Tag Archives: FC Dallas

Six Degrees: Let The Record Show

record


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.

Six Degrees – The Razor’s Edge

1) Man! What a game! You know, I’ve always heard that snails can slide their way along a razor and won’t get cut. That’s the image that was running through my head as I watched Saturday’s game. Both teams were living on the razor’s edge.

If you didn’t watch the game and only saw that it ended 1-0, you might think to yourself, “Oh, soccer is so boring… Another 1-0 game… Yawn…”

Well, lemme tell you, brudda, this game was one of the most exciting you could ever see. It could easily have been 5-4. Or 5-0, for either team. It was non-stop chaos. Back and forth, back and forth, both teams were just BLITZING the goal.

2) So how does a free-for-all like this end up 1-0? Because the goalies were absolutely brilliant. How many of those saves will be nominated for MLS Save of the Week? Donovan Ricketts is definitely nominated for that lay-out save in first half stoppage time, but Dallas goalie Raul Fernandez could have three or four saves nominated. The guy was out of his mind! The way we attacked him for 90 minutes, Fernandez is gonna have to go into therapy. He probably woke up screaming last night.

But back to our side, how great was it to have Ricketts back in goal? The one word that kept coming to mind was “comforting.” Every time our defense got leaky, Donovan stepped up, made the right play, and told all of us to just calm the hell down, because he’s got this.

Remember the last time we gave up a goal at home? Me, either. Apparently, it was against Montreal, back in early March. Since then, five straight shutouts. It’s good to have you back, Donovan.

3) Now, I feel like I need to blame someone for putting Donovan under so much pressure. Oh, sure, I could probably just give Dallas credit for being good, but I think our defense deserves some blame, too. They looked a little shaky. Jack Jewsbury, you’re on notice, sir. Quit letting guys zip past you! Lower the shoulder and drop someone if you have to!

Also, it was our first time seeing Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah side-by-side at center back and, I gotta tell you, the Great Wall of Gambia is missing a few bricks. I’d hoped that starting two Gambians would lead to vampire teeth and complete intimidation. Instead, it just led to missed assignments, mental blunders, wide-open shots on goal, and me, up in the stands, soiling my delicates. Tighten up, people! Donovan can’t save us forever!

4) But our defense wasn’t entirely to blame. The ref was pretty bad, too. How many free kicks did Dallas have? 103? That’s gotta be a record. I think maybe he awarded Portland one, as well, but it was by accident.

Seriously, though, what is it with MLS referees? Every match seems to turn into a hockey game. I was telling the guy next to me that I was worried a fight was going to break out, and then one did! Some guy pops Freddy Piquionne, Freddy gets up in his grill, and then the dude head-butts him! Right in the mouth! What did the ref do about it? He took another bong hit, that’s what.

Jeez Louise, MLS. Get some decent refs for a change. Is there some sort of old folks home for retired European referees? I don’t care how old they are, I say we hire a few. We’ll give them whistles and maybe some of those motorized wheelchairs and then let them do their thing. Could they be any worse than what we have now?

5) Let’s talk about some players.

Darlington Nagbe. What a freakin’ goal. It actually caught me by surprise. Something about the slowness of the shot, plus the ridiculous angle, I didn’t realize it had gone in until the crowd started going nuts. I think the goalie had pretty much the same reaction.

Diego Chara. I love you, dude, but you need to go to finishing school. You’re now leading the league in almost-goals. Also, you now have 4 yellows cards. I’m pretty sure your 5th means a one-game suspension. We need you, buddy.

Diego Valeri. Once again, you looked really gassed at the end. What’s up with that? We need you at full-game fitness, okay? You’re too valuable to be subbing out after 70 minutes. On a more positive note, your almost-goal? Collecting, turning, and firing, all in one motion? Sick. Absolutely sick.

Futty Danso and Donovan Ricketts. Are you guys hurt? Futty, you had to leave the game. Donovan, you were holding your back and grimacing. We can’t have this, dudes! We need you right now! Heal! Heal!

6) Why do we need them so bad? Because there’s no rest for the weary. Wednesday, we go to LA to face the Galaxy. Four days later, it’s Colorado, here at home. Then three days after that, we go to Dallas for the US Open Cup quarterfinals. There’s not a bad team in the bunch.

Fortunately, we’re pretty good, too. But eventually this unbeaten streak will end. If it happens in the next week, I’ll be sad, but I won’t be terribly surprised. We’re living on the razor’s edge right now. We might get cut.

Six Degrees: The Dallas Timeline

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 1-1 tie with Dallas.

