Ryan Johnson Continue reading #9
Seventy-nine minutes into the match, Darlington Nagbe was fouled by Steven Lenhart. Nothing surprising there as only David Ferrera and Javier Morales have been fouled more often than Nagbe this season, and the five fouls suffered by the Timbers attacker in this game took him past the 46 fouls he’d suffered in the whole of 2012. He’s basically getting kicked at twice the rate which reflects the Timbers greater attacking presence and his role within it.
San Jose’s 18 fouls committed sets a season high, and it’s the first time since March 2012 that the Earthquakes have been in such an ugly mood, which is saying something for a team with Steven Lenhart among their number.
Speaking of Lenhart, it’s kinda interesting, I think, to note that the striker committed three fouls in the match, all in the last fifteen minutes. And yet none of them were in his one half as San Jose pressed high and we struggled to break them down despite piling on the pressure. The foul on Nagbe, with him going back to his own goal, came three minutes before the Timbers were back in the game, but they blew their chance to grab a point late on, having surrendered two cheap goals after the break.
The first came from the penalty spot, so we can just chalk that one up to bad luck, because refs aren’t infallible you know, right?
Ach, you know what, I’ve watched it and gone from dubious but plausible, to a dive, to a Bale-like “searching for contact” move and it just underlines how hard all this is to do on the fly for one official. In this case the assistant had a ton of bodies between him and the ball and the ref’s view meant he was reliant on reading the body language of the players and direction of the ball to judge.
I know if it’s Nagbe going down there in exactly the same way, I’m screaming for the penalty. In this case we were on the wrong end of a call, but for all we pin this on the ref, the most interesting thing for me is that we were the architects of our own downfall.
A simple giveaway by Jack Jewsbury puts us on the back foot, and perhaps Chara nips Salinas in the heels whereas Zemanski seems to stumble and ease the pressure on the San Jose player, but the end result is we take our our fate and put it right in the hands of the referee in front of a home crowd.
That it came as something of a shock that the Timbers conceded the next goal is a testament to the spirit in the team this year, but it too came with a stink of poor officiating on it. Was Lenhart offside? Sure looks likes it in the freeze frame, but once again if we’d done our job it would’ve never been an issue in the first place.
The free kick sees the Timbers line-up in a row of five, with three active San Jose attackers and one passive. Theoretically, we’ve got a man spare with a 6’ 4” Jamaican as a last reserve, so all looks good until Jack Jewsbury gets drawn into the melee for the ball leaving Lenhart all alone at the back.
Both of these injustices were easily avoided by our own actions, so yeah, blame the refs, but that’s not going to help sort out the underlying problems that the officiating masks.
Our defense has generally been good this season, but that’s not to say it’s not being stretched on a weekly basis. A lot of our defensive success can be put down to Ricketts rolling back the years, but with Jewsbury at least partly culpable in the loss of both goals this week it shows what can happen when even a single part of that defensive wall starts to chip away.
The giveaways are unusual for Jewsbury, who is one of the team’s better performers in terms of passing accuracy.
Over the last two games only Ben Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe have shown greater accuracy than Jewsbury, but not all mispasses are equal as Jack has shown already. It’s a thin line for the likes of Jewsbury and his counterpart on the left, or the right, Michael Harrington to walk as they have to be able to judge when to push the play forward or keep it circulating.
Both of these guys have been among the busiest players on the team over the past two games, receiving successful passes for teammates over 60 times each. Nagbe and Valeri lead the way in this regard and by using these passing stats we can build up a map of the Timbers play against Philadelphia and San Jose so we can see how things changed.
Balancing the Attack
These pictures use the players average position over the match, and the wider the lines, the more passes between those players. This passing map shows us the primary avenues of play in the Timbers team by highlighting those players that exchanged the most passes.
What is noticeable is that the Timbers “network” was much more widespread against San Jose. Ryan Johnson is an isolated figure against Philadelphia, and his lack of involvement down that side is a stark contrast to the work of Rodney Wallace against San Jose. Welcome back, Rodney.
Wallace added a left side to the attack that stopped us playing in little triangles far from goal, but Ryan Johnson was only marginally more connected this time despite playing through the middle from the start.
The only two players with whom he shared more than seven passes were Donovan Ricketts and Michael Harrington, which tells you that Johnson wasn’t getting involved with his feet and this was leaving a big hole in the middle in te first half.
