Crackerjack

The drought is over, the losing streak has ended. The Timbers battled back from a goal down to equalise late on against 10 men FC Dallas and earn a point, their first in a month. It was a result that went some way to laying the ghosts of the recent 5-0 defeat to rest.

With a tricky trip to the East Coast looming it was important that the team gave themselves at least some hope for the rest of the season, and they’ll be somewhat satisfied by the way they were able to come back to earn a point from a losing position for the first time since the last visit from Dallas, way back in March.

Gavin Wilkinson set his team up in the now-familiar 4-3-3, with Boyd up top flanked by Songo’o and Richards. A midfield trio of Chara, Jewsbury and Nagbe were in front of the back-line of Smith, Horst, Mosquera and Kimura, with Perkins in goal.

Nagbe had taken a good share of the attention going into the match. I’d written about him, and then there was an article in The Columbian where the man himself said he’d like to “score a little bit more”.

It’s little wonder that Nagbe isn’t scoring as often when you see where he was playing against Dallas, as his heat map on the right is pretty indistinguishable from that of Diego Chara, aside from the Colombian’s customary greater work rate and involvement.

Nagbe is being asked to play deeper than we were used to from his first year and the start of this, and it’s taking some time for him to acclimatise to his new role. I still that he’s playing a bit within himself for whatever reason, but that’s probably just me nitpicking, as I tend to do.

Still, it was a tidy enough performance, and he had one good crack from distance that went close though he, like the rest of the team, took a while to get going in the match.

Diego Chara was once more playing in a slightly advanced role, with Jack Jewsbury sitting deep. I like Chara in this role. He’s every bit as chippy and industrious as he is when he plays in defensive midfield, but with the added advantage that when he does nick the ball from an opponents, he’s doing it much nearer their goal than his own.

The move here came to nothing, which was a shame, but had Boyd made that run across the defender, who knows what could’ve come out of it as the Timbers had numbers getting forward and Dallas had been caught out.

Ah, Boyd. Aye, I guess we have to talk about my fellow Ayrshireman. He came in for some stick on twitter – again – as he was isolated up top and never really got involved. The graphic on the right is everything Boyd did during the match, and it doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. I can’t jump onboard with those that are kicking Boyd as there was next-to-nothing coming his way, but I do feel that what we’re seeing now is what fans of Rangers and Scotland have seen in the past when those sides have played with one guy up top – Boyd is not that kind of player.

The heat wouldn’t have helped, that’s for sure, but the fact is Boyd isn’t mobile enough to play in the role that Wilkinson has assigned him. If you can get players around him and supporting him, it can work, but we never really did that in this match, and he was a peripheral figure.

Without a Perlaza, or even a Mwanga, running off him, creating space and giving him someone to work with, it’s hard to see how we’ll ever see the best of Boyd. It’s perhaps becoming apparent how much of a “Spencer signing” Boyd was as he’s singularly unsuited to the system that Wilkinson seems wed to, of having a lone figurehead up front.

I’m not saying Boyd is entirely blameless, but neither is it all on him. Just ask Kenny Cooper what a difference playing a system that works for you can make.

With Boyd having little to do, and Richards having a marginal impact out right, it was left to Franck Songo’o to provide most of the Timbers’ attacking impetus. Though he wasn’t quite on the rampant form he’s shown in the past, he was still by far the team’s most active player going forward, and looked most likely to find a way through the Dallas defence.

As usual he wasn’t your typical winger, though he did manage to whip a couple of good crosses round the outside, but he would often go roaming infield. It’s quite interesting to compare his approach to that of Brek Shea, the Dallas left winger.

Shea plays much more as a traditional winger, as you can see. He gave Kimura a tough time during the match, with an early warning shot fired across the bow of the Japanese fullback early on in the first half.

Meanwhile, Songo’o was tending to come inside more often as the game wore on, to the point that at times it seemed like he was playing the role I thought would suit him in a “Christmas Tree” formation.

There’s still a tendency for Songo’o to try and beat players where the better, and more simple, option is to pass it off, but in a midfield that has sorely lacked any kind of creativity for along stretches this year it’s nice to see someone who’s willing to try and magic something up.

The first half came to and end, and it was all pretty even, The match, understandably, lacked some intensity as both sides sought to conserve their energy as Portland sweltered with temperatures in the 90s, or the 30s if you’re of a civilized bent.

Any hope that the Timbers would come out and look to put Dallas under pressure for the first 10-15 minutes of the second half quickly went the way of John Spencer’s Big Bumper Book of Football Tactics book deal when the visitors put themselves ahead.

The goal was the archetypal Timbers goals to concede – a simple pass inside the full back and runner through the middle who isn’t picked up. Those playing along with the Timbers drinking game might want to retire if they value their liver at all.

AS much as Kimura got caught out by the ball, he at least made an effort to get back and put a block in. What Horst was doing letting Sealy run away from him, I can’t explain. It’s Defending 101 – stay goal side. Or at least close enough to put pressure on the player.

Horst is a player I like, but for me he’s simply not good enough defensively. Little elementary mistakes are made far too often, and it hurts the team.

