Rewind and Repeat

Like one of those cheap Direct-to-Video sequels you’d see on the shelves of your local Blockbuster (younger readers: Blockbuster was like Netflix only it was an actual store that only periodically stocked movies you wanted to see) where they essentially simply remade the original movie, the Timbers played another LA-based team, threw away a lead around half time and ended up losing a match in the last ten minutes. I had to double check the schedules afterwards to make sure that next week wouldn’t see the Timbers playing in space or with Jar-Jar Binks up front.

I held off writing this blog for a day – in fact, I wasn’t sure I’d write one at all – because I don’t want to be the guy who is constantly beating up the team. I can’t wait to write a “Where did it all go right?” post, and I do firmly believe that someone is due to be on the end of an absolute spanking from the Timbers. It just wasn’t this week.

But, I’ll start today by looking at what I thought were positives from the match against Beckham FC.

Steve Purdy came in for Lovel Palmer and did reasonably well without setting the match on fire. Palmer, who likely spent most the week checking for Ryan Smith in his closet before trying to get to sleep, shouldered much of the blame for the defeat to Chivas last week, found himself relegated to the bench with Purdy in at right back. I doubt Purdy is the man to taker over the role and make it his own long term, but he seems a better option, in a defensive sense at least, than Palmer at this point.

A full-back signing rarely attracts the column inches or sets fans hearts aflutter in the way that a new striker or creative player does, but it simply has to be a priority for the front office, and the trialists being brought over, seemingly in bulk, in this week seem to indicate that the management are taking it seriously, at last. There is a tendency when talking about “great” full-back to lionise their attacking abilities over their defensive, but getting someone in who can take care of the defensive work is critical as all too often it’s this week that is exposed by opponents.

Hanyer Mosquera put in a solid performance at the back, with an impressive 8 interceptions in crucial areas – more than both Brunner and Baptiste combined last week. This ability to read play and step out to snuff out attacks is vital if the timbers are to turn their reactive defence into a proactive one. More on this point later…

Though Beckham’s screamer will undoubtedly win Goal of the Week, for my money the Timbers goal was better.

The team play, movement and one touch passing that carves open the LA defence gets ever more delightful every time you see it, and Boyd’s assured finish shows what you get when you give him the ball at his feet.

And it was good to finally see Boyd getting some decent supply at last. The Scot could even have had a hat-trick with another chance saved, and one incorrectly ruled out for offside. All these came with delivery into feet. I’ve been beating my head against the wall as the Timbers continued to resort to “get-it-wide-cross-it-in” tactics over and over again despite Boyd’s obvious strength lying in his feet, not his head.

It can only bode well that perhaps the penny has dropped that if you feed Boyd the ball to feet, he’ll score.

On the flip side, well, I’ll keep it brief.

Jack Jewsbury came in for a bit of stick from me, and others, last week after a poor showing in an attacking midfield role. Against LA he was better, back in his more accustomed position in defensive midfield, but only in that he was largely anonymous rather than downright poor.

But hey, at least he wasn’t played as an attacking midfielder, right? It was amusing to see some criticise me for a line in last weeks piece about Jewsbury not being an attacking midfielder, as they felt it was some kind of personal attack on Jack. It wasn’t. I don’t doubt he’s a great presence in the dressing room, and no doubt a nice guy but saying Jewsbury is not an attacking mid is no more a personal slight on him than pointing out Boyd isn’t a goalkeeper. It’s just a fact. Jack has, in the words of Liam Neeson, a “very particular set of skills” and those skills are firmly in the defensive sphere.

Now, I still think he should be benched as he’s not offering enough for me to justify being one of the 11 – we’re not good enough to carry passengers in crucial areas – but it does raise the question of who takes over. The options to slot in aren’t great. Marcelin doesn’t seem like a guy to be relied on game-in-game-out. If only we had a player like, for example, Adam Moffat to slot in there…

As for the goals conceded, well… For the 1st, if Brunner doesn’t slip, I don’t think we lose a goal. It was a desperate scurry to cover for Brunner as Keane marched into the box and allowed Donovan to ghost in unnoticed like the teenage me at a house party. It was hugely unfortunate, and coming when it did right before half time, it was a massive sucker punch that fired LA up and deflated the Timbers.

On the 2nd, Nagbe was hustled off the ball by the hungrier Juninho, whose shot through a ruck of players left Perkins unsighted till the last moment. At least, I hope he was unsighted because the other option is that Perkins went down slower than the oldest hooker in town, and a keeper who has lost that vital reflexive spring is a very worrying prospect – ask Blackburn fans about Paul Robinson.

Now, the 3rd… That annoyed me. And not just became Captain Brylcreem scored it. It was reactive defending at it’s worst.

My first thought on seeing the goal was “Where the hell were Palmer (on for Jewsbury) and Chara?”. There’s no way anyone should be getting that kind of space in that area of the pitch, right where they should be. Repeat viewings show that Chara was attracted across to the ball down the Timbers right side, while Palmer had dropped in to cover Mosquera who’d come rushing out of defence to close down play.