You can see by the positions of the subs that came on (the lighter green) that the Timbers were in attack mode from the bench, with Piquionne in particular adding a lot to the attack. In his half hour stint against the Quakes, Piquionne logged five shots.
A couple of moments aside, it was another Ryan Johnson performance that gave me some trouble remembering that guy who scored all those goals against San Jose in preseason, and who looked like the ideal spearhead of Porter’s attack. His recent form isn’t great.
After Johnson started 12 of the first 13 games, with four goals for his efforts, Frederic Piquionne commanded his place for the next few. Johnson has started the past four games, scoring in the comeback win against LA, but failing to complete a full 90 mins, with only 5 shots in all that time. By contrast, over the same four games The FP has had 8 shots at goal, or one every 19 minutes to Johnson’s 57 minutes. But then, for all Piquionne is getting shots off he’s generally wayward or blocked with only 2 of 8 shots on target compared to Johnson’s 3 of 5. So, yeah.
Returning to the passing stats above for a moment though, the ball found its way to Nagbe and Valeri most often which you would certainly expect in an attacking team.
The duo traded 17 passes over the last match, a figure only topped by the 20 passes between Nagbe and Jewsbury, and the 18 between Harrington and Will Johnson, yet it was only in the last 30 minutes of the match against the Quakes that we really saw the partnership become effective.
A triangle of attacking play, with the apex pointed towards the San Jose goal reflected the pressing of the Timbers having given up the lead and being spurred into more direct action. This kind of play was in stark contrast to the play we’d seen from them previously.
Against Philly we saw neither player put significant passes into the box, but against San Jose, and largely in that last half hour as we saw earlier, suddenly Valeri began putting the ball into the most dangerous part of the pitch and Nagbe was there to profit from one such ball forward.
These kind of passes from Valeri come with a big reward at a high risk, with perhaps no greater example than Valeri’s flicked pass for Will Johnson in the first half. You know, there’s a part of me that’s annoyed with Will Johnson for missing that because that pass deserved a goal at the other end of it.
There’s a good reason why his teammates give him the ball so often despite his seeming wastefulness, and it’s not just because Coach Porter told them to. They know what he can do and you put up with the odd bad pass or misread signal here to there if you can get to the gold like these (near) assists.
Meanwhile, if you look at Nagbe’s 90% success rate, a lot of those passes are sideways with very few penetrating passes. True, a larger part of his game is built on driving with the ball at his feet for forward movement than is Valeri’s, but it was only when he began buzzing around the edge of the box that i was reminded of what i’d missed in his recent run of mature, reliable performances – the danger he brings to the attack.
The goal was his 6th of the season, but his 1st in over a month. Coming as it did, only three minutes after Lenhart had fouled him in his own half, the goal was the perfect response by Nagbe and put the side on the road to almost claiming a point, had Piquionne only picked a yard either side of Jon Busch for his late header.
So we return to where we started, Timbers on the receiving end of some tough play and poor officiating but able to take heart, I think, from the fact that we don’t need to blame this result on these factors because we can blame ourselves.
Seriously, go with me, how great is it to feel like we lost today because we blew it, not the ref? Had Johnson tucked that chance away, or Jewsbury not slacked off for a fraction of a second (twice), or Freddie picked a corner, we’re looking at a very different result and that’s all down to us putting ourselves in the position to have these chances at all.
Last year we weren’t putting ourselves in a position to blow it by not putting away these chances, so the losses felt very different. This won’t be shrugged off as just bad luck or a bad day at the office because every game is a lesson at this stage on the team’s redevelopment but neither will it be overly dwelt upon because there’s too much work still to be done.
A Good Trend
Our passing and chance creation improved dramatically against San Jose and this is encouraging, but what is less so is the lack of goals from recognised goal getters. Piquionne’s touch was good and Johnson’s got a good eye for goal even if he’s finding him starved of the ball when everyone is feasting around him, but neither of them are scoring.
Three goals in four games for the Timbers isn’t good enough. The strikers have contributed to two goals in that time – Johnson’s strike against LA and Piquionne’s assist for Nagbe against San Jose this week.
