Six Degrees: Vampire Weekend

Compared to last week, this game was refreshingly free of both the inane and the absurd, so I think there will be a lot less comedy from me. Which is a shame, since my soccer analysis can be both inane and absurd. I’ll give it a try anyway.

1) I wouldn’t call this the prettiest game we’ve ever played, but we still won, 2-0, didn’t we? Part of that is because DC United sucks. But it’s also because we’re a very good team, and very good teams win the ugly ones.

Why was it so ugly? Well, from what Coach Porter’s saying, the loss of Diego Valeri required us to play a more direct style, with less possession, more punting, and a slightly uglier aesthetic. If you look at the statistics, you’ll see that DC had a higher percentage of possession, more total passes, and more shots. Fortunately for us, every time DC got the ball in front of the net, they blew it, spraying shots at everything except the goal. We were lucky. If we give up those kind of opportunities to a good team, we lose.

2) Possibly we gave up so many chances because we had a new guy in the back four. Pa Modou Kah is certainly a lot more experienced than 20-year old Andrew Jean-Baptiste, but he’s also only been on the team a week and a half. He’ll be better next game.

But what about that next game? What happens when Futty Danso comes back from his red card? Does Kah stay in? Personally, I think he should. Jean-Baptiste makes me a little nervous, always wrestling with guys back there. He seems like a penalty kick waiting to happen.

And I like the idea Kah and Futty back there together. This whole “Great Wall of Gambia” thing we’ve got going on is fascinating. But I will admit, there are questions. For starters, who’s in charge, Futty or Kah? More importantly, will they have theme music and costumes? I think they should wear vampire teeth. And yes, I’m completely serious. Think of the intimidation factor. The opposing team will hear rumors that we’ve got two big tall Gambians back there, but they won’t know what to expect. How could they? Does anyone know what happens when you play two Gambian centerbacks side-by-side? Maybe they grow vampire teeth. I say we give it a try. (Editor’s Note: I love African football)

3) Three words. Rodney Freakin’ Wallace. The guy’s a machine, isn’t he? Non-stop energy, from start to finish. I saw him rockin’ it on the left side, the right side, forward, back, middle. He’s everywhere. You know how much I love Diego Chara, right? Well, everything Chara does for our defense, RFW is doing for our offense. And how about that goal, eh? An absolute laser right between the goalie and the near post. That’s a world-class strike, right there. Does MLS give an award for Most Improved Player, because if so, they might as well start inscribing the trophy right now.

4) Also fabulous: Darlington Nagbe. For years we’ve been begging him to be more aggressive. Well, Valeri’s absence Saturday must have flipped that switch, because Nags came out firing. I love it when he’s got the ball at his feet and decides to pin his ears back and run straight at the defense. He’s a blur. His aggressive play and shots from distance really opened things up for the rest of the team. The question now is whether this sort of energy will continue once Valeri’s back on the field. And should it? There’s a side of me that wonders if perhaps everything we saw versus DC was a one-time thing.

5) Case in point: we started the game with two strikers – Ryan Johnson and Frederic Piquionne. You’d expect them to be the scorers, right? Except they weren’t. In this weird, direct offense we had Saturday, the scorers became the playmakers and the playmakers became the scorers.

RFW’s goal? That happened because Freddy Piquionne got the ball, held it for a few seconds, let the defense rush out to stop him, then flipped a nice little pass to the suddenly wide-open Wallace. One missile strike later, we’re up 1-0.

Nagbe’s goal? Similar, except this time it was Ryan Johnson holding the ball, pulling the defense to him, then lofting it forward. Nags fights off not one, not two, but three DC defenders, then sends it through the keepers legs.

I’m starting to wonder if there really is no single, definable offense that we can call “Porterball.” Caleb Porter seems to mix it up just a bit for every single game. And when we face Chicago, with Valeri back on the pitch, I’m sure that, once again, we’ll see something new.

6) So, we lost to Montreal way back in early March. Since then, 11 straight games without a loss. When does it end?

Probably not against Chicago. It’s a road game, yes, but Chicago’s really not that good.

