Six Degrees: No, Go Ahead, You Take It

vancouver ball

Quick note to all the youngsters out there, just learning how to play soccer: if it’s late in a tie game, there’s a striker behind you who may or may not be onside, and the ball is rolling along right there in front of you, go ahead and stick your foot out. What’s the worst that could happen?

1) When the starting lineups were announced for Saturday’s game against Vancouver, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Maxi Urruti, the omission of Dairon Asprilla, and the switch away from our usual 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2

How did it go? In my opinion, not well.

In 65 minutes with the 4-4-2 formation, we had a lot of possession, a lot of crosses, and almost zero dangerous chances. Then Maxi goes off, Asprilla comes on, and suddenly we’re getting chances. This could be a personnel issue, or it could be about formation. Did we switch back to the 4-2-3-1? I can’t tell. Soccer formations are always so flexible. Still, it felt like we did. It felt like we quit with the 4-2-2.

Whether we did or not, after Maxi went off, the dangerous chances started coming in a hurry. Asprilla’s flying one-timer in the 74th minute. Fanendo Adi‘s goal in the 82nd. Asprilla’s oh-so-close header in the 88th. Adi’s one-on-one chance in the 89th.

What does it tell us going forward? That the 4-4-2’s not for us? That Maxi and Adi don’t work well together? That we need to have Asprilla on the field as much a possible?

Whatever happened, let’s keep doing it, because those final 25 minutes were the only time we really look good.

2) Mostly because those first 65 minutes were such a frustrating mess. A cross into the box. Nothing. Another cross into the box. More nothing. Another cross into the box. And hey, would you believe it, even more nothing.

We had 47 crosses in this game. How is that even possible? That’s a cross every two minutes. For comparison, Vancouver had 7.

We also had 7 corner kicks to Vancouver’s zero.

That’s 54 balls heading into the box, leading to how many shots on goal? Five.

Pathetic.

Yes, we dominated possession. Yes, we kept them on their heels all game. But that means nothing without quality in the final third. Without movement, without finishing.

Plus, it’s just ugly soccer. Do you want to see that every week? I sure as hell don’t.

So, Caleb? Whatever the problem was Saturday – the formation, the personnel, or the strategy – chuck it out. For good. We’ll just pretend it never happened.

3) Moving on, Vancouver’s first goal proves one thing. Diving works. Octavio Rivero may be new to the league, but he dives like a seasoned vet. His dive in the 15th minute led to a free kick right outside the box, which led to Nicolas Mezquido’s curling goal just inside the left post.

We’re now four games into the season and I still have no idea if our new goalkeeper is any good. What did you think of Adam Kwarasey‘s work Saturday? That free kick goal was awfully well hit, but would the long-armed, quick-reacting Donovan Ricketts have stopped it?

And the final goal, when Kwarasey was forced into a 1-v-1 situation? He charged out, went to ground, and tried to make himself big, all to no avail. Could have done better there? I have no idea. Do you? Do we have any goalkeeper experts out there? Can someone tell me, definitively, ‘yes, this guy’s good,’ or ‘no, this guy sucks.’ Because right now, I can’t tell, and that frustrates me.

4) But good or not, can we truly blame that final, 90th minute, soul-crushing goal on the keeper? Not really. There are so many other people to share the blame.

First, there’s Alvas Powell, who, up to that point, I was thinking of as the clear Man of the Match. Our young right back, who spent most of last week flying to and from Jamaica for no reason whatsoever, had a hell of a game. Incredibly active both offensively and defensively. As I’ve said before, he’s not the same raw youngster he was this time a year ago.

But he is to blame for keeping Robert Earnshaw onside. Oh sure, we could argue that Earnshaw may have been offside by an inch or two, but why bother? The fact is, our back line stepped up for the offside trap and Powell didn’t.

Of course, that’s not even the biggest story on that goal. The biggest story is “What The Fuck Were Our Brilliant, Experienced, Tried-And-True Centerbacks Thinking As They Watched That Ball Go Right Between Them?” If either of them sticks a foot out, that pass is stopped and the game ends 1-1. Instead, the both sort of hiccuped, almost sticking a foot out, then not. It was like they each thought the other guy was going to do something, or maybe the linesman was going to raise his flag. Meanwhile, Robert Earnshaw was all like “Oh, okay. I guess I’ll just take this, then. Thanks, guys.”

I’ve been incredibly happy with Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell this year. They’ve exceeded expectations. But clearly, in this maddening game we all love, even the most experienced players can make rookie mistakes.

5) Some quick thoughts on the players.

I’m losing all faith in Gaston Fernandez. Bad touches. Bad free kicks. He just seems lost.

George Fochive had a solid game and I loved that long shot he took in the 4th minute, forcing a diving save. I wish he’d fired that thing up a few more times. Valeri, Will, and Jack are all good from distance. With them out, maybe Fochive needs to fill that role.

I don’t know if you heard, but after the game, on the way back to the locker room, Jorge Villafana‘s left leg fell off. Too many crosses, the doctor says. Fingers crossed on his reattachment surgery.

