Tag Archives: Bright Dike

The Zizzo Experiment

Damn the Timbers determination to make sure that we couldn’t simply bask in the afterglow of a 4-0 win, trading a 26 year old Nigerian prospect for a 22 year old Argentine one in the days following. Continue reading The Zizzo Experiment

Timbers 100: Part Four – Endurance

Frederic Piquionne scored the Timbers’ hundredth MLS goal, 814 days after Kenny Cooper scored their first. In a five-part series, I’ll use those goals to talk about the Timbers as they were and how we got to where we are.

Part 1: Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 61. Sal Zizzo vs Toronto FC

15th August 2012

Banner 100 7

Hodophobia, fear of travel, is something Timbers fans would be familiar with after one wearying disappointment after another on the road. For Sal Zizzo the toughest journey he’s faced so far has been from the bench to the field.


Watch The Goal Here

Steven Smith’s corner was met by David Horst at the back post. The ball fell into the path of Zizzo, who took a couple of stabs at getting the ball home.

It remains Zizzo’s sole goal in over 60 MLS appearances, but he made up for a lack of goals with four assists in the latter half of the season in his most productive spell in Portland.


121 days, 718 minutes of play, had elapsed between the Timbers last road goal and Sal Zizzo poking the ball over the line in Toronto.

Kris Boyd had been the last Portland player to enjoy scoring on foreign soil, way back in April when he put the Timbers 1-0 up on LA.

Zizzo and Boyd’s goals were the only times that year that the Timbers had taken the lead in eleven road games, and the ten previous to Toronto had seen the Timbers draw two and lose eight. Nagbe’s equalizer against Dallas was the only other goal the Timbers had scored on the road in 2012.

The strength of Portland at home during their debut season, including one run of five straight wins and another of four, only threw their road form into even sharper focus. Only 12 of the team’s 42 points (29%) were earned on the road in 2011, and that dropped to 7 in 34 (21%) in 2012.

Neither Boyd nor Zizzo’s goals would count towards the Timbers first road win on 2012, and it’s a curious stat that of Boyd’s 7 goals, 5 were to put the Timbers 1-0 up, and the Timbers lost 3, drew 1 and won only once.

100 Road Games

Getting the first goal is often crucial, on the road arguably more so, and the Timbers haven’t been able to consistently do so. Their overall tally stands at 41-39 in favour of the opposition, but their away record is poor, going behind in almost two-thirds of games.

100 Road PerformanceGiven their poor record in scoring first away from home, and a consistent inability to get points from those games, it’s little wonder that the Timbers were among the poorest road teams over 2011 and 2012, performing well below average.

By way of comparison, home form was reasonably good with the Timbers getting the first punch in more often than not, and converting those 1-0 leads into a minimum of 2 points a time.

100 Home Games

A number of lost leads in 2012 cost the Timbers crucial points, but a back of an envelope calculation shows that even if they’d only performed only averagely well on the road that year they would’ve earned 10 more points and nudged Vancouver out of the playoffs.

Five wins in 43 matches is nowhere near good enough, and it’s a telling that four of those wins involved the team keeping a clean sheet on the road, something the Timbers have only managed seven times in total.

Two of those shut-outs have come in the Timbers last three trips, and Porter’s side have yet to taste defeat on the road as part of a run that stretches back to a 1-0 win in Vancouver.

Jack Jewsbury’s ripper of a strike won the Cascadia Cup for Portland and gave Gavin Wilkinson a positive note to leave center stage on.

Sal Zizzo played in that match too, and he came to be one of the defining figures of that strange period between head coaches which is not something you’d expect of a guy who made the most appearances off the bench in 2011 with 16. He still managed 4th with 8 in 2012, but 11 of his 12 starts came under Wilkinson and he struck up a very fruitful relationship with Bright Dike.

Between the two of them we got a glimpse into a facet of Porter’s gameplan that many hadn’t given much consideration to before he arrived, which was his direct game. It’s easy to get caught up in talk about possession and quick passing, and forget that the best teams know when and how to do things “the easy way”.

Dike’s ability to bully defenders and be a target man allowed the team to fully exploit the natural width that Zizzo gives you, which they did to some effect. Frederic Piquionne plays the same way when the team break quickly, able to offer an aerial threat if a cross comes in but adds a better close control and awareness than Dike which is perhaps what let the attack down at times.

Given the resources at his disposal, Wilkinson did the best he could in putting out a team that fit the blueprint agreed with Porter. Clearly there was no way the Timbers could play then as we do now, as there was no Valeri figure back then to corkscrew the attack around, but they could take a look at players within the context of one facet of Timbers 2.0 and use that as a base to judge who stayed and who went.

Zizzo’s impact clearly did enough to earn him a spot ahead of Eric Alexander or Franck Songo’o, but we saw him used as a wing back at times which seems to have been an acknowledgement that while Zizzo did well executing this kind of gameplan, that wasn’t the Porter’s Plan A. You could see how a pacy wing-back with the ability to swing in a ball to the head of your big striker could be a real benefit to any team, especially one built to very exacting specifications Porter and Wilkinson had in mind.

Dike and Zizzo have seen their chances to play their way into Porter’s Plan A hampered by injury, and both have seen other guys come in and own their role.

Zizzo, in particular, has the toughest route into the XI. Nagbe, Wallace, Valeri, Alhassan and Valencia are his competition in attack, and Jewsbury, Harrington and Miller bar his path in defence.

He’s been here before though, as has Dike, and I wouldn’t put it past another Zizzo-Dike combination on the scoresheet before 2013 is played out.

100 join fix

Goal 74. Bright Dike vs San Jose Earthquakes

27th October 2012

bounceback

From matches in front of a few hundred people in Southern California to the brink of Africa Cup of Nations glory in South Africa, via the Pacific Northwest, Bright Dike’s story is one of being the right man at the right time. Has his time run out already?


Watch The Goal Here

Eric Alexander gets a foot in to deflect the ball towards Bright Dike in the San Jose box. The striker’s first shot is saved, but he finds the net with his second and fires the Timbers level in a largely meaningless end of season game.

It was Dike’s fifth goal in under 900 minutes, and it was fitting that it was he who scored the goal that brought down a year that promised bright things for the soon-to-be Nigerian international.


Timbers fans attentions were diverted from round the clock, 24-hour Porterwatch for a time after the curtain fell on the 2012 season by Bright Dike’s improbable run at making the Nigeria squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

A debut against Venezuela in Florida was followed by a goal against Catalunya that makes up for its shady existence as far as the official FIFA records are concerned with being a goal against a defence with freaking Pique and Puyol in it. Three touches and it’s in.

He didn’t make the squad in the end, and Nigeria didn’t seem to miss him on the way to winning the cup, but that was the least of his worries after injury forced him to miss preseason.

A bitter blow for a guy that had been forced onto the sidelines while money was thrown at players to do the very thing that Dike showed he could do under Gavin Wilkinson – score goals.

They weren’t always pretty, as his very first MLS goal shows, but Dike’s sheer athleticism was a thing of beauty on its own at times too.

It was exactly the kind of dynamism that was missing in the previous custodians of the “number nine” role. Sure, a case could be made that both guys were and are better than Dike, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dike did more in those last few months of 2012 to remind Timbers fans what a striker was than his highly paid teammates.

There’s a reason why Dike’s name has been verbicized by Timbers fans and why to be Diked doesn’t mean to be beaten by a sublime piece of skill, but no-one has ever pretended Dike is something that he’s not.

