Six Degrees: The Flip Side

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

1) Two game winning streak. Third place in the Western Conference. These are all good things, right? So why am I feeling so uncertain? Last week, after we pounded Houston, I was over the moon. This week, I don’t know what I am. But I’m pretty sure it ain’t good.

You know what I think it is? It’s the way we won. We won it ugly. Against Houston, we looked like a juggernaut. This week, against San Jose, we looked like a heavyweight boxer who just won by a split decision. Our face is all puffy, one eye is swollen shut, and we may have some cracked ribs. We won, but we didn’t look all that good doing it.

So here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna get all these negative thoughts out of my system early, then I’ll spend my last few points bringing back the optimism. Maybe by the end of this column, I’ll have talked myself back into a good mood.

But first, a couple slices of bad…

2) Man, we couldn’t buy a shot on goal, could we? We had tons of possession, we were constantly in their half of the field, but we just couldn’t make their goalie sweat. Hell, Donovan Ricketts was the one making all the saves. Why couldn’t we bother their guy?

Possibly, they just have a good defense. It felt like a brick wall most of the night, especially after they went down a man.

Possibly, it was slick turf. It seemed like there were a lot of passes last night that were just a little too long. Just past someone’s foot, just shy of being turned into a shot on goal. I’ve heard people suggest the field was fast, but I really don’t know. Maybe our passes were just off.

Whatever the reason — and maybe Kevin can give us more insight — the attacking third was a little frustrating to me. Lots of almost-shots, but not enough of the real thing.

3) The last ten minutes drove me absolutely insane. What the hell, boys? We finally get a goal and you decide to bunker? We’re a man up and you decide to go all Spencerball 2.0 on us? Kick it deep? Hope for the best? Horrible. I hated it. I was so anxious at the end, when the ref finally blew his whistle, I couldn’t even enjoy the win. I felt like that battered and bruised heavyweight, just happy to have survived.

Remember my column last week, when I said how great it was to watch Portland play with a lead? How they put the pedal to the floor, hoping to win by 2 goals? Or 7? Or 35? Well, that sort of blood lust was completely absent this week. Instead, we turtled. We’ve got a man advantage, and yet it’s San Jose who’s dominating possession for the last 5-10 minutes? I was in the stands freaking out, having flashbacks to last year, when we’d give the game away in the waning moments. It was awful.

Am I the only one who saw this? Was I the only guy who was curled in a ball, sucking my thumb, desperate for the ref to have mercy and end the game?

I really hope Caleb Porter saw it. And I hope it never happens again. I can’t take the stress.

Okay, that’s it for the negative. Let’s bring the happy!

3) Hold me closer, Futty Danso! What a game, big fella! This time last week, when Horst went down for the year, everyone was in a state, wondering if we’d need to bring in another CB. And lemme tell you, people were not kind to Futty. “He’s useless,” they said. “Too old,” “not MLS quality,” “why do we even have him on the roster?”

I’d say all of you owe Mr. Danso a big apology. The man played a nearly perfect game. He was calm, not even the least intimidated by San Jose’s dirty, nasty forwards, and as usual, he won everything in the air. He even stayed within himself as a passer, content to swing it back and forth amongst the back four.

And while we’re on the subject, how about that back four? Two straight shutouts, baby! And we did it with both Horst and Jean-Baptiste going down with injury. This defense has found its identity. They are calm, they are patient, they are masters of maintaining possession. All those early-season hiccups are forgiven. We will not give up a goal the rest of the season. You heard me correctly! Not one single goal! We will set a world record for consecutive shutouts! (Hey, I’ve got to have at least one ridiculous statement in every column, right?)

4) I really can’t decide who to have my fan-crush on.

Should I have it on Diego Chara? The little guy is everywhere. Anytime San Jose got a little movement forward, who comes racing up to stop them? Diego. Sadly, he’ll miss next weekend’s game, but I still think we should honor him in song. He’s short! He’s hard! He’s got a yellow card! Di-ayyyyyyyy-go Chara!

