Tag Archives: Donovan Ricketts

Six Degrees: Maestro

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.

Continue reading Six Degrees: Maestro

Six Degrees: Raising The Bar

raising the bar


1) I watch most away games at home, but this time I went to a sports bar, and I gotta tell you, soccer’s more fun when you’re surrounded by fellow fans, all of them cheering, singing, crying, and bitching. I think I’m going to have to do this from now on.

Everyone at the bar was in agreement on our Man of the Match. Clearly Donovan Ricketts. And it’s not even close.

Yes, Ricketts had three shutouts in September, but in none of them did he truly amaze. The defense was sharp and he never had to make a lot of saves.

Sunday in Vancouver, he made up for it, with brilliant, world-class saves time after time. He had a double save at around the 75th minute that was truly breathtaking. Then he had a couple more save of the week nominees in extra time. Without him standing on his head, Vancouver scores 5 or 6 goals and I’m writing a very different column.

Has there ever been a week where all five MLS Save of the Week saves were by the same guy? Because Donovan might do it this week. He was out of his friggin’ mind. Vancouver was desperate, they were throwing everything they had at us, and our defense let them get far too many quality shots on goal. Ricketts turned almost all of them away.

He was struggling in July and August, but the Iron Lion of Zion is back in a big, big way. Which bodes well for us once the playoffs start.

2) Our first goal was caused, once again, by Maximiliano Urruti’s high pressure. Maxi made the Vancouver goalie panic and hit a crap clearance. Will Johnson intercepts, hands it off to Darlington Nagbe, who did what he does: bring the awesome.

In any other game, I’d probably spend some time here talking about how fabulous Nagbe’s 30-yard bomb was, but let’s be honest, after what happened later in the game, it was somewhat forgettable.

So instead, I’ll use this spot to compliment Urruti, just like I did last week. I love Portland’s high pressure defense, and from the very beginning of the year thought Ryan Johnson was brilliant at harassing the opposing strikers/goalies. And he was. But Maxi has come in and is doing it even better. His high pressure has been responsible for two goals in the last three games. I’m the founder and sole member of the Ryan Johnson Fan Club, but I think I might need to start a second club for Maxi, because the guy’s delivering in a big, big way. Welcome to team, kid. Now, please go to Gavin’s office and sign a 12-year contract. Take a few guys with you.

3) So, because of Nagbe’s goal, I was feeling pretty good about things when the 75th minute rolled around. We had the lead and Vancouver wasn’t really threatening. Then everything went insane.

Time – 75:32 – Camilo’s free kick.

It’s hard for me to give that little turd Camilo too much credit for this shot, because it deflected off Rodney Freakin’ Wallace’s head. If not for that deflection, the ball’s going straight into the goalie’s hands. So is it Camilo’s goal, or an own goal? The official MLS scorer is calling it a goal for Camilo, but I question this.

The guys in the bar and I couldn’t decide what qualifies as an own goal. Maybe one of my brilliant readers can tell us? How is that shot off RodWal’s head not an own goal? What would be required to turn it into an own goal? Ricketts looked all messed up, that’s for sure. He got no jump on that thing, almost as if he’d been going for the original trajectory, only to have RFW mess things up with his head. Sounds like an own goal to me, but not to the official MLS scorer. Anyone out there want to educate me?

Okay, all that aside, let’s talk about the emotional impact of that stupid goal. The bar I was in went completely silent. I had my face in my hands, the guy next to me was shaking his head. All you could hear were a few muttered oaths and the Vancouver fans cheering on the TV.

And then…

4) Time – 76:35 – Will Johnson equalizes.

EXPLOSION! Remember the first LA home game, when Jean-Baptiste scored the winner in extra time? And Jeld-Wen nearly collapsed from the general freak out? Well, I’m not gonna say we matched that in the bar, but it was definitely close. I was standing on my bar stool, yelling so loud and so long and so continuously, that I was actually getting light headed and worried I’d pass out. That’s how geeked the entire bar was after that Will Johnson goal. It was insanity, in every sense of the world. When we finally quieted enough to speak, the guy next to me at the bar said, “the Vancouver fans weren’t even done cheering for their goal when that went…”

And just as he was saying that…

5) Time – 77:56 – Camilo scores again.

You want to take the oxygen out of a sports bar? Do what Camilo did. Instant silence.

You know how I wasn’t sure we could give Camilo credit for that first goal? Well, don’t worry, I’m giving him full credit for this one. Sweet Mother of God, what a shot. In fact, I think the aesthetic beauty of the goal sort of takes away some of the pain. I mean, if we’d let in some piece of crap goal caused by poor marking or bad keeping? That would have hurt much worse. But this wonder goal? All we could do in the bar was shake our heads and appreciate it.

People are already suggesting it might win MLS Goal of the Year. Personally, I’m voting for Valeri’s four-touch-volley against New York. But I’m also a complete homer.

All of that aside, my main point here is that the brilliance of that last goal took away some of the pain. Yes, it turned a win into a draw, but still… did you see it? Fabulous. Absolutely breath-taking. The little turd.

6) Okay, a couple very quick points and I’ll get out of here.

