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.
Portland still took a while to score – that 13 minutes took forever, and it’s not just down to halftime sitting in the middle of it – and the rescue came from the familiar source of a little Maestro Magic. Diego Valeri and Adi combined on the goal by not really combining – i.e., Valeri popped a chest-pass toward Adi, who, seeing the Argentine had the better angle/momentum, left the ball for Valeri – but it was still a quirky little goal. Full credit to Valeri for poking that home (that’s a deft little flick), but San Jose really has to wonder why Adi had so much space, and why Victor Bernardez didn’t run back to cover the angle with, like, a lot more urgency (seriously, that trot is Liam Ridgewell-esque). The second goal came super-late, and the same two players combined, and nearly as accidentally.
I’m not crapping on the goals – Valeri’s first required some quick in-the-moment reading of potentialities – but this wasn’t the kind of game you sit a group of 12-year-old kids in front of to teach them of The Beautiful Game. Portland’s offense isn’t quite slumping, so much as it’s lacking in precision a little, or cutting edge. Call it killer instinct armed with a Nerf baseball bat…
There’s just not a lot to talk about after that. No real problems have manifest over the past couple games, and nothing looks broken to the point where it makes sense to say, “The Timbers really need a blank.” Take away the fuck up that allowed Seattle’s first goal, and the defense has played well enough. I noted the state of the Timbers attack above, and I doesn’t leave all that much to say. It’s basically the same set of guys, playing a respectable brand of soccer in pretty much the same way they have since flying out of the gate to start 2017. Adi and Valeri still carry a mildly unnerving share of the burden of scoring actual goals, the defense remains a good bet for a random fuck-up in any given game, etc. Until the personnel changes or members of it start performing visibly better or worse, and over a series of games, I’ll operate from a standing assumption that the Timbers will keep plugging along, hopefully to playoff standards.
I’ll close this by flagging a couple players’ performances. Last night, Dairon Asprilla looked as good as he has in Timbers green. He matched up well enough against Nick Lima to serve a couple decent balls into/across the area; he popped a header off the post, even if it wouldn’t have counted due to him fouling a ‘Quake (think it was Lima), and had a couple other good cracks besides. There’s no need to heap praise on the performance, or, god forbid, to move things around to get Asprilla on the field as a starter, but, y’know, noted. Asprilla can do stuff out there, and th.
I’m also closer to peace with Zarek Valentin than I have been since his earliest days with team. Valentin didn’t manifest as a revelation in his early days, or anything, that just had more to do with seeing what he could do out there and, honestly, deciding it wasn’t so great. He’s been steady this season, and nice serve to Valeri for Portland’s opener. Valentin’s upside has always been apparent (good passer), so a lot of coming around on him involved seeing him improve as a fullback and, over the past couple weeks, I’d say he has.
All in all, I’m content. Not excited, but content. The Timbers look like a mid-table team in a mid-table league. I want them to improve as much as anybody, and I guess that’s what I’ll watch for. I understand we have a defender coming in – and that’s swell – but I’m not seeing that as something transformative. Useful, probably, but even if the defense improves, I feel the attack needs another gear if Portland is going to do anything big this season…
…is there a word for the middle ground between pessimism and optimism?