If not these two, who? Dike is still some time away, so that leaves Valencia? While it would be nice to see Trencito let loose from the start, aside from a late cameo against Vancouver last May where he scored and had three shots in thirteen minutes of action, he’s rarely been used as an attacking threat, and despite over an hour of play over the past four matches, he’s failed to take a single shot at goal.
Throwing him into a Cascadia Cup match, against a team two points behind us in the table, would be a big risk and games like this call upon an old head.
Zemanski subbed for Chara, and there was very much a sense that it was a subbing with the Colombian’s place on hold for now. Zemanski did well, neat and tidy on the ball and, as the passing maps above show, matching Chara’s performance in many respects.
Chara could return as early as next week, so you’d expect him to start which leaves the question of Jewsbury’s role. He was at fault for both goals, but is generally a positive part of the team. Ryan Miller, and potentially even Ben Zemanski, are candidates to take over if the run of games is getting to Jack. These guys bring something different to the team, but having run with this backline for bit, perhaps Porter will refer to stick with what’s worked in the psat and trust that he and his team can work on the errors that were made that we can actually do something about now.
Kah, the original playmaker
One thing that came out of the research for this post was how important Pa Modou Kah is to the Timbers. Only Jewsbury can join the exclusive club of players who have received the ball more often than Kah, along with Valeri and Nagbe. These four were the only players to be consistently involved in over 20% of the team’s successful passing moves in both the last two matches, highlighting Kah’s role as a defensive playmaker, every bit as influential in his own way as Diego Valeri at the other end.
His most regular links were with Jean-Baptiste and Harrington, which makes sense, and he was often a source of balls into midfield or even straight to his attacker counterpart. He linked up with Nagbe against Philly, and found Valeri more often against San Jose.
In the absence of Silvestre, Kah has stepped into the defensive playmaker role, setting the tempo and dictating the angle of the next probe at the defence. It comes without the glory of Valeri’s position, but is a large part of why the team is able to keep its shape without resorting to long ball football.
It also comes with a high degree of risk as Kah found out a while ago and Jewsbury did tonight where all your good work can be undone by a couple of mad moments. Kah recovered from his stumble to put in assured performances lately, so we’ll see if Jewsbury can bounce back, though after being roasted by Danny Cruz it’s hard to shake the feeling that it might be time for Jack to rest those legs up in anticipation of a potentially longer-than-we’re-used-to season.
Defeats are never easy to take, but lessons will be learnt from this one and actions put in place so that we don’t make those mistakes again, I’m sure. We’ll stumble again, that’s certain, but it’s the picking ourselves back up that matters.
No one likes to lose but I get the sense that defeat is literally painful to Caleb Porter, as in he’ll be spending his Sunday racked in agonizing stomach cramps all because the Universe dared to fuck with His Divine Plan. The Whitecaps will fancy their chances of taking something considering the Timbers poor run, but the match gives the home side the chance to equal their record of 5 straight wins in front of the Army – a record set when Jeld-Wen first opened – as well as putting some distance on our rivals and putting yet another tough July behind us.
What is it about that month that the Timbers don’t like? 4 points from 4 games this season is better than 3 points in 6 games last year and the 4 points in 5 of 2011, but it’s still slim pickings. The bright side is that 3 of those 4 games this season were on the road, which means the Timbers are about to embark of a run of three straight home matches.
Caleb Porter won’t be thinking (on the record) beyond Vancouver, of course, but past them lie FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake; every one a potential playoff rival.
If July was tough, August is downright crucial. Those three matches are followed by trips to Seattle and RSL in a month that will cast a long shadow over the Timbers campaign one way or another.
It’s not a time we want an attack floundering or a defence showing cracks, but no one said football was fair. It’s tough waters ahead, but a win against Vancouver puts the Timbers on the right foot to build momentum towards the playoffs.
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
Part 2: Everyday Magic
Part 3: Defensive Axis
Part 4: Endurance
Part 5: Maximum Impact
Goal 88. Rodney Wallace vs Sporting Kansas City
27th April 2013
A change of style was expected when the Timbers appointed a new head coach, but the individual impact Porter has had on the players both new and old has been the most refreshing change of all.
The Timbers pounced upon a loose pass by Sporting Kansas City, with Diego Chara showing physical strength and presence of mind to play the ball into the path of Rodney Wallace.
