180 Minutes

Well, that was quite a weekend, wasn’t it?

The second leg of the bizarre three-legged I-5 Corridor Derby (the Cascadia Tripod?) concluded Sunday with the Timbers Reserves holding off the Sounders Reserves for a 3-2 win. The Big Sides, however, played to a 1-1 draw the day before so the issue of Whose Cup will be decided – unfortunately for the Timbers, whose record abroad resembles Italy’s; the army, not the team – in Seattle and Vancouver in October.

I went to both matches, the first with hope and trepidation, the second with a lovely lassitude and pure curiosity (would we see the fabled “Trencito”? We did, more of which in a bit) and my son, who at nine considers a pretzel, cotton candy, and orange soda to provide enough atmosphere to make the reserves at Jeld-Wen Field to be just like watching Brazil.

At any rate, my observations of the matches – in order of date but in other no particular order.

Saturday, 15 SEP 12 POR 1 – 1 SEA

I hoped that the first team would run out with a) energy and b) a tactical plan to carve into the poorly-dressed visitors from the Emerald City.

The first? Yes, and more than yes. The team hustled for the full 90, and showed impressive energy and spark.

The second? Mmmm…not so much.

The problem was that Sigi Schmidt showed his metal as a rotund student of the beautiful game. He’d clearly watched the films and recognized that Portland really has no go-forward options in central midfield other than Darlington Nagbe. Shut down Nagbe and the Timbers are back in SpencerWorld, running up the touchlines. And the pie-gobbling rascal had planned for that too; he knew that if you fronted Franck Songo’o he would turn inside where you could force him to make a poor pass. And Sal Zizzo just had to be smothered. So he set Gonzales to just obstruct Zizzo’s runs long enough for a midfielder to track back and help out. He used his central midfield to harass Nagbe all match. And, sure enough, Franck kept turning the ball into the traffic jam inside and getting his pocket picked.

And I think that he, and the rest of the league, has figured out Dike. The man just doesn’t have a good touch; if you throw a body at him he will cough up the ball, or lay it off, or take a forced, poor shot. Without anyone else to help out up front that was pretty much that.

The backline woes continued, but in something of a minor key. Kimura was beaten soundly by Zakuani several times, but Rodney Wallace played perhaps his best match as a Timber in two seasons (including scoring the equalizer…). He pretty much neutralized Zakuani on the left side, Mosquera and Horst did enough to throttle Johnson, and so, with Alonso and Nagbe wrestling to a draw the only weapon the intruders had as Montero. Sadly for the Green and White Faithful he fired his looping bullet just after Ricketts had gone off (with what appeared to be an arm injury – the very thing I worried about when we traded Troy for him; the fragility of that arm…) and caught a jumped-past-Jake-Gleeson-on-the-keeper-depth-chart-for-some-reason-I-don’t-quite-get Joe Bendik off his line for the initial goal.

Taken altogether I’d have to say that it was a deserved result for both sides. With a passing sneer at the man in the middle, again, honestly, MLS, how bad does the boy Salazar have to be to get assigned to the U-12 development league? His calls really didn’t benefit either side (other than the Chara foul, which I didn’t see as quite as automatically-PK-worthy as many, but your mileage may vary on that question) but it went a long way towards making the match as ragged and ugly as it was for long stretches.

Other than that, I think that Coach Porter needs to look hard at a couple of issues.

1. Communication. I loved the energy and the hustle Saturday. I hated the looking-like-we-played-together-just-the-past-week. How many times did Dike play a through ball to Zizzo…who wasn’t running for it? Three times? Four? Or the “Franck-Songo’o-square-pass-to-nobody”? Hanyer Mosquera marking space while pointing to a nearby unmarked Sounder? I agree we have individual talent out there. I’m not sure why the coaching staff seems unable to make it play as a team.

2. Throw-ins. Are we the worst team in MLS West with throw-ins? It sure seems like it. The secret to gaining possession from the Timbers seems to be to force them to boot it into touch and then wait for the throw; the Timbers will stand there marked into oblivion and then throw it right to you. This doesn’t seem like a difficult play – why do we seem to have such difficulty with it?

The one other thing I wanted to see Saturday was a coaching staff with a tactical plan to attack Seattle; instead it seemed like Gavin (or Sean, or whothehellever is marking the chalkboard now) didn’t really have a notion of where they could find an advantageous matchup. I want to think that these guys can figure out a way to go to the House of Astroturf and stonewall the Sounders for 90 minutes and the away draw.

Seems possible. Let’s see if we can actually DO it, though…

Sunday, 16 SEP 12 POR 3 – 2 SEA

More than 8,000 people showed up for a meaningless reserve match on a lovely sunny Sunday.

Think about that for a moment.

Are we “Soccer City USA”? I think we might be.

The Sunday match was an odd affair, with Portland running out with a side full of unused starters before giving way to the bench players, trialists, and the youngsters. Seattle, on the other hand, fielded mostly their regular team bench until late in the match. The difference showed immediately, as Portland scored an improbable three goals inside fifteen minutes.

One huge factor was the play of Alexander and Alhassan in midfield. In particular the second goal was created by a lovely sliderule pass from Alhassan to Boyd who then chipped Ford in an almost Cantonaesque fashion. Lovely piece of work. The new left back, Ian Hogg, also contributed with a good run that led to the first goal by Mike Fucito.

Kris Boyd…he’s a Sounders killer. Why didn’t we sub him in Saturday..?

