Six Degrees: Not With A Bang, But A Whimper

vancouver-melano-miss

In the course of five days, the Portland Timbers were knocked out of the Champions League, knocked out of the MLS playoffs, and managed to lose a seemingly unloseable Cascadia Cup. In a year full of bad weeks, I think this week probably qualifies as the worst.

1) What is there to say about Sunday’s 4-1 loss in Vancouver? It was awful in pretty much every respect. The team showed no fight. The offense was tame, the defense inept. Hell, even our one goal was weak. Not at all what I would call a stone cold penalty.

We could’ve lost the game by two and still won the Cascadia Cup, but to be honest, I’m kind of glad we didn’t. After that performance, we didn’t deserve a trophy.

So I’m actually not going to talk about the game too much. It was an ugly performance, the season’s over, and that’s pretty much all there is to say.

2) I will, however, make a few real quick points.

One, we might be able to play a single defensive midfielder if that guy’s Diego Chara, but otherwise, no. Not this year. God bless Jack Jewsbury, but he let people hang out in the top of the box like it was his job.

Jermaine Taylor is a replacement-level MLS player. Steven Taylor is not. If I were the Timbers front office, I’d buy him a one-way ticket out of town on the next thing smoking.

After a few very good games on the left wing, I finally saw the Darren Mattocks that Vancouver fans have been warning us about. Quick fucking around with the ball, Darren. Pass it or shoot it, but don’t just stand there doing step overs.

And then, late in the game, much to everyone’s surprise, Gbenga Orokoyo got capped. I’m not sure why, unless Coach decided the game was over and wanted to see if the new kid should be brought back next year. Whatever the reason, Orokoyo had a nice moment around the 83rd minute, stoning Erik Hurtado in the open field. Welcome to the team, kid. Now go help Steven Taylor pack his bags.

3) Now that all that’s out of the way, let’s put the season to bed by checking out a few numbers. Looking at MLS team statistics for 2016, the Timbers were remarkably average in most areas. And middle of the pack stats seems appropriate for a team that finished in the middle of the pack. But the team was exceptional in a few areas.

For starters, the Timbers were last in league in interceptions per game. That’s worrisome.

The Timbers were middle of the league in fouls committed, but second in the league in fouls suffered. Top three sufferers? Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, and… wait for it… Diego Chara! I swear, it’s true.

Speaking of Timbers getting hacked, the Timbers tied for the MLS lead in penalty kicks attempted and most penalty kicks scored. Which I guess puts an end to that old belief that we never get any calls. For now, at least.

Here are some numbers I bet you’ve heard before: the Timbers tied for most home wins in the league, with 12, but were also the only team to go winless on the road.

And finally, though I can’t find any statistics to back this up, I’m going to go on record as saying the Timbers led the league in number of games lost to injury by key players. We may have set the league record. In fact, I’m pretty sure Diego Valeri pulled a hamstring while I was typing that sentence.

4) Call me crazy, but I’m actually sort of looking forward to the MLS Expansion Draft, not because I look forward to losing a player to next year’s debutantes – Sporting Minnesota City FC and Atlanta Atletico United FC – but because it’s kind of fun predicting who the Timbers will protect and who they won’t. We went through this two years ago – here’s what I said about it then  – and we’ll probably go through it again in another year or two.

A quick summary: the two newbie teams get to select five players each. Current teams can only have one guy taken, then they’re safe. Pre-draft, each team can protect 11 guys. There are rules regarding Homegrown players and Generation Adidas players and Designated players, but I think the only rule we need to worry about is “you must protect DPs.” I think so, at least. MLS likes to keep their rules and sub-rules and sub-sub-rules a little opaque.

So let’s get to the fun. Which 11 guys do the Timbers protect? And which guys do they not mind losing?

Right now, we have three DPs – Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Lucas Melano. When the expansion draft happens on December 13, will all three still be on the team? Valeri, certainly. Adi, I hope so. Melano, almost certainly not, though I have no idea how we’ll actually get rid of him. Trade? Do the rules allow us to out-and-out dump him? The team will want to get something back on their investment, but from whom and in what fashion? This stuff’s complicated in any league, but I think it’s probably even more complicated in MLS.

