Tag Archives: LA Galaxy

Six Degrees: Dare To Dream?

daretodream


1) Sunday’s 1-0 victory over LA was an interesting game, with both good and bad.

Good: the Timbers looked dangerous for long stretches. Bad: they couldn’t turn that into shots on goal.
Bad: the Galaxy kept breaking out in numbers. Good: then they’d get shut down by our backs.
Good: it was super-fun to cheer in the cold and rain. Bad: I’m pretty sure I now have that Chinese bird flu. Continue reading Six Degrees: Dare To Dream?

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Six Degrees: Memories

memories


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

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

So that was going to be my column.

And then this happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Some quick player notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Degrees: ‘Til You Finish The Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tis But A Scratch

The Timbers were on the losing end of an eight-goal thriller with LA Galaxy in Gavin Wilkinson’s first match in charge since John Spencer was philosophically fired last week.

The defeat at JELD-WEN was the Timbers’ first MLS reverse since Chivas won 2-1 way back in April – and the five goals conceded were more than they had lost in the six matches between that match and this.

Wilkinson didn’t stray far for Spencer’s formula in his team selection. Boyd started, which was nice in a he’s-involved-in-virtually-every-goal-we-score kind of way. Chara’s suspension meant a place in midfield for Palmer and Jewsbury, with Alexander and Alhassan on the flanks. Mosquera returned to the starting XI, with Futty the man to sit out.

The one difference was this wouldn’t be the usual 4-4-2. Wilkinson lined his team up in a 4-2-3-1, with Nagbe tucked in behind Boyd. The truth is that the formation was a bit more fluid than some digits on a screen would suggest.

The night started so well as a crisp Alhassan cross was put beyond Saunders by Boyd after only a few minutes.

Having spent so often bemoaning the way the Timbers have failed to play to the Scot’s strengths, it was nice to finally see someone give him the kind of ball that he thrives on. And it was no surprise to see it was Alhassan.

Alhassan seems to be one of the few players who is on Boyd’s wavelength, and keeping Kalif fit – as well as instilling at least some semblance of discipline to his play – has to be a priority for Wilkinson and whoever takes over the top job in the long-term.

In retrospect, it’s easy to look back and see that there was something odd in the air. I mean, really, a Timbers goal in the south end?! As a wise scientist once said, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

Buoyed by the early goal, some of the Timbers play was nice to watch. There seemed to be a noticeable drop in the number of long hopeful balls up the field, and much more pass-and-move play, with the ball staying on the deck.

However, a crazy ten minute spell midway through the first half saw all the encouraging early play undone in brutal fashion.

The Galaxy’s fightback was triggered by some of that mercurial ill-discipline from Alhassan as well as, in my opinion, some presciently poor defensive work from Lovel Palmer.

First off, there was no reason for Alhassan to dribble the ball around in that area – Palmer was wide open for an easy pass. Secondly, as soon as the ball was lost, just when you’d want your defensive midfielder to come alive, Palmer went to sleep.

Palmer’s almost preternatural ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time is fast becoming a joke that even Daniel Tosh wouldn’t touch as being just too tasteless.

The thing is, I don’t think Palmer is necessarily a terrible technical player. You don’t get this far, and achieve what he has in the game, if you can’t master the basics. Sure, he’s not the best passer in the world and his long-range shooting fetish borders on the obscene.

What Palmer lacks, in my opinion, is the ability to make the right decision at crucial moments, and that’s pretty damned key if your responsibility is to protect the defence.

The ability to take in what’s going on around you, extrapolating that information and making the right decision – all within a split second – is one of the skills that is hardest, arguably impossible, to teach. You can teach a player to pass or shoot. You can hone his ability to cross a ball, or play to game plan. Teaching a player to think faster, and better, is much more difficult to do.

