A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA.
1) I gotta tell you, after all the ties we’ve been having, it was nice to see a blowout win. Our first blowout of the season. The team looked great, not tired at all, like they did against Dallas. Sure, Harrington was gassed there at the end – I’m glad he didn’t cost us a goal, because for awhile there, he couldn’t keep up with his man – but otherwise, we looked sharp and on the front foot. Maybe that’s a result of our boys sleeping in their own beds, or maybe Chivas just makes everybody look a little better.
2) Chivas really didn’t look very good, did they? Lots of grabbing and holding. Very few threats on offense. Too many threats on the Portland ball boys. Their goalie’s the only one who had an impressive day, and he’s not even their regular starter. Aside from him, Chivas bears no resemblance to the team that was 2nd in the conference earlier this year. They look like a team in free fall. I’ve been reading that their owner is to blame; that he’s not interested in fielding a winning team, either here in the US or with the original Mexican League team in Guadalajara. It might be time for MLS to step in and do something, for the good of the league. (Don’t ask me what should be done about DC United. They’re horrendous. Chivas would pound them.)
3) Speaking of playing on the front foot, did you see how high our line was? A few times, the entire back four was across the centerline. And how about Futty Danso and Jack Jewsbury? Both of them had genuinely dangerous chances on goal. Maybe Jack was playing more offensively because Harrington was tired, but that doesn’t explain Futty. I think Futty just had goal fever. Maybe he’s trying to cement his position as the Alpha Gambian before Pa Modou Kah shows up. (That’s gonna be fun, isn’t it? Having two Gambians at centerback. The Great Wall of Gambia!)
I guess as long as I’m talking about the team pushing forward, I should compliment Chivas’s back four on how many times they got Ryan Johnson offside. In fact, there were so many offsides called against us that when Valeri finally got his goal, no one sitting around me quite believed it was real. We were all cheering sort of half-heartedly, eyes on the sideline ref, waiting for his flag to go up.
4) I want to say three words to you. Just three words. Rodney Freakin’ Wallace. What is going on with this guy? He’s a changed man this season, isn’t he? I hear people calling him the best left winger in MLS and I think they might be right. He’s just a force these days. Huge energy all the time. Great passing, great scoring. He can play inside or out. He’s good with both feet. And his head. Last week, I declared Diego Chara to my Timbers MVP, but if we keep seeing this kind of play from Rodney Freakin’ Wallace, he could be collecting some hardware at the end of the season. (My MVP trophy is pretty impressive, too. It’s one of those old jelly jars with a Looney Tunes character on it. You know the ones? First-class all the way. I think I’ll give the winner either Bugs or Daffy.)
5) Right now, our offense is tied with Dallas for most goals per game, and if opposing defenses want to shut down our main threats, they’d better bring a lot of guys, because we have five, coun’t ’em, FIVE main threats. Ryan Johnson – 4 goals. Will Johnson – 4 goals. Nagbe, Valeri, and RFW – 3 goals each. And if the opposition has all those dudes covered, well, we’ve still got my boy Chara, who’s turning into a hell of an assist man. And then there’s Futty’s goal-scoring headbone. And Jack Jewsbury’s rocket shots from distance. Am I forgetting anyone? Oh, yeah, the subs! Piquionne and Alhassan looked great yesterday, didn’t they? (I especially liked Freddy’s gorgeous almost-assist to Will Johnson.) So, all in all, we’re a dangerous team, with many different threats. You might stop one, but it’ll be hard to stop them all.
6) Now we get to the crazy-prediction part of this column, and remember you heard it here first: yesterday’s victory was the first of four straight wins. Not ties. Wins.
You think I’m nuts? Tell me how I’m wrong. We’re going on the road, sure, but we’re playing some very beatable teams. And, let’s be honest, with the way we’re playing, EVERY team is beatable. So I’m calling it now. We go to Vancouver next week: win. Then to DC against the worst team in the league: win. Then to Chicago: win. That’ll be four games, four wins, and 12 points.
And that’s when it gets a little tougher, because we’ll be facing first-place Dallas. Except we’ll be at home. And they might not be the first place team anymore. After four straight wins, it might be us.
In shock news, the Timbers suffered another defeat, their fifth on the spin, this time following a smash-and-grab win from Chivas USA, the only goal of the game coming midway through the second half.
