Tag Archives: Ryan Johnson

#9

Ryan Johnson Continue reading #9

Advertisements

Space, The Final Frontier

space

These are the voyages of the starship Timbers FC. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new (pond)life and new (un)civiliz(ed douchebags)ations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

That has been stuck in my head because I watched Star Trek into Darkness just recently (it was allright, I guess) but also because it provides a tenuous link to what has prompted me to write after watching the Timbers go down 4-2 in Utah.

Space.

mptwitterThe referee changing/destroying the game aside, it was the use of space that was the great difference in the teams last night. RSL used it well and exploited it, where the Timbers were often adrift in attack, unable to get any flow or rhythm to their play where they needed it most.

Which isn’t to diminish those other factors. It’s important after a defeat to seperate the excuses from the facts. The fact is that the Timbers are missing key players in an already small trusted squad, and that’s going to tell when you face a top side in their own yard, which isn’t to excuse a defeat, but merely give context to a result that could otherwise be taken as a source for despair.

Defence carries the most obvious scars, with spellcheck-botherer Rauwshan McKenzie making his first MLS start for the Timbers alongside Andrew Jean-Baptiste. This left Michael Harrington as the elder statesman of the back four at the princely age of 27, and that McKenzie (26) has started fewer than thirty times in five and a half years in MLS shows how badly the Timbers miss the old heads of Silvestre, Jewsbury and, yes, Kah.

He may be a hothead, but that pulls focus from the 95% of his game that’s rock solid and Jean-Baptiste seems to trust him which takes a lot of weight off his shoulders to be the main man at the back.

Futty is also on his way back into contention, which is probably bad news for McKenzie who may have to wait a bit long to get over the game starts mark.

It’s been a big year for AJB, playing a part in all but two matches this year in the league. He’s started sixteen of the last seventeen, providing on constant in the heart of defence. He’s a better, bigger player now than he was at the start of the year, but I wonder if it may be time to give him a rest. I felt at times he missed an old head alongside him to rein him in when needed, and there have been other instances where he’s tried to do too much on his own. A break might freshen him up for a run-in that is as tough as you could hope to avoid.

Porter’s magic touch can only go so far, and his previous trick of throwing a completely untested pairing into the mix and having it work, somehow, didn’t spark here. Our makeshift team wasn’t a match for Jason Kreis’ fizzing Salt Lake side. As an aside, I’m not sure what his ambitions may be but there’s surely a higher level than MLS for Kreis to make his mark in.

In many ways they are the team we want to be, and why not mould yourself after them? For me, going into this match, RSL were, and are, the best team in the league and I saw a lot in their play that is very like the play we saw from Portland when mostly-everyone was fresh. Built around a talented and talismanic Argentinian in offense, with a tight-knit core of “you’d love them if they were your guy” types and underrated gems aond exciting young talent bubbling over.

Real Close

They got their game going, with the space between attackers kept to a minimum. Their passing was crisp and fluid, but crucially it was with purpose and almost supernatural accuracy that was matched by the final, killer, touch.

The Timbers were punished by a team that not only created chances, but took them so precisely out of Ricketts reach that I’m pretty sure the big man himself, or a member of the Timbers coaching team will have paced out that goal to make sure that it wasn’t actually a few inches over regulation.

I also suspect if those same chances were falling to Ryan Johnson, that’s our tale; a hard luck story. The Jamaican striker is on a bit of a drought, by his own high standards.

It’s the first time since May that he has gone on a three game starting run without scoring, and back then a convenient international break allowed the Timbers to freshen up in attack. Valencia did well, considering the team were down to ten men, and his vicious shot led to the Timbers second of the night when Nick Rimando wasn’t in the mood for dealing with that kinda shit tonight.

And who’s that over there, oh right it’s Bright F-ing Dike. So there’s that.

Timbers Distant

Johnson never really felt like a part of the game in the way that the RLS attackers were and that was because the Timbers didn’t have the tight movement between attackers. The distances were too great so any ball that went up there was immediately contested in 1-on-1’s, never allowing us to overload the attack to our advantage because we’d general lose out or fail to control the play.

realeasydefending

Johnson’s desire to run the channels meant that our play in the final third was built around finding a quick ball into space for him to run onto to, or to create space for others with his movement. We never really got the passing quick and crisp enough, and the movement was just a little too late to make RSL sweat too greatly.

It’s little surprise that both goals were something from nothing.

Nagbe took everyone by surprise with a typically Nagbian fuck-this-I’ll-score-then-if-no-one-else-will move. Then Valencia stung the palms of Rimando for Zizzo to follow up on.

