game against an opponent (Chattanooga FC) that Atlanta fairly clear out-classed (think it was 5-0). Not surprisingly, a lot of the focus for all these goes to Miguel Almiron – and, in fairness, some of those gif/clips explain the buzz. A couple other things get flagged – e.g. Yamil Asad scored a beauty, Andrew Carleton looks all right – but even the “tactics board” post centers on Almiron, if around some talk about how it looks like Atlanta will use their fullbacks (not too far off Columbus Crew SC, under Gregg Berhalter from the sound of it). If there’s anything keeping Atlanta fans up at night (besides the heat, amirite?), it’s the defense; the match report actually framed this as something like the basic work of getting defenders and goalkeeper on the same page.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: I see a steep drop off after the starting eleven. People are broadly hyped about Atlanta and that’s fine, but they look an injury or two away from a stall to me. To put this in human form: would you willingly start Jeff Larentowicz in an MLS game? If you answer “no,” you see the issue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Late Tackle, 02 21 2017: Kicking at a Mental Block (Nagbe) and Vancouver Rebuilds Without a Foundation(?)

It is A plan, I suppose.
“Nagbe-led Timbers clicking, but Porter wants more” could not have slapped a more “click-baity” tease to this article, at least not for me, due to what my counselor politely calls “heightened, specific / troublesome interest” in Darlington Nagbe (I’m working on getting that third modifier scrubbed from my file, but every day’s a new day. For the record, the actual article – one that examines the decision to stick Nagbe on the left wing, and the meaning thereof - carries a more measured headline…so I probably wouldn’t have clicked on the thing, so, to MLS’s headline hacks, you’ve earned your rent this month.

It’s that word, “led,” that creates the cognitive dissonance, because I see Nagbe as more of a facilitator than a leader. It’s been said (over and over and over and over) that Nagbe could be a truly great attacking player, but raw talent depends on disposition and what a player is motivated to do: that's what will define where and how Nagbe brings his best to Portland, whatever that best may be.

The article raises one specific point, I’d like to scratch at – the one that inspired the poll I posted today: will Nagbe return to his same level of “production” in 2017 that he achieved in 2013? Here’s my answer:

Personally, I don’t think Nagbe will score as many goals as he did in 2013 – and that goes back to the above point about disposition. That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome it if he banged in a baker’s dozen (I mean, by all fucking means, kid), but I’m neither expecting that nor banking on it. What I do believe is that Porter has come up with what looks like a good system for Portland’s attack down the left. Moreover, that system will afford Nagbe with opportunities to shoot: the question will be, as ever, what he does with those. (Or will he spurn them, as he does my unflagging obsession?) (Also, I don’t like the choices he and his wife made in their kitchen*. I mean, that back-splash? Are they blind?!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Portland 2-1 Vancouver: Sure, We Were Better Than Them, But...(and awesome!)

I'm good.
It didn’t show up in the score-line, but the field hella tilted toward the Vancouver Whitecaps’ side of the field throughout the night. And that’s just one reason why the Portland Timbers beat them by an understated 2-1. All the same, that understatement has a lot of qualifiers.

It starts with Vancouver’s starting eleven and, frankly, a bunch of stuff that I’m simply not getting from the commentating crew. For instance, if Vancouver is treating this game as one last dress rehearsal prior to ducking into their CONCACAF Champions’ League series against (pretty sure, but I don’t care enough to look it up) the New York Red Bulls, then, no, I don’t understand that starting line-up. Sure, I can see Russell Teibert out there over the (later to be proved more effective, and, c’mon, who’re we kidding?) Andrew Jacobsen, but why is Nigel de Jong playing (maybe) the Left 3 in a 4-2-3-1? Because, golly, that’s not his skill-set. Giles Barnes is an on-acid vivid open field player, so who the hell came up with the terrible idea of stuffing him into the No. 10 role, where he’s got goons nipping at his heels at every turn? That man is pure quick-slash-with-the-dagger, not the player who picks the lock.

All in all, I went into the 60th minute thinking that Portland’s coach, Caleb Porter, had held the better cards (seriously), but played the weaker hand, but I premised that on the idea that Robinson rested his starters so that they'd, 1) not burn too much going into the big games; and 2) they'd turn the tables on  a tired Portland team. I was wrong, wrong, wrong, though, because, take away the Cristian Techera free-kick (and, for the record, missed the foul, but does it really matter? I mean, that stuff happens), and the Whitecaps barely showed up tonight. Hold on…I’m scouring my notes for exonerating details for Vancouver’s overall outing. I think I end on the over-arching and important statement that Vancouver will not be this bad again this season (and, if they are, god bless you Carl Robinson, because you’re fucked) and David Ousted looks close to possessed in his mission of absolutely fucking killing every last ghost of his sharply sub-par 2016 season. We’re talking Biblical and/or Rome v. Carthage level hatred. Serious shit, basically.

