It never rains…

As you’ve probably already heard (if you were anywhere within ten blocks of SW 20th and Morrison) or seen (if you were just southeast of there, or watching on ESPN2), the Timbers drew the visiting New York Energy Drinks 3-3 tonight.

“Exciting” might not be quite the word I’m looking for.  “Frightening” might have been the word I’d have chosen at the half, with Portland down 3-1.  “Incredible” might have described the second half, where the Boys in Green pulled back two and came within a ball-width of a late winner on an improbably bicycle kick effort from Ryan Johnson.

Despite a tifo bursting with umbrellas and a big-little Morton Salt rain-or-shine-supporter we didn’t get our signature rain…but we got damn near everything else.

The Good:    Some lovely buildup, composed attack, and three well-taken goals.  Perhaps the best of the three came first, one of the most composedly delightful goals I have ever seen a Timber score, as early in the first period Diego Valeri ran onto a rough looping pass from Kalif Alhassan and, with Jámison Olave practically tickling his ribs coolly flicked it up to his chest and then chested it right down before him as Olave stood there giving him that look that you give the guy who cuts you off at the Vista off-ramp to the I-405.  The finish was almost a gimme, a simple poke past a charging Robles to level the match at 1-1.  Valeri also hit the second-half hammer that Robles could only push wide, and this time Darlington Nagbe was there to slot it away to pull the match back to 2-3.

And tonight the Timbers went down two goals, at home, and refused to lie down and die.  The team I watched tonight showed a fight and a toughness that I haven’t seen at this level of soccer.  Whatever else has happened between 2012 and tonight, the Timbers fought back for a point they had done their best to throw away, and that is a very good thing.

And for the first time in a long time, a Timbers coach made substitutions that affected the match, and in a good way.  Okay, I’ll admit that the whole Rodney Wallace thing had me a little worried.  But the RodWall was solid, and as he had in the Rectangular (or whatever the hell we should be calling the four-team “preseason tournament” other than the lame “Portland preseason tournament” thing we call it now…) Jose Valencia shook things up from the moment he took the pitch.  His ultimate moment came in the 83rd minute, when he controlled a rebound to the left of the six, looked at the Drinks’ defenders swarming around the near post, and calmly teed it up and off Olave for the equalizer.  A Timber scoring a come-back equalizer in the waning minutes?  Whoodathunkit?

The Bad and the Ugly:  Pretty much the entire first half that took place in back of midfield.    Mikael Silvestre will come in for some serious stick in the press tomorrow for his play, and well he should; he looked jet-lagged for 45 minutes and it was his errors (hard to say which one was the worst – was it the initial bounding back-pass to Ricketts that the big guy biffed for an easy tap-in, or was it the second, a ridiculous raised-leg poke at a bouncing ball that would have drawn hoots and whistles at the Bolshoi?) that led to the first two goals.

Ricketts looked…well, ricketty.  I keep waiting for the Ricketts who played against Mexico at the Azteca to show up wearing powder blue, but, again, his first half tonight showcased everything about him that shouts “dodgy keeper”; his fatal hesitation, his inability to field cleanly, and his poor communication with his defenders.  His sprawling and inadequate flop that fell somewhere short of Pearce’s cross (admittedly, Silvestre and Jean-Baptiste were loafing somewhere nearby) that let Olave put the Drinks 3-1 up less than half an hour into the match didn’t have anyone up in Section 109 making admiring comparisons between our keeper and Lev Yashin or Gordon Banks.

In the end, I can’t say I came away crushed.  Yes, we gave away two points at home.  Yes, we continued last season’s awful tradition of shipping soft goals.  Clearly we need to keep working on things at the back.  And I can’t say I’m sold on the man we’ve put between the sticks.

But the Boys never gave up.  They didn’t give in.  Their coach kept his head and used his substitutes well.  We weren’t gassed at 80 minutes and give up a late-match goal for the loss.  We didn’t win, no.  But, damn it, we refused to lose.

And as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh might say, sometimes, it doesn’t rain.

