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?
That brings me to another plausible taking point: Jeremy Ebobisse. Good day for the kid, one goal, one assist. First, like any sane person, I’m more excited about the assist than the goal. The way he followed through the play, and his understanding of where Sebastian Blanco would make the best run, makes a man want to believe in his future. Also noted, how well Ebobisse managed Tim Parker’s size, and throughout the match; he used some smaller-dude judo to use Parker’s superior size against him, all while not losing proximity to the ball. If you follow Ebobisse’s twitter (or just pick up stray retweets), you know he’s smart. Looks strong, too, and that’s good.
Sticking with Parker, I’m less impressed with Ebobisse’s goal. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy he scored it, more than his mom, I imagine – but Parker kept him onside, as well as in plain sight in front of him, while every other ‘Cap stepped far enough forward to lose him. Basically, Ebobisse scored that goal from close range and with no pressure. It was a good finish – nice placement, and he had to stretch to reach it – but, still, soft. That wasn’t the only time the ‘Caps tripped over the shoes defensively, a Portland’s defense puts in a shift like that and half the fan base would howl for a new CB. (Exaggerating, or projecting?)
Here, I want to shift the conversation to another struggling player, whether by perception or reality, Jake Gleeson. Maybe I’m alone in thinking that he’s not reading things so clearly this season – maybe he’s jittery about something, trying to compensate, I don’t know (look, we all know what we’re talking about (where grandma keeps the towels!)) – but he had a flail coming off the line in this one, something Vancouver’s Fredy Montero almost converted, and that’s felt too close to normal this season to keep everyone happy. OK, so he’s shaky. Then the asshole muddies the waters by making his usual compliment of great saves.
In that sense, Gleeson poses the kind of trade-off that feels valid for, with a couple exceptions (or maybe just Diego Valeri), the team as a whole. With Gleeson, at least this season, it’s his decisions, or the timing of his decisions, versus shot-stopping. With, say, Darlington Nagbe, it’s the crazy line-breaking shit versus a…lack of ardor for scoring goals (still not sold on that passes in the final third number). You can tick through questions with most players, but I’m not gonna do that tonight (I’m behind), but broadly, the trade-offs start getting too steep at a certain point.
There are two fundamental questions in play with the Timbers this season, as I see it, and the win over Vancouver left one foot touching on each of them. First, how are Portland’s key players doing with keeping their upside above their downside; in other words, how well has each player managed his personal version of the trade-off identified above? Second, and yesterday’s win posed this question directly (especially with that loss to RSL as a backdrop), which player from these past two depleted line-ups has convinced you he can give the team a better trade-off than the guy ahead of him in the pecking order, or, fuck it, why not get creative, any other guy on the field? And, to bring this thing all the way around, how far would you go, personally, toward rewarding a player who showed up hungry against Vancouver in order to wake up one of Portland’s regular starters?
That also answers the question about how excited you get about yesterday’s win. Sure, you can call it confidence-boosting for a kid like Ebobisse, and feel a little more secure about Roy Miller as a back-up left back, but if that’s not where they’ll be come season’s end, this is just putting out fires – or, at best, realizing the team has some options – than progress.
A rag-tag getting three points counts toward the team's total haul of points at the end, of course, same as if the starters picked it up. Better still, Portland stole those points on the road, something any version of the first team hasn’t done reliably for a stretch, so hallelujah, eureka, and jackpot! But that’s the thing: not eureka(!!), not unless the team found what feels like a solution. Look, it’s been an uneven year and I don’t know what to make of it. It just feels somewhere south of right. Like my chin, for instance.
All right, that’s really it. I’ll close out with a couple notes. No particular order
- Valeri knows how to follow a play, clean up a bad touch. Just watch him when he gets a long touch, how often he hovers then stuffs a player and keeps the play alive.
- Here’s a season-sized question: does Lawrence Olum = upgrade over Jermaine Taylor?
- Larrys Mabiala’s set-piece defending has been…a bit loose, right? And where is the world on all the Larrys?