As for Portland, I have, literally, one complaint. I’ll get to that shortly, because I want to start with one fun detail. Tonight, more than any thought or moment, confirmed a couple ideas that seem fundamental to the Portland Timbers’ 2017. In no particular order:

The Late Tackle 02 15 2017: Timbers v. Caps and the Enduring Mystery of Mix

C’mon, Portland. Faster dammit.
Damned if all the Major League Soccer games going on don’t give today that regular season feeling. Yessir, teams are pressing on the accelerator, seeing if they can’t on-ramp into 2017 at freeway speeds. 2017’s coming, people…

In spite of the caption under that image, my mood regarding most things Portland Timbers remains pretty damn Zen. I’m open enough mentally (emotionally? spiritually?) that I don’t need to see anything in particular in tonight’s preseason game against the Vancouver Whitecaps – even if, as tweeted earlier, I’d get more than a little pleasure out of, say, Portland keeping their sheets clean while dropping a four-post on Vancouver. Or, in check-list form:
1) I want to see defenders, whomever they may be, look like they know where they need to be;
 2) I want to see the attack sharpen and, specifically, to see someone besides Diego Valeri find and seize the big moments (say, Sebastian Blanco).
Basically, so long as the systems function satisfactorily in the decisive portions of the field, I’m good. The defense remains the big one for me; possession can hang to some extent (though I will cheer it when and where I see it), and I won’t panic if the team can’t score, so long as the chances come.

Needless to say, I’ll be more punctilious about where everything lines up on the ruler when I watch the Timbers’ final preseason game on February 25 against the Los Angeles Galaxy…OK, yes, a loss tonight – or, god forbid, a blowout – will make me skittish.

OK, enough of that. On to today’s MLS topic...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Late Tackle, 02 14 2017: Of Returning Prodigal Sons

Ah, Fredy! Ya beautiful prick! Come on in, son!
I want to start with a couple quick notes, then it’s on today’s topic (moving fast, people, go go go!).

First, I decided to skip rolling out preseasons results as they come in. Think I’ll just roll that into the final All-MLS preview post for 2017 that I’ve been fantasizing about since late January. Wholesomely fantasizing, ya sickos.

Second, articles like this one (e.g. “10 Observations about the New England Revolution Preseason” or something like that) are starting come out and these are just nice for getting a bead on where fan-bases are on their local team’s rebuild. I’m working this week to combine them into a big mega-post. I hope to post by the end of the week, but failing that, I’ll post it Monday.

Or I won’t finish it. You know how these things go. Just know I wanna (and that’s usually enough).

Coming Back And Why A Player Does It
A couple things come together for this one. First, pulled together a list the author (Ben Couch) titled, “Which Former Players Should Return to MLS”? I resisted the initial temptation to come up with my own list – because, that’s a bigger universe than I want to wrap my head around for so little return – but it does include a nifty player or two – e.g., Andy Najar, Krizstian Nemeth and, for all you Portland Timbers fans, Jorge Villafana.

The thing I want to flag with this is how much more contingent this whole concept has become. Jorge, for instance, wouldn’t feel like the same homecoming as, say, Fredy Montero, who’s rumored (strongly enough to call it done, right?) to return to MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Along with Seattle’s new kid, Gustav Svensson, Montero’s could follow from not so much success or failure during his one year in China as a change to the care and handling of foreign players in the Chinese Super League. A quick review of Montero’s CV shows a guy who’s continued to score for the teams he’s gone to (the main ones being Portugal’s Sporting CP and China’s Tianjin Tedo), even if he’s not lighting it up quite like he did with Seattle.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-2 Minnesota United: A Comeback That's Less Stirring than Reassuring


With the Portland Timbers clawing back to a 2-2 draw against MLS new kids, Minnesota United FC, it feels like we’re finally getting to a place where fans and weirdos like me have a deep enough sandbox to play in. This being (my personal) first contact with Minnesota, I want to dig into them first.

Overall, though, tonight’s lessons are:

1) Minnesota has enough of a plan.
2) Portland has a better one.
3) And Portland has both (some) depth and a plan for it.

All that’s pure speculation, of course, me projecting fantasies into a Being Caleb Porter automaton that is more me than Caleb Porter, and therefore is it really Caleb Porter?

At any rate, on Minnesota United FC
Combine a little distraction (e.g., dinner and Grammys) with a more than a little unfamiliarity, I cannot tell a lie, but I’m not sure about when, if or whether Minnesota made changes on the field. All my notes are therefore, 1) general, while also being, 2) about players who stood out. All in all, Minnesota feels conservative, a team that will use solidity as a platform from which inspiration can jump that much higher, and I’m drawing that less from their roster, than from a one-game sample – tonight’s game, in fact, and that’s totally it. You’ve been warned.

