As I’ve pointed out many times, these columns are a lot more fun to write when the team’s winning. And more fun to read, I’m sure. But, alas, alack, our dreams of 34-0-0 lie dead at our feet. Let’s break it down.
1) Let’s start by raising a toast to absent friends. Or absent starters, in this case. You know we were missing four starters on Saturday, right? Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman were on international duty, while Liam Ridgewell and Vytautus Andriuskevicius1 were out with injury. If you count lost-for-the-year Gbenga Arokoyo, then we were actually down five starters.
Am I bitching? Not really. Mostly, I’m impressed. The team did pretty well, considering. Missing 45% of our starters and we come within five minutes of getting a road point? Not too shabby.
The injuries? I don’t have much to say about those. Get well soon, I guess.
The international absences, though? It seems like everyone’s got an opinion about that. The league had three games this week. Should they have? A few games? No games? Avoid the problem entirely by shifting the whole season to the winter months2 like they do in other countries? What should MLS do?
My not-terribly-strong opinion: just have a normal weekend of games. Make every team play. Yeah, sure, most teams would have one or two players gone, but those would just cancel out. And the teams with zero players on international rosters? Well, those teams probably suck anyway, right? So the international break would be the one weekend of the year they’d have a small advantage. And the other teams? The good teams? It would be a weekend to find out who’s got the best bench.
And this weekend, the Timbers got to do just that. Test the bench. Find out how we can do with 5 of 11 positions filled by second-string players. Or third-string. Or perhaps fourth-string, in the case of Zarek Valentin.3
So anyway, keep all this in mind. As I bitch about our missteps Saturday, keep in mind that I know we did it with a patchwork starting XI. The team may have lost, but they can walk away with their head held high.
2) Speaking of holding your head high, Dairon Asprilla got his first start of the year. Apparently, dude’s been crushing it in practice, which might be why he got the start instead of Darren Mattocks. It only took him four minutes to reward Caleb Porter’s decision.
— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) March 25, 2017
The graphics in this video are from Ben Baer, who’s a good follow on Twitter (@benbaer89). Two things to notice: One, the pass from Sebastian Blanco splits about five or six defenders, and two, look how the farside center back is keeping Asprilla onside.
Or is he? Here’s another, more definitive look.
— SoccerPhotogrammetry (@OffsideModeling) March 27, 2017
Oh, well. Maybe we got a tiny bit lucky. It was still a hell of a finish.
Another great finish was in first half stoppage time, when Fanendo Adi took a second or two to be all fumbly and stumbly4 in the center of the box, then recovered, gathered himself, and sent it home.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) March 26, 2017
Adi has four goals this year. Three of them were scored in stoppage time. The other was in the 88th minute. I have no idea what to say about this, other than that it’s bizarre and awesome and I’m kind of hoping he can keep this up the whole year, just for the freakiness of it.
3) Okay, that’s the good. Now, let’s get to the bad. It was a rough day for the defense. Particularly Lawrence Olum. Up to now, I’ve called him the Kenyan Messi, but on Saturday, he was just the Kenyan Mess. In this clip, keep your eye on number 13. He’s easy to spot because he barely moves.
What the fuck, Larry? You gotta jump, man! When a corner’s coming in like that, it’s traditional for defenders to, you know, defend.5 Not just stand there and watch.
I’ve been incredibly pleased with Olum this year. I may have used the phrase “astonishingly competent.” But against Columbus, he was the worst player on the field, and it wasn’t even close.
Damn, Larry. You’re getting beat like a drum. Are you tired? A little under the weather? You look slow, man. Slow and tired.6
To be clear, I really liked Olum in the first three games. If he can get back to that level, there’s no problem. But if he keeps playing slow and tired, the Mystery Center Back signing we keep hearing about can’t come soon enough.7
4) Olum’s problems were all in front of goal, but to be honest, it felt like this game was decided in the middle of the field, where Columbus absolutely owned us.
Columbus out possessed us 64% to 36%. They out passed us 572 to 317. Their passing accuracy was 82%. Ours was 74%.
The guy who did the most damage was Federico Higuain.8 He ran amok the entire day, making non-stop trouble for the Timbers.