Wallace slots the ball coolly past the keeper, notching his second for the season and the Timbers third on the night. It would prove to be the winner, and the first time the Timbers had scored three on the road.
Rodney Wallace’s goal against Kansas City was the crucial third in a 3-2 win, just as it was his goal that proved to be enough for Portland to hang on to against Dallas in early 2011 when a late breakdown threatened to see a three goal advantage wiped out entirely..
His impact in games, especially when it comes to scoring goals, is second to none on the Timbers roster. He just has a knack of scoring important goals, with every single goal of his “earning” points in someway.
Compare and contrast that record with Kris Boyd. The Scot scored a bunch of goals against LA – his three is second only to Landon Donovan’s four in matches between the clubs – which is nice, except that each and every one of them end up being consolation goals, despite putting his time 1-0 up twice.
After this goal Wallace would add winners against Chivas
USA and DC United with his next two goals, and diversified into assists by having a hand in all three of the Timbers goals against Colorado in their last match before this little mid-season break.
Over the first two seasons Wallace had struggled to put together a consistent run by confounding the previous coaches very rigid round-hole tactical system. In defence, Wallace always looked more comfortable in attack than when defending,but when played as a winger, it was his defensive cover and pressing that impressed more than his wing play.
His role, as he’s come to define it, didn’t exist then, so Wallace was destined to fall between two stools. With his new role that covers a much larger territory than Spencer’s tight lines, Wallace has finally found a role that rewards his lightning ability to change the speed of play and defensive reading of the game without relying on him to be the last line of defence or forcing him to play in a box.
Nevertheless, Wallace had to play his way into the team having started 2013 on the bench.
In the 177 minutes Wallace had played coming off the bench, the Timbers have scored four times, with all of them coming this season in under 80 minutes of late game “Wallace Time”. He scored one himself, a late, late equalizer against Seattle, and notched an assist against Dallas.
Wallace’s importance to the team was underlined when he missed three games due to international duties, a situation Merritt Paulson bemoaned on twitter.
and as long as i am airing, I get losing key player for country…but to lose a key player who is not even suited up just kills me. Kills me
— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) June 10, 2013
A tough run of games admittedly, with trips to Chicago and LA and visit from Dallas but, despite racking up five points, the Timbers rarely looked as fluid as they had done with Wallace in the team. Wallace saw his minutes limited in 2012, his standing among the fans drop, and a spot on the bench waiting for him in 2013, and he fought back with the kind of spirit that Caleb Porter has instilled through-out the team. This joie du foot is underlined by the fortunes of Jack Jewsbury this year.
Jewsbury’s move to right-back has reinvigorated the player and given him new purpose within the team, lending an experienced head to the defence and a steadying influence in the flanks. It’s hard to picture an XI without Jewsbury in it right now, though long term options are starting to pile up behind him at right-back at least.
Given the way he lost the captaincy it’s a credit to the man himself and the coaching team that Jewsbury hasn’t missed a step going into the XI, and has embraced the new without dishonoring the past – a tricky balancing act for a guy who was so inexorably linked to the old regime by talk of being “captain for life”.
Though money can, and does, skew things towards those who can pay the most, good coaching is still pretty easy to spot, and you can see it in abundance in Portland. Rodney Wallace didn’t suddenly become a great player, it just took great coach to bring it out of him.
And Jewsbury’s case is a great example of man management and smoothing over what could’ve been a delicate situation. Contrast that to publicly lambasting the club’s assist leader in an effort to get him to try harder.
All in all, it’s a marked difference for the days when players didn’t seem to know what the plan was on the field, and the atmosphere wasn’t great off it. As an aside, it’s a long held theory of mine that the time until a manager is sacked and a weight being lifted off a club is inversely proportional to the number of goal celebrations that make a point of including the manager. Just saying.
Motivating hungry players like Will Johnson or Diego Chara, or firing up Andrew Jean-Baptiste or Darlington Nagbe are fairly simple tasks compared to the job Porter has done in getting some fantastic contributions from some of the more experienced signings.
Frederic Piquionne, Pa Moudo Kah and Mikael Silvestre have a combined age of 101, but there’s no sense that any of the three are just here for the cash like a score of previous such signings to the league. Generally speaking buying guys the wrong side of 30 from the middle east isn’t the way to go about building a team founded on hard-work and technique, but Kah gives us just those traits and more and doesn’t seem to be lacking in hunger. Silvestre was a joke before coming to Portland, and provided a couple of punchlines in his debut, but pre-injury he’d become the the heartbeat of a defence that was giving up very little.
