Tag Archives: Vancouver Whitecaps

Six Degrees: Raising The Bar

raising the bar


1) I watch most away games at home, but this time I went to a sports bar, and I gotta tell you, soccer’s more fun when you’re surrounded by fellow fans, all of them cheering, singing, crying, and bitching. I think I’m going to have to do this from now on.

Everyone at the bar was in agreement on our Man of the Match. Clearly Donovan Ricketts. And it’s not even close.

Yes, Ricketts had three shutouts in September, but in none of them did he truly amaze. The defense was sharp and he never had to make a lot of saves.

Sunday in Vancouver, he made up for it, with brilliant, world-class saves time after time. He had a double save at around the 75th minute that was truly breathtaking. Then he had a couple more save of the week nominees in extra time. Without him standing on his head, Vancouver scores 5 or 6 goals and I’m writing a very different column.

Has there ever been a week where all five MLS Save of the Week saves were by the same guy? Because Donovan might do it this week. He was out of his friggin’ mind. Vancouver was desperate, they were throwing everything they had at us, and our defense let them get far too many quality shots on goal. Ricketts turned almost all of them away.

He was struggling in July and August, but the Iron Lion of Zion is back in a big, big way. Which bodes well for us once the playoffs start.

2) Our first goal was caused, once again, by Maximiliano Urruti’s high pressure. Maxi made the Vancouver goalie panic and hit a crap clearance. Will Johnson intercepts, hands it off to Darlington Nagbe, who did what he does: bring the awesome.

In any other game, I’d probably spend some time here talking about how fabulous Nagbe’s 30-yard bomb was, but let’s be honest, after what happened later in the game, it was somewhat forgettable.

So instead, I’ll use this spot to compliment Urruti, just like I did last week. I love Portland’s high pressure defense, and from the very beginning of the year thought Ryan Johnson was brilliant at harassing the opposing strikers/goalies. And he was. But Maxi has come in and is doing it even better. His high pressure has been responsible for two goals in the last three games. I’m the founder and sole member of the Ryan Johnson Fan Club, but I think I might need to start a second club for Maxi, because the guy’s delivering in a big, big way. Welcome to team, kid. Now, please go to Gavin’s office and sign a 12-year contract. Take a few guys with you.

3) So, because of Nagbe’s goal, I was feeling pretty good about things when the 75th minute rolled around. We had the lead and Vancouver wasn’t really threatening. Then everything went insane.

Time – 75:32 – Camilo’s free kick.

It’s hard for me to give that little turd Camilo too much credit for this shot, because it deflected off Rodney Freakin’ Wallace’s head. If not for that deflection, the ball’s going straight into the goalie’s hands. So is it Camilo’s goal, or an own goal? The official MLS scorer is calling it a goal for Camilo, but I question this.

The guys in the bar and I couldn’t decide what qualifies as an own goal. Maybe one of my brilliant readers can tell us? How is that shot off RodWal’s head not an own goal? What would be required to turn it into an own goal? Ricketts looked all messed up, that’s for sure. He got no jump on that thing, almost as if he’d been going for the original trajectory, only to have RFW mess things up with his head. Sounds like an own goal to me, but not to the official MLS scorer. Anyone out there want to educate me?

Okay, all that aside, let’s talk about the emotional impact of that stupid goal. The bar I was in went completely silent. I had my face in my hands, the guy next to me was shaking his head. All you could hear were a few muttered oaths and the Vancouver fans cheering on the TV.

And then…

4) Time – 76:35 – Will Johnson equalizes.

EXPLOSION! Remember the first LA home game, when Jean-Baptiste scored the winner in extra time? And Jeld-Wen nearly collapsed from the general freak out? Well, I’m not gonna say we matched that in the bar, but it was definitely close. I was standing on my bar stool, yelling so loud and so long and so continuously, that I was actually getting light headed and worried I’d pass out. That’s how geeked the entire bar was after that Will Johnson goal. It was insanity, in every sense of the world. When we finally quieted enough to speak, the guy next to me at the bar said, “the Vancouver fans weren’t even done cheering for their goal when that went…”

And just as he was saying that…

5) Time – 77:56 – Camilo scores again.

You want to take the oxygen out of a sports bar? Do what Camilo did. Instant silence.

You know how I wasn’t sure we could give Camilo credit for that first goal? Well, don’t worry, I’m giving him full credit for this one. Sweet Mother of God, what a shot. In fact, I think the aesthetic beauty of the goal sort of takes away some of the pain. I mean, if we’d let in some piece of crap goal caused by poor marking or bad keeping? That would have hurt much worse. But this wonder goal? All we could do in the bar was shake our heads and appreciate it.