John Terry would be an example of a player who, for me, lacks this ability but his other abilities allow him to, more often than not, make a last-ditch recovery to salvage the situation. The late sliding tackle that is so beloved by fans and producers of slow-motion highlight reels is the action of a defender who has made a poor decision. The old adage is true – the best defenders will finish the match with barely a stain on their kit.

Palmer doesn’t have Terry’s ability to recover a bad situation, and his poor decision-making renders him a defensive liability. Lovel Palmer is a ticking time bomb of Fail.

In the Jimenez chance we saw Palmer marshaling a space rather than the man. For the Galaxy equaliser he changed it up.

For sure, it was a good finish from Mrs Cruise, but I’d think more of it if he’d done it with a guy on his shoulder and nipping at his heels. The fact is, for the second time this season, he was given all the time in the world, right in front of goal, and he punished us.

Palmer dropping off to shadow Donovan gave Beckham the breathing space he needed. Only Alexander – eventually – woke up to the danger, and by then it was too late.

Some more awareness from Palmer – or if you’re being kind to Palmer, a shout from Mosquera that he had Donovan covered – and Beckham doesn’t get thee shot away.

Yes, that should read Donovan instead of Keane. The perils of text in pics.

Honestly, at this point, I’m at a loss to explain what Palmer brings to the team. The fact that he only lasted to half-time may suggest that Wilkinson was asking himself the same question.

He displays poor defensive awareness, time and again, and offers next-to-nothing going forward. He just… is.

As Palmer’s moment in the spotlight passed, it was time for Kosuke Kimura to step forward.

A foul by Kimura gave the Galaxy a free-kick in dangerous territory. Beckham stepped forward and duly put the ball in the exact spot that just about everyone expected him to.

I actually had the thought, one that’s occurred to me in the past, that it might actually be a good idea for the Timbers to set up without a wall in this situation.

As you can see, Beckham puts the ball low and near the right hand post (X marks the spot) – right in the spot that most fans would’ve predicted him to aim for. It gives Perkins a good 13 ft or so to cover – and the wall gives him 10 fewer yards to respond, especially as the Galaxy players (ringed) crowd the end of the wall right in front of Perkins.

So, why not say “screw the wall”? Perkins could take up a more central position and he’d have a better sight of the ball from the moment it leaves Beckham’s foot.

It clearly couldn’t be a regular strategy as teams would quickly figure us out as the guys who don’t line up a wall and adjust accordingly – lining up a wall of their own for example, but I doubt no wall is a situation teams prepare for, and the confusion it sows may just be enough to prevent the Galaxy taking the lead.

I fully expect to be called a madman for this idea, by the way.

Kimura’s crazy spell continued when he switched off at a throw-in and allowed Stephens to get in behind him. A clumsy tackle in the box gave the Galaxy a penalty, and Donovan duly dispatched it.

It became 4-1 when Smith played a lazy pass which was cut-out by Beckham. Donovan was sent scampering down the right, where he blew past Horst and slid it on for Keane to tap home between Mosquera and Kimura.

Kimura wasn’t done though. A trademark Boyd free-kick – head down, hit it hard – was spilled by Saunders and the new man got his first goal for the Timbers to make it 4-2 before the break.

As the game slipped away from the Timbers, so the 4-2-3-1 seemed to go out the window. Nagbe began to play more as a striker, albeit deeper-lying than Boyd. By the time the second half rolled round, we were back in 4-4-2 territory.

Richards replaced Palmer, who was presumably sent into a quiet room to think about what he’d done tonight. This meant Alexander was shifted inside, and he looked happier there.

Though his play was generally pretty tidy, and he worked well with Smith, he lacked the attacking punch that Alhassan had down the right side. It gave the team a lop-sided feel.

Moving into the middle allowed Alexander to be more involved in linking play. In the second half he made only eight fewer passes than Palmer and Jewsbury combined in the first.

