Six Degrees: Schizophrenic

dallas Photo - USATI

Two weeks ago we were destroyed on the road. Last week we were the destroyers at home. This week, we were back to being destroyed. I’d go with the “Will the real Portland Timbers please stand up” joke, but I’m starting to think this is the real Portland Timbers.

1) It was an ugly game and this is going to be an ugly column, so what do you say we start with some positives? In fact, by my count, the Timbers has exactly three positive things over the course of 90 minutes. And that’s maybe three. Possibly two and a half.

First there’s this almost goal when we were down 1-0. Does this count as a positive thing, considering we didn’t actually score? Still, it was exciting. If we’d finished it, this might have been a very different game.

Later, Zarek Valentin saves Jake Gleeson’s bacon. The game was over by this point, so again, this may not be a positive, but we’ll take what we can get.

And the final good thing, which again had no impact on the result was Diego Valeri’s lovely finish.

At the start, I said we had three positive things, but honestly, they were all half-positives, so adding them up gives us 90 minutes with one and a half good things. Go Timbers!

2) And now for the bad. And none of these were half-bads. This is a solid three.

On this penalty, bad play by Jake Gleeson.  He should’ve just shielded the goal and let Valentin clean up behind him.  Still, in the heat of the moment, dem’s da breaks.

I’m not sure what Liam Ridgewell thinks he’s doing here, but I know what he’s not doing: marking the late run into the box.

To be fair, Walker Zimmerman’s one of the best aerial threats in the league, but still, Steven Taylor got abused.

And trust me, there are many more shitty Timber moments I’ve left out, but I think we can agree that seeing them once was enough.

3) As a team, the Timbers are schizophrenic, but if I were to play amateur soccer psychologist, I’d express particular concern over Lucas Melano. Is it just me or does he hang his head a lot? A little trouble early, a missed shot, a missed pass, and he seems to disappear, particularly on defense. This is especially bad on the road, where he doesn’t have the Timbers Army to build him back up.

This wouldn’t be a problem if he were a bench player, but as sad as this is to say, he’s one of the major cogs in our offense. He’s one of three or four players who have to deliver for us to win. Psychologically, I worry he’s not up to that level of responsibility. He could be someday, but right now he’s not.

I wish we were so offensively loaded that we could bring him on as a late game super sub. A guy with no pressure on his shoulders. That seems like the ideal situation for him at this stage in his career and, sadly, the Timbers aren’t set up to give him that.

Am I giving up on Luca? No. Am I worried? Yes. And so is probably everyone else in Timberdom.

4) Let’s talk about the defense. Yeah, I don’t want to either, but it needs to done.

The defense was a shit show at Seattle, giving up three goals. At home last week, they were solid for 85 minutes, but managed to give up two goals in the other five. This week in Dallas, it was a mess pretty much the whole game. That’s eight goals in three games, which I’m pretty sure is Not Good.

Yes, Alvas Powell was missing this week, but the rest of the back line was supposedly first choice. That “supposedly” is especially relevant for new center back Steven Taylor who, up to now, has not looked any better than Jermaine Taylor or Amobi Okugo or even Taylor Peay. By some reckoning, Taylor has been to blame for five goals in just three games. Again, I’m pretty sure this is Not Good.

Liam Ridgewell, you just got a new contract. I won’t be happy with this if it’s just you playing well. If the Timbers are going to give a center back a big money contract, I want him fixing both center back positions. Hell, I want him fixing the whole back line. You’ve got six games, Ridgy. Whip your fellow Englishman into shape.

5) We’re getting to the point where people are starting to give up on the Timbers. Even worse, giving up on them is starting to seem reasonable. No road wins? No two-game winning streak the entire year? A team like that can’t make the playoffs. They just can’t.

So let’s make these next two degrees about giving up versus not giving up, okay?

First on the docket, giving up on the playoffs. If you’re in this camp, what should the Timbers do with the rest of the season?

One option, play the kids. Play the hell out of Jack Barmby and Taylor Peay and a few T2 players we haven’t seen at all. Give them some meaningful minutes, see what they’re made of, let that guide our moves in the off season.

Another option, play nothing but bench players on the road – after all, we’re not going to win there anyway – and save our varsity squad for home games and CCL games. Yes, it would feel like giving up, but wouldn’t a nice CCL run soothe some of the pain?

