Monday, June 26, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-2 Seattle Sounders: When Your Tifo Game Is Your Last, Best Hope

Our shared lives....
After taking in the (condensed) Hell of the Portland Timbers’ midweek loss to Minnesota United FC, and then enduring the auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong that Portland coughing up a late 2-2 draw to the Seattle Sounders, a moment that made a mockery of a truly wonderful tifo, I have several things to say/note, or that make me wanna go fetal…

First, see the title.

Second, I want to bury this idea about “bad defending,” because I view that as a too-broad argument for a more specific phenomenon. Generally speaking, the Timbers don’t defend badly as a unit, so much as they keep making horrific, this-will-make-your-mother-hate-you mistakes in defense, and, because they follow from bad decisions in the precise/specific/defining moment, those kinds of fuck ups are harder to remedy. There, I’m talking about Jeff Attinella coming off his line on Minnesota’s third goal and taking out not one, but two defenders, or the way not one single player in Portland’s defense tracked Clint “Fucking” Dempsey wandering into the space that opened up when all three of Portland’s last-line defenders dropped off on Seattle’s equalizer…the line was immaculate, then, if distinctly Maginot in nature and quality. Basically, the problems seem based less on structure than bad decisions by individual players.

I’m not saying Portland’s defense doesn’t blow the fundamentals from time to time – see the pocket that Christian Ramirez settles in to score Minnesota’s second goal (yes, keeping a good line is fundamental) – but everyone’s in some reasonable approximation of where they should be for Minnesota’s first (Okugo just got a bad touch, and the resulting own-goal; then again, where’s the reaction to that overload?). The same goes for Joevin Jones’ opening goal on Sunday: Portland’s defenders were in decent position – and I’m not saying that a couple player didn’t react like corpses (looking at you, Alvas Powell, Lawrence Olum) – but, honestly, Jake Gleeson’s rebound went straight back into the natural progession of Jones' run, who didn’t so much follow up as found the ball rolling lazily into his stride, and that’s just the gods tickling the odds in one direction or the other. As suits their fancy, the whimsical bastards…

Bottom Line: set aside the details and Timbers fans get the same outcome: every Timbers game now amounts to an exercise in anxiously turning the crank on a Jack-in-the-Box and waiting for that fucker to pop and scare the shit out of you/ruin your day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Colorado Rapids 2-1 Portland Timbers: It Was Sebastian Blanco’s Birthday, Then Everyone Fell Asleep

Anyone got tape? Maybe we can stick this damn thing to "on."
Once they settled into the first half against the Colorado Rapids, the Portland Timbers played some of the most polished soccer of the season, good let-the-ball-do-the-work passing, great, alert first touches on the ball – especially from Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, who both wrong-footed a succession of defenders in midfield; on the right Dairon Asprilla and Zarek Valentin managed possession with smart, almost casual interplay that suggested comfort and a shared confidence in the project. When the whole thing fired just right, Colorado wasn’t even chasing the ball; they could only reorient their lines of defense to the next threat.

Even better, the day dropped hints that Portland had finally figured out how to get attacking impetus out of Sebastian Blanco, who made dangerous runs into curiously open seams at least a couple times before and after burying the goal that gave the Portland Timbers the early lead. The rest of the half continued like that and, somewhere in there, it occurred to me that yesterday felt like Blanco’s birthday, the day when everything he touched would come out all right and that we would walk off the field the hero, with his teammates buying his rounds and reminiscing of his moment(s) with a twinkle in their eye that said, “yes, we will always remember this day.”