The same can’t be said about Kris Boyd, though it’s perhaps not the Scot’s fault. He’s never made any secret of the fact that he’s a penalty box striker, and that’s what he likes to do best. In his own way he is every bit as limited as Bright Dike in that they both have a fairly narrow skillset that are geared towards one particular style of play. For Boyd, it was looking to get on the end of passes in the box while Dike went out to earn his name, and score goals along the way.

As it happens, Dike’s style fits Porter Swiss Army attack because it works, given the right circumstances. As poor and disjointed the Timbers were in 2012, even moreso after Spencer’s sacking, Dike found the net five times in under 900 minutes.

100 Striker MPG

His first came in the match after Zizzo’s goal, when he put the Timbers 1-0 in New York, off a Zizzo assist.

It wasn’t long before he had number two, scoring the only goal against Colorado before the consolation against RSL, and equalizers against DC United and San Jose.

As Dike was rounding off 2012 it seemed like a long time since Kris Boyd had last scored, grabbing two in a 5-3 loss to LA in July.

The writing was already on the wall by the time for Boyd. Spencer was gone and there was no getting away from his penalty miss against Cal FC no matter how many journalists you refuse to speak to. Player and club mutually fell out of love with each other, and Boyd spent most of the tail end of 2012 on the bench after having his starting spot Diked from him.

The move for Boyd was always a gamble and in the end the guy with a poor record outwith Scotland continued to have a poor record outwith Scotland. Having played few games since leaving Rangers, and with an aborted spell in Turkey behind him, Boyd had joined the Timbers as a player short of fitness and out of sync with his teammates.

Never one to make the list of a club’s fittest players in the first place, Boyd always looked a little short of sharpness and hustle that could’ve been the result a lessening of desire and focus as much as tired legs struggling to meet the demands of a league populated by proper athletes. We’ll never know.

Since his time in Portland, Boyd has returned to his old club in Kilmarnock, and scored at a moderate rate before seeing another coach who made a big deal about signing him sacked months after signing him. Where Boyd goes from here is a mystery, with Killie now under new management and with a war brewing with the fans over ownership of the club, and Rangers seemingly not on the cards.

In many ways, Dike is at a similar crossroads, but it’s one he’s been at many times before. Strikers have come and gone, failing to provide the answers the management sought, yet Dike endured on the sidelines until, with a change at the top, he got his chance to shine.

It’s hard to see a way past Johnson and Piquionne into the starting XI for Dike as it stands, with the Nigerian on the comeback trail, but that’s been said before and he’s still found his way to goal if he’s got to Dike someone to get there.

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Finn’s Five: There Are No Friendlies

The Timbers dominated in a 1-0 win today over The Price is Right FC that could have been a larger margin had the Timbers finishing been a little bit better. Lot to be happy with today, a few things to keep an eye on as we go forward.

Let’s get to the Five.

1) Was it nice to win? Yes, but perspective please. The first half featured 8 or 9 out of 11 probable Timbers starters vs a Sounders side with just 4 regulars and even fewer in the second half. What mattered was play of the Timbers and at times that was very good.

2) Width? How the outside midfield position is played greatly impacts Porter’s scheme. If you go back to the Colorado game I could count on one hand the number of overlapping runs by Miller and Harrington. In this match with Nagbe and Alhassan ostensibly lining up in the wide midfield position in the 4-2-3-1 system but doing anything but stay wide our two new outside defenders ran that open channel a lot during this match to very limited effectiveness. Endless overlapping crosses to a Dike covered by 3 defenders is not possession football.

3) Dike. Everything good and bad about Dike was encapsulated in one play in the 47th minute. Valeri plays a great ball over the top, Dike runs his ass off to get there, beats two central defenders and then… blasts the ball as hard as he can straight at the keeper when he could have simply slotted it home. I love his heart but I question his brain.

4) Silvestre. Today was his best day as a trialist and most of that was down to his passing. There’s a reason he played at some of the biggest clubs in the world. But I still maintain with the high-line defensive system Porter is playing, a guy with the turning speed of a cruise ship is going to do us a lot of harm over the course of the season.

5) Michael Nanchoff. Apart from be able to deliver a great set piece, I have been impressed with his play overall. Tidy, clean, doesn’t try to do too much. It didn’t work out in Vancouver but he went #8 in the draft for a reason and Porter is very familiar with him.

Oh and a final mention for Flounder Zach Scott – I have been watching this hack kick the hell out of Timbers since he welcomed Alan Gordon to his first professional game with a elbow to the head requiring stitches in 2004. It’s time Dike pulls a Dike on this clown.

Six Defining Moments of 2012

2012 is rife with talk of apocalypse, and there were certainly times that the sky seemed to be falling in on the Timbers. A managerial sacking, fans protests, twitter meltdowns, cup embarrassments, defensive horror-shows and, bizarrely, a late season triumph.

Thinking of some of the defining moments of the Timbers year, it would be easy to think of Spencer’s sacking, Porter’s hiring, the Cal FC defeat or Perkins’ trade as the big moments, and they probably are, but the lack of a definite article in the title is deliberate as I want to take a look at 6 other moments that I think would, in their own way, come to define the Timbers’ season.

1. The Late Collapse vs Real Salt Lake

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: March 31st, approx 19:45
What: There was still an air of optimism in Portland as the Timbers kicked-off against RSL. A opening day win, heralding the arrival of Kris Boyd with a debut goal, had been followed by a gritty road draw and a narrow road loss while RSL were coming off a home defeat to Chivas USA.

Despite the setback of going 1-0 down, the Timbers roared back with a brace of classy Darlington Nagbe goals to lead 2-1. The minutes ticked away, James Marcelin came on to help close the game out, the Timbers were looking at a 7 point haul from their opening 4 games, with a visit from Chivas USA up next.

And then, disaster. Two goals in the dying minutes overturned the result, giving the visitors a 3-2 win. Like a pin popping a balloon, suddenly the early belief and confidence was gone.

Another defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory result against Chivas the next week – throwing away a lead to another late winner – only cemented the belief that it was going to be another long season.

2. Eric Brunner’s injury vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: May 26th, approx 18:06
What: With the second worst defensive record in the Western Conference in 2011, bolstering the defence was a priority for the Timbers in 2012 and, in the signing of Hanyer Mosquera, they thought they had their man to partner Eric Brunner in the heart of the back four.

Brunner had emerged from 2011 as a fan favourite, and a rare bright spot at the back for Portland. It was always going to be a case of Brunner + A.N. Other at the back, or so it seemed.

The partnership between Mosquera and Brunner took a while to get together thanks to injuries and such, but it looked like the club had finally found a solution in the middle, even if the full-back positions continued to perplex.

A concussion sustained early in the match against the Whitecaps saw Brunner removed at half-time. It would be September before Brunner saw action again, thanks in part to a further knee injury, when he came on as a late game sub. By this time, David Horst had made the position beside Mosquera his own.

The instability that followed – Danso and Horst would come in and out of the team – would see the team lose goals left and right before they finally settled on Horst. Horst looked out of his depth early on, but steadied to become a solid presence at the back, but one of the big “What if?” questions that hang over the Timbers season is “What if Brunner had never gotten injured?”

3. Kris Boyd’s goal vs Seattle Sounders

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: 24th June, approx 13:16
What: Steven Smith to Franck Songo’o, touched off to the overlapping Smith, a low cross ball to the middle where an unmarked Kris Boyd taps it past the Sounders keeper.

