Six Degrees: Demoralizing

houston-photo-troy-taormina-usa-today-sports

The Portland Timbers went to Houston this weekend and stumbled around drunkenly for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the Portland Thorns went to New Jersey and won the Supporter’s Shield. At least we’ve got one good team to root for, right?

1) Just when the Timbers put together their first two-game winning streak of the year, just when I was starting to feel good about them, they pull a complete no-show on the road.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t a complete no-show. We looked good for the first ten minutes of each half. Running, passing, all the things you’d expect from a professional soccer team, the Timbers did ’em. So that’s encouraging.

The other 70 minutes, though? Utter crap. Blown out by a last place team. Three goals allowed to a team that can’t score goals. A hat trick allowed to some random guy no one’s heard of. And basically just looking like a USL side.

Getting walked over by a first place team, that happens. Getting walked over by a last place team, that’s unacceptable. If the Timbers truly are professionals, they’ll come out blazing next weekend in Colorado. But if they fail to show yet again? I’m not sure they deserve the playoffs.

2) What’s there to say about the three goals allowed? All of them were our fault. Alvas Powell‘s giveaway started the sequence leading to Liam Ridgewell‘s handball and Houston’s PK goal.

The second goal was from another Powell giveaway, but that was just the start. The real problem was the defense allowing two or three Houston players to set up house in front of our goal, unchallenged.

The third Houston goal was on a counter, a 1 v 1 chance where everyone sprung the offside trap except Steven Taylor.

Three ugly goals to a last place team. The Timbers do not have a playoff-quality defense. Not this week, at least. Next week? Who friggin’ knows?

3) I recently wrote about how right back Alvas Powell had become so reliable. How he’d become so steady, we could stop worrying about that side of the field. It looks like I was wrong, because Young Alvas turned in a real stinker Saturday. He missed passes all day, he was slow and timid on defense, and he was mostly missing in action on the offensive side of things.

Also MIA Saturday: Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi. It seems silly to call Valeri absent, since he was our lone goal scorer, but did he seem all that dangerous in the game’s other 89 minutes? No. And neither did Adi. Both looked tired and disinterested.

Darlington Nagbe was a bit better, but not by much. The only consistent offensive threat was Darren Mattocks, who was fabulous for the second straight week. He didn’t get an assist on Valeri’s goal, but should have.

Mattocks played like a guy trying to earn some playing time but his 90th minute hamstring pull means it may be awhile before we’re seeing more plays like this.

4) Things I’m not sold on: players named Taylor. It’s clear that Caleb Porter trusts Jermaine Taylor to fill in at multiple positions, but sorry, I’m just not seeing it. He seems like a nice enough fellow, but his play is MLS-average at best. Below-average at worst. And yet, when people get hurt – and since this is 2016, people will get hurt – it’s J Taylor who keeps getting thrown in there to muddle about for 90 minutes.

Steven Taylor, on the other hand, has been a starter pretty much since he got here and has done almost nothing to deserve it. We’ve heard about all that Premier League experience, but I’ve seen nothing to make me think he’s a better option than Taylor Peay or Amobi Okugo. Maybe it’s time to try one of them?

5) Speaking of Jermaine Taylor, he was stretchered off the field Saturday night. He was only in there because Vytas Andriuskevicius has broken ribs. So the first stringer’s down and the second stringer’s down. Zarek Valentin, you’re up! Get ready to break a metatarsal, buddy!

To be honest, I can live with Taylor going down. Anyone named Taylor, for that matter. But the night’s other injury was a lot more painful. Darren Mattocks has already had one hamstring injury this season. A second hammy pull might mean the end of his year. And that’s just as he was rounding into form.

At some point in the next few weeks, I’m going to have to pick a 2016 Six Degrees Player of the Year. At this point, I may just give it to whoever’s played the most games, because, honestly, not getting injured is the most impressive thing a Timber can do this year. This has definitely been The Year of Injuries.

6) Unless, of course, it’s The Year of Not Winning On the Road.

While it’s tempting to blame Caleb Porter for this team’s woeful road performance this season, it’s worth remembering that the Timbers were the best road team in the league last year. So last year Caleb was a genius of motivation and this year he’s a bum? It can’t be that simple.

Could it be all the injuries? Yeah, possibly. The international absences? Yeah, maybe that, too. And maybe a little bit of psychology? At this point, sure. If it wasn’t messing with the team’s head before, it’s got to be by now.

So what to do? Well, the international absences are over. The injuries, definitely not. The psychological baggage? That’s probably only getting fixed with a road win.