Will Johnson – Did anyone see what caused Will to start bleeding in extra time? Vancouver’s Manneh was in the 18, Futty breathes on him, he goes down, and the next thing I know, Futty, Kah, and Ricketts are all holding Manneh back, like a bar fight’s going to break out. Meanwhile, Will’s bleeding. What the hell happened? Does anyone know? I haven’t seen any video to show what happened there.

Seattle Sounders – Here’s what I need from you guys: a complete and total collapse to end the season. You make a good start of it this weekend, losing 5-1 to Colorado. Nice job. Now keep up the good work! Losing to Vancouver on Wednesday would be a great next step, then you can keep it going here in Portland next Sunday. I don’t want close losses, either. If you guys really apply yourselves, you can finish this season the way you started it, with a big giant crapfest. I believe in you, Seattle! Let’s do this!

Six Degrees: Blowout

blowout

1) I feel safe calling Friday night’s 4-2 loss our ugliest game of the year. It’s the first game we lost by more than one goal. I’m not sure if a two-goal loss qualifies as a “blowout,” but that’s certainly what this felt like. It felt like Real Salt Lake did whatever the hell they wanted, and we couldn’t do a thing to stop them.

No surprise, I’ve had a black cloud of gloom following me ever since, but I knew I had to shake it off and bang out this column, so, in an effort to raise my spirits, I did a little research. I checked out last season’s schedule and compared it to this one.

Let me list this year’s “blowout losses.”

    8/30 – RSL 4-2

Now, let me list last year’s “blowout losses.”

    4/14 – LA 3-1
    4/28 – Montreal 2-0
    6/30 – Col 3-0
    7/7 – RSL 3-0
    7/14 – LA 5-3
    7/21 – Dallas 5-0 (ouch!)
    9/5 – Col 3-0
    10/7 – Sea 3-0

Also, last year’s team lost to Chivas three times. Chivas. Three. Times.

Well, I’m suddenly feeling much better about our current struggles. How about you?

2) The TV color man gave an astonishing little factoid Friday night, one that I have since confirmed by looking at lineups from previous games. The fact: since the start of July, Will Johnson and Diego Chara have played together a total of FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. It was the first half at Philly.

Another quick look at the schedule tells us this: on July 1st, our record was 7 wins, 1 loss, and 9 draws. Since then, with the Johnson/Chara partnership in tatters, we’ve got 2 wins, 4 losses, and 3 draws.

There are a thousand variables in our team’s current form and it’s fun to analyze and re-analyze all of them, trying to figure out what’s wrong. But maybe – just maybe – it all comes down to this simple fact: when Will Johnson and Diego Chara play together, we kick ass. When they don’t, we suck.

I’d love it if this was all that was wrong with the Timbers. I have a simple mind. I like simple answers.

3) Having a simple mind, as I watched the game, I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing. Or rather, I knew WHAT it was – a complete domination – I just didn’t understand WHY. Why was RSL making us look like a high school team? When RSL had the ball, they did whatever they wanted. When we had it, everything was a struggle. On the other side of the ball, our defense was in a constant state of frantic, overwhelmed recovery. I’m not sure RSL’s back line broke a sweat.

Fortunately, this website has a writer whose mind ISN’T so simple. If you haven’t read Kevin Alexander’s article yet, do so now – here’s the link – because he breaks it down in a systematic way, putting into words and pictures the steaming pile of feces that was Friday night’s game.

All of it makes me wonder if Caleb Porter and his staff might be switching things up a bit too much lately. Sure, they’ve had to plug in a non-stop stream of replacements, but that doesn’t explain how lost our attackers looked last night. Do we need our core group of attackers – Valeri, Nagbe, Wallace, and Ryan Johnson – to go through some remedial instruction? Or do they simply need Will Johnson and Diego Chara tag-teaming it behind them? Is the recent addition of Alvas Powell causing things to go awry on the right side? Hard to say, but I hope we can figure things out, because our offense looks awful. Friday night’s two goals were both fairly flukey and, beyond them, we didn’t threaten at all.

4) Watching Friday night’s referee, Baldomero Toledo, I was reminded of an old expression about schoolteachers. “If one kid fails a test, it’s the kid’s fault. If fifteen kids fail the test, it’s the teacher’s fault.”

In this situation, I’d say, if one player gets booked, it’s the player’s fault. If EVERY player gets booked, it’s the referee’s fault.

It got so bad last night, it seemed like Toledo was carding people just because he didn’t know what else to do. If there was a situation on the field, and he didn’t know exactly what happened, but he was pretty sure SOMETHING happened, he’d just hand out a couple bookings. I mean, somebody must have done something, right?

The best moment of the night was when Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Joao Plata shook hands and Toledo immediately gave them yellows. I’m pretty sure he carded them for shaking hands. Which he should, of course. We can’t have a bunch of hand-shakers running around out there, ruining our game.

5) A few very quick player notes.

Darlington Nagbe – Dear Lord, man. That goal was SICK.

Donovan Ricketts – You still look a little stiff, but there was nothing you could do about those first couple of goals. They were so perfectly placed, they grazed the post.

Sal Zizzo – When Train’s rocket blast didn’t go in, I automatically assumed it was just more bad luck for the Timbers. Thanks for stepping up and sinking that rebound. It’s good to have you back.

Javier Morales (RSL) – Your little bicycle kick was cool and all, but honestly, man, there wasn’t a Timber within 15 feet of you. You could’ve set up a lawn chair and had drinks, you were so open.