Or perhaps Mikael Silvestre? He’s been nearly perfect the last few games. He’s got that defense running like a Swiss watch. His passing has laser precision. Plus, he got up in Alan Gordon’s face while his mouth was gushing blood. Oh, Mikael… you had me at “gushing blood.” You had me at “gushing blood.”

But then there’s Will Johnson. The goal was so beautiful, I’m not sure it needs comment here. Instead, I’ll focus on his feisty-ness. When he and Gordon were jawing back and forth? Absolutely priceless. And how about when Chara was on the ground, writhing in pain, but play continued? Johnson said, Hell with this, then kicked the ball so far out of bounds, I thought it was going to hit a trolley on 18th street. Then he races over to the ref and absolutely freaks out. And zing went the strings of my heart!

5) On the offensive side of things, it was a tough slog, and I’ll give a lot of the credit to the San Jose defense. They were tough. But there were still some nice bits from our guys.

As always, Ryan Johnson had a motor that wouldn’t stop. He’s an easy guy to root for and was oh-so-close to sending a few shots on target.

I thought Darlington Nagbe did a very nice job filling in for Diego Valeri. He completed 88% of his passes and had four of our seven shots, including one on goal.

Rodney Wallace and Kalif Alhassan were both solid, if not spectacular. I will say that a couple times in the first half, Nagbe, Alhassan, and Ryan Johnson had some quick-touch, give-and-go pass combinations that were just exquisite.

I hope we see Valeri back next week — partially because it will give San Jose something new to deal with — but if he’s not, our front four will be up to the task.

6) I think I’ll close by turning a negative into a positive. Remember how I compared our victory to a bruising heavyweight split decision? Well, sure, that’s stressful and ugly to watch, but the plain truth is, we won. We’ve proven a lot of things this young season, and Sunday night we proved we could win ugly.

Now it’s time to prove we can win on the road.

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27 thoughts on “Six Degrees: The Flip Side

  1. I saw a number of times where Wallace looked lost – something wasn’t clicking. He’d get bunched up with a midfielder and not move. Also communication seemed off in general. Couple of times were it wasn’t clear who was going for the ball and the inevitable no one is at the ball in that situation.

    1. Yeah, it kind of felt that way for a lot of guys on offense. Very frustrating. Still, they maintained possession well and kept the game in San Jose’s half. So that’s something.

      1. When Alhassan was more central though the whole offense ran better. Him and Nagbe overlap really well and that gives Wallace space to make the smart runs he can make. When our team is going straight down the field we get stopped easily. Chaos seems to be how our offense runs the best. Players making runs all over, quick passing and forcing the defense to shift who’s marking who. Wallace had moments where he looked capable and he is a defensive presence that we need in our midfield.

    2. In the second half, Wallace made a couple of great crosses that R Johnson wasn’t making the run on. I think at least one of those went in if Johnson had made the run, but he was looking gassed after 65 minutes.

      Quakes were pushing KAH every time he had the ball, and a few times when he didn’t. Refs did a poor job of controlling the physicality of the game.

    1. Wondering same thing. I actually checked the MLS rules on yellow card accumulation as I thought there may be some rule I did not know about.

    2. Thanks for asking that. I was wondering the same thing myself. Do yellow cards carry over from the previous season?

      1. Erm… well, this is awkward…

        Okay, guys, if you hadn’t already figured out from my writing that I’m a complete boob, hopefully this yellow card mistake will make things clear.

        When reading future columns, always say to yourself, “Hmm… he makes some good points… but on the other hand, he IS a complete boob…”

  2. Feistyness for each other. That’s a team we are seeing there. Feels good as a fan.

    With all the time spent passing up the field, we give their defense time to set. I think we need a few more shots from outside to bring them off their lines.