Boyd’s goal put the Timbers on their way to a 2-1 victory against their great rivals – their first MLS victory against the Orcish minions from the North. It would also put the Timbers in the driving seat to win the Cascadia Cup.

The win came less than a month after the Timbers had lost 1-0 to Cal FC, the same team the Sounders would thump 5-0 shortly afterwards. If that loss had represented the nadir of the club’s fortunes, the derby win was the zenith, with hopes restored that the club could yet get it’s playoff hopes back on track.

And yet, a little over two weeks later, John Spencer had been sacked.

4. Kris Boyd’s misses vs Chivas USA

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
When: 28th July, multiple times
What: Strictly speaking this is more than a single moment, but Boyd’s first half showing against Chivas would come to define so much of his season, and how it went into a tailspin.

Boyd was already getting criticism for not scoring enough goals, or justifying his hefty price tag, and it seemed to be weighing on the Scot. Gone were the natural, smooth finishes of early in the season – think, the flicked header against the Union, the calm finish against the Galaxy, the (wrongly) disallowed bit of skill and finish in the same match.

Now the finishes were nervy, jittery, rushed. In his desperation to score, he was hampering his natural instincts.

The first chance was much like that flash of skill against the Galaxy. Boyd heel-flicked a header down from Richards to control the ball, but rushed his shot, and sent it wide.

The second chance saw him caught offside, and of course he finished it with aplomb.

The third chance came only minutes later, and a nice touch left his defender for dead, but Boyd took the shot from a tight angle rather than the easy lay-off to Chara. Trying too hard.

The fourth chance came after a shot by Chara was palmed out by the keeper. Boyd swung at the rebound, barely connecting and only looping the ball up ineffectually.

Chivas would score the only goal of the game in the second half. Boyd’s time as a starter would come to an end only weeks later.

5. Bright Dike’s goal vs New York Red Bulls

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
When: 19th August, approx 18:08
What: After a toothless showing in Toronto, Boyd was relegated to the bench. Bright Dike made his first-ever MLS start, after spending time on loan with LA Blues earlier in the season.

473 seconds. That is how long it took Dike to do what Boyd had gone 384 minutes without doing – score. Dike got on the end of Sal Zizzo’s low cross to put the Timbers in front, the first of five goals the striker would go on to tally before the season was out.

The Timbers would double their lead, but some poor defending, terrible officiating and an familiar late game sucker-punch resulted in a 3-2 defeat.

Dike’s form would bring him to the attention of the Nigerian national team, and would keep his more expensive team mate cooling his heels on the bench until injury ended Boyd’s 2012, and potentially his Timbers career.

6. Gavin Wilkinson’s experiment vs Seattle Sounders

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
When: 7th October, approx 17:00
What: The Timbers knew that a favourable result in Seattle’s backyard would guarantee them the Cascadia Cup. Interim head coach opted to switch out both full-backs and give starts to Lovel Palmer and Rodney Wallace. The game ended in a 3-0 defeat.

Peeved would be one word to describe the fans’ reaction to Wilkinson’s tinkering. Fucking furious would be two words.

Excuses would be made for the changes, some more convincing than others, but the fact remained that the Timbers went north to play their biggest rivals, with silverware on the line, with two guys in the team who had never convinced in their positions.

The defeat put the Cascadia Cup in doubt, and it would take a first road-win of the season against a frankly awful Vancouver Whitecaps to seal the deal. Had the cup been squandered… Well, that’s another “What if?” and one that would be best written by the writers of the Saw franchise should the Timbers fans have ever gotten their hands on Wilkinson.


So, there we have my thoughts on six moments that would shape and define the Timbers season. Which would you add as your own?

What Now?

Well.

That was pretty damn awful, wasn’t it?

Shy of sticking a finger in the eye of the Colossus of the North (who thought that a single win at CLink meant that they should be handed the Cascadia Cup and were shocked, shocked that the Whitecaps weren’t willing to help them out worth a lick) the past season was pretty much a washout.

We got our coach fired, went one match away from going winless on the road, and generally exposed the weaknesses and problems in the side that the Front Office had spent the past two years ostensibly building. Two days after the final match of the second MLS season we find ourselves back, if not where we started in 2011, at least no better off than we were at the beginning of 2012.

Ugh.

So the obvious question is: where can we go from here, and how do we get there?

We’ve got a new coach coming on board sometime in the winter, there will probably be some roster changes, and MLSTimbers v.3.0 will get a rollout sometime in the late winter. Obviously we can’t know much or do anything about this but speculate.

But speculate we can, so why not? That’s why we’re here.

First, let’s take a look what we have now.

Individually I want to suggest that the flaws in Gavin Wilkinson’s player selection can’t be better displayed than through a quick look at the present Timbers roster. In my biased opinion the current side is dominated by two kinds of players; the “consistent but limited” and the “limited by inconsistency”. We just flat out don’t have any players with consistent, genuinely game-breaking talent, the sort of marquee player that our rivals have in people like Wondolowski or Montero. Yeah, I hate those guys, too, but I can’t deny their quality. We just don’t have that and the record seems to show that we never will.

So what do we have, and what does that tell us about our Front Office’s tendencies to pick and choose players?

———-

The way I see it the Consistently Limited make up the bulk of the side.

With these guys you know what you’re going to see. They bring pretty much the same game every time they run on the pitch. It’s not that they can’t play, or that they’re hackers and goofs. They’re all at least substitute-grade MLS quality guys. But their game, that game we know we’ll see, is lacking in one way or another. These guys all have a shortcoming, or shortcomings, that put a limit on their ability to produce winning soccer in one way or another.

Starting from the back we have Ricketts, whose limitation seems to be primarily age and fragility that comes with a history of injury, and the Bendik/Gleeson binary star, limited merely by their inexperience – though Bendik seemed to be at least a solid journeyman during his limited stint this season.

On the backline we have Mosquera, limited by his judgement and inability to communicate with his linemates, and Kimura who is limited in so many aspects it’s hard to figure out where start. In midfield we have Wallace and Palmer, who are sort of the Mosquera and Kimura of the center of the pitch; the one makes constant errors of judgement while the other is simply a quandary; why is he doing this for a living and I’m not?

Diego Chara, whose effort and defensive sturdiness are unquestionable is limited by his inability to keep from getting called for fouling and his poor forward passing. Jack Jewsbury is simply not young enough and mobile enough anymore to have more than a moderate impact.

Up front Bright Dike is limited by his poor touch and sloppy finishing, while Kris Boyd is limited simply by his style of play; without good distribution and service from the midfield he is simply wasted up top.

———-

The Limitedly Inconsistent are a minority on the team, but an important one. With these guys you never know whether they’re going to bring their A-game, or whether that game is going to last the entire match. They show streaks of brilliance matched with random outbursts of mediocrity or outright blunders.

David Horst is the poster child for this group. A stand-up guy who anchors the backline for 89 minutes he will suddenly make a horribly mistimed lunge, or stab, or find a way to mark space, or do something that will gift the enemy a goal. You love to see him most of the time, and then tiny remainder you look away because it’s like a car accident unfolding on the Sunset Highway at rush hour.

In midfield Darlington Nagbe who to me is still something of an enigma labelled “potential”; will he be the Nagbe that passes accurately and can score a clinical goal, or the one that gets knocked off the ball and is marked out of the game mid-match? Kalif Alhassan is another skilled but unpredictable midfielder; you never know which Kalif will show up – will it be the one that can provide a lovely assist, or the one whose crosses float over the entire 18 like a shiny soap bubble? Some matches Sal Zizzo is a speedy winger and clinical crosser while others earn his nickname “Zig Zag Zizzo”, running aimlessly about and lofting random high balls into the blue. Franck Songo’o can provide brilliance in attack and sturdy defence but can also repeatedly dribble into trouble and wander about seemingly at random.