Hogg looked decent at left back, making several studly blocks on crosses that should have swelled Gavin’s little Kiwi heart; the man is hard, no error. Several other of the Timbers reserves showed well, including Cam Vickers and young Mitch North, who was thrown into the fire when Jake Gleeson got cleated in the right hand (Are you SURE you want to trade away Troy Perkins, Gav’…never mind…).

Charles Renken came on after halftime and helped settle the midfield defensively.

Brent Richards is looking much tougher on defense that he did at the beginning of the season. He scored a lovely goal, turning on a loose ball in the box and settling it before lashing a rocket past Ford. He also has a terrific throw (remember where I was bitching about throw-ins? This kid should take every one, and anytime we get a throw inside 18 yards of the opponent’s goal he’s almost as good as a corner!) and he can still outjump pretty much anyone else on the pitch. Lots of good stuff there.

Still, the typical Timbers lack-of-communication-and-coordination issues surfaced as the team let off the pressure in the second half and the Sounders’ midfield began to exploit the space between the Boys’ midfield and backline to claw two goals back. And the backline itself looked like a rat-scramble at times. Eric Brunner, while showing why he is so badly missed with the first team, also showed that he’s not really match fit yet, and Futty played his typical 95% steady 5% WTF!? match.

Sigh.

The Little Train?

Clearly the man Valencia has potential. He’s big, for one thing, and he looks comfortable with the ball at his feet. He wants to score, and shows some ability to put the shots where he wants them. He had a brief outing, and his last and only for the season unless everything goes sideways for the Big Side. But he looks like he’s a promising piece of lumber in the overstocked Timbers Forwards Woodshed.

Two matches, two days; one fraught with the tensions of this season, the other, perhaps, a hint of sunnier days ahead.

All that was no matter to my little man who skipped happily, full of soccer and candy and sunshine as we walked back to the car after the match on Sunday. I envied him a little; he has no worries for cups and coaches and coming seasons; when the Timbers win all is good and right with the world, and he can skip along without the cares of those of us who have peered into the abyss at the heart of the game and see it peer back with the face of Freddie Montero.

But, never despair – Onward, Rose City!

Filed by John Lawes


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9 thoughts on “180 Minutes

  1. “Kris Boyd- Why didn’t we sub him in Saturday..?”

    I’ve been living with GW’s unique take on football players for six (?) years now, so him not using Boyd ever again this season doesn’t really surprise me.

    It’s as if Gavin is saying to the world,”Spencer’s fail has almost ruined my sweet gig with the Timbers. Boyd is the unwitting personification of Spencer-ball. Therefore, I will show my petulant displeasure by never using Boyd again. That’ll show ’em!”

    Never claimed it was logic based…

    1. No argument here. In 109 we were discussing the XI before kickoff and thinking that after Colorado away that Gavin might start Dike and then pull him for Mwanga or Boyd (or even Fucito) either at or soon after halftime if it appeared that he wasn’t effective. But we all ruefully agreed that would require ol’ Gav to actually think for half a minute about his starters and substitutes and that the likelihood of that was right up there with the revirgination of Lindsay Lohan.

      (And here I should mention something I forgot in the post itself – Gav’s bizarre bench for Saturday’s match; no fullbacks, one central defender, one center mid, one winger, THREE forwards)

      1. I didn’t watch the reserve game, but I saw the highlight reel and Boyd’s goal and cross that played into a goal were on the money. Those slow high arching kicks were magnificent.

        But what do I know?

      2. I watched the reel again, the dropping ball came from the deflection not from Boyd’s kick. Still a great one touch.

      3. I forgot to mention his assist on the Fucito goal and, yes, it was a beauty. Like I said – the man is a Sounders Slayer, and I still don’t get why he didn’t get a sniff of the pitch on Saturday, other than Bucky’s observation that when you’re under Gav’s bus, the BEST you can hope for is that he doesn’t back over you repeatedly…

      4. I get that he doesn’t fit that well with the long term plan but how can you not throw him in when the other teams defense is gassed? What gets done? We bring in fresh legs to create service for a tired Dike, and energy and size is pretty much Dike’s greatest asset.

        I watched the highlight reel for the Chivas reserve game, the one with the 4-2 win and the hat trick, and by far the most impressive goal was the Zizzo pop up pass to self, header to the back of the net. It’s rather critical but those goals spoke of great service rather than great finishing.

      5. The commentator made the point that Wilkinson had already said pre-game that Mwanga would the guy to come on. Some managers make adjustments using subs durting the match, based on what’s right for the time, others, it seems, make them before a ball has been kicked.

        My thinking is that Porter made it clear to Wilkinson that he likes Mwanga and wants to see him given game time.

  2. Trencito was exciting, but what was up with his shoving his own teammate (Cam Vickers) off the ball so he could take it up? That was *not* cool. I realize the kid must be champing at the bit to show his stuff, but someone should tell him that he needs those other 10 guys out there to help him do it.

    1. I noticed that at the time and thought that it had more to do with miscommunication; I think that Valencia saw the opening down the touchline and thought that Vickers was going to sidefoot it to him to run with, and Vickers thought that Valencia was going to run ahead so he held the ball up.v They bumped, and Trencito just grabbed the ball. Boys, boys…

      But, yeah, not what you want to see in a polished attacking side. Hopefully one of the older heads will take the boy aside and make some suggestions of how he could have handled that better.

      But I do like that he WANTS the ball, that he wants to take it on goal. The only other striker we have that makes that sort of run is Dike, and his touch is just not there. If Valencia can combine Dike’s strength with Mwanga’s finish, well…

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