6) Okay, I’m gonna end this column with some extremely questionable advice for Caleb Porter. Our next two games are Toronto at home and Chivas away. We can beat these teams with our reserve squad, so I say we rest EVERYBODY. Give the regulars a couple weeks off. Let Nagbe and Valeri go off to their Fortress of Solitude, or wherever it is they go, so they can recharge their superpowers. Send Will Johnson and Diego Chara to Vegas, so they can plan out some kind of “buddy movie” over blackjack and all-you-can-eat buffets. Let Donovan Ricketts spend the next two weeks in the trainer’s room, slowly moving back and forth from the hot tub to the massage table, reggae on the stereo and a Red Stripe beer in his gigantic hand.

Then when Colorado comes to the house of pane on 9/20, we’ll be healthy, we’ll be rested, we’ll have Horst and Dike on the bench, and we’ll be ready to start an end-of-the-year winning streak.

I’m a simple man, so I’ll cling to this simple belief: put Will Johnson and Diego Chara on the field together and we cannot be stopped.

Six Degrees: Breaking Bad

breakingbad


1) No big surprise, yesterday’s loss has me in a bit of a funk. This column definitely has the potential to slide off the road and into an icy ditch of despair. I’ll do my best, though. Both hands on the wheel and all that.

I’ll just start with the big picture: going into the game yesterday, everything was against us. We had tons of injuries. We had a key suspension. We had some gimpy old guys in the starting lineup. And we did it all in front of 67,000 self-congratulating-but-not-all-that-noisy fans.

Lesser teams would have folded. Our boys didn’t and we can be proud of that. They went in there and gave Seattle everything they could handle.

2) But to be honest, we gave it to them a whole lot more in the first half than in the second.

To my eyes, these were probably the two most different halves of the entire season. We looked great in the first, we looked awful in the second. At the end of the first half, I was supremely confident. At the end of the second half, I wanted to break stuff.

What happened? A number of things. For starters, they completely eliminated Diego Valeri as a factor. He was dominant in the first half, he was invisible in the second.

Things also shifted when they put Mauro Rosales into the game. They banged in the opening goal a few minutes later and we were pretty much worthless for the rest of the game.

We’ve become used to Caleb Porter making brilliant halftime adjustments, but it seems that in this game, he was outdone by Sigi Schmid and his enormous belly. Whatever he said in the Seattle locker room at halftime worked. The balance of play shifted completely.

3) For the game this weekend in Salt Lake, we’ll be getting Diego Chara back from suspension, but I have a feeling that when the MLS disciplinary committee looks at the weekend’s game film, they’ll be giving a brand new suspension to Pa Modou Kah. Did he intentionally knee Eddie Johnson in the head? I’m not sure, but my instinct tells me that MLS is going to sit him down.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure I mind that much. I don’t entirely trust Kah. He just seems a little crazy, you know? I like the intensity, I like the passion, but I’m constantly worried he’s going to step over the line, that he’s going to kick someone in the face (oh, wait… he already did that…) or knee someone in the head (oops… that too…) or maybe start a bench-clearing brawl (hasn’t happened yet, but it’s not out of the question, is it?). He’s just a red card waiting to happen.

I’d love to see Futty Danso come back from injury and take that starting spot next to Beast. He may not be as fast as Kah, but he’s better in the air, he’s got veteran wiles, and he’ll just restore a little sanity to the back line. Sorry, Kah. There’s a lot I like about you, but I can’t take the crazy anymore.

4) I feel terrible even saying it out loud, but what the hell is going on with Donovan Ricketts? He was our rock. Our foundation. He was the one guy on the field we could count on, fully and completely. These last four or five games? He’s been a shell of his former self. Suddenly, he’s old and stiff. He’s allowing rebounds on shots he’d have gobbled up earlier in the year. After going the whole season as the team’s MVP, he now feels like a weak link.

Maybe it’s injury, maybe it’s fatigue, but I’m really wondering if it’s time to bench him. (God, I feel awful saying that…) Maybe he needs to sit for a few games, let all his injuries heal, get good and rested, then come back for the last few weeks. Milos Kocic is a pretty good backup. Let’s put him in there. Could he be any shakier than my man Donovan’s been?

And you are still my man, Donovan, I swear. I just don’t want to see you like this. I want to see you healthy and energetic and dominant. Take a month off, okay? I think it’s for the best.

5) Some player quick-takes:

Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe – Absolute superstars.

Ryan Johnson – I’ve had your back all season, bro, but that wasn’t the best game for you. Come back strong against RSL so all the haters will shut up.

Kalif Alhassan – You absolutely killed it, supersub. You’ve earned more playing time, I think.

Alvas Powell – After four games, I’m convinced. You’re the real deal. Let’s make this loan permanent.

Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle) – You sir, are a thug. Did you beat up Nagbe after the game, too? Mug him in the parking lot? Take his wallet?

Clint Dempsey (Seattle) – It’s a shame you didn’t get into the game Sunday. Oh, wait… you DID? Sorry. I missed it.

6) The rest of this season is going to be a slog. Players are already breaking down physically. The psychology of a playoff chase is going to be tough on them, too. For the rest of the year, every game will feel like a must-win, and that can be exhausting. I know it’s wearing me out. I’m a mess.

We have nine games left, only three of them easy: Toronto at home and two road games at Chivas (I’ve been thinking of those as sure-fire wins, but then yesterday the Goats beat New York, so maybe it’s not automatic after all.)

Regardless, those three are pretty much our only easy games. The rest of the schedule is nothing but playoff teams. Real Salt Lake. Colorado. Los Angeles. Vancouver. Seattle. Real Salt Lake again.

This time last year? I wasn’t all stressed out like this. The Timbers sucked and had no chance at the playoffs. This year, they’re good, they’re in the hunt, and I’m an emotional wreck. Funny how that works.

Six Degrees: The Passion and the Fury

PASSION


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.

So for this column, the “Six Degrees” will actually be “Six Goals” followed by “Six Emotions.” Continue reading Six Degrees: The Passion and the Fury

Six Degrees: Unbeatable

unbeatable


1) This might be a short column. It’ll definitely be a challenge for me to write, mostly because I can’t seem to summon any enthusiasm for what I saw Saturday evening. There’s just something inherently unsatisfying about watching your team go 90 minutes without scoring. It leaves you with one of two reactions. At best, you have a feeling of… “m’eh.” At worst, you’re wondering what the hell’s wrong, is this a sign of serious problems with the offense, and is the entire season in danger of collapse. I’m going to try and talk myself off the ledge with those latter thoughts. Which leaves me with… “m’eh.”

2) So let’s talk about the defense, shall we? I can summon some enthusiasm for that. It was another shutout, right? And on the road, no less. Against one of the top scoring teams in the league. Much to be proud of there. Jean-Baptiste and Kah make a very good pairing in the center. I’m really pleased with Kah’s improvement on the whole kicking-people-in-the-face thing. Out on the sides, Harrington had a solid game, defensively, but Cap’n Jack was getting burned a few too many times by that Cruz kid. Should we have switched those two? I’ll let Caleb Porter make those decisions. I mean, we did shut ’em out, so Jack didn’t hurt us too much, right? And he did have that wicked shot on goal. Possibly our most dangerous shot.

3) I think we need a new reality TV show called “Donovan Ricketts versus the World.” I’m not quite sure on the details, but Ricketts would win. Sharks, ninjas, bulldozers, ICBMs. I think Ricketts can take them all. Without looking all that troubled, either. In 2010, when Ricketts was the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, he had a 0.89 goals against average. This year, it’s 0.84. In 2010, he had 11 shutouts in 29 games. This year? 9 shutouts in 19 games. I wish there was a way to figure out how many points he’s been worth this year. He certainly got us our point on Saturday in Philly. From this point forward, I will only refer to him as “The Upgrade.”

4) Our offense.

Ahem… Well… Hmm… What to say? What to say?

I’m sort of hoping some of you readers will have some insight. You’re smarter than me. What’s up with our offense? Has the league figured us out? Is Philly’s defense good? I’m not sure they are. I think we just kind of sucked. Perhaps our only problem is the lack of Rodney Freakin’ Wallace. Perhaps the Ryan Johnson/Freddy Piquionne experiment needs more time to gel. ¿Y donde esta Diego Valeri? I was sort of wanting some magic out of him. Both him and Nagbe. Of course, in Valeri’s defense, if his pretty little turn & shoot had gone in, this would be an entirely different column.

5) Those last five minutes were pretty terrifying, weren’t they? Non-stop chances for Philly. Cross after cross after cross. One corner kick after another. We could never seem to get possession. Last year, we would have given up a goal. This year, our guys summoned the strength to survive and we should applaud that. Also, thank goodness for Mr. Post, right? He’s been rock solid for us this year. Unwavering.

6) So, we got a point on the road. That would be reason for celebration last year, but we’ve changed our expectations, haven’t we? Now we want three points on the road. And, I gotta tell you, we absolutely must get three in San Jose next weekend. Why? Because August is coming and it will be BRUTAL. Here’s the murderer’s row we’ll be seeing next month: Vancouver, Dallas, Salt Lake, then @ Seattle and @ Salt Lake. Oh, and there’s a bye and some mid-week games, so those last four games are all bang-bang-bang within two weeks. My point? Things could get ugly in August. We need three points next week at San Jose. Sharks, ninjas, ICBMs? I don’t care. Bring me three points. Nothing else will do.

Six Degrees: Memories

memories


1) This might seem a little weird, but these days, when I watch a Timbers game, I actually think quite a bit about this column. I know I’m going to have to write it, so as I watch the game, up there in the stands, I start planning the column in my head, thinking about what I’ll say. And, I gotta tell you, at Saturday night’s game against L.A., my thoughts were not good. Up in my part of the stands – section 218, with its charmingly obstructed view of the north-end goal – I was bitching with my section-mates Randy and Tyus. We were all incredibly frustrated the entire game. As we complained, I began writing this column in my head. Here are some of the key points I knew I’d have to make:

  • On the whole, LA was the better team all night long.
  • They completely took us out of our game.
  • When they attacked, they had four or five guys in the box. When we attacked, we had two guys, maybe three.
  • We kept giving it back to them. They’d attack, we’d survive, then give them the ball. Repeat ad naseum
  • Our passes were just a little off all night long.
  • They seemed faster all night. Better fitness?

So that was going to be my column.

And then this happened.

2) I’ve been to a lot of sporting events in my life. I’ve never seen a crowd lose its damn mind the way we did after Beast’s goal. Never. People were jumping up and down, slapping hands, hugging, practically crying. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple babies were conceived during those few insane moments. And the noise? Oh my God, the NOISE. The Timbers always have a great crowd. Always. But Saturday night, it turned into something else. It was like we morphed into some kind of giant screaming monster. None of us were entirely human.

And it wasn’t just the crowd, either. The team almost killed Beast, they were going so nuts. The players were jumping on him, the bench was jumping on him, I’m surprised the COACHES didn’t start jumping on him. If you didn’t watch the video above, do so now, because the best part’s at the very end, when Frederic Piquionne and Ben Zemanski are running around like a couple 12-year olds. Two grown men absolutely FREAKING OUT. Priceless!

3) Well, because of that ending, this column has to change, right? I can’t bitch too much, right? After all, we won the game. Suddenly, the Timbers aren’t a pathetic bunch of losers. Now they’re scrappy fighters, full of piss and vinegar. (note: I have no idea what this expression means, but I’ve always liked it…)

So here’s what I’ll say: maybe the Timbers weren’t bad, maybe LA’s just good. Maybe they’re a team that matches up well with us. Both times we’ve played them, it’s been super, super tight. Maybe this is just two evenly-matched heavyweights trading shots, each hoping to land a knockout blow.

In our first match-up, down in California, we couldn’t land the haymaker. This time, we did. In our third and final game with LA, what will happen? I predict a bloody mess. Just like on Saturday.

4) I suppose I could go on and on about how bad the officiating was. I could give a long list of mistakes. I could talk about how me and my section-mates lost track of how many players had yellow cards. I could even make a few always-amusing bong-hit jokes. But I won’t do that. I’ll just make a quick statement: maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but I absolutely love booing the ref. It’s totally fun. In fact, he doesn’t even need to be all that bad. I’ll boo him anyway, just for the pleasure of it.

I’d like to thank Major League Soccer for continuing to employ poorly-trained, barely-competent, borderline-criminal referees. You’ve given me so many happy hours of booing.

5) Some quick player notes:

Andrew Jean-Baptiste – Even before Beast’s goal, I was all prepared to talk about his improvement. I swear. I went through a period of not trusting the guy on D, but he’s really changed my mind. He’s looking totally solid back there.

Ryan Johnson – Would you people get off his back already? Why does this guy get absolutely no respect? He’s leading the team in goals! He’s third in assists! He runs his ass off on defense, harassing the goalie, harassing the back line. And yet everyone wants Piquionne or Valencia. What does Johnson have to do? Sprout wings and fly?

Donovan Ricketts – Dear Lord. This guy is unconscious. The play where Zardes was all alone? No one between him and the goal? I honestly wasn’t all that scared. I mean it. I knew Ricketts would do something awesome. And he did. (and I thought the crowd was loud after THAT play. I didn’t know what loud really was…)

6) Finally, I want to talk about the atmosphere after the game. There’s always a good number of fans who stick around the cheer the team as they circle the field and lift their log slices. But on Saturday, EVERYONE stayed. And cheered. The entire time. And then afterwards, we all went outside the stadium and just wandered around for awhile. Were you there? It was fabulous! It felt like I was back at Mardi Gras. People were singing cheers, waving flags, dancing to street musicians, hi-fiving strangers.

This is why we love sports. Because of times like Saturday night, when we become part of something bigger than ourselves. When we stop being 20,000 individuals, and instead morph into one gigantic screaming monster.

Thank you, Timbers. I won’t forget it.

Six Degrees: ‘Til You Finish The Fight

1) Yes, yes, I know. Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote how I was sick of all the ties. I also know we should go into every game wanting three points. But I have to be honest, as many games as we’ve had lately, as banged up as our team is, and as up-and-down dangerous as the LA Galaxy have been lately, I went into this game fearing a loss. And the game’s first 15 minutes did nothing to allay my fears. We looked horrible, didn’t we? No possession, no flow, and, most importantly, no urgency. To be honest, it didn’t even look like our team our there. It looked liked the very worst of last year’s squad. We looked utterly lost. But then, somehow, we turned it around. I don’t know if we flipped our switch “on” or if LA flipped their switch “off,” but at roughly the 20 minute mark, Portland had 37% possession. By end of game, we’d bumped it up to 53%. And that, to me, tells the story of the game.

2) I’m a little amazed how solid our back line looked. Particularly centerbacks Pa-Modou Kah and Andrew Jean-Baptiste. If you’d asked me before the game, I’d have told you Kah hadn’t been here long enough or looked impressive enough to earn my trust. And Beast? Well, he’d sort of LOST my trust, what with his hand-wrestling in the box, and his guaranteed one or two bone-headed plays per game. But after their performance last night, I really wonder if we’ve found our ideal pairing. They were brilliant. Did they earn starting positions for the rest of the year? Is Footy Danso stuck on the bench from here on? We’ll have to wait and see, of course, but wow, I couldn’t be happier with what I saw. And strictly for comedy’s sake, how fabulous was that play late in the game where Keane was heading straight for goal and somehow, this 20-year old kid picked his pocket. Keane looked around like he wasn’t sure what had happened. Like the ball had just disappeared. Absolutely hysterical.