The team’s traded goals in the second period after Donovan and Nagbe had missed good chances one-on-one. Nagbe’s came about from a tremendous throw from Perkins, whose general distribution continues to frustrate. Great pace put Darlington in, but he lacked the killer touch to finish the move and put the Timbers within a goal of the visitors.

Keane would eventually put LA up 5-2 when Smith was drawn out of defence, and Franklin beat Richards to the ball over the top before laying it on a plate for the boyhood Galaxy fan. Boyd cut out the middle man later when he put another free kick past Saunders to make it 5-3.

Unfortunately, the Timbers were unable to find the goal that would set up a grandstand finish but few would forget this match in a hurry. Shown nationwide on NBC Sports, the game was a great advert for the kind of entertaining football MLS can serve up, even if it would give defensive coaches nightmares.

It’s a bittersweet result. On one hand, there was a lot of fight in the team. Boyd served up two goals, and played a key role in the other. He did his job. He scored. Strikers are often “streaky”, so getting a brace under his belt may just spur the club’s top scorer on further.

For spells, in the first half especially, the football was good to watch. There was some good interplay, movement and purpose about the way the Timbers crossed the field – a long way from the panicky, hit-and-hope football that defined much of the late Spencer period, even after they’d gone down 4-1.

There wasn’t really a great deal between the clubs. Both had porous defences that gave up chances to the opposition, but the Galaxy had a bit more nous and cutting-edge about them in attack. Despite the two defensive midfielders in the first half, I also felt that overall the Galaxy had the upper hand in the midfield battle, though there was little between the two in the second half.

In some respects, losing to a better team is to be expected. In Donovan, Keane and Beckham, the Galaxy have access to talents beyond those of the Timbers. The only way to beat a better team is to either get lucky, work even harder, or both. The Timbers certainly worked hard, but ultimately gave themselves too much to do. Luck wasn’t really as much of a factor as numerous individual mistakes and poor choices at the back were.

They way the side kept their heads up and kept plugging away is a world away from the same team that has rolled over in recent weeks.

However, the defence. Just not good enough. It’s not the first time that a player has simply blown past a comically-bad Horst tackle, and probably won’t be the last.

Smith’s crossing was as poor as I can remember it. It’s all the more frustrating as Smith is capable of so much better.. Kimura had that crazy spell in the first half, and clearly there’s a bit more work to be done in integrating him into the team.


Chivas await for the Timbers, and though Portland find themselves bottom of the Western Conference (2nd bottom overall), a win against their hosts could propel them, improbably, back into the play-off hunt. It’s not hard to think of the Black Knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the Timbers refuse to give up, no matter how devastating the blows they receive.

Over the next four proper matches, the Timbers will play two game series against both Chivas and Dallas – two sides also struggling in the West.

Make or break time.

#RCTID

EDIT:

rhamje raised the point in the comments below that he felt Keane’s 2nd goal, LA’s 5th, was offside. I didnb’t think it was at the time, so I went back and checked, and had it confirmed. Definitely onside.

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

Timbers’ Galaxy Quest

LA Galaxy host Portland Timbers for the second time this season with neither team in sparkling form, though the Timbers can at least point to an unbeaten month of May after 3 draws and the win against Chicago. LA’s form has been little short of catastrophic, with only 1 win in the 8 MLS matches since they defeated the Timbers 3-1 in April. They’ve lost the last three, as well as losing to Carolina Railhawks in the US Open Cup.

Bah, the Open Cup…

How the Timbers react to their defeat to Cal FC will be one of the big questions hanging over the side. The sour taste that the defeat left in the mouths of fans has lingered, and both players and fans will be looking for a palate cleansing victory this weekend.

During the break the Timbers have added Danny Mwanga to the side, sending Jorge Perlaza to Philadelphia, and you would expect that Mwanga will be in line for a debut against LA. The developing partnership of Mwanga and Boyd will be an interesting one to watch.

