Six Degrees: Pounded

Orlando Photo Craig Mitchelldyer Portland Timbers

What a difference a week makes. Last week, we played our best game of the year. This week, our worst. Last week, you, me, and all of Timbers Nation, were giddy and excited, eager to talk about the game, replay it over and over in our heads. This week, it was a bad dream we’d all like to forget.

1) It’s tempting to blame the referee for this loss1, but that would be wrong. Orlando City deserved to win. They were the better team, and it wasn’t even close. We looked extremely dangerous for the first 10 minutes, but the last 80 belonged to Orlando.

They were more creative on offense, more organized on defense, a half-step quicker to every ball. Watching the game, you’d think Portland was the expansion team and Orlando was the club who’d been together so long. Kaka gets all the headlines, of course, but he wasn’t even their best player. Brek Shea really impressed me. Their striker, Cyle Larin, was great all game. Even the ancient one, Donovan Ricketts, looked good. He made a few saves equal to his 2013 heroics.

But this is a Timbers blog. Shouldn’t I be talking about the Timbers? I would, but nobody looked all that good. Darlington Nagbe was dangerous a couple times, but mostly had a hard time finding room to move. Alvas Powell had a few pretty moves, as usual, but also some ridiculous mistakes. Dairon Asprilla provided his usual dose of instant offense. Gaston Fernandez has some nice aggressive shots on goal. But honestly, I can’t get excited about any of these guys. At best, the Timbers looked okay. At worst, they looked like a team getting beat 2-0 by an expansion side.

2) In their defense, however, it’s hard to play good football when you’re being pounded and pounded and the referee’s doing nothing about it.

Kevin Stott was an absolute travesty. From the opening whistle, Orlando City beat the crap out of us and Stott let them. Aurelien Collin has a long reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league and, boy, did he add to that on Sunday. His early foul on Fanendo Adi was literally – not figuratively – it was literally a wrestling take down. Almost a full nelson/body slam. Adi was outraged, the crowd was outraged, I’m sure God was outraged, too. Did Stott care? Of course not.

That was my favorite Kevin Stott play. My second favorite was when Powell got the crap knocked out of him, Stott did nothing, so Alvas got all pissed off, fouled the first Orlando player he saw, and got yellow carded. Utterly ridiculous.

Now, all that being said, we can’t complain about Orlando’s PK goal. That was the one time the whole game Stott got it right. As soon as Adam Kwarasey collided with that dude, I knew it was a penalty. And when the first PK was taken, I was watching Diego Chara and Gaston Fernandez the whole time. They weren’t just a little over the line, they were way over the line. Watch them as the ref points to the spot for a second time. They don’t argue. They know. Shame on you, fellas. You’re veterans. You should know better.

3) Now, I know I just got done bitching about how dirty Orlando played, but I do have to give their defense some credit. They were really well organized and amazingly fast at shutting down any penetration we managed. If we got anywhere close to their goal, we needed to shoot it instantly, because half a second later, they were all over us. I’ll even give Collin credit here. He’s a dirty shit, but he recovered like a mad man.

All in all, we had no answers for Orlando’s defense and whenever we can’t find offensive answers – or even ask interesting questions – I think of Diego Valeri sitting in the clubhouse. He’s a guy who can ask questions, solve problems. Were his vision and imagination all we needed? Would he have stopped us running into Orlando’s wall over and over? I feel certain it’s more complicated than just one guy. Or maybe not. Maybe there are certain games where you need an offensive genius, plain and simple. Ours wasn’t available, so we lost.

4) On the defensive side of things, we already discussed Orlando’s second goal, off the PK. Let’s discuss that first goal. Watch this clip and you’ll see Cyle Larin standing in front of goal, completely unmolested, equidistant between Kah and Futty. I mean, Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers. Honestly, guys, what the fuck? You didn’t think he was worth covering? He’s only their striker. I thought centerbacks doing stupid shit was over. I thought those days were in our past. Apparently not.

In Vancouver, Ridgy and Treebeard gave us the “No, go ahead, you take it” play. Now, it’s the “No reason to cover that guy, he’s just a striker” play. That’s two for the season, boys. No more.

(In their defense, it was an awfully strange goal. The pass came in blisteringly fast, hit Larin dead in the chest, and ricocheted into goal. I honestly don’t know how much credit we can give Larin. He may have been an innocent bystander to the whole thing.)

5) Is it just me, or did the Timbers show a real lack of desperation out there? In the second half, we were down a goal – and then two goals – and we still seemed to be going upfield slowly and casually. Yes, we were getting pounded, and yes, their defense was locked up tight, but still, to my eyes, there was a real lack of fire. I already mentioned how Diego Valeri might have helped. Now I’ll mention how often I found myself wishing Will Johnson was out there. He’d have lit a fire. He’d have stuck his foot up a couple guy’s asses, telling them to attack.

Or maybe it wasn’t a lack of fire. Maybe it was just Orlando’s hack ’em strategy paying off. Maybe the team was so tired of getting bashed, so tired of not getting a single call, they took their foot of the pedal a little. Adi and Nagbe in particular looked slow and limpy by the end. I was impressed by Gata’s fire. He was putting the ball on goal. Asprilla, too. But on the whole, we didn’t have nearly as much fight in us as we should have. Unacceptable. Will Johnson, get well soon.

6) Looking forward, there are a ton of questions to ask.

Do we stick with the 4-4-2? It was great against Dallas, shit against Orlando.

Does Jack Jewsbury start? He took over for George Fochive at halftime Sunday. Is Caleb Porter done with young George?

Does Asprilla start? He’s a fantastic shot of offense off the bench. Would he be just as electric for a full 90? And does his status depend on our formation? Maybe he only starts in a 4-2-3-1.

What to do about striker? I like Adi, I like Maxi Urruti, and Fernandez really brought a fire off the bench. Again, our starting strikers may depend on formation. And maybe health, as Adi took quite a beating Sunday2.

Five of our next six games are on the road, starting in Yankee Stadium next Sunday against NYCFC3. After that, it’s away to Seattle, home to Vancouver, then three straight away in Montreal, Houston, and Toronto. If the team pulls its collective head out of its collective ass, maybe we’ll be okay, but if they don’t, if we continue to play like we did Sunday, these next five games could put us in a hole so deep, we’ll never get out. And that’s not me panicking. That’s me being incredible realistic.

  1. more on him later 

  2. I feel like I write these words a lot 

  3. I still think they could have fit more letters into their name