———

Of the entire current side there’s one guy who I would say has grown into a solidly dependable player who is both consistent and relatively skilled; Steven Smith. A liability in the back at first his play in the last half of the season has progressed to where he’s among the best of our defenders – yes, a low bar but, still – and has shown promise going forward. Of the current group of starters he seems the best rounded and most skilled.

Of the remainder we don’t really have any solid indicators. Eric Alexander has shown signs of being in the second group but his minutes have been so limited as to make that pure speculation. Eric Brunner was a hell of a defender prior to his injuries but hasn’t been a standout in the short stints he’s played in the late season; hard to tell how well he will come back, if at all. Jean-Baptiste showed well against San Jose on Sunday, but he is one of the large group of young players we just haven’t seen enough of this season to really judge. Brent Richards has looked better tracking back than he did in his earlier outings but his play retains the erratic quality of a young player. And we’ve just seen way too little of guys like Hogg, Kawulok, Purdy, Fucito…

But in general, given what this group seems to tell us about Gavin’s – or Gavin and Merritt’s – weakness in assessing players we need to assume that these young players are likely to have similar weaknesses. This seems to be the Front Office’s style; they see either only the strengths of the consistent-but-limited players, or the “manic phase” of the skilled-but-inconsistent players while not noticing the weaknesses of the one and the depressive phase of the other.

And we need to assume that if this same group continues to pick the players for the incoming coach we are likely to see very similar sorts of players next season. Gavin’s record, in particular, goes back to the USL days and was very like this; Portland saw players like Mamadou Keita and Ryan Pore, inconsistent guys who could play but would tend to drift out of the match, or the season, or guys like Scot Thompson and Takayuki Suzuki; good solid players but just not the sort that got you to the league championship finals.

This is likely to be it; this is likely to be “who we are” until and if we get a new group in the executive suite.

So the question is; how do we go forward, how do the Timbers get better, with these sorts of players?

And that is the subject of the next post.

The Questionable Seven

With only 180 minutes left of the 2012 season, the thoughts of Portland Timbers fans are already turning to 2013. A huge job awaits Caleb Porter when he flies west in December as the squad needs some urgent surgery if it’s to be in any shape to challenge for a playoff place next year.

Players like Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and Hanyer Mosquera can feel pretty secure in their positions within the team, while guys like Lovel Palmer and Mike Fucito may be starting to pack up their belongings in an old canvas sack as I type. For a large majority of the roster, though, this offseason will be one of great uncertainty.

Porter may decide that continuity is important to the team, and look to retain a large core of the squad, with a few additions and alterations here and there, but I suspect, in an ideal world, Porter would much to prefer to rip it up and start again, largely from scratch. There are precious few guys in the current roster who you would say fit into the mould of guys who can play the way Porter wants his teams to play, with quick, accurate passes and incisive movement.

With that in mind, I’ll take a quick look at seven of the guys I’d put into that “questionable” bracket and try and guess whether they’ll be back in Timbers green in 2013.

[learn_more caption=”Kalif Alhassan”]
2012 Record: 15 Appearances (10 Starts), 2 Assists, 1 Goal

Kalif Alhassan joined the Timbers in the twilight of their USL days with a view to progressing into MLS. Had a big role to play in 2011 with 6 assists in 27 starts, and on his day he is capable of creating a bit of magic out of nothing. 2012 has been something of a washout for the Ghanaian however, as he’s missed much of it through a series of niggling injuries.

Reasons to keep: He’s still young and can, hopefully, put the injuries behind him. With some disciplined coaching, could reign in his rather anarchic approach to tactical instruction and become a key component in Porter’s 4-3-3.

Reasons to cut: Injuries have curtailed his development at a crucial time, and when he does play he is inconsistent and tactically naive. Perhaps a little too similar to, but lacking the finesse of, Franck Songo’o.

Verdict: He doesn’t command a great wage, and is still pretty young, so he’ll be back. Next year will be the biggest of his Timbers career. Make or break time.

[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Jack Jewsbury”]
2012 Record: 31 Appearances (30 Starts), 4 Assists, 2 Goals

Captain Jack came into 2012 as an MLS All-Star following a tremendous debut year for Portland. However, he has rarely even threatened to live up to the standards of that first season with some fans questioning his seemingly unshakable place in the first XI. He’s far away the player with most on-field time for Portland in MLS with almost 800 more minutes than Chara, the club’s #2.

Reasons to keep: He’s clearly popular with the squad and respected by the coaching staff. His position as club captain has rarely been in doubt, and he has shown versatility in filling in at right back during an injury crisis.

Reasons to cut: Lacks the tenacity and awareness to be a regular defensive midfielder, as well as the craft and creativity to play further forward. Always a sense that wherever he plays, he’s the second best option there. Turns 32 next year, so is unlikely to improve.

Verdict: He’ll be back but whether he’ll be the first name on the team sheet any more is up for debate, though, considering he left Kansas City when she spent much of the back-end of 2010 on the bench, will he accept a squad role next year?

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[learn_more caption=”Kris Boyd”]
2012 Record: 26 Appearances (22 Starts), 1 Assist, 7 Goals

Kris Boyd set records for goalscoring in the Scottish Premier League, but after an undistinguished spell in England, and a short stint in Turkey, he came to Portland with expectations riding high that he could recapture his old form and fire the Timbers towards the playoffs. Like his predecessor, Kenny Cooper, he found it hard to adjust to the Timbers style and, despite leading the club in goals scored, he has failed to live up to his hefty price tag for many fans.

Reasons to keep: Goals. Boyd will score them if given the chance, but those chances have been too few and too far between. His link-up play is generally good too, and he will lead the line with passion and force.

Reasons to cut: He carries a hefty wage – 10th highest player in MLS – that doesn’t match up to his return in goals. Perhaps not suited to the way Caleb Porter seeks to play. Seemingly not rated by Gavin Wilkinson.

Verdict: Unlikely to be back in Portland in 2013, though it’s not clear cut. There is talk of a potential return before the season is out

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[learn_more caption=”Eric Brunner”]
2012 Record: 12 Appearances (10 Starts), 0 Assists, 1 Goal

Eric Brunner was a solid part of the Timbers defence, and everything was going well for the ex-Columbus man until a concussion sustained against Vancouver in late May. He’s struggled to get back into the team since, making only two subs thanks to a subsequent knee injury, with David Horst – young, cheaper – having improved.

Reasons to keep: Still, arguably, the Timbers best defender, or 2nd behind Mosquera, if you’re a fan of the Colombian. Solid, reliable and fiercely committed.

Reasons to cut: Such a long lay-off with concussion is a big worry, and the knee injury doesn’t help matters. In his absence, Horst has stepped up and shown he can do a job at a fraction of the price of Brunner.

Verdict: He’ll be back, assuming there aren’t deeper, thus-far-unspoken concerns among the coaching team about his injuries. If anyone gets cut from the defence, one suspects it will be Futty Danso. Whether he can dislodge David Horst, only time will tell.

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[learn_more caption=”Bright Dike”]
2012 Record: 10 Appearances (7 Starts), 0 Assists, 4 Goals

When Dike was sent out on loan to LA Blues earlier this season, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that his Timbers career was over. After netting 10 times for the Timbers in their last year in USL, he didn’t make a single start in 2011, though he did still find the net once. Since his return from LA though, Dike has score 4 times – only 3 fewer than club leader Boyd.