I seriously think the team should start fining Darlington Nagbe every time he has the ball in the box and doesn’t shoot. The guy’s brilliant, I love him, he had some exquisite passes Saturday, but dear God in heaven, Darlington, shoot the fucking ball.

Speaking of shooting the fucking ball, we need Dairon Asprilla on the field, start to finish. The guy’s a gamer. All he does is pin his ears back and go for goal. When Will Johnson and Diego Valeri come back, maybe Asprilla will be one shooter too many. But now? We need him. Desperately.

6) Our first three games were against three good teams and we drew them all. Our fourth game, we lost, and I’m not even sure Vancouver’s a good team. Yeah, they’re currently at 2.25 points per game, while we’re at 0.75, but I’m still not sure they’re good. Maybe at the end of the year, we’ll find out they are. Or maybe not.

Truth be told, you could say exactly the same thing about the Timbers. Are we good? Maybe. Or maybe we suck. I don’t know. Ask me at the end of the year.

All I do know is that another March has passed without a win and that ain’t good.

One reason for me not to panic; our next two are at home. Are we in a six points or bust situation? Possibly. We’re definitely in a four points or bust situation. If we draw next week against Dallas, I’ll start panicking a little. If we follow that with another draw against Orlando City? Then I’m definitely panicking.

But who knows? Maybe we’ll get two straight wins. That will give us nine points in six games, which is perfectly acceptable.

To do it, though, we’ll have to be a hell of a lot better than we were Saturday in Vancouver. We need Asprilla to start, we need Nagbe to shoot, we need Fochive to fire it up from distance, and we need the doctors to reattach Villafana’s leg. Fingers crossed.

4 Comments Six Degrees: No, Go Ahead, You Take It

  1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    CI, first off, I hope you are better. You know I appreciate your regular contributions to this site. I like it when people lead me to think, even more than when people lead me to laugh. You often do both.

    Having said all that sweet and syrupy stuff, I think you are wrong this week.

    (1) I really believe the chances came because the clock was running out and we were behind, not because of personnel. We had wonderful chances throughout the game, no matter who was on the field. It is taking us the wrong way to make personnel preferences based on this game. We really need to figure out instead why there is such a drop-off in chances created whenever we score, and why we seem unable to attain a 2-0 lead in a game, and why it doesn’t seem to matter whether this is a first-rate team, or a group who can’t get their act together. Something is keeping us from dominating games with scoring, independent of the personnel on field from either team.

    (2) You are spot on. I don’t believe Porter knows. We sure do need some ideas.

    (3) On diving, you are right.

    It would help tremendously if our players did not initiate stupid contact, like putting elbows in backs. Even (especially) if it doesn’t do anything we ought to catch on some day that attackers are going to go down when they feel that contact from a defender. I really don’t care if attacking players are diving–I don’t want us to give them any legitimate excuse. We keep doing this. Time after time our cry after a call is “but that was incidental contact, it wasn’t THAT heavy a touch.” How about changing this to “the cameras show we did not touch him.” That is when disciplinary committees, with the advantage of video and caffeine vs alcohol, institute fines and suspensions for simulation.

    As my dear mom used to say “whether you did the bad thing or not, if you had the sense to not be that close, no one would suspect you.”

    On goalkeeping (on a good day I can count to six, or at least to two), I don’t know. I will second your request. Please, any keeper experts out there, give us your run-down on Kwarasey. After watching Orlando play, I do not believe that Donovan Ricketts in 2015 would make that save every time. It was a keeper error–the near post is the keeper’s. The second goal–I don’t know. I do know that neither error was even close to the level of the blunder of arguably our two most experienced, solid, and unlikely-to-make-errors players on the team on the score that cost us the game.

    There is something, probably related to the first unknown psychological something, that is responsible for both. It has infected the entire team and is responsible for an uncharacteristic lack of concentration exactly when we need it the most. In this way, these guys are acting like amateurs, not seasoned professionals. Like everyone has a single indulgence to commit one rookie mistake each game, and there is a competition to see whose sin can create the most chaos and destruction.

    (4) yep. what he said. as in the last part of #3. Although the offside rule is intended to prevent that sort of play from happening, and if Earnshaw were off-sides (I believe he was) without the trap, that sort of makes the case stronger. Surely, a defender has to choose whether to participate in an off-sides trap or to defend a charging attacker. Standing there watching is not an acceptable option. That was, apparently, Powell’s contribution to the “biggest impact rookie mistake competition”. There ought to be a rule that multiple cards cannot be played simultaneously. Just unfair to the rest of the team who have to cover for the rookie errors.

    (5) When we start looking at individual players, we really go astray. It is not a personnel issue. We have one of the strongest lineups in the league. Players like Fochive usually sit on our bench! This man would start on most MLS teams. The problem is not shooting. Even Nagbe is shooting more often, recently. The problem is shots in anger. At the goal.

    One of the warm up exercises has our strikers running at the goal, getting a feed from a coach. The whole thing is relaxed, and no one seems to care really whether the ball goes in or not. There are no consequences for a sky ball, and no rewards for a scorcher in the far corner. It almost seems we don’t ever leave that mode. That Chara’s hit on the ball toward the goal is not even clearly a shot rather than a cross to someone not there. There are no sizzle marks on the green carpet, no stain remover needed. Opposing keepers are not being moved a foot backwards by the force of the ball they do stop.

