Six Degrees: All Things Must Pass


CI DeMann continues his Six Degrees match reports with a look at the game that ended the Timbers’ long unbeaten run, a 1-0 loss in Columbus. Is there such a thing as a good loss?

1) When your team has a long unbeaten streak, is there a good way for it to end? How would you choose for your team to finally lose? Well, clearly, you’d want a loss that would inspire the team to do great things for the rest of the year, right? But what would that look like?

Would it be a 5-0 loss? Would that shake up the locker room properly?

How about losing on a couple last-second goals, like LA did in San Jose last week? That might inspire the team. Or it might just leave them broken.

Here’s a possibility: what if you lost by being a man down for essentially the entire game, and you were still somehow the better team, even if you could never quite even things up? Would that be the best way to lose? Would that inspire the team to come right back and start a new winning streak?

I have no idea, but we’ll find out, won’t we?

2) The thing is, I was feeling super confident when the game started. Columbus had four starters making their MLS debut. A couple were making professional debuts. I figured we’d stomp ’em. We were rested, confident, and our defense was playing beautifully. Especially the new guy, Pa Modou Kah.

Boy, Kah sucked yesterday, didn’t he? I know he was on the field for only 10 minutes, but he looked rough the whole time. Questionable passes across the field. Lazy defending, which led to fouls. He’s been so fantastic these last few games, but yesterday something was wrong from the start. And then he went and kicked some dude in the face.

But I’ll say this: Kah’s going to come back strong. In all the interviews I’ve seen, he seems like a really stand up guy. He’ll take full responsibility for this and come back in a big way. He’ll work extra hard to make it up to his teammates and to us. I really believe this. Kah’s a good guy.

3) I’m semi-fascinated with the penalty kick Columbus striker Frederico Higuain missed. Specifically, the psychological aspects.

If there are any former players reading this who want to help educate me, here’s the question: if the goalie guesses correctly (like our man Donovan Ricketts did) and dives straight to where the kicker wants to put it, does that change the kick at all? In that millisecond when Higuain was swinging at the ball, did he see Donovan going his way? And did he panic and send the ball off-target? In other words, did Donovan guessing right make Higuain miss the PK? Or was it just a bad kick?

Either way, thank goodness for that miss, right? Being down a man is tough when it’s 1-0. At 2-0, there’s pretty much no hope.

4) Let’s do some quick player reviews:

Darlington Nagbe

– I thought it was a good game for Nags, but maybe this is just in comparison to Valeri, who was invisible. Plus, once or twice Darlington got that pissed off look to him, which is always thrilling/terrifying.

Ben Zemanski

– I still really like this guy. Am I wrong? He reminds me a little of Diego Chara, only tall, white, and gangly.

Jack Jewsbury and Futty Danso

– Remember in the preseason when we all thought these guys were done? Certainly dropped from the regular rotation, possibly the team? Well, that shows what we know, right? These two guys are becoming MVPs. Old, solid, and reliable has never looked so good.

Donovan Ricketts

– Speaking of old, solid, and reliable, the Iron Lion of Zion is just ridiculous these days, isn’t he? I was watching an online stream, so I got to hear the Columbus play-by-play guys. They were raving about Ricketts so much, I thought they were gonna go down on the field and ask him to the prom.

5) I feel I learned a lot about soccer watching the Columbus game. Specifically, the whole idea of maintaining possession. Oh, sure, we’ve been doing it all year, and I’m totally into it, but against Columbus, after going a man down, we held the ball with true desperation. Keeping possession seemed even more important to Coach Porter than usual, and over the course of the game, I began to understand why. One, it may have tired Columbus a bit, chasing us around the field, trying to get the ball back. But more importantly, it meant WE weren’t chasing the ball. Getting the ball back is always tiring, but with only 10 guys? It would have been fatal.

Also, our slow, lazy, deliberate passing in the back may have lulled Columbus to sleep a bit. For most of the game, we were the actors, they were the re-actors. We were passing the ball around, they were watching us do it. Keep that up long enough, maybe both teams and the entire stadium forget that it’s 10 vs 11.