Reasons to keep: Goals – the man has scored them. 4 in only 731 minutes. He’s scored from the start, and as an impact sub. He’s a handful to play against and a willing and hard worker. Has got the goals in the new system. Even with his obvious deficiencies, he has the scoring habit, and that’s a good habit to have!

Reasons to cut: He has a pretty poor touch, and lacks the more “all round” ability of his attacking colleagues. He’s a rather one-dimensional player, which is great when it works but leaves the team bereft in attack when it doesn’t.

Verdict: He’s certainly earned a 2013 roster spot, but I’d fear for the team if he’s back as first choice. A good weapon to have in the arsenal.

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[learn_more caption=”Rodney Wallace”]
2012 Record: 18 Appearances (14 Starts), 1 Assist, 1 Goal

Wallace joined the Timbers in exchange for Dax McCarty befoer the start of the 2011 season, but has never really convinced in the left-back role he seemed to be earmarked for. Despite that, he’s racked up over 40 appearances for the MLS Timbers meaning only four current Timbers have logged more on-field minutes than he.

Reasons to keep: Can play all up the left-side and has turned his hand to a central midfield role too. He’s chipped in with a few goals and assists, and is still relatively young at 24.

Reasons to cut: Lapses in concentration can, and have, cost the Timbers dearly in defence and he simply isn’t as good as the other attacking options available. Commands a salary that is out of sync with his role as a squad player.

Verdict: Will be back, but only if the Timbers can’t find a taker for him.

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[learn_more caption=”Eric Alexander”]
2012 Record: 23 Appearances (13 Starts), 6 Assists, 0 Goals

Eric Alexander joined the Timbers from FC Dallas towards the end of the 2011 season in exchange for Jeremy Hall, but has failed to nail down a starting spot, with only 16 starts in his time as a Timber. An industrious and tidy midfielder with good range of passing.

Reasons to keep: The clubs leader in assists, despite being on the fringes of the starting XI. It wasn’t so long that he was on the fringes of the USMNT. Showed his game has steel when he subbed for Chara and acquitted himself well in a more defensive role. Still only 24, and not a big earner.

Reasons to cut: Assists fudged by at least a couple of those assists having more to do with Nagbe creating something out of nothing than Alexander’s work. Unable to impose himself on the team when he’s been given the chance. Had his work rate questioned by management.

Verdict: Trade bait. Underutilized, under-appreciated and seemingly unwanted by an organisation that can’t seem to find room for him in midfield.

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What do you think? Who goes, who stays, and whose place is up for debate?

Only Four More To Go

This will be a (relatively) short one this week because I didn’t notice my VPN subscription had expired so I can’t rewatch on MLS Live, and I’ll save you my “MLS Live should be available in the UK anyway” rant for this week. Instead, I’ll be relying on the MLS highlights for the few pics I do use and cursing them for not carrying the passages of play I had noted and hoped to talk about. Extended highlights, anyone?

The Timbers made their second trip this season to the heart of Mormonia to face Real Salt Lake after snatching a draw from the jaws of victory against San Jose last time out. The first trip to Rio Tinto in 2012 ended in a 3-0 defeat, and gave owner Merritt Paulson the silver bullet he needed to end John Spencer’s reign of terror(ble football), ushering in a Golden Age of beautiful, free flowing, orgasmic football under our esteemed and benevolent overlord, Gavin Wilkinson.

This second visit also ended in defeat, and three goals scored, but at least this time the Timbers got one of them and, but for the width of the crossbar, they could’ve snatched an, in some ways undeserved, point on the road for the second match on the trot.

The Timbers midfield and defence struggled to come to terms with the movement of Salt Lake’s Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales. It was almost inevitable that it would be the movement of these two that would lead to Real’s first goal.

As Morales picks up the ball (1), the Timbers central midfield two of Wallace and Jewsbury are a little narrow giving space either side to the veteran Argentinian and Tony Beltran (both circled) who has pushed forward.

Espindola will drop off his marker, Horst, and slip into the space between defence and midfield. When he picks up the ball (2), he’s dropped between Wallace and Jewsbury and is then able to turn and run at the space. Morales makes a looping run round the outside and as the Timbers defence gets drawn towards the ball (3), Espindola has the awareness to flick it off to Morales. Jewsbury throws out an arm and tugs back Morales, preventing him getting a shot off or playing in Beltran on the overlap.

From the resulting free-kick, the Timbers make a mess of it. Wallace is positioned as the “runner” – the guy on the edge of the wall whose job it is to charge out and close down the ball the second a touch is taken (or, usually, just before it’s taken – how often do you see free kicks blocked by a guy 5 yards from the ball?).

Rather than charge out, he seems confused by Morales’ little backheel, hesitates and then does a pretty, but ineffective, pirouette. But that’s only part of it. The wall itself parts, allowing Espindola to drive the ball low between Mwanga and Mosquera and into the bottom corner.

Despite Real being the better team, the Timbers did have their chances, but were denied by a combination of good keeping from Rimando, or the final ball just not quite being good enough.

A failure to pick up Morales would once again lead to trouble for Portland later in the first half.

Again, the central two fail to follow Morales, giving him lots of space to work, and it’s his give and go, and then a run inside that leads to the free kick when Jewsbury leaves a foot hanging. There were calls of “dive” from some Timbers fans, but I don’t agree. It was a pretty clear foul, and a really lazy, half-arsed “tackle” from Jewsbury.

This time the wall weren’t to blame as Morales hit a fantastic free kick over the wall and beyond Joe Bendik.

Although both goals came from set plays, it was the Timbers inability to deal with good movement from the Real attack – Morales and Espindola in particular – that were the key. That and Jewsbury having a horror show, and a terrible effort at building a wall.

The second half saw a change from the Timbers with Bright Dike coming on for Steven Smith. Wallace dropped to left back and the team took up more of a 4-4-2 shape.

On the hour mark there was hope for Portland when a fantastic cross from Sal Zizzo was met by the head of Dike and he sent it beyond Rimando for 2-1.

Given this boost, Wilkinson did what any manager would do and took off a defender and put on a more attacking player to try and press for an equaliser.

Oh, did I say he took off a right back, and put Zizzo back there? That is the guy who’d just set up the goal, and wasn’t, isn’t, and most likely never will be, a right back. Meanwhile Jack “I’ve played right back” Jewsbury stayed central, even though we had literally just brought on a central midfielder in Eric Alexander.

Last week, I’d hoped we’d at least bring Alexander on, in order to help retain possession further up the field as we defended a lead. We showed what a good passer of the ball he was against Real, misplacing only 1 of his 15 attempts, making the decision to leave him on the bench against San Jose all the stranger.

With Zizzo at right back, a lot of our threat down the right was neutered, and Wilkinson would complete the job by hooking off Songo’o with a few minutes to go. His replacement, Kalif Alhassan, never really got involved – little surprise when you have all of 8 minutes to make an impact – and, in fact, failed to touch the ball in the final third.

There was, as I mentioned before, that chance for Dike that crashed off the bar. It was, as my wife pointed out, almost the San Jose match in reverse. Once more, it was from Zizzo’s cross and it makes the decision to push him further back all the more odd when you think that we effectively removed this weapon from our arsenal. Dike looked fired up for this after coming on, and the RSL defence didn’t look too sure of how to deal with him so it seemed like the ideal scenario to test them by throwing the ball into the area from wide and letting Dike do what he does best. But we decided not to do that.

