To fill the long months before the Timbers are back in action, and since it’ll give me an excuse to write about something other than the inevitable drama and rumormongering that will fill timelines in the absence of some kickball, I’ll be doing an occasional series on certain goals or passages of play that sum up what was 2013 for me.
I’m still weighing up whether the site will be able to run in 2014. Finally settled in Southern Oregon, it’s back to school for me which brings all kinds of drains on time and finances that would make it hard to run the site as I hoped to. Still, I do have ideas of how it could return for next season in a format more geared towards longer-form pieces that don’t necessarily have to follow the “who’s injured this week/trade rumor” news cycle. Having writers like C.I. DeMann (buy his book, seriously – it’s better than buying him a beer since you both win this way, though you could do that too) and John Lawes covering the teams from game to game took a lot of the load off me and made it a bit more fun for me, and I’d love to get some of the talented writers and watchers of the game that follow this team of ours on the site now and then to wax lyrical, and long if they want, about the topics that matter to them.
C.I. DeMann is back with his final regular season Six Degrees, looking back at a 5-0 romp against Chivas, and a season that no-one would’ve predicted (except, perhaps, a certain head coach with big brass balls).
With this wonderful regular season finally over, I’m feeling the need to reflect. So I’m gonna start this column with a very quick game recap, then we’ll head down memory lane.
1) Sunday’s 1-0 victory over LA was an interesting game, with both good and bad.
Good: the Timbers looked dangerous for long stretches. Bad: they couldn’t turn that into shots on goal. Bad: the Galaxy kept breaking out in numbers. Good: then they’d get shut down by our backs. Good: it was super-fun to cheer in the cold and rain. Bad: I’m pretty sure I now have that Chinese bird flu. Continue reading Six Degrees: Dare To Dream?→
1) The chip-shot goal is my favorite thing in soccer. I have always felt this way. Double saves are very nice, but the cheeky chipped-in goal is the best. Every time I check out the five nominees for MLS’s Goal of the Week, if there’s a chip-shot goal, I’m almost always voting for it, even it’s scored by some turd like Camilo or Blas Perez or Steven Lenhart. (Okay, I take that back. Steven Lenhart could score on a 75-yard bicycle kick and I still wouldn’t vote for him…)
But you get my point. It’s heavenly. And is it any surprise that Diego Valeri’s the Timber who finally chipped one in? The guy came to town this off season with a big paycheck and a lot of hype and, MAN, has he delivered. Currently tied for the team lead with eight goals. Currently tied for the LEAGUE lead with 12 assists. He truly is the maestro. Well done, Gavin Wilkinson, for bringing the guy to town. He’s enough to make us forget our last designated player, Kris Boyd.
2) And what about our NEWEST designated player, Maximiliano Urruti? Well, he got his first start Friday night and, I gotta say, I liked what I saw. He did a really nice job with the high pressure, harassing the Colorado backs and goalie every bit as good as Ryan Johnson always does. That was nice to see. It was his high pressure, in fact, that led to our lone goal. He harassed the fullback into a bad pass, Rodney Freaking Wallace intercepted it, headed it to Valeri, and the maestro did what maestros do.
The one negative I saw from Urruti’s game was his reaction to constantly getting knocked down, grabbed, and man-handled. This is the MLS, Maxi. For better or worse, it’s a physical league and you’re just gonna have to get used to it. No flopping, no screaming, no dramatics. Just expect to get knocked around and move on. Valeri’s gotten used to it, you can, too.
3) Of course, Urruti might also need to get used to MLS referees and their habit of doing LSD right before each half.
Seriously, could that ref have been any more inept? It was borderline comical. Although I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least he was consistent. Every call went to Colorado. Every. Single. Call. After awhile, my section-mates and I were just laughing about it. No matter what happened on the field, we knew Colorado would get the call. I think Edson Buddle could have pulled out a gun and shot someone and the ref still would’ve called for a Colorado free kick.
4) But the referee’s stand-up comedy doesn’t entirely explain why Portland looked so off-kilter Friday night. Everything just seemed a little off. Except for a few 5-10 minute stretches where we maintained possession, the rest of the night was a buffet of barely-missed passes, just-off headers, 50/50 balls that we just barely missed. To my eyes, Pa Modou Kah looked the most off, but he wasn’t the only one. Will Johnson, Michael Harrington, even Darlington Nagbe sometimes. Everyone was just a little bit off, and this translated into Colorado holding the ball for 51% of the game. I suppose those numbers would be fine in Denver, but here at home? It felt weird. It felt like our boys were being outplayed for most of the game.
