Monday, July 31, 2017

Houston Dynamo 2-2 Portland Timbers: An Unwelcome Comparison

Also, these get fucked up real fast.

A couple, three weeks back, I posted a poll on twitter that gave a quartet of projected overall records (e.g., 6-5-3, 4-7-3, 8-2-4, etc.) with which the Portland Timbers would see out the 2017 season. I don’t remember the exact numbers (and that tweet lies buried beneath an avalanche of anti-Trumpublican venting), but I landed on each of those projections by going through the rest of Portland’s schedule and divining results based on the opposition, the venue for each game, and some vague potential plotlines for each opposing team going forward. I felt like science, people (if only social science).

How’d I do so far? I had the home game against Real Salt Lake carved in stone as an easy Portland win (violently nope!), and yesterday’s draw against the Houston Dynamo as a certain loss – both of those across all scenarios. As for the road win against the Vancouver Whitecaps, I put that down as either a loss or a draw, so…yeah, fucking psychic over here. If anyone out there wants help picking the ponies, I offer reasonable hourly rates. (A friend helpfully pointed out that I got the total number of points over the past three games right at least – four points out of nine.)

If I sound less confident than I used to over the past couple seasons about what’s happening with the Timbers, I guess my rebuttal is, can you blame me? If this team played soccer like it thwarts expectations, they’d win the triple every year.

As for yesterday, the best excuse I can offer for a bogus (and silent) “Lock of the Week” prediction was that the Dynamo team I expected didn’t show up. Part of that had to do with the twin Honduran terrors – Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto – starting the game on the bench. Portland countered with a line-up close enough to its starting eleven – and that’s even with Lawrence Olum starting in central defense (more later), and Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco starting on, at least what I assumed were the opposite of their usual assignments in the 4-2-3-1.

The Timbers opened the game strong (literally; just re-watched the condensed game and the team held possession through Nagbe’s opening shot inside the first minute), and they continued to find one another in space all the way to Diego Valeri’s opening goal. Some bad defending provided either the secondary or primary assist (Zarek Valentin fed Valeri, but, holy shit, did Leonardo make at least one terrible decision in playing that pass), but the Timbers earned that one. The team looked comfortable most of the evening, especially on the ball; the passing was respectably crisp and all concerned looked lively in spite of Houston’s sticky East Texas heat.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-2 Portland Timbers: On Trade-Offs and...Just Noted...

Found this searching "terrible mom." And, well, I'm not NOT listening...
I’m going to start by saying that the natural, obstructed lighting at BC Place drives me fucking nuts. Players slipping in out of shadows like ninjas should be cool, but it’s not.

Turning to other mysteries, the central mystery, in fact, is what to make of the Portland Timbers' 1-2 road-theft at the Vancouver Whitecaps. And this mystery comes with a body too – last week’s bender/collapse against Real Salt Lake – and that adds a bit o’ juice. If only we had a nun outfit…

To slip into that nun outfit, maybe take a twirl in front of the mirror, maybe the Timbers fell victim to an RSL team that stepped out of the right self-help seminar (or Mike Petke gave them super-soldier drugs; or cocaine; maybe those are two words for the same thing, I do not know; I’m just not sold that the “dogs” speech saved their season). Look on either side of RSL’s win over Portland, you’ll see a great result on one side and a strong performance on the other.

As observed in my notes on the dissection of said body, I listed the several ways Portland came to the party light (e.g., the key (hmm….) missing players (more later)). The same applied, however, when the Timbers stormed over the northern border; the team had a couple different players missing – say, Diego Chara, present, Fanendo Adi, absent/presumably forced by Caleb Porter to don a dunce cap from the starting whistle to the final one while he sat this out. Still, the same rough team that, from the moment Kyle Beckerman stuffed Portland in the hole, got utterly overrun/badgered to madness for the rest of the match last week. Largely present, accounted for, and eager to improve.

One final piece of data: the seven points RSL picked up over their past three games accounts for over a quarter their total points for the season (that's of 24 points total). And while, no, Vancouver hasn’t blinded anyone with its play this 2017, they’ve been better all season than RSL; plus, they had the Timbers at BC Place – again, that same Timbers team that…well, just hasn’t been the guys we met at the start of this process (by which I mean just this season; Bachelor/Bachelorette reference?). Or, more bluntly, that’s Portland’s first win in six, so what the fuck happened and what does it mean?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-4 Real Salt Lake: #Shook

My disappointment, shown to scale.
Where do I begin? To tell the story the story of how great a love can be?

Only it wasn’t. Damn, damn, blast and dammit. (Shit, gimme the reference?!)

I smiled through a lot of losses for the Portland Timbers in 2016, we all did.  They did, too, and, trust me, it was much, much, much worse for them. Still, we felt less than optimal and, well, noted. Look, we have a right to our feelings, too. We do. Shut up.