A goal down, and things looked bleak for the Timbers, but referee Ricardo Salazar threw them a lifeline just a minute later when he sent off Zach Loyd for a second bookable offence.

Richards and Boyd were taken off shortly after, with Bright Dike and Danny Mwanga entering the fray but still the Timbers struggled to find a way to break down the 10 men. Dike had a good chance when he got one on one with Kevin Hartman after a cheap giveaway by Dallas, but his shot was saved.

Portland seemed destined to go goalless once more when Hartman made a great save from Mwanga in the 78th minute, but the Timbers kept plugging away and from the same passage of play they forced a corner, and would eventually find a route past the Dallas keeper from there.

There’s really no reason for me to post that pic as there’s no great analysis to be made of the goal, but damnit it’s been so long since we scored that I had to do it! Besides which, it was a cracking finish from Jack. The captain had a pretty tidy game, all told. He did what he had to do defensively, and didn’t seem nearly as wasteful in possession as he has been in recent weeks. I’m not his biggest fan, but an in-form Jewsbury is an asset to the team.

By this point the Timbers had fully committed to attack, going 3 at the back, whilst Dallas had brought on ex-Timber and non soccer enthusiast James Marcelin in an attempt to close the match out. I thought the momentum would carry the Timbers forward to snatch an unlikely win, but they still struggle to create opportunities in open play, and it was Dallas who had a good chance to take all three points.

I’ve given Kimura a lot of slack as he’s settled into a new team at a difficult time, but he’s now played 6 times for the Timbers and he continues to make the same mistakes. I like his general play – and he’s certainly the best option we have at right back, which says more about the roster than anything – but he’s turned around far too easily for my liking. I don’t recall seeing a lot of him from his time at the Rapids, so I don’t know if this is just an aspect of his play or whether it’s down to the system he’s being asked to play in with the Timbers.

So, the match petered out to a 1-1 draw that seemed to suit both parties. FC Dallas, on reflection, will probably be the happier team having played 40 minutes a man down.

I can’t agree with Gavin Wilkinson’s post-match assessment that “we deserved to win it”. Sure, you can point to shot stats (21-8 attempts on goal in favour of the Timbers, 7-3 shots on target) but there’s a marked difference in the kind of shots they were.

As you can see, Dallas were able to get all their shots off within the box, whereas the Timbers were, on the whole, taking pops from distance.

Even the possession stat of 57-23 in the Timbers favour is skewed by the Dallas sending off. Prior to that possession was pretty much 50-50 with the game being played in the Dallas half 51.7% of the time. After the sending off possession jumped to 66-34, with 61.8% of play coming in the Dallas half.

In saying that though, neither did we deserve to lose the match, though we can certainly fray the nerves and test the patience of all but the most serene/comatose of fans. There were times when you’d never have guessed that Dallas were a man short, and we still lack that killer final ball to unlock defences.

I don’t want to sound too negative a note after a hard-fought draw, but I feel that the result merely papers over the cracks. The problems are still there. The cold hard fact is that we’ve picked up 1 point from a possible 15 since John Spencer was sacked and we haven’t kept a clean sheet since the middle of May.

At the other end you have to go back to Mwanga’s lovely counter attack goal against San Jose for the last time Timbers created a goal that didn’t come from the first or second phase of a set play. That’s over 600 minutes without a goal in open play.

In defence we still lack solidity and focus, with mistakes being made and punished on a game-by-game basis. Perhaps the return of Eric Brunner will lend the back-line some steel, but it’s probably unwise to heap too much expectation on his shoulders alone.

It’s a week and a bit before the Timbers play again, and it’s a big one. Without an away win all season – and having lost 8 of the last 9 – Wilkinson takes his troops to Toronto to face a team that have lost only 1 of their past 6 matches at BMO Field.

Portland’s point against Dallas has lifted them above Toronto in the race to avoid the wooden spoon, and they’ll be hoping to put some clear air between them as well as hauling in the sides above them. The playoffs – barring some kind of clichéd Hollywood miracle – are gone, but there’s still a chance for the club to add some respectability to a season that’s been memorable thus far for all the wrong reasons.

#RCTID


The thoughts of this blog, and every soccer fan I’m sure, go out to the family and colleagues of Kirk Urso, a Columbus Crew player, who died on Sunday morning at the tragically young age of 22.

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12 thoughts on “Crackerjack

  1. I hate to even suggest this, but my suspicion is that Brunner may retire after this season. He seems to have had real problems with his concussion, and given his position the certainty that he’ll get nutted again means that it’s either that or end up under the Burnside bridge drooling in a refrigerator box before he’s 34.

    This match just hammered home to me what a puzzling and frustrating team this is. Horst plays a solid 93 minutes but makes a U-12 mistake and we lose two points from it. Nagbe looks better than he has in months, Chara is his usual industrious little self (“He’s short, he’s hard, he’s got a yellow card!”), Songo’o plays a blinder, even Cap’n Jack looks better than of late…and we STILL can’t figure out how to consistently get the ball into a dangerous position in attack.