It’s kinda interesting, I think, to note that Zizzo announces his return with a goal, albeit little more than a consolation in the end, just as Dike is being rebooted ready to bring some pent-up Autumnal cheer to MLS defences. This pair were the highlight of an often grim interimship, and there’s something about the timing of it all this that makes me wonder if Porter might see if lightning could strike twice there.

What’s been missing, as well as goals, from Johnson’s game has been assists and Zizzo served up a handful in the run last year, with Dike his primary beneficiary.

In many ways the problems that exist with Johnson would, in theory, remain if we played Dike. Dike isn’t going to play like Piquionne, the only guy on the attack on Valeri’s level if you exclude Nagbe on the basis that levels don’t apply in his case, but he’s going to play like Dike.

If Valeri sits for a while, that changes things and perhaps makes room for Zizzo and a change to a system that exloits that. Perhaps we even see Zizzo in at right-back, or exchanging roles up and down the right with Powell.

Toronto are next up, at Jeld- Wen Field and Chivas away follow, and this, quite frankly, should-win double could put six points on the board and restore some confidence in a team that has a chance to avenge the results of this past week in our own backyard before this year is out. They also perhaps afford Porter that breathing-room, while meaning no disrespect, to freshen some and unleash others.

Those games will, ultimately, decide our fate in regards to the postseason. Looking at the table, as I said earlier RSL are my top team, and I put LA and, sadly, Seattle through with them. That leaves ourselves, FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes. On reflection, I’d have been quicker listing the teams that are out of contention for those two spots in the West: Chivas USA.

After Toronto (also out of the playoff race in the East) the Timbers play out their year in the West, so the players can sleep in the own bed but it’s unlikely to be comfortable sleeping if they can’t put points on the board in games against our rivals.

There are a lot of six-pointers to come, given how close the race is, but Portland will need to improve on recent form, and quickly, if they are to end the year with the unspoken promise of postseason soccer fulfilled.

We’re this close, and quite frankly, it’ll be a disappointment if we don’t make it now. It’s in our hands, and we’re lucky to have three matches against teams with little to play for. It’s been a long time since we played against a team that ultimately doesn’t look like making the playoffs, and we lost that match in Columbus to a single goal in early July.

A run of eight games against genuine playoff contenders, east and west, has seen Portland scrape nine points off two wins and three draws. We have five more of those kind of games, at least, so getting full points against the other teams is a must.

Caption
The form table makes for uncomfortable reading, with many of our rivals in much better form that us.

Toronto and Chivas back-to-back perhaps affords us the chances to rest guys like AJB and Ryan Johnson, and start to feed guys back in and look to find something that works for who we’ve got right now. There’s no shame with going to places like Seattle and Sandy and coming back with nothing to show for it, but the manner of the latest defeat would be a signal to me that we need to freshen things up a bit.

The other space that I could tie back to my Trek diversion at the start is the space to breath, and to heal. We settle back into a regular weekly schedule, so no more three games in nine days carry on. That helps down the stretch.

We can cry foul every time we’re wronged by officials, on the pitch and off, but ultimately we hold our own fate in our hands with five matches at home, where we’re unbeaten since March.

We host Colorado, LA, Seattle and RSL and we arguably need to win at least two or three of those. Trips to Vancouver and Chivas USA, twice, could bring to an end a horrible run of one point in our last five road trips. That goalless draw against te Union was also our last clean sheet, the fourth in six games at the time.

There’s no doubting the effect of injuries on the team. McKenzie underwhelmed and we’re missing Will Johnson like Chicago Fire communication directors miss points, so it’s good to look ahead and see, in the first half of September at least, a potential for some good news stories.

Dike and Futty are coming back, Horst too, and we live in hope, day-to-day, that good news will come and our Johnson will be restored to its former glory in the hole where we’ve lacked penetration in the last few weeks, or been punished for unwise lunges by seeing red.

We’ve also seen another side of Kalif in the past few games, and he’s been a rare bright spot. I sometimes come off as down on Kalif, but it’s only because there’s clearly so much more to him than he’s shown, consistently at least.

The things about injury crises is they always pass, no matter how long they seem to drag on at the time. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re not alone in facing off against playoff rivals, but if we can hold our nerve there’s no reason why this story has to end before with another tale of nearly-made-it.

#RCTID

Six Degrees: Let The Record Show

record


1) Winning is so good for my psychology. Right now, everything seems perfect. All I want to do is sing and dance and throw awesomeness at you.

