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.

For all that, it was a weird goal. RSL’s defensive spacing was just crap – I mean, I know Nagbe doesn’t shoot, but…that much space? – and they were a step behind (in thought and years) not just then, but for most of the night. So, yeah, if I were the RSL brain-trust, I’d suffer the night sweats over that defense. I know they’re missing their anchor (Justen Glad), but that unit struggled all night.

On the plus side for RSL, their marquee addition, Albert Rusnak, looks both as good and as young as advertised (seriously, that guy start shaving last week?). He’s a relentless, accurate (wait? precise? yeah,) precise combining player and he looks to have soft feet – see the hard feed from…can’t remember, near the top of the six; most guys would have stabbed at it, maybe scored; Rusnak, though, he controlled it…then the defense collapsed. Still (and guys, not being sarcastic, he looked promistaining (i.e., promising and entertaining; please force that word down the culture’s throat), so) I look forward to seeing more. After that, Plata’s free kick papered over an average performance, I thought Yura Movsisyan looked worse than average, but, but, Luke Mulholland? That guy straight up balled tonight. If without his teammates tracking him. Maybe they better start?

Now, back to Portland and that other goal referenced…I dunno. Four paragraphs above? This is the other “thing.” Portland’s first goal after going a man down showed what looks like a blueprint for a decent season. Once again, the whole thing sort of pivots around David Guzman. In my last post on a Timbers' game, I noted he tends to drop deep to help the defense. This week, I think I got a better understanding of how and when he does it. Guzman drops between the centerbacks during the periods when Portland has possession and want to keep it. In the run up to Portland’s third goal, the Timbers held onto the ball for, say, 30 full seconds (note: made up that number, but it was a while), using Guzman from a deep, deep role as a sort of "possession hub" to keep things moving the entire time, until RSL’s pressure almost pinned in Guzman.

What happened instead was that, after a stumble, Guzman found…someone, that someone lofted a pass to (the general vicinity of) Valeri, and he pushed it forward to…Alvas Powell(?), who got behind the defense and, faced with only one defender, held till he found Darren Mattocks driving in from the 18, from which position, he buried the goal. So, yes, I will correct the record tomorrow as needed [UPDATE [pending]: actually not going to happen, I'm less concerned about the specific personnel than the process, so, to continue]:, but the point is, Portland possessed the ball in a calm steady fashion and then, leapt forward ruthlessly toward RSL’s goal. That's what I want to see in a team – i.e., method and madness working hand in hand, versatility and lethality combining just so. Put it this way: I’m both cautious and optimistic about the Timbers so far.

I’ll wrap up with some vague points, notes on both teams (but mostly Timbers).

1) The Other CB
I think fans are getting a lot of mixed signals here, and that’s not necessarily a problem. To start, for the second game in a row (or this game, plus a prior fever dream for me), someone talked about Portland bringing in a starting centerback. That’d be great, and change the look of the team, but what about the current options? So far, Guzman looks like a pretty effective shield/semi-alternate centerback; the question there becomes, what happens if he goes down? As for the rest, I heard some paraphrase of Caleb Porter saying that he doesn’t want to saddle Rennico Clarke with the starting job on Day 1. So, tonight, they started Lawrence Olum and…I can think of worse things. RSL didn’t stress Portland’s back line too much today, in spite of putting three goals past two different 'keepers – frankly, I think the midfield cleaned up most of the mess before it mattered – so it’s hard to say anything decisive beyond, sure, I’d take more stability back there, in whatever form. And, yeah, I hope Clarke gets some reps. 10 starts minimum.

2) I Set Up “Good Meters” for Some Players…
…and then failed to really use them. Here, this is mostly about Sebastian Blanco. Today was full of background static (personal stuff), and some of that bled into the first 15 minutes of the game. So, if Blanco tore up the first 15, let me know and I’ll adjust. Based on what I saw, there was nothing visibly wrong with his mechanics; he basically looked like a guy settling into a new team. Still, he didn’t scream, “IMPACT PLAYER” either. He only got one tick on the “Good Meter” (a somewhat average, feint to get around a defender, and launch a cross), and that’s good enough. As far as I’m concerned, Blanco deserves at least half the leash given to Melano (but not a lot more). I ran the “Good Meter” over a couple other players: Jake Gleeson had that one great save on (I think) Yura; and, for Guzman, I stopped counting when I lost track of where the good moments stopped and the chippy fouls ended. For all that, I like Guzman so far. Like, a lot.

3) Either/Or
Either Powell completely owned Demar Phillips tonight, or Phillips completely sucks. This actually seems important.

4) The One and Only
Over-thinking goes into this broad concept all the time, but can I just celebrate how steadily and often Valeri just makes things work? He’s one of MLS’s better players and he keeps showing it. We’re all lucky fans, guys. He’ll go away one day, so savor this shit, even in preseason. This is luck, even if it’s comparative.

5) Miscellany
First, I really do wonder if Portland, or any team for that matter, has sorted out how to get the most out of Jack McInerney. He has never impressed me as much in his whole career, as he has in this preseason with, oh, a half-dozen-plus passes that feel smarter than they should. On RSL’s side, Plata looks a little cocky, but also not as good as he was – at least aside from that free kick. And hell of a goal by Omar Holness. There’s a guy whose name I keep hearing, so it’s good to see some of what people see in him. May there be more to come, and from many academies. C’mon, MLS, make the babies. (No, NO!! Not these mental images! Don Gar….and Suni…OH MY GOD, WHAT IS BRUCE ARENA DOING!?!?!).

OK, that’s it. I feel better. You?

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