Intolerable Cruelty

In shock news, the Timbers suffered another defeat, their fifth on the spin, this time following a smash-and-grab win from Chivas USA, the only goal of the game coming midway through the second half.

The scoreline mirrored that of the recent match, though at least the performance was better here. Just a shame you don’t get points for that. No to get wins you need to score – something the Timbers haven’t done in 290 minutes of play – and it also helps to keep a clean sheets or so – it’s now 11 consecutive matches the Timbers have conceded in since a 0-0 draw with Houston in mid May.

Gavin Wilkinson made six changes from the team that collectively shat the bed against Dallas. Out went Chabala (gone from the 18 altogether), Danso, Alhassan, Fucito, Alexander and Mwanga and in came Smith, Horst, Richards, Boyd, Jewsbury and Nagbe.

I suspected they would line up in a 4-2-3-1 again, but I was a little surprised to see how far up the field Chara was playing. Jewsbury had the holding role, and that freed the Colombian foul merchant up to go forward and support the attack.

Songo’o and Richards played out wide, with Nagbe tucked in behind – and running beyond – Boyd in the striking role.

From early on it was clear that Songo’o was in the mood for this one, and he ryansmithed the Chivas defence time and again in the first half. He was at the heart of pretty much everything positive about the Timbers attack, and is virtually unplayable when he’s in this sort of form. Which is to say, occasionally.

Boyd had a couple of decent sights at goal – one chance he beautifully engineered with a deft flick, and another he completely fluffed. Such is life as a striker – the margin between hero and villain is often vanishingly small.

Playing up top can be a cruel position to play. Mistakes are amplified. A missed chance falls under much greater scrutiny than a midfielder’s misplaced pass that leads to nothing. No player is more derided than the striker that misses a chance that is “easier to score”, yet even the greatest strikers will miss a few of them along the way.

I’d rather have a striker get ten chances and miss them all than not get any at all. Course, I’d much rather he put at least one of those away, but we’ve all had bad days/nights at the office and this was one of these for the striker.

The only position, in my opinion, that is crueller than that of striker in terms of the difference a single mistake can make is that of goalkeeper, and we’ll get to that soon enough…

Brent Richards made his first start for the Timbers in MLS, and he was hugely impressive in the first half too. He added a bustle and energy that the Timbers attack has oft lacked this year, and he displays as much contempt for the fundamental laws of gravity as John Terry does for decorum and sportsmanship.

His aerial abilities certainly seemed to catch Chivas out early on, and the home grown player got a lot of joy from long, high balls punted in his general direction. He also added a threat from throw-in’s with a Rory Delap-esque long throws.

As well as what he could offer the club going forward, he also displayed a focus and willingness to work in defence that helped Kosuke Kimura at right back.

As much as I like Alhassan, I’ve always had big reservations about his defensive work, among other things. Though Chivas offered little in attack, I do feel that Kimura had a much more assured match here than he’s had in a while in no small part to the security afforded him by Richards’ work ahead of him.

Fans have been calling for a while for some of the young guys to be given a chance to shine, and it’s pleasing to see Richards not only given that chance, but grasp it both hands, take it home to meet his parents and buy a nice three-bedroom house in the ‘burbs.

In his more advanced role Diego Chara also impressed in the first 45. He had a hand in a couple of good chances, and it was his pass that set Boyd off down the right in a counter-attack that had echoes of Mwanga’s goal against San Jose.

Such chances to break on Chivas would be few and far between given their plan to defend in depth, both numerically and geographically.

The Timbers faced a team with one plan in mind: keep it tight, and hope to nick a goal. From very early on it was clear that this was not a team that would come here and look to exploit a Timbers defence that had just shipped five goals to a distinctly average FC Dallas the previous week.

Half an hour in and Chivas were already defending in numbers and bunkering in. It’s a strategy that has served them fairly well, with four of their six wins prior to this match coming in 1-0 results. The other two were also one-goal victories, both 2-1. This isn’t a team that tends to blow out their opponents, nor do they get steamrollered having conceded more than 1 goal in only 4 of their previous 19 MLS match this year.

Having done so well in the first half, there seemed to be a slight drop-off in intensity in the second. The formation that had come as close to a 4-3-3 as we’ve seen from the Timbers this year in the first half took on more of a 4-1-4-1 shape in second.