LA Galaxy Team Problems

The Timbers have every right to feel that this is a very winnable match. They aren’t facing the same team that swept to an MLS Cup triumph last year. This LA will have lost Robbie Keane to international duty, are nursing a long injury list and have Mike Magee and Michael Stephens suspended as well as Landon Donovan publicly expressing his ennui. Also is not well at Beckham FC, and Bruce Arena has had to fend off talk of dressing room unrest.

This will force the Galaxy into a number of changes in line-up, with Keane, Buddle and Cristman all likely to miss out. Chad Barrett has started the last couple of matches with Edson Buddle, so it would seem likely he would lead the line against Portland, with the veteran ex-Sounder Pat Noonan also an option, though he has only started one of his nine appearances this season. Jack McBean, only 17, is an option but unlikely to be start. If Juninho makes it, I’d expect a front three of Nakazawa, Barrett and Donovan – assuming he’s fit to go after a raft of international matches – to start, with Beckham behind and Juninho and Sarvas providing the steel in midfield.

Magee’s suspension is a blow for them, but Kyle Nakazawa is an able deputy on the left. Nakazawa will be no stranger to Danny Mwanaga having been team mates at Philadelphia (Mwanga even contributed an assist to a Nakazawa goal last season), and he possesses a threat from set plays, assuming Beckham lets him take any.

The midfield battle

A big key point for LA will be whether Juninho makes it. Juninho is very much the heart of the engine room for the Galaxy, and his absence is usually sorely felt. His box-to-box, all action hustle allows Beckham to play a more advanced central role where his long passing and shooting can be more effective.

Though very much in the twilight of his career, Beckham’s ability to spread the play around will keep the Timbers back line stretched. The flashes of old brilliance are coming at ever-increasing intervals these days, but the Timbers won’t need any reminding about what he can do if given time and space 30 yards from goal.

Having Juninho and Sarvas in the centre also takes away some of the defensive responsibility from the ageing underwear model, which is probably just as well as it’s certainly not his strong suit.

There was a sense that Marcelo Sarvas had been signed from LD Alajuelense to replace his countryman Juninho, before the Brazilian was signed on a third year-long loan deal the following month. Though his playing time has been limited, Sarvas has done reasonably well when given the chance in a Diego Chara-esque role.

Winning this midfield battle will be difficult. The Galaxy have a number of ways they can go – Beckham may play out wide in a 4-4-2, or they can put 3 in the middle in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 set up. Diego Chara’s ability to disrupt play is important, but whoever is alongside him will have to help out defensively to stop Chara being outnumbered by an onrushing Juninho, or Donovan/Nakazawa coming in from the flanks.

Donovan’s Threat

Though his form for LA has been below par Donovan remains a threat, coming in from wide or from deep with late runs, as the Timbers found out to their cost in the last match between the teams when he equalised just before half time. Given his talismanic status with the Galaxy, it’s unsurprising that he’s often given license to roam and this can make him difficult to track. He’ll also drop deep to pick up the ball and can, with a pass and move, set off quick attacking moves, as Colorado found out to their cost this season.

In Defence

The Timbers’ new-found defensive solidity will be put to the test. They have lost only 2 goals in 4, and kept 3 clean sheets in the past 6, so there’s every reason for a degree of confidence even though Troy Perkins has had come up huge a number of times for the team. Concentration will be key, and it’s vital that Chara gets support in the midfield to help protect the defence.

Hanyer Mosquera has also proven himself to be an astute piece of business. The heart of the defence at this point is certainly Mosquera & A. N. Other. His robust style sets the tone at the back, but his tendency to come out of defence and ball chase can leave gaps – the kind of spaces that a Barrett or Donovan love to find.

In the Galaxy they’ll face a defence that have often shown the same levels of competence as Alexi Lalas does footballing insight. Without Omar Gonzales to marshal the backline, it’s been seat-of-the-pants time for Galaxy fans. Almost every goal can be attributed to an individual mistake, or poor defensive co-ordination.

