Six Degrees: Dropping Points

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 1-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.

1) Yes, you read that previous sentence correctly.

Some ties feel like wins, some feel like losses; when you hold the lead for the last thirty minutes and then give up a goal in extra time, well, that’s a tie that feels like a swift kick to the naughty bits.

The awful thing is, last year’s game at San Jose was almost the exact same thing. Remember it? We had the lead, we go into a defensive bunker for the last 30 minutes, then Wondolowski scores two late goals to tie it.

This year, it was another 30 minutes of bunkering, followed by a 92nd minute goal from some rookie named Jahn. Three points suddenly turned into one, and me, gasping on the floor, holding my man parts.

So I’m sorry if I’m in a bit of a snit right now. Maybe by the end of the column, I’ll have some happy thoughts to drop on you, but for now, I’m just gonna sit here with an ice pack in my lap and bitch for awhile.

2) Okay, I know it’s a bit sacrilegious to question Caleb Porter, but I’m gonna do it anyway.

Coach, I blame the last-second goal entirely on you. You love to talk about how we’re an attacking team, a team that maintains possession, a team that keeps pressure on the other side, and I love everything about this. So why have we gone into a defensive bunker the last two games?

When we got the lead against Houston we kept attacking, but for two straight weeks against San Jose, we’ve gotten the lead and then just turtled. San Jose came at us like a blitzkrieg over and over again.

And when we did manage to get the ball back, we didn’t hold it and slowly make our way up field, wasting time, tiring them out. No, we just kicked it deep and hoped for the best.

I blame you for this, Coach. You know a hell of a lot more about soccer than I do, but I still think I’m right. Please don’t make this a habit. This is a recipe for disaster.

3) But even before we went into bunker mode, our offense was still pretty shaky, wouldn’t you guys agree? Our worst possession rate of the year, I think. Very few good shots. Is San Jose’s defense this good? Because in both games, we felt lucky to score. Will Johnson’s free kick goal last week seemed lucky. Same for Valeri’s sweet one-timer this week. Aside from those two shots, how many chances did San Jose give us? Not many. Why is this?

The optimistic view: San Jose’s just really good. The pessimistic view: the league has figured us out.

Please don’t let it be the latter.

4) Okay, I’m gonna do something a little risky here and say nice things about two very annoying people. Wondolowski and Lenhart.

Yeah, I know I’m supposed to hate these guys, and I’ll admit, they are very hate-able, but I can’t help admiring them a bit. Lenhart’s an annoying little turd, but he’s amazing in the air, isn’t he? He got his head on everything. And, I hate to say it, but there’s something about Wondo I’ve always liked. He’s always in the right spot, he’s always finding loose balls and turning them into shots on goal.

Both these guys remind me of Will Johnson. You hate them on the other team, but you’d love them on yours.

And now that I’ve said something good about Lenhart, I need to go take a shower.

5) And now, a few of our guys.

Diego Valeri – Great goal, amigo. It’s good to have you back. But what the hell were you doing during that goal celebration? Brushing the dandruff out of your hair? Bizarre…

Diego Chara – You are still a wonder to behold. Do you ever get tired? Do you have a little stash of espresso beans hidden in your waistband? Are you even human? Whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up. You’re an absolute beast out there.

Michael Harrington – Wow, Surferboy, you’ve been pretty much perfect the entire year, but not last night! First you lose track of Wondo in the box, requiring Ricketts to make a beauty save, then later you pass the ball directly to Garza, who’s got an open lane straight for the goal. Thank God he tripped himself up. Those are two shoulda-been goals for San Jose, gift-wrapped by you, Mike. You’ve been great so far this season. Let’s hope last night was the only egg you’ll lay.

Donovan Ricketts – Man of the Match, by a very large margin. Those were some beautiful, game-saving stops, my man. You may look old and creaky, but without you, we’d have given up 3 or 4 goals, simple as that. And I can’t blame you for the one goal allowed. It was practically a penalty kick, the guy was so open.

6) And finally, let’s think some happy thoughts. (Semi-happy, at least.)

Sure, it was a swift-kick-to-the-balls sort of tie, but we still got a point on the road, didn’t we? In fact, we’re undefeated on the road. Amazing! After three road games this season, we have three points. Know how long it took us to get three road points last year? Eleven games. Eleven. So, yeah, I’d say we’re a different team this year.

Another stat for you: you know how many teams in MLS have only one loss? Four. Montreal, Dallas, LA, and your Portland Timbers. Not too shabby.

And now we head to Kansas City, to play one of the best teams in the league. A team with a really tight defense. I wish I had some optimism for you right now, but instead, I think I’ll just put it on the record that I will be very happy with a tie.

Just please don’t kick me in the man-bits again. That’s all I ask.

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees: Dropping Points

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Now, let’s both send all our “no bunkering” thoughts in the direction of Mr. Porter. If this continues, I may not make it through the season with my sanity intact. (My sanity’s always been a shaky affair…)

  1. I believe this assessment is a bit harsh.

    As noted, this is a club that could barely avoid road losses last season, and who faced a San Jose squad with the trio intact the first time, and with two of the three intact the second meeting. And we still emerged with a 1-0-1 result. We got points both games! The mighty San Jose, at full strength, dropped three to us, and then failed to win at home.

    It is still early in the season. Flush on some early success–especially the 2-0 result against Houston–we all have high expectations. Let us just remember that the climb to the top will not likely be even or without slips.

    So I guess I agree with your points, but wish they were encapsulated in a form a bit more positive. There are many things we have to celebrate over the games, including holding Lenhart, Gordon and Wondolowski to a total of one goal.