We’ve got two more chances – at Colorado this weekend, then at Vancouver the last weekend of the regular season. If we fail to win one of those, our year may be over. Or maybe we’ll sneak into the playoffs and immediately have a knockout game on the road.

I have no answers. I don’t even have predictions. Just like you, all I can do is wait and see. Maybe we’ll get this gigantic monkey off our back, maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll lose five more guys to injury, maybe we won’t. I can’t predict anything anymore.

2 Comments Six Degrees: Demoralizing

  1. Roy Gathercoal

    I boldly predict (after the fact) the Timbers will beat Dragon on the road. Then (not so boldly) actually win against Colorado in Denver.

    Why?

    Well first because I would rather be an unwavering supporter than be right, should the Timbers fail again.

    More importantly, this is the Timbers, and it seems to be what they do. Not just last season. Even in the dismal years the games they seemed to win were the games everyone expected them to lose. 5-2 and the first team to beat LA there, baby! And we have ended long winning streaks away several times, including one dramatic win at SKC. In good years, we do this end-of-the-game thing well enough to make the play-offs, or better. In not-so-great years, we miss the play-offs by one miserable point, even though we win the last game.

    So winning at Denver seems to be the reasonable prediction, given the history of this team across seasons. And most of last year’s squad is still starting. . . so it is largely the same group of guys.

    Sometimes we forget that and create this imposed reality “the season”. If you look at the team over its history, however, you see an undulating wave of wins and losses. I believe it is useful to remember that the difference between a loss, draw and win in this league, could be one or two plays–just two seconds. And because of our reification of the mostly arbitrary season, this means two seconds can mean the difference between a great year (2015) and a bad year (2014).

    This is one reason I try to “keep the highs low, and the lows high”. After all, just one crazy kick at Providence Park in 2015 could have–perhaps should have–meant that 2015 would be another disappointment, just barely better than 2014. Looking at it this way, it seems a little goofy to judge a team by an unrelated group of individual seconds.

    So take heart, We have been here before, and it turned out all right.

    Reply
  2. Roy Gathercoal

    Now here is something that has been bothering me. Perhaps some sage person can answer what seems to be to be a paradox (to be generous).

    Quite consistently now, our injuries have been cited by players and by Porter himself as a major–and perhaps the major–reason we have done so poorly away. Most recently in post-game comments in San Salvadore, Porter and Nagbe both cited injuries.

    This raises two questions for me:

    (1) why did the injuries not prevent Portland from amassing the most home wins of any team in MLS? As many players were injured when we played at home than when we played on the road. If the same condition is present in both outcomes, it is unreasonable to posit it as a factor of difference between the two.

    (2) early in the season, as the T2 squad was taking shape, Porter emphatically stressed that this team was so very important because the players would be playing the same system, and thus a reserve player could slot into the team without interruption.

    Yet if injuries to the first team are the reason we lost so many games, then it would appear that in this system not even second-choice players can slot into the first team without suffering disastrous consequences. I am not sure we have even seen a T2 player on the field for a game.

    If injuries are the main reason for our road losses, then why didn’t our unusual depth on the bench save us?

    There must be another factor responsible.

    Again, (sorry FDChief, I know this will cause you some pain) I turn to the reality that these are human beings playing the game, and that no degree of “professionalism” will change that. If you run a robot through two tasks and it failed one and passed the other, it is likely you can look at the differences in any factors that changed.

    Not so much for humans.

    We understand barely a bit of human motivation. So it is unwise to rule out psychological factors in these performances.

    Perhaps, for example, the team played really well in some early away games–obviously better than their opponent–and somehow they still lost or tied. At key points in a game–where at home the energy from the supporters and all the eyes watching keeps them going–at away games a few players might just lose concentration a bit. Just for a couple of seconds. Long enough to lose a mark, or miss a tackle. And allow a goal.

    Thus, perhaps, it would show up in the defense more often than the offense, for a missed pass might sink what would otherwise be a scoring opportunity, but the missed tackle might result in a goal against (or a penalty). This also might explain why the older players, especially Ridgewell and Taylor(s) might be even more affected, for road trips are much more costly to older bodies, and thus the feeling of being unrewarded for a great away performance might have extra sting.

    If this is one of many contributing factors, then winning away at Dragon–especially at a place where Saprissa managed only a scoreless draw–provides that spark of mental energy that will be sufficient to bridge those small gaps in concentration.

    Reply

Wise Men say...