1) My biggest reaction watching the game: the team looked tired. They’ve played so many games, so close together, and last night I saw a lot of jogging, standing around, sloppy passes, and a real lack of sharp cuts and quick acceleration. I’ve gotten used to these guys giving 100% effort from start to finish, and last night it was missing. It was especially obvious with Harrington, who’s usually such a powerhouse, but Valeri and Nagbe seemed to be dragging a little, too. And of course, early in the game, the entire back four was a mess. We’re lucky we didn’t give up an early goal.

Considering how tired we looked, it surprised me when Caleb Porter decided to sub out Piquionne and Alhassan. In theory, those were the two freshest guys on the field. Why not sub out the tired guys? I’m not gonna complain too much about this, since one, I don’t think it was actually Caleb Porter down there. (You saw the goatee, right? If bad television has taught us anything, it’s that a goatee signifies “evil twin.”) And secondly, Alhassan’s sub, Rodney Wallace, had that beautiful pass which Nagbe put into the net.

2) Okay, let’s talk about the yellow card on Andrew Jean-Baptiste. I’ll just start this off by saying I’m no expert. And soccer refereeing is a very subjective thing. Nevertheless, that was a questionable call, wasn’t it?

If you’ve seen the video replays, you know what I’m talking about. Perez and Beast were in an absolute wrestling match. Perez had Beast’s shirt and vice versa. Perez is moving toward the goal, pulling Beast with him. At this point, Beast needs to just let go, but he doesn’t. Perez eventually falls down right in front of the goal, the two of them still holding uniforms, and because of where the ref is standing, it looks like Beast shoved Perez to the ground. Out comes the yellow card, but there was no shove. The replays show it.

So, in the end, what do we call this? I think we call it a savvy veteran taking advantage of a young defender. I think Perez knew exactly what he was doing and got exactly the result he was hoping for. Kind of a dirty way to get a p.k., but still, that’s what savvy veterans do. Beast will just have to learn from this.

3) I’ve had five or six of these columns now and I still haven’t taken time to praise Donovan Ricketts. The guy’s on fire, isn’t he? He makes one or two goal-saving plays every single game and last night was no exception.

It’s been a little tough on Donovan since he arrived in Portland last year. For starters, he was traded for a truly beloved Timber, Troy Perkins. Secondly, our general manager did Donovan no favors by insulting Troy on the way out the door. And finally, let’s be honest, Donovan was a little shaky last year. So you can sort of understand why the fans were down on him.

Well that’s a problem no more. Ricketts is having a fabulous season and Timbers fans are finally welcoming him into their hearts, which I am thrilled to see. Keep up the good work, Donovan. You’re a great keeper and a nice guy and without you we’d have 2 or 3 more losses this year.

4) On a night of tired legs and sloppy passing, who else deserves some love? Well, Diego Chara was his usual brilliant self. It was his heavenly through-ball that led to Piquionne’s near-goal. And the tackle he made on that Dallas breakaway was truly world-class. Ten games into the season, he’s my MVP.

I should also mention Darlington Nagbe. He looked very tired the whole evening, but that goal was some sweet stuff. Nags has a hard time scoring in the one-on-one situations, but when he has to make split second decisions like last night, he puts ’em away.

And I think we can be pleased with the two new starters, Frederic Piquionne (who I enjoy calling “Freddy”) and Kalif Alhassan (who can no longer be referred to as KAH, since we just signed a guy whose name is actually “Kah,” which is all the proof you need that my Caleb Porter Evil Twin Theory is correct). Freddy had that gorgeous almost-goal the keeper just barely got a fingernail on, while KAH 1.0 had the looping pass across the box that Valeri almost put in.

5) So here’s the question: who starts Sunday against Chivas? As tired as we looked last night, we’re going to be even worse Sunday. Does Porter’s evil twin rest the starters? Kah 2.0 is still trying to get his visa taken care of, so he can’t step into the back four. But that big rookie Dylan Tucker-Ganges could. Does he get the start?

What about the rest of the lineup? Does Sal Zizzo make the starting XI? Jose Adolfo (choo chooooooo!) Valencia? Zemanski? Ryan Miller? Nanchoff? There are a ton of guys that I really wouldn’t mind seeing, if only to find out what they’re made of.

To be honest, wouldn’t it be fun if Evil Twin sends out six or seven brand new starters on Sunday? And why not? The team’s tired, we’ll be at home, and Chivas is struggling. Let’s do it, Evil Twin! Be evil!

6) As I’ve written before, there are ties that feel like wins and ties that feel like losses. This one was definitely closer to a win. I mean, honestly, it’s our first game without Mikael Silvestre, we’re on the road against the league’s best team, and we’re tired from a short week. Last year’s Timbers would have lost 16-0. This year’s crew goes in there and gets a point. Well done, fellas.

Over a quarter of the way through the season, we’re 3rd place in the western conference, and we just tied the 1st place team on the road. This is no longer a fluke, people. This is for real. The Timbers are a very good team.

