Another Fiasco in Frisco

I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.

In their first year in MLS, the Timbers went to Dallas in summer and lost 4-0. That remained their heaviest defeat as an MLS club until this week when they went one worse and lost 5-0. It was the first time Dallas had scored 5 since they beat LA 6-3 in 2009 and the first time they’d won by more than three goals since the Timbers visited last June.

The result leaves the Timbers rooted to the bottom in the West, and bottom overall on goal difference. Of the 35 goals they’ve conceded, 14 have come in the last four matches. The Timbers also set records for the longest a team has gone without scoring a goal away from home. It’s now seven full games since Kris Boyd scored against LA, and an aggregate score in that time of 0-15.

So, is everyone feeling happy? Let’s get on with the game…

The team that Gavin Wilkinson selected to put an end to that run saw Boyd benched, and a return to the 4-4-2. Alexander moved centrally, to play the top of the diamond as Nagbe also sat out. Mwanga and Fucito were up top, while Smith was replaced by Chabala at left-back . Songo’o and Alhassan were the wingers.

It was, on paper, an attacking set-up. Two mobile strikers to stretch the Dallas defence, and exploit any spaces. Alexander pulling the strings in midfield, with the creativity of Songo’o and Alhassan out wide.

In reality, it was a different matter.

The tone was set from early on. The Timbers sat off, seemingly looking to conserve energy in the sapping heat, but all it did was hand the impetus to the hosts. Dallas dominated play from the first whistle, and wouldn’t give up control until the final whistle mercifully brought an end to a contest that as one-sided as you’re likely to see.

The battle was quickly won, and lost, in the wide areas. There seemed to be no understanding between Chabala and Songo’o down the left or Kimura and Alhassan down the right.

When the ball got forward into attacking wide areas, there was no support for the full-backs time and again.

It may be that Wilkinson had told his fullbacks to sit deeper to counter the threat offered by Dallas’ full-backs, but rather than snuff out a Dallas threat, all it did was neuter our own.

Even on the few occaisions that a full-back did get forward for the Timbers, they would find themselves isolated.

It’s a wonder I don’t have a bruise on my forehead from the number of head smackings I give myself as the Timbers continue to make the same basic errors. Neither Songo’o or Alhassan are guys who are going to go round a defender and hit the byline, yet we persist with playing them out wide.

Fine, then we need to get our full-backs up to provide that wide out-ball, except we either have the ball dribbled or passed inside, and lost, or the run is so late, or the pass too slow, that rather than having a 2-on-1 out wide, it’s 2-on-2 or even 2-on-3.

To see how it’s done properly , just watch Dallas.

That’s how you do it. It wasn’t just a one-off, it was consistent. Quick, crisp and effective. Compare to the ponderous and plodding play of Portland. It’s men and boys.

With the way Dallas would push on their full-backs, it should’ve created chances for Portland to hit them down the flanks on the break, but again we were just too slow. We seem unable to put some quick passes together in transitioning from defense to attack. You can almost hear the gears crunching as we try to.

The one time we did turn it over quickly, a long ball forward was robbed from the defender by Fucito and his shot was deflected off the post. It was 0-0 at the time, and while it may have changed the matches had it gone it, I have little confidence that it would’ve halted the tide of the match which was washing all over the Timbers defence.

It very quickly became evident that Wilkinson’s attempt to play Alexander as an attacking midfielder was leaving Diego Chara exposed in deep. Not for the first time this season. And not for the first time, we did nothing to remedy a glaring problem.

As Dallas worked the flanks well, they were able to overload the middle and create chance after chance, and it was only a matter of time until they broke through.

It was also little surprise to see all of the Dallas goals exploiting our full-back weaknesses, and three in particular playing on our inability to defend in wide areas.

On the first, Kimura was marking a man in the centre of the field, leaving acres out wide. He then did that annoying thing of jumping back first to block the ball. Mosquera was unfortunate to turn it home.

The second saw Chabala go off on an adventure into midfield, and Songo’o resolutely fail to bother his arse to cover for his full-back.

The fourth was that classic thing the Timbers do of giving the ball away cheaply and leaving the full-back with his arse in the breeze. Jewsbury, who had started on the bench, gave the ball away and Dallas always looked likely to score.

The third and fifth goals won’t be featured on Mike Chabala’s highlight reel should he find himself seeking a new club at some point. On both occasions Jackson breezed past him so easily I had to rewind and double check he really was there at all.

It was a defensive horror show, and the full-back area continues to be a problem.

It was, of course, yet another shuffle at the back with Chabala coming in. The lack of consistency at the back is certainly a contributing factor to our defensive woes. Probably the best defense I’ve seen was the famous Arsenal back four of Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn. These were guys who played together every week, knew each others games inside out and played not as four individuals, but as one collective unit. They were formidable.

To be fair, the continued absence of Brunner perhaps prevents the Timbers from picking their first choice central pairing, but the continued switching of Horst and Futty alongside Mosquera doesn’t build stability. Nor do the woes at the full-back area.

