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.