I’ve been jealous lately of my fellow Slide Rule Pass writer John Lawes. He gets to happily write about the consistently awesome Thorns, while I have to somehow find words to say about the maddening mess that is the Timbers.
But hey, what do you know, the Timbers went and won a game this weekend, so by God, I’m gonna write the shit out of it.
1) The Man of the Match Saturday night was undoubtedly Darlington Nagbe, who was on fire from start to finish. I don’t have a lot of gifs to show you, but trust me, he was doing all the usual Nagbe things – dribbling in and out of pressure, taking fouls, connecting passes – plus a few non-Nagbe things – like shooting, shooting, and shooting again.
I’ll give Jurgen Klinsmann $100 to call Darlington Nagbe every morning, tell him he sucks at soccer, and insult his mother. #RCTID
— Chris Rifer (@ChrisRifer) September 11, 2016
Here’s one quick gif showing the rarely-seen Angry Nags. It’s fun to see him all riled up, isn’t it. (But as upset as he is, it’s nothing compared to Diego Chara‘s fury. That guy’s terrifying, isn’t he?)
You know it is a questionable decision when Nagbe gets mad. pic.twitter.com/1iwer1BULG
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) September 11, 2016
And here’s a gif showing what happens when Angry Nags takes an Angry Shot.
In some ways, this was a lucky goal, in that Angry Nags’s Angry Shot deflects off two RSL guys, just to land at Fanendo Adi‘s feet. On the other hand, it wasn’t lucky at all, because Adi doesn’t just kick it wildly, hoping for the best. He collects it, fakes a shot, gets his defender out of the way, repositions, and puts the ball in such a place that Nick Rimando doesn’t even bother diving for it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a professional finish by a professional finisher.
2) Speaking of Adi and how great he is, watch this gif. Don’t watch the ball, though. Watch Adi.
Adi’s got his back to goal, a defender on his hip, watching the play develop. He’s pushing his man backward, pushing him backward, and then, when the pass finally comes his way, he doesn’t even touch it. He just spins quickly, putting himself between the man and the ball, takes a step or two, and one-times it toward goal. Yes, the shot was off target, but regardless, that entire sequence is just sensational. Tim Duncan wishes he had post up moves like that.
I’ve got to be honest, if I was Merritt Paulson (and maybe I am. You don’t know, do you?) I’d seriously consider breaking the bank this off season to keep Adi in town. How many players can consistently score 15 goals in this league, year after year? You can count them on two hands. Maybe one hand. Right now, we’ve got one of those guys. Is he worth Wondo money? Bradley Wright Phillips money? David Villa money? Hard to say. But he’s worth a raise, that’s for sure.
How much will it take to keep him here? I have no idea. Maybe more that the Timbers have. Still, guys like him are a rare thing in this league, so he probably deserves a rare paycheck.
3) Another guy who’s worth some money, Alvas Powell. At a certain point Saturday night, I found myself thinking that Powell has become the new Jorge Villafana, in that he is completely and totally reliable. During games, you can essentially forget about the right side, because Powell’s got it locked down. That’s how I felt about Villafana last year, and it’s how I feel about Powell now.
There is a difference, though. Powell tries stuff offensively that Villafana never tried. Like on this play. Alvas attempts some high degree-of-difficulty stuff and nearly pulls it off.
So I’m feeling really good about our right fullback. How are things with our left fullback? Watch Vytas Andriuskevicius in this gif. I like absolutely everything he does here.
He recognizes what Nagbe might do, spins and heads up field. When the pass doesn’t come, he keeps running, then receives the ball from Ned Grabavoy. He takes it aggressively into the box, his head up the entire time. He finishes the sequence by putting a soft ball right on Adi’s foot. It’s exactly what you want to see from a left back on offense. If he can do this well on defense, we might have a fullback tandem as good as Powell/Villafana.
4) I’ve got a lot to squeeze in today, so let’s have a speed round.
– Darren Mattocks has a history of trying too many jukes and feints and stepovers, but at one point Saturday night, he nearly pulled it off. I wish I had the gif to show you. I thought it was good game for Darren, but on the whole, I’m still Team Luca.
– Best game I’ve seen from Steven Taylor. Early in the game, he kicked it deep to Adi three or four times within five minutes. Those sort of passes are a little low percentage, but I have to believe it was part of the game plan. Maybe because Jamison Olave wasn’t there to guard Adi?
– Very scary injury to Adi at the end of the first half. I thought for sure he’d be subbed out at half, but apparently it wasn’t so bad. He’s even traveling to Saprissa.
– Outstanding shift from Ned Grabavoy. Best he’s looked all year.
– Amazing double save from Jake Gleeson at the 64th minute. I wish I had a gif to show you. Well done, Jake.
– Very quiet game from Diego Valeri, especially in the first half, but then he came back with some dangerous chances in the second, including this one, which… well… you know… Rimando.
– And finishing up our speed round, oh, my goodness, Joao Plata. You have no idea how lucky you are that your kick didn’t go six inches higher. Jack Jewsbury would have literally killed you, right there on the pitch.
5) And now, our weekly visit to the MLS standings.
Can you believe the Timbers are in such a good position? As crappy as we’ve played? It’s not us, of course, it’s all the shitty teams below us. They don’t want it any more than we do. They’re desperately afraid of that red line.
More amazing to me is that, as bad as we’ve looked lately, we’re not only staying above the teams below us, we’re actually gaining on the team above us. Look at our last nine games versus SKC’s last nine. We’ve got four wins, they’ve got three. Crazy, right? They’re out-sucking us.
Another interesting thing from those last nine games? Not a single draw. Remember when we were Team Draw? No more, apparently. Now it’s all wins and losses. Perhaps that’s why things have seemed so dire lately. Perhaps the win-loss-win-loss-win thing is why I’ve felt so whiplashed. Maybe the Timbers are doing better than I realize.
And remember, we’ve got another home game next weekend. Win it and we’ve got our first two game winning streak of the year (it’s September, by the way. Take a moment to let that sink in.) Meanwhile, San Jose’s playing at 5,280 feet in Colorado, and Vancouver and Seattle will (hopefully) be splitting points up the coast.
6) That’s all reason for optimism, but there’s another thing to consider. As I write this, the Timbers are on a plane, flying 3,352 miles to Costa Rica, where they’ll play Deportivo Saprissa, one of the best clubs in CONCACAF. Once that’s done, they’ll immediately fly 3,352 miles back here so they can play a home match Saturday afternoon against Philadelphia, one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
It’s an absolutely brutal week and I’m not sure how Caleb Porter will handle it. I’d really like us to do well in the CONCACAF Champions League, but is this the week to go all in? If I was Porter (and maybe I am. You don’t know, do you?) I’d leave a lot of our starters behind, play the bench Wednesday, then play our big guns when Saprissa comes to Portland on October 19th. But that’s just me.
Lucas Melano will probably play the full 90, considering he didn’t play a second of the RSL game. Same for Jack McInerney. Who else goes? Who starts? Who subs? Who plays the full 270 minutes on Saturday, Wednesday, and Saturday? We shall see. It’s a hell of a week, but it’s off to a good start. There’s reason to feel good about the Timbers again.