Jewsbury still sat deep, but Chara didn’t have the same attacking focus that he’d had in the first half.

Richards, who’d had such a fine first half, also lost a bit of pep to his game in the second. Chivas seemed to wise up to the threat of Richards in the air, even as the Timbers continued to dementedly plough that particular furrow, and he didn’t quite have the same joy as he had in the first.

On the opposite flank, Songo’o tired and had less impact than he had before the break. The Cameroonian has had his share of injury problems, but he continues to struggle to find full match fitness, and it was a visibly tiring Songo’o who gave Chivas the chance the led to the only goal of the game.

All the Timbers good work in the first half was wiped out by a needless foul, poor defensive marking and a goalkeeping error.

You have to feel sorry for keepers sometimes. The slightest misjudgement and there’s a good chance they’ll cost the team a goal. Perkins has been one of the Timbers best, most consistent, players this year, but he has to take his share of the blame for this one.

Once in front, there was never any doubt that Chivas would look to park the bus and keep what they had. The Timbers failed to find a way through – Boyd missed a couple, and Nagbe joined the party with a couple of his own.

There was certainly a lot more positives to take from this match than there has been in the last few games. I don’t often agree with Wilkinson, but he’s right when he says that football is a “cruel, cruel sport at times”.

The Timbers continue to find frustration in attack, while they find that every mistake gets punished pitilessly.

I thought the tactics, in the first half certainly, were good and we got good performances out key players. What worries me is the drop-off in the second – something that’s happened too often to be mere coincidence.

Robbie Earle speculated in the commentary that Sean McAuley was doing much of the touchline coaching to give the players a “different voice” to react to, with Wilkinson saying his piece at half time. If the reaction from the players after the break is any indication, Wilkinson might want to consider getting a motivator like Mitt Romney in next time.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team is annoying, but at least the drop-off wasn’t as dramatic as it has been in the past. And, hey, for a team that had lost so many late goals this season, only 2 of the last 15 have come in the last quarter hour, so that’s something. Right?

Of course, those 15 goals have been conceded in the last 5 games. That’s also something… *shudder*

I want to strike a positive note, as I did feel we played some good football at times, but we leave ourselves at the mercy of a single, silly mistake at the back when we fail to put the ball in the net. And if there’s one thing that you can count on with this team, it’s that they’ll make a mistake at the back at some point. Today it was Perkins, on another day it’s Kimura, or Smith. It’s a wonder we have any toes left considering the number of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.

Chivas recorded their third win over the Timbers this season with this result. You know what you’ll get from Chivas. They play pretty much the same way in most matches, and that strategy never really changed for Chivas as the match wore on.

Though Chivas has the edge in possession before the goal (53%-47%), the Timbers made almost half of their passes in the Chivas half, with only 39% of Chivas passes coming in the Timbers half. After the goal, the Timbers dominate possession (79%-21%), and have much more of the play in the Chivas half, but fail to take what chances come their way.

Like a dealer who gives a hit of the good stuff to hook you, so the Timbers give flashes of what they could be, reeling you in and making you believe, before sucker punching you square in the babymaker.

And yet, we’ll be back again for the next game, and what’s more we’ll have hope that next time it’ll be different.

Despite the scoreline in the last meeting, the Timbers are more than capable of beating Dallas next week. Unfortunately, they’re also more than capable of beating themselves.

The team have a week before they have a chance to avenge that 5-0 defeat in front of a Timbers Army that have been starved of reasons to be cheerful lately.

It’s a cruel game indeed.

#RCTID

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10 thoughts on “Intolerable Cruelty

  1. I have seldom seen a team with such a bad case of the yips.

    It isn’t just Boyd. Nagbe looks completely stymied; I have been hopeful that he could play through his problems this season, but at this point I’m not sure whether sitting him could do any more damage. His miss in the first half, with just the keeper to beat, was inexcusable. He didn’t have a bad match overall, but he’s completely unable to score at this point, and if he can’t score we have a busload of people like Rincon who are worth trying on to see how well they fit. I can’t think of a single player right now who looks poised in front of goal.

    And apropos of the preceding post I wanted to add that the hate on Gavin looks like it’s starting to boil over. After the first halfway-decent match in the Gavin Interregnum the man got booed walking off the pitch. I wonder if that had anything to do with his comments about cruelty…

    Onward, Rose City!