6) And in the end, that’s kind of what happened. Let’s face it: despite the final score, we were the better team yesterday. They were just the team with more players. By the end of the game, it was clear which team the Columbus play-by-play guys respected more. They were applauding our fight, our organization, our strategy. What did they say about Columbus? Not much, really. Officially, Columbus won the game. Unofficially, I kinda sorta think Portland did.

So was that the perfect way for the unbeaten streak to end? I’m not sure. I just know I feel sorry for the LA Galaxy coming in here on Saturday. We’re going to take our frustrations out on them. And we’ll have a full 11 men to do it with.

7 thoughts on “Six Degrees: All Things Must Pass

  1. In regards to the PK, yeah Donovan guessing right likely did affect the kick at least to some degree. Higuain almost certainly would have seen Rickett’s movement out of the corner of his eye. As a former player I can say the instinct at those points is generally to try to place your shot even more perfectly–that is place it just inside the post. So while it was obviously still a mistake to place it wide of the goal, Donovan guessing right may have made Higuain try to place it slightly wider/closer to the post than he would have otherwise.

    1. This is fascinating to me. It’s really a question of peripheral vision and reaction time. But I believe you that, even though it’s all happening super-fast, the goalie really can affect the kick. (of course, maybe a goalie will write us telling us we’re wrong…)

  2. Good stuff. It took some guts to get back on the horse and actually write about this.

    1. Yes indeed. Except that on the other side of the coin Columbus really should have been blown out. Completely left for dead. HOW DARE THEY show up with four players with their first career start? That was an insult. In retrospect, brilliant. But it did make the loss much worse. I really would have preferred facing their first team.

    2. I agree about Kah. He will come back. He is experienced and this is one thing that experienced players have already learned. I would love to know if he has had terribly gut-wrenchingly awful games before in his career.

    3. I like to see the penalty kick from a medieval perspective. That is, the whole idea between putting two guys in a ring to fight it out was not that might would make right, but that God would select the winner, so it didn’t matter who was the best to begin with. So obviously there should not have been a PK to begin with and this was nature’s way of righting–with the stress-relieving hiccup of a veteran missing the goal altogether–this fundamental wrong. Only the real wrong had to do with Portland not winning the game. That’s the flaw with this way of thinking. And the reason it was dumped.

    4. Nagbe–I felt the burden to connect with a shot on target was his. This is part of the mantle he is assuming. This is why we keep reassuring each other that Darlington Nagbe is not your everyday-kitchen-sort-of-hero. I also believe I saw the pissed-off look (although the resolution could have been to blame) but what I didn’t see was the larger-than-real-life performance when his team really needed it.

    Zemanski–I don’t know what you see, but I haven’t seen much extraordinary so far. Again, this was a stage where he could have made a STATEMENT. He didn’t.

    Jewsbury and Danso–who said they were old and done for at the beginning of the season? My question about Futty is whether this is another player who Porter has remade, or did he have this potential all along, all the time we were suffering through Smith and Kimura? And why didn’t we START the season with him alongside Horst and Silvestre? What happened?

    Donovan Ricketts–I haven’t heard anyone say for a very long time that Ricketts should not be in the Timbers’ lineup. I do suspect that sometimes he makes saves look more difficult then they are, but as long as he makes them. . . It is also clear that for Ricketts anyway, his performance this year is a direct reflection of Caleb Porter’s faith in him. I do have two questions about the keeper. (1) I really am curious as to what characteristics Porter saw in Ricketts that he did not see in Perkins, and particularly if it were locker room/team dynamics issues that were critical. And whether this means that Porter will be limited to effectively coaching a particular sort of player. In particular, I wonder if this has to do with the traditional differences between coaching a college and a professional team. Could, for example, Caleb Porter walk into and effectively coach the current roster of the LA Gals? Or would Donovan and Keane refuse to cooperate and end up miring down the whole team? (2) in all the scrambling around keepers, why did we pass up Bendik as second and take Kocic instead? Or another way of asking the question is whether we would be better off overall with Perkins/Bendik than with Ricketts/Kocic? Feel free to tell me I am slighting Milos Kocic.

