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?

The Portland Timbers. Portland was Exhibit A in evidence of a resurgent San Jose. So, between that 3-0 loss, having five losses from 13 games this season (the Western Conference is running in mud this year, thank god), and the fact Portland plays at home, and with some signs the road jitters returning as a backdrop: yes, this game does feel important.  Now, what are the odds?

One good ingress to the question turns on how both teams arrived at nearly identical records. Only one point separates them, with San Jose on top (shitheads) with one more game played; both teams have 2-4-1 road records, and they have identical home records but, for that extra tie. Back to those trajectories, Portland hasn’t won in five, with three of them losses (hey, SJ! Thanks for the first loss in the grouping!). Over the same number of games, San Jose stole three points out of Dallas – so, that’s a bad omen – but they’re not really killing it. Maybe I pulled “resurgent” out of that thing about Hyka. Maybe he just makes San Jose more interesting…

Before reviewing a couple (condensed) games, I want add to a couple loose impressions. The new ‘Quake who has caught my eye is Marcos Urena. He’s not the best finisher – and in most settings – but he busts ass, his movement disrupts defenses, and he’s a decent passer. I feel like him working with Hyka could cause problems tonight. Based on season-long performance, I’d also flag Anibal Godoy and Fatai Alashe as key pieces to San Jose's shape and ability – both of whom are questionable and, gee willikers, the injuries for the ‘Quakes. With that news, briefly, Godoy brings good range, bite and plausible creativity to San Jose’s midfield, while the Alashe in central defense has touched on being worth the price of admission; trends are good there, just saying (and Alashe gives solid cover in central midfield too). Replacing that won’t come easy. Taking Shea Salinas off the table leaves San Jose short a solid starter / great way to switch up the attack. I’ve heard worse reasons to sputter (How’s Portland doing on injuries? Good. Not shabby.)

OK, gonna step out, review some games real quick. Back soon.

And, we’re back.

First, having reviewed San Jose’s 3-0 win over Portland back on May 6, a couple things stand out. Jesus, did Portland suck that day. The ‘Quakes attack totally flummoxed Portland’s entire defensive apparatus; central defender Florian Jungwirth picked up two assists (both in the run of play), for one, but Danny Hoesen (who started on the wing) found all kinds of space between Portland’s midfield and defense. Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri sat this one out, but that only explains why the attack always had to keep one eye on the rear as it tried to move forward, not why the defense fucked up. When I posted on it, I called this performance “stoned,” and that’s kind of good news. Portland has ample room to improve, plus they’ll be getting back a rested Diego Chara, along with Valeri and Nagbe. In other words, there aren't a lot of excuses lying around.

After watching the other two (condensed) games, I was about to say never mind about San Jose’s injuries – and that’s because they’ve done well enough that Portland shouldn’t expect a boost – but I’ve looked and I’ve looked, and I’m still not sure whether key players like Godoy and Urena are actually available now that they’ve been called up to their national teams. For what it’s worth, I think San Jose can cover Godoy (Darwin Ceren and Fatai Alashe), and they’ll still be solid in defense (because they’ll have Victor Bernardez and Florian Jungwirth available). They probably have the attack covered too, because between Hoesen, Tommy Thompson (who posted his first numbers in his career this 2017), Hyka, Wondo…and, uh, Simon Dawkins, I guess (who hasn’t been himself, all season)…well, it’ll be serviceable. It’ll be better, and default more dangerous, if Urena’s there.

So long as San Jose can keep out the goals, they should have a solid chance at one point – bad news for Portland, who could really use all three points. Two thoughts on that, one on each side of the ball.

First, when the ‘Quakes played LA, they had a problem with defending, because their “banks” got screwed up – i.e., they had a narrower bank of three playing behind a bank of four that kept pushing too high. This left reckless gaps – about five yards deep two – around San Jose’s first line of defense. Neither Darlington Nagbe nor Sebastian Blanco excel at wide play, but they should be able to create space for Vytas Andriuskevicius and Alvas Powell to sneak behind – and, if it looks like LA, shockingly close to goal (i.e., no need for a booming cross). If Portland can do that, and force San Jose’s centerbacks to spread, Portland could have a field day.

Going the other way, won’t lie: I was nervous about all that mobility in San Jose’s attack. They have a lot of players who like operating in the on-paper gap a 4-2-3-1 leaves, so that’ll require that Nagbe and Blanco have sharp days on defense; there, I trust Blanco more than I trust Nagbe – or Asprilla for that matter. Some of the latest video I saw tonight showed the ‘Quakes attack setting up camp in a wide pocket around the top of the attacking third. Once established there, the players like to move around, pulling the defense like it’s taffy, looking to see if they can't get a player behind the defense. There’s also Hoesen, who has played dangerous stuff from wide positions – for example – but he’s also adept at pinching inside. All in all, the ‘Quakes have ways of using movement to create paths to goal…and Portland has a way of clearing some brush out of those paths (because four-way stops are just a way to meet people in Portland!). They also let that Jungwirth guy lurk forward from the depths – in case you forgot, Timbers fans.

I guess I wish this game felt more comfortable. Portland can win this game, absolutely, but there’s nothing jumping out at me screaming, “advantage!” Maybe Fanendo Adi can force Florian Jungwirth to mark him by following the wee German around. I do think overlapping fullbacks can hurt San Jose, but Powell and Vytas haven’t risen too many miles above serviceable thus far. Godoy being gone would help, takes away some serious two-way dynamism, etc.

All that’s a muddle, but, bottom line, Portland’s big horses - the Clydesdales - have to wake up. To take a wild stab, I think Nagbe and Blanco could be key to this match, and better in conjunction with whichever fullbacks start (yes, even Valentin will have to get forward). If the ‘Quakes’ fullbacks have to chase Portland’s fullbacks to wide areas, that should open up seams for Nagbe and Blanco…

…or not. I don’t know. If I was San Jose, I’d game-plan for that, force Portland to cross. Or to beat you around that weird fourth line. Anyway, just wish I felt better about this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment