Cascadi-argh

The problem with watching an M Night Shyamalan movie, apart from watching an M Night Shyamalan movie, is that you spend most of your time waiting for the twist – the shattering reveal that turns everything you just watched on it’s head. Shyamalan, after the huge success of The Sixth Sense (SPOILER ALERT: Simon is Hans Gruber’s brother), became “the twist guy”.

The Timbers have their own twist; their own little gimmick. They lose late goals. A fuckofa lot. And it’s getting every bit as head-smackingly tedious as Shyamalan’s third-act revelations did.

Despite John Spencer’s post-match insistence that losing so many late goals is “not a massive problem“ this season alone has seen the team lose 7 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches, while they haven’t scored a goal in that period. As Mike Donovan tweeted, in the last 20 minutes of home MLS matches, the Timbers have been outscored 4-18.

I really hope Spencer was simply trying to bat away negatives to put a positive spin on the match because if he really doesn’t think those figures represent a massive problem then I think we have the answer as to whether Spencer has lost it

While the loss of yet another routinely sickening late goal may not have been a surprise, Spencer did pull a couple of rabbits out of the hat in his team selection.

I can’t say I was surprised to see Jewsbury back in at right-back, even though I thought Chabala had done enough against Chicago to keep his place. The shock was that Chabala didn’t even make the subs bench either. I can only assume it was a late knock (there were no injuries listed on the Friday before the match) because I can’t fathom any other reason why Chabala wouldn’t even make it to the bench.

The midfield was where the big shake up came, as only Diego Chara retained his starting place there. Songo’o and Wallace were replaced by Kalif Alhassan and Eric Alexander. Lovel Palmer dropped to the bench to facilitate a move into midfield for Darlington Nagbe, whose striking role alongside Kris Boyd was filled by Jorge Perlaza.

Despite my pre-match hope that we might see the team line-up in a 4-3-3 formation, it instead was much closer to the 4-4-2 diamond formation that the team had played earlier in the season, with Nagbe at the point.

It was an attacking set-up, and it looked like it would pay dividends early on as the play was much more fluid and connected that it had been in recent weeks. There were noticeably fewer hit-and-hope punts up the pitch, and much more quick passing and interplay.

If there is a criticism to be levelled at Troy Perkins – so often the Timbers hero in recent weeks – it’s that his distribution is often poor, but this week was much improved.

Though he had less to do this week than he had against the Fire, he still played the ball out short more often, with less recourse to the long ball. It’s a personal thing, but I much prefer to see the keeper look for that short throw or pass that retains possession and allows the team to build from the back than the lazy punt. The long ball has it’s place – to launch a quick counter, taking advantage of opponents that have overloaded the attack – but it’s seemingly the default setting for many keepers and it’s more often than not a waste of possession.

Perkins mirrored the play of his team-mates, which focussed much more on building the play through passing and movement. In this kind of system, Diego Chara’s role is crucial in the transition from defence to attack and vice versa. His passing is often underrated by some as he’s not one to attempt the “Hollywood pass” very often, but he keeps the play circulating with an excellent 90+% success rate.

His defensive play was characteristically strong, covering the area in front of his defence with steely determination. For a small guy, he’s deceptively strong as many bigger players have found out to their cost.

He was joined in midfield by Alexander and Alhassan. Alexander’s recall was a welcome sight, even though he was nominally the left midfielder, rather than playing through the centre where he seems more at home. At times it looked like he was a little over keen to impress having been given the chance.

Alhassan started after a good showing in a midweek friendly against Valencia. There are many similarities between Alhassan and Songo’o in that they’re both clearly skilful, flair players but equally both prone to trying to do a bit too much on their own. Both can frustrate when they try a flick, or try to beat a man when the easy pass is on to a wide-open team-mate but that’s the price you pay for the times when it does come off for them.

Not everyone agreed with me that Nagbe has been looking a little low in energy and confidence lately, but I hoped his drop into an attacking midfield role would reinvigorate him, and he did show little flashes of the player that can get fans on the edge of their seats.

At times he was playing as an orthodox central midfielder, but he adjusted admirably well. It’s good to see him more involved in play, and running at opponents again.

As the resident Jorge Perlaza apologist, it should be no surprise to read that I thought he had a good game. He worked tirelessly and got involved in play in a way that Nagbe doesn’t when he’s asked to partner Boyd.

