Tag Archives: Franck Songo’o

Timbers 100: Part Three – Defensive Axis

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

Part 1: Island of Misfit Toys

Kenny Cooper and Eddie Johnson

Part 2: Everyday Magic

Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe

Part 3: Defensive Axis

Eric Brunner and Kris Boyd

Part 4: Endurance

Sal Zizzo and Bright Dike

Part 5: Maximum Impact

Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne


Goal 50. Eric Brunner vs Chicago Fire

20th May 2012

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When is a defender not a defender? Is it when he’s scoring goals, or when’s he failing to prevent them? Taking a look at Portland’s rocky relationship with ‘the big guy at the back’, and what a defender means to them then and now.


Watch The Goal Here

Eric Brunner fired home from four yards after a corner by Franck Songo’o was headed back by Hanyer Mosquera and flicked on by Kris Boyd.

It was Brunner’s first goal of the season, and put Portland on the road to a 2-1 victory, helping put a run of four defeats in five games well behind them.


Brunner’s goal against Chicago was his fourth, and final, goal for the Timbers before leaving the club at the end of the 2012, just as Songo’o, Mosquera and Boyd did too.

It was also his first goal scored with his foot for the club. His first ever goal grabbed all three points against his old club, Columbus Crew, after a quick corner. He rubbed salt into LA’s wounds with the third in a 3-0 win, again from a corner, and his last goal of 2011 got the Timbers all the points against Chivas USA. Yes, with a header from a corner.

The common factor in all of Eric Brunner’s goals is that they came from set plays, which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise when you think that it’s on corners and free-kicks that the big guys can get forward.

With a concussion sustained in the net match, Brunner’s career with the Timbers effectively ended and with his passing went what had been one of the team’s key scoring threats.

Jack Jewsbury’s exceptional set piece delivery in 2011 was the defining feature of the season, and it was from his boot that the ball was delivered towards the likes of Brunner, Futty Danso and Kevin Goldthwaite (via the head of, uh, Eric Brunner).

100 Def Head GoalsEven though the Timbers recorded fewer corner kicks than the league average, they scored nine headed goals which doesn’t count goals scored with the the foot, like Brunner’s last hurrah.

Given this bounty, you can’t really blame Spencer for doubling down on set piece or crossed goals. In 2011, 10 of the Timbers’ 40 goals were scored by defenders (25%), compared to 6 of 45 (13.5%), which is the league average. Almost double what the rest of the league were averaging.

2012 saw Spencer bring in Mosquera, an imposing presence; a heavyweight Futty. Danso scored three in 2011, including the last goal of the year against Real Salt Lake, so it would stand to reason that Mosquera would score more. Fast forward to now and neither guy has scored for the Timbers, but only one of them is still in Portland, and it’s not the “upgrade”.

That year saw only four goals from defenders, which meant that our tally matched the league average of around 11-12%.

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No goals from defenders this season, yet, but that could be due to the upheaval in defence and the fact that the team have attacking players now with aerial threat that’s been missing at times, along with the ability to cross a ball.

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The goals from defence, in proportional terms at least, were replaced from midfield but you have to account for the six fewer goals the Timbers scored in 2012 which would point to an over-reliance on set-play situations as a part of the plan which suffered through poorer delivery from Jewsbury and Songo’o, as well as weak crossing from the likes of Mike Chabala and whoever else got stuck at full-back.

With no goals from defence this year, the Timbers have seen the goals previously scored by the likes of Futty Danso off a corner kick, scored by Ben Zemanski on a late run forward or Will Johnson after attacking pressure draws a penalty. It’s a different kind of attack, an while we’ll still see balls lofted in for people to attack, this side are more concerned about it being as part of live play than from a dead ball an that changes the emphasis to attack.

That’s not to say we’ve given up on defenders pitching in as a team with Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah on the roster will inevitably score some along the way as the Timbers attack increases pressure, drawing free-kicks and corners.

The fact is, while it’s good to get the big guys up and throw the ball into the mix, the defenders aren’t primarily there score goals, and the move for Mosquera was as much about plugging the defence as beefing the attack.

A clean sheet is the most valuable asset in soccer. More so than a goal, I think. A goal could mean anything, really. It could be the last minute winner, or the 1 in a 5-1 thrashing. A clean sheet has actual value. In fact, if you were to discount consolation goals and goals that weren’t result critical (ie goal #3 in a 2-1 win), only 27 of the Timbers 40 goals in 2011 actually mattered. So, only a 2 in a 3 chance that a goal will mean anything, whereas every single clean sheet your team get is worth, at the very least, one point. Guaranteed.

Obviously it’s not as cut and dried as that as every goal matters as they change the game, but it’s serves to underline the point that the teams that top the league are generally built on solid foundations at the back. It’s something that I think is often overlooked by teams who concentrate on the headline figure who’ll put the ball in the net. The Timbers certainly did this, going big on Cooper and Boyd, but it was only after John Spencer left that they made a move that seemed curious at the time – signing Donovan Ricketts in exchange for Troy Perkins.

That trade left a bitter taste in the mouth that has been steadily washed away by the taste of Ricketts’ [this metaphor got away from me and it’s probably best it remains unpublished]. The fact his contract has been renewed only weeks after his 36th birthday is testament to what he’s done this season behind a defence that has been in a seemingly constant state of flux. The Timbers paid more for someone who looked older, and played olderer but it worked. It was the right call.

Flawed though the method of working out goals that count is, if you were to carry it on to 2012, you’d find only 23 of the 34 goals counted which pretty much mirrors season one. 2013 though sees 21 of 28 having a direct effect on the result, a rise to 75%.

The reason behind this jump is the Timbers much improved clean sheet record which has seen them register 8 clean sheets in half a season, compared to 9 and 5 through the whole of 2011 and 2012. Of the 9 shut-outs in 2011, the Timbers won 8, giving it a value of 2.8 points. That dropped to 2.2 in 2012, but is back up to 2.5 this season.

Despite great value from their shut-outs in 2011, the flip side is that the Timbers were shut-out themselves too often, meaning of the 9 times Portland failed to score, they lost 8. As with so much of that first year team, it was either the sublime or the ridiculous.

2012 saw the Timbers fail to net 12 times, earning 2 points. With half the season gone, the Timbers have failed to score twice in 2013 but they’ve drawn both these ties. When you can still get points on the rare occasions you don’t score, then it’s going to be that much tougher for others to slow you down.

The Timbers are making their goals count, and have put to rest one of the team’s great weaknesses under previous management; the late game collapse.

100 Goal Agg TimeThe Timbers are winning the second half for the first time in MLS after it being their Achilles Heel through ‘11 and ‘12.

The figures can paint the story of the years. 2011 saw the Timbers start games slowly, but go into the break with a fighting chance before falling just short as the second half wore. 2012 was never good enough; chances are, whenever you tuned in, the Timbers were losing. 2013 has seen some slow starts, but big comebacks and a couple of blow-out wins, judging by that ridiculous second half score.

Brunner wasn’t the only big casualty at the back.

The fact that the Timbers have the third best defence on 0.94 goals per game defies conventional wisdom when you look at the way that Caleb Porter has had to adapt it to account for a laundry list of injuries.

Keeping this figure below 1.00, guaranteeing those cleans sheets, is what gives the team it’s forward momentum up the table. It’s not unreasonable to think that other teams are going to start finding answers to the questions Porter has posed them in attack so far, so keeping it closed down at the back becomes ever more important, especially moving into the offseason.