By the time the second half started, I had this middle-aged electrician from Michigan marveling at the madness of the Trump presidency on one side; maybe ten minutes later, this guy from Ethiopia sat on my other side, and I just could not stop asking questions about and country, and just tripping over the idea that I was talking to a random guy from the other side of the world in a random Hillsboro, Oregon bar. The game would take care of itself, Sebastian Blanco would get his birthday beers, maybe even birthday sex…

…it later occurred to me that I have no fucking clue when Blanco’s birthday is. The whole thing was based on a fantasy. (The guy from Ethiopia was real, though, and fascinating. He was happy to talk to someone who didn’t think Ethiopia was in Europe. He told me people have asked if he was from somewhere near Italy. “I mean, look at me,” he said. “Do I look like I’m from Italy?”) As it happens, the more relevant bit of foreshadowing came when a super-loose Roy Miller back pass gifted Dominique Badji two consecutive shots on goal, either of which he really should have buried.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Colorado v. Timbers Preview: A 72% Chance of Boredom

Five heads still comin' at ya, motherfucker!!!
This Saturday night, the Portland Timbers will visit the Colorado Rapids – and fans of both teams will be asked to endure this…at least Rapids’ fans are used to it.

I did some light scouting last night – e.g., reviewed some (condensed) tape, tried to check in with the locals by way of SB Nation’s Burgundy Wave, but they only do match reports, sooo…here's what I found on those condensed tapes.

First, I wouldn’t put a ton of stock into the Rapids’ home record. It’s solid, at 4-2-1 (unlike their road record, which is abysmal, also irrelevant), and it’s true that two of those wins came in their last two games. One of those – their 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City – even registers as impressive on paper, but, per the condensed game, they didn’t win that game so much as survive it; SKC looked to have a lot of the better of the game (and the boxscore bears that out). Colorado looked better against Columbus Crew SC – they kept Zac Steffen respectably busy early – but they still trailed late and, while more than luck carried them through it, their first goal against Columbus was the only one from all three games that looked like something they could do again. In other words, it's not every game opposing defenses will gift them a win by losing Alan Gordon at the back post (or, ideally, Fanendo Adi).

It’s the familiar formula against Colorado, then – i.e., see they don’t accidentally bounce the ball into your team’s net, while making sure your side knocks at least one goal into their net (though a couple, three goals certainly sounds better) – and, voila, three points! And that could be easier this season than last - they're broadly middling in terms of MLS defenses - and it could be easier still on Saturday: injuries/risks to the back-line (and all over, really) have forced Colorado to cobble together defenses/a team in recent weeks; they’re only really stable at fullback (and then, not that great; Mikeil Williams/Eric Miller, in particular, shouldn’t give pause to anyone but the Rapids coaching staff). In the center, Kortne Ford (rookie, homegrown) has been the only constant over the past three games, but he, along with preferred starters, Axel Sjoberg and Jared Watts, is “questionable” for Saturday. With preferred back-up, Bobby Burling out, I’m guessing “questionable” will become “probable (with cortisone)” for one or two of Ford, Sjoberg and Watts, but Colorado’s defense isn’t 100% present regardless. For what it’s worth, Ford has looked good when he plays, and I rate Sjoberg pretty damn high; Watts, a converted midfielder, falls off without Sjoberg, so there’s that to file away.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-0 FC Dallas: On Good Problems to Have

Die, motherfucker!
Let’s face it: attrition loomed large tonight, as one Portland Timber after another threatened to limp off the field. Only two did in the end…the team’s starting centerbacks. No big whoop…

So, yeah, both Liam Ridgewell and Roy Miller left the game, to be replaced by a Tetris-esque shifting of players/positions, and Timbers fans endured scares here and there throughout the game – whether it was Fanendo “Brace, Y’all!” Adi hurting (was it?) both ankles or Diego Valeri lying on the ground for two minutes that felt like five games’ worth of no one knowing how to make the Timbers’ attack work – but Portland hung (hanged? nah, think I got the verb right) on for the 2-0 win against visiting FC Dallas, aka, the team most likely to (what? win the league? be broadly awesome? prove the reality of The Youth Movement?). And, while that win was mostly encouraging, caveats attach to this thing like remoras that suck blood and eat happy thoughts…

…still, good win. This was my best-case scenario, so, hell yeah, I’m happy. It’s just that…I know stuff that lets me (makes me?) look at this game, and Portland’s last, with the coldest, deadest eyes since zombies.