    I would also like to add in Ryan Johnson. As in, it took me a while watching the game to realize that Ryan was not off at Gold Cup duty, and was in fact on the field. What happened?

    And yet another question: Some seem to place the responsibility for the collapse on Will Johnson’s absence. I am not sure that is reasonable.

    It seemed to me that the team came onto the field not ready to play, and that by the time folks decided they would play football today in Columbus, the hole was too deep for Portland’s young team to dig out of. What do you think? Are we doomed to similar issues as long as Will Johnson is gone from the lineup?

    5. I have at times this season been slightly questioning of some of the focus on possession. Or more precisely stated, on whether “WITH A PURPOSE” has sometimes fallen off. I agree that the team’s performance spoke volumes about just how many-splendored a thing possession can be. Here is the thing; was Porter’s substitution of Danso for Alhassan right after Kah’s sending off more of a vote of confidence in the team’s ability to keep possession? in that by keeping possession we would not get so tired and therefore had the luxury of using 1/3 of our subs that early; or was it more of a hedging our bets by stating that we could not trust our midfield to keep possession in a way that would allow us to wisely move forward with one center back?

    In retrospect, it was probably the right decision, although you could make the argument that the extra firepower of Alhassan might have resulted in the equalizer goal while Columbus did not end up proving to be such a threat offensively that a three-man back line could not have prevented a score.

    6. We were the better team, although I attributed a large part of their broadcast team’s demeanor as being just gentlemanly and balanced. In other words, not every team has booth homers as awful as those from San Jose. And in that MLS (who owns all of the teams) is using home announcers for line feeds for all games this season, it makes sense that there should be a certain sensibility.

    It is also the case that broadcasters have a vested interest in excitement, in the close game. So when Portland went down both a man and a score down so early it would have been counterproductive for these two professionals to have portrayed Columbus as much better than Portland. Instead they were able to keep interest in the game by making it feel as if Portland might turn around and score at any moment. (a real and vital possibility).

    All that being said, we WERE the better team and I think it was obvious from the stats as well as from watching the game. Portland’s possession game really did take its toll and Columbus was looking gassed by the 3/4 mark.

    Thing is, the possession style of play is not some big secret. Everyone says they know what it does and yet they do something different. And the jury is out as to whether the Germans have figured out a way to consistently beat this style of play.

    I like to believe that Porter discovered if he were TRUE to the theory, that he would be routinely surprised; that possession-with-purpose pays dividends in many aspects of the game. Probably the biggest rap against it is that it turns out ties. That in all the focus on keeping the ball, scoring opportunities become seen as risks of turning over possession, that possession overtakes goals as the primary goal of the game.

    I believe the jury is reasonably still out on that question after the first half of this inaugural season of Portland’s possession principle. Portland scored a lot of goals and has accumulated a significant goal differential. However we also are not sitting at the top of the table, even with just two losses. . . it is obvious that the system rewards wins much more than it punishes losses.

    1. Great stuff as always, Roy. I’m particularly taken with the medieval metaphor. I like the idea that God’s watching PKs and passing judgement. Does this mean He hates Kenny Cooper?

      I am truly excited to see what Portland does in these next few games. There’s a side of me — the homer side — that thinks we’re going to come out like a house on fire and absolutely steamroll everyone. (I mixed metaphors quite nicely there, didn’t I?) But maybe we don’t. LA’s very good some weeks. And then we’re on the road. So it could get ugly. Still, my heart tells me we’ll come back strong. Perhaps stronger than before.

      1. If we were to believe this as a fundamental way the world works. . . let’s just say if there were ever a thunderstorm when you found yourself and Kenny Cooper lounging about the metal goal posts. . .

    2. Re “all the time we were suffering through Smith and Kimura”:

      With Smith, I didn’t feel like it was suffering. He was one of the better Timbers players last year, and I was sorry to see him go. Solid defending, good overlapping — the latter perhaps better than Harrington.

      1. I’ll grant you that. There were several players who probably had abilities above what was displayed, and Smith was not at all among the worst. Still I would say at least that our defense was leaky most of the time, and if Futty were a brilliant answer and sitting on the bench. . .

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