    And this was from a team about which most watchers said just a few weeks ago “the offense looks good, but our defense looks weak.” Then we lost Horst. And we still held SJ’s goal-scoring machine to just one in two games.

    Late scores are tough to bear. And this is exactly what we have been inflicting on our opponents regularly this season.

    So come on, boys, let’s continue to dish out the misery!

    And while you are at it, how about forgetting the “turtle” pages in your game book? Really unbecoming to a class team like ours.

    1. You make a good point about seeing the positives, Roy. I will say, though, that my negativity comes not from the tie, but from HOW we got that tie.

      If San Jose had scored first and then we’re stormed at them the rest of the game, finally getting a late goal (sort of how we did against NY, Seattle, and Colorado), I’d be ecstatic about the tie.

      But the tie didn’t come from aggressive play. It came from turtle-ing. (I have no idea how to spell that…)

      See my frustration? Let’s continue to get ties on the road, fellas, but let’s do it by playing aggressive, possession-based soccer for 90 minutes. Then the ties will seem like good things, and not wasted opportunities.

      1. Granted.

        This was the 2012 Timbers. I could not believe how many times we allowed SJ’s keeper to play the ball at near the half-line! Like a prairie. . . Not a Timber in sight!

        So many times we had the ball in their third with no support. So many times we got there and had to stop to wait for reinforcements. The field is not longer on one side than the other. . .

        This reminded me of 2012 in another way: On the road, we started out flat, almost as if we were exhausted to begin the game. Is there a spy in our midst? Someone on the road service squad putting Mickeys in our gatorade? Come on guys! This is only a couple of hours from home! Some of you might even have longer commute times to Beaverton!

        Giving credit where credit is due: The president of the SJ organization took action against the fans and it seemed that both teams–especially San Jose–came out playing a higher quality football than we saw last week. The announcers reported that team members encouraged one another to keep it from getting out of control, “getting chippy” at half time.

        If so, and not simply a result of my rose-colored glasses, hats off to the San Jose organization for turning around their play and approach in one week.

        So I do fully understand your frustration. It does feel like a loss, until I look at the tables. But overall, to walk away from two games with last year’s Supporter Shield winners with a win and a tie is, well, champion-level.

        We will get crunched if we show up to SKC with no more energy or hunger than we showed at Buck Shaw, though. I would expect SKC to be more like last week’s game than this week’s.

        So let us resolve to ramp up our road presence without turning victories into defeats on the morale scale. Let us head to the Midwest as if coming off of a sound beating of last years champs. Let us walk onto the field in Kansas City as a team undefeated on the road.

        Let’s get our big road win that will open the floodgates and let us all know just how good this team can be!

      1. I was going to mention something about this as well. San Jose’s offense forces teams to bunker it’s predicated on creating chaos in the box. They were successful in the second half in playing their game.

        I think the loss of possession was due to the loss of Nagbe and Valeri in MF. So it could be on Porter for the subs, but I wouldn’t necessarily put it on a strategy he wanted to employ.

      2. I agree, I think he made the subs he did thinking it would help the possession game but KAH and Zemanski did not help with the possession. Once you lose your two best outlets and those that came in can’t themselves become outlets the only thing left is to bunker. I wouldn’t say it this tie is on CP but more on the players.

        An interesting question is: Who else could CP have put in for a gassed Valeri?

      3. The usual suspects are KAH and Zemanski. I suppose Nanchoff will start to see some 1st-team play. He’s doing well with the reserves. Also, Zizzo will be back soon, though he’s much more a winger than anything.

        To be honest, Nagbe’s the best sub for Valeri, but he got pulled as well.

  2. All right. Having seen the Kansas City game I have to agree more whole-heartedly with CI.
    It wasn’t just the last little bit of the SJ game, it was most of the game. . . we simply bunkered, certainly after the first goal, and perhaps from the opening whistle. There were times in which no Timbers player was within 30 yards of the ball. No pressure, no presence beyond the half line.

    The thing that is a bit disturbing to me. . . perhaps “incongruent” is the better word. . . is that in the post-game interview, Caleb Porter said that they executed his game plan perfectly in that second SJ game, except for the last minute.

    Now this says to me that the responsibility rests squarely on Porter’s shoulders. He Planned on Bunkering! He also stated in the interview that he did not expect getting two wins from San Jose.

    Come on, Big Guy! You are the optimist! You are the one providing the “can do” attitude! If you don’t think we can do it, we won’t.

    Now to contrast, we came to KC and fought from the beginning. And it showed.

    Perhaps the lesson here is that we need to give up a first quick score to get out of the bunkering mentality–we should plan on fighting from behind or bunkering.

    If so, my poor computer screen will need replacing long before the season half-way mark.

    Now please, friends, convince me I am wrong. Tell me we are not going to be bunkering whenever we get a lead away.

    Help me through this existential crisis–just who are the Portland Timbers? The “we will play the same way no matter what, not playing for ties and not sitting on leads” of the early Porter interviews, or the “My game plan was to bunker down when we got up one away at San Jose, because a tie on the road is supposed to be the best you can wish for” comments of the post-San Jose2 game by Porter.

    In Coach Porter’s own words after the loss to Montreal, “the numbers show that teams that play like that (defensively) win about 25% of the time.”

    I know that “win at home, tie on the road” is conventional wisdom. I was just hoping that this would not be a conventional team with a conventional coach.

    1. Good thoughts, Roy. I can totally relate to your “existential crisis.” It’s amazing the psychological effect sports can have on us. Philosophical, too.

      I just submitted this week’s column (didn’t see your comment here until after I’d emailed it to Kevin) and it should be posted sometime today. I’ll be interested in your thoughts.

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