Though he’s unquestionably a frustrating figure – his finishing can be wildly erratic at times – his ball retention is good and he is a good link between midfield and attack in terms of his running and ability to hold up the ball and feed it to onrushing midfielders, much like his countryman Chara fulfils the role in linking defence and midfield.

He also created a good chance for Nagbe early in the second half with a good run down the right and first time cross into the path of Nagbe who got under the ball and sent it sailing over the bar, as well as a couple of chances for himself. With the addition of Fucito to the squad, there’s even more pressure of Perlaza to perform when he’s given the chance, and I’d hope his strong showing against the Whitecaps is a sign that he’s taken the challenge on board and raised his game.

Kris Boyd got back on the scoresheet again after a poacher’s goal in 67 minutes when Jewsbury’s erratic cross was palmed away the Whitecaps keeper right into the area Boyd had staked out at the back post. It was a typically opportunistic bit of finishing from the Scot as he got himself in the right place at the right time.

Boyd is the kind of striker that does his best work off the second ball, where he has the strikers instinct to attack the area the ball is going to be. This was a prime example of this where skill and luck put him in the right place to hook the ball home. Too often though the Timbers are looking for him to win the first ball in the air, and this isn’t his strong suit especially against big guys like Jay DeMerit, who only minutes before the goal has clattered clumsily into Kalif in what looked like a stonewall penalty, but was waved away by both referee and his assistant.

Despite indirectly supplying the assist for Boyd’s goal, I thought Jewsbury’s crossing had been poor all night. I wouldn’t be surprised if Whitecaps defenders were drawing lots as to who would close down Jewsbury’s crosses, as to be the first man to a Jewsbury cross is to more-often-than-not get hit.

With Alhassan ahead of you, it’s a tricky job as his defensive work isn’t his strong suit. Jewsbury coped well in the defensive sense, but again I felt he offered little in attack.

The lead would last less than 20 minutes before a routine long ball was poorly defending, and Darren Mattocks, on the pitch for all of a minute, was able to breeze into the box and thunder the ball past Perkins.

The defending had been generally good, but here they switched off at the back, and were punsihed. Mosquera allowed Hassli to get the run on him, and Horst failed to cover the space behind his partner which gave Mattocks the time he needed to blow past Horst’s weak challenge.

It was a sickening end to a match that the Timbers will feel they deserved three points from.

It’s not just the late goals being lost that are a worry, it’s the inability to hold a lead. On 8 occasions this season the Timbers have taken the lead, but they’ve only held onto it 3 times. Of the 5 times the Timbers have lost the lead in a game, they’ve then gone on to lose 3 – the horrible run of RSL, Chivas and LA. In short – the Timbers are as likely to lose a match as win it when they go ahead! (3 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw – yes, that’s only 7, they took the lead twice against Chicago)

In a weird coincidence, the figures are mirrored when they go behind. 8 times they’ve slipped behind, and only 3 times they’ve found an equaliser – Philly (W), Dallas (D) and RSL (L).

The seeming inability to turn around a game when the momentum turns against the team is troubling.

Recent weeks have brought around better defensive performances, and for long spells of the game against the Whitecaps, there was much to be happy about the attacking play. A bit more luck or composure in front of goal and the Timbers could’ve been comfortable.

It wasn’t to be, and it’s another 2 points dropped – doubly galling as it’s against both a local and conference rival. It’s all very well complaining about the refereeing – and the Alhassan decision was especially poor – but as Mike Perron tweeted, “nothing takes a referee out of a game like finishing chances.” So very true. As long as the match is precarious, you’re always one defensive lapse from undoing all your good work.

Of course, if you’d watched the highlights on the MLS site, you might be wondering “what chances?” and “what (non) penalty?”. Thankfully the MLS site haven’t included the penalty shout in their “highlights” package. You want to see Steven Smith get a yellow card? Oh, you better believe that’s a highlight. You want to see a contentious decision that the officials clearly got wrong? Not a highlight. Neither are a number of decent chances at goal or passages of play.

I really hope whoever it was that compiles the highlights had a hot date last night to explain such a slap-dash and lazy job.