Lack of communication, players not knowing or doing their job properly, poor positioning – all these are results of players not knowing who they’ll be playing beside from game to game.

Dallas were also able to use their defenders as a way to slow the game up and take a breather.

As you can see, Dallas were happy to play across the defense. It keeps the ball, gives the attacking players a chance to rest up, and it also lets the team probe for weakness in the Timbers defense. Look at the Timbers defence, and there is none of that. The difference is like those before and after pictures of a spider’s web when the spider is jacked up on caffeine. We’re nervous and jittery where Dallas are composed and confident.

It’s a symptom of the Timbers season. Hardly anyone wants to put a foot of the ball and work the play. It’s head down, kick it forward and run, and the tone is set at the back. Perkins continues to punt the ball hopefully up the field even though anyone who’s played in heat will tell you it’s much easier to conserve energy when you have the ball than when you’re chasing it. Look for a full-back to throw it to, or a central defender to drop off for a ball to feet. Pass the ball, even if you’re not always moving forward. Keep it, treasure it, and let the spaces open up in front of you, rather than hoping they will.

It’s just not good football. I said during the week on twitter that it’s little surprise we play USL football considering our entire backroom team is drawn from there. Just like a lower league team will upset the odds from time to time, so do we, but over the course of a season the results will even out and you’ll find yourself some way short of the quality needed. For all the work done to bring the old PGE Park up to MLS standards, we neglected to improve the personnel in the same way.

The fact it was the Timbers 3rd game in 8 days should have made possession of the football an even more pressing concern.

If the ninety minutes wasn’t dispiriting enough, Wilkinson’s post match comments won’t have improved anyone’s mood.

The tone of Gavin’s comments, despite his protestations that he wasn’t throwing anyone under the bus, were of someone throwing everyone under the bus before hopping on that same bus and telling the driver to step on it.

In short: “It was them, not me. Honest.”

It was hard not to see them being directed not towards the fans that had just seen the club they love humiliated and abused, but to Merritt Paulson in an attempt to convince the owner that he shouldn’t be culpable for having “people quit tonight”.

For all Gavin Wilkinson sought to shift the blame for the result onto the players – and the players do deserve criticism, as I’ve given too – he can’t, and shouldn’t be allowed to, weasel his way out of this one entirely.

Not only did he pick this team, and set the tactics, he signed these guys. I’ve never believed for a second that Wilkinson deferred entirely to a rookie manager in who the Timbers signed. And if he did, why are we paying him a wage if he’s just going to stand silently by and watch as a team is built in the most haphazard and poorly-planned manner?

The notion that Spencer signed all the duds is, quite frankly, bollocks. Wilkinson’s hands are dirty.

These are his players and if they’re not good enough, he’s not good enough. I don’t think sacking Spencer was a mistake, but it’s a job only half done. Spencer made many mistakes in his tactics, game management and approach, but he wasn’t alone in putting together a team that now prop up the rest of MLS.

I don’t buy the notion that bringing Spencer back would make things any better. The depths the club have fallen after he left doesn’t change the fact we were already scraping the barrel with him here. It’s a completely fresh start the club needs, with new eyes looking over everything and putting the club back on track.

I think we overachieved some in the first year. Players were a little bit complacent coming into their second year.

What in the holy fuck is this guy babbling about?

We overachieved by losing 14 of our 34 games? By having the second worst defence in the West? By winning two of our 17 road matches? Overachieved? Fuck off with that nonsense!

If our General Manager, the guy who is supposed to shape the “vision” for this club going forward, thinks that is overachievement then he had no place in MLS, never mind this club.

You may overachieve in a cup competition, and string a few results together and win a trophy, but you achieve exactly what you deserve over 34 matches. We’ve gone backwards this year and not because we did so well last year that players got complacent, but because management have failed in their duty.

You because complacent, Gavin. You’ve been here 12 years now. You’re comfortable, you’re part of the furniture. You’ve gotten lazy. You’re not good enough. You’re failing the Timbers, and if you have even a shred of good feeling towards this club, you’d do the right thing and admit the job is too big for you and go.

You may even find that fans have a bit of respect for you as a result. You got offered a nice job, and you took it. No-one would begrudge you that. You gave it your bes,t I don’t doubt, but your best isn’t nearly good enough. To hang onto your position now would be entirely selfish and destructive for this team.

You’re part of the problem, Gavin. Yes, the players have to take a large share of the blame for results, but I have zero confidence that you are the man to bring in better players. And the thought of you having input into the next manager at the club fills me with cold dread.

As I posted last week, I don’t expect title after title. I don’t support the Timbers for the glory. But this isn’t good enough. The fans remain loyal in their support, but they’re hurting. Ultimately, beyond singing themselves hoarse at every match, they can only watch as their club – THEIR club – is mismanaged.

You can blame everyone else for your failings, Gavin, but you don’t fool the fans.

One can only hope that the owner isn’t fooled either.

The Timbers have a week before their next proper match, when they host Chivas USA. It’s the return legs of this bizarre little midseason double-double-header, so a chance to avenge this defeat will follow the Chivas match.