What kind of awesomeness? How about this: right now, your Portland Timbers are tied for the league lead in points-per-game with Montreal. In total points, we’re three points behind RSL with two games in hand. We’re one behind Colorado with THREE games in hand. We’ve given up the fewest goals in the league. We’re tied with KC for best goal differential.

Not enough awesomeness? I’ve got more. Ryan Johnson just tied Portland’s MLS-era record for most goals scored. Diego Valeri just BROKE the assists record.

Yes, folks, three points can leave a man feeling a little tipsy. I’ll try to make it through this column without breaking anything or spilling beer on the carpet.

2) Having a week and a half off really made a difference. We looked so refreshed and aggressive, especially on offense. It reminded me of our early season form. Our entire front four was on fire. RJ and Nagbe scored, Valeri and RFW almost did. Hell, even Trencito was blasting towards goal. That was the most dangerous 1 v 5 break I’ve ever seen.

I hope we can hold on to this offensive form. This offensive aggression. I hope our legs stay fresh and injuries don’t haunt us. A few too many guys were banged around last night. We don’t need them joining Will and Piq on the injured list. Our bench seems to get thinner every day. (On the plus side, Bright Dike’s getting closer and closer. Fingers crossed.)

3) There’s plenty of good things to say about the defense as well. Both David Ferreria (who’s a whiny little turd) and Blas Perez (who’s a whiny big turd) were shut down last night. Complete non-factors. I’ll give credit to Ben Zemanski and Pa Kah.

I’m starting to think that Kah’s a little like basketball player Kevin Garnett, in that part of his game involves getting into his opponent’s brain. He was barking in Perez’s ear all night long, and Perez just got more and more frustrated, eventually getting a yellow card for “dissent,” which I’m pretty sure is official-speak for “bitching.”

There’s a side of me that sort of likes Kah’s mind games, but another side worries it will blow up in his face. He should definitely be a little more careful after the game’s over. After the final whistle blew last night, he was right there next to Perez, circling him, giving him a complete earful. It’s amazing Perez didn’t slug him. Though maybe that’s what Kah wants.

4) After the Vancouver game, I was very unsure about Alvas Powell, but man, did he look better last night. I think this kid might be the real deal. In that first game, sure, he looked fast, but he also looked overwhelmed and panickey. Not last night. Last night he really looked like the right back of our future. Hell, he may be the right back of our present. He’s still got those young, fast legs, but last night he showed us he’s also good with the ball at his feet, he can stay calm under fire, and he can learn and improve. Sure, he might need to work on his crosses, and there were a few times he didn’t get back when I should have, but the kid’s only 19. And if we know anything about Caleb Porter, it’s that he’s got a lot of experience teaching teenagers. Put all of those things together and I think Alvas Powell might be starting the rest of the season. It makes me a little sad to say this, because it means Jack Jewsbury’s days with Portland may be numbered. But I guess we can save all that talk for the off-season, right?

5) Okay, let’s have some quick-takes on a few players.

Ben Zemanski – Outstanding work, brother. Thanks to your performance, we didn’t miss Will Johnson at all. And for the record, I’m not jumping on a bandwagon here. I’ve liked you from the start.

Michael Harrington – You had to trim the hair, dude? At this crucial point in the season? If your play falters in any way, we’ll know who to blame. Your barber.

Donovan Ricketts – Quit rolling around in pain and giving me ulcers. You are not allowed to get injured. Do you understand me, sir? Zero. Injuries.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste – I can’t overstate how fun it’s been watching you grow up this year. Earlier in the season, I didn’t trust you. Now I do, completely and totally. You’ve become rock solid.

Ryan Johnson – My one-person Ryan Johnson fan club will be having a party to celebrate your tying Kenny Cooper’s MLS-era scoring record. All the haters can form a line at the door. I’ll be inside, eating cake and ice cream.

6) I’ll end this column by easing back on the optimism and trying to get some perspective. This season is far from over and the Timbers are far from perfect. Sure, we won and we looked good doing it, but Dallas is in a slump, we were at home, and it’s a game we were supposed to win. A much bigger test will be our next three games. Real Salt Lake at home, then Seattle away, and Real Salt Lake away.

Now, regarding Seattle, I’m a little hopeful. The Flounders haven’t beaten a playoff-caliber team since June 8th, when they beat Vancouver. I’ll also remind everyone that we took a point from them earlier this season. That was in their house and at a point when the Timbers were still figuring out who they were. We know who we are now. The Flounders? They just disrupted things by bringing in Clint Dempsey. It’ll be a sellout, of course, and their fans will be all geeked up, but I still think we can go in there and get a point.

