Six Degrees: Revving Up

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 0-0 tie with New England.

1) Well. Okay. Hmm. That was a weird game, wasn’t it?

I’m really glad Kevin Alexander’s got his computer fixed, because I need him to tell me exactly what happened Thursday night. Do you know what happened? Because I don’t. We dominated in pretty much every way, we just couldn’t put one in the net.

I’m tempted to go all Caleb Porter on you and say something like, “Well, that’s soccer. It’s a cruel sport. Strange things happen.” And maybe in the end, that’s the truth of the matter. Still, I hope Kevin can pull out some of his charts and diagrams and screen shots and show us exactly how New England held us off all night. Because I watched the whole damn thing and I have no idea.

But if I can’t give you the “Soccer Genius” column, I can at least give you the “Overly Emotional and Borderline Demented Fan” column. So that’s what I’ll do.

2) Goodness gracious, was our offense fired up or what? It took us maybe 10 or 15 minutes to get our bearings, but from that point on, it was Pin-Your-Ears-Back-and-Go-Straight-for-the-Goal.

Shots: 22 to 9. Shots on goal: 9 to 4. Possession: 67% (possibly a season-high).

It’s just astonishing that we couldn’t put one it. And so frustrating.

But I’m gonna think good thoughts, because there really were a lot of good things to see. Some fabulous passing (I’m looking at you, Mr. Nagbe), some nice attempts in close (I’m looking at you, Ryan Johnson), some blistering shots from outside (I’m looking at you, Beast). If we can keep doing these things in future games – and I know we can – then the goals will come. Keep up the good work, boys.

3) I am absolutely crazy-go-nuts for our defensive midfielders. Could Diego Chara and Will Johnson be any better? Honestly, I would marry our defensive midfield if I could. (Am I allowed to marry a defensive midfield? I’m not, am I? Damn you, Congress!)

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Diego Chara is EVERYWHERE. Does that guy get tired? Is he even human? Pity the poor bastard who gets the ball in open space, because Diego’s coming, and he’s gonna take… you… down.

And Will Johnson. Ohhhh, Will Johnson. It seems like at least once every game he starts waving his arms around and screaming at somebody – the ref, the other team, the ball, the air – and the energy level just goes off the charts. Remember Wednesday when he started screaming at the ref? I thought the stadium was gonna explode. There’s something about that guy. His intensity is off the charts. And so infectious. Man, he’s a good addition to this team. I can’t believe Real Salt Lake gave him up.

4) The interplay among our midfielders and forwards is becoming a joy to watch. The team’s had a few months learning Porterball and they’ve really got it figured out. I’m no soccer expert, I’m just a fan, so I can’t break out all the fancy lingo, but I know what I see, and what I’m seeing is a defender steal the ball, then immediately make a short pass to so-and-so, who sends it out wide to some other guy, who then instantly taps it to the original defender, who passes it up to Nagbe, who taps it to Valeri, who sends a through ball to Nagbe, who chips it to Johnson, who taps it to…

Well, if you think I’m describing just one play, I’m not. I’m describing EVERY play. It’s become absolutely gorgeous, and I love watching these guys play. They’re making me understand why soccer is called “the beautiful game.”

5) Before Wednesday’s game, if you were to have asked me, “Who is the one guy on our team who is irreplaceable? Who can we absolutely not lose to injury?” I probably would have thought for a moment, then said, “Mikael Silvestre.”

Sigh.

Deep, heavy sigh.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s a torn ACL. He’s out for the year.

Fortunately, he’ll get to hang out with David Horst, who’s also out for the year. And then there’s Hanyer Mosquera, who’s disappeared to parts unknown.

So if there’s anyone reading this who plays center back, you should probably call the Timbers front office. They may have a spot for you. (Editor: Spot is filled, for now.)

Actually, I’m not as worried about this as you might think. Mostly because I really like the way the defense is playing now, not just those particular guys, but the whole system. I think Porter’s got it figured out. He’s got his two guys in the middle, staying strong. He’s got Jack Jewsbury on one side, mostly staying back, giving them a three-man line. And he’s got Michael Harrington on the other side, charging forward, forcing the other team to mark him, still fast enough to get back when he needs to. I really like this three-man-wall thing Porter’s got going on with Jewsbury and I think we’ll be okay going forward. Even without Silvestre.

(And if we give up seven goals in our next game, you can all blame me for opening my fat mouth. I know I’m tempting the soccer gods. But honestly, it’s not like they’ve been doing us any favors, right?)

6) And with my last point, I’m gonna go a little off-topic and discuss what happened here on Wednesday. For those of you who live under rocks, a quick summation: A 3rd-grader cancer patient named Atticus got together with the Make-A-Wish organization. His wish was for his soccer team to scrimmage the Timbers. Not only did the Timbers agree, they fixed up the locker room for their team, gave the kids new uniforms, brought out a color guard, sang the national anthem, and opened up the stadium, just in case anyone wanted to watch. Did anyone show up? Oh, only three THOUSAND people. With signs. And flags. And songs. And smoke bombs.

I just watched this video… again and I got all misty-eyed… again. I’m such a sap.