Piquionne, like Silvestre, hadn’t played a competitive (domestic league) game in over a year before joining the Timbers. It had been a 4-0 defeat for Doncaster in April 2012 which wouldn’t seem t bode well, but he has added an extra dimension to the attack since joining and looks to have the energy (for 60-70 minutes, at least) of a player 10 years his junior.
Soccer fans are well accustomed to the effects of the new manager bump, or the new star striker who scores in his debut before fading away as the season goes on. all of Perhaps this is Porter’s bump and the likes of Wallace or Piquionne will fade with the team as the season wears on, but I’m not so sure. There’s a different feeling about this season. Things are being done better, on and off the field, and this breeds a cautious optimism in even glass-half-empty Scots that this not a flash in the pan.
Not all are as impressed by the Timbers, or their unbeaten run, but we as fans are allowed to get a little carried away. The clouds around Jeld-Wen Field have lifted but with this being the Pacific Northwest and all, they are never too far away.
So, let’s all enjoy the sunshine in the meantime.
Goal 100. Frederic Piquionne vs Colorado Rapids
23rd June 2013
The future’s bright, the future’s green and gold. The Timbers have started 2013 beyond most fan’s wildest expectations, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change anytime soon.
A quick free kick is taken by Will Johnson, who rolls the ball to Rodney Wallace. Wallace’s cross is attacked by Frederic Piquionne, whose header has too much on it for the Rapids keeper.
The goal was the club’s 100th in MLS, and Piquionne’s first, though he already had already set a record with four in a single US Open Cup match.
There is something fitting in the 100th goal coming from one of the new guard. Will Johnson’s quick thinking caught Colorado out, as it would do again for the Timbers’ 2nd goal of the game. Ben Zemanski’s interception started off the lighting strike move that led to Ryan Johnson adding a third.
I’ve already written about squad depth and covered a lot of what I like about the club’s trade policy this year, so this part will be fairly short.
The word that applies most to what I see from Portland is “fun”. Fun on the pitch, fun off it. There have been times during the first couple of years that it would be easy to forget that the game can be pretty damn fun sometimes.
Winning helps, of course, but more than that it’s just the joy of watching a group of guys go out there and express themselves.
The team work hard to make it seem effortless at times, with the old guys buying into the new way of doing things and complementing the fresh blood.
Of course, there is no way of knowing where this story will go from here. My performance on the Prediction League only underlines that I’m not a guy to take tips from, and I don’t think there is anything a time traveller from the future could tell us about the rest of this season to come that would surprise a Portland Timbers fan.
Our little midseason break is over, and it’s back to real soccer again. Good feelings tend to only last as long as good results do, and in a way Porter has set a bar for himself that will be harder and harder to raise but that’s a challenge the man seems to relish, or else why would he leave his place at the top of the college soccer pyramid for a spot with a team that was trending downwards.
I don’t think a defeat or two will dampen the ardor of the Rose City faithful. There’s an understanding that everything must come to an end and there will be times when luck deserts the side or we’re just flat out bad.
That’s fine. We accept that. So long as we can see progress on and off it, and players on the field that honor the badge and have some damned fun doing it, the Timbers Army will always have the team’s back through good times and bad.
We can’t know the future, be it’s gonna be a whole lotta fun finding out what it holds for us.
Thanks for reading this series of posts. It’s taken a bit of time to put them together, and I hope you enjoyed at least something in there.
I won’t be posting as much on here for the next while. You probably noticed by output has been way done. There could be another move in the near future, and simply put, it’s time to get a job and put the hobbies on the backburner for a bit.
I’ll still post things here and there when I get the time, but for the next few months at least it’ll be left to our fantastic group of contributors to bring you the kind of coverage of the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns that you’ve come to expect from the site.
Thanks again for swinging by, and if you’re new then please do stick around and see if the place is for you.
1) At the beginning of the year, if an impartial soccer fan had looked at the MLS schedule, he’d have seen the March 9th game between Portland and Montreal and thought, “Well, that’ll be a stinker of a game. Portland? Montreal? Couple of losers, there.” Now, here we are, at the half-way mark in the season, and those are, arguably, the two best teams in the league.