People are already suggesting it might win MLS Goal of the Year. Personally, I’m voting for Valeri’s four-touch-volley against New York. But I’m also a complete homer.

All of that aside, my main point here is that the brilliance of that last goal took away some of the pain. Yes, it turned a win into a draw, but still… did you see it? Fabulous. Absolutely breath-taking. The little turd.

6) Okay, a couple very quick points and I’ll get out of here.

Will Johnson – Did anyone see what caused Will to start bleeding in extra time? Vancouver’s Manneh was in the 18, Futty breathes on him, he goes down, and the next thing I know, Futty, Kah, and Ricketts are all holding Manneh back, like a bar fight’s going to break out. Meanwhile, Will’s bleeding. What the hell happened? Does anyone know? I haven’t seen any video to show what happened there.

Seattle Sounders – Here’s what I need from you guys: a complete and total collapse to end the season. You make a good start of it this weekend, losing 5-1 to Colorado. Nice job. Now keep up the good work! Losing to Vancouver on Wednesday would be a great next step, then you can keep it going here in Portland next Sunday. I don’t want close losses, either. If you guys really apply yourselves, you can finish this season the way you started it, with a big giant crapfest. I believe in you, Seattle! Let’s do this!

One Hundred And Forty Four

One hundred and forty four seconds of mayhem saw the Timbers and Whitecaps trade three goals, and ended with the teams splitting two points in a game where both would’ve had their own particular reasons for preferring all three.

One hundred and forty four is a special number, a magical one even. It’s a Fibonacci number, it’s the square of 12. Camilo’s second equalizer was the 77th goal in a Timbers MLS match this season, 77 of course being half of 144. And the sum of the Timbers players jerseys for this game? Well, it’s not 144 (blame Gambia) but you thought it might’ve been, right? It’d’ve been better if it was.

There’s a reason I’m waffling on about numbers and that’s because those one hundred and forty four seconds pretty much broke a part of my brain, and when that happens I retreat to numbers.

75:30, Camilo strikes the ball 35.1 yards out, and strikes the ball at 65 mph* and beats Ricketts low down. Not an uncommon occurrences for the big guy, whose ability to stop shots from the knee up is still, thankfully, sharp enough to see us out of Dodge, while the attack was still firing wildly into the ceiling as we went.

This puts the Caps level after Nagbe drew his name out of the annual “Score a Screamer in BC Place” hat in the first half and Jewsburied it past David Ousted.

63 seconds after the ball crossed the line to make it 1-1, Will Johnson struck the ball on the edge of the Whitecaps box after a cut back by Nagbe, and it was 2-1.

mental78 seconds and it was 2-2 and Camilo ended the scoring in the only way which was appropriate for such a ludicrous spell of football – seriously check out that chalkboard cos that is EVERYTHING in those 144 seconds – with a fucking overhead kick, because full-on Shaolin Soccer would’ve been a step too far.

More analysis will be forthcoming from CI DeMann, I’m sure, but for now I think my brain needs to rest.

Football is a helluva drug.


* distances taken from the MLS chalkboard (OPTA) adjusted for the size of the Whitecaps pitch. Times taken by me – three times, averaged out (as good as it gets)

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.

Six Degrees – Keep Portland Weird

A few quick thoughts on Portland’s 2-2 tie at Vancouver.

Okay, people, there were so many weird things about this game, so many things that I either need to cheer or ridicule or shout down with furious rage, that I’ll just get them all out of the way here at the start. I promise, there will be some “normal” stuff towards the end. I think.

1) The first point I’d like to make is that, right this minute, somewhere in British Columbia, Whitecaps forward Camilo Sanvezzo is diving to the ground.

And about 300 yards away from him, his line-of-sight completely blocked by a family in a mini van, referee Matthew Foerster is:

  • Taking a bong hit
  • Reaching for his yellow card
  • Taking ANOTHER bong hit
  • Pulling out the MLS referee’s how-to-guide, which he just read for the first time on Wednesday
  • Putting the yellow card away and grabbing the red
  • Tripping over his bong, falling on his face, and soiling his underwear.

2) Now, there really is no excuse for Camilo’s constant flopping, but perhaps we can excuse the ref’s ineptitude a little. After all, how could he tell the teams apart? It was the All White team playing the Almost All White team.

When the Timbers rolled out the new uniforms this Spring, I immediately disliked the way the “Rose City Red” jerseys only had red on the front, not the back. Still, I didn’t think those white backs would cause this much trouble in a game. All that sloppy play? All those missed passes by Diego Valeri? Maybe it wasn’t a case of him trying too hard. Maybe he just got confused by the uniforms. Thought he was passing to the Almost All White team.

3) Alright, enough with the bad… here comes the good… it’s comin’ ’round the bend… building up steam… dear God, get out of the way! CHOOOOOOOOO CHOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Okay, for all those readers who AREN’T obsessive Timbers junkies, let me give you a little background on Jose Adolfo “El Trencito” Valencia. Apparently, in Columbia, his daddy was the Big Train, which makes Jose the Little Train, and here in Portland, he’s become something of a mythical figure, like Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. We think he’s real, but we’re not entirely sure, because he’s young and raw and doesn’t play very often. But just like with Sasquatch, whenever there is a sighting, even if it’s just for a few minutes at the end of a game, El Trencito looks so good that every Timbers fan starts wetting themselves and screaming about how he needs to play more and how all these ties would be wins if we’d just put Trencito in there to work his magic.

Except there was no magic. He was Sasquatch. Grainy photographs were the only evidence anyone could provide. There were no goals, there were no great plays, there was nothing, really, except hype.

Until now, that is. Because this past Saturday, in Vancouver, British Columbia, not only did Trencito finally make an appearance, not only did he score, he did it so dramatically – nay, miraculously – that it’s pretty much guaranteed nobody in this town will ever shut up about him again. To be perfectly honest, if Trencito doesn’t start our next game, I’m worried the Timbers Army will lay siege to Caleb Porter’s house. With catapults and flaming arrows and everything.

So, yeah, we finally have proof. Sasquatch exists. He plays forward for the Timbers and he single-handedly ripped the heart out of the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend.

4) Okay, now that I’ve gotten all that out of my system, some more reasonable commentary. Like the fact that both of Vancouver’s goals were gorgeous. Donovan Ricketts didn’t have a hope on either one.

Of course, ours weren’t so bad, either. That was our second penalty kick of the season. Two! In the same season! Can you believe it? And Will Johnson’s the right man to take them. How in the name of God did Real Salt Lake let him get away?

And Trencito’s goal? How cool did he look? Two defenders mauling him, goalkeeper racing toward him, he just gathers the ball, checks his watch, has a cup of coffee, and slots that baby home. You’d think he was a seasoned pro, he looked so calm.

Now, did he touch it with his hand? I’m not sure. I’m really not. The Vancouver fans are screaming about it, though. They’re not screaming about Futty’s red. They’re not screaming about all the diving. So all I can say is, quiet down, Vancouver. Whether Trencito touched that ball or not, you’ve got no room to talk. You’re not even close to us on the bad call tally sheet.

5) Well, Futty Danso’s out next week with that red card. How are we doing for Gambian center backs? Do we have an extra? We do? Awesome! Send him in!

So we’ll finally get to see Pa Modou Kah’s debut at centerback. What about Darlington Nagbe? If he’s hurt, the obvious sub would be Kalif Alhassan. But do we really want two KAHs on the field at the same time? Sounds risky. Especially when we’ve got… CHOOOOOOO CHOOOOOOOO!!!

How great would it be if the Timbers come out next week in a 4-2-2-2, with Ryan Johnson and El Trencito up front? You know the fanatics will be calling for it. And what better time to try it than against DC United, who aren’t just the worst team in the league, but have actually been lapped a couple times. Nothing’s finalized yet, but I’m pretty sure they’re starting ME next week, and I haven’t played soccer since 8th grade!

6) Now, like I said at the beginning, it was a weird game and I’m a weird guy, so this has been a weird column, but I’ll close by making an important point. If you can get a tie on the road when you’re not playing your best, you must be a pretty good team. It was an ugly match for the Timbers on Saturday. A huge number of things went against us but somehow we came out of there with a point. Last year, we lose that game. This year, we tie. This team has a heart the size of Secretariat’s. Eventually, our unbeaten streak will end, but I know we’ll go down fighting. To the very last second. Even if we’re a man down.

I’m glad Pa Modou Kah got his visa sorted out and was on the sidelines Saturday, watching the way we fought back against Vancouver. He needs to understand what kind of team he’s joining. What is it Will Johnson said? “We will always fight to the death. Bare minimum requirement to play for the Timbers.”

I hope Kah’s ready to fight.

Silver Lining

385 days later, and at the 17th time of asking, the Timbers finally won a road match again, and few wins have mattered as much in the club’s short MLS existence as this one. The 1-0 victory in Vancouver, mirroring the scoreline of their last trip to British Columbia a year ago, was enough to ensure that the Cascadia Cup would be returning to Portland with the vocal Timbers Army, who had out-sung their strangely subdued rival fans in a sold-out BC Place.

The listless performance of the home fans mirrored that of the team. In truth, this does not look like a team that should be anywhere near the playoffs and, yet, thanks to Seattle’s victory against FC Dallas, that is exactly where they are.

Perhaps it was nerves on both sides that led to a very disjointed opening. At one point there seemed to be more fouls than completed passes, and the ball racked up the air miles as it was booted from back-to-front and back again. Eventually though, a football match threatened to break out as the timbers began to find a little more possession in the Whitecaps half, but neither keeper was being worked particularly, for the most part…

Gavin Wilkinson had taken a risky decision to play his best available players in an important match, bringing Steven Smith and Kosuke Kimura back into the starting line-up. Hanyer Mosquera also returned to the defence, giving the back four a much more settled look. Five of the team that started the Timbers’ last win in Canuckistan are no longer at the club, with only Nagbe, Chara and Zizzo starting last season’s result in Vancouver, giving some sense of the changes that have been wrought in the past twelve months.

Despite picking up a yellow card early on for a foul on Camilo, Mosquera highlighted what the Timbers had missed in his absence with an assured performance. The Colombian would be forced off with injury early in the second half, replaced by Eric Brunner, and I was worried that the enforced change at the back may just unsettle the defence, but I needn’t be so concerned.

By the time Mosquera went off, the Timbers already had the lead when Jack Jewsbury fired home a screamer from distance shortly before half-time.

From early on it seemed like a match that would be decided one way or the other by a defensive howler or a piece of magic from nowhere as both sides toiled. Fortunately for the Timbers, it was the latter. Indeed, early on in the first half there was a moment where Steven Smith didn’t catch a simple clearance right and forced Ricketts into a point blank save. On another night, that goes in and the Timbers crumble to another dispiriting road defeat. Not tonight, though. Not tonight.

In truth, there’s little to talk about in terms of the match itself. Songo’o played in the hole behind Dike for much of the game, and was subbed out for Rodney Wallace midway through the second half, presumably to counter the pace and athleticism of Whitecaps subs Dane Richards and Darren Mattocks.

Like the change at the back, the introduction of Rodney Wallace has, in the past, been a harbinger of late-game heartbreak, but the game felt so comfortable at this point that even this change didn’t cause the merest flutter for me.

Truth is, the Whitecaps could be out there still, playing against no-one, and they would’ve conspired to find some way not to score. I’d expected a whirlwind start to the second half by the Whitecaps, but instead it was no more than a moderate breeze.

Camilo looked like their most dangerous player, niggling and putting the central defenders out of their comfort zone and off-balance. It’s the kind of performance that can drive opposing fans, and players, crazy but his role, it seemed to me, was to wreak havoc and hope that a Kenny Miller or Barry Robson could profit and find space. Once he, finally and deservedly, was booked in the second half it robbed his game of that dimension and he drifted out of the game, to be subbed off shortly after.

From there, the entire Whitecaps game petered out to nothing. Rarely have the Timbers had it so easy, particularly on the road, and though I’ve talked about how poor Vancouver have been, some measure of credit must go to the Timbers defence for their work. Horst and Mosquera, and latterly Brunner, dealt with anything that came their way and even the late addition of Darren Mattocks and flailing limbs, failed to knock them off their stride.

After a nervy start, Steven Smith settled in to a reasonable game, even if it’s not one he’ll be putting on his highlight reel. Kimura had a couple of typically Kimuran moments as he was caught on his heels, or beaten to the ball, but even he never looked like he was under so much pressure that he was going to crack.

The Timbers had a couple of chances to seal the deal with breakaways, but as was typical of the match in general, there seemed to be little conviction or composure about them.

Whereas in the past we’ve seen the Timbers go away and play well for long spells, only to have it all crumble to dust late on, tonight we saw them put in a gritty performance that ground out the win they needed.

As well as securing some silverware, the 3 points also ensured that Portland wouldn’t be finishing bottom of the Western Conference. It leaves little to play for in the San Jose match next week but, with it being the final home match, I would hope it won’t be your typical end of season affair and the team take the chance to sign off on a crazy year with a victory against the Supporter’s Shield winners.

Rather than end on a “it shouldn’t be allowed to paper over the cracks” note – we’ve got a long off-season to come for all that! – I’d prefer to salute the fans. Not just those that made the trip to Vancouver, but those that have remained loyal throughout a trying year. The dedication and passion of the fans has been one inspiring constant as the on-field product has veered sharply from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous.

I’d also like to thank John Spencer for his part. The victory against Seattle went a long way to delivering the cup and though I felt he was floundering (apologies) by the end of his reign, without his hard work at the start of the year there would’ve been no light at the end of the tunnel.

Many sore heads will be nursed this morning, but the fans can now say that 2012 has not been for nothing. The thing is, even if it had, they would still be back come First Kick 2013 but through good times and bad, they have stayed the course, and they have earned the right to savour this.

#RCTID
Now and Forever

Lose Your Illusions

New contributor Cory Cordero has some interesting thoughts ahead of the final Cascadia Cup match of 2012.


We all know that Sunday was a disgrace. The Timbers had a chance to prove their mettle and failed spectacularly. A lot of Timbers fans are saying, from behind dead eyes, “Well, we can still win the Cascadia Cup if we beat Vancouver.” This is the last piece of flotsam that people are clinging to from this shipwreck season. After hearing this a number of times, though, I’ve come to a conclusion:

For the next game, I’m rooting for Vancouver.

You see, if we win on October 21st, it will actually be bad for the organization. Management can point to the Cascadia cup and say “Well, at least we won that” and use it as a rationale to continue business as usual when the truth is that business cannot continue as usual. A Cascadian victory would be a salve that the front office might use to assure us that things are okay when we ALL know that we are dealing with massive complications that no salve can fix.

The biggest problem from last season was not John Spencer or Kenny Cooper or any other scapegoat. The biggest problem was that we overachieved. Realistically, we weren’t that good. We had the unfortunate honor of advancing into the MLS in a year where we had to compete with another expansion franchise in the same season. This meant we got half as much quality from the expansion draft, that prospects to fill the squad were not as robust, and that we faced competition for signings on all fronts. Can you imagine how our defense would look today if we had signed Jay DeMerit instead of Vancouver? In fact, let’s look at the Whitecaps for reference.

Vancouver had a horrible season last year comparable to what the Timbers are going through now. The organization was in disarray, coaches were fired, and the fan base was disgusted. Subsequently, management took a harsh and sometimes brutal approach with the squad (just ask Lee Nguyen and Long Tan). Then they became decent. Of course, their openness to cutting their squad isn’t always effective (see the winless streak after the jettison of Hassli and Chiumiento), but at least their fans don’t have to constantly ask why Lovel Palmer is in the starting lineup.

The Timbers, in contrast, had a “good enough” season last year with almost making the playoffs so that no one really looked closely at the flaws in the squad. Instead, we looked to add on to what was considered a talented core of players. We branded Cooper as the bad juju, banished him to New York, and bought a million dollar finisher to bring glory to this talented core of players that Cooper was not doing justice to. Too late, we realized that this was all a lie. The talented core was really a just a group of hard working grunts that had gotten lucky on a lot of set pieces in 2011.

This is why I’m hoping for Vancouver to win. It would strip away the last of the lies that we would be able to tell ourselves about this season. Make no mistake, it will be painful, but it’s for the best. Maybe, just maybe, if we can get trounced by the Whitecaps, the Timbers front office will look at Vancouver’s example to try to figure out how to make things right.


I managed to delete this, so all your comments are gone. Sorry. – Kevin

Still Dreaming

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

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

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

[table id=3 /]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the chances of the Timbers pulling it off?

Match 1 – @ Colorado

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

Match 2 – vs Seattle

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

Match 3 – @ San Jose

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

Match 4 – @ RSL

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

Match 5 – vs DC

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

Match 6 – @ Seattle

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

Match 7 – @ Vancouver

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

Match 8 – vs San Jose

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

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

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

#RCTID


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

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Couver Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a funny old year.

#RCTID


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The Assistant

The recent English Premier League season ended with a promoted former-assistant at the helm of two of the relegated clubs – Steven Kean at Blackburn Rovers and Terry Connor at Wolves. Both had good coaching reputations, but neither could prevent their side from going down

It’s always interesting to see how assistants do when given the reins. It’s very much a sink or swim situation. Kean and Connor are the latest in a line of sinkers.

Brian Kidd is one of the highest profile sinkers. He had been assistant to Alex Ferguson and instrumental in bringing through some of the prodigous talent that propelled United to the top of European football, but when he took over as Blackburn manager in 1998, he prompted got Rovers relegated. Kidd is now back in his best role, behind the scenes, at Manchester City.

Another name that could be considered as a managerial flop is Carlos Queiroz. Not a bad manager, he found some success,and a number of high profile appointments, but there’s no doubting that Queiroz’s most successful spell came as assistant to Sir Alex. His recent appointment as manager of Iran certainly suggests that he won’t be bothering the upper echelons of the footballing pantheon any time soon.

Not all Number 2’s go on to fail when given the top job, of course. Bob Paisley faced the seemingly impossible task of replacing the legendary Bill Shankly at Liverpool. He swam, winning six league titles and three European cups. Not strictly an assistant, Pep Guardiola was a promotion from within at Barcelona, taking over the top job after a year in charge of the B team. It’s a trick Barça want to repeat following the appointment of Guardiola’s assistant, Tito Vilanova, to take over from him from next season.