Goalie Josh Saunders will likely be back for his first start since the 2-1 win against Colorado, having played in the reserve match against the Timbers at the start of the month. The 3 wins LA have this year have all come with Saunders between the sticks, but the goals against average hasn’t changed much – in fact, it’s been marginally lower without Saunders – 1.57 from 1.67, or a goal every ten games or so.

He’s likely to be behind a back four of Dunivant, Lopes, DeLaGarza and Franklin. AJ DeLaGarza formed a good understanding with Gonzales last season, but this year he’s had more partners than Newt Gingrich, and failed to find chemistry with any of them. It’s likely that ex-Chivas man David Junior Lopes will start against Portland, with Lopes and DeLaGarza playing together four times this season – the most of any Galaxy centre-back twosomes.

Something In The Air…

DeLaGarza’s lack of height – he’s only 5’9 – is also a problem that teams have sought to take advantage of. With that in mind, getting good delivery in from the flanks has proven very fruitful for opponents this season.

DeLaGarza isn’t at fault in the centre here, but he does allows his man too much space to get turned and get a cross in, and by putting it between defenders, Sene is given the relatively simple job of nodding the ball home. The lack of a dominant presence at the back such as Gonzales really shows in this area, as no-one takes it upon themselves to attack the ball.

Here Gaul doesn’t close down Rosales, preferring to concentrate on the outside runner, while Donovan shows a lackadaisical attitude to getting back. The cross from deep is well measured to miss out the 6’3 Lopes at the front post, and let Eddie Johnson go up against the smaller DeLaGarza.

The Back Post

Taking “the big man” out of the equation and isolating DeLaGarza or the fullbacks has been a recurring theme for the Galaxy.

Again, it’s a far post cross, and Kamara reads it better than Franklin for a simple header, and even if Franklin didn’t have a brainfart, you’d put money on Kamara beating him to the ball anyway.

Neither first choice full-back for the Galaxy have covered themselves in glory this season. Their attacking play has carried any great potency, and their defensive work has often left a lot to be desired. It’s almost as if it’s not that easy a position to play.

It may be a result of the loss of Gonzales’ influence and organisation, but whatever the cause for the dip in form, both full-backs are playing like players not entirely sure of their jobs and with little confidence in the rest of their defensive team mates.  They’ve had real problems defending the channels, and a switched-on attacker can find himself in acres of space with a well-timed forward pass.

Timbers Attacking

The biggest problem the Timbers have faced isn’t shutting out the opposition, it’s putting the ball in the net. They’ve netted only 4 times in the 6 matches since the loss to Galaxy, and half of those were own-goals.

Given the way that Spencer has relentlessly had the Timbers playing – direct from back to front, get it wide – it almost seems like the Galaxy’s weakness at full back, and soft centre, are tailor made for the Timbers to shine.

In a way, given the weakness out wide this is almost the perfect match for the running of Perlaza. His channel running would cause the full-backs headaches, allowing the outside players to get space for the cross. Mwanga though has that ability, combined with a bit more of a physical presence.

With Boyd and Mwanga both likely to start – and 6’1 and 6’2 respectively – the height is there to really challenge the Galaxy defence, providing the delivery is good. Too often the Timbers have been wasteful from wide areas, but have in Sal Zizzo and Kalif Alhassan two guys who can measure a cross. But they also have guys like Mike Chabala who has an almost vampiric fear of a good cross, preferring the hit and hope and fail method.

Though neither Boyd or Mwanga are particularly dominant in the air, both would fancy their chances against the fullbacks or DeLaGarza. Indeed, DeLaGarza’s weakness in the air is something the team and player himself are all too aware of.

There is a tendency for the defence to drop a little deeper to try and limit the effectiveness of long balls forward for big strikers to win flick-ons, but this leaves this exposed to cross balls into dangerous areas as players are able to attack the ball 6 yards from goal.