I think the move to put Zizzo at right back may be a sign of the management losing faith in Kimura. Kimura came to the Timbers with a “won’t be missed that much on the field” sentiment from Rapids fans that suggested we weren’t exactly bringing in a game changer, but after the trouble the Timbers have had at full-back, someone who could at least do the basics would be a step forward.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything from Kimura to suggest he’s good enough. His reading of the game is poor, and you won’t go poor by betting against him in 1v1s. He has tons of heart, and there’s no doubting he seems like a great guy, the kind that fans can identify with, but he’s a footballing liability too often. Perhaps there was an injury concern, fatigue issues, but it seems to me that it was a management who wanted to test Zizzo in the role, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is further experimentation at right back before the season is out.

Losing, With Style

Little has changed on the road for Portland since Spencer left. The record under Wilkinson is 2 draws and 5 defeats, compared to Spencer’s 2 draws and 6 defeats. We’re scoring more, which is nice, but conceding more, which isn’t.

Again, a lot was made of possession post-match. “I think the possession stance of this team has changed dramatically from what they were,” said Gavin. It’s certainly true that we’re keeping the ball more since Spencer left – of Wilkinson’s 13 games, we’ve hit 50% or more 8 times, compared to 5 in 17 under Spencer – but of those 13 times we’ve been on top, we’ve won twice.

There may be something to Sigi Schmid’s “our league is a counter-attacking league” quote. Certainly, it seems that the team we have is built for that style of play, unsurprisingly since it was John Spencer that had a big hand in putting the pieces together. In fact, we win almost twice as often when we have less of the ball (29% to 15%) though it’s hard to separate on figures alone which games we’ve set out to counter-attack, and which we’ve simply been beaten back by a better team. Or been shit.

It certainly seems, from looking at the figures (as flawsed as that approach may be) that the team benefit from taking a counter-attacking approach most especially at home. In 18 matches where the Timbers have had equal-or-less possession than their opponents, they’ve lost once – the 3-2 defeat to, appropriately enough, Real Salt Lake earlier this season. Of those 18 matches, the Timbers have won 13. It’s a record worth almost 2.4 points-per-game, or to put it another way, better than any current home record in the league.

By way of contrast, when we’re “in control” of a match at home, that points ratio drops to 0.86, and we’ve won only 3 of 14. On the road, we lose a little over 50% of matches we have less possession in, which isn’t great, but of the 8 road games we’ve been seen more of the ball, we’ve lost 7 and drew only once (Toronto, 2-2).

I think those “philosophical” differences between Paulson and Spencer were, to a large degree, about this style of football. Perhaps seduced by seeing teams like Barcelona and Arsenal, Paulson has thought to himself “I want my team to play like that”. To which, and I’m speculating wildly here, John Spencer might’ve countered with, “not with this lot, you won’t.” Of course, things don’t simply work that way in football and there’s more to play that kind of football than just telling the players to pass it a bit more and play in a 4-3-3.

Clearly, given this new direction, there’s a method behind implementing the system now and getting players used to it, or simply seeing who can do it and who can’t. There was always going to be an adjustment period as players adapted. The issue is that it’s been shoehorned in when the season was still active. We weren’t so far off the play-offs when Spencer was told to pack his haggis and go, but by determining that the way the team played would have to change, and quickly, Wilkinson and Paulson effectively signed the death warrant of this season back in June, for all their public protestation otherwise.

Of course, if it leads to a stellar, or at least competitive, 2013 then the short term pain would be deemed worth it. Enter, Caleb Porter.

Porter has a big job in the off season in identifying those players who aren’t suited and getting them out, and bringing in players who can play “possession with purpose”. The way the current roster has been built has been almost magpie-like – picking up shiny pieces here and there with no real thought for how they fit together. That can’t continue if the Timbers hope to be successful. Signings have to made with the system in mind, rather than simply because he’s a good player and available, ala Kris Boyd. We’ve already seen how successful bringing players in and just plugging them into a system and hoping it works despite everything they (should) know about the player.

With four matches left of a dismal season, the Timbers get to stay in the Pacific Northwest for the remainder. DC United visit Jeld-Wen this weekend, and this followed by trips to Seattle and Vancouver as the team look to salvage a Cascadia Cup triumph from the wreckage of 2012. San Jose visit to round off the year.

#RCTID


[post_ender]

Wanted?

With the team a goal down at home to their greatest rivals, Gavin Wilkinson must have at some point cast a glance across his bench in search of The One who could come on and change the game in Portland’s favour.

There he would’ve seen Kalif Alhassan, a mercurial winger on his way back to full fitness after a season that has defined stop-start; Eric Alexander, still the club’s leading assist provider, who had recently put in a great performance deputising for Diego Chara; Futty Danso, the big Gambian central defender who hasn’t kicked a ball for the first team since a 5-0 loss in Dallas; Mike Fucito, the ex-Sounders striker signed from Montreal; Danny Mwanga, a popular striker who had been traded to the club in exchange for Jorge Perlaza, who is now back in his native Colombia; and lastly, Kris Boyd.

Boyd was the marquee signing on the close season. A record breaking goal scorer, signed as a designated player to fill the gap left by Kenny Cooper, Boyd had joined when the club was still coached by John Spencer, and it’s not a stretch to speculate that Spencer was a big, if not the big, reason behind his decision to go to the Timbers.

He hit the ground running with a goal in his competitive debut against Philadelphia and would warm himself to the fans with his goal, and celebration, in the earlier match against the Sounders – a game the Timbers won.

But along the way there has been some rough sailing. A penalty miss against Cal FC saw Boyd cast as the villain to many, as well as some bad misses and a dip in confidence which led to his being dropped by Wilkinson once Spencer had been hustled out the door.

Confidence

Since his two goals in the 5-3 loss to LA Galaxy – Wilkinson’s first match in charge – it’s been a little over 400 minutes since Boyd last found the back of the net. There isn’t a striker who hasn’t gone through similar spells in their career. More than most positions the role of goal scorer is one that is founded, to a large degree, on confidence and once that takes a hit, it can take a while to get back on track.

“Instead of usually being composed and putting it in the back of the net, I’ve snatched at the last couple of chances. The chances have been there, it’s been bad finishing. It’s been bad finishing on my part.”

Boyd’s own words sum it succinctly. It’s the quandary a manager faces with a misfiring striker – do you stick with him and hope that a ball bounces his way and it sparks him back into goalscoring life, or drop him for the good of the team? If missing a couple of chances can kick a players self-belief down a notch, you can imagine that being dropped entirely isn’t likely to have him believe he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Considering the season, in a competitive sense, is as good as over it’s pretty telling that Wilkinson dropped Boyd rather than let the highest paid player at the club play through a sticky spell. The suspicion is that Boyd was a “Spencer signing” and has no long-term place at the club under Wilkinson and Porter.

The Dike Factor

Certainly Wilkinson would point to the impact that Boyd’s replacement has had on the team. Bright Dike came back from a loan where LA Blues, where he’d scored a few goals – confidence – and found the net twice in his first three starts. Typical poacher’s efforts, both goals were scored in the box, as the result of fine work by Sal Zizzo to set up the chances.

Since a winning goal against Colorado though, it’s been a bit of a slog for Dike. He’s now 200 minutes since the last time he scored, though it was only the width of the post that denied him a winner against Seattle, and I’m not alone in sharing some doubts about Dike’s ability to lead the line as a first choice striker.