The two Real Salt Lake games? Much more difficult. They’re not slumping and they’re not changing their roster. They’re just flat out good. Getting a point on their home field will be tough, so we absolutely MUST WIN on Wednesday. A draw is unacceptable. A draw would make all of my current optimism come crashing down.

I’m happy today. Check this space on Thursday to see if I’m miserable again.

Six Degrees: Frustration, Fan Clubs and Quick Fixes.

frustration


1) The key word in Portland these days? Frustration. We can’t put the ball in the net, we can’t defend set pieces, we can’t get three points at home. Frustration, frustration, frustration. I left Saturday’s game with a small black cloud in my wake.

But as always, Coach Porter’s all about keeping the lows high. And I can understand that, since, in many ways, we really did play well Saturday night. We had passion, energy, possession, and lots of good scoring chances. You could even suggest that this game came down to one play. We gave them a set-piece goal, so we didn’t get the win, simple as that. If we stop them on that one play, it’s all candy canes and daisies here in Timbers Land.

But we didn’t, so here I am, trying to make the best of it. I’m not gonna go all super-optimism like last week, but I will try to keep the lows high. Coach’s orders.

2) First of all, this game felt like the playoffs. From the very start, there was a ton of energy in the crowd. Cheering, booing, cursing, desperation. Everything about it screamed playoffs. Perhaps this is what all our games will be like the rest of the year. We certainly have more at stake than we did this time last year, when we were just running out the string. Let’s keep bringing the passion, Portland. Hopefully it will spur the boys on.

That being said, I must grudgingly admit that Vancouver’s traveling fans were outstanding. And I know I’m going to make a lot of people angry with this, but in many ways, they seemed to have won the day. From my seat, at least, sitting in 218, the Vancouver fans were louder, more enthusiastic, and better organized than the Timbers Army. I’ve never seen this happen before and I hope I never will again, but a number of times during the game, I found myself a little disappointed with the Army, wondering why they weren’t picking it up a little, rising up to match the Vancouver passion. Maybe the Vancouver fans didn’t seem significant way over in the TA section, but they sure did in mine. And yes, I’ll admit that maybe the TA’s chanting was disrupted by all the foul calls, but still, from where I was sitting, the Vancouver fans won.

You may begin flaming me now.

3) Let’s hear it for Vancouver’s designated hockey goon, Brad Rusin. He was only in the game 17 minutes, but he made the most of them, smashing Diego Valeri to the ground three or four times. And he’s so gigantic, it looked like a high school senior picking on some tiny little freshman kid. So how cool was it when he smashed into Valeri like a runaway train, only to injure himself and get carted off the field? Don’t mess with Argentinians, pal. They’re not flesh and bone like you or me. They’ve got Wolverine skeletons or something.

But I think the thuggery was all part of Vancouver’s plan. Their physical play really slowed the game down in the first half. With the constant fouls being called, there was no chance for Portland to get an offensive rhythm, which made things super-frustrating for players and fans alike.

I have a feeling we’ll see a lot of teams doing this the rest of the season, since it works so well. The Timbers will be winning ugly, if we win at all.

4) A few individual notes.

Ryan Johnson – He leads our team in scoring, but everyone prefers Piquionne, which drives me absolutely crazy. I feel like starting a one-person Ryan Johnson fan club. I’ll have t-shirts and signs and everything. It’ll be awesome. You’re not invited.

Jack Jewsbury – I like him better than Zemanski in Chara’s spot, but the lost chemistry between Will and Chara is noticeable, no matter who’s the sub. Everyone please send healing prayers in the direction of Diego Chara’s big toe.

Diego Valeri – Very active game, very good game. Diego is always trying for the degree-of-difficulty passes and I can’t say I mind too much. That assist to my boy Ryan was sweet.

Darlington Nagbe – Also a very active game. Sadly, there were few times he was charging toward the goal, seemingly on the verge of something brilliant, only to slam on the brakes and look for help. It’s frustrating, but I guess when you’re swamped by five Whitecap defenders, these things happen.

Alvas Powell – Not a bad MLS debut for the 19-year old Jamaican. He seemed a little overwhelmed at times, and my section mates and I were terrified he’d give Vancouver a PK, but on the whole, he shows great potential. That being said, I’d rather have Jack back there. Sorry, but Jack’s my security blanket.

5) July was a tough month for the Timbers, going 1-2-1 over that span. I was hoping we’d leave our troubles behind, but no, the malaise has followed us into August. We can’t score, we can’t defend set pieces, we can’t get three points at home, much less on the road. We had midsummer slumps in 2011 and 2012. Now we’re doing it again in 2013.