11 thoughts on “Another Fiasco in Frisco

  1. I think this perfectly sums up the feeling my wife and I had watching the game. Maybe Spenny needed a little more time. What did we have to lose with the season already ruined.

    I hope all goes well with the visa. Are you moving to Salem (my hometown) permanently or just for an extended holiday?

    1. I suspect he’ll get out of it with “I never wanted to be the coach anyway, so don’t judge me as one” and hope to sweep his part in putting this team together under the carpet. Preferably John Spencer’s carpet.

  2. Very well put, getting rid of Spencer had to be done. Let’s not stop there, however. Gavin is the architect of this franchise. He has to take responsibility. My initial hope was Merritt told him” you got these players, you coach them,” if you can’t get them to play then you need to go also. We need new eyes on this group.

    1. We needed to get rid of Spencer, yes, but it especially now seems like we either got rid of him randomly, without a plan, or Gavin made the move because he thought he could coach better than a rookie coach, which he obviously can’t. In my opinion we would have been better off either installing a new manager as soon as possible or waiting until the end of the year to move in a different direction.

      1. The conspiracy theory is that Gavin engineered Spencer out the door as it shored up his position as Merritt wouldn’t want to cripple the organisation while the play-offs were still a possibility. Gavin can then claim “I never wanted to be a coach anyway” when the issue of poor performances are raised, and Spencer can carry the can for the poor acquisitions. Gavin can take credit for the few that worked, of course. A new manager comes in, with lots of input from Gavin who Merritt seems to defer to in footballing matters, and Gavin returns to the shadows with barely a scratch.

        I’m not sure I believe Wilkinson is that Machiavellian, or Merritt so naive, but I can’t help but feel the club needs an entirely fresh start. An experienced, proven manager to take control of the team, led by a GM with experience of working within the unique structure of MLS.

        I’d rather have seen both Spencer and Wilkinson go, and one of the assistants take the reins in the short term – as was the case in Philadelphia – while the search for a new head coach and general manager was undertaken. Even allowing for Wilkinson remaining in his role as GM for the foreseeable future, I’m baffled as to why Wilkinson stepped in and the job wasn’t given to one of the coaching staff. Yeah, Wilkinson’s been a head coach in the past, but he’s either a General Manager or he’s a (Interim) Head Coach, he can’t be both. It spreads him too thin.

  3. I should formally apologize to Spencer; here I thought he was just a funny Scotsman with tactical ideas from soccer’s Middle Ages.

    Mind you, he was…but apparently he HAD some tactical ideas, brutal as they were; his boss seems to think that the idea is to let ten guys wander around a grassy field.

    WTF, Gavin! You were gawdawful mediocre in USL but at least your competition wasn’t that much better than you were. Now? You look like you were the kid who arrives on the short bus and wears the bicycle helmet to class.

    Sadly, Gavin has been doing this to Merritt for years and I’m not sure that this fiasco will get him turfed out, either. He continually underachieved in USL, his acquisitions have been an odd collection seeming based on who was available and/or he favored rather than what was needed on the field (a boot room full of forwards but no decent fullbacks?), and based on the Chivas and now the FCD matches he hasn’t a clue how to direct the team to play. Spencer’s crude, direct tactics have been replaced by…well, it looks like nothing at all. The team looks directionless and adrift.

    I was disappointed. Now I’m getting mad.

    Onward, Rose City!

    1. If you want to get really mad, just look at how Vancouver are doing!

      They have a MLS alum pulling the strings behind the scenes and a talented coach from the lower rungs of the US ladder and they’ve shown real nous in their trade dealings, improving their squad, and have a manager who knows what he’s doing in putting a strong XI and a tactical plan together.

      Compare and contrast with what’s been going in the Rose City this year. Grim.

      1. And Philadelphia, too, as you point out. Grim is right

        What makes me mad is that while I wish I had more faith in Merritt’s ability to look at this coldly Gavin has always had an odd sort of hold over/rapport with him. I frankly cringed when I heard that he’d been moved up to GM and expected to see a bunch of hard boys from Down Under and northern Europe on the pitch the next season. The Latin signings were a surprise, and I wondered if that meant that ol’ Gav had a little flair hidden inside that Kiwi shell. The latest run of matches has exposed both his “tactics” and some of his signings as just not good enough.

        How Merritt can not see this I don’t know. But the USL Timbers had many of the same gaping holes as this club, and it didn’t stop him from moving Gavin upstairs and bringing in an untried head coach.

  4. Technically Portland is doing what Vancouver did last year when GM Soehn replaced Teitur Thoradson. The whole situation is a mess. I want to give Gavin credit for having the balls to put out a young lineup but Jesus, what an ass kicking with the usual scapegoats (Palmer, S Smith, Jewsbury( starting on the bench.

    Thanks for putting last year in perspective too by the way. It was cool being in the thick of a playoff race in the seasons dying days but, shit, more than half the teams qualify!

Wise Men say...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s