    Almost as if our attackers are afraid to score. Is it a hardship to find places to put additional log slices? Shit, I will store log slices for any Timbers player, clean sheet or goal, if that is the problem. Free of charge or further responsibility. What IS the problem?

    But notice that it affects Asprilla just as much as Nagbe. For all of his shots, there were no Asprilla goals. And, as expected, his frenetic activity sometimes seems disjointed from the rest of the team. Maybe Chara’s two goals in one game last year traumatized the rest of the team, like the Chara curse was lifted, but fell on the whole team? I don’t know, but we have to figure this out.

    Remember when our strikers claimed “we get no service?” We do seem to have fixed that problem.

    (6) Don’t panic, CI. I can just imagine, and tremble, what a CI DeMann full-out panic might look like. And it wouldn’t help anything. We have so many personnel options and have tried them all. Our guys are performing on all the stats except actual scoring and making bone-headed errors that cost us uncharacteristic goals. This is true across the team.

    It really is frustrating, but we need to keep working. It is like we have this amazing ’57 classic that is shiny and glossy and its original radio works perfectly and everything is great except when we hit the accelerator, it stalls. We have cleaned and replaced the carburetor and fuel supply and every spec is perfect. Except it stalls.

    As tempted as we might be, it makes no sense to drive this beauty over a cliff. All the component pieces are there, and our mechanic team is amazing. Sometimes these problems are really difficult to find and fix. We just have to keep thinking, avoid getting fixated on a solution that doesn’t work, hit the library, ask all the old guys, and maybe experience some mind-clearing great sex. Just don’t take a sledgehammer to it, or try putting some second-rate after market carburetor in place of the powerful original. Don’t pour voodoo additives into the pristine oil. Don’t switch to cheap, dirty fuel. Don’t scratch the paint or repaint the car. Don’t replace the windshield with a bullet-proof model.

    We do not need to remake this winning team. We just need to figure out what is causing this consistent stall. Something doesn’t add up.

    Reply
  2. thecaveatlector

    On Kwarasey, here are my credentials: I started playing goalkeeper when I was 13 (previously a defender). I played through college. I was scouted to take part in ODP. I was trained by a coach who played in England (lower levels) and throughout North America.

    Yes, Kwarasey is a good goalkeeper. He’s good enough to play for a solid national team. He was goalkeeper of the year during his stint in Norway.

    During the preseason, Kwarasey was barely tested. To my mind, he looks like he hasn’t been playing for a while. He knows what he’s doing, but the mechanics are rusty. So, for example, he doesn’t command his box well when the ball is in the air (though, this may be a general characteristic of his game). Also, he seems to give up a lot of rebounds. Most of them he immediately smothers, but that is still worrisome.

    Regarding the goals on Saturday, the second goal is definitely not his fault. Earnshaw receives the pass outside the penalty box, and he is roughly in the center of the goal. Kwarasey closes down a lot of ground, but Earnshaw has time to pick his shot, a lot of goal to aim at, and no defenders harassing him. Kwarasey is absolved there.

    The first goal is tricky. When I saw the game live, I thought he should have saved the goal. It seemed like he reacted late and made an awkward dive. This gets to the rusty mechanics I mentioned earlier. However, I just watched the highlights again, and there is an angle from behind the Vancouver goal that may lessen some of my critique. He may not have been able to see the ball until it clears the wall. If this is the case, it explains why he was late and made an awkward dive. He had less time to react. Mezquida’s shot is fast and perfectly placed inside the near post. If Kwarasey couldn’t see the ball until it cleared the wall, it is impressive that he even got as close as he did.

    Is Kwarasey a good goalkeeper? Yes. Quite frankly, he hasn’t had a lot to do. There is worry because he isn’t making the kinds of saves that Ousted made in this weekend’s game (and the kinds of save the Ricketts made in 2013). On the flip side, Kwarasey hasn’t had a lot of chances to make those saves.

    Speaking of Ousted, he made a number of gaffes when he first moved to MLS. Look at him now. I have the slightest fear that Kwarasey will be a flop. However, he is young for a goalkeeper, and he has a background that says he is good. Goalkeeping is heavily influenced by confidence, especially in one’s mechanics. If you do everything right but give up a bunch of goals because your team sucks, as a keeper, you can take the field the next game feeling confident. Once Kwarasey gets comfortable with himself, his new home, and the peculiarities of MLS, I think he’ll prove to be a solid keeper.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      This is perfect. Thank you. This is exactly what I wanted. From here on, you’re my go-to guy on keepers.

      I agree, Kwarasey hasn’t had much to do and, in a way, this is a good thing. Ideally, a keeper will have to make zero saves a game. Unfortunately, maybe that’ll make a guy rusty. It’s a fine line, I suppose. We’ll see where things stand in a couple months, when Kwarasey’s finally got a feel for the team and the league.

      Reply

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