But here’s the good news. This year, despite these summer doldrums, we’re still in contention. Firmly in contention. Check out the standings. All other results aside, a three game win streak would move San Jose from 8th place to 1st. San Jose! So if those bums are still in it, then Portland sure as hell is, slump be damned.

If we tie every game the rest of the way, we’ll finish with 47 points. Enough to make the playoffs? Dunno. Maybe. But I’m going to count on some wins. I think Seattle and Vancouver will have their Cascadian hearts broken yet again, I think we’ll get back into form as the weather gets colder, and I think we’ll finish this year safely above the red line, something our neighbors in the fishing village to the north are getting a little desperate about.

6) Speaking of desperation, let’s talk about Seattle’s new striker, Clint Dempsey.

With all the trouble Portland’s having scoring goals, what would a foolish front office do right now? Well, they’d probably break the bank on a big name striker, desperate for that one guy who would fix everything. I pray Portland’s GM Gavin Wilkinson doesn’t do this. Why? Look at Seattle. Earlier this year, they overpaid Obafemi Martins, because he was going to be their high-priced savior. Now they’re overpaying Clint Dempsey because HE’S going to be their high-priced savior. Except he’s not. What will he be, then? Well, he might be Herschel Walker.

For those of you who don’t know that name, here’s some American football history. Herschel Walker was a fabulous Dallas Cowboys running back in the 1980s. The Minnesota Vikings felt they were one fabulous running back away from winning it all. So they traded their entire world for Herschel. Money, players, draft picks. They gave Dallas everything, just so they could have that one final piece.

What happened? The Herschel trade didn’t save the Vikings, it saved the COWBOYS. They used all those draft picks to build a TEAM. A team that won three Super Bowls in four seasons.

Now, the Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl since. Why? Partially, it’s because they’re doing just what the Vikings did back in the ’80s: throwing big money on a series of high-priced saviors. And when teams do that, they fail.

Gavin Wilkinson, Merritt Paulson, please don’t look for the quick fix. Let Seattle do that. Let them bring in over-priced saviors. It will only hurt them. What Portland needs is a great TEAM.

Do we already have that? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m willing to wait and see how this season plays out.

Timbers: Damn the Flow

Damn the flow


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.

Lenhart DefenceSpeaking 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.

SanJoseGoal1

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.

SanJose Goal2The 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.

Timbers San Jose Passing AccuracyOver 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

Passing Maps Combined

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.


Creative Minds

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.

Nagbe Valeri combined passes last 30 mins SJThe 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.

Nagbe  Valeri comparison

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.

TimbersGoal

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.


Decisive

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.

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 – Blowout

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA.

1) I gotta tell you, after all the ties we’ve been having, it was nice to see a blowout win. Our first blowout of the season. The team looked great, not tired at all, like they did against Dallas. Sure, Harrington was gassed there at the end – I’m glad he didn’t cost us a goal, because for awhile there, he couldn’t keep up with his man – but otherwise, we looked sharp and on the front foot. Maybe that’s a result of our boys sleeping in their own beds, or maybe Chivas just makes everybody look a little better.

2) Chivas really didn’t look very good, did they? Lots of grabbing and holding. Very few threats on offense. Too many threats on the Portland ball boys. Their goalie’s the only one who had an impressive day, and he’s not even their regular starter. Aside from him, Chivas bears no resemblance to the team that was 2nd in the conference earlier this year. They look like a team in free fall. I’ve been reading that their owner is to blame; that he’s not interested in fielding a winning team, either here in the US or with the original Mexican League team in Guadalajara. It might be time for MLS to step in and do something, for the good of the league. (Don’t ask me what should be done about DC United. They’re horrendous. Chivas would pound them.)

3) Speaking of playing on the front foot, did you see how high our line was? A few times, the entire back four was across the centerline. And how about Futty Danso and Jack Jewsbury? Both of them had genuinely dangerous chances on goal. Maybe Jack was playing more offensively because Harrington was tired, but that doesn’t explain Futty. I think Futty just had goal fever. Maybe he’s trying to cement his position as the Alpha Gambian before Pa Modou Kah shows up. (That’s gonna be fun, isn’t it? Having two Gambians at centerback. The Great Wall of Gambia!)

I guess as long as I’m talking about the team pushing forward, I should compliment Chivas’s back four on how many times they got Ryan Johnson offside. In fact, there were so many offsides called against us that when Valeri finally got his goal, no one sitting around me quite believed it was real. We were all cheering sort of half-heartedly, eyes on the sideline ref, waiting for his flag to go up.