The scoreline mirrored that of the recent match, though at least the performance was better here. Just a shame you don’t get points for that. No to get wins you need to score – something the Timbers haven’t done in 290 minutes of play – and it also helps to keep a clean sheets or so – it’s now 11 consecutive matches the Timbers have conceded in since a 0-0 draw with Houston in mid May.
Gavin Wilkinson made six changes from the team that collectively shat the bed against Dallas. Out went Chabala (gone from the 18 altogether), Danso, Alhassan, Fucito, Alexander and Mwanga and in came Smith, Horst, Richards, Boyd, Jewsbury and Nagbe.
I suspected they would line up in a 4-2-3-1 again, but I was a little surprised to see how far up the field Chara was playing. Jewsbury had the holding role, and that freed the Colombian foul merchant up to go forward and support the attack.
Songo’o and Richards played out wide, with Nagbe tucked in behind – and running beyond – Boyd in the striking role.
From early on it was clear that Songo’o was in the mood for this one, and he ryansmithed the Chivas defence time and again in the first half. He was at the heart of pretty much everything positive about the Timbers attack, and is virtually unplayable when he’s in this sort of form. Which is to say, occasionally.
Boyd had a couple of decent sights at goal – one chance he beautifully engineered with a deft flick, and another he completely fluffed. Such is life as a striker – the margin between hero and villain is often vanishingly small.
Playing up top can be a cruel position to play. Mistakes are amplified. A missed chance falls under much greater scrutiny than a midfielder’s misplaced pass that leads to nothing. No player is more derided than the striker that misses a chance that is “easier to score”, yet even the greatest strikers will miss a few of them along the way.
I’d rather have a striker get ten chances and miss them all than not get any at all. Course, I’d much rather he put at least one of those away, but we’ve all had bad days/nights at the office and this was one of these for the striker.
The only position, in my opinion, that is crueller than that of striker in terms of the difference a single mistake can make is that of goalkeeper, and we’ll get to that soon enough…
Brent Richards made his first start for the Timbers in MLS, and he was hugely impressive in the first half too. He added a bustle and energy that the Timbers attack has oft lacked this year, and he displays as much contempt for the fundamental laws of gravity as John Terry does for decorum and sportsmanship.
His aerial abilities certainly seemed to catch Chivas out early on, and the home grown player got a lot of joy from long, high balls punted in his general direction. He also added a threat from throw-in’s with a Rory Delap-esque long throws.
As well as what he could offer the club going forward, he also displayed a focus and willingness to work in defence that helped Kosuke Kimura at right back.
As much as I like Alhassan, I’ve always had big reservations about his defensive work, among other things. Though Chivas offered little in attack, I do feel that Kimura had a much more assured match here than he’s had in a while in no small part to the security afforded him by Richards’ work ahead of him.
Fans have been calling for a while for some of the young guys to be given a chance to shine, and it’s pleasing to see Richards not only given that chance, but grasp it both hands, take it home to meet his parents and buy a nice three-bedroom house in the ‘burbs.
In his more advanced role Diego Chara also impressed in the first 45. He had a hand in a couple of good chances, and it was his pass that set Boyd off down the right in a counter-attack that had echoes of Mwanga’s goal against San Jose.
Such chances to break on Chivas would be few and far between given their plan to defend in depth, both numerically and geographically.
The Timbers faced a team with one plan in mind: keep it tight, and hope to nick a goal. From very early on it was clear that this was not a team that would come here and look to exploit a Timbers defence that had just shipped five goals to a distinctly average FC Dallas the previous week.
Half an hour in and Chivas were already defending in numbers and bunkering in. It’s a strategy that has served them fairly well, with four of their six wins prior to this match coming in 1-0 results. The other two were also one-goal victories, both 2-1. This isn’t a team that tends to blow out their opponents, nor do they get steamrollered having conceded more than 1 goal in only 4 of their previous 19 MLS match this year.
Having done so well in the first half, there seemed to be a slight drop-off in intensity in the second. The formation that had come as close to a 4-3-3 as we’ve seen from the Timbers this year in the first half took on more of a 4-1-4-1 shape in second.
Jewsbury still sat deep, but Chara didn’t have the same attacking focus that he’d had in the first half.