If Chabala closes Beckham down, letting Brunner cover for him – that is why, I’m assuming, Brunner took up a position so deep – then Beckham’s shot is either blocked off, or he’s forced to pass wide. Beckham sure as hell isn’t going to dribble round anyone. Even in his prime, he wasn’t that kind of player.

Whether fault lies with Chabala for backing off – thinking he was covering his man – or Brunner for not giving Chabala a shout is a subjective decision. It was, though, poor decision making in defence and it’s not the first time that defenders have made catastrophically poor choices.

It was still a great strike from Beckham, though. Take nothing away from that. He just should never have had the chance to shoot in the first place, is my point.

So, here we were again, more goals lost in the last ten minutes. The collapse was the 9th point Timbers had thrown away from a winning position this year and it gave the team an aggregate score of 7-25 in the last twenty minutes of matches since joining MLS.

The late game collapse has become a club tradition. Trying to drill down to the reasons for it would keep a team of experts busy for the rest of the season. Is the issue mental, physical or tactical?

I have a suspicion is a combination of all three. The collapse has become almost a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point, and the insistence of playing a relentlessly direct, get-it-down-the-wings tactic unsurprisingly leads to tiring, especially in the flanks, which opens up space in defence. And Spencer has made some strange changes at times

John Spencer has made three changes in 30 of the Timbers 40 MLS matches so far, with 2 being made in the other 10. The last two subs tend to come late in the match (averaging around the 73 and 79 minute mark respectively) and these are often the time when a manager will make that “last throw of the dice” to change a match in their favour, or look to consolidate an advantage.

The Timbers record before the last two subs are made is 14 wins, 13 draws, 13 losses, or a Loss Rate of 32.5%. After the changes the Loss Rate climbs to 40% after the 2nd sub, and 50% after all three are made.

Though 14 goals have been scored after the Timbers use their 3rd sub (4 in favour, 10 against), only 4 times has the match result been affected – most have been consolations, or another goal for the team in front. On only 1 occasion, the Timbers situation improved (the 1-1 draw with RSL that rounded off the 2011 season), the other 3 have seen it worsen, going from Win to draw in the 3-3 match with New York, and the Draw to Loss in the last two matches.

It’s worrying that the Timbers seem unable to turn around matches in our favour. It seems that the longer a match goes on, the more likely it is to get away from us.

It’s hard to ascertain whether it’s Spencer making the wrong changes, or an indication of how thin the squad is that we lack players who can come in to a match and make a positive difference.

There may be a second part to this post later in the week, where I play at being fantasy manager of the Timbers and set out my reasoning for why I think a 4-3-1-2/4-3-3 is the way forward for the team, as this post is already way too long as it is. There may not though, because, really what’s the point? I’m just a fan, so what do I know?

Next week will see Timbers face the early pacesetters, Sporting Kansas City. Getting a result against the unbeaten side will be a difficult and daunting prospect, and few will expect Portland to get anything from the match, but it would be just like this team to spark into life and grab the three points.

Or, at least we can hope…

13 thoughts on “Rewind and Repeat

  1. Brilliant again. I was thinking after the Beckham goal, how could it be possible there was so much space in that part of the field? And then I thought, I really hope there’s an analysis on sliderulepass so I can get my head around this.

    1. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It wasn’t like we were on the attack trying to get an equaliser and got caught on the break. I think Mosquera went charging out when he didn’t strictly have to – but it just seems to be his style that’ll he’ll go and try and win the ball – forcing Palmer back to cover and the space just opened up for Beckham. Chabala should’ve close him down. Brunner tried at least, but he had double the ground to cover as Chabala. You don’t let anyone, let alone David Beckham, have that much space right in front of goal.

  2. Thinking back to that goal Moffat scored against us last season, there seems to be a pattern since then, of a bunch of random distance shots going in, where opposing midfielders sneak into space and have an opportunity. Is it a matter of leaving that space in the middle since we see to be focused on getting our work to the outside? Or is possible the vision of Perkins and his height may have something to do with it? It happened twice with LA, and once with RSL. I can’t recall all the shots last season, but it felt to me like after Moffat, every team might have this on their mind; Perkins is shaky if you strike well from distance, so give it a go…

    1. I actually thought Perkins could’ve done better on the first 2 LA goals – but gave him benefit of the doubt re: sighting. I can’t recall the Moffat goal off the top of my head, I’d have to go back and check it out. There’s just been a couple of times last season and this where I thought he wasn’t getting down to low shots as quickly as you’d expect from a top keeper.

      The amount of space given to late runners is worrying. It speaks to a lack of concentration and awareness on our part. This tends to happen later in matches, so it could be a fatigue issue.

      I mean, in the example of Beckham’s goal, there was no reason for 4 Timbers players to be out there by the sideline. Perhaps it’s the desire to win the ball back quickly and try and get an equaliser, maybe it’s anxiety, but whatever it was it left us exposed in the centre where most damage is done.