As a Killie fan, I could also mention Kenny Shiels as doing a great job since taking over from Mixu Paatelainen, leading the club to a comfortable league position and a League Cup triumph.

The reason that all this occurred to me was that as the Timbers have struggled this year under the guidance of John Spencer, a lot of fans have voiced the thought that perhaps Spencer is an example of someone who makes a better assistant than a manager. A sinker.

Spenny had a few years as Dominic Kinnear’s assistant at Houston Dynamo before being chosen by Timbers owner Merritt Paulson to take over in the club’s first year in MLS. Paulson has always emphasised the long term nature of Spencer’s appointment, and the “project” they’re embarking on, but it’s hard to imagine he’s not been bitterly disappointed with the way the Timbers’ second season had unfolded.

Unlike a Guardiola or Paisley, or even Shiels, Spencer hasn’t served his “apprenticeship” in-house. Coming in from relative obscurity at Houston, he’s been thrown in at the deep end with a club whose fanbase is fanatical and fervent, to say the least.

Inexperience is a common theme at the Timbers. From a manager with no managerial experience, to a General Manager with no MLS experience and a young owner who’d be the first to admit soccer was never his first love.

Given all this, you might expect that Spencer would’ve been backed up by an experienced number two. Last season Trevor James had served as back-up to Spencer. James had five years of experience within the LA Galaxy set-up, but his tenure at the club lasted only a year.

This year has seen Cameron Knowles join Amos Magee – an assistant to then-manager, now General Manager, Gavin Wilkinson, during the Timbers USL days. The appointment is Knowles’ first coaching job following his retirement at the end of last season. He’s another with a Wilkinson connection, having played under him for the USL Timbers.

To go back to Alex Ferguson briefly, he has given a masterclass in how to utilise assistants over the years. The role of assistant manager is a hard one to quantify.

To paint in broad strokes, the role is to be a guiding voice to the manager, and a bridge from manager to players. Within those outlines, there’s much more to the role. He can be the guy who’s on the training ground every day, such as Kevin Bond at Spurs, or he can fulfil the roles and duties the manager doesn’t want to, as Sir Alex’s assistants have done for years when the grumpy Scot wasn’t talking to the BBC.

Rather than just throw his assistants in front of the post-match cameras, Ferguson has used the role to develop his club into a forward-thinking operation. The key to how Fergie has managed to stay on top for so long without going stale could be the way he changes assistants periodically to bring in a fresh approach.

Queiroz brought a continental, technical style to the club – he’s widely credited with the club’s adoption of the 4-5-1/4-3-3 – whilst Steve McClaren modernised with a pioneering use of sports psychology and in-depth analytical technology.

What fresh ideas and approaches Knowles and Magee bring to the club is hard to tell without being on the training ground every day. Given the tactical naivety shown by Spencer at times over his tenure, it does seem like he misses an “old head” to provide guidance.

This lack of experience – from assistants, to manager, general manger and all the way up to club owner – is thrown into stark relief by the team up the road.

Seattle Sounders, in contrast to the Timbers, installed a vastly experienced head coach in Sigi Schmid, and they hit the ground running with successive US Open Cup triumphs that have kept the customers in rave green and bule suitably smug.

Travelling a little further north, Vancouver Whitecaps somewhat mirrored the Timbers when they appointed a relatively inexperienced Scot, Martin Rennie, as head coach (though he had held the top job at a number of lower league clubs), but made sure he had experience such as ex-DC United head coach Tom Soehn as Director of Soccer Operations to lean on.

It’s hard to tell if Spencer himself is is a sinker, or his Wilkinsonite support network within the club hasn’t been able to give him proper guidance. Given I’m relatively new to the Timbers, I don’t feel I have the authority to go over Wilkinson’s role in the Timbers’ struggles, but if there’s anyone out there who wants to give it a go, please do get in touch.

Very few first time managers hit the ground running and deliver immediate results, and it’s often the case that relatively inexperienced managers are given a more experienced assistant to help them out.

Even a legend such as Arsene Wenger, who lacked playing “credentials”, had the “football man” Pat Rice as assistant, until Rice’s recent retirement. Spencer certainly doesn’t lack for credentials having had an illustrious career in the UK and US, nor does he lack for confidence, but something is certainly missing.

Following the ignominious defeat to Cal FC, there are no matches for the Timbers for almost two weeks, when they will travel to face LA Galaxy. Despite having a team packed with quality and experience, Beckham FC prop up the Western Conference. I hope to have an in-depth look at them in the next week or so.