Now watch… Evil Twin will follow my advice, start all the newbies, Chivas will beat us 47-1, and I’ll have a bunch of angry, pitchfork-waving Timbers fans on my front lawn. It wasn’t me, guys! It’s the evil twin! He’s evil! He’s got a goatee and everything! Evil!

Finn’s Five: DON’T PANIC

An entirely new team from Sunday took the field for the Timbers and frankly it showed in a choppy, disjointed loss.

1) The System – Porters intense, ball control system that had us all buzzing from Sunday was nowhere to be seen last night. Our reserves either couldn’t or wouldn’t put it into practice. Worrying but it’s early days.

2) Trencito – Porter singled him out for praise and rightfully so. It’s not just the work he does on the ball. His dedication to high up the field defensive pressure deserves recognition.

3) Mwanga – Oh Danny. Boy, I want him to succeed but last night he was very poor. Weak on the ball and lazy in defense. Look at the goal again. Danny could have and should have closed Perez down.

4) The midfield pairing of Wallace and Zemanski – No thanks. Nuff said.

5) The Zizzo right back experiment – Intrigued. Would like to see more of it. We know he can run the channel with the best of them, the question is can he defend?

Still Dreaming

Victory against the Rapids took the Timbers out of the basement for the first time in what was in reality only a short while but felt so, so much longer. The recent turnaround in play and, crucially, results (I haven’t checked possession and shot stats, sorry) is sowing seeds of hope for 2013 when Caleb Porter will descend from on high – sorry, Ohio – to take over head coach duties.

A casual glance at the standings show that the Timbers are only 10 points behind Vancouver Whitecaps, and have played two fewer matches than our Canuck cousins. 10 points. 2 games. Do we really have to wait till 2013 for the good times to roll…?

I took the recent form of all the teams in the West (over the last six matches) and plugged it into the table to extrapolate how the season may finish.

[table id=3 /]

If you tighten it to the last five matches, the Timbers have the same points but Dallas leapfrog Whitecaps 43-40, so 44 is still the “magic number”.

It doesn’t look good for the Timbers’ play-off chances, but then if things simply run according to “form” we could all pack up already. Still, I do think that if the Timbers were to pull off the unlikeliest play-off run in recent memory, they would have to win at least 5 of their last 8 matches.

The two teams fighting it out for that 5th spot currently are Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas. For RSL, LA and Seattle the rest of the season will see them jostling for 2nd-4th while San Jose seek out their first Supporters’ Shield since 2005 with the cold-blooded determination of Walter White planning an expansion in territory.

Any Chivas fans reading this will, of course, first of all be wondering how the hell they ended up here, but secondly asking, “What about us? We’ve one more point than the Timbers, and we’ve played a game less!” To which I would reply, “Oh hey, Chivas, yeah, I, uh, I didn’t see you skulking about there. Um, yeah, this is awkward, you see, the thing is, no-one really cares about you. You should go and stand over there by New England cos he looks pretty lonely. Sorry, bro.”

Breaking down the run-in’s of Dallas and Vancouver, it’s clear that the advantage lies with the Canadian side. Of their final six matches, four are at home while Dallas hit the road for 3 of their last 5. To return to form tables, if both clubs were to hold up their respective home and away form the Whitecaps would end on 45 points to Dallas’ 37, but the Whitecaps would need to halt an alarming slide that has seen them lose their last four matches.

The Whitecaps and Dallas will meet in a couple of weeks in Texas for a proverbial “six pointer”. Portland will visit Vancouver in October in a match that will either mean everything or nothing, in play-off terms at least.

So let’s assume Dallas beat Vancouver, which there’s a good chance they will do. They then hit the road from three matches on the west coast, playing San Jose, Chivas and Seattle. You would expect San Jose and Seattle to win, and Chivas’ home form (the last couple of matches aside) has been decent so a loss there isn’t inconceivable, but let’s be charitable and give Dallas a point against LA’s Other Team. They would then host Chivas on the last day, and I’d fancy them to win that one, giving them 7 points and a final tally of 40.

If the Whitecaps were to lose both matches against Dallas and the Timbers, that would leave them 4 matches to pick up the points to overhaul Dallas (let’s say 4, to reach 41) as well as keep Portland in their rear view mirror. Those four games are at home to Colorado, Seattle and Chivas, and away to RSL. I’d back them to lose at RSL, so let’s narrow it down to three games. Colorado’s away record is abject, so the Whitecaps must pick up 3 there. Chivas aren’t the greatest travellers, but they can grind out a draw with the best/worst/most tedious of them. There’s the ‘Caps 4 points. Which leaves Seattle.

The Sounders are all over any faint play-off hopes the Timbers have. They play both Dallas and Vancouver, and there are two matches against the Timbers to come this year, beginning a week on Saturday when the Sounders return to Jeld-Wen Field.