Whether Caleb Porter can keep all the balls in the air remains to be seen, but with the season halfway gone, you’d have to say he’s doing a pretty fucking good job so far.

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Goal 53. Kris Boyd vs Seattle Sounders

24th June 2012

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There are no sure things in football, and the transfer market provides no greater example of this. A team is only as good as its ability to recognize talent, something that few in Portland seemed to possess, until now.


Watch The Goal Here

Steven Smith and Franck Songo’o combined down the left, before the Scot fired a low cross into the path of Kris Boyd to put Portland 1-0 against their great rivals.

The Timbers would go on to record a win, with David Horst scoring the important second goal. The three points helped the team on their way to Cascadia Cup glory, salvaging something from a year of miserable soccer.


Kris Boyd was a gamble. A million dollar gamble. When you put those kinda wagers on, you run the risk of losing fingers if it doesn’t come off for you so perhaps John Spencer is lucky to have just lost his job.

Truth is that Spencer’s gamble wasn’t on Boyd alone, but on leveraging his knowledge of and contacts within the English and Scottish leagues to put together a side to succeed half the world away.

Boyd was joined by Steven Smith, ex-Rangers teammate, with Franck Songo’o picked up after a spell bouncing around England and Spain, and they were linked with many more British-based players as Spencer sought out the familiar.

This little clique was not the only georgraphical grouping in the team. Five Colombian players – Diego Chara, Hanyer Mosquera and Jorge Perlaza, Jose Valencia and Sebastian Rincon – all started the 2012 season in Portland, though only three remain this year.

And then there is New Zealand, that footballing powerhouse. Jake Gleeson looked like the future of the team at one point, but looks less so today now that he’s, at best, third choice. Cameron Knowles is an ex-Timbers player and current-Timbers defensive coach, a job title akin to Chief Deckchair Arranger on the Titanic at times. And then there’s Ian Hogg, whose existence is only marginally better attested to than Sasquatch.

These were the three wells the Timbers dug in 2011 and 2012, and they kept going back to them long after they came up dry. A failure to recognise the problem saw a whole bunch of guys deemed surplus to requirements before Caleb Porter set foot in Portland.

Boyd, Songo’o, Smith, Mosquera, Perlaza, Hogg. They all flopped to a greater or lesser degree and have been swept away so that Caleb Porter could start with a fresh slate.

In one sense, looking for value in Colombia makes sense. The league there isn’t rich, but is good enough to be of a standard to produce good MLS players while not so good that it’s as yet on the radar of most of European powers, driving up the price and shallowing the talent pool available to the rest.

In 2012, there were 30 Colombians in MLS, ranking them just behind USA in representation. This year it is down to 20, with the likes of Fredy Montero and Juan Pablo Angel joining Mosquera and Perlaza in leaving the league.

This year the Timbers didn’t add to their Colombian collections, nor their Scots or Kiwis, as they cast their nets a bit wider. Silvestre and Piquionne had a history in the UK, but added experience at the top level in other countries, while the likes of Kah and Valeri have added cool heads where they’re needed in defence and attack.

This season has seen the Timbers use fewer American players than ever before, even when the team seemed to be composed of a Scots-Colombian confederation.

100 Foreign PlayersThough players like Dike and Purdy count a foreign players despite being born in the States, and Nagbe more likely has US caps in his future rather than Liberian, but it illustrates a consistent reliance in buying in talent, something that has only increased over the three seasons.

The African contingent, of which Nagbe and Dike can count themselves, has stayed steady, with an Umony being replaced by a Songo’o, which in turns is replaced by a Kah, who is counted as African for the purposes of this, and as homage to CI DeMann’s “Great Wall of Gambia”.

The biggest variation in South and Central America, where 2012 saw a big jump as the Timbers went big on Colombia; a bubble that seems to have popped with the 33% reduction in representation this year, caused by a whole bunch of MLS teams scouting the country for the same bargains. Diego Chara is the one South American to have played in all three seasons, and stands alongside Rodney Wallace and Jack Jewsbury as the best trade/expansion moves the Spencer/Wilkinson brain trust ever pulled off.

The European contingent has also undergone a big change. The 4 Europeans who played in ‘11 and ‘12 are all Brits – Moffat, Boyd, Smith and Eddie Johnson – but none of the 3 Euros in the 2013 roster are, being replaced by two Frenchmen (Silvestre and Piquionne – yes, I know, New Caledonia and Martinique.) and a Serb, Milos Kocic.

Despite bringing in more foreign players, Porter has added MLS experience in the likes of Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Kocic and Ricketts, but it does leave the places for “homegrown” talent at a premium.

Darlington Nagbe and Andrew Jean-Baptiste have featured as SuperDraft picks, with Brent Richards seeing time here and there. Beyond that a number of players orbited the first team but never made the pitch, like Chris Taylor or Ryan Kawulok.

It’s to be expected that only a few will ever make the grade. There’s a reason why the big clubs have yearly intakes that can field numerous teams through the age levels, and why tags like “ex-Barcelona youth” don’t mean a great deal on their own.

Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, their sole 2013 SuperDraft pick, and Bryan Gallego may yet have a future, and there are some in the U-23’s or reserves that could take the step up, but for now it’s hard to see the Timbers breaking their reliance on buying in talent.

The days of gambling on bringing in players with impressive resumes from abroad clearly aren’t gone, but we’re putting it on guys with impressive international experience rather than experience of toiling around the second or third tier of English football.

By no longer fishing in three same pools, only one of which has really given us any sort of meaningful return, and widening our vision to places like Scandinavia, the Timbers are finding more value and MLS-ready players. Diskerud, Miller and Kah are or have been playing there, and the latter looks like the proverbial rock at the back.

Just as Spencer inclined towards the UK and Europe as the place to get the best players, and Wilkinson shopped at home and where the rest of MLS were heading, so Porter’s “backyard” is the States. The Timbers took a few punches on the transfer front over the first couple of years, regularly coming out the arse end of one trade deal after another, but are finally starting to land a few haymakers in return.

The two Johnsons, and the Zemanski and Harrington deals are absolute steals. Criminal. Illegal in nineteen States. For the grand outlay of “a bunch of allocation cash” the Timbers have added thirteen goals and eight clean sheets. Even more importantly they’ve signed guys who can bridge a divide that had opened last season between the players and fans.

Will Johnson will likely never have to buy a beer in Portland for the rest of his life, while guys like Harrington are getting involved with the fans on twitter. The days of fans demanding jerseys from players are a thankfully distant memory.

There’s a connection to these guys that was never quite there with the likes of Boyd, Songo’o or Mosquera. We wanted to love Boyd, but dammit he just didn’t score enough. We’ll always have the Monstero Death Stare [Monstero was a typo, but I’m not fixing it]. And I wanted Songo’o and Mosquera to get it right because they both had the tools to be good players, but it just never quite fit.

A squad is a constantly evolving thing, and we’ll see the front office make further moves to improve and strengthen the side. Signing a Jamaican defender, Alvas Powell, was the team’s first move of the summer, so perhaps we’re replacing Wee Glesga with Little Kingston. Right now, we seem to be in a consolidation phases with the club getting a number of players tied down to longer contracts but that doesn’t mean that enquiries aren’t be made all the time.

The new regime’s record is pretty good, but as many previous managers have found to their cost, you’re often only as good as you’re last couple of deals.

John Spencer found that one out the hard way.

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Speaking Franckly

The Portland Timbers announced yesterday that they have released midfielder Franck Songo’o.

This move wasn’t entirely unexpected.  The fact that Franck’s signing wasn’t announced with those of the other players resigned from the 2012 season suggested that his place on the side was, at least, still in question.

And from a player personnel angle the move also doesn’t seem shocking.  From being one of the two great weaknesses of the past two seasons (the fullbacks being the other) the Timbers Front Office has moved quickly to shore up the midfield before the start of the coming season.  From being – as one of the best comments on the post discussing this move over at Stumptown Footy put it – a bright candle in a dark room Songo’o had become just another dim part of the candelabra that will be this season’s midfield.  And not a very bright candle in the view of the coach, general manager, and, presumably, the owner.

Still, the big issue this points up is how opaque and difficult-to-suss-out these player contract negotiations are.  The MLS Player’s association places Franck’s 2012 salary at about $70,000 as part of a two-year contract that, supposedly, saw his pay increase this coming year.  How large this increase might be is difficult to estimate.

But, consider; Jack Jewsbury made about $160,000 last year and is likely to make roughly the same in this coming season.

If you were the Timbers owner, would you consider Songo’o less valuable than Jewsbury?

Even more than that – consider the last part of the last sentence of the Oregonian article, since my understanding is that Geoff Arnold is largely a megaphone for the Timbers’ Front Office: “…the Timbers decided they didn’t want Songo’o back, even at a reduced salary. “

So the team didn’t just consider Songo’o less valuable than Jewsbury, an aging defensive midfielder whose wheels are largely gone and who no longer takes the spot-kicks that made him useful in 2011, they didn’t even consider Songo’o v.2013 as valuable as Songo’o v.2012 at a lower cost.

Not even an increased cost.  A lower cost.

That’s pretty baffling.

Much of the commentary on this trade at Stumptown is fairly acrid.  Franck is an attractive player and his skills were one of the few bright(er) facets of the last dire season (albeit skills that weren’t effective as a means of goalscoring or winning, but given his surroundings its hard to lay that back on him).  And in my opinion a lot of the cause of this is the toxic effect of the man who has moved back upstairs from his dire interregnum on the touchline; this suspicion and this simmering distrust will linger as long and perhaps longer than he will.  Many supporters simply don’t trust Gavin to make intelligent player decisions anymore.

But I think that an immense part of the trouble is that it is difficult or simply impossible for the fan standing outside to see into, hear, and understand what’s happening in those closed rooms underneath the walls of Jeld-Wen Field.

And where there is no light, even the brightest candle can cast some dark and troubling shadows.  It’s hard to speak frankly when you can’t hear the words being spoken around you.

Goals, all we really want is goals…

It was probably the most epic new chant created by the Timbers Army this year. One memory in particular stands out to me. The day this chant was born. In the May 5th game against Columbus Crew.  Walking to my spot in the top of 104, slightly late from half time having been helping at the 107ist table, I decided to walk along the gangway between the one and two hundreds to avoid the crowds of folks still waiting for beer or a free toilet. I have a distinct memory of entering in around 108 and hearing this chant going, smiling to myself because I’d quite enjoyed learning it in the first half. Then proceeding a little further down and seeing Shawn Levy in his midsection capo stand leading the chant with great enthusiasm, jumping around and maybe even dancing a little! I thought to myself I love this chant.

Why did I love this chant? Well no doubt that a part of it was because of its homage to the sadly departed MCA. But there was something more. I think this song connected to my footballing soul. I think this song connected to the heart of the Timbers Army.  And, perhaps crucially, it connected to one of the biggest points of disappointment that we had in the stands. Goals are at the very heart of the game of football. It doesn’t matter how much you appreciate good defending or a solid hard working midfielder you still love goals. We all do. Every football fan across the world loves goals. It’s why, whether or not we like the teams on every level, we are more likely to tune in to watch games which we think are more likely to produce goals. It’s why we are instantly inclined to think that a 0-0 was probably boring and that a 3-4 game was probably a classic. It’s why we have goal of the week and goal of the month competitions. Goals are the pinnacle of a football game. The troubling thing is that the Portland Timbers don’t score many of them.

I am not much for analyzing football by numbers. But sometimes they do highlight certain points well. So, allow me to hurl a few at you to digest. It’s probably not news to you that Portland scored the second fewest goals, 34, in the MLS only behind the woefully poor Chivas. Yes, even Toronto managed more goals. We were also recorded the third worst defence. No doubt I feel the defence needs to improve, but I think most of our attention should be on getting the attack to work. I think that if the Timbers got the attack to work better they may even find their defence naturally improving. There could be a whole blog entry dedicated to that theory but in brief: a good attack helps the team to keep possession, something the Timbers are generally woeful at. When you have the ball more the opposition has less possibility to score. Also, when the Timbers are chasing games, which is too often the case, they leave themselves exposed at the back. A good attack would score more and thus help to prevent this.

Allow me to indulge you with some more numbers. After two full seasons in the MLS, this is the Timbers overall scoring chart:

  1. Jack Jewsbury- 10 goals
  2. Kenny Cooper  – 8 Goals
  3. Darlington Nagbe- 8 Goals (6 of these in 2012)
  4. Kris Boyd – 7 Goals
  5. Bright Dike- 6 Goals
  6. Jorge Perlaza- 6 Goals
  7. Eric Brunner- 4 Goals
  8. Rodney Wallace- 3 Goals
  9. Danny Mwanga- 3 Goals
  10. Futty Danso- 3 Goals

For the record: Boyd, Cooper and Dike all have a very similar strike rate of around 1 in 4. Cooper’s strike rate significantly improved when provided with better service at NYRB. Is it possible that better service could see Dike or Boyd hit high up on the scoring charts? Oh, and for a laugh… the other Timber player with a 1 in 4 strike rate is Kevin Goldthwaite.

And the assists totals:

  1. Khalif Alhassan- 8 Assists (6 of these were in 2011)
  2. Jack Jewsbury- 7 Assists
  3. Sal Zizzo- 5 Assists
  4. Eric Alexander – 4 Assists
  5. Franck Songo’o- 4 Assists
  6. Diego Chara- 4 Assists (All in 2011)
  7. Darlington Nagbe- 3 Assists
  8. Rodney Wallace- 3 Assists

So Jewsbury is the most consistently producing offensive player. A defensive midfielder is consistently out producing wingers, attacking midfielders and even strikers. Beyond that, Jewsbury isn’t even a particularly special defensive midfielder. He is solid and pretty consistent and he can pass a football reasonably well. But those attributes have been enough to see him become our most productive player. This highlights what, in my opinion,  is the biggest problem in the team. A severe lack of creativity. There are plenty of striking things to be revealed in these little lists.

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After 2 years of MLS football and 47 appearances Khalif Alhassan has notched up 8 assists and a solitary goal. In his 61 games Darlington Nagbe has produced 8 assists and 3 goals. These are two of our more skillful attacking players, and yet so little production. With Nagbe and Alhassan the problem is evident on many levels. These are young players who are incredibly inconsistent. They can go from looking like European bound superstars in one game, to looking like a player that would struggle in the USL.

This is not a unique problem to Portland Timbers young players. After one season with Manchester United Cristiano Ronaldo had been described by many as a “one trick pony”. It was quite a popular opinion that he was a “bag of tricks” who wouldn’t produce much. What was the problem? Ronaldo, was very inconsistent in delivering end product. He could do 5 stepovers in 2 second, blow a player away and then fail to deliver a good cross. He’s shooting was inconsistent too.  Fast forward a few years. There may be many things to call Ronaldo, not all of them pleasant, but unproductive is not one of them.

Season by season he matured in Manchester, and then in Madrid, into one of the worlds very best footballers. There are countless other examples of players going through this process. Nagbe and Alhassan’s inconsistency is very, very normal for young, flair based players. The problem is that they are two key players in Portland’s offense and that most of the other attack based players share the same fate.

Franck Songo’o has unquestionable talent. With the skill he had he should be one of the top performing players in the MLS. But he is limited by his inconsistency.  Alhassan, Nagbe and Songo’o are an exciting trio of players. However, they are not just limited by consistency, they are shackled. But not just them, the whole offense is shackled. Because these three should be our primary source of provision for strikers. But the strikers are feeding off scraps. Zizzo’s return to fitness in the later half of the season offered a boost here. He is more consistency in his performances and especially in the area of delivery. But, I would also say he has less ability.

After the Timbers first MLS season I naively thought that Nagbe and Alhassan would magically progress in the off season and help the Timbers set the league on fire in their second season (burn, destroy, wreck and kill!). I believed in the progress of young players, in their development into better players. Perhaps I have been playing too much FIFA and Football Manager, where young players will always develop if you play them. It’s probably fair to say that Nagbe has improved a little. With the more limited game time it’s hard to see anyway in which Alhassan has improved. Now, I see that Nagbe and Alhassan have two things working against them in the current set up.

Firstly, they have often been two very important players in the offense. There is pressure to perform. Any professional should be able to handle pressure of course. But a lot consistent pressure to perform on a young and developing player is not conducive to the development of said player. Just think how many times you sat in the stands last season, and even more the season before, hoping that Nagbe or Alhassan could pull something off to help create a goal.

In every league around the world young players are hyped as the next big thing. Pressure is heaped upon them, as they are labeled the next so and so and so. There are two great examples in the Premier League this season in Raheem Sterling and Tom Cleverley.

The talent both youngsters possess is evident. It’s also evident that both are far from finished article. But that didn’t stop the hyperbole. After a particularly impressive display for England Cleverley was actually compared to Iniesta. Here is a player still struggling to hold down a place in the Manchester United midfield (the weakest area of that team) being compared to one of the worlds finest creative midfielders. Raheem Sterling had his fair amount of ridiculous over the top praises and comparisons too. But, whilst they may have pressure to perform from over expectant fans and media there is not too much pressure from within the team. Manchester United have Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Nani, Valencia, Kagawa, Scholes and Carrick to supply the passes for Van Persie up front. If Cleverley is struggling to make those incisive passes in a game then Manchester United will probably get by without them. Even with Liverpool struggling as they are they still have several players in addition to Sterling capable of creating chances.

The addition of Songo’o certainly provided us with another player to pin our offensive hopes on. But, as mentioned earlier, his struggle was the same. Whilst Zizzo is more consistent, you still would not say consistency is a strong point of his. Four attacking midfielders/wingers and wingers whose struggle with inconsistency only served to heap more pressure on themselves and left Boyd, Dike et al casting a lonely shadow upfront waiting for service.

Any kind of service. 

nagbe

So, rather than being able to participate and develop themselves in a successful attacking unit Nagbe and Alhassan (and Songo’o and Zizzo for that matter) were left to try and overcome their demon and provide the team with the creativity it needed. At times during the season I think I could almost see the burden sitting on their shoulders. I think that perhaps that pressure stifled the creativity of Nagbe and Alhassan. Particularly Nagbe. He often seemed scared to run at players and take risks because he felt the pressure to supply the right pass or move to provide the goal. There will always be pressure on youngsters to perform but the system at the Timbers has not served to alleviate any of this pressure. There is a huge difference to being a young star winger in a great offensive unit, and being a young star winger who is the hope of the offensive unit. The former is more likely to bring the successful development of a young player.

The second thing is that Nagbe and Alhassan don’t have another player to look up to in their development. Songo’o is the closest thing they have and he is also relatively young and struggles in exactly the same areas. This is very much related to the first problem. If the Timbers had one,  one is surely not too much to ask, attacking midfielder or winger who was experienced and a consistent producer it would make the world of difference. They don’t have to be all that dynamic or exciting. They just have to have been there and done that. They just have to be consistent. The type of player that could stroll up and put an arm around Nagbe in training and give a word of advice. They type of player who could consistently put in 4 or 5 good crosses or through balls EVERY game. In an instant the pressure on Nagbe and Alhassan drops and they are spending time everyday with a player that can assist them in their develop.

Mr Porter, in the chance you are an avid reader of Slide Rule Pass, which I assume you are as it is the primary location for all your Portland Timbers blogging needs, I plead with you. I beg you. Please, please, please sign someone who can fulfill that role. May I suggest it would be a most excellent way to sign the new year! (P.S I don’t think McCourt will cut it for this role). This would be a huge step in the right direction offensively and could even be a step toward fulfilling the identity of the team. I believe it would help this team tremendously in their development. Even if it costs us sacrificing one of Alhassan, Nagbe or Songo’o I think it would be worth it to get the best out of the other three and offer better service to our lonely strikers. I don’t suppose it will suddenly make us a great team challenging for MLS titles, but it will certainly elevate us.

Couver Up

The Timbers took command of the Cascadia Cup standings with a deserved 2-1 victory at home to Vancouver Whitecaps, setting themselves up for a huge match against Seattle in a couple of weeks – as if that particular tie needed any more hype.

I suspected that Kimura would miss the match after he tickled Tim Cahill’s elbow with his nose last week, but to my surprise and relief he was named in the Starting XI. Relief as I’d psyched myself up for a Lovel Palmer master class at full-back this week, and that would be avoided.

The only change made by Gavin Wilkinson was an enforced one, with Eric Alexander coming in for Diego Chara. I wasn’t surprised to see Dike retain his place as it would be hard to drop a guy who scored the previous week. Kris Boyd warmed the bench once more.

In truth, there wasn’t much between the teams in the early stages with the Timbers showing some patience in retaining the ball that was so often lacking in Spencer’s team. There was always a sense under Spenny that if the team put more than three or four passes together and hadn’t made it to the edge of the opposition box, the ball would be launched forward in desperation.

It was Donovan Ricketts’ first home match as a Timber, and he gave the Timbers Army a taste of what he could do with a fantastic long throw early on that put Franck Songo’o in.

It’s certainly different from what we’d become used to with Troy Perkins, whose big failing was often his distribution. In truth though, despite some blockbuster throws and kicks, Ricketts could do with changing it up now and then as he seemed to rely too often on the long ball out.

Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in this department at least, the move to bring in the Jamaican does represent an “upgrade”, even if I remain resolutely unconvinced that’s he’s any better a shot stopper or defensive organiser than Perkins.

It was through quick breaks that the Timbers tended to get most joy in attack, though Songo’o was having one of those games where he wasn’t as effective as he has been in the past. Down the right we have Sal Zizzo who gives a lot of pace and width, but down the left Songo’o seemed more intent on coming inside rather than testing the Vancouver full-backs.

As Nagbe looks up having gotten the ball in deep midfield, I’d be wanting Songo’o to pull on the shoulder of his man and go wide to stretch the play, but instead he runs straight down the middle where the Whitecaps have DeMerit covering.

Even with the ball at his feet, he’d invariably narrow the attack.

I don’t doubt Songo’o has bags of talent, but at times he seems to lack the instinct to play the role he’s been given. It’s like he wants to beat players at all costs, even if that means running right towards a mass of defenders instead of pulling off towards space and letting the rest of the team find gaps to exploit.

This break came only a couple of minutes before the Timbers opened the scoring, and the way the team used width is a nice contrast.

Dike’s pulling DeMerit out of position is key to this whole passage of play, and you can see how stretched the Vancouver defence is by his run out wide. Compare that to how narrow Songo’o allowed them to get in his breakaway chance.

Using the width, even in a shoe box like Jeld-Wen Field, isn’t just about getting it to the wingers so that they can swing cross after cross into the box – it’s also about creating space in the centre and that’s what you saw in the goal. The Timbers found themselves with players in space in a dangerous area, and instead of a mass of four or five defenders in their way, there were two.

It was still a fantastic touch by Nagbe to take two players out of the game, and a lovely finish, but the work of Dike shouldn’t be underestimated in helping engineer the chance in the first place.

Dike had had an earlier chance when he made a good front-to-back post move to get between DeMerit and the fullback for a header from a fantastic Smith cross, but he hit the post. In truth, I didn’t think Dike had an especially great game, but he worked hard and he’s a presence up top that the opposition can’t ignore.

Vancouver lined up without a Dike figure in attack, going with a more mobile and fluid front line that looked to pull the Timbers defence around to create space for balls into feet. To the Timbers credit, they didn’t allow this to happen and stuck to their jobs, apart from one moment in the first half.

Miller’s move was key in this move as the the Timbers were pretty well matched up across the back and in midfield. By dropping off though he gave Vancouver a man extra against Jewsbury, and forced Horst to follow him out lest the ball go into his feet.

However Horst’s move left space for the attacker to move into and Vancouver created a shooting chance. I don’t want to give Horst too much of a kicking here as I understand why he felt he had to match Miller. It was exactly the kind of move I feared we’d see from Vancouver, but fortunately this was really the only time they were able to make the Timbers defence do their bidding.

However, Horst certainly didn’t cover himself in glory with the Vancouver goal, which came after a disputed corner kick in the dying seconds of the first half.

Again, I can see why he was covering across (though I don’t think he had to) but he completely switched off and was caught on his heels when the ball was cleared when his first instinct should’ve been to push out. By dallying he gave Miller an easy chance to open his MLS account.

The problem with Horst, as I see it, is he’s 95% of a decent, workable MLS defender. But that 5% represents a lack of concentration and poor decision making that seems to manifest itself in a mistake at least once a game. And when you’re the last man, making a mistake can often be fatal.

There were shades of the New York match as the Timbers through away a lead in the dying moments of the half, with help from questionable officiating, and there can’t have been many fans who didn’t have at least a momentary panic that we’d seen how this story ends before.

Losing such a controversial goal at such a horrible time would’ve at least made Wilkinson’s team talk pretty easy, as I don’t doubt the team were fired up by a sense of injustice. Aside from the way the goal came about, there was also the sense that we deserved the lead on merit any way.

The second half followed much the same pattern as the first. There’s not a great deal between these clubs, but the Timbers probably edged it.

Songo’o continued to delight on one hand, and frustrate on the other.

There’s no doubt that Songo’o is a skilful player, but he’d benefit at times from getting his head up and taking the easy way out rather than over-complicating things. But I guess, if he was the complete package he wouldn’t be ex-Barcelona, let alone ex-Portsmouth.

He’d soon delight the Timbers faithful with the 2nd, and decisive, goal from a free kick. He did well to get the ball up, over the wall and back down but Joe Cannon had an absolute howler. The Vancouver keeper somehow endeavoured to let the ball squirm through his grasp and into the net.

Having to chase the game, the Whitecaps threw on Mattocks and switched from a 4-2-3-1 to more of a 4-4-2, with one holding midfielder instead of the two they had previously. I thought that perhaps , with a bit of daring, the Timbers could’ve pushed someone in midfield a little further forward and look to hurt Vancouver here, but we never did.

Mattocks wouldn’t have any great impact on the game, though he did have on David Horst’s face when a clumsy jump for the ball saw him lead his arms. He got a red card, though I felt a yellow would’ve been warranted, but in truth the Timbers looked pretty comfortable playing against 11 – one good chance for the Whitecaps aside when Steven Smith was called upon to head the ball off the line.

Smith, after a shaky spell a while ago, seems to be settling a bit more and looking much more assured at left-back. He and Kimura both had solid games, and it’s telling that Vancouver were able to get very little joy down the wings.

Another player who impressed me greatly was Eric Alexander. Much of what was good about the Timbers going forward would invariably go through Alexander at some point, and he stepped into the Chara role with aplomb. I’ve never really take much note of his defensive work in the past, but I thought he was quietly effective in this aspect of the game and helped out when needed. Chances are that he’ll sit out the next game when Chara returns which is a shame, but if you’re going to have problems it’s much better to have too many good players to fit into the midfield than not enough.

Jewsbury was also efficient in his role. Given the way that Vancouver’s forward line were all over the place it would’ve been easy for him to get pulled around and taken out of position but he stuck to his role and did the unglamorous work of keeping it tight at the back and quickly passing the ball on to his more attack-minded team mates to take forward.

The whistle was met with a mixture of relief and joy. It’s Wilkinson’s first win as interim head coach, and if rumours about Caleb Porter’s imminent appointment prove to be true, it may be his only win. I don’t know a great deal about Porter, though I’ll be doing a fair bit of reading if it does pan out, but he certainly did all right according to Football Manager 2012!

Porter was, of course, Nagbe’s coach at Akron and if it’s true that the new man has been consulted for some time on team matters, it’s quite interesting to note how Darlington’s performances have really picked up in the last few weeks. Coincidence? Probably, but still… If anyone is going to get the best from him, you’d have to think the guy who made his a star at college level has a pretty good shot.

Overall, I thought we deserved the win, though I actually felt the team played better for long spells against Toronto and New York. But against Vancouver we put together a much more complete performance across (most of) the 90 and breaking the long run without a win will hopefully give the team the impetus to kick on and end the season on a hopeful note for next year.

I posted a couple of graphics on twitter that show how the team aren’t actually that far off repeating our 2011 record.

The main difference is that we’ve really struggled to keep clean sheets this year. We actually kept as many clean sheets on the road in 2011 as we have done in the entire 2012 season thus far – 3. As long as we keep making elementary mistakes at the back it’s hard to see that situation improving, so the incoming coach certainly has a job on his hands whipping them into shape.

Colorado Rapids, fresh from a spanking in San Jose, are next up at Jeld-Wen at the end of the week. A victory against the Rapids would see the Timbers overhaul them in the table and, if results go our way, possibly even Chivas too.

It’s been a funny old year.

#RCTID


[post_ender]

Intolerable Cruelty

In shock news, the Timbers suffered another defeat, their fifth on the spin, this time following a smash-and-grab win from Chivas USA, the only goal of the game coming midway through the second half.

The scoreline mirrored that of the recent match, though at least the performance was better here. Just a shame you don’t get points for that. No to get wins you need to score – something the Timbers haven’t done in 290 minutes of play – and it also helps to keep a clean sheets or so – it’s now 11 consecutive matches the Timbers have conceded in since a 0-0 draw with Houston in mid May.

Gavin Wilkinson made six changes from the team that collectively shat the bed against Dallas. Out went Chabala (gone from the 18 altogether), Danso, Alhassan, Fucito, Alexander and Mwanga and in came Smith, Horst, Richards, Boyd, Jewsbury and Nagbe.

I suspected they would line up in a 4-2-3-1 again, but I was a little surprised to see how far up the field Chara was playing. Jewsbury had the holding role, and that freed the Colombian foul merchant up to go forward and support the attack.