Can you believe this? Last year, when I came home from Timbers games, I’d be bitching and complaining to my roommates. This year, I’m all smug and arrogant, crowing about one more victory in the books. Last year, it was “so what if we suck?” This year, it’s “first place, baby!” Yes, I’m pretty much insufferable.
2) Okay, Timbers fans. Time to get ready for all future trivia contests. Who scored the 100th goal in Timbers MLS history? Frederic Piquionne, that’s who. And what a goal it was… I remember it like it was yesterday… It all started with Will Johnson taking a very quick free kick, so quick that most of the Colorado defense still had their backs turned. Rodney Freakin’ Wallace doesn’t waste time, he immediately sends it in for the Flyin’ Frenchman, who heads it home. And for once, the crossbar is our friend. Great goal.
3) But the other goals were pretty sweet, too. Right at the end of the first half, RFW sends another ball in, this one to Cap’n Will, who chips it to himself, then bangs it home. In the postgame radio interview, Will said it wasn’t an accident, he really was trying to chip it to himself. Beautiful play, brother.
And then the third goal? Just as pretty, simply because of the gorgeous passing. Quick ball from Zemanski to RFW, who one-times it to Ryan Johnson, who one-times it to the back of the net. Bang, bang, bang, and it’s three-nothing. Thank you, sir, may I have another?
4) But this game wasn’t all about offense, since Donovan Ricketts earned his league-leading EIGHTH clean sheet. The defense looks great right now, don’t they? Jack Jewsbury saves a goal, Ryan Miller fills in beautifully for Harrington, Andrew Jean-Baptiste plays another game essentially error-free, and I can’t tell you how happy I am with Pa Modou Kah. He’s been stellar, no matter who he’s paired with back there. Another absolutely brilliant signing by General Manager Gavin “We-Hated-You-Last-Year-But-Can’t-Help-But-Admire-The-Team-You’ve-Put-Together-This-Year-Though-We’ll-Probably-Give-Most-Of-The-Credit-To-Caleb-Porter-Just-Out-Of-Our-Long-Standing-Distaste-For-You-But-Honestly-How-Can-You-Blame-Us-And-Also-How-Much-Longer-Is-This-Ridiculous-Nickname-Going-To-Continue” Wilkinson.
5) Okay, we’re half-way through the year. What’s the rest of the season look like?
Well, for starters, we have three games versus our co-league-leaders Real Salt Lake, but two of them are at home. In fact, in our final 17 games, we have nine at home, eight on the road. So that’s nice. Even better, a lot of those away games are very winnable. Two are at Chivas, who are in freefall. Another’s at Columbus, and they’re not looking so good. Same for San Jose. The game in Philly, that should be a tough one. But the game in Vancouver? We always play well there. As for the game in Seattle, well, they invented soccer, of course, but I still think we’ve got a shot, especially since it’s a Cascadia Cup game.
So, all in all, the second half of the season doesn’t look too awful. I think we’ll do okay. Sure, there might be injuries, but hell, we’ve already had injuries, haven’t we? We’re deep. We’ll handle it.
6) Now, last thing. This Wednesday, in Dallas, US Open Cup quarterfinals. How seriously do we take this game?
Clearly, it’s not a league game, so a lot of people will say, “Hell with it,” but Coach Porter’s already stated how important he thinks it is for this team to win trophies. He wants the US Open Cup. He wants the Cascadia Cup. And I’ll go out on a limb and say he wants the MLS Cup, too.
Even better, winning the US Open Cup gets us into the CONCACAF Champions League. That’s our version of the UEFA Champions League. You know, the one with Barcelona and Chelsea and AC Milan? Sure, CONCACAF’s not Europe, but it’s still kind of a big deal. We’d get our shot at the big-money clubs from the Mexican League. How fun would it be to show them that we’re the real deal? We’d get a chance to say we’re not just the best American team, we’re the best in all of CONCACAF.
So I say we take this game seriously. Let’s win this US Open Cup. And then let’s win all the other cups, too. Why not dream big, right? I mean, no one thought that half-way through the season we’d be leading the league, but we’ve done that. So why not keep rolling? Let’s win the quarterfinals in Dallas Wednesday, and then let’s win all the games after that. Let’s follow Coach’s lead. Let’s go win some trophies.