The temptation may be to pump the ball long and look to win the second ball on knock-downs against DeLaGarza from which could allow the Timbers to get good possession in dangerous areas and keep the attack moving, with the outside midfielders getting forward to offer through balls in the channels between centre and full backs or a pass out wide, but they may find themselves thwarted in this by the presence in those areas of Sarvas and/or Juninho.

Late Game Jitters

Whichever teams holds it’s late game nerve could well come out on top. In April it was the Galaxy who grabbed a couple of late goals for the win and Timbers fans are all to aware of the teams late game performance. There hasn’t been a record as abject as the Timbers in the last 20 minutes since Paris Hilton got delusions of musical adequacy.

While the Galaxy have also suffered late in matches, conceding over half their goals in the final 30 minutes, they also score a lot late on – 60% of the goals they’ve scored this year have come in the final 30.

Both teams have thrown away leads late in matches, so the mental toughness of both XI’s are likely to be tested here. The Galaxy’s poor home form, coupled with fans unrest, could work to the Timbers advantage if they can get themselves ahead and frustrate the hosts and turn the crowd against their heroes.

Timbers Selection

With Futty on international duty with The Gambia, and Eric Brunner a doubt, it looks like David Horst will partner Hanyer Mosquera at the back. Horst didn’t cover himself in glory at the Cal FC goal, but no-one really came out of that game with credit. Steven Smith is taking his time getting back, and with Wallace picking up a knock it might mean a start for Mike Chabala at left back, with Jewsbury likely to continue at right back.

Given the emphasis I’ve placed on getting good delivery in from wide areas, I am worried about having Chabala’s Comically Catastrophic Crossing Cavalcade down the wing, but I do like him matched against Landon Donovan or David Beckham as I feel his defensive game is much more his strength.

In midfield Diego Chara is a lock, hopefully at central midfield, though you can never be sure. Out wide there’s Sal Zizzo, Kalif Alhassan, Franck Songo’o and Eric Alexander all competing for a spot. Personally, I’d go with Alhassan and Zizzo, but Zizzo’s impact as a sub may be something Spencer wants to hold in reserve until later in the game. I worry that going with Alhassan and Songo’o out wide, given both these guys’ propensity for dribbling inside, could leave our distinctly-not-first-choice full backs exposed to a double team as Franklin and Dunivant are allowed to break forward without worry.

Nagbe will likely start in his midfield/attacker role with Mwanga and Boyd up top, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see Mwanga start from the bench, with Nagbe partnering Boyd and possibly Alexander in midfield with Chara. I wouldn’t be entirely happy, but not shocked either. Brent Richards did reasonably well when he came on against Cal FC, and has done well for the reserves this year, but I doubt we’ll see Spencer drop any of the “proven” players to give Richards a debut in the back yard of the Champions.

Conclusion

All this being said, I’m feeling pretty confident about Portland’s chances on Sunday. While the Timbers have their own concerns and players missing, there’s a sense that finally the important players are coming back into the team. That’s not the sense you get from LA, who have Keane missing, Donovan’s form slumping and Beckham not getting any younger.

It’s been far too long to make amends after the Open Cup débâcle, and I’m sure the players are itching to prove that result an aberration.

If the Timbers defence can stick to their task and stay focused, then the foundations are there for the win. The LA defence is nothing to be feared. Pressure applied to the flanks with strong, dynamic play from the strikers could kick open the doors. If Real Salt Lake can beat Chivas at the same ground the night before, Spencer’s boys will know a win will put them up into 6th, with the play-offs firmly in sight.

#RCTID

Rewind and Repeat

Like one of those cheap Direct-to-Video sequels you’d see on the shelves of your local Blockbuster (younger readers: Blockbuster was like Netflix only it was an actual store that only periodically stocked movies you wanted to see) where they essentially simply remade the original movie, the Timbers played another LA-based team, threw away a lead around half time and ended up losing a match in the last ten minutes. I had to double check the schedules afterwards to make sure that next week wouldn’t see the Timbers playing in space or with Jar-Jar Binks up front.