After that, we host Dallas, who only have the best record in the league. Still, it’s at home. I say the streak’s safe for that one.

It’s the next week when I think we finally lose. We visit the LA Galaxy on June 19th and, lemme tell ya, they could not have looked better this Sunday night, destroying Seattle 4-0. They dominated every aspect of the game. Offense, defense, set pieces, possession. They looked like the best team in the league. So if our streak has to end – and it does – then I think it’s against LA.

But until then, let’s enjoy ourselves, right? I saw some heavy legs against DC, so I think we’re having our week off at just the right time. Take it easy, boys. Spend these next two weeks getting healthy, then come back against Chicago tanned, rested, and ready to go.

And please, please, PLEASE bring your vampire teeth.

22 thoughts on “Six Degrees: Vampire Weekend

  1. Why are people still saying Rodwall has improved? He’s just playing in the correct position. Any time in the past three years that Rodwall has moved into the area he’s currently occupying now, we’ve seen the same stuff. It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.

    1. Good call. I love Wallace’s versatility, but he really is wasted back on defense. And I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Costa Rican national team uses him as an attacker. As they should.

      1. They do. He’s scored late-game winners for Costa Rica, and scored against the US…. from an attacking position on the left side.

    1. I’m so torn on this. I want our guys to rest, but at the same time, do we want another humiliating 1-0 like last year? Definitely not.

      Question: if Porter treated this like an important match, with proper film study and tactical planning and such, but used a completely new starting XI, do you think we’d still win?

      1. Preparation is part of Porters system. He must demand the same dedication from himself for the system as he demands from his players. And yes, a new starting eleven will win

      2. It would be fun to watch. Clearly, El Trencito would score. Off a Nanchoff assist, I think. Who else? Kalif might put one in. And Raushawn McKenzie with the corner kick header!

      3. I fully expect to see McKenzie, Zemanski and Trencito start. I also hope that Zizzo, Miller and Nanchoff can all rack up some minutes. Beyond that, I’d expect a core of “first XI” guys to provide the spine of the team.

  2. well. . . I won’t be wearing any vampire teeth, even for a TV spot shot.

    Perhaps a necklace of skulls and huge Rainforest bird feather headdresses?

    At any rate, I won’t be celebrating anything until it happens. Feels too much like tempting the football Gods. And when is the last time Gambia has won the Africa Cup? (The Gambian national team regularly has two Gambian Centerbacks. . . )

    This game was a disaster for the beautiful game. I would argue that both our goals were mostly lucky shots that had no business going in (or more precisely, the Nagbe shot had no business ever being a shot, through three defenders).

    It will not be enough for us to play like this. . . we could of won several games last year against a team playing like DC United did.

    I just hope this level of play was because of the quality of our opponent, and worry that it might not be.

    If we take this game to Dallas, we are doomed. Maybe even Chicago.

    We need forwards who can strike convincingly and score, especially when the defense is begging us to do it. We need a midfield that can keep the ball, not just win it back often. And we need a back line that does not allow the kind of shots DC got on goal.

    And for Ricketts? Whoever took the real Portland keeper and replaced him with this flat-footed, slow-to-react doppleganger we have seen the last two games. . . please, at least name your price. I want the invincible Ricketts back, the wall.

    If the football gods were just (and they most decidedly are not) we would get two points for this game. Not three for winning and not one for drawing, but two for not-losing.

    We have to do better.

    1. Absolutely, we have to do better. But like I said, the streak has to end eventually, and it will probably end when we play like this. We escaped this time because it was against the worst team in the league.

      Tired legs could be part of it, don’t you think? I’m really happy about the week off.

      And I like your idea of only getting two points for this sort of win, but if we used that logic, the LA Galaxy would get 4 or 5 points for what they did to that little fishing village up north.

  3. One thing I noticed, and that I’ve been noticing the past few games, is that Nagbe plays like two people. If he has any time at all to stop and think about what he’s doing or the fact that there’s people near him, he seems to get flustered and dump the ball. On the other hand, if he winds up in some stupid impossible position, he makes magic happen (see: scoring a goal while being surrounded by 3 defenders). I really wish he could bring that sort of instinct to his normal runs and play.