Songo’o and Richards played out wide, with Nagbe tucked in behind – and running beyond – Boyd in the striking role.

From early on it was clear that Songo’o was in the mood for this one, and he ryansmithed the Chivas defence time and again in the first half. He was at the heart of pretty much everything positive about the Timbers attack, and is virtually unplayable when he’s in this sort of form. Which is to say, occasionally.

Boyd had a couple of decent sights at goal – one chance he beautifully engineered with a deft flick, and another he completely fluffed. Such is life as a striker – the margin between hero and villain is often vanishingly small.

Playing up top can be a cruel position to play. Mistakes are amplified. A missed chance falls under much greater scrutiny than a midfielder’s misplaced pass that leads to nothing. No player is more derided than the striker that misses a chance that is “easier to score”, yet even the greatest strikers will miss a few of them along the way.

I’d rather have a striker get ten chances and miss them all than not get any at all. Course, I’d much rather he put at least one of those away, but we’ve all had bad days/nights at the office and this was one of these for the striker.

The only position, in my opinion, that is crueller than that of striker in terms of the difference a single mistake can make is that of goalkeeper, and we’ll get to that soon enough…

Brent Richards made his first start for the Timbers in MLS, and he was hugely impressive in the first half too. He added a bustle and energy that the Timbers attack has oft lacked this year, and he displays as much contempt for the fundamental laws of gravity as John Terry does for decorum and sportsmanship.

His aerial abilities certainly seemed to catch Chivas out early on, and the home grown player got a lot of joy from long, high balls punted in his general direction. He also added a threat from throw-in’s with a Rory Delap-esque long throws.

As well as what he could offer the club going forward, he also displayed a focus and willingness to work in defence that helped Kosuke Kimura at right back.

As much as I like Alhassan, I’ve always had big reservations about his defensive work, among other things. Though Chivas offered little in attack, I do feel that Kimura had a much more assured match here than he’s had in a while in no small part to the security afforded him by Richards’ work ahead of him.

Fans have been calling for a while for some of the young guys to be given a chance to shine, and it’s pleasing to see Richards not only given that chance, but grasp it both hands, take it home to meet his parents and buy a nice three-bedroom house in the ‘burbs.

In his more advanced role Diego Chara also impressed in the first 45. He had a hand in a couple of good chances, and it was his pass that set Boyd off down the right in a counter-attack that had echoes of Mwanga’s goal against San Jose.

Such chances to break on Chivas would be few and far between given their plan to defend in depth, both numerically and geographically.

The Timbers faced a team with one plan in mind: keep it tight, and hope to nick a goal. From very early on it was clear that this was not a team that would come here and look to exploit a Timbers defence that had just shipped five goals to a distinctly average FC Dallas the previous week.

Half an hour in and Chivas were already defending in numbers and bunkering in. It’s a strategy that has served them fairly well, with four of their six wins prior to this match coming in 1-0 results. The other two were also one-goal victories, both 2-1. This isn’t a team that tends to blow out their opponents, nor do they get steamrollered having conceded more than 1 goal in only 4 of their previous 19 MLS match this year.

Having done so well in the first half, there seemed to be a slight drop-off in intensity in the second. The formation that had come as close to a 4-3-3 as we’ve seen from the Timbers this year in the first half took on more of a 4-1-4-1 shape in second.

Jewsbury still sat deep, but Chara didn’t have the same attacking focus that he’d had in the first half.

Richards, who’d had such a fine first half, also lost a bit of pep to his game in the second. Chivas seemed to wise up to the threat of Richards in the air, even as the Timbers continued to dementedly plough that particular furrow, and he didn’t quite have the same joy as he had in the first.

On the opposite flank, Songo’o tired and had less impact than he had before the break. The Cameroonian has had his share of injury problems, but he continues to struggle to find full match fitness, and it was a visibly tiring Songo’o who gave Chivas the chance the led to the only goal of the game.

All the Timbers good work in the first half was wiped out by a needless foul, poor defensive marking and a goalkeeping error.

You have to feel sorry for keepers sometimes. The slightest misjudgement and there’s a good chance they’ll cost the team a goal. Perkins has been one of the Timbers best, most consistent, players this year, but he has to take his share of the blame for this one.

Once in front, there was never any doubt that Chivas would look to park the bus and keep what they had. The Timbers failed to find a way through – Boyd missed a couple, and Nagbe joined the party with a couple of his own.

There was certainly a lot more positives to take from this match than there has been in the last few games. I don’t often agree with Wilkinson, but he’s right when he says that football is a “cruel, cruel sport at times”.

The Timbers continue to find frustration in attack, while they find that every mistake gets punished pitilessly.

I thought the tactics, in the first half certainly, were good and we got good performances out key players. What worries me is the drop-off in the second – something that’s happened too often to be mere coincidence.

Robbie Earle speculated in the commentary that Sean McAuley was doing much of the touchline coaching to give the players a “different voice” to react to, with Wilkinson saying his piece at half time. If the reaction from the players after the break is any indication, Wilkinson might want to consider getting a motivator like Mitt Romney in next time.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team is annoying, but at least the drop-off wasn’t as dramatic as it has been in the past. And, hey, for a team that had lost so many late goals this season, only 2 of the last 15 have come in the last quarter hour, so that’s something. Right?

Of course, those 15 goals have been conceded in the last 5 games. That’s also something… *shudder*

I want to strike a positive note, as I did feel we played some good football at times, but we leave ourselves at the mercy of a single, silly mistake at the back when we fail to put the ball in the net. And if there’s one thing that you can count on with this team, it’s that they’ll make a mistake at the back at some point. Today it was Perkins, on another day it’s Kimura, or Smith. It’s a wonder we have any toes left considering the number of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.

Chivas recorded their third win over the Timbers this season with this result. You know what you’ll get from Chivas. They play pretty much the same way in most matches, and that strategy never really changed for Chivas as the match wore on.

Though Chivas has the edge in possession before the goal (53%-47%), the Timbers made almost half of their passes in the Chivas half, with only 39% of Chivas passes coming in the Timbers half. After the goal, the Timbers dominate possession (79%-21%), and have much more of the play in the Chivas half, but fail to take what chances come their way.

Like a dealer who gives a hit of the good stuff to hook you, so the Timbers give flashes of what they could be, reeling you in and making you believe, before sucker punching you square in the babymaker.

And yet, we’ll be back again for the next game, and what’s more we’ll have hope that next time it’ll be different.

Despite the scoreline in the last meeting, the Timbers are more than capable of beating Dallas next week. Unfortunately, they’re also more than capable of beating themselves.

The team have a week before they have a chance to avenge that 5-0 defeat in front of a Timbers Army that have been starved of reasons to be cheerful lately.

It’s a cruel game indeed.

#RCTID

The Timbers Take Wing

Portland Timbers fans are still basking in the afterglow of a fine derby victory, and with the dust still settling I thought I’d look back at one of the aspects of the Timbers play that really encouraged me – the wings.

Alhassan put in another good shift down the right, backed up by Jewsbury, but here I’m going start with a focus on the left wing.

Franck Songo’o has frustrated me so far this year. There’s been flashes of skill here and there, but he’s been entirely inconsistent and at times has seemed to lack focus and purpose in the final third.

I’ve also doubted his winger credentials, especially in light of his performance against LA.

Songo’o tendency to drift infield really hurt the Timbers in that match. He was coming in off the wing, and running right into the most congested part of the pitch, with LA packing three men in the centre of midfield.