    Agree that Kris Boyd is stranded up front, but I have to say that he was doing very little to move into open space, either, and that’s a problem that our entire team seems to have – which makes me wonder if it’s not so much the players as the coaching. In possession we are brutally slow and static. Runs are late, if at all, and usually unproductive.

    I wouldn’t want to be the poor devil who gets to come in here as head coach in this year’s offseason and sort this mess out.

    1. My understanding is that Brunner did struggle with his concussion, but that he has missed so much time due to hurting his knee, not because they are still holding him out for his concussion. I know he is listed on the injury list right now as having an LCL sprain, or just simply “knee.” Just saying.

      1. That’s news to me. For months the club – or, at least, all the reports I’ve read about him – has reported him as being out for “symptoms of concussion”; I read about him taking a knee injury on one of the Stumptown Footy training session writeups, don’t remember the exact date but some time just within the last couple of weeks. Don’t disagree that he’s NOW out with the knee. But ISTM that the bulk of his DL time was due to the head injury.

        And the worrisome thing to me about that is that a knee is a knee; unless they explode they usually recover pretty well. But repeated bangs in the brainpan are cumulative; we lost Eddie Johnson that way. Brunner, playing where he does, is nearly a lock to get another conk on the head, and that’s why I worry that we may never see him play a full 90 again. Good guy, tough defender; IMO if he can’t return we’ll miss him.

      2. From the match preview:

        INJURY REPORT:

        PORTLAND TIMBERS – OUT: DF Chris Taylor (R hip surgery); PROBABLE: DF Eric Brunner (R knee LCL sprain); DF Futty Danso (L knee tendinitis)

    1. Yeah, I’m all for having a go from distance from time to time but most of our shots here were more of an admission of failure to break down a distinctly average defence. The majority were blocked before they even reached the box, or missed the target altogether. But some folk tend to look at the figures and just assume if you took that many shots you must’ve been the better team, without taking into account the type and quality of shots.

      1. Look at the difference between our “shots” and “shots on goal”; we took a lot of potshots yesterday but put a third of them on frame, and, frankly, that’s a good day for us.

        Add in the lack of touch when we DO get a terrific look – Nagbe chipping over against Chivas last week, Dike getting stoned yesterday – and it’s even uglier.

  2. I am not sure what Boyd expects.

    Someone to put the ball in front of him and then for the opposition to back off to give him room to shoot?

    I saw a front man who did absolutely nothing to play the back line. No moving. He spent half his time off sides, so that he could not receive a pass even if it had been made to him. The other half he was nearly stationary in front of the FCD back line. All four defenders had nothing to do but to sit and rest.

    A great striker will be testing the back line throughout the game, making them constantly pass off responsibility for him back and forth. He is moving, looking for the weakness in the line (or even better, a pattern of weakness that can be exploited).

    He is moving–not sprinting, but darting, at least, across that back line playing cat and mouse while avoiding the off side trap.

    Instead, I saw a Boyd who stood still through much of the game. Just stood.

    I also am well aware that the elite goal scorers of the world have a distaste for defense. They come with an attitude “I am too good at goal scoring to dilute my effectiveness by paying attention to the game when someone is not preparing to feed me the ball.”

    Boyd is not an elite goal scorer. I cannot fathom how a professional football player can give up the ball, then stand still as a team mate challenges to try and get the ball back not ten yards away.

    To his credit, he appears to be working at set pieces. It even appears he loves to mix it up with the opposition, to bump and push and even occasionally clobber. He is big and is clearly an asset when either side lines up for a penalty or corner kick.

    This is not enough. It doesn’t make sense that a DP for the Timbers is not an all-around player. Strikers steal balls, making sloppy defenders pay. Boyd watches.

    I don’t know why. . . my impression from his interviews and friends is that he is no prima dona, that he is willing to work hard for the team. What I see is someone who believes himself too good to make a tackle or even to assist a teammate who is challenging for ball possession. It might be that someday the Timbers’ midfield is so strong that forwards can simply wait for service. Clearly we are not there.

    I also understand the Scottish “rugby” style of football; the stand in the mud slugging it out inside the penalty box so the last man standing either shoots or clears the ball. But even ruggers defend.

    Wanting good service is understandable. Standing still until someone can give you decent service is petulant or lazy. Not our money’s worth. When FCD lost a man it felt for the first time the sides were even, ten active men apiece.

  3. I think that in the past 4 years this was the first game that the Timbers have finished a game with a man+ advantage and NOT lost/conceded a draw (most likely it’s not, but I’m not going to look it up, reality be dambd, it seems correct). So maybe that’s progress? and then..in the midst of writing this, they trade Perkins.

    Sigh..

  4. Kevin! Please talk about the Perkins trade! I don’t know what to think about this! Drop some wisdom on me! This comment needs more exclamation marks!!!!

  5. You know I have a thing for graphic communication, and, as a former architect, I am a visual thinker. The annotated video captures are always good. The two other graphics–shots and Songo’o/Shea–I find EXTREMELY illuminating. One of the reasons I like your analyses.

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