And the numbers kind of back that up. Colorado had 51% possession. They outshot us 13-9 (but only had one shot on goal). They beat us 9-3 on corner kicks (but never put one in). They had at least 4 or 5 free kicks in the attacking third (but, again, no goals).
I guess I won’t complain too much, because despite all the chaos they created in our third, despite all those shots and all those set pieces, our defense held firm. Just barely, at times, but still, a shutout’s a shutout and I applaud it.
5) A few quick player notes.
Michael Harrington. You are so solid, dude. You might never be an all-star, but you never lay an egg, either. Just rock-solid work every single game. We know exactly what we’re getting from you, which is very reassuring.
Darlington Nagbe. Man, I love it when you turn on the jets. There’s always a few points in every game where you’re sort of slowly dribbling upfield and then you decide to really start moving and whoever’s covering you just gets left behind. The down side? This means the defenders have no choice but to grab you and throw you to the ground. At which point the referee does NOTHING.
Donovan Ricketts. First shutout in a while, buddy. Great to have you back.
Rodney Freaking Wallace. Very nice game. Extremely active on both offense and defense. Saved us a few times on defense. Plus, you’re now second on the team with six assists. Not bad, Tico.
6) Okay, so I kind of geeked out today on the Timbers website, checking out our starting lineups for each game this year. I was curious to see if having Jack Jewsbury and/or Futty Danso in the starting lineup makes any significant difference. The results of my pseudo-research are unclear, but here they are anyway. You decide.
First off, Jack and Futty have started TOGETHER ten times.
Jack’s started without Futty eleven times.
Futty’s started without Jack zero times.
In eight games, neither of them have started.
And that’s a total of 29 games, which is exactly how many games we’ve played.
How’d we do with the different starting lineups?
Neither start: 2 wins, 2 losses, 4 draws.
Futty alone starts: 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws.
Jack alone starts: 3 wins, 3 losses (we’ll come back to this), 5 draws.
Both Jack and Futty start: 6 wins, 0 losses, 4 draws.
Now, I haven’t done any statistical analysis here. I haven’t looked at median or regression or done a Chi-squared test. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what any of those things mean, but I’m pretty sure they’re fancy statistical words and I’m hoping they’ll make me look smart. But with or without statistical analysis, I know one thing: when Jack and Futty start together, WE DON’T LOSE. Six wins, five draws, and ZERO losses. Oh, and four of those six wins were shutouts. Does this seem significant to you?
(And remember how I said we’d come back to one of those “Jack Only” losses? It was at Columbus. Remember that game? Jack and Kah started. We gave up an early goal, then Kah kicked a guy in the face, got red-carded, and who came in for him? Futty. So, really, with just Jack, it was a 1-0 loss. But with Jack AND Futty and playing a man down, it was a 0-0 draw. I don’t think any of this will stand up in the Court of Statistical Logic, but I thought I’d include it anyway, since it allows me to, one, make Futty look good and, two, use the words “Kah kicked a guy in the face.”)
I’m sure there are some really smart people reading this who know all sorts of cool statistical stuff, so I encourage them to look at these numbers, do some smart-person stuff, and tell me if any of this is significant.
But until I hear from them, I’m fully prepared to jump on the “Jack and Futty Can’t Lose” bandwagon. And since we all know Caleb Porter reads this column and uses it to make most of his important decisions, I’m gonna say it right now: Coach, if you start the two old guys in back, we’ll go undefeated from now until we raise the MLS Cup overhead.
That has been stuck in my head because I watched Star Trek into Darkness just recently (it was allright, I guess) but also because it provides a tenuous link to what has prompted me to write after watching the Timbers go down 4-2 in Utah.
The referee changing/destroying the game aside, it was the use of space that was the great difference in the teams last night. RSL used it well and exploited it, where the Timbers were often adrift in attack, unable to get any flow or rhythm to their play where they needed it most.
Which isn’t to diminish those other factors. It’s important after a defeat to seperate the excuses from the facts. The fact is that the Timbers are missing key players in an already small trusted squad, and that’s going to tell when you face a top side in their own yard, which isn’t to excuse a defeat, but merely give context to a result that could otherwise be taken as a source for despair.
