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.

The “oh, shit” had sunk in pretty deep when Montreal scored its second goal. That came around the 44th minute. Any Timbers’ fan could have been forgiven for calling the game over then, and ordering another round (my response). Then, at the stroke of halftime (cliché!), Valeri nodded home a floated cross by Alvas Powell – e.g., precisely the kind of cross of which I generally hold him incapable – and the score stood at 2-1 to Montreal, and with Portland’s 11 men looking plausibly equal to Montreal’s. Here, however, it’s smart to step back from the happy talk, because it just rings false after against the sum of what happened yesterday.

Montreal’s second goal resulted from a defensive shit-show, one starring Powell. As the Impact set up for a routine corner, Portland defenders noted Kyle “Head Wound” Fisher loitering in a ton of space at the far post. They kept motioning to someone to pick him and Powell did. Eventually. At a walk really, and with the ball in flight. By the time he reached Fisher, Montreal’s defender had the advantage in momentum and velocity going toward Portland’s goal. If you watch that lackadaisical stroll enough times, it gets to pissing you off because, when you’re playing a man down, everything has to be up-tempo…though, maybe David Guzman should have reined it in a bit, because he looked utterly gassed by game’s end and, without Chara in there, things sorta fell apart.

Still, Portland scored at the best possible moment, again, through Valeri, there was Powell redeemed by a cross, if only a little…and then Portland coughed up another goal just five minutes after the second half whistle. Again, one can pull this goal apart – mistakes were made, etc. – but, here, I’d credit Piatti for finding a seam that flummoxed Portland’s defense: his positioning and movement forced Powell to decide between collapsing on Piatti and keeping track of the wide player, and forced Miller to fill the space in front of Piatti while also keeping track of an attacker to his left, because Ridgewell had stepped forward in his failed attempt to pick an inlet pass off (I think) Dzemaili’s foot, and exactly in the kind of place Chara would have been were he on the field, but the Swiss guy was too fast…the only truly weird thing about the play is Ridgewell’s recovery run…I mean…where’s he going? What’s the purpose of that run? It’s weird because I like that Ridgewell tried to pick off that pass – his passivity drives me nuts – but there’s something about that ambling, aimless run that feels vintage Ridgewell and…eh, fuck it. Shit happened.

This was a disheartening loss, no question. Even if one argues the first goal was bullshit, Portland coughed up three more, one of them painfully soft, and the other two by way of chasing Montreal’s shadows too slowly. Montreal hasn’t been good this season – I mean, they’ve coughed up some bad losses – and that matters. If Portland can’t hold it together (and on a couple levels) against the Eastern Conference’s weakest (or is it just weaker?) teams, the omens aren’t good.

Some things will turn around, probably: Nagbe was sort of a non-factor yesterday and, as with the beginning of 2016, something of a defensive liability centrally. OK, but Portland will have Chara for most games, balance will be restored, etc. Moreover, this team will struggle like few others if teams can get players between Portland’s midfield and defense; maybe a new central defender remedies that, or maybe Portland central defensive(esque) midfielders make sure to stay in the game. The team showed it can still attack, so it seems the defense is, and remains the bigger problem.

At any rate, that’s all I got for this one. There’s always next week…which better be good, dammit.

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