At any rate, tonight’s loss to Real Salt Lake, 4-to-a-participation-ribbon-1, and at home, well, that poses questions. Several of them, in fact. Fans, or at least me as a singular person among them, looked at what the Timbers did in the off-season and, broadly, it made sense. Or sense enough. And, yes, one of the things the Timbers did this off-season – let’s just call him David Guzman - was, in fact, gone tonight (there were other things, however, who were present). So was Diego Chara. So was Darlington Nagbe, Liam Ridgewell. Uh, Alvas Powell…hmm, is that everyone? Is it ballpark? If so, isn’t that good enough.

And, honestly, sorry for all the commas. Jesus Christ, mugged by caveats.

Still, the team had Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, plus the team started the shiny new bauble fans have bayed for all season long, new centerback, Larrys Mabiala. The Timbers had enough of the players who carried them to a slightly positive record (7-7-6 record, with a +3 goal differential) that the omens didn’t spell “holy shit” in blood on the walls.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Portland Timbers 2-2 Chicago Fire: On a Good, Irrelevant Threat

What we can do. You've been warned. Also...please don't fight back...
I want this to be brief. That is my intent. We’ll see how I do. Also, how are you?

As for me, I’m good. Between excitement and information, that game left me feeling like part three in menage a trois. A good menage a trois (also, never…have…never mind). Some of what the Portland Timbers did in that game (what game? Shit, spaced the lead again...sorry! Portland drew the Chicago Fire at home 2-2), felt like a long walk on the sunny side of the street. The ball movement by individual Timbers midfielders – whether first touch or sharp-to-inspired passing – was league-beating, and for long stretches. Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, especially, have arrived at a plane where it looks as if they hear the echo of the other player calling for the ball in practice and, from there, they just respond to the muscle memory. Those two, along with Fanendo Adi, Dairon Asprilla, and Vytas Andriuskevicius, and, sometimes, Darlington Nagbe, (fuck it, obligatory “fire” metaphor) blew Chicago’s ashes apart (I am so sorry).

All true, but all that ran out sometime between the 70th and 75th minute – or the 75th and 80th minute – I’m working without notes tonight (and video; ‘bout time) – I could have been 65th to 70th for all I know, but, the free-flowing stuff died a quick death, even if it wasn't early. Part of that came with Chicago’s decision to pack it in – something they did by pulling Luis Solignac for Jonathan Campbell (decent young CB; just noted) – but it truly did look like more than that. For one, if you re-watch the tape, and if you’re seeing what I saw, you’ll see Nagbe and Blanco dropping to the top of the attacking third, and further by that time, but also basically stop running, and letting Ben Zemanski step to the fore to see what he could…it wasn’t that bad, honest; seriously, the Timbers scrapped to the death and that’s like half, I think, of what I want to see, because wins are OK, but sucky wins are depressing, just like most goal-less draws, just noting it. Moreover, their passes, Nagbe’s and Blanco’s I mean, along with just about everyone else’s, got sloppy as hell, especially between the 70th and 85th. Portland ran their damn legs off, basically, even they did it in something valiant, determined. So long as Chicago stayed vertical defensively, and so long as the Timbers’ collective legs held out, Portland shredded the Fire like confetti. I haven’t checked the boxscore yet, but I’d be shocked it if showed anything but dominance for Portland (UPDATE: Yep, it did.)

Counterpoint: The Timbers first team can do that, but what do they do when Plan A doesn’t come off - or, as happened today, if Plan A runs itself legless? Or what happens when a crucial piece - Adi, likely, just sayin’ – falls out of the picture in the future…if that’s not something you want to contemplate, I totally get it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Portland Timbers: Scholastic Meditations

Yo, up there. Got anything?
There’s something subtly ominous about the name, “Children’s Mercy Park.” That didn’t come through in yesterday’s 1-1 draw between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. Just…noted…

So, how we feeling, Timbers Nation? I left twitter for the night shortly after the game (right? please, god, no drunk tweets…wait! I wasn’t! Never mind), but people had already started teasing out lines of argument before then: was this a squandered result, another couple of points dropped in a season when Portland’s bag for points seems to have a couple holes (contextual interpretation), or was this a good point to get on the road against one of Major League Soccer’s stronger home teams (call this the “one-game-at-a-time” interpretation)?

Even as I see the value of getting that point – moreover, of having a real (and entirely justified*) opportunity to take at all three points – the contextual interpretation holds up better for me. (*Tim Melia’s chest 100% bumped Fanendo Adi’s trailing leg.) Fun as it is to muck around in the details – in this case, say, whether to file SKC’s equalizer under Alvas Powell losing a mark (if so, why did Jake Gleeson yell up-field (specifically, toward the general area in and around Ben Zemanski)) – the big picture slips out of focus when one spends too much time there.

I’ve phrased this a couple ways so far this season, and addressed different parts of the same idea in different posts – e.g., switches going off, or having faith in the depth – but they all get at the same idea: the 2017 Portland Timbers are impressively consistent, in that the same general things happen just about every game. That doesn’t mean no outliers exist, whether for good or ill, but, arrange those in a random pattern (as done here), and those outliers even out to match the larger trend: a reliable attack (and one starring most of the same characters) pairs with an unreliable defense and the uneven results follow therefrom. Is there some clear, useful “why” to this? First off, um…