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.

In the here and now, though, Portland really does have a great attacking team. And a fragile defense – which, again, isn’t the same as a shitty defense. Look, I’m losing my mind trying to phrase this, but how about this: the Timbers defense is structurally sound (see, low shots on goal; I’m right, right?), but temperamentally fragile (see the first goal Portland coughed up (because it’s more important to track the player than the precise location of the offside line; also, good players know this and we will replace you, swear to god)? To put the last two paragraphs another way, Portland has a good team, but one that gives up a lot of goals. I know that’s obvious, but it’s at the beating heart of everything, so how can I avoid it?

Also, at what point does giving up a lot of goals preclude you from being a good team?

Do I have a huge number of ideas about how to make things better? No. First, if you saw Portland at their best tonight, that shit was fun – and dangerous. Blanco and Valeri frolic like otters, only otters with razors tied to every flipper and teeth made of solid titanium – and in a sea of whatever the fuck it is that otters eat. Seriously, guys, if you can’t tell how geeked up I am about the Blanco/Valeri thing (sometimes I dreamed I was on the same mind-meld, and I cried), I am geeked up at the Valeri/Blanco thing. More than anything else, the team has to keep refining the means to best utilize it – and...they might be getting there.

Elsewhere, Dairon Asprilla will get the most credit tonight for nodding over the header that Adi touched back into Juninho’s arm (first, yay! second, Adi’s kick totally could have been saved, like 60% of the time; third, kid’s got ups ‘n’ strength), but, between timing and athleticism, the man wins a lot of headers. Like his dribbles (due to the recovery time he allows, he must have the most useless “freeze move” in soccer), not every header Asprilla tries comes off. Then again, I think it’s easier to work on that than his feet. And based on the last two, three games, Asprilla would make a solid serious weak-side threat opposite Vytas. That argues, in my mind, for pushing Vytas up high to cheat as a “winger,” something that would involve shifting someone – could be Diego Chara, David Guzman (or Zemanski, if he’s out there; look, just someone) – out to a general area where he can cover Vytas deep/indirectly when he did that, etc. So far as I can tell, Caleb Porter’s direction to Blanco and Valeri at least echo “you do you,” so they do, and it’s voodoo…but what about everyone else?

To tap into a different point, the real problem showed up tonight when the Timbers’ key players didn’t even have leg enough to complete a competent pass. Which of the players who took the field after them made a decisive, put-me-in-coach-level contribution to the cause? The kids deserve credit tonight, because they kept the threat level high enough. At the same time, I don’t fault Porter for keeping Plan A in effect for as long as he did because, honestly, it's pretty good. Just not so sure it can go at that tempo, and for that long, so...maybe that's a case for deploying your players with an eye to where you can frustrate a team by stacking the defense to pick up a point and playing your best attacking players (say next game) to overwhelm/terrify a weaker defense (I mean, just as an example). All in all, Portland has good depth, basically (adequate to three subs), but doesn’t have the players to shift the terms of the game, not even on the balance between offense and defense. I dunno, that seems nice and wise, etc.

Portland has a good attack, but only one good attack. It’s getting better, too, but so long as that defense can choke up something from that down deep, this team will struggle, and no matter goals of class and timing they score.Until all those Larrys show up, and until we know he/they can do the, or at least one of, the job(s) we need him/them to, Portland should probably lean toward a strategy of running risks to score often and early. I think that's all the team can do - not only that, but probably should do until Larrys finds both, or all, his feet. And, jesus, of course that might not still be enough. I mean, this is a team that lets crosses become goals (I mean, just tonight).

Help us, Larrys Mabiala. You’re our only hope. (And sorry for the deluge of terrible jokes/memes).

Till then, though, let's lose valiantly. At least it's brave, right?

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