    Any thoughts on the heavy lean to the left? With Jack staying deep at right back, and Alhassan tending towards the middle, the left back and Wallace were running a tightrope of space up the left flank. I’m going to look for those passing graphics to seeing my memory serves me right.

    1. Very good question about the left-lean. My first thought is that Chris Wondolowski was over there on the left, so Michael Harrington had his hands full covering him. In contrast, over on the right side, Jewsbury was much more forward than he’d been against Houston.

      maybe it was part of Porter’s strategy. Left side hang back on D, right side head forward.

      Just a thought.

  3. I apologize, I’m prone to rambling metaphors, much like Abraham Lincoln. That’s right folks, Abe and I! Bedfellows! (I wonder what Alan Gordon would think.)

    My dad and I used to restore old muscle cars. (Mopar till I die baby!). When we’d get an engine block back from the machinist, we’d rebuild it over the course of 8 weekends, and get it fired up.

    God the work. At first it’d be a total mess. then after some tinkering, you’d get a little “hugahuga…” Then another. After several attempts, the motor would run. Not well mind you, but it’d run.

    We’d then assemble the rest of the car, back it out the driveway, and drive it around the block. The neighbors would come over and marvel at our genius. The truth? The car was far from finished. The motor, while sounding and looking nice…wasn’t quite running right. it’d stall out for no reason sometimes. It’d rev too high. Oil pressure would be all wonky. Sure, you could step on the gas, leave a wall of smoke, and impress your friends (and yourself if I’m honest), It still had these bouts of complete melt-down, followed by a nice afternoon with pops, pushing and swearing two tons of Detroit steel around the block while the once amazed neighbors heckled our egos into the ground.

    After a couple more months of work in the garage, you’d have this beautifully running motor; It really was something. Damn thing sounded like God himself had just conceived a child. That my friends, would be what we’d want a real car geek to see.

    In my mind? We’ve just backed this car out of the driveway. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another 3 week spell without a point to be found anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if Porter makes a dumb substitution or 10. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of Sunday night; Ugly football, only without a perfect set piece to bail us out.

    One thing I do know; if we keep our wits about us, and expectations in line, this could well be a really fun ride. The back line is gelling. Our forwards are showing promise, and these guys are one or two wrench turns from seeing the Nagbe we all so desperately know he’s capable of.

    Until then? Enjoy these moments of streaks and wins. Understand that it’s likely to explode on the highway at a moment’s notice, and have faith that CP shows the kind of poise, and makes the types of moves you want to see in a coach. We may not yet be a playoff team, and only time will tell if we are, but from what I see, If we stay on this road, we can be…and more.

    It’s a long long road boys and girls, and we’re just hoping on the exit. When it’s driving down the road, marvel at it, and when it blows up on the side of the road, I think we need to appreciate the general effort, and not be hung up on the results..yet.

    See? I can Ramble…I’m gonna go see if honest Abe wants a cigarette.

    1. Arrgh! I know you’re right, but I so want you to be wrong! I want this hot rod purring like a kitten!

      (So I guess this means you’re not ready to co-sign on my “zero goals allowed the rest of the season” prediction?)

  4. Great post again, I think we share the same timbers hive-mind. I was sitting down, rocking back and forth, mumbling something about blankie, when I realized that we were going with a bunker strategy.

    It’s obvious that Caleb called it, so evidently Caleb had it on some information or in his playbook that when you go up on SJ late, you bunker. He called it, the boys did it, and this time, thank god, it worked. It’s a win, but it wasn’t pretty, and like you I wasn’t happy about the last chapter of the game.

  5. Thing is, there was another team out there, too.

    An ugly one. The Quakes are MLS’ answer to ultimate fighting; a bunch of soreheads banging around whose entire “strategy” is to hurt you enough that you fall apart and then they scrape up the win. Not surprisingly we looked worse against them than we did against Houston, which is just your common or garden variety MLS club – “physical”, meaning that 40 stitches or a gunshot gets a whistle and otherwise it’s play on.