Defence carries the most obvious scars, with spellcheck-botherer Rauwshan McKenzie making his first MLS start for the Timbers alongside Andrew Jean-Baptiste. This left Michael Harrington as the elder statesman of the back four at the princely age of 27, and that McKenzie (26) has started fewer than thirty times in five and a half years in MLS shows how badly the Timbers miss the old heads of Silvestre, Jewsbury and, yes, Kah.
He may be a hothead, but that pulls focus from the 95% of his game that’s rock solid and Jean-Baptiste seems to trust him which takes a lot of weight off his shoulders to be the main man at the back.
Futty is also on his way back into contention, which is probably bad news for McKenzie who may have to wait a bit long to get over the game starts mark.
It’s been a big year for AJB, playing a part in all but two matches this year in the league. He’s started sixteen of the last seventeen, providing on constant in the heart of defence. He’s a better, bigger player now than he was at the start of the year, but I wonder if it may be time to give him a rest. I felt at times he missed an old head alongside him to rein him in when needed, and there have been other instances where he’s tried to do too much on his own. A break might freshen him up for a run-in that is as tough as you could hope to avoid.
Porter’s magic touch can only go so far, and his previous trick of throwing a completely untested pairing into the mix and having it work, somehow, didn’t spark here. Our makeshift team wasn’t a match for Jason Kreis’ fizzing Salt Lake side. As an aside, I’m not sure what his ambitions may be but there’s surely a higher level than MLS for Kreis to make his mark in.
In many ways they are the team we want to be, and why not mould yourself after them? For me, going into this match, RSL were, and are, the best team in the league and I saw a lot in their play that is very like the play we saw from Portland when mostly-everyone was fresh. Built around a talented and talismanic Argentinian in offense, with a tight-knit core of “you’d love them if they were your guy” types and underrated gems aond exciting young talent bubbling over.
They got their game going, with the space between attackers kept to a minimum. Their passing was crisp and fluid, but crucially it was with purpose and almost supernatural accuracy that was matched by the final, killer, touch.
The Timbers were punished by a team that not only created chances, but took them so precisely out of Ricketts reach that I’m pretty sure the big man himself, or a member of the Timbers coaching team will have paced out that goal to make sure that it wasn’t actually a few inches over regulation.
I also suspect if those same chances were falling to Ryan Johnson, that’s our tale; a hard luck story. The Jamaican striker is on a bit of a drought, by his own high standards.
It’s the first time since May that he has gone on a three game starting run without scoring, and back then a convenient international break allowed the Timbers to freshen up in attack. Valencia did well, considering the team were down to ten men, and his vicious shot led to the Timbers second of the night when Nick Rimando wasn’t in the mood for dealing with that kinda shit tonight.
And who’s that over there, oh right it’s Bright F-ing Dike. So there’s that.
Johnson never really felt like a part of the game in the way that the RLS attackers were and that was because the Timbers didn’t have the tight movement between attackers. The distances were too great so any ball that went up there was immediately contested in 1-on-1’s, never allowing us to overload the attack to our advantage because we’d general lose out or fail to control the play.
Johnson’s desire to run the channels meant that our play in the final third was built around finding a quick ball into space for him to run onto to, or to create space for others with his movement. We never really got the passing quick and crisp enough, and the movement was just a little too late to make RSL sweat too greatly.
It’s little surprise that both goals were something from nothing.
Nagbe took everyone by surprise with a typically Nagbian fuck-this-I’ll-score-then-if-no-one-else-will move. Then Valencia stung the palms of Rimando for Zizzo to follow up on.
It’s kinda interesting, I think, to note that Zizzo announces his return with a goal, albeit little more than a consolation in the end, just as Dike is being rebooted ready to bring some pent-up Autumnal cheer to MLS defences. This pair were the highlight of an often grim interimship, and there’s something about the timing of it all this that makes me wonder if Porter might see if lightning could strike twice there.
What’s been missing, as well as goals, from Johnson’s game has been assists and Zizzo served up a handful in the run last year, with Dike his primary beneficiary.
In many ways the problems that exist with Johnson would, in theory, remain if we played Dike. Dike isn’t going to play like Piquionne, the only guy on the attack on Valeri’s level if you exclude Nagbe on the basis that levels don’t apply in his case, but he’s going to play like Dike.
If Valeri sits for a while, that changes things and perhaps makes room for Zizzo and a change to a system that exloits that. Perhaps we even see Zizzo in at right-back, or exchanging roles up and down the right with Powell.
