Six Degrees: Sickening

Photo Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland Timbers

This column is getting to you a little late and a little short on words. Why? Because I’m sick. Crazy sick. Like, “I was walking around the hospital earlier today with a surgical mask on” sick.

The best part? I was at a bar Sunday, watching the game, coughing into my Timbers scarf. So all you people with me at the bar? I’m the reason you’re hacking up bits of lung today. You’re welcome.

I’ve been sick for about three weeks now, and if you’ve ever had a long-term cold like this, you know that you start questioning everything in your life. Am I allergic to my pillow? Am I allergic to my house? Am I allergic to air? To sunlight?

And as I sit here, coughing, trying to figure out what’s making me so sick, I have a new suspect. Maybe I’m allergic to the Timbers. Specifically, all these friggin’ draws. Maybe I’m gonna be sick until we win a game. Or lose, even. At this point, I’ll take anything.

1) The game really was a tale of two halves. We owned the first, they owned the second. It’s almost fitting that it ended with a draw.

Why the change of momentum? Maybe LA figured something out at halftime. Or maybe it was all that damn wind. In the first half, we had the wind at our back and dominated. In the second, we were going into the wind and suffered. Coincidence? Maybe. The difference in our performance was noteworthy, though, so here I am, noting it. In the future, perhaps the Timbers Army could do something about this. Give everyone a fan to wave? Whatever the team needs.

2) Quick take on the two Portland goals.

1st goal – Just heavenly. And truly a fast-breaking counter. Kwarasey to Chara. Chara to Nagbe. An obscene backheel from Nags to Wallace. Wallace with the sweet leading pass to Adi, who curls it around the keeper and inside the far post. This is the sort of goal that won LA the Cup last year. More, please.

2nd goal – Nagbe, being Nagbe. He was deep in enemy territory, with zero room to maneuver, but right as the LA keeper was getting ready to gather the ball, Nagbe zips in and pokes it away. Adi finds it and bangs it in off a defender’s leg.

A lovely last-second goal to win it, right? Everyone goes home happy, right? Wrong.

3) Quick take on the two LA goals.

Zardes’s goal. This was a bang-bang play with Zardes getting his foot on the end of a nice cross. Kwarasey hung back a tiny bit, just a split-second, really, but if he’d sprinted to the ball, he might have stopped it. There would have been a hell of a collision with him and Zardes, but probably no goal. Like I said, he had just a split second to do it in, so I forgive.

Gordon’s last-second goal – Last year, I think we were worst in the league giving up set-piece goals, and here we are, giving up our first of the new season. This was a case of the big strong experienced Gordon just manhandling Villafana. Jorge was trying to fight back, bless him, but Gordon wouldn’t let him. Gordon’s scored a lot of those goals against a lot of defenders. The bastard.

4) As Roy Gathercoal said in his column “Gathered Thoughts,” Darlington Nagbe’s doing whatever the team needs. Clearly, with Valeri out, the team needs someone to be a Maestro. Maybe not the Maestro, but a Maestro. And Nagbe’s delivering.

The guy’s everywhere, isn’t he? He’s just making defenders look stupid out there. Is he shooting? No. Does that bug me? A tiny bit. But it’s hard to argue with the two goals we scored Sunday. It’s hard to argue with Nagbe work in the middle of the field.

When Valeri comes back, what will the team need Nags to do then? Score goals? Support the defense? Whatever it is, I believe Nagbe will do it. I’m so high on this dude right now. We thought we’d need Gaston Fernandez to fill in for Valeri, but we were wrong. Nagbe’s the guy for the job.

5) As far as the defense goes, well, so much for that four game shutout streak. Turns out that, despite what we saw in the RSL game, our defense is not actually perfect. They weren’t nearly as relaxed and confident against LA. A few signs of panic, a few people out of position, a few clearing headers going straight up, a few worrisome moments from Powell, looking like a kid again. It wasn’t the worst defense ever, but it made me realize this season isn’t going to be the nice relaxing walk in the park I’d been hoping for.

We’re definitely improved, but not yet perfect.

6) And finally, to finish off this abbreviated, cough-filled column from my sick bed, a few quick notes.

  • Jack’s set pieces weren’t quite as perfect as week one. There also weren’t as many of them.
  • What is it with Adi always scoring braces? Is this really going to be his thing?
  • I don’t feel like Maxi Urruti has been much of a factor in either of our first two games, which is weird, considering how dangerous he is. I’d like him in the game a little earlier, I think.
  • No third sub? Follow-up question: who would’ve been the third sub? After Gata and Maxi, there’s not a lot of offense on the bench right now.

6 Comments Six Degrees: Sickening

  1. scott

    With regard to your coughing…might be worth going to the DR if that has not already happened. Mine sons school sent a notice there have been a few cases of Wooping cough…So perhaps that is going around. (Most are vaccinated, but apparently it wears off and many do not get a booster.)

    Reply
  2. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    Thank you, CI, for your intense dedication and selfless giving. Just keep your phlegm to yourself. Or get better and it won’t be an issue.

    I was pretty upset after watching the game in person, and it didn’t get better the first time on video. After the third time through I began to see the sun that occasionally peeped through the clouds. Still, it seems to me we scored in the 31st minute (or thereabouts) and actually continued to play until the 39th minute, at which point we decided to cruise on into half time. Ugh.