My two takeaways? One, this is bad. Two, David Guzman and Darlington Nagbe would have improved things tremendously. Think Columbus would have run wild in the center of the pitch if Guzman had been on patrol? I seriously doubt it. Think possession machine Nagbe would have improved our possession? Our passing percentages? Yes and yes.9
So I guess this is me, once again, saying things were bad, but maybe we can let it slide this time. A bunch of backups went on the road and – with some exceptions – played a pretty solid game. It could have been better, but it could have been much, much worse.
5) You know what couldn’t have been worse? The refereeing. Silviu Petrescu put on a masterclass in how to call a game when you’re drunk and irritable.
First, the non-calls.
— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) March 26, 2017
This is either a hell of a flop by Adi, or that center back’s a hell of a strong dude, tossing Adi around like a rag doll. Either way, no call from Petrescu.
And no call here, either. Columbus scored about 5 seconds later. Which… you know… sucks.
Those were the shitty non-calls, but Petrescu did make some calls, and yes, they were shitty.
— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) March 26, 2017
Granted, Chara’s reaction is kind of adorable, but that doesn’t change the ridiculousness of the call. Definitely not a yellow. I’m not even sure it’s a foul.
Speaking of which…
Goes for the ball? Check. Gets the ball? Check. Studs down? Check. Completes the pass to Sebastian Blanco? Check. Is rewarded with a yellow card? Check.
Honestly, I’m not sure MLS referees even know what to call these days. Did this year’s “points of emphasis” mess them up or something? Because it feels like they’re just randomly calling shit.
And, oh boy, are the yellow cards flying. In 2016, Marcelo Sarvas led MLS with 11 yellow cards. In 2017, Diego Chara’s on pace for 25. Darlington Nagbe’s on pace for 17. Darlington. Nagbe.
I guess all we can do is hope the league’s Disciplinary Committee rescinds some of these bad bookings and the referees get together and decide what the rules of soccer are. Until they do, I think we can expect one or two mystifying, infuriating yellow cards per game.
6) Next up, New England at home.
So far this year, the Revolution have had one game postponed due to weather.10 They’ve lost to Dallas and Colorado, two good teams, both games on the road. They’ve scored six goals on the year, but five of those were in this weekend’s win over Minnesota.11 As is often the case early in the year, it’s hard to tell what sort of team New England is.
Although you could sorta say the same about us. I mean, we’ve definitely got a great offense, having put up 5 goals, 1 goal, 4 goals, and 2 goals. But are we a possession-based team or a counter-attacking team? Before the season, Caleb Porter said we’d be a possession-based team, but is that happening? We had 59% possession versus Houston, but 49% versus LA, 46% versus Minnesota, and 36% versus Columbus.
So was all the preseason talk of slow buildup just talk? Or are the injuries and illnesses and international absences preventing us from playing the way Porter wants?
Well, at least we’re scoring goals, regardless of how we do it. And, aside from this weekend, at least we’re winning. As we flip the calendar from March to April, there’s no denying that this has been the best start the MLS Timbers have ever had. As a result, instead of spending the year trying to climb out of an early-season hole, the 2017 Timbers get to play King of the Mountain, fighting off all the slow-starting teams. There’s anxiety in that, of course, but it will be a different sort of anxiety, a different sort of season than we’re used to.
I, for one, call it a welcome change. And I look forward to holding the top of the hill as long as possible.
Insert spelling joke here. Did you know you don’t have to click on the footnotes to see my stupid jokes? Just hold your pointer over the number and the stupid joke will magically appear. But the IQ points you lose reading my stupid jokes? Sorry, my friend, but those are gone forever. ↩
Minnesota would actually wear snowshoes instead of cleats. Actually, are they wearing snowshoes now? That would explain a lot. ↩
I’m still holding firm to my theory that Marco Farfan caught mono making out with every girl at Centennial High. ↩
I have no idea what these words mean. I’m pretty sure I just made them up. ↩
Or spin in a circle, if you play for Minnesota. In snowshoes. ↩
Maybe Marco Farfan‘s not the only Timber with mono? ↩
I’m still holding out hope for Cameroonian center back Yaya Banana. A boy can dream, can’t he? ↩
Who I’m convinced came out of his mother’s womb looking 52 years old and exhausted. ↩
Unrelated topic: How great was it seeing Nagbe and Villafana manning the left side for the USMNT last week? I love me some Vytas, but I’d take Jorge back in a second. ↩
While Minnesota played in a driving blizzard. In snowshoes. ↩
Should teams get the full three points for beating Minnesota? Maybe two-and-a-half points? ↩