  2. Once again, your article was a great read. Two things.
    1. I agree that the team needs a striker that is willing to take the ten shots, but not at the expense of a way better outlet. Boyd is beginning to look like the desperate guy that is never going to get it. The goal is about to put Boyd in the dreaded “friend zone”.
    2. Richards was nice, but we have done this all year. We put in a new player, teams adjust, said new player disappears from the pitch because our management doesn’t understand why teams figured out the new plan.

    1. Strikers like Boyd are confidence players, and it’s no surprise that with the guy who brought him here leaving, and the team’s form, that Boyd’s confidence is maybe a bit low. I think his frustration and not-quite-desperation-but-getting-there is telling in the way he’s snatching at chances – perhaps worrying, with good reason at times, that another chance won’t come along. The one where he took a shot from a tight angle when Chara was clear was typical of a striker who just wants to score and get that monkey off his back. But then it could just be your typical greedy striker!

      I agree about Richards. He did well in the first half but he wasn’t nearly so effective in the second when Chivas wised up. This isn’t a one-off as you say. We’ve done similar in the past, and surprised a team, but when they recognise what’s going on and adjust, we don’t seem to have any idea where to go from there. That’s on the coaches to a) notice what’s going on, b) change it up and c) actually have a Plan B to change it up to.

      The same criticisms were levelled at Spencer. He was often unable to effect a positive change mid-game, and I felt he perhaps lacked that experienced guy alongside him to nudge him along. Maybe McAuley is that guy, it’s too early to tell, but it seems that with the same coaching staff in place, nothing much is changing in that regard.

      1. The other telling thing about our players is that we do not have a great
        (or even average) attacking midfielder. Chara is our best attacking midfielder, but he is a defensive midfielder for sure. I had trouble seeing Chara being a better defensive midfielder at the beginning of the season. I now know it is not because Chara is an attacking midfielder, it is because the rest of our attacking midfielders are below average.

  3. After further consideration, one other thought.

    The yips are just part of it. The other thing is that rather than having a seamless understanding of where their teammates are going to be and what they will do, at some point – even if we string together a nice series of passes – a Timbers player will slow down and look around for an outlet, or a runner, and not find them, or not see them. The forward motion breaks down, the defenders close in, and the ball is lost.

    Almost every other attacking sequence comes to this, and it involves so many different players that I have to think it’s not a player issue but something the Boys are picking up from the coaching staff.

    Cruel, yes. But usually the more communication and teamwork in practice, the less cruelty on matchday.

  4. Great write up. We saw the same match.

    “Boyd had a couple of decent sights at goal – one chance he beautifully engineered with a deft flick, and another he completely fluffed. Such is life as a striker – the margin between hero and villain is often vanishingly small.”

    The TA is getting increasingly restless with Boyd. I remain patient and hope others can read this as you do. I really feel like the team needs a head-shrink to deal with whatever is afflicting Boyd and Nagbe. They both seem to have deflated confidence (and how could blame them.)

    What was your take on the coaching? It looked like McAuley was directing the game off the bench and was making good moves, with the exception of the final sub time and choice.

    I don’t think there was a lot to be ashamed of in the course of play last night and consider that good movement.

    1. I think the first half had a lot of positives, but once again we were slow to react to problems in the second. Chivas got wise to the threat of Richards, Songo’o faded very quickly out of the match after the break and I don’t know what the deal was with Chara as he wasn’t the same player in the second half, even before the injury, as he was in the first. He was dynamic and supporting the front line in the first, but in the second he seemed more reserved. Whether that was a tactical decision to draw him back a bit, or he just went out and did that, I don’t know, but I did rob us of a bit of industry in the centre. Nagbe had a decent game, but he’s in and out of games and not really a guy to rely on to bring that hustle to the team.

      Even so, we still dominated the second half, though the figures are skewed by Chivas essentially ceding the ball after the goal and settling in for the ride. I just felt that had we kept up the work rate of the first in the second, the goal would’ve come, but I had that gnawing feeling that it was going to be “one of those night” even before the goal when I saw how we came out after the break.

      Even so, a bounce here, or a bit of luck/composure there, and it’s a different game entirely. Such is football.

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