I held off writing this blog for a day – in fact, I wasn’t sure I’d write one at all – because I don’t want to be the guy who is constantly beating up the team. I can’t wait to write a “Where did it all go right?” post, and I do firmly believe that someone is due to be on the end of an absolute spanking from the Timbers. It just wasn’t this week.

But, I’ll start today by looking at what I thought were positives from the match against Beckham FC.

Steve Purdy came in for Lovel Palmer and did reasonably well without setting the match on fire. Palmer, who likely spent most the week checking for Ryan Smith in his closet before trying to get to sleep, shouldered much of the blame for the defeat to Chivas last week, found himself relegated to the bench with Purdy in at right back. I doubt Purdy is the man to taker over the role and make it his own long term, but he seems a better option, in a defensive sense at least, than Palmer at this point.

A full-back signing rarely attracts the column inches or sets fans hearts aflutter in the way that a new striker or creative player does, but it simply has to be a priority for the front office, and the trialists being brought over, seemingly in bulk, in this week seem to indicate that the management are taking it seriously, at last. There is a tendency when talking about “great” full-back to lionise their attacking abilities over their defensive, but getting someone in who can take care of the defensive work is critical as all too often it’s this week that is exposed by opponents.

Hanyer Mosquera put in a solid performance at the back, with an impressive 8 interceptions in crucial areas – more than both Brunner and Baptiste combined last week. This ability to read play and step out to snuff out attacks is vital if the timbers are to turn their reactive defence into a proactive one. More on this point later…

Though Beckham’s screamer will undoubtedly win Goal of the Week, for my money the Timbers goal was better.

The team play, movement and one touch passing that carves open the LA defence gets ever more delightful every time you see it, and Boyd’s assured finish shows what you get when you give him the ball at his feet.

And it was good to finally see Boyd getting some decent supply at last. The Scot could even have had a hat-trick with another chance saved, and one incorrectly ruled out for offside. All these came with delivery into feet. I’ve been beating my head against the wall as the Timbers continued to resort to “get-it-wide-cross-it-in” tactics over and over again despite Boyd’s obvious strength lying in his feet, not his head.

It can only bode well that perhaps the penny has dropped that if you feed Boyd the ball to feet, he’ll score.

On the flip side, well, I’ll keep it brief.

Jack Jewsbury came in for a bit of stick from me, and others, last week after a poor showing in an attacking midfield role. Against LA he was better, back in his more accustomed position in defensive midfield, but only in that he was largely anonymous rather than downright poor.

But hey, at least he wasn’t played as an attacking midfielder, right? It was amusing to see some criticise me for a line in last weeks piece about Jewsbury not being an attacking midfielder, as they felt it was some kind of personal attack on Jack. It wasn’t. I don’t doubt he’s a great presence in the dressing room, and no doubt a nice guy but saying Jewsbury is not an attacking mid is no more a personal slight on him than pointing out Boyd isn’t a goalkeeper. It’s just a fact. Jack has, in the words of Liam Neeson, a “very particular set of skills” and those skills are firmly in the defensive sphere.

Now, I still think he should be benched as he’s not offering enough for me to justify being one of the 11 – we’re not good enough to carry passengers in crucial areas – but it does raise the question of who takes over. The options to slot in aren’t great. Marcelin doesn’t seem like a guy to be relied on game-in-game-out. If only we had a player like, for example, Adam Moffat to slot in there…

As for the goals conceded, well… For the 1st, if Brunner doesn’t slip, I don’t think we lose a goal. It was a desperate scurry to cover for Brunner as Keane marched into the box and allowed Donovan to ghost in unnoticed like the teenage me at a house party. It was hugely unfortunate, and coming when it did right before half time, it was a massive sucker punch that fired LA up and deflated the Timbers.

