Monday, April 10, 2017

Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers: Situation...Just Normal

We got a good thing going...
I just watched the condensed version of the Portland Timbers depressing (for some) 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union (yeah, it’s those guys I’m talking about). I wanted to tour the details one more time, even as I don’t think anyone can bend, shape and squeeze them into any kind of revelatory permanence. By that I mean, this one’s all about the narrative, because the details don’t look to have changed all that much.

To quickly review those details, however, Darlington Nagbe scored, and that’s always nice; Fanendo Adi scored again (still nice, but less surprising), to become the Portland Timbers all-time leading scorer (just give him the damn ball, guys); after that, Diego Valeri did something lethally important, Jake Gleeson made (I think) a couple confident saves, and that’s good (even if I can only recall the one), I had a blast watching Adi battle Oguchi Onyewu, was it just me or did David Guzman finally look a little sloppy out there (and, holy shit, wouldn’t that be a big deal?), Philadelphia has some good pieces, sure, but they’re not fitting into the same puzzle yet, and, when it gets right down to it, isn’t that the difference between Portland and Philly right now? That sense of, to pick up another metaphor, of the dancers knowing their steps?

That’s where it ends: a better team beat one that’s still struggling (pulling for ya, Philly; I’m totally on part of your side), but isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? For all its silver linings, both old and new, yesterday….shit, Saturday’s (two days out, now) win doesn’t mean anything besides three arguably unexpected points for the Timbers. With the emphasis on “arguably,” because Philly has been grasping after nothing all season long. I’ll get to that in exactly two paragraphs, but, first, I’ve got to wrap up this larger thought on the Timbers.

I’ve run out of new ways to say the same things about a lot of the Portland Timbers line up. Yeah, it’s neat that Nagbe scored a goal, but when will he score the next one? Valeri conjured a game-changing moment (and, honestly, that’s as close as you get to a goal outside of hitting the post, or actually scoring one), but doesn’t he do that (soccer’s version of) all the time? As for Guzman, so what if he looked a little errant out there; if the Union failed to exploit it yesterday, what’s it’s matter so long as the next team doesn’t either, or Guzman just cleans up for the next one? The defense largely held, except when it didn’t (c’mon, this was just weird; Philly's "goal song" ("DOOP!"), just makes it weirder...), but what’s more “Timbers” than a defensive lapse? All that stuff is some form of normal, par for whatever course we’re on, so, till things tilt powerfully toward birdie or bogey, let’s treat them like weather, stop pretending they’re interesting, and keep plugging toward the Promised Land.

Here’s the thing to pile on top of all that: Portland had dropped most of the points from their last two games; even if both teams’ relative/respective level means something different today than it did at the time (possibly? fuck it, I dunno), things that left Timbers fans feeling giddy after the first three games of the season didn’t carry through those games...except all of the things mentioned above, but those are just normal, so, when those things stay constant, and the results don’t come, what does it mean?

The stuff that’s wrong with the Union makes things even messier. They’re fighting valiantly all the time, and sometimes well, but they’re still winless in five, and on a three-game losing streak. After watching their full 90 against Portland, I have to wonder if all their games feature as many squandered moments. Philly misplayed a minimum of three passes that I can recall, and none of those made the condensed game, so, yeah, makes a guy wonder. Long story short, though, Philly has good players, but it seems like every time one player does something right, the guy who’s supposed to work with him, does something wrong. Or the opposite good thing he could do. It’s a lot of individual striving, basically, and not a lot of beautiful teamwork.

That’s extra harsh because you could fit a bunch of Philly’s players into most MLS rosters: Haris Medunjanin serves a mean dead ball, and passes pretty dang well from deep; Fabinho looks better this year than last, he’s quick, and he’s never looked that bad; the backline looks more assured with Onyewu in it (shame it’s not a pairing with a future); and….I guess that’s the point. the Union has ideas and moments, but they don’t have momentum and, more importantly, wins. Philly might be a better team this year, but they’re facing off against teams, even in the East, that were already better last season (e.g., Toronto FC, or DC United), or worked to become better since (New England Revolution, or…can I say it? Chicago? (no, not yet)). This team still has work to do, so what does a win against them really mean?

To be clear, I’m happy about where Portland is right now: top of the league, even with a moderate assist from games played, certainly improves on the historical pattern. All I want to do here is quash loose talk of being “back on track,” or about this being a big win. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve so successfully blacked out last year’s road form that it feels like it didn’t actually happen (“we’ve always been good on the road”; say it with me), but we’ve always been good on the road, and Philly is struggling this season, so, yeah, I’m taking a salt lick to bed with me this week, just so it can keep me grounded whenever I start dreaming too bigly of future success. Like mom always said, don’t believe in Santa Claus till you see him, and make sure you get a piece of him (any piece) before you tell anyone you believe! And that was after she told me he wasn’t real.

Well, that’s the narrative. I’m gonna close with a couple looser thoughts and then (contrary to today’s tweet), come back tomorrow to wrap up the week. In no particular order:

- I think Valeri and Sebastian Blanco sorted each other out early and fairly reasonably, so I hope I’m actually seeing what feels like the next step – e.g., Adi and Blanco figuring out how to play off one another. I’ve said this all season (just noting the repetition; not trying to prove shit), but Blanco plays less as a winger, than as an option; he just goes where he’s needed, or where he feels he’ll do more.

- Blanco’s passing isn’t like Valeri; his dribbling’s not like Nagbe’s, and he’s no speed merchant. To flip this sharply, I watched a video (Planet Earth) that features Birds of Paradise seeking their mates. I think there’s an analogy here, and one that boosts Blanco. This….could be good.

- Just on the record, Roy Miller has yet to do something to bother me. If this isn’t like building credit, it should be. Lawrence Olum has bothered me, but his credit score is still on the low side of decent (what’s that number? I don’t know this stuff, honestly). I can keep Miller around, basically, and I hope you see where I’m going with that.

Well, think I’ll stop there till I wander off further into nonsensicality. (That’s a word!? Hell, YEAH!)

OK, back tomorrow with an MLS Weekly Wrap (of some kind), then back next week!

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