When Danny Mwanga joined the Timbers it felt like a homecoming for the young attacker. It was to Portland that the young Mwanga had relocated from war-torn Congo, and it was back there he went after early promise at Philadelphia had went frustratingly unrealized.
A former OSU player, there was a real sense of enthusiasm about Mwanga’s arrival but things haven’t worked out as anyone would’ve hoped. With 3 goals in 18 appearances, Mwanga simply wasn’t earning his high salary and the club had renegotiated the deal in December for, one would presume, a lower salary more commensurate with his standing as being in the second XI not the first.
A deal for Mwanga has probably been shopped around for some time, despite that renegotiation, and a 21 year old with 15 MLS goals to his name already was always likely to find someone out there willing to take a shot that Mwanga just needs a fresh start to become a regular goalscorer. Oscar Pareja, head coach of Colorado Rapids, is that someone.
Much of the offseason work from the front office this year has seen guys I like leaving the club, but with a clear sense that there was a renewed purpose to the club and this was simply an unavoidable part of that. I’d have liked to see Eric Alexander and Eric Brunner given a chance, and wouldn’t have minded keeping Franck Songo’o or Joe Bendik, but with each deal you can see the reasoning behind it and whether you get behind it depends on just how much trust you place in Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson to do the job right.
When Bright Dike got injured, the Timbers lost their “Number Nine”: the guy that Kenny Cooper and Kris Boyd weren’t meant to be, but Dike had become to the extent that he was a bawhair from going to the Cup of Nations with Nigeria. Ryan Johnson has filled in there, and a hat-trick is a pretty decent audition, but i get the sense from what I hear and read about him that he’s better suited to playing as a wide attacker, allowing him to be more involved on both sides of play.
Whenever Mwanga has led the line on his own, I’ve been unconvinced that he has what it takes there. Bright Dike, for all his faults, is a presence and will let everyone know he’s there. Mwanga never really impressed on me that much, and drifted in and out of games. We can expect to see Trencito given time this year but what I think Porter has shown with the signing of Mikael Silvestre is that, especially when there is as much turmoil and change as there is at Portland, an “old head” on the pitch can help knit things together and fill the breach while the club settles.
That left Mwanga in a group that includes Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Sal Zizzo to fight out for the two attacking midfield/wide attacker roles that weren’t already taken by Diego Valeri. When you’re paying the big money to Mwanga, you really don’t want him to be fourth or fifth in line for the gig when he’s, arguably, the least versatile of the group.
We’ve seen Alhassan and Zizzo being used, tested, in other roles, central midfield and right-back respectively. With a strict salary cap, and limit on roster numbers, versatility adds value. Nagbe’s covered almost every role in midfield and attack and Johnson has shown he can step in and be the lead striker, if needed.
That’s something we haven’t seen from Danny. Sure, there have been moments and I thought the Mwanga/Boyd partnership had promise, as seen in the 2-1 win against Sporting Kansas City, but John Spencer was soon-to-be gone and Boyd would become the league’s most expensive bench warmer for a couple of months.
The rumour (now confirmed) is that Frederic Piquionne is the man the Timbers want to come in and lend some experience and presence to the front line. Piquionne has never been a prolific scorer through-out his career in France and England, with a reputation as a frustrating finisher who doesn’t do the defensive side with any enthusiasm. What he does bring is pace, whatever remains in those 34 year old legs, an elegance to his play and an aerial presence up top. Given he’s not an out-and-out scorer, Piquionne would give Porter the option to deploy him as an attacking fulcrum that the three player behind him could off in almost the same way, though it’s perhaps not so flattering to say so, that Torres was used in front of Mata, Oscar and Hazard at Chelsea.
The move for Piquionne, as with Silvestre, couldn’t look more like short-term fixes if their contracts had been signed in disappearing ink but if they ease the club’s transition, and help develop some of the young talent they’ll be training alongside then they’ll be invaluable moves.
Though there was no future in Portland for Danny Mwanga, there’s clearly still talent in him. Since that early burst of form in his first year in Philadelphia, Mwanga has looked like he just doesn’t fit in but perhaps he’ll find a home among the clouds in Colorado.