  3. A few seconds before Beckham’s goal, I thought I saw Chara holding his legs, looking gassed. The dude ran his ass off on Saturday, and completed something like 89% of his passes. We really could have used some fresh legs in defensive midfield at that point. I’m not saying Chara should have been taken out, but just that he could have used some help at the top of the D. Can’t understand why Palmer got put in for Jewsbury.

  4. Good stuff, again, as usual.

    My only addition would be that on the first LA goal there was more of the usual “Timbers backline” stuff going on; first, Steve Purdy is caught upfield so Brunner has to race over to cover. Then the slip, which didn’t help, but the man was at a dead run anyway, so whether he would have been able to mark Keane’s cross out it’s hard to say. And then, as you noted, Donovan tiptoes in like the old lady sneaking into bed with the gardener completely unmarked; I have no idea who his marker even was, at that point, but whoever it was was off doing something else important at that point…

    So woulda coulda shoulda…but I think you may be on to something when you observe how thin we are. I got to thinking about that when you talked about benching Cap’t Jack, and it occurred to me – who the heck could be replace him with? Marcelin just doesn’t seem capable of going both directions for the full 90, and beyond that..?

    The Oregonian had a quiet little article at the end of last season that pointed out how the Timbers really are the poor relation to much of the MLS; as much as Paulson is ridiculously wealthy compared to, say, me, he’s not really up there with the people who bankroll Seattle, or the LAG, or NYRB. So the question for me is – can Merrit and Gavin run the Portland equivalent of “moneyball”? Because, if not, the portents are kinda ugly…

    1. The salary cap and single entity structure of MLS means that shouldn’t be a problem in the near-term. If it is then Merritt can eventually bring in new investors. He’s smart and he wants to win, so I’m not worried about the team being able to develop or sign good players. Some of the best clubs in Europe are from mid-size provincial cities and only recently have they been purchased by billionaire owners.

      I think where MP has to be careful is if he wants to run the club “like a business”. He can’t throw money down the drain. However, a soccer club or any professional sports team is not your usual business. Professional sports teams usually don’t make a profit and you can make the argument they shouldn’t if they want to win. Any attempts to run a club “like a business” usually produces mediocre results and eventually the casual fans will migrate elsewhere, which is bad for business. I think MP gets that.

      1. Point well taken, Paul. If the end result is something ugly on the pitch all that “moneyball” will go for naught.

        Still, this gets to me when I read moans about trading away Kenny Cooper and how well he’s doing at NYRB. Could it have something to do with the difference between playing alongside Jorge Perlaza and playing alongside Thierry Henry? I’m sure Merrit would love to buy him some Henry, but unless and until he – as you mention – brings in some other investors the money for that level of DP isn’t here.

        So we come back to the issue of Jewsbury and how it points up the issue of choices the Timbers are making. Some organizations have the luxury to make poor choices – they can afford a passenger or two. We can’t. We shouldn’t anyway (as I type this I note that we just signed another Colombian forward. Gavin is going to be featured on one of those “hoarders” shows where we get taken into the boot room to find towering stacks of old magazines, plates of mummified food, and a dozen idle forwards witting around…) but in our case we are on a very thin margin, and every player that can’t contribute on the pitch is not just a nil but an active negative.

        I’m still optimistic; the season, and the team, is still young.

      2. The notion of an ashamed Gavin Wilkinson on Hoarders revealing his stash of hoarded Colombian footballers has had me chuckling away for most of the afternoon.

        “I got one, and found I couldn’t stop. I can’t send them home, they mean so much to me. Look at their cheeky little faces.”

      3. I have this mental picture of Merrit going to his office coat closet and turning on the light and there’s Eduardo Sanchez-Herrera, the latest signing from Bogota, crouching amid the galoshes and umbrella munching an empanada.


  5. Another great analysis, although you must get tired of the same thing all the time. To my mind, the Beckham goal was irrelevant; pretty yes, but the game was already over at that point.

    I fear our great weakness is not defense, but offense. Not offensive talent (my gosh, look at Boyd’s wrongly disallowed effort!), but fundamental team desire to outscore ’em. We seem to be happy to score one goal, maybe a second if it falls in our lap, almost as if Spencer wants to win every game 1-0. And all the players, excepting Boyd, seem to want a GOTW. So their shot is in the tenth row, or they pass instead.

    Kevin, have we taken any shots on frame (or crosses) from outside the 18 that were on the ground? I cannot remember one. Shots like Juninho’s score goals – either directly, or on rebounds, deflections, etc. Chara alone has passed up 4-5 clear chances for one.

    If our true objective were to score three goals in every 45 minutes, we’d be much scarier. Instead, we retreat to our own end and try to hold them off. And we’ve all seen how well that works. I have no problem with a 1-0 Timbers win. Except I don’t think we will see one in 2012.

  6. And continuing in the vein of offense first, I’d love to buy you a beer and discuss the possible merits of a 3-4-3…

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