First, the bad news: this is not The Best Possible Version of FC Dallas. I’d actually argue that, for a team without Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges (who is…just holy shit good), and Kellyn Acosta, Dallas played above their available level. God knows they made Portland labor to score – even as both goals resulted from the kind of fuck-ups that drive coaches to drink and/or early retirement. All in all, Dallas defended well enough tonight, but, when Adi stumbles just so, and after the kind of lucky bounce that only happens when a team presses allows Sebastian Blanco to feed him the simplest of passes, and when the other goal comes off another complete collapse, you credit the team that scored first, and ask what exactly went wrong for the other team very shortly thereafter.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes: Searching for a Word...

Locked and loaded...
Well, the Portland Timbers won, beating the cranky, visiting San Jose Earthquakes 2-0. It wasn’t a terribly inspired win, especially late in the second half when San Jose bunkered to stop the bleeding. Portland tried to draw them out by dicking around with the ball outside the bunker, and the ‘Quakes bit from time to time, but, for the visitors, it was mostly about riding out the game, minimizing the damage, etc.

To my eye, this game looked a lot like last weekend’s 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, only this time Portland didn’t make a fatal mistake. Portland looked both energetic and the better team, but they didn’t get a ton of great looks; I mean, I see the eight shots on goal in the boxscore – and I saw the three shots the Timbers bounced off the posts – but Portland also racked up 24 crosses, and that feels more true to what I saw last night. Flip to San Jose’s side and you’ll get a pretty clear sense of how lopsided the game was. San Jose didn’t do jack – even with many of the players I view as key suited up, e.g., Anibal Godoy, Marcos Urena, etc. I expected more from them, personally, but they did get cut off at the knees…

I thought referee Kevin Stott called a weird one – and not only with the rapid-fire (and, frankly, wrong) pair of yellow cards he dropped in the same minute to send San Jose’s Darwin Ceren to the showers. Stott would very indirectly even things out in second half stoppage when he didn’t call a gapingly obvious penalty when ‘Quakes’ keeper David Bingham tripped Portland’s Fanendo Adi in the box. (Portland scored anyway, so, up yours Stott! (Yeah, go to hell, buddy!)) It was kind of global, the weirdness, including things like calling advantage when there wasn’t an advantage worthy of the name, and I think Stott’s steady failure to call actual fouls in the minutes leading up to Ceren’s sending off contributed to how he and others (Urena stood out here) started caroming all around the field. Again, the most important thing a referee can do is set a tone that keeps the game competitive and minimally violent. Setting the tone with a second yellow so soon after the first feels a little like shooting the tenth in a series of jaywalkers to send a message.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Scouting San Jose, With Excessive Scenery

It's in there somewhere...
About a week ago, I glimpsed an Armchair Analyst tweet that said something about the San Jose Earthquakes attack coming online. On reading the section of the article, I immediately decided I would no longer cover all of Major League Soccer. All those 20-minute condensed games were burying the goddamn lead, just as I had feared…

…nah, I decided to stop because I couldn’t cover everything without going over seven pages – e.g., that point where I’m basically writing out of spite. When I stuck to 10 or 20 talking points, I fretted about the value of everything that hit the cutting room floor. My notes never did make any goddamn sense either; shit looked like ancient Greek written through doses of shock therapy. So, yeah, fuck it. I took my weekends back.

The plan is to watch/preview only the teams the Portland Timbers will play in their next game. With that, Conifers & Citrus will be devoted only to what the Timbers did in their last game, and thoughts on who they will play in their next, notes on the meaning of the game, if any, etc.Yeah, right...

So, does tonight's game against the ‘Quakes at Providence Park mean anything special? Well, last night I put some thought into what number of losses constitutes a death sentence to any given MLS team’s playoff hopes. Didn’t look it up or anything (haven’t figured out how to phrase the search, and the actual research sounds…unpalatable), but the drop-dead tally feels like something over 10 games, certainly. 12 or 13, maybe? Portland has five losses already, so it’s just this thought.

At any rate, that note on Hyka got me wondering (there’s video, too), not least because I had a couple vague recollections of collapses by the Timbers defense knocking around my memory. I also recalled some game when all of San Jose’s new guys played to expectations; they really took that team apart, I remember. Something told me I’d seen Danny Hoesen, of all people, look like maybe he could liven up the ‘Quakes attack. Man. Who was that?