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7 thoughts on “It never rains…

  1. Shall we put this one in the “everybody has one bad night” column for the new center back and wear heavy expectations for the future? I would have to say that New York was not intimidated by the veteran. I sort of expected that they would find weakness in our young guys.

    But (and the answer to this could make a difference) was Silvestre the reason Henry didn’t seem to show up ready to play? Just from looking at this duo of French veterans one might suspect European match riders had paid both sides to lose this game!

    Did Henry and Silvestre cancel one another out somehow or were both performances really that bad?

    Who should shoulder what share of on-field leadership responsibility for the defense the first half? GK Ricketts, veteran CB Silvestre or Captain Johnson?

    1. First let me say; I turned up at JWF with…low expectations, shall we say? We’re effectively an expansion team (+) this season, and I fully expected to see a side that had a fair number of rough spots and problems with communication. Overall I came away not displeased; there was a lot of fight in this team, and what I see as problems seem fixable.

      Interesting the question of Henry; the impression I got was that it was AJB who pwned him last night. The youngster made some mistakes but in general was all over M’sieur Henry like a large Haitian blanket. I thought that he put the blocks to the Frenchman early and prevented him from taking more advantage of Silvestre’s jet-lag (or whatever the hell it was, and I agree that unless he continues in this form that it was just an off night for him) until Mikael could shake it off in the second half.

      And I’m biased because when I played I was a GK, but to me the keeper (assuming that he is veteran enough) should be in overall charge of the backline. He’s got the best vantage of the field and should train his defenders to be predictable and steady enough to limit the opponent’s angles and close down open attackers so that they are more-or-less forced to shoot at him. If you, my defender, can prevent me from getting blindsided and pressure the ball every time it comes close to the 18 – meaning that the attacker is forced to take a direct shot from 10-12 yards at best – then it’s on me to make the save. But let it look like a junior high school recess out there and we’re all in trouble.

      So I’d say that Ricketts was the main issue last night (and his technical issues can’t have helped – let a backline start worrying that ANY cross or shot could turn into a goal and they’re halfway to falling apart…) it didn’t help that the other “leader”, Silvestre, was having a brain-fart night. Perhaps Johnson should have said something to them (something like; “Guys! Get your collective heads out of your collective backsides!”, perhaps?) but organizing the defense isn’t his primary responsibility.

      The lack of training and playing time together is going to make this defense suspect for a while. If the coaches and the players are on top of things (and the Gods of Injury are kind…) that will change and improve over time.

      I will add this (and I hate to sound like I’m banging this drum but, well, I am…); I was unimpressed with Cameron Knowles as the coach of the defenders last season, and I’m far from impressed with Mike Toshack as the keeper coach. We had very obvious technical issues with defending – simple, U-12 stuff like staying ball-side/goal-side, and passing off marking – and keeping (like distribution and positioning) that a competent coach should have been able to identify, isolate, and correct. Our defenders never did. Same with things like Perkins’ distribution problems. That’s not soccer rocket science.

      Maybe it was that the players we had just weren’t coachable. But if that’s the case, why the hell were they starting? To my mind Knowles never sorted out the correctable problems in the backline and Toshack’s keepers had similar issues; it wasn’t that they were flat-out awful, but that they had technical shortcomings that I wanted to see them working on improving over the course of the season and didn’t. I don’t know why Coach Porter seems to have kept ALL Spencer’s assistants – I assume he must have good reasons – but I sure hope to see progress as the season goes on at solving the rough spots we saw last night. If we don’t, I hope Porter starts thinking about…other options, shall we say?

      1. I agree about the importance of goalkeepers on the defence. They’re the guys that see the wider picture and need to communicate that to the guys in front. If the trust or confidence isn’t there between GK and defender, it’ll all break down pretty quickly.

        Re-watching the first goal, I wonder how much the North End had an effect on it. I think back to the goal against, I think, Chivas, where the keeper and defender both got in each others way and the ball fell to Boyd to roll it in. That, to me, looked like a classic case of the defender not hearing the keeper’s shout.