If the Timbers are to have any hopes of turning the season around, they need other teams to help out and that means Seattle. I already have Seattle beating Dallas, and here I have them drawing with Vancouver. Sounders losses in both, or either, circumstance could put take the matter well out of Portland’s hands. It’s as uncomfortable as having a jaggy nettle thong riding up your sheugh to be in any way relying on them, but if the Timbers are to snaffle 5th place we’d need the Sounders to do their job.

So, by my very rough and ready reckoning, I have Dallas on 40 and Vancouver in 5th on 42. Not too far removed from the form table above. With Portland Timbers currently on 27 points, it’s still a five-win minimum required. [Or 4 and three draws – A Pedant]

What are the chances of the Timbers pulling it off?

Match 1 – @ Colorado

The Timbers just beat the Rapids, stringing together two wins for the first time in almost exactly a year. The Timbers haven’t yet won three-in-a-row in MLS, and are without a road win this year, but this is one they simply have to win. Draw or defeat here takes play-off talk that is already stretching credibility and shifts it towards Scientology-levels of couch-jumping batshittery. It’ll be a tough match, but the Timbers can do it. Win

Match 2 – vs Seattle

A win would not only propel them forward in the play-off hunt, it would secure the Cascadia Cup for 2012. A home match against your rivals doesn’t need any more hype, but if the Timbers can pull of a repeat of the earlier victory at Jeld-Wen then that would be 2 wins down, 3 to go. Win

Match 3 – @ San Jose

Ha. Well. Yeah. This is where things get tricky. The Earthquakes have been imperious at home with 6 wins in their last 7, and an unbeaten run of 12. They’ve managed to score 4 or more at home on 5 occasions so, even though the Timbers beat them earlier this season, I don’t think you’ll find many tipping them to leave Buck Shaw with so much as a point. Loss

Match 4 – @ RSL

We follow up arguably our toughest trip with another from Brick McShithouse’s Bumper Book of Hard Grounds. Though RSL haven’t hit the heights they have in previous years, it’s still not easy to pick up points there. Clean sheets in 3 of their last 5 matches indicate that any potential Timbers success there will have to be founded on an immense defensive performance. So, yeah, a point would be a good result here, but that’s not a win… Draw

Match 5 – vs DC

Back to Portland for the visit of DC United, and another must-win-if-there-is-even-the-slightest-of-slight-hopes match. DC don’t travel well – losing their last six road matches prior to their upcoming match against Philly – and have only won once in their last 6 trips to the West Coast, and that was last year. A draw here would be two points catastrophically dropped. Win

Match 6 – @ Seattle

Assuming the Timbers had won 3 of their last 5, and other results had favoured them, we would travel up the I-5 as Cascadia Cup champs and with a play-off spot firmly in our sights. You can bet your #GWOut two-stick that the Sounders would love nothing more than to be the team that killed that dream off. The usual derby clichés apply – “form out of the window” and so forth. The Sounders have the best home defence in the West and we ain’t exactly banging them in on the road. Dispassionately you could say a draw would be a good result, however nothing but victory will do in a match like this. Win/Draw

Match 7 – @ Vancouver

Another Cascadian battle, and one that I’ve already said could be decisive. With 3, potentially 4, wins till now, this could be hugely important in the chase for 5th place. I like how we match up against Vancouver, and if we had the kind of momentum behinds us that a play-off charge would bring, I’d fancy us to win here. Win

Match 8 – vs San Jose

The season ends with the visit of San Jose. There is a good chance that San Jose could have the conference title sewn up by the time they visit, but a potential push for the Supporters Shield will ensure a tough match as well as simply wanting to keep up momentum for the play-offs. Though the Earthquakes have lost three of their last four road matches, their overall records isn’t bad. I’d hate to go into this match needing a win, but as I said earlier, we have done it before. Draw/Loss

Clearly the chances of reaching the post-season are slim. They’d have to do something they haven’t done all year – win on the road – at least twice, but the last couple of road matches have shown signs that it’s not beyond believable that they could. Of course, this whole article could be moot, and the subject of retrospective amusement, over come Thursday morning, and it would remain that precarious all the way through the run-in where a single misstep would kill us off.

But then what is football without dreams, or without hope? Just a bunch of guys kicking a ball about a field. So I say screw that, the Timbers still have a dream, and for so long as cruel reality doesn’t kick me awake, so do I.

#RCTID


The featured image for this post is from Timbers Army.org

[post_ender]

Crackerjack

The drought is over, the losing streak has ended. The Timbers battled back from a goal down to equalise late on against 10 men FC Dallas and earn a point, their first in a month. It was a result that went some way to laying the ghosts of the recent 5-0 defeat to rest.

With a tricky trip to the East Coast looming it was important that the team gave themselves at least some hope for the rest of the season, and they’ll be somewhat satisfied by the way they were able to come back to earn a point from a losing position for the first time since the last visit from Dallas, way back in March.

