Losing a match is always tough. Losing it in the last few minutes of a match is even tougher. Losing it from a winning position in those last few minutes…
It’s little wonder then that emotions ran high among Timbers fans in the aftermath of a spirit-crushing 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake. Having clawed their back from a 1-0 half time deficit to lead 2-1, thanks to two routine wonder goals from Darlington “Yeah, I Just Did That” Nagbe, it looked like the Timbers were going to score three crucial points in a tough battle for the play-off’s in the Western Conference. But back came RSL with a sickening 1-2 at the death.
It’s natural for people to look for an explanation for such a dramatic turnaround. For some, it was the ref’s fault, though I can’t follow that logic myself. The ref, or his assistants, didn’t have a great game by any means, but they didn’t lose this match for Portland.
For me, the match was lost because of individual errors, both on field and off.
But before I get into that, an apology.
On first, and second, glance I thought Wallace had made the mistake for RSL’s 1st goal in not stepping up. I was quick to get on his back, and I have to admit it’s because he’s a player who generally frustrates me. He’s too often wasteful in possession – panicky punts up park a particular peccadillo – and naive in defence, and when I saw he was involved in the build up to RSL winning the penalty, I just assumed he had to carry the blame. So I went looking for his mistake (apart from the handball which was, to my mind, as much bad luck as anything) and “found” it in his failure to step up and play offside. Case closed. Wallace to blame again. Bad Wallace. Bad, bad Wallace.
I was wrong.
It is Jean-Baptiste who reacts too late, and plays Grabavoy onside, even taking Wallace out of the equation. Wallace actually does a sterling job of covering across for Brunner, who has pushed out of defence. Of course, had Wallace played offside with AJB, there’s a chance the offside call could’ve been given (wrongly) against Grabavoy, as you see so often when the margin is tight and you have defenders heading one way and an attacker the other at speed, but that’s a risk I’d rather not have my team take. I was wrong to blame Wallace, and the goal was down to good old fashioned intelligent interplay from RSL to open up the space. Had the ball not flicked up onto Wallace’s hand, and he’d got in to clear, we’d all be singing his praises.
If you want to go looking for someone to blame, you could nitpick about Brunner and AJB, but that’s just being clever after the fact.
Now, RSL’s second goal, it came about because Marcelin tried to shield the ball 30 yards from his own goal, with less than two minutes on the clock…
That in itself didn’t cost the goal on it’s own, but Marcelin compounded his error by then chasing blindly after the ball, and leaving Steele open…
To be fair, there was still some work to do before Steele could get his shot away, but a failure to track runners is a worryingly common thread for the Timbers back line, and it left them outmanned in the most crucial area of the pitch. Three Timbers players close down the ball, whilst RSL have a 4-on-3 advantage in the box.
And it also brings me to my last error. Spencer ballsed up the subs.
The change to bring on Marcelin for Chara only unsettled the team. They’d been playing with a nice diamond formation, Chara out right, Alexander left (Alexander, by the way, was excellent all game – my man of the match, even allowing for Nagbe’s two cracking goals) with Jewsbury deep. I thought Jewsbury looked much more comfortable and at home in that role shielding the defence, often popping up behind the back line to mop things up. Throwing on Marcelin only put another body in there, ceding territory to RSL and, in the case of the 2nd goal as you’ve seen, putting two men in the same place, doing the same job which means there’s a job somewhere else on the pitch that isn’t getting done.
If it was an attempt to “close” out the match, it backfired in some style. Sometimes the best team to close out a match is the team on the pitch. There’s no need to disrupt it, especially when there’s a guy on the pitch already who can, and is, doing that job. It’s just changing it for the sake of changing it, as if the reasoning was that 2-1 up at home in the last stretch other game, it’s just what you’re supposed to do, right?
And the other change… Well, I guess this is where people will disagree with me. At least, more than usual.
Okay, he missed a gilt edged chance. It was a bad miss, I won’t explain it away or excuse it. I’m sure he’s as disappointed by it as anyone. But strikers all miss chances. The best strikers will miss absolute howlers from time to time. But the reason they’re the best, is they get the chances in the first place.
Clearly, Perlaza isn’t a world class striker and no-one – not even Mrs. Momma Perlaza – would argue he is. But he’s a great option for the Timbers and a fantastic foil for Boyd. He works tirelessly, and will give defenders an absolute nightmare. Combine that with Boyd, and the opposition fear of the Scot that leads to them sticking a man on his shoulder at all times, and you have a front two that can combine to take the central defence completely out of the game, opening up space for an attacker coming from deeper like, oh say, Mr Darlington Nagbe Esq.
Perlaza is a perpetual motion machine, he just never stops moving. Sometimes his touch is lacking, and his finishing can be erratic, but if you think all an attacker is there to do is to score, you’re hopelessly naive. Yes, it’s important, but not all strikers are goalscorers – some are great foils and that’s the bracket I put Perlaza in.
Jorge Perlaza is Portland’s Emile Heskey.
There, make of that what you will. But what I mean by it is that Jorge is the #2 striker. He’s the guy who does the channel running and moving defenders around to create space for the #1, Boyd, just as Heskey would do for Michael Owen. Or, in the case of this diamond formation from Portland, the #3 attacker in Nagbe, who played at the point of the midfield, luxuriating in the space between RSL’s defence and midfield.
It might not be fashionable and it certainly won’t grab the headlines, but Portland worked a helluva lot better with Perlaza on the field than they did without him. What annoyed me about the change was that it could’ve been called before the match had even kicked off. Songo’o was always coming on, and Perlaza was always going off, regardless of how the match was shaping up.
Nagbe isn’t a #2. He’s a creator, a headline grabber, a fan’s darling. He’ll conjure up a bit of magic here and there and light up a match. He won’t do the tireless, thankless job Perlaza will do. And Portland are weaker for both losing Perlaza’s industry and denying Nagbe the chance to play in the role he is clearly most suited to.
I don’t think Nagbe is a lead-the-line type of player. Sure, he’s good enough, and eager enough, that if you tell him to go do it, he’ll try but he’s best suited to getting the ball in space and running at defenders and committing them, and he’ll do that best from a role just off the front line, where he can drop into pockets between oppositions defences and midfields, or into lateral channels.
There’s an interesting headache, in my opinion, for Spencer. How do you fit Boyd, Perlaza, Nagbe, Dike, Songo’o, Alexander, Alhassan, Zizzo, Chara, Jewsbury into those 6 midfield/attack positions? It’s a nice headache to have.
In my team, one of the first names down on that team sheet is Jorge Perlaza, and I make no apologies for it.
It’s Chivas USA next up for the Timbers. Three points is an absolute must at home against a Conference rival. Let’s go Timbers.