The one player I kept seeing for Minnesota was their Brazilian midfielder, Ibson. And, for frame of (potentially meaningless) reference, Ibson’s more Dunga than Socrates. Based on tonight’s game, he plays more safety valve than weapon, and that’s nothing to sniff at: teams need calm and pacing and Ibson looked good in that role. It probably also helps that he's familiar to the club, a sort of anchor for the transition. He also benefitted from having a stopping block behind him in the person of Joseph Greenspan (yep, U.S. Navy kid); he’s a big kid, maybe the next Axel Sjoberg, even though Greenspan never looked as elegant. So long as Minnesota has Kevin Molino (who not so much smoked as evaporated (an admittedly stranded Zarek Valentin), Christian Ramirez’s (at-first-blush) intriguing attacking tools, and – golly! – if Bashkim Kadrii didn’t present as someone to watch this 2017: yeah, I think they have stuff to work with. I don’t expect a flawless start, but that team – the one I saw for the first and only time – looked like they’ll be competitive enough.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Portland Timbers 3-3 Real Salt Lake: Technology and Actually Promising Things

The fouls can see him too! Trippy!!
I’m going to start this with the elephant-sized talking point that squatted all over that game. Yeah, Video Assiste…fuck it, VAR. The specific acronym doesn’t matter, but I'm talking about that video review thing that just happened, that we all endured.

It’s not what happened on the field that bugs me. On a different day with a different angle Soren Stoika (right?) would have called that red card first time, and things would have ensued as they did – at least provided that Joao Plata’s foot kissed the ball in just the same way. Today, though, Stoika missed it and…I dunno. So, what I guess? Was getting justice really that much more satisfying than a blown call? Yura Movsisyan kept playing so Diego Chara’s contact with…whatever couldn’t have been that savage. Still, Chara does lead with the elbow a lot, and that’s a risk.

Bottom line, though, I think I’d confine VAR to goal-line tech. I’m fine with using the Discipline Committee to mete out justice after. And I’d consider putting a little more length on their levers. Think something between the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and the Spanish Inquisition. The broadcast team spoke like party-line puppets (guys…hyperbole), calling the stilted moment of video decision, “drama-filled and impactful” (which running dog swine uttered those words?!), and I think that’s what made me angry tweet. Then again, every day is a trigger…

OK, the game, the game, the game. The Portland Timbers tied Real Salt Lake into a big bow of 3’s and called it Thursday. I’m going to dig into a couple particular fascinations, maybe try to inflate them into something bigger. They were both goals and Portland scored both, but one of them said something very specific about RSL. So’s I can end big with the Timbers, I’ll start with the one that gets at RSL.

The Timbers first goal contained some good elements. Alvas Powell put in a good cross, Mattocks wrestled through some traffic to get off his shot, and Diego Valeri found that clear shot on goal as reward for following the righteous path of continuing the play, wherever it leads you. Or, to re-write the script, great cross by Powell, and, of course, Darlington Nagbe didn’t shoot, and Darren Mattocks followed that up by scuffing the shot, as is his habit, and thank god for Diego Valeri.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Late Tackle 02 08 2017: Adu-Shaped Puzzle Pieces That Don’t Fit

Tell me he's not dead. Please.
As I’ll be noting all over the place, I am trying to simplify/routinize what I do across my various projects, despite my steady failure rate with…uh, I prefer the term differently successful.

For now (and for as long as I keep it up), I’ve decided to slim down these Late Tackle posts to one main topic. Outside of these, I’ll write up games (one tomorrow!) and put together the odd larger project (have two in the pipeline). All of it will relate to (probably) the Portland Timbers first, Major League Soccer second, and the U.S. Men’s National Team last. In all honesty, the primary function of these posts is making me keep current on the news.

Oh, speaking of, I will also flag things like results as they come. For instance, the San Jose Earthquakes edged the Seattle Sounders yesterday, the New England Revolution nicked Sporting Kanas City 2-1, and the LA Galaxy drew at ones against Mexico’s Club Tijuana.

There are a couple games on tap for today, but most of them are weird (is that the word I want? I mean is they’re against non-MLS teams, and that trips up context). At any rate, even if they’re preseason games – and “preseason games don’t mean anything” (allegedly; investigation #1) – I still like tracking ‘em. It’s not the best data, but it’s the data we got, people.