On the 2nd, Nagbe was hustled off the ball by the hungrier Juninho, whose shot through a ruck of players left Perkins unsighted till the last moment. At least, I hope he was unsighted because the other option is that Perkins went down slower than the oldest hooker in town, and a keeper who has lost that vital reflexive spring is a very worrying prospect – ask Blackburn fans about Paul Robinson.

Now, the 3rd… That annoyed me. And not just became Captain Brylcreem scored it. It was reactive defending at it’s worst.

My first thought on seeing the goal was “Where the hell were Palmer (on for Jewsbury) and Chara?”. There’s no way anyone should be getting that kind of space in that area of the pitch, right where they should be. Repeat viewings show that Chara was attracted across to the ball down the Timbers right side, while Palmer had dropped in to cover Mosquera who’d come rushing out of defence to close down play.

If Chabala closes Beckham down, letting Brunner cover for him – that is why, I’m assuming, Brunner took up a position so deep – then Beckham’s shot is either blocked off, or he’s forced to pass wide. Beckham sure as hell isn’t going to dribble round anyone. Even in his prime, he wasn’t that kind of player.

Whether fault lies with Chabala for backing off – thinking he was covering his man – or Brunner for not giving Chabala a shout is a subjective decision. It was, though, poor decision making in defence and it’s not the first time that defenders have made catastrophically poor choices.

It was still a great strike from Beckham, though. Take nothing away from that. He just should never have had the chance to shoot in the first place, is my point.

So, here we were again, more goals lost in the last ten minutes. The collapse was the 9th point Timbers had thrown away from a winning position this year and it gave the team an aggregate score of 7-25 in the last twenty minutes of matches since joining MLS.

The late game collapse has become a club tradition. Trying to drill down to the reasons for it would keep a team of experts busy for the rest of the season. Is the issue mental, physical or tactical?

I have a suspicion is a combination of all three. The collapse has become almost a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point, and the insistence of playing a relentlessly direct, get-it-down-the-wings tactic unsurprisingly leads to tiring, especially in the flanks, which opens up space in defence. And Spencer has made some strange changes at times

John Spencer has made three changes in 30 of the Timbers 40 MLS matches so far, with 2 being made in the other 10. The last two subs tend to come late in the match (averaging around the 73 and 79 minute mark respectively) and these are often the time when a manager will make that “last throw of the dice” to change a match in their favour, or look to consolidate an advantage.

The Timbers record before the last two subs are made is 14 wins, 13 draws, 13 losses, or a Loss Rate of 32.5%. After the changes the Loss Rate climbs to 40% after the 2nd sub, and 50% after all three are made.

Though 14 goals have been scored after the Timbers use their 3rd sub (4 in favour, 10 against), only 4 times has the match result been affected – most have been consolations, or another goal for the team in front. On only 1 occasion, the Timbers situation improved (the 1-1 draw with RSL that rounded off the 2011 season), the other 3 have seen it worsen, going from Win to draw in the 3-3 match with New York, and the Draw to Loss in the last two matches.

It’s worrying that the Timbers seem unable to turn around matches in our favour. It seems that the longer a match goes on, the more likely it is to get away from us.

It’s hard to ascertain whether it’s Spencer making the wrong changes, or an indication of how thin the squad is that we lack players who can come in to a match and make a positive difference.

There may be a second part to this post later in the week, where I play at being fantasy manager of the Timbers and set out my reasoning for why I think a 4-3-1-2/4-3-3 is the way forward for the team, as this post is already way too long as it is. There may not though, because, really what’s the point? I’m just a fan, so what do I know?


Next week will see Timbers face the early pacesetters, Sporting Kansas City. Getting a result against the unbeaten side will be a difficult and daunting prospect, and few will expect Portland to get anything from the match, but it would be just like this team to spark into life and grab the three points.

Or, at least we can hope…