The received wisdom is that Dike is a better fit for the system than Boyd. As that system has changed, moving away from the 4-4-2 that Spencer played, so Boyd has seen himself pushed further to the periphery of Wilkinson’s brave new world.

The System

I had flagged up Boyd’s lack of suitability in a lone front man role as a concern when the Timbers signed him – urging that a good partner be found to play alongside him. Alas, the Timbers didn’t seem to know what they’d signed, or how to get the best out of him, and so he’s never really found the consistency that he had when he was focal point at Kilmarnock and Rangers.

However, where Boyd has struggled as the lone striker before is when he’s been on a team that has played on the backfoot. For Scotland, the formation is very much a 4-5-1, with the emphasis on the “5”. The midfield will sit deep, and Scotland will look to the lone guy up top to run into corner and chase lost causes all day in the hope that something breaks for him. That’s why Vancouver goal-machine Kenny Miller gets the nod more often than not, and why Boyd is no longer a part of the international setup.

Similarly, when Rangers were successful in Europe, it was built on a defensive model. The football was, all but the most blue-nosed would admit, absolutely fucking turgid to watch when Rangers made it all the way to the UEFA Cup final. It was once more a system built on having a lone man up top foraging for scraps. That’s not Boyd’s strength.

The way the Timbers have been playing of late has relied on the lone man up top, but it is a much more attacking, fluid style than that of Scotland or Rangers.

I’d make the strong case that both Dike’s goals would get scored whether it was Boyd or Bright on the pitch at the time. Dike made a good run, and showed good movement and composure to get into place, but he didn’t do anything you wouldn’t expect a decent striker to do. What made the goals, rather, was the build-up play, and it was this that was so often lacking in the early part of the season.

The case is made by some fans that the team play better because Boyd isn’t there. His presence is too great a distraction for those around him. I don’t really buy this line of thinking, firstly as I don’t think that his fellow professional are so in awe of him, and secondly because I think any upheaval in tactics and style is inevitably going to bring about a period of reconstruction and uncertainty in play.

You’d expect after five or six games of a new formation and philosophy that you would start to see the results on the field, and so it’s been the case. As players got used to their new roles and responsibilities, so the play has improved somewhat (in an attacking sense, at least). It’s Boyd’s bad luck that just as the team start to click into gear, he’s found himself on the outside looking in.

Take nothing away from Bright Dike. He’s done well, and I’m sure he’s a handful to play against. But really, is he really that much different from Kris Boyd?

The stats would back up their attacking similarities. Both take about the same number of shots per match – one every 30 minutes or so – though Boyd gets more on frame, 45% – 27% of Dike’s admittedly very small sample size (not a euphemism). Even minutes per goal, 216-267 in Dike’s favour, doesn’t flag up any glaring differences. Dike may show a greater willingness to chase shadows into corners, but I’d balance that by making a case that Boyd’s link-up play is generally better.

The Future…?

The clock ticked past 70 minutes and Wilkinson took another look across the bench. Danny Mwanga was the man chosen to go on and change the game. Boyd remained seated. He would stay there until the final whistle blew on a 1-1 draw that leaves the Cascadia Cup to be settled.

At this point it would be easy to start second guessing every decision Wilkinson makes. Did he bring Mwanga on because he thought Danny’s pace and energy would be the key to unlocking the Sounders, or did Porter want Danny to get some game time? Has Porter made it clear that Boyd won’t be a Timber come First Kick 2013, and so that’s why the Scot can’t buy a start right now? Does Wilkinson simply not like or rate Boyd, and so he’s choosing to leave him out?

Boyd’s ability as a goalscorer isn’t in doubt, at least with me. Mike Donovan tweeted during the match, asking if there was any current Timbers player who could do what Montero did, turning and getting a looping shot off as he did? The answer was pretty easy – Kris Boyd. I’ve seen him do it live for Killie, and then again for Rangers. A confident Boyd, given the ball into his feet around the box is easily capable of this. For all his other faults, he’s still a danger in and around the box. His goal against the Sounders reserves was as typical a Boyd goal as you’re likely to see.

Should his time in Portland come to an end sooner rather than later, as I expect it will, he’d make a great add for a number of other MLS sides, though my suspicion is that his future would more likely lie back in the UK.

Ultimately a striker will be judged on the goals he scores. That’s why Emile Heskey is largely a joke figure among fans while still maintaining the respect of the players he’s played with, and coaches he’s played under.

With Kris Boyd, I worry that he’ll leave Portland with the fans never having seen the best of him. I still think that he has another couple of years at the top in him, and I’d hoped that they would be with the Timbers, but like Cooper and Perlaza before him, he may pay the price for not being quite prolific enough.

Does he miss good chances? Yes, of course. If your goal is to find a striker who never misses, good luck with that Quixotic quest of yours.

The Timbers will visit San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake over the next week. Diego Chara will miss out due to injury, meaning a possible return to the XI for Eric Alexander. With Kalif Alhassan back on the fringes of the first team, and given how these two players more than any others have been able to get on Boyd’s wavelength, the next two matches may be the best possible time to give Boyd one last chance to prove his doubters wrong.

“It’s the manager’s decision. There’s nothing I can do except the next time I go on the pitch, prove that I’m good enough to play.”

#RCTID


[post_ender]

Largely Fictitious

The Timbers served up another one of those games that’ll take a couple of years off the lifespan of every fan who witnessed it as they lost for the 18th time in 29 road trips. But this was so much more than just another routine road loss.

This game had the Timbers racing into an improbable, yet richly deserved, two goal lead before blowing it all, losing 3-2, amidst some cosmically awful refereeing, missed chances and an epic post-game twitter meltdown from the club owner.

And yet there are some people out there who think that soccer is boring. I pity those poor, poor bastards.

After the emotional wringer that was Toronto in midweek, Gavin Wilkinson opted for the same shape against New York but swapped in Songo’o and Dike for Wallace and Boyd.

The exclusion of the club’s top scorer was certainly a bold move by Wilkinson, though it was to pay dividends early on when it was Dike that put the Timbers 1-0 up.

Dike is a popular guy among Timbers fans after his USL exploits, and it’s great to see him finding a place in the team after his first year was badly hampered by injury. When he was sent on load to LA Blues earlier this year I honestly thought that was the end of Bright Dike as a Portland Timber, but he’s fought his way back into the reckoning very nicely.

What I loved about the goal though wasn’t necessarily the finish, it was the build up play. Against Toronto the team seemed determined to slow the pace as they crossed into the opposing half, but there was none of that hesitancy here.

New York had been served a warning only minutes prior when the Timbers broke out from a corner.

A better touch from Dike, or more willingness and composure to put his foot on the ball and get his head up and perhaps something could’ve come of the break, but it served the Red Bulls notice of what the Timbers intentions were – they were going to sit in and look to spring out down the flanks.

Roy Miller, at left back for New York, had the sort of game that reminds you that the full-back position for the Timbers could be worse. He was terrible. Time and again he was caught out of position and Zizzo had him in his back pocket for all the 36 minutes he graced Red Bull Arena with his presence.

It was by mugging Miller that Zizzo was able to set in motion the flowing move that led to the Timbers 2nd goal.

I get the feeling that in earlier games, Songo’o either throws a hopeful ball from wide into Dike, or looks to lay it back to Smith, but here he cuts in to great effect and draws the defenders towards him. Rather than his usual tact of then trying to beat them, he lays it off to Zizzo and he rolls it past Miller and into the path of Nagbe who made a devastating run from deep that every Timbers fan would love to see more of.