Finally, the topic. Future installments will pull out the first two paragraphs, so that should tighten’ ‘em up a bit. And, for what it’s worth, I toyed with writing up Dax McCarty’s pointed comments about his move from New York Red Bulls to the Chicago Fire, but McCarty pretty much covered it…in something like a TED Talk on sports business ethics. Impressed…

MLS’s First, and Only, Child-Star (and the Timbers Rebuild)
Given his long, winding, and increasingly weird career (loaned down to the Finnish Third? damn), it seemed more than a little strange to see even somewhat steady coverage of Freddy Adu’s brief, long-shot trial with the Timbers. I’m not talking about twitter snark, either, but regular news pieces like one that went up on SBI Soccer this morning. How does Adu continue to be worth the attention, except as a cautionary tale? (Here, I’d reference Matt “The Armchair Analyst” Doyle’s brief, brutal take on Adu (think it was on ExtraTime Radio – e.g., “he doesn’t look like an athlete.”)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Timbers Tie Seattle, and a Theoretical Update on the U.S. Men

Mom/Caleb makes me walk away.

I know I said I wasn’t going to comment on any Portland Timbers preseason games until the two before the season. I also know that I’ve run out of ways to say, “MLS Team X picked up Player Y. I don’t know anything about Player Y, so this move feels Z.” (And that's been the staple of a lot of the Late Tackle posts). I still want to talk about soccer, so, in two parts, I’ll write what I’ve got about yesterday’s 1-1 draw between the Timbers and the Seattle Sounders; after that, I’ll close a couple notes on the state of the U. S. Men’s National Team. Or at least what it feels like after a short sample…

Speaking of short samples, and I say this with love, I never know how much heart and brainpower I should invest when the Timbers play the mix of trialists, draftees, T2 guys and players from the Siberia end of the bench. Even if I like what I see, what are the actual odds that I’ll see that player again? Like petting a puppy at a pet store, I tell you…

Meanwhile, on Seattle’s side of the ledger, they sent out one of the rare MLS line-ups that I greet with a rare, but literal and thorough, “who the fuck is that?” Anonymity notwithstanding, one of those guys forced a penalty kick and forced the tie. And, yeah, I know Harry Shipp, and best o’ luck to the poor bastard. He’s on the tough end of a chunky depth chart. (And, guys? That picture? The one on the team’s roster page? He looks like a still from an ISIS snuff video. Maybe do a re-shoot, yeah?)

To wrap up Seattle, that seems like a good place to start. So, they got that Swedish cat, Gustav Svensson, and he seems to lurk around the same part of the field where people got used to seeing Cristian Roldan last season, so what’s that mean when Osvaldo Alonso comes back? As much as I preach squad rotation, players can get restless watching and, before you know it, a guy like Roldan accidentally winds up in the bin marked “surplus to requirements,” and then what, y’know? Depth is good and all, and I support it; it can have consequences. That’s all.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Late (Late) Tackle 02 01 2017: Some Weird Stuff on Expansion, Promotion and Relegation

Winner of an accidental, "Most Stoned Llama Contest."
There are still trades (round up o’ the good stuff) and preseason games (uh, quickly, since the last, sole update: New York Red Bulls lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake; the Vancouver Whitecaps dropped four goals’ worth of hurt on one Oxford or another; the San Jose Earthquakes edged Sporting Kansas City (1-0); the Portland Timbers lost (again) to (I think) a Croatian team; and, finally, new kids Minnesota United FC started their time in Major League Soccer better than Portland continued theirs, knotting at one goal apiece with the New England Revolution), but I’m not actually watching the latter, and I’m broadly ignorant about the former (c’mon, gimme time to watch, people), so let’s detour things I know…

…or, more accurately, things on which I have opinions.

First, and keeping local, the Timbers finally nailed down the agreement for Sebastian Blanco. Here’s to hoping he’s not just as good as advertised, but also sturdy physically. And, with the scars from Lucas Melano still healing, let’s hope he’s locked in mentally. OK, now the rest…

The Rare Export (And Will It Become Rarer?)
Unless you are a world soccer savant – e.g. one possessed of knowledge of all relevant global leagues through at least the second division, I still maintain that SBI Soccer’s MLS Ticker is the lowest useful bar of entry for names and context on incoming players. While I’d usually leave it there, one transfer I spotted today nagged at my thoughts. As reported in, the Whitecaps’ shipped the (presumably) promising young Kianz Froese to an outfit in Bundesliga 2 (Fortuna Dusseldorf, of which I know nothing beyond the fact it's in Germany). That’s not so complicated when it comes to motive – the move puts Froese in a place that makes it easier for bigger, more prestigious European clubs can see him – but it’s worth wondering how much longer this kind of, arguably, lateral move makes sense for MLS players. Or, to come at that from the other side, how big does MLS have to get before the still-clear upside of Europe shrinks to irrelevance?