Timbers gu bràth

Cascadi-argh

The problem with watching an M Night Shyamalan movie, apart from watching an M Night Shyamalan movie, is that you spend most of your time waiting for the twist – the shattering reveal that turns everything you just watched on it’s head. Shyamalan, after the huge success of The Sixth Sense (SPOILER ALERT: Simon is Hans Gruber’s brother), became “the twist guy”.

The Timbers have their own twist; their own little gimmick. They lose late goals. A fuckofa lot. And it’s getting every bit as head-smackingly tedious as Shyamalan’s third-act revelations did.

Despite John Spencer’s post-match insistence that losing so many late goals is “not a massive problem“ this season alone has seen the team lose 7 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches, while they haven’t scored a goal in that period. As Mike Donovan tweeted, in the last 20 minutes of home MLS matches, the Timbers have been outscored 4-18.

I really hope Spencer was simply trying to bat away negatives to put a positive spin on the match because if he really doesn’t think those figures represent a massive problem then I think we have the answer as to whether Spencer has lost it

While the loss of yet another routinely sickening late goal may not have been a surprise, Spencer did pull a couple of rabbits out of the hat in his team selection.

I can’t say I was surprised to see Jewsbury back in at right-back, even though I thought Chabala had done enough against Chicago to keep his place. The shock was that Chabala didn’t even make the subs bench either. I can only assume it was a late knock (there were no injuries listed on the Friday before the match) because I can’t fathom any other reason why Chabala wouldn’t even make it to the bench.

The midfield was where the big shake up came, as only Diego Chara retained his starting place there. Songo’o and Wallace were replaced by Kalif Alhassan and Eric Alexander. Lovel Palmer dropped to the bench to facilitate a move into midfield for Darlington Nagbe, whose striking role alongside Kris Boyd was filled by Jorge Perlaza.

Despite my pre-match hope that we might see the team line-up in a 4-3-3 formation, it instead was much closer to the 4-4-2 diamond formation that the team had played earlier in the season, with Nagbe at the point.

It was an attacking set-up, and it looked like it would pay dividends early on as the play was much more fluid and connected that it had been in recent weeks. There were noticeably fewer hit-and-hope punts up the pitch, and much more quick passing and interplay.

If there is a criticism to be levelled at Troy Perkins – so often the Timbers hero in recent weeks – it’s that his distribution is often poor, but this week was much improved.

Though he had less to do this week than he had against the Fire, he still played the ball out short more often, with less recourse to the long ball. It’s a personal thing, but I much prefer to see the keeper look for that short throw or pass that retains possession and allows the team to build from the back than the lazy punt. The long ball has it’s place – to launch a quick counter, taking advantage of opponents that have overloaded the attack – but it’s seemingly the default setting for many keepers and it’s more often than not a waste of possession.

Perkins mirrored the play of his team-mates, which focussed much more on building the play through passing and movement. In this kind of system, Diego Chara’s role is crucial in the transition from defence to attack and vice versa. His passing is often underrated by some as he’s not one to attempt the “Hollywood pass” very often, but he keeps the play circulating with an excellent 90+% success rate.

His defensive play was characteristically strong, covering the area in front of his defence with steely determination. For a small guy, he’s deceptively strong as many bigger players have found out to their cost.

He was joined in midfield by Alexander and Alhassan. Alexander’s recall was a welcome sight, even though he was nominally the left midfielder, rather than playing through the centre where he seems more at home. At times it looked like he was a little over keen to impress having been given the chance.

Alhassan started after a good showing in a midweek friendly against Valencia. There are many similarities between Alhassan and Songo’o in that they’re both clearly skilful, flair players but equally both prone to trying to do a bit too much on their own. Both can frustrate when they try a flick, or try to beat a man when the easy pass is on to a wide-open team-mate but that’s the price you pay for the times when it does come off for them.

Not everyone agreed with me that Nagbe has been looking a little low in energy and confidence lately, but I hoped his drop into an attacking midfield role would reinvigorate him, and he did show little flashes of the player that can get fans on the edge of their seats.

At times he was playing as an orthodox central midfielder, but he adjusted admirably well. It’s good to see him more involved in play, and running at opponents again.

As the resident Jorge Perlaza apologist, it should be no surprise to read that I thought he had a good game. He worked tirelessly and got involved in play in a way that Nagbe doesn’t when he’s asked to partner Boyd.

Though he’s unquestionably a frustrating figure – his finishing can be wildly erratic at times – his ball retention is good and he is a good link between midfield and attack in terms of his running and ability to hold up the ball and feed it to onrushing midfielders, much like his countryman Chara fulfils the role in linking defence and midfield.

