So far this season, three teams in MLS have perfect records. Dallas (3 games, 3 wins), Chicago (3 games, 3 losses), and Portland (3 games, 3 draws).
At least we ain’t Chicago, right?
1) The season-opening 0-0 draw against RSL was actually an enjoyable game. Saturday’s 0-0 draw in Kansas City? Ugly. No fun at all.
We can lay some of the blame on the referee, who let the teams bang a little too much in the first half. By the time he tried to crack down on things, a hockey game had broken out.
But the game’s ugliness wasn’t all due to that. Sporting KC made it a slogfest. They were all over our guys, not giving them an inch of space to work in. Darlington Nagbe, who’d been so transcendent in our first two matches, was held in check for most of the game.
Plus, the Timbers have been using a direct style of play this year, hanging back on defense and kicking the ball deep, hoping our attackers can do something with it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but regardless, it’s not a very attractive style of play. We may be stuck with it, though, until Will Johnson and Diego Valeri come back from injury.
2) Since Caleb Porter arrived as coach in 2013, the Portland Timber have never won a game in the month of March. I swear that’s true.
In 2013, we had 4 games in March. 3 draws and a loss. That’s 3 points.
In 2014, we had another 4 games. 2 draws, 2 losses. That 2 points.
In 2015? So far we’ve had 3 games, 3 draws, 3 points. If we draw next week in Vancouver, we’ll have 4 points on the month. Still no wins, but it would be our most successful March of the Caleb Porter era.
I’m really not sure how I feel about this. I mean, we’re not losing, right?
And it’s not like we’ve played a bunch of chumps, either. RSL, Los Angeles, Sporting KC. Against teams like that, with the injuries we’ve had, we could have done a whole lot worse than three draws.
What I’m saying is, we definitely don’t suck.
But I still remember last year, when we started the season with an 8-game winless streak. Throughout that period, I’d come here and ask all of you, “Should I start panicking? Have we reached the panic stage yet?”
Each time, the answer was, “Dear Lord, C.I., it’s a 34-game season. Relax!”
And we know what happened. We finished the season as one of the league’s best teams, but could never outrun those opening 8 games, missing the playoffs by a single stupid point.
I’m not panicking yet, I swear. But a draw next week? A loss next week? Maybe then I’ll start to panic.
3) Okay, let’s talk about the game.
How do we feel about our defense? Three games, two shutouts. That ain’t bad. And there were quite a few beautiful plays from our back four.
But still, didn’t we sometimes feel a little lucky? How many times did SKC almost get a goal? I can think of three headers that went just wide. I can think of another couple corner kicks that zipped right across the face of goal, nobody touching them at all. Not a single one of those counts as a shot on goal, not a single one required a save from our keeper. And yet… Dangerous. Very dangerous. Slide all of those balls a foot left or right and the Timbers are down 5-0.
I feel awful saying this because, honestly, they pitched a shutout. What more do I want, right?
I guess I just want to feel like the defense has everything completely under control. Like it’s not luck, it’s skill. I want to feel the way I felt during the opener against RSL. I want that feeling again. Complete dominance. Complete invulnerability.
4) As long as I’m nitpicking the defense, how do you guys feel about Adam Kwarasey? Because I can’t decide.
To be sure, I love certain things about him. I love his calm demeanor. I love his feet. I love the way he comes out of goal and looks like a soccer player, not a bear on roller skates. (Sorry, Donovan. You know I love you.)
But do Kwarasey’s hands maybe seem a little hard? A little “spill-y?”
For example, take that save in the 39th minute, where he was on the ground, lost his handle on the ball, but managed to keep it near his feet and kick it to a teammate. That could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways. If an SKC player had gotten a foot on that and put it in, we’d be out for Kwarasey’s blood right now.
The truth is, it’s hard to really judge his hands so far, since he’s had to make so few saves. Let’s hope it stays that way. Let’s hope he’s last in the league in saves made. Let’s hope we never have to learn how soft his hands are because all he has to do back there is hang out and chew gum.
5) But enough about the defense. They’re the least of our problems. The number one issue right now, and the one I don’t any answers for, is our offense. Sporting KC put our boys in their pocket and didn’t let them out the whole game.
And maybe that’s the story in its entirely. “Good Defense Makes Us Look Bad For One Game.” Maybe that’s it.
Or maybe there’s more.
Maybe we’re missing two of our key attackers to injury. Maybe not having El Maestro in the middle had made us attack a little differently, a little less attractively. Maybe we’ve got that new guy Asprilla out on the right and while he looks fast and aggressive and intriguing, he also hasn’t produced too many chances. And maybe the bench only has two attacking subs because everyone else is hurt.
Lots of problems, not a lot of solutions.
Here’s a question: what’s up with Maxi Urruti and Gaston Fernandez? They’ve done nothing off the bench this year. Nothing. Is it time to maybe think about starting Maxi? Maybe start him and Adi? We could put Asprilla on the bench and play a 4-4-2.
Or maybe we keep Asprilla on, but take Jewsbury off? Then it’s kind of a 4-1-3-2 with Chara staying back. That sounds a little crazy, but who knows? It might be worth trying.
And what about that bench and its lack of attacking options? Valeri’s down, Johnson’s down, Nanchoff’s down. Do we sign someone new? Do we grab someone off T2, someone like Schillo Tshuma? Stevie Evans? Or do we just keep focusing on defense? Lean on them until our injured guys start coming back in the next month or two?
Personally, I think we’ll do that last thing. Keep leaning on our defense. Wait for people to heal.
How do I feel about this? I have no idea. How do you feel about it?
6) Next week. Vancouver. First Cascadia Cup match of the year. Our house in the middle of BC. It may be a road game, but trust me, Vancouver’s extremely beatable.
Don’t be fooled by their two wins in three games. They were unimpressive wins against two of the league’s weaker teams. One was against Chicago, the only team in the league with three losses in three games. The other win required a last-second miracle against Orlando City, a team whose only goals this year are an own goal and a deflected free kick.
Vancouver’s loss? Getting blown out at home by Toronto.
So keep all that in mind as you admire their shiny six points.
The Timbers, on the other hand, only have three points, but have gotten them against three of the most consistently good franchises in the league. RSL, we outplayed. LA and SKC, we went toe-to-toe with.
Our defense keeps pitching shutouts. Our offense? Well, we won’t talk about them. We’ll just head into next weekend’s match feeling confident. A win breaks Caleb Porter’s March jinx. A draw gives us four points in four games against four conference rivals.
A loss? Well, maybe then I start to panic. Maybe.