Toronto are next up, at Jeld- Wen Field and Chivas away follow, and this, quite frankly, should-win double could put six points on the board and restore some confidence in a team that has a chance to avenge the results of this past week in our own backyard before this year is out. They also perhaps afford Porter that breathing-room, while meaning no disrespect, to freshen some and unleash others.
Those games will, ultimately, decide our fate in regards to the postseason. Looking at the table, as I said earlier RSL are my top team, and I put LA and, sadly, Seattle through with them. That leaves ourselves, FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes. On reflection, I’d have been quicker listing the teams that are out of contention for those two spots in the West: Chivas USA.
After Toronto (also out of the playoff race in the East) the Timbers play out their year in the West, so the players can sleep in the own bed but it’s unlikely to be comfortable sleeping if they can’t put points on the board in games against our rivals.
There are a lot of six-pointers to come, given how close the race is, but Portland will need to improve on recent form, and quickly, if they are to end the year with the unspoken promise of postseason soccer fulfilled.
We’re this close, and quite frankly, it’ll be a disappointment if we don’t make it now. It’s in our hands, and we’re lucky to have three matches against teams with little to play for. It’s been a long time since we played against a team that ultimately doesn’t look like making the playoffs, and we lost that match in Columbus to a single goal in early July.
A run of eight games against genuine playoff contenders, east and west, has seen Portland scrape nine points off two wins and three draws. We have five more of those kind of games, at least, so getting full points against the other teams is a must.
Toronto and Chivas back-to-back perhaps affords us the chances to rest guys like AJB and Ryan Johnson, and start to feed guys back in and look to find something that works for who we’ve got right now. There’s no shame with going to places like Seattle and Sandy and coming back with nothing to show for it, but the manner of the latest defeat would be a signal to me that we need to freshen things up a bit.
The other space that I could tie back to my Trek diversion at the start is the space to breath, and to heal. We settle back into a regular weekly schedule, so no more three games in nine days carry on. That helps down the stretch.
We can cry foul every time we’re wronged by officials, on the pitch and off, but ultimately we hold our own fate in our hands with five matches at home, where we’re unbeaten since March.
We host Colorado, LA, Seattle and RSL and we arguably need to win at least two or three of those. Trips to Vancouver and Chivas USA, twice, could bring to an end a horrible run of one point in our last five road trips. That goalless draw against te Union was also our last clean sheet, the fourth in six games at the time.
There’s no doubting the effect of injuries on the team. McKenzie underwhelmed and we’re missing Will Johnson like Chicago Fire communication directors miss points, so it’s good to look ahead and see, in the first half of September at least, a potential for some good news stories.
Remember last year when Dike burst onto the scene late in the season and started lighting up scoreboards? Yeah. Again. Now. I believe.
Dike and Futty are coming back, Horst too, and we live in hope, day-to-day, that good news will come and our Johnson will be restored to its former glory in the hole where we’ve lacked penetration in the last few weeks, or been punished for unwise lunges by seeing red.
Who is this Kalif that puts shots of frame? Where did he come from? When did we sign him? #RCTID
We’ve also seen another side of Kalif in the past few games, and he’s been a rare bright spot. I sometimes come off as down on Kalif, but it’s only because there’s clearly so much more to him than he’s shown, consistently at least.
The things about injury crises is they always pass, no matter how long they seem to drag on at the time. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re not alone in facing off against playoff rivals, but if we can hold our nerve there’s no reason why this story has to end before with another tale of nearly-made-it.
I think I have emotional whiplash. There’s only so much a man can take. Back and forth, back and forth, all night long. Way too much drama. Five goals? That would have been fine. But that sixth one? Too much. Way too much.
1) Winning is so good for my psychology. Right now, everything seems perfect. All I want to do is sing and dance and throw awesomeness at you.
What kind of awesomeness? How about this: right now, your Portland Timbers are tied for the league lead in points-per-game with Montreal. In total points, we’re three points behind RSL with two games in hand. We’re one behind Colorado with THREE games in hand. We’ve given up the fewest goals in the league. We’re tied with KC for best goal differential.
Not enough awesomeness? I’ve got more. Ryan Johnson just tied Portland’s MLS-era record for most goals scored. Diego Valeri just BROKE the assists record.
Yes, folks, three points can leave a man feeling a little tipsy. I’ll try to make it through this column without breaking anything or spilling beer on the carpet.