6) Next up, if you’re not ready to give up on the playoffs. And damn it all, after the late run we went on in 2015, how can we give up? Last year’s team was below the red line with three games left. This year’s team is currently above the rest line. As shitty as we’ve looked, there’s no denying that we’re in a better position this year.

Even more reason for hope? We have three more road games. Two are against Houston and Vancouver, the bottom two teams in the conference. The other road game’s against Colorado, who started the season brilliantly, but have won two games in their last 11. We may be stinking it up, but we’ve won three in our last 11.

In other words, there’s hope. It’s slim hope, sure, it’s hope the team has done very little to earn, sure, but it’s hope nonetheless. After 2015, after being below the red line with three games left, then winning the Cup, we may never be able to abandon hope again. The 2015 Timbers gave us either a gift or a curse.

We’ve got two straight at home. We can win at home. A two game winning streak? Six points out of six? That would do a lot to right this wildly rocking, schizophrenic ship.

8 Comments Six Degrees: Schizophrenic

  1. jdlawes

    I won’t kid you. I turn off Timbers games thinking “Thank Uhura Mazda I don’t have to write up THAT shitshow..!” You are a better man than I am.

    But…yeah. I kinda think this IS who we are. And that’s why, a decade from now, I’ll bet that LA has another couple of stars and FCD has one or two and (dear Buddha I hope not!) Seattle has one…and we’re still sporting

    1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

      No one can see a dynasty until after the fact. Even if we should end up winning, say, three of the next five MLS cups and a Shield with a pair of USOC titles, we might have a mediocre year 2 and 4 of the six. That might legitimately be called a dynasty, as sports fans tend to throw the term around.

      It is, however, not the case that the table is the only measure of greatness. Some of the most important qualities of greatness cannot be easily measured or counted.

  2. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    Schizophrenia is actually when somebody is out of touch with reality, often suffering delusions involving many senses. Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is somewhat of an outdated term, but it refers to someone who exhibits multiple personalities, which may or may not be aware of each other.

    I am not a psychologist, but I am married to one. As a research psychologist she encounters a lot of strange phenomena and I have come to greatly respect what is in our heads and how it affects what we do, even without our intentionally invoking anything.

    Dallas is on top of the table and we give lots of reasons for not winning away games (and some home games, as well). I am on record as being (perhaps even) pollyanna-ish about this team and its performance. I have even said (and still believe) this is a great team. This doesn’t mean I don’t have criticisms or even complaints–just that I believe we should not throw in the towel until it is wrenched from our unresponsive fingers. Sometimes a small issue can have devastating and unpredictable effects.

    If the Timbers were a client visiting a clinical psychologist, they might start off with telling their story, complaining “I can do it at home, but when I am somewhere else something always seems to happen and I fail.” Most psychologists would not then set about rearranging their entire personality, but rather focusing on what is different away from home. Probably something small and overlooked, which creates a cascade of effects. The Timbers would respond by giving explanations as to why each away attempt was unique.

    This last week we were treated to explanations from the Timbers that scoring first is the most important thing in a game because, well, statistics. We also read or heard the post game comments after the debacle in Dallas talking about how the game was essentially unwinnable after that second goal right before half.

    Instead of talking about how horrible things have been when giving up the first score, I want to hear how the team can show up to Dallas so flat and unready to play. The first score did not come out of nowhere–Portland was being run over (which is why there was a Dallas player 1-1 against Gleeson in the box so early in the game).

    Timbers teams of the best times of previous years were not afraid of scoring two goals in a half–not even of scoring two in extra time! Explain how this team can hang 5 on LA away to win 5-2 while then maintaining that going into the locker room 0-2 means “the game is out of reach.” You would think this team would be thinking not “if we don’t start right, it will be all over by half” but instead “how can we get into the right place so that no matter what happens we will be in the game until the final whistle.”

    That seems to be the big difference this season. Can anyone seriously compare the backline last year to that of this year, especially looking beyond the four main starters? And for all the praise and hand-wringing about Rodney Wallace, Maxi Urruti, (and to a lesser degree Will Johnson) if you look at their actual contribution on the stat sheet last season The improvements in Melano and Adi, and the contributions of JackMack and the great improvement in depth both in back and in players such as Grabavoy, Jewsbury and a returned Zemanski would lead any non-emotionally submerged observer to conclude our team this year is much better on paper than last.

    But last year we were amazing on the road, and this year we can’t win away from the comfortable bosom of the Timbers Army. Last year at this point we were asking “if the support of the Timbers Army is so important, then why does this team do better on the road than at home. This year, we are the last MLS to fail to snatch even a single road win. If Adi can lobby for a big raise based on his improvement of stats over last season, the army ought to be just about running the show this season!