4) I want to say three words to you. Just three words. Rodney Freakin’ Wallace. What is going on with this guy? He’s a changed man this season, isn’t he? I hear people calling him the best left winger in MLS and I think they might be right. He’s just a force these days. Huge energy all the time. Great passing, great scoring. He can play inside or out. He’s good with both feet. And his head. Last week, I declared Diego Chara to my Timbers MVP, but if we keep seeing this kind of play from Rodney Freakin’ Wallace, he could be collecting some hardware at the end of the season. (My MVP trophy is pretty impressive, too. It’s one of those old jelly jars with a Looney Tunes character on it. You know the ones? First-class all the way. I think I’ll give the winner either Bugs or Daffy.)

5) Right now, our offense is tied with Dallas for most goals per game, and if opposing defenses want to shut down our main threats, they’d better bring a lot of guys, because we have five, coun’t ’em, FIVE main threats. Ryan Johnson – 4 goals. Will Johnson – 4 goals. Nagbe, Valeri, and RFW – 3 goals each. And if the opposition has all those dudes covered, well, we’ve still got my boy Chara, who’s turning into a hell of an assist man. And then there’s Futty’s goal-scoring headbone. And Jack Jewsbury’s rocket shots from distance. Am I forgetting anyone? Oh, yeah, the subs! Piquionne and Alhassan looked great yesterday, didn’t they? (I especially liked Freddy’s gorgeous almost-assist to Will Johnson.) So, all in all, we’re a dangerous team, with many different threats. You might stop one, but it’ll be hard to stop them all.

6) Now we get to the crazy-prediction part of this column, and remember you heard it here first: yesterday’s victory was the first of four straight wins. Not ties. Wins.

You think I’m nuts? Tell me how I’m wrong. We’re going on the road, sure, but we’re playing some very beatable teams. And, let’s be honest, with the way we’re playing, EVERY team is beatable. So I’m calling it now. We go to Vancouver next week: win. Then to DC against the worst team in the league: win. Then to Chicago: win. That’ll be four games, four wins, and 12 points.

And that’s when it gets a little tougher, because we’ll be facing first-place Dallas. Except we’ll be at home. And they might not be the first place team anymore. After four straight wins, it might be us.

Six Degrees: Kansas City

A few quick thoughts on the Portland Timbers  3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City.

1) Man oh man, it’s good to be a Timbers fan right now, isn’t it?  Each and every week, it seems we prove something new.  This time, we proved we can win on the road.  And not against some chumps, either.  This was against one of the best teams in the league.  And we didn’t steal those 3 points.  We earned them.  We were the better team.

Absolutely amazing, isn’t it?  Such a change from last year.  We’re no longer the loveable losers.  We’re contenders, now.  Legitimate contenders.

2) In last week’s column, I was a grumpy old man, up in arms over the team’s late-game bunkering.  Since then, enough people have argued against me, trying to teach me something about soccer, that I’m starting to question myself.  Yes, maybe our “bunkering” is really just the other team getting desperate and throwing numbers forward.  Maybe our boys are doing the best they can, surviving the onslaught.  I may be willing to concede this point.  Maybe.

But there were still a few times against KC that I thought the Bunker Monster had returned.  Not as bad as at San Jose, but still, it felt a little bunker-ish.  I’ve got one more thought on this matter and then I’ll move on: Frederic Piquionne is an excellent late-game sub, especially if we’ve got the lead and our defense is under siege.  He’s a big target and he’s outstanding 1v1.  When the other team’s sending everything forward and our defense is just trying to clear the ball out of danger, Freddy gets on the end of those deep, desperate clearances, then has the strength and skill to hold onto that ball a good long while.  Heck, he even gets close to a few shots on goal.  The other team has to give him a little attention, which means a little less pressure on our tired, besieged, late-game defense.  I’m not sure we should be starting Piquionne, not when he’s this valuable as an end-of-game sub.

3) Since I’m talking about Piquionne, let’s do some quick hits on a few other players.

Diego Valeri – He sees things other players just don’t.  It’s like he’s playing in slow-motion or something.  Smooth as silk.

Ryan Johnson – I love his work rate, I love his first-goal header, and I want to marry his second-goal assist.

Darlington Nagbe –  Could his goal have been any cooler?  That pass was slightly behind him and he somehow throws his feet backwards to tap it in.  Backwards!