        I don’t know if Ricketts makes the shout there. I have to assume he does (or we have much bigger issues!), but if you watch you can see him stutter step as he’s coming out to (presumably) smother the ball. Either Silvestre hasn’t heard him makes the pass back for Ricketts to boot clear, or Silvestre sees Ricketts pausing and thinks he wants it laid back (or that there’s a player on his shoulder, so there’s no time for Ricketts to get there). You throw two guys together who haven’t played a lot of football, put them in front of the noisiest supporters section in MLS and a fundamental error like this is always possible.

      2. Agree for the most part; like I said – I expected some early-season jitters and boy howdy, did we gettem…

        That said, though; if you’re a Schmeichel you get this – your roar makes the welkin ring, Army or no Army and your centerbacks immediately react by bodying up on the nearest Drink to keep them off your keeper. Nobody I saw did anything like that; it was a complete rat scramble. I don’t think Ricketts committed to gathering in the ball, I don’t think he shouted (and I sit close enough that if he had bellowed “KEEPER!” I think I’d have heard something) or if he did not loud enough to alert his defenders, and, frankly, Silvestre could have solved the problem by just hoofing the thing clear – a backpass under those conditions would ALWAYS have been an error.

        But, again, early days yet. We’ll have to see if things smooth out; if they do, well, this is just a blip…

      3. Thank you. Excellent answer to a rambling question. But if these are fundamental issues, U-20 stuff, then shouldn’t these guys know it? Ricketts was GK of the year. . . I can understand him being slow and less athletic, but has he forgotten important stuff?

        Interesting point about the assistant coaches. That would also explain why Silvestre might have cleaned things up by the second half.

        There is another possibility (I don’t have ESPN2 so I have not seen the game yet) and that is New York saw something strategically vulnerable in Porter’s system and came in exploiting it. . . Then Porter was able to react and make the necessary changes by the second half.

        Sometimes a strategic move can end up making the other side look foolish. If so then this is a positive move; it seemed to me that this is one thing Spencer lacked; the ability to react with changes in strategy mid-game. It could very well be that the pros saw a hole in Porter’s system that college coaches missed or were unable to monopolize on. . .

        All in all, short of mowing a perennial strong team completely down, it sounds as though last night was a triumph. The essential building blocks are in place, the team matched up well against one of MLS’ finest, and whatever the deficiency in the first half was, it got fixed at half-time.

        Interesting point about the noise, Kevin. I know that in American football, teams want noise at particular times–not necessarily all of the time–depending on the team’s style, their reliance on audible calls, and the more experienced the entire team is with the system being utilized.

        Perhaps this would make a good press conference question? Or a twitter? Or should the team just get used to any level of noise and be able to play competently under any circumstance?

      4. What I saw was the Drinks came in with the idea of marking tightly and playing for the counter. It helped that the yellow bastard in the middle (Am I being biased? Hmmm. It’s possible…) was planning to work pro wrestling and a soccer match broke out; the rough play wasn’t excessive by MLS standards but might have been a little unfamiliar to Porter, used to the more gentlemanly confines of the college and international game…

        So the Timbers midfield (and upfront, Nagbe in particular) took a while to figure out how to find space. Combine that with the defensive errors and the Boys spent the first half scrambling to find some sort of shape.

        What I think happened is that a) the team and especially the backline and, there, especially Silvestre settled down in the second half, b) the midfielders started to click, and c) the workrate and possession upfront began to wear down the Drinks. Nagbe, especially, kept badgering away, one of the first times I’ve seen him stay focused when he was marked out of a match early. Last season he tended to drift away when that happened. Sunday he kept pushing up the pitch, kept making runs, moving to find space, and that put him in the perfect position to finish on the Timbers’ second.

        And my thoughts on the “too much noise” issue are in my reply to Kevin; it’s not like the team doesn’t know what to expect. I think it was more an issue of guys unfamiliar with each other, Rickett’s penchant for dodgy decision-making, and Silvestre’s jet-lag or whatever the hell it was. For a first match, bleh, ugly, but, whatever. If they’re doing it in June? Problem.

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