3) Also fantastic? But honestly, why should I act like this is some special announcement? Of COURSE Donovan Ricketts was fantastic. That’s just what he does. He came to town last year, replacing the beloved Troy Perkins, and did absolutely nothing to endear himself to Timbers fans. This season? Oh, my lord, has he been great. It’s gotten to the point where Donovan’s almost like a security blanket for me. All hell can be breaking loose in front of the goal, but as soon as I see that big, 6’4” Jamaican racing out from his goal, I relax, because I know everything’s going to be okay. In earning his league-leading seventh shutout, he had so many great plays. I’ll only mention two. At the 55 minute mark, when Sean Franklin hit the post? Yes, my heart stopped there, as did yours, but did you notice how Ricketts got his hand on that ball? Not before it hit the post, but AFTER. It would have bounced right back in front of goal, where Landon Donovan was waiting, but Ricketts just gave it a little punch. Enough to send it out of harm’s way. Beautiful. And then later, around the 83 minute mark, LA had a great counter going, with a long pass to Robbie Keane, and he’s racing for it, Kah trying to keep up, and once again, our man Ricketts races out of goal and beats both of them to the ball. You can relax, Portland. Ricketts in on the job.

4) I feel like I should say something about our offense, but what do I say? There kind of WASN’T any offense, was there? LA had 10 corner kicks to our one. We had a four shots on goal, same as LA, but for some reason, none of ours seemed terribly dangerous. And I’m not sure any of them qualify as close range shots. I can’t tell you for sure why we were so impotent last night, but I’m inclined to give two reasons. One, we had tired legs. Valeri and Nagbe both seemed to be moving at half-speed. Ryan Johnson had a few decent moments, but when Piquionne came in, he didn’t do a thing. All my strongest memories from the game happened on defense. The offense? Well, they were just kind of there.

The second possible explanation? Maybe LA’s just good. I mean, after those first 20 minutes, we did a nice job with possession, and we had a few times where I saw 15, 20, 25 straight passes, all over the field. Well, almost all over the field, because as soon as we tried to take it into LA’s final third – you know, that place where goals happen – then everything just fell apart. So perhaps it’s LA’s fault. Maybe they just shut us down.

5) I know this is silly, but I feel like I have to dedicate one entire talking point to that late-game almost-fight between Will Johnson and Robbie Keane. I mean, how fantastic was that? If you didn’t see it, trust me, it was quintessential Will Johnson. I don’t even know what started the argument, but suddenly there in front of our goal are Will and Robbie jawing at each other, right up in each other’s faces. And you know how Will is, he’s got the total Will Johnson face on, the same face we saw in the San Jose game, when he and Alan Gordon were going at it. So the ref steps in and separates Will and Keane, but they’re still jawing, so then some teammates separate them and they both start jogging up the field. But here’s the best part: they didn’t want to be separated. They’re jogging up the field, sure, but they’re still jawing at each other, and the cameras are following them, because this is way better than the actual game, and they’re getting closer and closer, until they’re finally right up in each other’s grills again. And I’m watching this in a bar and everyone there’s howling with laughter, and then – new best part – out of nowhere, Pa Modou Kah comes sprinting up, wedges himself between Johnson and Keane, and SHOVES them away from each other. Well, as you can imagine, this pisses Robbie Keane off, especially since he and Kah kind of got into it earlier in the game, so then he’s jawing with Kah AND Johnson and the cameras are still on them, and I’m at the bar, watching all of this, just laughing my ass off. It was priceless! Will Johnson rules! And Kah? You’re pretty fantastic, too, pal. Welcome to the team. If there’s anyone reading this who has some sort of video editing mojo, put this fight on Youtube. You’ll be a Porland hero.

6) Okay, last point. If you include US Open Cup matches, this was our 4th game in 12 days. We’re utterly exhausted. But, hey, no problem, right? We’ve only got two more games in the next week. Almost like a vacation, isn’t it? Fortunately, nobody was hurt last night. Well, unless you count our goalie and our centerback colliding full-speed with each other, both rolling around for a few minutes in pain. Oh, and there’s that little issue of our left back, Michael Harrington, being carried off the field on a stretcher. We finished the game with 10 men. Did you know that?

So who the hell’s starting Sunday versus Colorado? I bet you Mikey’s out, so that means Ryan Miller and Jack Jewsbury as our outside backs. What if Kah’s busted up? Is Futty healthy yet? The rookie, Tucker-Gangnes has a concussion, so he can’t go. McKenzie, maybe? If there’s anyone reading this who can play centerback, please contact Caleb Porter. He may have a job for you Sunday.

On offense, I don’t know what to say. We looked tired, all over the field. Maybe give Nanchoff a start? Zemanski? Zizzo? Dare I say… El Trencito?

Whoever we throw out there Sunday, I hope our defense continues their great play and our offense gets their groove back. But, most likely, Sunday’s game with Colorado will be an ugly slog. Then next Wednesday in Dallas? I can’t even imagine how ugly that’s going to be. But hold it together, boys. After Dallas, we get a week and a half break. And man, will we need it.

Best Laid Plans

Valencia’s miss wasn’t part of the script. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. It was meant to flash off his boot, beyond the despairing Troy Perkins and into the roof of the net, setting off a riot of noise and smoke in the massed ranks of the Timbers Army only yards away.