He showed much more discipline against Seattle, sticking to his role a lot better.

For me, it was Songo’o best game in Timbers green. I’m still not convinced he’s an out-and-out winger, but his display against Seattle showed that he can play that wide role effectively, especially when he has Steven Smith on his shoulder.

The reintroduction of Smith down the left flank was a massive boon to the team. Where Songo’o may drift infield, and narrow the attacking line, Smith will pop up out wide and force Seattle to leave gaps in the middle, or give the Scot a free run at the byline.

Songo’o and Smith would combine out left in the build up to the first goal, scored by Kris Boyd.

As well as the combination of Smith and Songo’o down the left, another very encouraging aspect of the play was the way that they switched play from flank to flank.

Too often we’ve seen the Timbers work the ball down the channels, run into trouble and simply cede possession to the other team, but against Seattle we saw them switch play from one side to another with real purpose.

Here we see the team winning the ball deep, getting it forward quickly down the right and then working it across the pitch, right in front of the Seattle defence. Unfortunately the pass into the box is a poor one, but notice Smith once more making himself available down the line – finding himself level with the ball at both the start and finish of the move.

Another example of this crisp passing across the pitch to stretch the Seattle defence begins with Smith and Songo’o wide left and ends, via Nagbe and an onrushing Jewsbury, with Alhassan in wide right.

Alhassan’s dinked shot/cross (who knows with this guy) drops just wide of the post, but agains you see the team moving the ball with poise and precision.

This kind of crossfield passing is only possible with willing runners from fullback positions and hard-working guys in the middle who make themselves available for the ball, and move it on crisply.

No-one sums that role up better than Diego Chara.

This was probably my favourite passage of play, even though it didn’t come to anything in the end. I simply love Chara’s work here. He’s the first on the scene to take the ball from Smith, and then at every stage of the move, he’s always available to take the ball back. He doesn’t do anything flashy or highlight-reel worthy – his passing is simple and measured – but this kind of play in the middle is what allows the team to move the ball across the field at pace and keep the opposition moving, allowing the Timbers to probe for weakness.

Even when he does lose the ball, he’s straight onto it and wins it right back.

Someone like Chara is essential as the Timbers don’t have a passer like Beckham, who thinks nothing of launching a 50 yard crossfield pass. Instead, the Timbers looked to rely on quick, short passes and runs to work the ball across, with only one crossfield pass attempted (not including set pieces).

Once more it was the Smith/Songo’o combination down the left that combined to forge a great chance for Danny Mwanga to write himself into Timbers folklore by scoring against Seattle with his first touch at Jeld-Wen Field.

The team has oft been criticised for being predictable in the way they play. They’ll be direct, they’ll try and get it wide and cross it in. Teams have capitalized on this and neutralised the flanks, driving the team infield and into trouble as we’ve often lacked the short, quick passing game needed to carve open a team through the middle.

We finally saw a glimpse of that game plan clicking into place against Seattle. Smith has already made himself indispensable at left back, and Jewsbury is solid enough at right back – thought I still think that’s an area that needs to be strengthened with real quality.

Given this team’s tendency to find something that works one week, and blindly try to replicate it the next week without thought for the change of opposition I still worry that we seem to lack a Plan B.

It’ll be interesting to see who replaces Alhassan in the next match. Jewsbury isn’t the willing runner that Smith is round the outside, so isn’t going to cover for a player who drifts inside as well as the Scot, and that could leave the team lopsided and forced down dead ends. It may be that Zizzo’s time has come.

We Are Legend

First off, I’ll just say I’m writing this on my iPod, which isn’t ideal. So no pics, and I’ll keep it brief. But The Timbers won. They beat Seattle, and there was simply no way I couldn’t talk about the game yesterday.

The tone for the day was set by the Army’s epic Clive Charles* tifo. As it rose, it snagged and tore a bit, but great work by the Timbers Army crew freed it up, and as the sun broke through, the full splendour of many hours of work was revealed.

On the pitch, the team also met similar problems. In the second half Seattle had us pinned back for long spells, threatening to spoil an outstanding start that had seen the Timbers race to a 2-0 lead, and only the most fervent of fans wouldn’t have felt queasy as time wore on.

Disaster, as it was with the tifo, was averted. Two first half goals had given the Timbers the cushion they needed to hold out during a second half that threatened to descend into chaos at times.

gif by @pyratejackKris Boyd’s opener came from a great low cross from Steven Smith, slotted home from six yards as the Seattle defence took leave of their senses. David Horst head butted the team into a two-goal lead shortly after from a corner.

The Timbers were rampant for much of the first half. Fucito buzzed around the attack, and Alhassan and Songo’o were finding joy where last week there was only woe.

Smith’s reintroduction to the team gave them an overlapping threat down the left that was so lacking against LA.

A quick word about Songo’o. I thought this was his best showing for the Timbers. He looked like he had purpose whereas previously he’s looked like he’s floated around with no clear goal in mind.

I still felt his best work came centrally – fortunately with Smith back in the team we had some width to compensate – with his behind-the-leg pass for Fucito in the second half a particular delight.

Also, I think it’s time to declare my man-crush on Diego Chara. I’m almost scared to considering my record – *cough*Perlaza*cough* – but seriously, how freaking good is this guy?

Watching the replay, I was mesmerised watching the Colombian dynamo. The guy is unflappable in possession.

The complaints about Xavi “only passing sideways” have largely died down as people have come to realise that he’s actually pretty ok at football.

So with Chara. Okay, he might not harvest tonnes of assists or send a fifty yard crossfield pass onto a sixpence, but watching him is a lesson for all kids on how to do the “simple” things well.

Three guys around him? No problem, he’ll pass through them. Snapping at his heels? He’ll lay it off and spin round you to get the pass back.

He never panics and kicks it away. He keeps his head up and finds his man, and then he’ll move and look for it right back.

He’s the beating heart of the team.

As well as a Xavi-like ability to circulate the ball so efficiently, he also has, to borrow another Barca/Spain player, the defensive instincts of a Busquets.

There was one point in the second half where he dived in to make a block, then got up and harried the play back from the edge of the Timbers box to the centre circle.

His play was a large part of why, even as Seattle pressed, the Timbers were able to hold them off.

Seattle’s attacking strategy was reduced to either shooting from distance, or falling over to generate set pieces.

Eddie Johnson, who seemed to have sharpened his elbows before kick-off, seemed to have a particularly tenuous relationship with gravity. Perhaps he suffers from Drogba’s Disease?

And Montero… He played like one of those entitled 16 year old shits who’ll scream the mansion down cos their daddy bought them a red Porsche instead of a black one. Fredy thinks the world exists to serve him and won’t take no for an answer.

When things weren’t going his way, he became ever more petulant. It’s a wonder he was able to go more than five yards without tripping over his bottom lip.

The ref has to take a portion of the blame. Time and again Montero, and a few of his cohorts, resorted to shoving and elbowing. If the ref had drawn a line earlier on and made it clear it wasn’t going to fly, perhaps some of the later unpleasantness could’ve been avoided.

Instead, Montero got away with what he wanted until Horst made sure he couldn’t wave it away. A weak performance by a ref who let himself be controlled by the match rather than the other way round.

The little shitehawk got his just desserts late on with a red card, at least.

It was a great day to be a Timber. It was a complete 180 from the LA match.

It’s still too early to declare a corner has been turned yet. I don’t like going negative after a match like that, but…

I wasn’t impressed with much of Nagbe’s work. He seemed a yard off the pace of the game at times. He seemed to get caught in possession far too often.