    Add to that Grajeda, who spent most of the first half wandering around like a UFC aficionado savoring the hits. I remarked in something like the tenth minute “Somebody’s going off tonight because this fool is letting WAY too much go. He’s lost control of this match.”

    So why so few shots on goal? All that plus Hardin and Bernardez.

    Obviously, not JUST those two, but they were animals, and the entire San Jose backline plays like clog dancers with eight ounces of crank shoved up their noses. Every time a Timber touched the ball he was sure to get shoved, tackled, bounced, or just plain flattened. It took damn near 70 minutes and a sending off to get enough space to solve that brutal puzzle and, frankly, I’d bet that without Gordon’s being a complete and utter prat we’d have seen a nil-nil draw.

    So I’m going to agree with your last paragraph; the bottom line was that the Timbers – who last season would have been hustled off the pitch shivering when the mean people were mean to them – got stuck in and played ugly and won. That’s not a great thing. But that’s not a bad thing, either.

    1. Excellent points, all of them.

      And it’s got me thinking: will San Jose play cleaner at home or even dirtier? Clearly, Gordon won’t be on the pitch, but maybe the rest of them will revel in the thuggishness of their home fans and next weekend’s game will be a bloodbath.

      I hope not, I really do. But if it does go that way, we’ll handle it better than last year’s team would have.

  6. Yet we should not forget that this group of thugs, this gang, has never beaten us, either here or there. This is not the first time we have survived, and I am not so sure that the team last year was all that intimidated.

    Spencer’s team was a lot of things, but afraid was not one of them. To be fair, I believe any team has problems coming to Portland to play, and the rumble-style play does not, has not been the answer.

    And I will apologize to Mr. Futty. I asked the question “why is he even on the roster” because I was confused by all the talk of having to go and buy a new CB somewhere. I did not understand why he was not the automatic answer to the question “who will play CB for us with our injuries on the back line. ”

    I am pleased silly that Futty was in the starting eleven and that he did such a good job of answering for himself.

    Now we get to see if there will be an obvious hole in the line when Horst returns, or if it will be a legitimate fight for the opening spot next to Silvestre.

  7. Last week it was Diego Valeri, this week Mikael Silvestre.

    If MLS is as serious about concussions as they say, with their protocols for return to play, then the flying elbow to the face has got to consistently result in carding. Not just an “if he sees it and if it is flagrant” decision, and not at all a “did he mean to be mean” decision, but a “did the elbow extend beyond his body and connect with the opponent’s face” results in a booking decision.

    Otherwise, with the new protocols for concussion, thuggish teams will be eager to go for the face in aerial battles with a team’s better players.

    Hmmm… was it coincidence that this was our solid defensive leader? Could someone be so crass as to calculate that they would really like to face Portland next without Silvestre? I am sure that Johnson (either) would have been likely targets as well.

    Nonetheless, I am glad that Mikael chose to confront his attacker by jumping up and spitting blood rather than rolling on the pitch. Otherwise, we just might be looking for yet another CB for next week’s game.

    And San Jose will have been successful in their ploy to help their on-field chances at home. Instead they will have do without Gordon. I am glad to see this call: Let players know that if they lead with their elbows, no matter how disinterested they look, and connect with a player’s face, they are as likely to sit out the next game as is their victim.

    Getting a handle on concussions is hard work, and putting the onus entirely on the victim is not the best answer.

    1. I’m with you, brother. I was watching a little bit of the KC/NY game last night and there was a lot of rough play there, too. It got me to wondering if this was going to be MLS’s indentity. Every league has some kind of reputation, right? There are the scoring leagues, the defensive leagues, the new-money leagues, the past-their-prime leagues. Will MLS be the “knock-the-piss-out-of-each-other-the-entire-game-with-blood-and-concussions-and-fights-and-ineffectual-referees” league? I really hope not, but it looks like we’re heading in that direction. If this will be a league-wide culture, then we need a league-wide solution. The commissioner needs to decide what kind of league he wants.

