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.