    We really, truly need to find a bit of attitude about maintaining the attack when we have the lead. Yes, the other team will push more guys forward, but that is exactly why they made the counter! No time better to counter than when the other guys have committed more guys forward. In the second half, we came out swinging, for about 4 minutes.

    Then it was almost as if the guys all looked at one another and said “we don’t have to work this hard, we just have to keep them from scoring. Surely we can do that if we all stay in our own half. . . ”

    To be clear, my beef is not with the individual work rate, although certain individuals seemed to go suddenly flat. It comes down rather to three things:

    (1) passing backwards. The OPTA map for the first 40 minutes is beautiful, progressive, forward-looking, North/South, whatever cliche’ you wish to employ. Then it is as if someone put up a big wall. Our forward line stopped applying any kind of pressure, instead waiting for their guys to make the first (and second) moves. When faced with an opportunity to pass back, we took it. Of course, this meant that all our guys were constantly facing our net, which ends up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    (2) playing to the ref. The officiating was not bad. Brilliant by MLS standards. There were a few huh? moments, but nothing that ole’ Simon could declare against us on. Yet it seemed like a few players (yes, including Adi and Gaston) played with one eye on the other player and one eye on the ref, just waiting for an opportunity to showcase a potential foul. Heresy it might be, but I would rather see our team be victimized by some missed fouls as they continued play than to see the official telling our players to get up and play ball. . . In the words of Caleb Porter last year, we need to get a little tougher. Seemed like a substantial change in this category that coincided with the passing back outbreak.

    (3) movement off the ball. The first half was heavenly. Players moving, whirling, darting, making openings, creating chances–every time someone picked up their head to check, at least two good targets were waiting. When one guy broke, three others broke with him. Not enough defenders to triple-team Nagbe, and that means trouble brewing. Or Adi–the guy is growing into the spot, with at least an additional 3″ and 10 hard kilos since the first game!

    In the second half, there were several really fine chances that went begging because the keeper bobbled the ball, or the wind did something kinky, but everyone but our single guy-having-checked-out-the-ball-with-his-library-card could not be in two places at once, so the rebound, or missed pass, or bobble went away. Should have been scores, or at least good opportunities.

    I understand the virtues of the direct game, especially once we have the possession game back in our repertoire so we can draw from both options. But the direct game does not work half way. Either your whole squad must be playing it or you will be unable to take advantage of the little opportunities (such as Adi’s second) while leaving the same truck-sized holes in your defense.

    Don’t know if it was conditioning, still early in the season, or a bit of too much comfort in a one-goal lead. Whatever the cause, it has to go or this will be another long season. Our guys certainly looked as young as LA’s squad. . . especially in that Jack was not one lagging. His output seemed quite consistent, but that might be selective perception.

    Set pieces. Someone please explain to me why we must be so bad in this area of the game? Is it a surprise that Alan Gordon would be looking for a header, and that he towers over Villafana? Is any of this a surprise? All the announcers knew about both our tendency to give up last minute goals and LA’s tendency to score them. Did this not get mentioned last week? I really don’t understand.

    Keene was stopped. Excellent work. Zardes got some good looks. Gordon got one.

    Things are all right. No need to panic. Two ties to start against top teams is not a disaster. We just cannot fall into our “failing to win is OK” ways of last year’s slow start.

    A win at SKC would go a long way to take off the edge.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      thanks for reminding us that Keane was stopped. He was so quiet in the game, I forgot to write about him. Well done, Timbers!

      Reply
  3. nobody

    At a very minimum we should have used a sub after the first stoppage in play after the goal. We could have brought in Peay or Paparatto to add as extra body in the box in the last minute or two of the game. Porter’s substitution patterns have to be the weakest aspect of his coaching.

    Reply
    1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

      I’m not sure that his substitutions are *that* weak, but other aspects of his coaching are impressively strong ;).

      I wonder about the Adi substitutions. It almost felt as though Adi was at the end of his rope at about 60 minutes, falling more and complaining to the officials more. I kept hoping to see Urruti sooner. There are several factors, however, and I want to give credit to difficult questions.

      (1) Porter is explicitly aware of his role in player development, perhaps more than other MLS coaches. Perhaps Adi needed to stay in for his own development, so that he will be a stronger player later in the season.

      (2) Adi’s height and size proved to be “would have been” valuable, if he had been marking Gordon at game’s end. I don’t know who had Gordon, but 5’9″ Villafana was not a good choice, if that was planned. Gordon is known for aerial work, and was brought into the game for the purpose of scoring last minute goals. Adi would have made it more difficult, at least, if he had been marking. And perhaps if Adi did mark Gordon, then whoever Adi was marking would have gotten the score. (wait, who *was* Adi marking?)

      (3) One of the headlines for the evening was just how quiet Keene was being kept. It may be that Adi was part of that picture, even though they would be on opposite sides of the field for run-of-play situations. Keene also did not score on a set piece. Remember his break out easy tap-in against Chicago last week? Didn’t happen.

      (4) Perhaps if Adi had come out, then another big guy from LA would be available to shut down Nagbe or Wallace. It might be that game dynamics just needed a third big body on our side, specifically because of LA’s contribution.

      Reply
      1. C.I. DeMann

        also worth noting, if Adi had been taken out when he started to tire, he wouldn’t have been there to score that 90th minute goal.

        Reply

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