Zizzo’s role in both goals was a delight too. He menaced the New York back line, looking like a real threat every time he got the ball. He was crafty and composed and by far the team’s most effective player early on.

Having been at fault in both Timbers goal, Roy Miller’s game came to a premature end as he was replaced by Kenny Cooper.

As all thoughts turned to making it to half-time with the two-goal lead in tact, the Timbers began to sink back as New York pushed on to grab something before the break. There was almost a sense of inevitability when Cooper scored the goal they’d sought, and that it would come from some suspect defensive work.

Songo’o put in a better defensive shift that I’ve seen from him, but the one time he fell asleep it cost the team a goal, though David Horst needs to have a strong word with himself. At no point does he seem concerned by the presence of Cooper, and it was such a sloppy goal to lose. And at the worst possible time.

With their shape totally lost, the Timbers task was simply a case of grimly hanging on for a few minutes, but they allowed McCarty time to get a shot off, which was blocked by David Horst, only for the rebound to be lashed home by Tim Cahill.

And there is nothing more to say about that goal.

Oh, except that referee Jason Anno is an Olympic grade halfwit.

Anno blew his whistle, presumably for a handball from Horst – though the angle is hard to tell – before Cahill took his shot, but then decided to allow the goal to stand. He can claim he played advantage till he’s blue in the face, but the fact is he blew his whistle before the goal was scored and therefore the goal shouldn’t have stood. It’s his own fault for not taking a second to see if an advantage occurred before spasmodically whistling like the last pillhead at a rave.

After the match he claimed, sorry, he lied that he blew the whistle “when the ball entered the goal.” No, you didn’t Jason. I have a functioning set of eyes and ears, and the senses to wield them, and I clearly heard the whistle before Cahill shot.

Now unless there’s some kind of weird time dilation effect in Red Bull Arena, there’s no getting away from that fact. The whistle went first. Science agrees with me. Let’s say that Anno is 30m from the sideline, so it would take a little under 0.1 of a second – or a third of a blink of an eye – for the sound of the ref’s whistle to reach the sideline mics. By comparison, it would take a tad over 100 microseconds for the light from Cahill striking the ball to reach the camera – roughly 1/10000th of the time it took the sound to carry.

Even if you allow for the camera to be further back, in order for Anno’s interpretation to be correct, there must have been some inexplicable warping of light speed that caused it to slow to that of an admittedly sprightly cheetah, while the speed of sound remained constant.

QED, Anno is full of shit.

That’s not me talking, that’s science, bitches.

It was a sickening way to end a half that had promised so much, but there had been enough evidence in the first half to suggest that the Timbers could still come out with all 3 points.

The second half served up good chances for both sides. Ricketts came up big with a double save, while the Timbers continued to carve open the Red Bull defence. Nagbe had a good chance from the edge of the box, but he didn’t get it far enough away from Gaudette to beat the keeper.

Chara served one up for Zizzo shortly after with a really delightful through-ball.

Chara’s role further up the field certainly sacrifices a bit defensively, but when you see him split open the defence like that it’s hard to argue with playing him in a more advanced role.

The wee Colombian got the next crack at Gaudette when Nagbe, who looked reinvigorated in the first half, set him clear.

Again the Timbers failed to apply the finish that the set-up deserved. There was no Boyd to blame for the misses this time, and indeed the club’s top scorer would remain on the bench as Wilkinson looked to Fucito to replace the gassed Bright Dike with less than 20 minutes to go.

Kimura had earlier been replaced by Lovel Palmer when Tim Cahill’s macho charisma caused the Japanese fullback to dive face first into the turf, breaking his nose and giving himself concussion. Or the snidey little Aussie shitehawk elbowed him in the face. Who can tell?

The third change would see the club’s assist leader also left on the shelf when Rodney Wallace replaced Franck Songo’o as the Cameroonian faded out of the game.

With all three subs made, the Timbers promptly shot themselves in the foot and gave up another soft goal.

A sickening end to a roller-coaster game. How often will the Timbers give up free headers in and around their six yard box. I like David Horst, but I fear he’s simply not commanding enough to warrant a place in the team.

As for the subs, the Timbers were desperately unlucky in losing a goal as soon as the third change was made, meaning there was no way to push for an equaliser (though we still did have a good chance at the death, to be fair). However, the Wallace ? Songo’o change smacked of a team that was settling for the draw, and when you do that you risk getting sucker-punched spark out.

The Palmer change was understandable. The only other (keep the same system) change available would’ve been to put on Alexander and slot Jewsbury back into RB. It would’ve meant putting Chara into defensive midfield. Maybe that was the call to make. If I’m being honest though, in Wilkinson’s position I make the same change and I’m no great fan of Palmer.

Dike going off wasn’t a shock – he looked tired. Fucito coming on was. I think the idea was that Fucito’s energy would stretch a tired NY defence, but having faced the physical presence of Dike I can’t help but think the Bulls defence heaved a sigh of relief when they saw Fucito coming on.

For me, if you wanted to keep the tempo up, the ideal change would’ve been to bring Mwanga on, but he wasn’t in the 18. Boyd languished.

With the final change Songo’o had faded too (shock) but bringing on Wallace wasn’t the move I’d have made. Fucito could’ve easily gone out left and Boyd up top, or even Alexander on and out left (or Nagbe going there) which would’ve, in my opinion, offered more of an offensive presence. In the end, Wallace Marcelin’ed his closers role.

There were certainly some positives to be taken. There was some tidy attacking play, and with better finishing we’d be looking at a comfortable road win at a ground no team have come to and won this year. The chances the Timbers created were very good. There was a post earlier in the week that ranked various stats in an attempt to “shed some light” on why Spencer was fired, and the differences in the team under Wilkinson but such an “analysis” was flawed in that it didn’t take into account things like the type and quality of chance created – anyone can spank it from 30 yards, some may even have it saved easily by the keeper for that all-important “shot on target” – and finding any great significance in possession is like mining Pauly Shore’s IMDb for Oscar winners – you’re onto a loser before you even start. The over-importance of “possession” is the great lie TV has sold the football-watching public. Just a quick scan revealed that the six matches ending in a win this week, precisely 50% of the winning teams won the “possession battle”. The whole debate about possession is for another time though.

And hey, maybe Merritt does actually place an inordinate value on such things, in which case the likely start of Palmer next week (Chara is suspended and Kimura likely out) should have him prepping his special plastic underpants in anticipation.

In the end, we didn’t finish our chances well, while we continue to exhibit weakness at the back and it was this that told in the end. The ref’s appalling showing certainly sticks in the craw – would’ve changed the game, etc, so on and so forth – but he wasn’t the reason for the bad defending.

Merritt’s post-match meltdown saw him rail against fans calling for Wilkinson to go. I believe he referred to the #GWOut crowd as “idiots” and “morons” who would “line up to kiss gavin’s ass” when “we win a cup”. The Gettysburg Address, it was not. Oh, and Gavin is “not going anywhere” in case you were wondering if there were consequences to haphazard team building and a terrible track record in trades, so there’s that.

I’ll leave it to others to rake over the coals of Paulson’s trademark twitter trainwreck.

So we end a road series that saw the Timbers score 4 times, and yet earn only a single point. There are some positives to take, but still the Timbers look soft at the back. Next up is a return to Portland, and the visit of Vancouver in a big Cascadia Cup match.

The Whitecaps have lost their last two, without scoring a goal, and are five away games without a win. It’s sure to be an interesting atmosphere, one way or another.

#RCTID

If you can’t support us when we draw or lose, don’t support us when we win.

– Bill Shankley