Richards, who’d had such a fine first half, also lost a bit of pep to his game in the second. Chivas seemed to wise up to the threat of Richards in the air, even as the Timbers continued to dementedly plough that particular furrow, and he didn’t quite have the same joy as he had in the first.
On the opposite flank, Songo’o tired and had less impact than he had before the break. The Cameroonian has had his share of injury problems, but he continues to struggle to find full match fitness, and it was a visibly tiring Songo’o who gave Chivas the chance the led to the only goal of the game.
All the Timbers good work in the first half was wiped out by a needless foul, poor defensive marking and a goalkeeping error.
You have to feel sorry for keepers sometimes. The slightest misjudgement and there’s a good chance they’ll cost the team a goal. Perkins has been one of the Timbers best, most consistent, players this year, but he has to take his share of the blame for this one.
Once in front, there was never any doubt that Chivas would look to park the bus and keep what they had. The Timbers failed to find a way through – Boyd missed a couple, and Nagbe joined the party with a couple of his own.
There was certainly a lot more positives to take from this match than there has been in the last few games. I don’t often agree with Wilkinson, but he’s right when he says that football is a “cruel, cruel sport at times”.
The Timbers continue to find frustration in attack, while they find that every mistake gets punished pitilessly.
I thought the tactics, in the first half certainly, were good and we got good performances out key players. What worries me is the drop-off in the second – something that’s happened too often to be mere coincidence.
Robbie Earle speculated in the commentary that Sean McAuley was doing much of the touchline coaching to give the players a “different voice” to react to, with Wilkinson saying his piece at half time. If the reaction from the players after the break is any indication, Wilkinson might want to consider getting a motivator like Mitt Romney in next time.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team is annoying, but at least the drop-off wasn’t as dramatic as it has been in the past. And, hey, for a team that had lost so many late goals this season, only 2 of the last 15 have come in the last quarter hour, so that’s something. Right?
Of course, those 15 goals have been conceded in the last 5 games. That’s also something… *shudder*
I want to strike a positive note, as I did feel we played some good football at times, but we leave ourselves at the mercy of a single, silly mistake at the back when we fail to put the ball in the net. And if there’s one thing that you can count on with this team, it’s that they’ll make a mistake at the back at some point. Today it was Perkins, on another day it’s Kimura, or Smith. It’s a wonder we have any toes left considering the number of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.
Chivas recorded their third win over the Timbers this season with this result. You know what you’ll get from Chivas. They play pretty much the same way in most matches, and that strategy never really changed for Chivas as the match wore on.
Though Chivas has the edge in possession before the goal (53%-47%), the Timbers made almost half of their passes in the Chivas half, with only 39% of Chivas passes coming in the Timbers half. After the goal, the Timbers dominate possession (79%-21%), and have much more of the play in the Chivas half, but fail to take what chances come their way.
Like a dealer who gives a hit of the good stuff to hook you, so the Timbers give flashes of what they could be, reeling you in and making you believe, before sucker punching you square in the babymaker.
And yet, we’ll be back again for the next game, and what’s more we’ll have hope that next time it’ll be different.
Despite the scoreline in the last meeting, the Timbers are more than capable of beating Dallas next week. Unfortunately, they’re also more than capable of beating themselves.
The team have a week before they have a chance to avenge that 5-0 defeat in front of a Timbers Army that have been starved of reasons to be cheerful lately.
It’s a cruel game indeed.
No-one said being a Timbers fan would be easy.
There were some positives to take from the 5-3 defeat to LA Galaxy at the weekend, but panning for gold in the 1-0 loss at Chivas USA would be as futile as searching for signs of intelligent life in YouTube comments. The Timbers served up a performance so leaden that it could be considered a danger to public health.
It was the kind of showing that would get football stopped.
It’s strange to think that a 1-0 defeat on the road was somehow worse than losing 5 goals at home, and yet that’s the overriding feeling I have after enduring 90 minutes of ball-numbing suffering.
Gavin Wilkinson made a couple of changes to the team from the weekend, with Futty in for Horst and Chara for Palmer. Apart from that, it was business as usual with the team playing in a 4-2-3-1 again. Though, at times it seemed more like a 4-4-1-1 or plain ol’ 4-4-2 to me.