  • Here are the 11 guys I think we’ll protect: Valeri, Nagbe, Gleeson, Ridgewell, Chara, Powell, Vytas, Mattocks, Barmby, Zemanski, Adi (if he’s with the team), Valentin (if he’s not). I could be convinced to flip Zemanski and Valentin.
  • Here are the guys I don’t want on the team next year, so they better not be protected, and dear God, someone take them, please, I’m begging you: Steven Taylor.
  • Here are the guys I think we’ll leave unprotected but who have some chance of getting picked: McInerney, Peay, Brett, Arokoyo.
  • Here are the guys I think we don’t have to worry about because they’re very unlikely to get picked: everyone else.

In 2014, the expansion teams could take 10 players each. This year, it’s only five, which ain’t many. It’s so few, in fact, that the Timbers might not have a single player taken. Still, if I were starting a team, would I take JackMac? Yeah, I probably would. Give him 30 starts and he’ll get you 10 goals. And with that, I’m starting to rethink my list of protected players. Maybe I should protect JackMac after all.

What do you think of my list? Anyone you’d protect that I didn’t? More importantly, who do you think the Timbers front office will protect?

5) Now that you’re done playing General Manager, it’s time to play Coach. It’s March of 2017, it’s the first game of the year, and you’ve got to name a Starting XI. What names are you writing on that lineup card?

I’ll go first. And I’ll even try to predict how they line up.

Gleeson

Powell     Unknown CB     Ridgewell     Vytas

Valeri     Chara     Nagbe

Barmby     Unknown Striker     Mattocks

I don’t feel terribly confident about this. Barmby could definitely be replaced by “Unknown Winger.” Likewise, “Unknown CB” could be replaced by J Taylor or S Taylor, God help us all. “Unknown Striker” could definitely be replaced by either Adi or JackMac. Or neither. Or both.

I’ve put the team in a 4-3-3, but it could be a 4-4-2 with Adi and Jack. Or a 4-2-3-1 with Zemanski next to Chara. Or some weirdo formation no one sees coming.

In January or February, we’ll have a better sense of the roster. Not an absolutely definitely final sense of it, as the team’s had early-season signings before, but at least a better sense. Then we can really think about lineups and formations.

6) These expansion drafts and trades and releases and signings are called the Silly Season, but if you ask me, they’re also sort of fun. And after the Sad Season we just went through, I could do with a bit of fun.

2016 wasn’t the worst year ever. We hung around until the final weekend (which is more than our MLS Cup opponent Columbus Crew can say). We entered the final game of the year with a chance to get a home playoff game. Yeah, sure, we didn’t do it, but at least we were there. Caleb Porter hasn’t turned us into a team that dominates every year, but he has turned us into a team that’s relevant every year.

Would I like to dominate next year? Yes. Can I accept another year of being merely relevant? Yes.

Would I like to be the Red Bulls or the Galaxy? Yes. Am I glad we’re not the Chicago Fire? Absolutely.

Next year, we can’t possibly have so many injuries. Next year, we can’t possibly go winless on the road. Next year, I predict we’ll make the playoffs. Next year, I predict we’ll have a little more fun and, hopefully, some glory as well.  I’ll see you then.

16 Comments Six Degrees: Not With A Bang, But A Whimper

  1. John Lawes

    I thought that what was interesting about your post this week was that you didn’t really mention the coaching. Because I’d like to think the CP is sitting at home very silent next to his whisky contemplating his season and the might have beens.

    Why did you think that the Great Speed Bump of Taylor would work, coach? Because Steve Taylor played for Newcastle, the team that stank up the EPL last season and got relegated? Why did you think that EITHER Toylor was better than Okugo or Peay, both of whom looked better alongside Ridgy than either Taylor did?

    Why, in fact – for a man with a college vita, did you not try ANY of your young players until it was too late. What, Ned Fucking Grabavoy was so tearing up the league that it wasn’t worth a look a that kid Bijev that really WAS tearing up the USL?