Gavin Wilkinson set his team up in the now-familiar 4-3-3, with Boyd up top flanked by Songo’o and Richards. A midfield trio of Chara, Jewsbury and Nagbe were in front of the back-line of Smith, Horst, Mosquera and Kimura, with Perkins in goal.

Nagbe had taken a good share of the attention going into the match. I’d written about him, and then there was an article in The Columbian where the man himself said he’d like to “score a little bit more”.

It’s little wonder that Nagbe isn’t scoring as often when you see where he was playing against Dallas, as his heat map on the right is pretty indistinguishable from that of Diego Chara, aside from the Colombian’s customary greater work rate and involvement.

Nagbe is being asked to play deeper than we were used to from his first year and the start of this, and it’s taking some time for him to acclimatise to his new role. I still that he’s playing a bit within himself for whatever reason, but that’s probably just me nitpicking, as I tend to do.

Still, it was a tidy enough performance, and he had one good crack from distance that went close though he, like the rest of the team, took a while to get going in the match.

Diego Chara was once more playing in a slightly advanced role, with Jack Jewsbury sitting deep. I like Chara in this role. He’s every bit as chippy and industrious as he is when he plays in defensive midfield, but with the added advantage that when he does nick the ball from an opponents, he’s doing it much nearer their goal than his own.

The move here came to nothing, which was a shame, but had Boyd made that run across the defender, who knows what could’ve come out of it as the Timbers had numbers getting forward and Dallas had been caught out.

Ah, Boyd. Aye, I guess we have to talk about my fellow Ayrshireman. He came in for some stick on twitter – again – as he was isolated up top and never really got involved. The graphic on the right is everything Boyd did during the match, and it doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. I can’t jump onboard with those that are kicking Boyd as there was next-to-nothing coming his way, but I do feel that what we’re seeing now is what fans of Rangers and Scotland have seen in the past when those sides have played with one guy up top – Boyd is not that kind of player.

The heat wouldn’t have helped, that’s for sure, but the fact is Boyd isn’t mobile enough to play in the role that Wilkinson has assigned him. If you can get players around him and supporting him, it can work, but we never really did that in this match, and he was a peripheral figure.

Without a Perlaza, or even a Mwanga, running off him, creating space and giving him someone to work with, it’s hard to see how we’ll ever see the best of Boyd. It’s perhaps becoming apparent how much of a “Spencer signing” Boyd was as he’s singularly unsuited to the system that Wilkinson seems wed to, of having a lone figurehead up front.

I’m not saying Boyd is entirely blameless, but neither is it all on him. Just ask Kenny Cooper what a difference playing a system that works for you can make.

With Boyd having little to do, and Richards having a marginal impact out right, it was left to Franck Songo’o to provide most of the Timbers’ attacking impetus. Though he wasn’t quite on the rampant form he’s shown in the past, he was still by far the team’s most active player going forward, and looked most likely to find a way through the Dallas defence.

As usual he wasn’t your typical winger, though he did manage to whip a couple of good crosses round the outside, but he would often go roaming infield. It’s quite interesting to compare his approach to that of Brek Shea, the Dallas left winger.

Shea plays much more as a traditional winger, as you can see. He gave Kimura a tough time during the match, with an early warning shot fired across the bow of the Japanese fullback early on in the first half.

Meanwhile, Songo’o was tending to come inside more often as the game wore on, to the point that at times it seemed like he was playing the role I thought would suit him in a “Christmas Tree” formation.

There’s still a tendency for Songo’o to try and beat players where the better, and more simple, option is to pass it off, but in a midfield that has sorely lacked any kind of creativity for along stretches this year it’s nice to see someone who’s willing to try and magic something up.

The first half came to and end, and it was all pretty even, The match, understandably, lacked some intensity as both sides sought to conserve their energy as Portland sweltered with temperatures in the 90s, or the 30s if you’re of a civilized bent.

Any hope that the Timbers would come out and look to put Dallas under pressure for the first 10-15 minutes of the second half quickly went the way of John Spencer’s Big Bumper Book of Football Tactics book deal when the visitors put themselves ahead.

The goal was the archetypal Timbers goals to concede – a simple pass inside the full back and runner through the middle who isn’t picked up. Those playing along with the Timbers drinking game might want to retire if they value their liver at all.

AS much as Kimura got caught out by the ball, he at least made an effort to get back and put a block in. What Horst was doing letting Sealy run away from him, I can’t explain. It’s Defending 101 – stay goal side. Or at least close enough to put pressure on the player.

Horst is a player I like, but for me he’s simply not good enough defensively. Little elementary mistakes are made far too often, and it hurts the team.