There’s often so much more that I’d like to illustrate and show through screengrab and the like but, as I don’t have MLS Live, I’m limited in what I can illustrate here by what MLS choose to put into their highlights. This match is probably one of their worst efforts yet – hence the lack of pics. I’d have loved to have written more about Perlaza, for instance, but there was next to nothing for me to do so in the highlights. Hopefully I’d get MLS Live soon, but for now I’ll just make do.

I do feel that progress is being made. The defence – a couple of weak moments aside – looks solid and didn’t look any weaker for having one less defensive midfielder in the team. In attack, with the reintroduction of Alhassan and seeing Nagbe played in his more natural position, there are encouraging signs for the future.

There’s a break in MLS action for the Timbers until the middle of next month, with a visit to LA to play Beckham FC. Before then the Timbers kick-off their US Open Cup campaign with the visit of Cal FC in midweek. The promise of a CONCACAF Champions League place for the cup winners should be all the incentive needed for the club to take the competition, and their amateur opponents, seriously.

There’s no doubt the fans already do.

#RCTID

15 thoughts on “Cascadi-argh

  1. I love reading your work!

    My seatmate made an interesting claim – PTFC has the most injury-forced substitutions in the MLS by a wide margin (not sure where one would validate this, but it seems likely true). And it happened again last night (I hope Brunner is OK). That early sub probably kept Alexander on the field longer than Spencer might have wished. EA seemed to run out of gas about the 75th minute – he was no longer finishing runs and failed to crash the box twice when rebounds hit the ground in the 18.

    In spite of the result, the new lineup and formation is a huge improvement and I hope the loss of two points doesn’t send Spencer retreating back to Palmer, Wallace and boring football. I (believe?) (hope?) (wish?) that the floodgates will open, we’ll put five past somebody and build some really positive momentum.

    1. I actually wondered about that on twitter after Jack got hurt in Houston. It seems to happen a lot to us.

      We make a crazy number of halftime changes. I’d bet we lead the way on that by some distance.

    1. My thoughts exactly, though when I signed up for mls live, it seemed as if all Timbers broadcasts are blacked out in Portland. Therefore I cancelled the same day. Would they replay them after the game is over?

      Perhaps some time could be spent analyzing Jorge Gonzalez’s poor performances, then we can spam him to death with the links….

    2. Thanks very much for the offers folks. Between having a baby (well, technically the wife had it…) and then moving costs, I daren’t push my luck with “luxuries” like MLS Live just yet.

      The button is there on the sidepanel, but seriously don’t sweat it. I’ll keep plugging away, doing what I’m doing regardless.

  2. Some random thoughts.

    I agree that the Boys looked better in attack, and the late goal was as much the result of individual errors as collectively poor defending, and hope that Spencer doesn’t give up on this XI.

    I thought that the team, as a group, and the individuals starting for the first time in a while (Alexander, Jack, and Perlaza) showed quite a bit of rust, especially in the first half. You wonder when Spencer decided to put this lineup together and how many times they had practiced together before the match.

    I thought that Chara was the candidate for Man of the Match; he was tireless in breaking up Vancouver attacks deep in their own end, tracked back tirelessly, and provided great distribution.

    And I’ll go out on a limb and say I think this draw was largely the result of Spencer getting outmanaged again. It felt like the biggest change in the temper of the match occurred after the Hassli substitution at 72′; he provided speed that Koffie had not provided and the ‘Caps began to penetrate the defense in a way that hadn’t up to then. Spencer’s answer was to bring on Sal Zizzo, who had combined nicely with Perlaza the previous match to toss long balls downfield and force the Fire to chase. But Perlaza had been on for almost 80’, and Sal had Jack behind him – who didn’t provide ANY support going forward – and so the Zizzo substitution really didn’t do anything but replace Kalif’s sorta-kinda defending with Sal’s “what, you mean there’s something to do when we DON’T have possession?” defending.

    And overall Spencer seemed to be less interested in bunkering up and defending the goal than in pressing forward for a second. I’m not sure how I feel about that – I’d like to think that Spence is coming out of his “let’s play for a nil-nil draw” phase – but the results sure were ugly. There’s no reason that the ‘Caps should have slumk out of there with a point. They certainly didn’t deserve it, given their play.