2) Having a week and a half off really made a difference. We looked so refreshed and aggressive, especially on offense. It reminded me of our early season form. Our entire front four was on fire. RJ and Nagbe scored, Valeri and RFW almost did. Hell, even Trencito was blasting towards goal. That was the most dangerous 1 v 5 break I’ve ever seen.
I hope we can hold on to this offensive form. This offensive aggression. I hope our legs stay fresh and injuries don’t haunt us. A few too many guys were banged around last night. We don’t need them joining Will and Piq on the injured list. Our bench seems to get thinner every day. (On the plus side, Bright Dike’s getting closer and closer. Fingers crossed.)
3) There’s plenty of good things to say about the defense as well. Both David Ferreria (who’s a whiny little turd) and Blas Perez (who’s a whiny big turd) were shut down last night. Complete non-factors. I’ll give credit to Ben Zemanski and Pa Kah.
I’m starting to think that Kah’s a little like basketball player Kevin Garnett, in that part of his game involves getting into his opponent’s brain. He was barking in Perez’s ear all night long, and Perez just got more and more frustrated, eventually getting a yellow card for “dissent,” which I’m pretty sure is official-speak for “bitching.”
There’s a side of me that sort of likes Kah’s mind games, but another side worries it will blow up in his face. He should definitely be a little more careful after the game’s over. After the final whistle blew last night, he was right there next to Perez, circling him, giving him a complete earful. It’s amazing Perez didn’t slug him. Though maybe that’s what Kah wants.
4) After the Vancouver game, I was very unsure about Alvas Powell, but man, did he look better last night. I think this kid might be the real deal. In that first game, sure, he looked fast, but he also looked overwhelmed and panickey. Not last night. Last night he really looked like the right back of our future. Hell, he may be the right back of our present. He’s still got those young, fast legs, but last night he showed us he’s also good with the ball at his feet, he can stay calm under fire, and he can learn and improve. Sure, he might need to work on his crosses, and there were a few times he didn’t get back when I should have, but the kid’s only 19. And if we know anything about Caleb Porter, it’s that he’s got a lot of experience teaching teenagers. Put all of those things together and I think Alvas Powell might be starting the rest of the season. It makes me a little sad to say this, because it means Jack Jewsbury’s days with Portland may be numbered. But I guess we can save all that talk for the off-season, right?
5) Okay, let’s have some quick-takes on a few players.
Ben Zemanski – Outstanding work, brother. Thanks to your performance, we didn’t miss Will Johnson at all. And for the record, I’m not jumping on a bandwagon here. I’ve liked you from the start.
Michael Harrington – You had to trim the hair, dude? At this crucial point in the season? If your play falters in any way, we’ll know who to blame. Your barber.
Donovan Ricketts – Quit rolling around in pain and giving me ulcers. You are not allowed to get injured. Do you understand me, sir? Zero. Injuries.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste – I can’t overstate how fun it’s been watching you grow up this year. Earlier in the season, I didn’t trust you. Now I do, completely and totally. You’ve become rock solid.
Ryan Johnson – My one-person Ryan Johnson fan club will be having a party to celebrate your tying Kenny Cooper’s MLS-era scoring record. All the haters can form a line at the door. I’ll be inside, eating cake and ice cream.
6) I’ll end this column by easing back on the optimism and trying to get some perspective. This season is far from over and the Timbers are far from perfect. Sure, we won and we looked good doing it, but Dallas is in a slump, we were at home, and it’s a game we were supposed to win. A much bigger test will be our next three games. Real Salt Lake at home, then Seattle away, and Real Salt Lake away.
Now, regarding Seattle, I’m a little hopeful. The Flounders haven’t beaten a playoff-caliber team since June 8th, when they beat Vancouver. I’ll also remind everyone that we took a point from them earlier this season. That was in their house and at a point when the Timbers were still figuring out who they were. We know who we are now. The Flounders? They just disrupted things by bringing in Clint Dempsey. It’ll be a sellout, of course, and their fans will be all geeked up, but I still think we can go in there and get a point.
The two Real Salt Lake games? Much more difficult. They’re not slumping and they’re not changing their roster. They’re just flat out good. Getting a point on their home field will be tough, so we absolutely MUST WIN on Wednesday. A draw is unacceptable. A draw would make all of my current optimism come crashing down.
I’m happy today. Check this space on Thursday to see if I’m miserable again.