I had hoped, after showing up better in the middle during the second half, that Eric Alexander would start alongside Chara, but Jewsbury, who seemingly knows all the secrets, continues to hold on to a place with a death grip.
My own hope, before the match, was a Chara/Alexander two behind a three of Songo’o, Alhassan and Nagbe – though I wouldn’t have been adverse to Nagbe sitting and Richards starting. The team, as announced, just seem a bit too defensive for my liking against a team that had drawn a blank in three of their last four MLS matches and managed only 11 goals in 17.
It’s not like packing the team with defensive players did anything to help 0]”>the situation against Real Salt Lake.
The game itself was pretty even in the opening stages. The 1pm kick-off time saw a bunch of local kids groups given tickets to attend, lending the match a “Chuck E Cheese at lunch time” atmosphere, made all the more grating by the addition of no-one’s favourite football fad, the vuvuzela.
It was hard not to recall the infamous Estonia vs Scotland match from 1996, when a dispute over floodlights led to the surreal situation where Scotland kicked off against no opponents, in front of no home fans. Only one team turning up and no fans? Hello Home Depot Center, 2012.
Ryan Smith, who had tormented the Timbers defence like a wasp in the car the last time the teams met, started this time, matching up against his namesake, Steven Smith. Rather than purely to annoy me by forcing me to specify which Smith I’m talking about, it seems like the move was a deliberate attempt to exploit Steven Smith’s ever-more apparent defensive weaknesses.
When Steven Smith had come to Portland earlier this year, I’d sounded a hopeful note. I remember him from his time at Rangers, where he had burst onto the scene and looked every inch the future Scotland stalwart. Injuries hit, and took a toll out of the player, such that he ended up kicking around the lower English leagues before being picked up by the Timbers.
The player I remembered from his Rangers days was an explosive wing-back with a good crossing boot. I expected the injuries to take a half-yard or so off his pace, but I thought his defensive awareness and crossing ability would, at least, remain.
It’s getting harder to hold onto that belief as week after week Smith has been found lacking in a number of areas. His crossing has been haphazard – I’m being kind – and he seems to have compensated for losing a bit of pace by developing a penchant for going to ground early and diving into tackles.
Ryan Smith certainly came out the best in this particular duel, and it was by beating Steven Smith that the Chivas man was able to set-up the only goal of the match early on.
Smith had a poor game, no doubt, but he wasn’t alone in this as every defender would, if they’re being honest, hold their hands to having had an off day.
Futty could, and probably should, have done a bit better in getting close to Smith and shutting the winger out, but the moment that Smith was able to get square on, there was only ever going to be one winner there.
I like Futty – and Horst too – but it’s becoming ever more apparent what the team miss by not having Brunner, for all his own faults, on the backline.
Mosquera is by far the Timbers’ best defender, but he came out second best in his own personal duel in the build up to the goal. His desire to push out of defence and close down can cause more problems that it solves sometimes.
Futty has to take a share of blame for turning his back on the man, but had Mosquera not been off ranging like Aragorn reborn, he wouldn’t have been trailing the Chivas runner. The cross ultimately didn’t come in so we weren’t punished for it, but it’s concerning when even your top man is making basic errors.
Kimura had a strange match against LA. His sloppiness in the tackle, and poor concentration, led to two of the LA goals, but he also popped up at the other end to score, so there’s that. He still looks like a guy who is adjusting to a new team, so it’d be unfair to lay into him too hard until he’s got a run of games under his belt.
I thought, in the goal, he had allowed himself to be attracted towards the ball, and by going so narrow left the space at the far post wide open. He at least made a valiant effort to get back, but too little, too late.
I like the guy’s athleticism, but he needs to tighten up his defensive work.
Again, we weren’t punished here, but Kimura was caught hanging around up field – he’d raced forward long before the ball came back to Chara. It’s tough for Kimura, and Smith, as given the way the Timbers were playing, with Alhassan and Alexander narrowing up top, the onus was on the fullbacks to get forward and provide the width.
It’s this delicate balance of knowing when to get forward, and when to cover, that makes the fullback role such a tricky one to play well. To be fair, if Chara doesn’t give the ball away sloppily (collector’s item, that one) there’s perhaps no problem for Kimura.