That was what should’ve happened.

What did happen was Trencito’s tame effort was easily saved by a grateful Perkins, and moments later the referee’s whistle signaled the end of a very fruitful week in Cascadia for Montreal Impact, and left the Timbers with a sole point to show for an opening home double header.

There was another storyline-in-waiting out there late night. The stage seemed set upon Perkins’ return for him to outshine Donovan Ricketts, and I’m sure there were at least a couple of people in the organization who feared that happening more than anyone.

Despite hearing a few folks on the way home expressing sadness or anger at having traded Perkins for Ricketts, the fact is that Ricketts actually had a pretty good game. He came up big a couple of crucial moments, and he had no chance with the two goals Montreal scored.

The first goal, a looping overhead by Camara after the Timbers failed to clear a set piece, was simply a very good (or very lucky) strike that rendered Ricketts a spectator. The second goal came from such short range that there was little but hope to get lucky that Ricketts could do.

The match ended 2-1 in favour of the visitors, who have to be credited with a display that was as resolute and disciplined in defence as you’re likely to see in MLS.

Nevertheless, it’s another game where the Timbers have dominated possession and territory but lost the opening goal, fallen behind by two and been left chasing the game.

I had a sense going into the game that the first goal would decide this match. Scoring first is always a good thing to do, but given the way this game was set-up, I felt that here it would be decisive.

The reason for that was that both teams fit together like puzzle pieces. One one hand you have the attacking, possession-based Timbers, on the other the defensive, counter-attacking Impact.

Had Portland gotten the first goal it could’ve drawn the Impact out of their 4-1-4-1 shell, allowing Portland to pick holes in their defence.

The first goal, when it did come off the boot of Camara, meant Montreal were able to focus on getting numbers behind the ball and letting Portland push on further, with the hope of springing a quick counter for a second goal.

That goal came an hour in when Will Johnson gave up possession on a poor pass in midfield.

montreal2goal

The pass from Bernier was very well weighted, but the move highlighted a couple of issues for the Timbers last night.

The Easiest Position

Caleb Porter clearly wants to see his full-backs pushed on and contributing to keeping an attack going, even if they’re not necessarily the guys we’re looking to to hit the byline and get the cross in. This is especially true with Michael Harrington who is hampered by being a naturally right-footed player playing on the left side.

This limits Harrington’s options in those final twenty yards to the byline, inevitably forcing him inside to his right foot to whip it to the back post.

Ryan Miller is at least on his natural side, and plays an attacking game, but on a night when his touch and passing seemed to be off, he becomes more of a liability than an asset.

passingaccuracyMiller wasn’t the only guy to see his pass accuracy dip from last week, but his was the sharpest fall. 21.4% fewer passes reached their man, and each of Miller’s defensive colleagues also saw their numbers dip.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste continues to impress on the defensive side, developing into a very promising defender, but his on-the-ball work still needs a bit of refinement. Despite getting some minutes last season, he’s still got a lot to learn, and picking when to go long is one of those things that will come from more work on the training ground and more game minutes. For me, there’s still a few too many “Spencerballs” lofted forward in a seemingly indiscriminate way.

To return to the outside backs, Porter likes to see them pushed on and involved at the best of times, even moreso when the team are chasing a goal as in Montreal’s second goal.

It’s a high-wire act as you have to balance the defence and attack, and be especially wary when facing a team that is built to counter-attack. The cheap giveaway by Johnson caught Harrington and Miller up the field, giving the Impact a 4-on-2 against Silvestre and Jean-Baptiste.

The ball takes Silvestre out of the centre, and with no-one else getting back in time, the finish is a pretty routine one for Felipe.

Montreal Win The Battle

The other issue I think the goal above reflects is the change in system that Porter implemented at half-time. I wrote in my post on the New York game that Porter had made several tweaks at half-time that brought out the best in his team, leading to a stirring comeback. He was busy again this week, with more marked changes.

formationchange

The above shows the average positions for each player during the first half, and the first 25 minutes of the second.

Ben Zemanski made his Timbers debut, replacing Kalif Alhassan at half-time, as Porter sought to find a way through the massed ranks in blue.

It was more than a simple personnel change though, as it brought with it a change in formation. The previous 4-3-3, which takes more of a 4-2-3-1 shape, became a 4-1-2-2-1 with Zemanski dropping behind Will Johnson and Diego Chara and Diego Valeri vacating his central role for Alhassan’s previous station on the right.

Pre-game, I’d highlighted the midfield battle as being key to the game. Montreal, in the first half at least, won the battle and, by making the changes he did, Caleb Porter seems to have thought so too.

We’ve been here before, of course. There were times under John Spencer when the Timbers would seemingly roll into a match without giving the opposition’s tactics a second thought. This bloody-minded “let’s make them adjust to our tactics” approach is all well and good when you have the talent to pull it off, but when you have the roster of an, at best, mid-table team, then a bit of preparation and adjustment goes a long way.

Caleb Porter’s Timbers are a better technical squad than Spencer’s, and having run into a situation where his tactics weren’t working against an opponent that was doing it’s work well, Porter didn’t vacillate on making a change. He was decisive and made a bold choice to get Valeri out of the middle – and away from Bernier – and pit him against the (for Montreal’s defence) relatively inexperienced Jeb Brovsky, right under the noses of a riled-up Timbers Army.