Rodney Wallace – When the guy brings it, he brings it in a big way.  Huge shot from distance.  Fabulous goal while being crunched forward and behind.  Tons of energy.

Diego Chara – He’s short, he’s hard, he’s got a yellow card, and he’s tied for the league lead in assists.  Who’da thunk it?

4) So let’s talk about the improvements we’re seeing from so many players.  The guy next to me at the bar was talking about how everyone looks “so much smarter” this year.  I agree completely.  But why?  Have they really learned so much more from Caleb Porter and his possession-based style?  Or did they already know all this, they just didn’t have a chance to show it?  I imagine it’s a little of both, really.  But whatever the reason, we Timbers fans are the beneficiaries.  This is a team that is fun to watch.  The style of play is so much more attractive.  Even better, when we win, it doesn’t feel lucky.  We’ve become a team that should win.

5) Now, I’m gonna say something a little dangerous here, so please don’t freak out, but I think we have to give some credit to general manager Gavin Wilkinson.  Yes, yes, we may not like him much, but we have to acknowledge what he’s done.

Our current success didn’t begin on opening day.  It didn’t even begin when Caleb Porter finally left Akron and landed at PDX.  No, our team started changing almost as soon as we fired John Spencer mid-season.  From that point on, everything Wilkinson did was about building a “Porterball” team.  Caleb Porter, still coaching at Akron, was able to watch our games, analyze the tape, and tell Wilkinson what kind of changes needed to happen and what sort of players he needed.  Gavin could have fought him, but he didn’t.  Instead, he broke down the old and built up the new.  I am perfectly prepared to give Caleb Porter most of the credit.  He’s the architect.  But he couldn’t have done it without a lot of front office help.  Thanks, Gavin.

6) Maybe the biggest thing I love about this year’s team are the intangibles.  Let’s count them off: We’ve got leadership, both from the coach and from the captains.  We’ve got a united locker room.  We’ve got young players making strides.  We’ve got cagey veterans, showing them the way.  We’ve got an over-arching philosophy, and we stick to it.  We can adjust tactics, whether it’s week-to-week or half-to-half.  We’re even-keeled.  We’re scrappy.  We never, ever give up.

A few weeks ago, I predicted playoffs for this team and got a little guff about it.  “Playoffs?” they said.  “So soon?  I’ll be happy with just improving.”

Well, I’m making the same prediction now, folks, and I don’t see how anyone can argue against me.  Barring a major slew of injuries, this team is going to the playoffs.  And I don’t they’re sneaking in, either.  I think they’re a top-3 seed.

With our new coach, new system, and new players, everyone thought we’d have a rough time of it early.  We’d take our lumps, slowly improve, and then start climbing out of the cellar.  By the end of the year, maybe we’d be a mid-table team.

Well, here it is, people.  We’ve taken our lumps, yes.  We’ve slowly improved, yes.   But we’re not in the cellar.  We’ve got the sixth best record in the league.  And we just beat KC on the road.

You’re not rooting for a loveable loser anymore, Portland.  You’re rooting for a contender.

Feels good, doesn’t it?

Timbers 1, Quakes 0: Duelling Sanjo(se)s

This will be shorter than usual, thanks to time constraints, but there should be a longer one looking back over the full 180 minutes against San Jose. C.I. DeMann did a good job hitting the main points in his Six Degrees article. Besides which, MLS Live is still blacked out here, so I can’t sit down and re-watch it. There’s a few points I’d like to expand on that aren’t covered by the highlights, so they’ll have to wait.

Following the win last week, confidence was high going into the game. San Jose have still to beat the Timbers in MLS, and the Timbers stretched that record for at least another week with a 1-0 win.

Others have written more eloquently about the whole Alan Gordon farrago so I’ll just link to my favourite take on the matter by Roberto at 5mTKO, and I’d prefer to write about football than the wankers LARPing as 1980s style hooligans.

So, on to the football. Well it’s another win, which is always welcome, and it pushes the Timbers up to 3rd in the table, which is nice even if it doesn’t mean much this early on. The actual game, well, it was a bit of a slog, especially in comparison to the Houston match. It might not seem that way to glance at the stats, where you would see the Timbers’ highest possession figure of the season and that they had outshot the Earthquakes by 11-6.

A second glance though starts to hint at the problems the Timbers had. In terms of shots on target, San Jose had the upper hand by 3-2, and, perhaps most crucially, they won the “duels”, erm, duel by 55%-45%. The reason this figure has, in my opinion, a particular influence on the Timbers in this match was that Caleb Porter’s game plan seemed to be predicated on winning the majority of those battles.