His defensive judgement though can lead to situations like late on where he completely misjudged the flight of a lofted ball and ended up almost gifting Chivas a gilt-edged chance.
The full-back area has been a constant problem for the Timbers. Having Kimura in at right-back is certainly better than having Jewsbury play make-believe there, but Smith isn’t really convincing that he’s an upgrade over Chabala or, whisper it, Wallace at this point. Chabala’s big weakness is his final pass/cross, but it’s not like Smith is putting the ball into dangerous areas from wide right now. Aside for a late forward ball to Kris Boyd that the striker nudged narrowly wide, I’m at a loss to recall any serviceable delivery from Smith.
Considering all three Timbers goals against LA came directly or indirectly from set-plays, it’s perhaps not that surprising that the team struggled to create much going forward.
The first half in particular was remarkable for the toothless nature of the Timbers attack. They at least stepped it up in the second half.
You can see pretty clearly that the Timbers were playing a bit further up field, and they created more chances as a result. There was the aforementioned Boyd chance, while Alexander had a couple of attempts screwing the best chance wide after a nice back heel lay-off from Jewsbury.
Smith had a chance in injury time when the ball pinballed around the box, before Sal Zizzo laid it off for the Scot to curl his effort just wide with his weaker right foot. It was one of those chances where you just wished it had fallen to his left boot, where he could’ve got a clearer shot away or laid it off to Jewsbury. Such are the fine margins of defeat.
Truth is, for all the gained territory and pops at goal, Chivas never look overly ruffled. They Fonzied their way through the second half, happy to soak up what pressure the Timbers tried to apply.
It was a pedestrian display from the boys in green. Even when they were supposedly chasing an equaliser, it never truly seemed like there was a real sense of urgency.
Given the Timbers road form, and manner of play, there was always the sense that when Chivas got their noses in front, the game was over, even after only 15 minutes. That is truly depressing. Where is the fight?
I had thought that perhaps a change in manager would signal a fresh approach to road games, but it’s not surprising that the same shit keeps happening when it’s basically the usual suspects.
Wilkinson took the defeat last week on his own shoulders, and he’s welcome to much of this one as well. He set out a team with very little attacking impetus. He left Boyd woefully isolated and provided little support to his wide defenders. And when it came time to roll the dice and try to find a way back into the game, he made subs that left me shaking my head.
First Nagbe went off for Songo’o. Fair enough, Nagbe was largely invisible, but it was hardly a change designed to throw bodies forward.
Ten minutes later, I was literally halfway through writing a tweet to the effect that I hoped to see Mwanga or Zizzo on to replace Jewsbury, with Alexander taking over Captain Marvel’s role when Wilkinson made a change. He brought on Zizzo, but Jewsbury stayed on the field and Alexander came off. Okay, fine. The third change saw Alhassan off for Mwanga, and by this point I’m at a loss to explain what the thinking was.
I can’t say Jewsbury was especially bad in this match, but he was pretty ineffectual. Story of his season. He’s rarely outright awful, but neither does he have an impact on the match. His inviolate place in the team seems to have heldover from John Spencer’s days, as has his captaincy.
I don’t expect the captain to be the best player, but I do expect a leader. Maybe the players themselves would disagree, but I don’t see a great deal of leadership from Jewsbury. He doesn’t seem to be a shouter, or a motivator, nor is he a guy that leads by example. He’s just out there, misplacing passes and looking every inch the MLS veteran on the down slope of his career.
I worry about Boyd, too. He cuts a frustrated figure more often than not. There were some giving him stick on twitter, but I don’t give that notion a shred of credence. It was interesting listening to his interview on John Strong’s Talk Timbers podcast, as he gave his thoughts on playing the 4-2-3-1.
I’m used to playing with someone up front, but as a formation it does work. Your role does change because you find yourself with two centre-halves most of the time […] and it’s important for the two wide men […] to get on the ball and create chances.
That’s the crux of the matter. Boyd needs those around him to do their jobs before he can even think of doing his. If he could conjure it all out of thin air on his own, he’d be playing at the Camp Nou and not in front of a bunch of bored kids at freaking Home Depot Center.