He also created a good chance for Nagbe early in the second half with a good run down the right and first time cross into the path of Nagbe who got under the ball and sent it sailing over the bar, as well as a couple of chances for himself. With the addition of Fucito to the squad, there’s even more pressure of Perlaza to perform when he’s given the chance, and I’d hope his strong showing against the Whitecaps is a sign that he’s taken the challenge on board and raised his game.

Kris Boyd got back on the scoresheet again after a poacher’s goal in 67 minutes when Jewsbury’s erratic cross was palmed away the Whitecaps keeper right into the area Boyd had staked out at the back post. It was a typically opportunistic bit of finishing from the Scot as he got himself in the right place at the right time.

Boyd is the kind of striker that does his best work off the second ball, where he has the strikers instinct to attack the area the ball is going to be. This was a prime example of this where skill and luck put him in the right place to hook the ball home. Too often though the Timbers are looking for him to win the first ball in the air, and this isn’t his strong suit especially against big guys like Jay DeMerit, who only minutes before the goal has clattered clumsily into Kalif in what looked like a stonewall penalty, but was waved away by both referee and his assistant.

Despite indirectly supplying the assist for Boyd’s goal, I thought Jewsbury’s crossing had been poor all night. I wouldn’t be surprised if Whitecaps defenders were drawing lots as to who would close down Jewsbury’s crosses, as to be the first man to a Jewsbury cross is to more-often-than-not get hit.

With Alhassan ahead of you, it’s a tricky job as his defensive work isn’t his strong suit. Jewsbury coped well in the defensive sense, but again I felt he offered little in attack.

The lead would last less than 20 minutes before a routine long ball was poorly defending, and Darren Mattocks, on the pitch for all of a minute, was able to breeze into the box and thunder the ball past Perkins.

The defending had been generally good, but here they switched off at the back, and were punsihed. Mosquera allowed Hassli to get the run on him, and Horst failed to cover the space behind his partner which gave Mattocks the time he needed to blow past Horst’s weak challenge.

It was a sickening end to a match that the Timbers will feel they deserved three points from.

It’s not just the late goals being lost that are a worry, it’s the inability to hold a lead. On 8 occasions this season the Timbers have taken the lead, but they’ve only held onto it 3 times. Of the 5 times the Timbers have lost the lead in a game, they’ve then gone on to lose 3 – the horrible run of RSL, Chivas and LA. In short – the Timbers are as likely to lose a match as win it when they go ahead! (3 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw – yes, that’s only 7, they took the lead twice against Chicago)

In a weird coincidence, the figures are mirrored when they go behind. 8 times they’ve slipped behind, and only 3 times they’ve found an equaliser – Philly (W), Dallas (D) and RSL (L).

The seeming inability to turn around a game when the momentum turns against the team is troubling.

Recent weeks have brought around better defensive performances, and for long spells of the game against the Whitecaps, there was much to be happy about the attacking play. A bit more luck or composure in front of goal and the Timbers could’ve been comfortable.

It wasn’t to be, and it’s another 2 points dropped – doubly galling as it’s against both a local and conference rival. It’s all very well complaining about the refereeing – and the Alhassan decision was especially poor – but as Mike Perron tweeted, “nothing takes a referee out of a game like finishing chances.” So very true. As long as the match is precarious, you’re always one defensive lapse from undoing all your good work.

Of course, if you’d watched the highlights on the MLS site, you might be wondering “what chances?” and “what (non) penalty?”. Thankfully the MLS site haven’t included the penalty shout in their “highlights” package. You want to see Steven Smith get a yellow card? Oh, you better believe that’s a highlight. You want to see a contentious decision that the officials clearly got wrong? Not a highlight. Neither are a number of decent chances at goal or passages of play.

I really hope whoever it was that compiles the highlights had a hot date last night to explain such a slap-dash and lazy job.

There’s often so much more that I’d like to illustrate and show through screengrab and the like but, as I don’t have MLS Live, I’m limited in what I can illustrate here by what MLS choose to put into their highlights. This match is probably one of their worst efforts yet – hence the lack of pics. I’d have loved to have written more about Perlaza, for instance, but there was next to nothing for me to do so in the highlights. Hopefully I’d get MLS Live soon, but for now I’ll just make do.

I do feel that progress is being made. The defence – a couple of weak moments aside – looks solid and didn’t look any weaker for having one less defensive midfielder in the team. In attack, with the reintroduction of Alhassan and seeing Nagbe played in his more natural position, there are encouraging signs for the future.

There’s a break in MLS action for the Timbers until the middle of next month, with a visit to LA to play Beckham FC. Before then the Timbers kick-off their US Open Cup campaign with the visit of Cal FC in midweek. The promise of a CONCACAF Champions League place for the cup winners should be all the incentive needed for the club to take the competition, and their amateur opponents, seriously.

There’s no doubt the fans already do.

#RCTID