      1. I agree. And already can hear the scoffs of those who say “football is a man’s game, and if you can’t handle some bruises and pain, you should stay off the pitch.”
        Fair enough. But Football as we know it is supposed to be a beautiful game. A game of strategy. Not a simple gladiatorial bloodbath. I really hope we get our enjoyment out of the brilliance of the play, not out of seeing a player knocked unconscious or even just writhing on the ground in pain.
        We also, as civilized people, have begun to come to grips with the reality of brain damage in athletes who suffer multiple concussions. We have cringed seeing professional fighters reduced to being unable to speak coherently because of a lifetime of concussive blows to their brains.
        And we have decided that football is to be a game for people of all ages. We encourage our children to get out onto the pitch as soon as they can boot a potential 5 foot strike against a goalkeeper who can still only waddle.
        We have encouraged our wives and sisters and mothers to play, fully applauding the formation of a new woman’s league in the US, and appreciating the advance in the quality of play we have seen at the international level.
        Surely we do not want our 8-year-old daughters suffering concussions!
        Surely we do not take any enjoyment from seeing a 13-year-old boy with a serious concussion!
        My wife is a senior research psychologist and recently attended a session where a colleague was demonstrating the subtle long-term effects of concussive injuries to the brain.
        He took a handful of volunteers, administered some neurological tests, did a quick evaluation, and could then pick out the students–both men and women–who had played soccer AND THEIR POSITION PLAYED!!
        The long-term effects of even heading the ball repeatedly are now known and can be measured. They negatively affect the neurological performance of athletes the rest of their lives. In short, you are better off if your surgeon never was good at headers at college/youth academy soccer earlier in his life!
        So we have a couple of non-exclusive options.
        One, we can introduce more protection to the game. The ultimate result is padding like a hockey player or American Football player wears. While a rugby-style headgear might be acceptable, I believe the quality of the game drops dramatically when you start padding the players. It becomes a different game, and the level of the beauty of the game drops dramatically.
        Second, we can aggressively work to reduce the damage sustained to the head. We need to realize that some of the most debilitating injuries are not visible, and that Silvestre’s bloody lip does not mean his blow to the head was more severe than was the no-external-signs injury to Valeri. No one can tell the extent of a concussive injury by looking at it. Even the athlete sustaining the blow cannot tell the significance at the time of injury.
        Perhaps there are ways of heading the ball that are less likely to create concussion than others. Perhaps like learning how to fall without hurting yourself, players can be coached early on how to head the ball with less chance of injury.
        But it seems clear that actions that target the head should be banned. It will always be the case that an occasional arm hits an occasional head. That is probably not preventable.
        But if players who jump to compete for a header are consistently penalized if their elbows strike another player’s head, we will have taken an important first step.
        For this to happen, refs cannot wait to see the crowd reaction, or the extent of the visible injury, before reaching for the card. It has to be sudden and unavoidable.
        Otherwise it is hard to imagine that soccer will not be significantly harmed as we learn more about the effects of head injuries.

        Let’s keep it a beautiful game. A game that is safe for everyone to play.

  8. Did anyone mention Harrington? i didn’t read every word since I thought he should have been mentioned from the very first. He has great skills and is a worker. He has worked since he joined the team yet it seems no one ever mentions him…….

    1. I’ve been thinking along the same lines, Lonnie. A measure of Harrington’s success is this – how long do you remember not having to talk about the “left back situation” last year, or the year before? There is no situation now. He’s been solid, and he’s arguably the only guy on the backline to come out of the first six games without a real blemish on his record thus far.

      I thought Smith looked like he was finding his feet here, and would fit right in under Porter, but that wasn’t to be. I was worried about left back, and thought we might see Wallace there which hadn’t really worked before. Harrington has come in without a fuss or a fanfare and did a really good job that has let other, more eye catching, players do the same.

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