With the sacking of Spencer, the guy who brought him here, I’m coming more and more to fear that Boyd’s time in Portland will be one season, and done. Though he has never said as much, listening to his interview it’s clear that he’s bitterly disappointed with how things are going so far.
You can enjoy your life but when you’re not winning games it affects everything because you want to win games. I’ve won so much, and I’ve won so many games in my career. You get used to winning and when you’re not doing it, it’s not easy to come to terms with.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With Toronto’s win, the Timbers are now tied for last overall. There’s a seven point gap to LA on the edge of the play-off places, and I expect LA to climb a place or two before the season’s out. Vancouver are a further four points ahead of LA. That’s potentially 11 points to turnover in 15 games.
The play-offs are gone. Done. Forget about it.
For so long the Timbers had stayed in touch almost despite themselves, but this result finally put a pillow over the face of our faint hopes and mercy killed the fuck out of them. And I think this is a good thing.
The play-offs have been hanging around on the sidelines like a creepy uncle at a kid’s birthday party. The club has been unable to put them out of their mind, and it’s led to a conservative approach to team selection as we’ve “chased the dream”, or more accurately “sort of drunkenly staggered in the general direction of the dream with no real idea where we were going, or why we were going there”.
Truth is, even if every other team conspired to outdo our kamikaze tailspin and sneak us into the play-offs, it’d only prolong the misery that is the 2012 season.
Time to draw a line through it, forget about it and start planning for 2013. And that means it’s time to shake this team up.
Give the kids a chance.
I want to end 2012 with hopes of green shoots, rather than faced with the same old dead wood.
We’re already bottom. It’s hardly going to get worse, is it?
I also think we need to get someone in before the end of the year. By all means, be thorough, but we need a guy with top level experience to come in and shake this place up. It’s perhaps not surprising that when you build a staff that’s largely made up of USL alumni, you end up with a team that plays like a USL team. We’re too often tactically naive, and there are good players on this team who aren’t playing to their potential – that’s a coaching issue.
Next up is Dallas at the weekend. I may not have a match report up for that one as I’m flying back to the UK at the start of next week, which means I get to enjoy the pleasure of 3am kick-offs once more.
In case you missed the notice, and are wondering about the ads, click here for an explanation. Apologies.
What the multitude cannot comprehend is how victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s own tactics.
Another week, another match, another limp home defeat as the Timbers once again heroically snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And yet, it had all started so well.
The Timbers had looked confident and comfortable on the ball early on, knocking it about with ease, probing for weakness in the two banks of Chivas players that looked set upon a game plan of frustrate, frustrate, frustrate, and then break on the counter. Kris Boyd was gifted a goal so easy that he had time to plan where he was going to put his log slice before tucking it away. Optimism was high. Portland had dominated possession and shots on goal! They’d scored first! In the first half and everything! It all looked so rosy in the Rose City.
Portland had lined up with the same diamond formation that had come so agonisingly close to beating Royal Salt Lake the previous week, but with a shuffle in personnel. Perlaza was dropped (can’t say I’m surprised even if I disagreed), Nagbe went up top alongside Boyd, with Songo’o and Alexander wide. The eyebrow raising change, for me at least, was seeing Jack Jewsbury at the point of the diamond, fulfilling the role of attacking midfielder. I can’t say I’ve ever thought of Jewsbury as that kind of player, but I guess John Spencer will point to the 1-0 lead at half-time and say it worked. Diego Chara was given the job of manning the engine room on his own, like a Colombian Scotty.
And then it all went wrong.
Two changes by Chivas USA at half-time would change the complexion of the match. First, on came Ryan Smith to play down the left-wing. It would pay dividends almost immediately.
The temptation is to go hard on Palmer for this, but that neglects the fact that it was also some good wing play from Smith. Palmer shouldn’t have tried to square up, and certainly shouldn’t have left the door wide open for Smith to get down the outside. Once Smith got a sniff he went past Palmer and swung over a beautiful cross. It was a huge warning sign.