A goal down, and things looked bleak for the Timbers, but referee Ricardo Salazar threw them a lifeline just a minute later when he sent off Zach Loyd for a second bookable offence.

Richards and Boyd were taken off shortly after, with Bright Dike and Danny Mwanga entering the fray but still the Timbers struggled to find a way to break down the 10 men. Dike had a good chance when he got one on one with Kevin Hartman after a cheap giveaway by Dallas, but his shot was saved.

Portland seemed destined to go goalless once more when Hartman made a great save from Mwanga in the 78th minute, but the Timbers kept plugging away and from the same passage of play they forced a corner, and would eventually find a route past the Dallas keeper from there.

There’s really no reason for me to post that pic as there’s no great analysis to be made of the goal, but damnit it’s been so long since we scored that I had to do it! Besides which, it was a cracking finish from Jack. The captain had a pretty tidy game, all told. He did what he had to do defensively, and didn’t seem nearly as wasteful in possession as he has been in recent weeks. I’m not his biggest fan, but an in-form Jewsbury is an asset to the team.

By this point the Timbers had fully committed to attack, going 3 at the back, whilst Dallas had brought on ex-Timber and non soccer enthusiast James Marcelin in an attempt to close the match out. I thought the momentum would carry the Timbers forward to snatch an unlikely win, but they still struggle to create opportunities in open play, and it was Dallas who had a good chance to take all three points.

I’ve given Kimura a lot of slack as he’s settled into a new team at a difficult time, but he’s now played 6 times for the Timbers and he continues to make the same mistakes. I like his general play – and he’s certainly the best option we have at right back, which says more about the roster than anything – but he’s turned around far too easily for my liking. I don’t recall seeing a lot of him from his time at the Rapids, so I don’t know if this is just an aspect of his play or whether it’s down to the system he’s being asked to play in with the Timbers.

So, the match petered out to a 1-1 draw that seemed to suit both parties. FC Dallas, on reflection, will probably be the happier team having played 40 minutes a man down.

I can’t agree with Gavin Wilkinson’s post-match assessment that “we deserved to win it”. Sure, you can point to shot stats (21-8 attempts on goal in favour of the Timbers, 7-3 shots on target) but there’s a marked difference in the kind of shots they were.

As you can see, Dallas were able to get all their shots off within the box, whereas the Timbers were, on the whole, taking pops from distance.

Even the possession stat of 57-23 in the Timbers favour is skewed by the Dallas sending off. Prior to that possession was pretty much 50-50 with the game being played in the Dallas half 51.7% of the time. After the sending off possession jumped to 66-34, with 61.8% of play coming in the Dallas half.

In saying that though, neither did we deserve to lose the match, though we can certainly fray the nerves and test the patience of all but the most serene/comatose of fans. There were times when you’d never have guessed that Dallas were a man short, and we still lack that killer final ball to unlock defences.

I don’t want to sound too negative a note after a hard-fought draw, but I feel that the result merely papers over the cracks. The problems are still there. The cold hard fact is that we’ve picked up 1 point from a possible 15 since John Spencer was sacked and we haven’t kept a clean sheet since the middle of May.

At the other end you have to go back to Mwanga’s lovely counter attack goal against San Jose for the last time Timbers created a goal that didn’t come from the first or second phase of a set play. That’s over 600 minutes without a goal in open play.

In defence we still lack solidity and focus, with mistakes being made and punished on a game-by-game basis. Perhaps the return of Eric Brunner will lend the back-line some steel, but it’s probably unwise to heap too much expectation on his shoulders alone.

It’s a week and a bit before the Timbers play again, and it’s a big one. Without an away win all season – and having lost 8 of the last 9 – Wilkinson takes his troops to Toronto to face a team that have lost only 1 of their past 6 matches at BMO Field.

Portland’s point against Dallas has lifted them above Toronto in the race to avoid the wooden spoon, and they’ll be hoping to put some clear air between them as well as hauling in the sides above them. The playoffs – barring some kind of clichéd Hollywood miracle – are gone, but there’s still a chance for the club to add some respectability to a season that’s been memorable thus far for all the wrong reasons.

#RCTID


The thoughts of this blog, and every soccer fan I’m sure, go out to the family and colleagues of Kirk Urso, a Columbus Crew player, who died on Sunday morning at the tragically young age of 22.

Another Fiasco in Frisco

I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.

In their first year in MLS, the Timbers went to Dallas in summer and lost 4-0. That remained their heaviest defeat as an MLS club until this week when they went one worse and lost 5-0. It was the first time Dallas had scored 5 since they beat LA 6-3 in 2009 and the first time they’d won by more than three goals since the Timbers visited last June.

The result leaves the Timbers rooted to the bottom in the West, and bottom overall on goal difference. Of the 35 goals they’ve conceded, 14 have come in the last four matches. The Timbers also set records for the longest a team has gone without scoring a goal away from home. It’s now seven full games since Kris Boyd scored against LA, and an aggregate score in that time of 0-15.