Similarly, at the back things aren’t perfect. Despite his goal, and providing a real threat from set plays, Horst still showed his worst side with a poor effort to win the ball in the build up to Seattle’s goal.

Teams will still generate a number of decent chances against us, but on this day Perkins came up big again.

The potential loss of Alhassan for a spell is also a blow after injury forced him out. The Ghanaian can have you pulling your hair out at times, but is always capable of a dazzling piece of trickery.

Let’s not end on negatives though. This may be the last Timbers game I catch live this season, and if so it’s a great way to go.

Legends were born yesterday.

Clowns to the left, Jokers to the right

In a flurry of misguided optimism I had written in midweek about how I thought the Timbers could, should, and would, beat LA this weekend. In the end it was another disappointing road trip as the team succumbed to defeat to a poor LA Galaxy.

There was no surprise to see Danny Mwanga start alongside Kris Boyd in attack, and the rest of the squad was as predictable, save for the inclusion of Franck Songo’o at left midfield.

The match started with some end to end play, and the Timbers were looking dangerous in attack for the first time in a long time. With Nagbe playing high up the pitch, and Alhassan and Songo’o supporting from midfield, it certainly had an attacking look.

The Galaxy had gone with a 4-3-3 that became a 4-5-1 in defence. The central three of Beckham, Juninho and Sarvas seemed to take a while to work out their roles in the system, and this early confusion was exploited by Nagbe who was finding spaces between defence and midfield.

I wrote in my preview article about how early crosses to the back post could be effective in exploiting the Galaxy’s aerial weakness at the back, yet this was the one time we effectively got the ball into the box.

In fact, the level of crossing in the game for the Timbers was poor.

Five attempted crosses from the left all game, only one successful – and even that didn’t get into the box! All season we’ve been whiffing crosses in for big defenders to head clear with ease and when we finally play a team that can be truly hurt by height, we scale it back.

It’s little surprise that we were so absent down the flanks when your “wingers” are Alhassan and Songo’o. I worried that Songo’o out wide would hurt or wing play, and so it proved.

You can look at that pic and, sure, you can try and tell me that Songo’o is a winger, but I don’t believe you. I know he was sold as that but Spencer’s spiel that he has “never played in there probably in his career” looks kind of hollow when you engage your eyeballs and actually watch where Songo’o is playing. He is not a winger.

Sure, he might stand out wide when the Timbers don’t have the ball, but as soon as they get it, he drifts inside. Maybe it’s a tactical thing, and that’s what he’s been told to do, but even so I’ve never once see him display that winger’s instinct to take a player on round the outside and whip a cross in.

And before anyone points out false or reverse wingers, or guys such as Ribery and Robben, or even Messi, who have played outwide, only to come infield, there’s a big difference between what these guys can do from there than what Songo’o does. To be fair to Alhassan, while he is often guilty of the same ineffectual meandering infield, right into traffic, he at least stuck to the flanks a bit more.

I honestly think some people are getting blinded by the whole Barcelona thing. La Masia is a footballing factory – it goes through scores of kids, and only a select few every make it anywhere.

I think Songo’o is a talented player. He has skills. I just don’t know where he fits in in this time. It’s certainly not out wide.

With our wide midfielders narrowing the attack, it made Portland’s play predictable.

Get it wide, work it inside, run out of space, get it wide again. Repeat until the ball is knocked out of play or lost to the opposition.

While it paid off early on, and Boyd in particular had a good chance after some encouraging linking with Mwanga as well as Songo’o’s headed chance, the Galaxy quickly got wise to the ploy and started sitting Juninho or Sarvas alongside Beckham at the back of the midfield three and shut the play down.

I don’t profess to be a footballing mastermind. I’m just a fan with a blog. I’ve never played the game beyond schools level, and I’ve certainly never coached or managed outside of the Football Manager series of games.

Yet even I could see this was dangerous.



I don’t post these to show off, or brag about how clever I am (much). I take no satisfaction from it, but if I, a humble fan, could spot the potential for disaster by leaving the midfield so short, why in the name of Steve Guttenberg’s Left Testicle couldn’t the coaching staff? This is their job. They get paid to do this shit.

Sure enough, minutes after my last tweet, this happened.

This was the build up that led to the corner, that led to the Galaxy scoring the only goal of the game.

I really pity Diego Chara here. He would’ve had every right to be absolutely fuming with the coaching staff after this match. Time and again he was left so outnumbered in the middle I half expected Burt Young to emerge out of the dugout, urging the Colombian to “hit the one in the middle”.

Nagbe clearly had an attacking brief, and it shows in this defensive breakdown for the two players. To Chara’s credit, he did a good job, hamstrung though he was, and was a constant presence shutting down space and thwarting Galaxy attacks.

After an inital good showing, Nagbe again drifted out the match as it wore on. I wrote a while ago that I’d been concerned that Nagbe was slumping, whether through exhaustion or a loss of confidence, and looked in need of a rest.

Even the very best young players will hit a point where they need to be taken out of the team to allow them to recharge the batteries. Nagbe is only a second year pro, and there’s been a lot of expectation heaped upon his shoulders.

At times, Nagbe is contributing very little. The team, as a whole, are carrying more passengers than a Japanese bullet train, and they’re not all on the pitch.

Again, we had another game where the Timbers failed to adjust to the opposition they faced. Make no mistake – this LA team were poor. They didn’t outplay us. They simply had a strategy that worked, and one that we failed to even acknowledge, or so it seemed.

I can absolutely appreciate the team going out to attack and we saw that for much of the first half, but the thing is, if you don’t then score, you’d sure as shit better have a plan to defend as well. When we found our attacking play being stifled as the game wore on, we didn’t adjust. As the Galaxy began to exert control of the centre of the pitch, we didn’t adjust.

If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this movie before.

The changes finally came after the goal. Boyd – who missed that early chance and had another long range effort cleared, but is looking ever more anxious and frustrated in front of goal – went off, as did Alhassan and Songo’o, but by then the Galaxy were able to close down the match by sheer weight of numbers.

The parallels between Boyd and Kenny Cooper are concerning. Both are good strikers, solid goalscorers, and yet their time in the Pacific Northwest has been marked by bad luck, poor service and, at times, an apparent loss of confidence in front of goal.

I should address the goal as well, I suppose, as complaints about the refereeing were prevalent on twitter after the match.

While they certainly excelled themselves with some calls that betrayed a fundamental lack of understanding of the offside rule, on the goal I see no problems, to be honest.

To get on my hobby horse for a moment – goalies get far too much protection as it is. The slightest glancing touch of a keeper is invariably called a foul on him, and it’s gone way beyond ridiculous. An attacker should have as much right to fairly challenge a goalkeeper as he does a defender.

That said, I can see nothing wrong with the goal. Donovan gets himself into a dangerous area, and some were arguing he was obstructing Perkins. I think he had as much right to move toward the ball, and get himself in a dangerous area, as Perkins did to try and clear it – which, by the way, I don’t think he was getting near in any case.

If Perkins had expended as much energy in playing to the whistle as he did in waving his arms around, he might have got more a hand to the ball.

It’s very much a subjective thing though. Some will see obstruction, some won’t. This ref didn’t. It wasn’t an egregious call by any means.

And Portland didn’t lose this match because a ref didn’t cover Perkins in cotton wool. They lost because they did what they always do.

I mean, who needs a Plan B when Plan A is working so well, huh?

Next up, Seattle. Yeah.

#rctid