Palmer’s best asset is his attacking and getting up and down the line. He’s never been brilliant defensively, but the change to bring on Smith put the focus squarely on Palmer. Palmer was forced to play deeper and deeper by Smith, and it neutered much of Portland’s play down the right flank. The picture below shows Palmer’s passing in the first-half (left) and second half (right)
I said at the time that something had to be done to protect Palmer. He’s simply not a good enough defender to be left in 1v1 situations against a fast, skilful winger. There’s only going to be one winner of that contest, and he ain’t wearing green. My call at the time was to put Chara out right so he would sit in front of Palmer, with Nagbe dropping back into his more natural trequarista role in the spaces behind the strikers. Chara has the pace and defensive nous to get up and down the line in front of Palmer, and give him some back-up when the ball came to Smith. As it was, injury forced Songo’o off, Alhassan came on and Palmer was left cruelly exposed.
The other change I mentioned that turned the game in Chivas’ favour was a subtle switch in midfield. In the first half, Chivas had adopted a 4-5-1 formation, with Minda sitting deep and one of LaBrocca or Zemanski getting forward from the middle. an attacking sense. At half time the Chivas head coach, Robin Fraser (an ex-teammate of Spencer’s at Colorado, coincidentally) gave BOTH LaBrocca and Zemanski license to get forward, exposing the weakness in the Timbers diamond formation. It put Chivas on the front foot, and put the Timbers under greater pressure nearer their own 18 yard line.
The central two of Zemanski and LaBrocca would bomb forward when Chivas had the ball, giving them a 2-on-1 advantage against Diego Chara as Jewsbury was left high up the park. Smith gave Chivas some attacking width that stretched the Timbers back line. Giving the outnumbering in the centre, there was a tendency for the Timbers wide players to drift inside to make up the numbers, leaving the wingers free in acres of space to take on the full-backs.
It was a smart move by Fraser. He’d identified that Jewsbury was too far up the field to be a defensive presence, and Minda would always be there to snuff out any nascent attacking threat from the Timbers captain, so he freed up his central midfielders to make their presence felt in the Timbers half.
This change in style came to horrible fruition in the second goal as the breaking midfielders both played a part in the goal – one setting Smith up for the cross, the other getting on the end of it.
Palmer is going to take a lot of the blame for both goals – and rightly so, in some cases – but he wasn’t helped here by the way the Timbers were arranged on the field by Spencer. At times the midfield was, quite frankly, a shambles with seemingly no-one entirely sure what they were supposed to be doing. Jewsbury in particular looked like someone who’d wandered in off the street and hadn’t a clue where he was.
It’s Diego Chara I feel really sorry for. Again he was all industry and efficiency (an 86% successful pass rate), but in the second half he was left wide open.
In the first half Chara was able to close down the ball in the centre of pitch, but in the second he was doing his work on the Timbers 18 yard line. Part of this was that the Timbers as a whole were pushed back by a resurgent Chivas, but it was also because he was left with two men to mark and it’s only natural that the tendency is to drop off and block off space, rather than close down and tackle when you’re faced with two guys running at you.
So another game where the Timbers are unable to make the right change at the right time.
What lessons have been learned?
Jack Jewsbury is no more an attacking midfielder than I am the Dragon King of Bhutan. He was rarely effective, and the team seemed to succeed in spite of him in the first half, rather than because. In his defence, it was always going to be difficult for someone to flourish in that role given the way Chivas were determined on sitting deep and narrow, but a good attacking midfielder at least imposes himself upon the opposition and Jewsbury simply didn’t do that. I’m pretty sure Osvaldo Minda could walk past Jack in the corridor and not recognise him.
The wider question of whether Jewsbury should be in the team at all is one many fans are debating. Yes, he’s the captain, and yes, he had a great year for (much) of last season, but does that buy him a role in the team of here and now? I’m not so sure. John Spencer seems determined to shoe-horn Jack and Chara into the same midfield, regardless of how it affects the shape and mobility of the team. The fact is that Diego Chara can do everything Jack Jewsbury can do, and do it better. Time to bench Jack, in my opinion. Though, I’ll be happy to scoff humble pie if he pulls a man of the match performance next week against LA cos, y’know, he ain’t getting dropped whatever fans say.
Darlington Nagbe has huge, undoubted, potential but he needs space to grow. He doesn’t have the physicality to knock MLS defenders off him, and he works best when he gets the ball to feet and is able to get his head up and run at them instead. He’s wasted up top.