The game was marked by the lack of space allowed by Montreal, and the attacking three of Nagbe-Valeri-Alhassan were stifled by it in the first half, where every halfway heavy touch, or marginally off-target pass was pounced upon by a blue shirt and cleared from danger.

The addition of Zemanski would also go someway to denying Montreal space to work in front of the Timbers defence, an area where Di Vaio, Felipe and Arnaud had gotten some joy in the first half.

Wary of quick counters, Silvestre and Jean-Baptiste played a fraction deeper to kill any space over the top. Where playing a little deeper had had a knock-on effect that seemed to throw the attack out of sync against New York, it worked here because Zemanski’s presence there kept it glued together.

However, by essentially ceding that central attacking midfield zone, the Timbers allowed Bernier a bit of freedom. Now, if you’re playing a team who have a “destroyer” in there, someone whose sole job is to win back the ball, you can make this move and take him out of the game because he has little to contribute to their attack.

Bernier is a little different. He can play. Credit to Montreal for staying disciplined, and Bernier for not getting carried away and abandoning his post – a luxury afforded by being a goal up – but that didn’t stop the player moving up when the opportunity arises, as it did when Will Johnson gave the ball away an hour in.

With Valeri in the middle, maybe Bernier still moves forward to play that pass, but with no-one there, there was no reason for him not to.

It’s perhaps telling that Porter’s next change saw him abandon this new shape in favour of how the Timbers started – Zemanski going to right back to replace the out-of-sorts Miller, Trencito taking over out right and Valeri returning to the centre.

Portland would eventually get their goal from Ryan Johnson, who caught Camara sleeping on a Ben Zemanski ball to the back post, and would come close to an equaliser, but it wasn’t to be.

Before all that though, Montreal had a chance to go 3-0 up, but were thwarted by Michael Harrington on the line.

Communication Breakdown

pooroffside

The chance above is a simple case of a defence out of sync. Entirely to be expected given the turnover there this off-season, but still annoying to see.

Silvestre steps up, leaving his man free. No-one else does. In a flash, Montreal have gone from having seven Timbers outfield players between the ball and goal, to a one-on-one against Ricketts.

The team are still seeking the right balance at the back, but Porter’s options are rather limited. For sure, the club have a lot of centre-backs on their roster, but I’d harbour doubts about Horst or Danso playing this kind of system, and Mosquera’s standing in the squad seems unclear, at best. That leaves Tucker-Gangnes, but Porter may be resistant to throwing the rookie into a system that is still being figured out.

Paying the Penalty

The Timbers continued their long streak without a penalty, having gone the entire 2012 campaign without getting a single spot kick, despite what many fans thought was a clear foul on Ryan Miller.

The incident happened shortly before half-time, and in waving it away, referee Edvin Jurisevic denied the Timbers a chance to go in at the break on level-terms.

For me, it looks like a penalty. There’s not a great deal in it, but it certainly seems like the Montreal player instigates contact with no real attempt to play the ball. Ryan Miller perhaps goes down a little too easily, but the referee doesn’t seem to have thought he’d dived since he didn’t book him, so he must’ve read the contact was fair.

He wasn’t (or was he?) helped by his assistant, who should’ve had a good view of the incident, and neither was he helped by being so far behind the play.

refereeposition

The referee starts running when he is about 13 yards behind the ball. It takes approximately 4.1 seconds from here till Miller is bundled over.

Going by the general fitness test standards for a professional referee (sustained running at around 4.5 yards/sec, and sprinting at 6.6 y/s). Let’s be generous and say that Jurisevic is one of the faster, fitter refs, meaning that you would expect him to travel between 23 and 35 yards from his starting spot until contact is made in the box. This would leave him, at best, a good 25 yards behind play, on the “blind side” of any push.

Running Out Of Time

Caleb Porter and this team are not going to be judged on these first few matches, but the longer that the same old mistakes are made, the tougher it becomes to keep a long-term focus on the project.

Porter has shown a willingness to change it up, and adjust as the game is flowing to find an advantage for his team which is a definite step forward. Some of the passing is nice to see, and there are times when the attack really clicks, and it become a joy to watch. There are some positives, for sure, but the worry is that despite shaking up the defence, we’re still making the same mistakes.

Montreal also posed the question of what Porter would do when a team set-up with the sole purpose of letting his team have the ball fifty yards from goal, then killing the game when they got anywhere near the box. In that regard, I might give Porter a C, maybe even a B-. He made a bold stroke to change the game, and got caught out by a loose pass in midfield, and then changed back and came within a swing of the boot from grabbing a last-gasp draw.

Having given the lesson, other teams will have noted how Montreal managed to do what the much more expensively assembled New York couldn’t, and muzzled Portland’s attack for much of the game.

In what seems like some kind of wooden spoon play-off, both the sides that Montreal beat will face each other next week, but it’s no wooden spoon at stake, it’s the Cascadia Cup.

Portland travel to face Seattle next week knowing that there would be no better time to record Caleb Porter’s first MLS win. Seattle have the distraction of Champion’s League football before then, but there’s little doubt that the Timbers will face a massive test in the kind of game that gets remembered.

RCTID