    We’ve seen Mattocks when he’s on. He doesn’t DO that fucking stepover-stepover-lose possession shit. You’re his coach, you didn’t think to take him aside and say “Gee, Darren…that stepover-stepover-lose possession shit works like a fat kid on a balance beam. How about you try this, instead..?”

    Why did you think that Melano was worth playing instead of…well, pretty much anybody?

    Why did you think that defend-and-counter would work when 1) you had a defense that fell apart to injuries early and never recovered and 2) you had a midfield that never really clicked and 3) you had no consistent wing play?

    I’d love to blame this season on the injuries and bad luck. But I think that a hell of a lot of this season comes down to CP’s limitations. Now…I like Porter. I think he’s a smart man and a smart coach, and I think he can learn from this and grow through the shortcomings he showed this season.

    But I think that needs to happen. I think he and GW and MP need to sit down and do some smart roster thinking this autumn. I think GW needs to build a better scouting system; if he wants to play moneyball be needs to have more information and a wider range than he does. I think that the Academy system and T2 need to start producing some MLS-level products.

    And I’d love to see it happen next season. But I’d settle for it STARTING to happen next season…

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

      I agree with pretty much every word of this. With Caleb’s background as coaching college freshmen, why is he so averse to playing the kids? And GW’s had some fine luck grabbing young players from elsewhere (Adi, Powell, Villafana, even Gleeson if we go back far enough), but his success in the college draft and in the academy is just non-existent. In our entire MLS era, exactly one draft pick has worked out (Nagbe).

      All these things may be interrelated. Maybe GW drafts poorly, so CP can’t play ’em. Maybe GW drafts well, but the fruit rots on the vine because CP won’t play ’em. Or maybe finding a 20 year old Alvas Powell is every bit as good as drafting a 20 year old right back out of UNC. And maybe the academy is doing the best it can, but it has less raw talent to work with because this is Oregon, not Texas, New York, or SoCal.

      I’m not making excuses, I’m just throwing ideas out there. Like I said at the start, I agree that we need to play our kids. ESPECIALLY if they’d be playing instead of the Taylors and Melanos and Grabavoys.

      Maybe CP feels the pressure to get points. Maybe he thinks Timberdom won’t tolerate a shitty year, even if it means we get to blood the kids. And I would ask the same question: if we dumped a lot of older players and spent 2017 blooding the kids, would I be okay with that? What if we spent the year at the bottom of the table? Would I still be okay with that? I honestly don’t have an answer. But it’s an interesting question.

      Reply
      1. jdlawes

        I’d buy the “plays the vets for fear of dropping points on youthful errors” more if those vets hadn’t been dropping points right and left. At some point the choice is between sacrificing the present for the future and losing the present anyway…

        At this point I want to see EITHER a youth movement OR better trades and signings. Signing mediocre veterans isn’t even a good short-term plan…

        Reply
      2. Roy Gathercoal

        Most MLS teams have crappy records with the drafts. It is simply really difficult to make it as a professional player, and only a handful of players can make the grade each year. If you are not at the top of the list, it is difficult to get an Andre Blake. . . And no coach seems to be able to reliably predict which candidates will work out–the most experienced coaches in the league (Schmid and Arena) both put much less emphasis on the Superdraft than most new coaches do.

        So perhaps finding only one superstar in five years is not such a bad record.

        Reply
    2. Roy Gathercoal

      Is Barmby available in 2017? Wasn’t he here on a one-year loan from Leicester? And Porter just said he was looking for a pair of wingers, a holding mid and a center back, as well as depth that is reliable. Might it be that Porter did not play more of the bench because he saw in practice that they just weren’t up to the challenge? I don’t know–kinda makes me wish we could watch practices. . . on the other hand, it is not our call to make anyway. . .

      Grabavoy announced his retirement, so he was a one-year “plug-a-hole” player.

      We might be needing to look for another keeper, the way the off-season has started. Depending on how it goes, the process for getting reinstated could be tough.

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

        In the past, it’s been Timbers policy to only bring guys in on loan if we have the option to buy. I assume this is also the case with Barmby, though I don’t know the specifics. Do they have to buy this offseason? Would they want to buy, based on what they’ve seen? Personally, I’d take him for a low price. A Ben Zemanski price. Right now, he’s a backup at best, but I’d still like him back. I’d like to watch him grow.