    Which then leads us to the question: Why?

    (1) Why did our team suddenly seem to awaken from slumber in October (well, September 26th) and become so very good? The prevailing answer based on statistics last year was “the switch to the 4-3-3 and especially the move of Nagbe to the box-to-box role.” But then, we started the season with the 4-3-3 and Nagbe in that same position and have played that for many–perhaps most–of the road non-wins we have suffered (through)! Folks, if the *reason* for the dramatic change was the change in formation, then logically, keeping that change would keep the performance increase. Fail that explanation.

    (2) Why have we gone from a road warrior team to a homebodies team in just three months? I haven’t even heard a good stat-based account for this one to grade. . . but in a pre-emptive strike I will point out that our injuries have not been more severe for away games this year than for home games, and vice-versa last season. Injuries is not the answer.

    (3) Why can this team–with the exact same players–show up one week as the team nearly unstoppable while showing up the following (and previous weeks) looking like T2 (no offense to the reserve side)? Why have we apparently checked out early of so many games when last season we won so many at the end? We seem to have started out drawing games at the last minute, but where are the wins-from-the-draws?

    That is the thing about statistics and sports: Stats are built on an unavoidable underlying assumption that things are going to continue on just as they have–that any change will be a result of some observable and quantifiable factor. We all know that is not the case in sports. One big reason there are so many fans in the Timbers Army (and that the Timbers could maintain sell-out crowds even through the 2012 season/8-16-10/ -22 goal diff/4 points above Chivas) is that we all expect that something really really good could change at any given moment. We forget the statistical predictions of the early season and pretend the stats people have always known that New York City would end up at the top of the East while Columbus would become a bottom-dweller on the table.

    And because of statistics, we eagerly search yesterday’s headline for *the reason* for the most recent turnabout in success on the field. So we get the incredibly flimsy situation in which we tell ourselves that a formation tweak was the answer last year, or that injuries are why we can’t win away this season. There might be a difference, but this correlation in winning and some other stat does not mean the second stat change caused the first, any more than the highly correlated height/grade stats in elementary school does not mean that growing 2 inches this year means that Johnny will jump 4th grade this year!


    So instead of looking at changing personnel again or changing the formation etc., I would suggest something else. (I see those eyebrows raised!)

    The gap in our performance is not in personnel, but in motivation. This is why we are all over the board in terms of performance. I believe something happened as a result of the unlikely championship that changed how this team prepares for games, inside their heads.

    This year we seem to be in that “European” mindset which says that teams are what they are, and so you expect good teams to always win and bad teams to always lose, and changes to this are truly upsets to the system. I much prefer the American way of seeing things, which is more like “don’t you dare snooze even 4 goals up with 10 minutes left, because we are capable of turning to our guts and character and pulling a world-class upset any given game.” We are the country of beating Russia in hockey and winning vs USSR with an improbable last-second shot in basketball, and of the late inning rally caps.

    The bit I saw on the television last week of Caleb Porter in the locker room giving his pre-game speech was, well, uninspiring. It seemed he didn’t believe. I cannot imagine this is because he is no longer a fighter, but it could be that he now gives a little too much weight to the maturity and age of his players. True, these are not high school players, but everyone needs a good motivational talk from time to time (not every day, please!) and when the team is heading out to the field for another away game seems like a dandy time. For some emotional punch.

    In a lot of ways I am old-fashioned, and perhaps the legends of “win one for the Gipper” are simply too deep and well ingrained. Or it could be that the incredible support of the Timbers Army is enough to charge up these war-weary veterans even without the “this band of brothers” Henry VI speech. Now Shakespeare, he might have made a fine motivational speaker.

    I hope I am right at least half way. Today we face RSL without Olave at home. Next week is another story.

  3. jdlawes

    To keep it concise, Roy; “how many battalions has Shakespeare?”

    We had a terrific, incredible run to end 2015. That’s it. Before and since? We’re flattered to be a mid-table team. It’s really that simple. We’re not as good as we were at the end of last season, and a huge part of that is losing critical pieces like Villafana, RFW, and Urruti. The chemistry the Cup-winners had was unrepeatable once that team was broken up.

    It’s comforting to reach for complex psychological explanations. But the bottom line is that right now we’re as good as our record says we are. And that’s “not particularly good”.


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