First off, what is a duel? Well, Mr Opta defines a duel as a “50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides in the match”, so you’re two big guys going to head the same ball, or the 50/50 challenge on the ground.

Secondly, why did the fact the Timbers lost these battles by 71-54 matter so much when the Timbers are a passing team, who look to (and usually do) control possession?

Well, as Porter himself has said in interviews, the Timbers aren’t one thing. There is, really, no such thing as Porterball. The game plan will change from week to week, and while some aspects will remain constant, the whole demeanour of play can change dramatically depending on circumstance.

Against San Jose the Timbers were a long ball team, more often than you might expect. The most marked example of this change in attacking philosophy is in the distribution of Donovan Ricketts.

SJrickettspng

Ricketts’ figures were broadly the same from Houston to San Jose: he went long (ie, over the halfway line) 63.6% of the time against Houston, 68% against San Jose; recorded passes went from 22 to 25, and overall success rose from 54.6% to 56%. Not much to write home about, but when you compare the two side-by-side it’s pretty cleat that Ricketts went longer against San Jose, and more of those balls were aimed directly down the middle, rather than trying to get it to the wide attackers.

There’s are three main reasons why Porter might’ve wanted the keeper to go direct. Reason 1, he perceived an aerial weakness in the heart of the San Jose defence. Reason deux, he wanted to take the weight off Futty Danso, whose ball skills might not be the greatest. Reason III, he just wanted to change it up and catch San Jose off guard.

To be fair to Futty, despite my pre-match concerns that he was the weak link at the back by some margin, he put in a decent showing. Got caught out a couple of times, but never panicked and his distribution was actually pretty decent – he had the same number of passes as Silvestre (47), but was successful with one more (41-40).

That Ricketts’ rockets hit their target more often against San Jose than against Houston (35.3% to 28.6%) didn’t translate into goal scoring chances. If you were to look at Ryan Johnson’s figures in that zone where Ricketts’ was mortering, he had 1 successful flick-on and 4 that were unsuccessful. So, even when Johnson was winning the ball, the Timbers weren’t really profiting from “going long”.

Winning the aerial duel is only half the battle though, as oftimes winning the second ball is more important. To get a sense of how the Timbers did in this regard we can look at “Recoveries”, defined by Mr Opta as “where a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose or where the ball has been played directly to him”.

SJrecoveries

For comparisons sake I’ve also included the same data from the Houston match. It should be pretty obvious that the Timbers weren’t winning enough of these loose balls in the San Jose half, so even if Johnson’s challenge was enough to put a defender off-balance, it mattered naught because the Timbers weren’t picking up the “second ball”.

Darlington Nagbe played long spells of the game as a second striker, but failing profit from the quick ball forward simply left him too far forward to really get involved. It was only when he dropped off that he seemed to come alive.

This failure to get the attacking players involved as much left us looking a bit like a paper tiger at time. All very impressive when you’re sweeping the ball around, but lacking any real bite. The possession the Timbers did have didn’t really force San Jose to exert themselves greatly to close down, which rendered much of the Timbers play impotent. If we’d been really working them, and making them hustle, even if we weren’t creating clear cut chances there and then you’d at least feel that it would pay off late in the game, but I never got the sense that San Jose were having to work particularly hard.

SJinvolve

As you can see in this chart, the Timbers managed to get 3 attacking players – Johnson, Nagbe and Wallace – involved more than most against Houston, but in this last match only Wallace remains, and he had more of a defensive onus on him with Wondolowski playing on the right of the San Jose midfield/attack.

SJdefacts

What we also saw was less of the high pressing we’ve seen from Porter’s team. This may have been part of the overall attacking strategy in that it was designed to allow San Jose to play a little further forward, hopefully opening up the space in behind for Nagbe to profit from a Johnson flick-on. It never happened, and by the time the Timbers did get the goal it was very difficult to change tack and go for the jugular as they did against the Dynamo, instead looking to bunker down during an, at times, nervy last few minutes against nine men and a hobbit.

I doubt we’ll see the same strategy next week from Porter’s boys. We may see more of a return to the high-press, fast-pass style, or Porter may yet have more rabbits to pull out of the hat.

Yet, despite it not quite working as he’d have liked, Porter still ended the night with another “W” on his record. At this stage, it’s good to see us winning without playing particularly well for long stretches of the game. With a makeshift defence and the team’s most creative player not in the 18, Porter’s boys found some way to get through it and beat last year’s Supporters Shield winners while limiting them to their fewest shots at goal since the opening day of 2012.

That’s not bad going. Not bad, at all.