        Reply
  2. John Lawes

    Oh, and I’m not sure I’d characterize last Sunday as even so much as a “whimper”. That patient was DOA.

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

      I LOVE Borchers, but at his age and with that injury, his career may be over. No way is an expansion team taking a chance on him. I really hope he heals well and finds the field again. If he does, I think it can only be here in Portland. Maybe RSL, but probably not.

      Reply
  3. jdlawes

    As a sort of historical curiosity my question would be; do the two losses – to Saprissa and Vancouver – displace the CalFC loss as “low point in franchise history”? I’d say yes, just because the expectations were so much higher this season. But I’m open to refutation…

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

      And what if we make it “Saprissa loss/Vancouver loss/two players arrested for DUI all in one week?” That’s a hell of a low point. That’s damn near Death Valley.

      Reply
  4. Roy Gathercoal

    The week was awful, but the team is not nearly as bad off as some seem to think. Porter said to expect “3 or 4 new starters”. I just don’t see the Timbers as an awful team with awful coaching. Our academy is what, 1 year old? T2 has been in existence for 2 years?

    We got hammered by teams this year. No one had nearly as many Red Cards against as we did, especially if you count the suspensions handed out by the Disciplinary Committee the following week. . . What is with that? Why did officials so frequently fail to call blatant red cards against our opponents? And think of this–one of the seven (or so) times in which a red card should have been given–according to MLS Disciplinary Committee (and it requires a unanimous vote)–would have made the awful week less awful because we would be in the playoffs. Just one (of the several right ones).

    I also got really tired of opposing coaches saying in the postgame “this was our best performance of the season”–including the last Vancouver game. There is something about playing the champs that motivates a team, and makes repeats so very difficult. I still wonder if our amazing atmosphere at Providence Park might well coax the best out of opposing teams as well, although we did have a good home record.

    I really do wonder if the new “sports science” that regulates so much of an athlete’s life and attempts to calculate so finely so many factors might be partly responsible for the wealth of injuries. Seems to me that changing human factors from analog to digital opens the way to many misunderstandings. Perhaps the guys need to feel like they are “off the clock” at some time during the season?

    Like so many other MLS teams we seem to have been burned by Melano as DP. But remember, we were bidding against other teams, so it was not a bad decision in front. And it might be that next year Melano will shine, having taken a year to acclimate to life in a different country, with a language in which he is not fluent, and separated from family and friends. Many players fail to impress the first year, and I would really hate to take a big financial hit by selling Melano cheaply this off season only to see him come alive and meet everyone’s expectations next year. . .

    I think Borchers will be back–otherwise he would have announced his retirement without the difficult road of returning his body to match fitness. I suspect Zemanski is done. A collapsed lung is not a minor thing, and is often a sign of some other bigger problem. And two consecutive years in rehab is tough to take.

    I also like Peay. And don’t like S Taylor’s performance this year. Yet, I also don’t see what is going on in practice every day. Perhaps young Peay needs some maturing before he is a regular starter? Or maybe he suffers from some fatal flaw in his game that needs to be worked out so that MLS attackers don’t disect him? I don’t know.

    I do know that in MLS, where there is only a couple of games difference between third and seventh, “making the play-offs” is not a good indication of a successful season. Especially considering that teams who win the Supporter’s Shield tend to tank in the play-offs. It takes different teams to accomplish each task these days.

    Patience is really what is called for in this situation. Let’s not become a Toronto, who is so quick to fire people it never grows a complete team, in spite of the huge budget. Instead, look at Colorado and see how a “last-to-first” single season transformation is achievable in this league. We can do it as well. . .

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

      You mentioned other teams getting poor returns on DPs and I immediately thought of Valdez up in Seattle. He’s been an unmitigated disaster for them… until these playoffs. It makes me think of Melano’s two moments of glory, also in the playoffs. Maybe Valdez and Melano will share that legacy: “Generally shite, but oh my, did they have a couple big playoff goals for us.”

      Reply

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