So, is everyone feeling happy? Let’s get on with the game…

The team that Gavin Wilkinson selected to put an end to that run saw Boyd benched, and a return to the 4-4-2. Alexander moved centrally, to play the top of the diamond as Nagbe also sat out. Mwanga and Fucito were up top, while Smith was replaced by Chabala at left-back . Songo’o and Alhassan were the wingers.

It was, on paper, an attacking set-up. Two mobile strikers to stretch the Dallas defence, and exploit any spaces. Alexander pulling the strings in midfield, with the creativity of Songo’o and Alhassan out wide.

In reality, it was a different matter.

The tone was set from early on. The Timbers sat off, seemingly looking to conserve energy in the sapping heat, but all it did was hand the impetus to the hosts. Dallas dominated play from the first whistle, and wouldn’t give up control until the final whistle mercifully brought an end to a contest that as one-sided as you’re likely to see.

The battle was quickly won, and lost, in the wide areas. There seemed to be no understanding between Chabala and Songo’o down the left or Kimura and Alhassan down the right.

When the ball got forward into attacking wide areas, there was no support for the full-backs time and again.

It may be that Wilkinson had told his fullbacks to sit deeper to counter the threat offered by Dallas’ full-backs, but rather than snuff out a Dallas threat, all it did was neuter our own.

Even on the few occaisions that a full-back did get forward for the Timbers, they would find themselves isolated.

It’s a wonder I don’t have a bruise on my forehead from the number of head smackings I give myself as the Timbers continue to make the same basic errors. Neither Songo’o or Alhassan are guys who are going to go round a defender and hit the byline, yet we persist with playing them out wide.

Fine, then we need to get our full-backs up to provide that wide out-ball, except we either have the ball dribbled or passed inside, and lost, or the run is so late, or the pass too slow, that rather than having a 2-on-1 out wide, it’s 2-on-2 or even 2-on-3.

To see how it’s done properly , just watch Dallas.

That’s how you do it. It wasn’t just a one-off, it was consistent. Quick, crisp and effective. Compare to the ponderous and plodding play of Portland. It’s men and boys.

With the way Dallas would push on their full-backs, it should’ve created chances for Portland to hit them down the flanks on the break, but again we were just too slow. We seem unable to put some quick passes together in transitioning from defense to attack. You can almost hear the gears crunching as we try to.

The one time we did turn it over quickly, a long ball forward was robbed from the defender by Fucito and his shot was deflected off the post. It was 0-0 at the time, and while it may have changed the matches had it gone it, I have little confidence that it would’ve halted the tide of the match which was washing all over the Timbers defence.

It very quickly became evident that Wilkinson’s attempt to play Alexander as an attacking midfielder was leaving Diego Chara exposed in deep. Not for the first time this season. And not for the first time, we did nothing to remedy a glaring problem.

As Dallas worked the flanks well, they were able to overload the middle and create chance after chance, and it was only a matter of time until they broke through.

It was also little surprise to see all of the Dallas goals exploiting our full-back weaknesses, and three in particular playing on our inability to defend in wide areas.

On the first, Kimura was marking a man in the centre of the field, leaving acres out wide. He then did that annoying thing of jumping back first to block the ball. Mosquera was unfortunate to turn it home.

The second saw Chabala go off on an adventure into midfield, and Songo’o resolutely fail to bother his arse to cover for his full-back.

The fourth was that classic thing the Timbers do of giving the ball away cheaply and leaving the full-back with his arse in the breeze. Jewsbury, who had started on the bench, gave the ball away and Dallas always looked likely to score.

The third and fifth goals won’t be featured on Mike Chabala’s highlight reel should he find himself seeking a new club at some point. On both occasions Jackson breezed past him so easily I had to rewind and double check he really was there at all.

It was a defensive horror show, and the full-back area continues to be a problem.

It was, of course, yet another shuffle at the back with Chabala coming in. The lack of consistency at the back is certainly a contributing factor to our defensive woes. Probably the best defense I’ve seen was the famous Arsenal back four of Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn. These were guys who played together every week, knew each others games inside out and played not as four individuals, but as one collective unit. They were formidable.

To be fair, the continued absence of Brunner perhaps prevents the Timbers from picking their first choice central pairing, but the continued switching of Horst and Futty alongside Mosquera doesn’t build stability. Nor do the woes at the full-back area.

Lack of communication, players not knowing or doing their job properly, poor positioning – all these are results of players not knowing who they’ll be playing beside from game to game.

Dallas were also able to use their defenders as a way to slow the game up and take a breather.