    1. I noticed that too, and mentioned it a while back. I think that’s a big part of why Nagbe could be such a frustrating player at times. Under JS, we played a very rigid system than didn’t allow a lot of flexibility to Nagbe – he was generally either stuck out wide, or played in a more traditional midfield role that required him to play within himself.

      Getting Nagbe to be able to replicate his instinctual ability when he’s got more time to think about it is probably Porter’s big job with Nagbe. We all know the talent is there.

      Playing with the likes of Will Johnson, Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury behind him takes some of the weight off him and, hopefully, allows him to go out and “think less” out on the field which helps, but he’ll never reach his full potential until he can bring that kind of magic to situations where he has to exist on more than just instinct and has a choice or two to make about what he does next.

    2. Agreed completely. I just wonder if it’s possible to overcome ones instincts. Can a player teach himself NOT to think? Maybe with a lot of meditation or something.

      When I watched Thierry Henry’s fabulous chip-shot over the keeper this weekend, I immediately thought, “Why can’t Nags do that? Instead of just firing it straight into the keeper’s gut?”

      The chip shot goal. A thing of beauty that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Timbers player pull off.

      1. And actually, now that I go back and look at the video, Rodney Wallace’s goal versus Chivas was pretty similar to a chip. Sorta. He was being mugged by the defender and gave a soft lob to the net. Not exactly a chip like Henry’s, but definitely similar.

  4. ‘I’m starting to wonder if there really is no single, definable offense that we can call “Porterball.”’

    Porter said early on there is no such thing, that he adapts what he does every match. People talk about the 4-3-3 he played at Akron, but he countered and said he only played that for a season or two out of all the time he was there.

    I think for Porter, Porterball = doing what you need to to win.

    That said, it’s clear he has consistent ideas about how he wants the team to play. It’s just hard to precisely pin down those ideas using the traditional measurements of formation, possession, etc. Maybe one thing we can say is that he clearly pays attention to shape and movement.

    1. Excellent points all. I don’t even think of our usual formation as a 4-3-3, actually. More of a 4-2-3-1, with Will and Chara being the 2, Nagbe-Valeri-Wallace as the 3, and Ryan as the 1. That’s how it’s always felt to me.

    2. I think you’re totally right. Didn’t Porter say something like that about a month and a half ago? The press was asking him about his formation etc. and (I apologize, I forget the quote, so I can only paraphrase) he said something along the lines of there not being a set “formation” or “style” and he likes to keep it fluid and adaptable?

  5. The most interesting part about this game was Porter’s new solution to the Injured Valeri Problem. When Valeri went down against Houston, Kalif came in for him, and continued in that role the following week. Nearly four weeks later, instead of Kalif getting the start, we change up our formation to accommodate both RJ and Piquionne on the field.

    Was this just an experiment, to see what two forwards would look like? (We were playing a weak team, so this was the time to do it). Is Porter dissatisfied with Kalif, who is no longer among our four starting attackers (now RW, RJ, Valeri and Nagbe), but is not even the fifth attacker (Piquionne preferred)? Does the coach think the 4-3-3 (or whatever more complex variation thereof) is getting stale? Or did this seem like a better solution specifically tailored to combat DC? I consider the last the least likely option, considering that DC is the last team we would change our formation for, and, if we did, then it was a horrible miscalculation.

    Also, since you bring up the loss to Montreal, and our streak is being so talked about…I just keep thinking about the foul on Ryan Miller that should have given us a penalty kick in that game. Ugh!

    1. You ask a good question about Porter’s motivation. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the first option: he wanted to see what 2 forwards looked like. And maybe, coincidentally, he thought that was the right offense to combat DC.

      Until I master mind-reading — and I’m very, very close, don’t you doubt it for a second — guessing is all I can do.

    1. I just checked the video and you’re absolutely right. It wasn’t at all easy to see. I didn’t see it until the third camera angle. No blaming the ref if he missed it. And if he did see it, you’re right, he was right to let Nagbe continue on.

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