Does Kris Boyd train with the rest of the team? I ask because it seems to me that the plan seems to be to hit it long towards him, hoping he’ll win the aerial battle. That’s not his game! Go watch his goals on YouTube – yes, he scores a few with his head, including one for the Timbers, but the vast majority are with his boot. I’m struggling to recall the last time he had a decent ball to feet in a dangerous area. It’s like no-one has noticed he’s not really that good at the whole “big target man” thing! He’s a penalty box striker who just happens to have the physique of a target man. We’re making the same mistakes as last year with Kenny Cooper.
Which brings us to John Spencer and the Timbers front office. I don’t want to be reactionary fan here, calling for sackings just because we lost. In fact, I’m not calling for sackings at all – I think Spencer is, on balance, doing a decent job and having stability is crucial for the club to grow. However, all is far for perfect. He’s been unable to set-up a team to get the best out of Kenny Cooper last season, and it seems to be the same with Boyd this year so far. At times it seems players are getting picked on the basis of reputation or standing within the squad than ability or form. And there’s a worrying tendency for matches to get away from him.
The fact is he either didn’t see how the game had shifted in the second half, did see but couldn’t figure out how to turn it back in his team’s favour, or saw it change but just did nothing to fix it.
The lack of quality at full-back is becoming a running, and increasingly unfunny, joke. I know this isn’t Football Manager, where you can tap in a few numbers and throw up a list of 50 suitable candidates, but for the position to be left as the team’s consistent weak point for over a year now is infuriating. A couple of trades for MLS journeymen here and there isn’t really cutting it.
Next week sees a trip to play LA Galaxy. LA have had a shocking start to the year and it’s tough to tell whether the Timbers will be facing a side hurting and eager to prove people wrong with a dominant performance, or a team playing poorly with morale at an all-time low. Either way, Timbers have to up their game. There is a break-out 90 minutes in this team just waiting to come out. We’ve seen flashes of it here and there. Someone in this league is going to be on the end of a real beating for the Timbers. Let’s make it Beckham FC. RCTID.
So, what could’ve been done differently?
The fact is, Robin Fraser out-thought and outmanoeuvred John Spencer. His changes – bringing on Smith, getting his midfield forward quicker – forced Portland on to the back foot and they simply didn’t react. Smith was left to go 1v1 with Palmer all game long as Alhassan simply isn’t the guy you want trying to track back down the wings. He naturally drifts in field at the best of times, and that’s what happened here. And Chara was left exposed in the second half by Spencer’s refusal to drop Jewsbury back.
Perhaps going flat 4-4-2 would’ve shut down Chivas in the middle, though you’d still need someone out wide who could do the defensive work to help Palmer. Unless, you remove Palmer from the equation and bring on Purdy.
The risk if that Smith still gets past Purdy, who hasn’t started for Timbers in a long time. Only Spencer would know if Purdy was up to coming into a match like this to do a shut-out job on Ryan Smith, and I can only assume he didn’t think he was.
During the second half, I’d gone on twitter to say I thought Perlaza should come on, so Chara could go out to the right side and give cover to Palmer. Let’s assume I’m in charge, if I make that change, how does the team shape up then?
A 442/433 asymmetrical formation, with Chara sat deep right to give cover to Palmer, whilst at the same time no neglecting his duties in the centre. Jewsbury drops back to match up with Chivas, with Alexander coming inside (another potential change could be Alhassan for Alexander or Nagbe). Perlaza would play off and around Boyd up top, with Nagbe providing wide cover in defence and a threat coming in from wide in attack.
Maybe it wouldn’t have worked. We’ll never know, it’s just one smug fan’s idea. Instead Spencer stuck rigidly to Plan A and the game just drifted away from Portland like a smoke from a flare.
It’s concerning that for the second week in a row Spencer has failed to make the right call at the right time. He made, only my opinion of course, the completely wrong substitutions at every turn last week, and here he failed to react whatsoever to a change in dynamic on the pitch.
A good manager can send out a team with a decent game plan and have them execute it. A great manager can adapt that plan and alter it when problems arise. The seeds for Portland’s defeat were sown in their own tactics. A diamond can work well against a team playing 4-4-2, but when a team drops an striker off the front and double teams on the man at the base of the diamond, it can be exploited, giving the team crucial space and possession of the ball in the most dangerous area of the pitch.
Someone hasn’t been reading their Sun Tzu.