I have to tell you, people, I can’t imagine being prouder of a sports team. Hell, an entire city. This event made me so happy I moved to Portland. Becoming a Timbers fan, going to the games, learning the songs, meeting the other fans, it really has made me feel like a Portlander. Like I’m part of this city. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

I have friends all over the country who read this column and a few weeks back, my buddy Aaron from Dallas wrote me:

“I’ve been wanting to get into soccer for a while. And I’ve tried, just can’t get it to take. FC Dallas is in 1st right now but I think if anything is going to finally get me into MLS it may just be this column that does it. And I may have to claim the Timbers as my team. But what would really do it is if a jersey showed up at my house…”

I haven’t sent him a jersey, but when I Facebooked the story about Atticus playing the Timbers, here’s what Aaron wrote:

“I believe that settles it!!”

Congratulations, Timbers. You’re not just winning the hearts of everyone here, you’re sweeping the country. And when we go play Dallas next Wednesday, hopefully my boy Aaron will be there, cheering us on. Traveling fans, take him under your wing, okay?

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9 thoughts on “Six Degrees: Revving Up

  1. Of all the games to miss (because of work) I will regret missing the Green Machine beating the Timbers the most. Talking to Sunny and others who attended it was a special gift that Atticus gave to all of us. It just warms the heart!

    1. You know what? I missed the game, too. Which makes me eternally grateful to the Timbers media department for covering it so well. To be honest, speaking as a former broadcaster, I’m super-impressed with the Timbers media people. Camera work, sound, editing, creativeness. Across the board, they’re first-rate.

    1. These exist? Are there others? Do the Timbers have scarves in all 50 states? How about Canada? It seems our reach is truly global.

  2. I think Silvestre’s absence is going to be felt as much in our offense as our defense. Silvestre’s passing has been phenomenal, and Futty and AJB’s…. not so much. I know nothing about what the new guy brings to the table in that regard, he’s got some big shoes to fill.

    1. Agreed completely. Silvestre’s passes are 100% on… the… money. Even when he’s sending it all the way across the field.

      Regarding the new guy, expect some delay. Remember the impatient wait when Silvestre was working out his visa problems. Plus, we won’t really know if this new guy’s any good until he’s here and we’ve seen him play a few times. He could be another Silvestre (anchors the defense) or he could be another Ryan Miller (in the 18, but not starting).

      Like I said in the column, I feel good about our defensive philosophy and structure. We’ll find out if losing Silvestre blows it all to hell.

  3. Again, good job.

    Two things stood out to me as I watched this game.

    First, if our defense is playing so well, how is it that Ricketts is having to make so many amazing saves? I can’t tell so far if it is an issue with the midfield or the defensive line. All preliminary evidence, of course, points to the back line.

    Granted, they are doing some things really well. But the first job of that defensive line is, well, defense.

    The reason it stood out to me in the New England game is that there were not a lot of offensive runs by the Revolution. And many of their shots were way wild.

    So is our line more porous than other defensive lines by that much (even with Silvestre), or is some bored goddess of luck just playing with us by allowing lots of lucky shots through only to keep them with lucky saves?

    I can’t tell. Kevin, do you have the answer? Is our back line really on par quality-wise, with the other upper-half teams in the MLS? Because I don’t see New England scoring four or five goals a game week after week.

    Is this something we really have to get a handle on before the season gets much older, before offensive couplings start to gel and teams start finding the net more often? Or are we pretty much where we need to be at this point in the season?

    The second thing that jumped out at me was how panicked Will Johnson seemed throughout the game. Yes, he did seem to be everywhere, but it seemed that he was often somewhere just ahead of another Timbers player. Is our captain pushing things to a dangerous degree? Would it be good advice to tell Will to cool down a few degrees during the game, to let plays mature and to not rush the process of creating a great goal-scoring opportunity.

    This becomes especially important because he is our captain. So we could reasonably expect that he is setting the tone for the rest of the team.

    Now, as always, I might be seeing more dancing pink elephants–it might be that no one else sees any rushing at all. One moment that particularly stood out was when Will flung himself at a ball at the far post, getting a desperate and ineffective header from it. Jack Jewsbury was waiting for the ball a few yards back, and could have made a more measured, calm shot on goal.

    This would be one factor contributing to the 22 shots without a score phenomenon. Certainly not the only factor, but nonetheless one piece of the account.

    What say you? Fact or Fiction?

    1. Excellent points, Roy. I remember very clearly when Captain Will stole that header from Captain Jack. I put it down to bad luck, but maybe there’s more to it. Dunno.

      Regarding our back line, all your questions are good ones. Donovan does seem to make a lot of difficult saves. I wonder if there’s some statistical analysis of how many “hard saves” a goalie has to make each game. Would Ricketts be high on that list?

      I will say that against New England, our boys got pretty desperate as time ran out. We were sending everyone forward by the end, including Jack. Hell, I’m pretty sure they subbed Jack out for Jazz Hands, and that’s an offensive sub if ever there was one. My point is that maybe some of New England’s late-game shots were more about our offense than our defense.

      We both look forward to Kevin’s rundown. Pressure’s on, Kevin! Brilliance is expected. Nay, demanded!

    2. Actually, I agree with you. I feel like I’m one of the only people that wasn’t terribly impressed with our midfield. Or any of the Timbers, for that matter. WJ and Chara had energy, sure, but it seemed like neurotic energy. They’d win a tackle but then give the ball away right after. They’d push forward without covering their defensive bases. I feel similarly about our forwards, as well. They had a lot of shots but there was very little patience. I don’t feel like the Timbers so much unlocked New England but rather tried to cram a goal down their throats.

      If you were to photoshop New England out of the picture you might say that Portland had a good game. Granted, Portland’s effectiveness in absolute terms was fine. But it was against a poor New England side that didn’t even have a particularly good game. So in relative terms, I have to say that Portland’s play was… mediocre.

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