    Oh, and one interesting addendum. I went to the Reserve match the following afternoon (which the ‘Caps Reserves won 2-1, sadly…) and Mattocks scored the winning goal. It WAS a lovely goal (with some pretty awful defending help from Jean-Baptiste) but then the rascal proceeded to taunt the small Timbers Army contingent there to cheer on the Small Side. Showboating in a reserve match? Bush league much, Mattocks? No wonder we hate your always-be-a-British-colony ass so much.

    Well. Onward, Rose City!

    1. I thought where we really suffered was down the flanks. There didn’t seem to be a lot of understanding between Smith/Alexander and Jewsbury/Alhassan, which is understandable as I doubt they’ve played together in those roles very often. Alexander and Alhassan both pushing inside really narrowed our midfield and Jack isn’t really a guy to go tearing up the flank to create an overlap so a lot of attacks ended up coming inside and breaking down 20-30 yards from goal when they run out of space. I think the decision to bring on Zizzo was perhaps to try and stretch the pitch a bit, but Sal never really got into the game in the way he has in the past couple of sub appearances, and as you say, Perlaza was looking tired by the final 10 so we really lost much of our attacking movement.

      1. Yep. And in the Spencer System if you’ve got no construction down the wings you got nothin’. My friend Brent turned to me at about 55′ and wailed “Is ANYONE on this team familiar with the term “overlapping run”?”

        I do want to emphasize that I liked a lot about the starters last Saturday. I think that if this group continues to play together we might just generate some genuine attacking opportunities. The late goal was ugly but I can’t help but see it as a kind of freak; just a combination of individual poor marking and a team still trying to go forward.

        One thing I’d like to see is Eric Brunner wearing one of those dorky Cech-helmets. That poor guy gets nutted more than anyone on the team. I love his solidity in back, and I’d hate to see him Eddie-Johnson’d out of the league for getting his brains scrambled. I wonder if Eric is willing to take the flak he’d get for appearing on a short-bus hat?

  3. Almost forgot – two last observations;

    The light show provided by Mom Nature was pretty spectacular. I’ve never been to a match delayed by lightning before. Even the rain was impressive – as heavy a downpour as I’ve sat out in in 20 years in Portland.

    And I know this has come up in a number of venues, including the Oregonian, but this referee Gonzales really is pretty awful. Had we buried our chances and run off 4-1 up it wouldn’t have mattered, so this isn’t an excuse for the draw. But his ridiculously random officiating did have one effect; it went a long way to turning the match into a hackfest. With no guarantee that a foul was a foul, or what KIND of foul they’d draw, both sides started going into each other as hard as possible to see how much damage they could do before drawing a caution. Like the old joke about hockey, Referee Gonzales helped ensure that I went to a fight and a soccer match broke out.

    If MLS ever wants to shake it’s image as a bunch of thuggish backs beating up talentless goons this guy’s level of wretched officiating REALLY needs to go.

  4. You can download most of the games at Americansoccerarchives.com

    Maybe you can use screen grabs from that to help with your analyses? (Which are spot-on, by the way.)

    1. Hmmm…tried this twice at Ammericansoccerarchives.com with two different email addresses to sign up… no confirmation email. What’s the trick?

      1. Not sure. It worked fine for me, but I signed up last year. Maybe check the spam filter on your email account?

  5. I have to agree with a number of points here. First being Perkins distribution. Last season it was such a glaring issue; playing great, but punting the ball away on objective possession only to lose it. I feel that this season he, or whomever is coaching him, has clearly looked to address it. It doesn’t hold 100%, but it’s been getting better. However, it’s eternally infuriating to watch the blind, defacto, punt out of the back when there are good solid possession options to either throw or pass to. This last game was a refreshing glimpse that at least someone is using their head back there, be it coach or Perkins.

    Second, on this over-the-top-ball-to-Boyd-for-the-glory-first-touch-and-screamer-goal business, I completely agree and I’m glad you address it. His skill set isn’t as such and we should be playing the ball to him this way. Additionally, I feel like it points to larger problems behind him, which then leads to tactical questions considering that it’s a style that also plagued a certain fried chicken franchise figure of last season. This last game was an excellent example of how he succeeds and puts himself in anticipatory situations to pick up goals. I applaud him for it. While I would like to think that maybe this will be a reminder of his strengths, I worry that it will go unnoticed the rest of the season, just as it did the last one.

    Lastly, thanks for blogging. From a purely subjective opinion, yours is the only one really worth reading. Thanks for taking the time.

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