As you can see, Dallas were happy to play across the defense. It keeps the ball, gives the attacking players a chance to rest up, and it also lets the team probe for weakness in the Timbers defense. Look at the Timbers defence, and there is none of that. The difference is like those before and after pictures of a spider’s web when the spider is jacked up on caffeine. We’re nervous and jittery where Dallas are composed and confident.

It’s a symptom of the Timbers season. Hardly anyone wants to put a foot of the ball and work the play. It’s head down, kick it forward and run, and the tone is set at the back. Perkins continues to punt the ball hopefully up the field even though anyone who’s played in heat will tell you it’s much easier to conserve energy when you have the ball than when you’re chasing it. Look for a full-back to throw it to, or a central defender to drop off for a ball to feet. Pass the ball, even if you’re not always moving forward. Keep it, treasure it, and let the spaces open up in front of you, rather than hoping they will.

It’s just not good football. I said during the week on twitter that it’s little surprise we play USL football considering our entire backroom team is drawn from there. Just like a lower league team will upset the odds from time to time, so do we, but over the course of a season the results will even out and you’ll find yourself some way short of the quality needed. For all the work done to bring the old PGE Park up to MLS standards, we neglected to improve the personnel in the same way.

The fact it was the Timbers 3rd game in 8 days should have made possession of the football an even more pressing concern.

If the ninety minutes wasn’t dispiriting enough, Wilkinson’s post match comments won’t have improved anyone’s mood.

The tone of Gavin’s comments, despite his protestations that he wasn’t throwing anyone under the bus, were of someone throwing everyone under the bus before hopping on that same bus and telling the driver to step on it.

In short: “It was them, not me. Honest.”

It was hard not to see them being directed not towards the fans that had just seen the club they love humiliated and abused, but to Merritt Paulson in an attempt to convince the owner that he shouldn’t be culpable for having “people quit tonight”.

For all Gavin Wilkinson sought to shift the blame for the result onto the players – and the players do deserve criticism, as I’ve given too – he can’t, and shouldn’t be allowed to, weasel his way out of this one entirely.

Not only did he pick this team, and set the tactics, he signed these guys. I’ve never believed for a second that Wilkinson deferred entirely to a rookie manager in who the Timbers signed. And if he did, why are we paying him a wage if he’s just going to stand silently by and watch as a team is built in the most haphazard and poorly-planned manner?

The notion that Spencer signed all the duds is, quite frankly, bollocks. Wilkinson’s hands are dirty.

These are his players and if they’re not good enough, he’s not good enough. I don’t think sacking Spencer was a mistake, but it’s a job only half done. Spencer made many mistakes in his tactics, game management and approach, but he wasn’t alone in putting together a team that now prop up the rest of MLS.

I don’t buy the notion that bringing Spencer back would make things any better. The depths the club have fallen after he left doesn’t change the fact we were already scraping the barrel with him here. It’s a completely fresh start the club needs, with new eyes looking over everything and putting the club back on track.

I think we overachieved some in the first year. Players were a little bit complacent coming into their second year.

What in the holy fuck is this guy babbling about?

We overachieved by losing 14 of our 34 games? By having the second worst defence in the West? By winning two of our 17 road matches? Overachieved? Fuck off with that nonsense!

If our General Manager, the guy who is supposed to shape the “vision” for this club going forward, thinks that is overachievement then he had no place in MLS, never mind this club.

You may overachieve in a cup competition, and string a few results together and win a trophy, but you achieve exactly what you deserve over 34 matches. We’ve gone backwards this year and not because we did so well last year that players got complacent, but because management have failed in their duty.

You because complacent, Gavin. You’ve been here 12 years now. You’re comfortable, you’re part of the furniture. You’ve gotten lazy. You’re not good enough. You’re failing the Timbers, and if you have even a shred of good feeling towards this club, you’d do the right thing and admit the job is too big for you and go.

You may even find that fans have a bit of respect for you as a result. You got offered a nice job, and you took it. No-one would begrudge you that. You gave it your bes,t I don’t doubt, but your best isn’t nearly good enough. To hang onto your position now would be entirely selfish and destructive for this team.

You’re part of the problem, Gavin. Yes, the players have to take a large share of the blame for results, but I have zero confidence that you are the man to bring in better players. And the thought of you having input into the next manager at the club fills me with cold dread.

As I posted last week, I don’t expect title after title. I don’t support the Timbers for the glory. But this isn’t good enough. The fans remain loyal in their support, but they’re hurting. Ultimately, beyond singing themselves hoarse at every match, they can only watch as their club – THEIR club – is mismanaged.

You can blame everyone else for your failings, Gavin, but you don’t fool the fans.

One can only hope that the owner isn’t fooled either.

The Timbers have a week before their next proper match, when they host Chivas USA. It’s the return legs of this bizarre little midseason double-double-header, so a chance to avenge this defeat will follow the Chivas match.

#RCTID