Six Degrees: Too Emotional

nycfc Brad Penner USA TODAY Sports

I think maybe I take these Timbers games a little too personally.

Our first win this season, 3-1 over Dallas, was so much fun. When it was done, I was laughing, slapping hands, walking on sunshine.

Our second win? 1-0 over NYCFC? No laughter here. This was like 90 minutes in a sauna. When it was over, I stumbled away, exhausted. No high fives, no walking on sunshine. Mostly I just wanted to curl up in a ball and thank God I’d survived.

1) The first half had two very distinct sections.

The first 20-25 minutes, when NYCFC completely dominated. I don’t care what the stat sheet says, it felt like New York had 95% of the possession. I’m pretty sure Portland’s longest possession lasted about ten seconds. It was awful. Bad passes, hard touches, brain farts. It’s a miracle we survived this section without giving up a goal.

In the last 20-25 minutes of the first half, we finally remembered how to play soccer, and the game was a standstill until halftime.

After last week’s loss to Orlando City, Coach Caleb Porter had been saying the team needed to get off to a better start. Clearly, that message didn’t filter down to the players. Or maybe Caleb just needs to work on his pre-game motivational speech.

We survived this time. Adam Kwarasey made some nice stops, the defense did just enough to survive, but we really need to cut this out. Taking 20 minutes to warm up is a recipe for disaster.

2) The second half, however, we came out on fire and kept NYCFC firmly on the back foot. I’ll give a lot of the credit to Darlington Nagbe. He was mostly silent the first half, but absolutely dominant the second.

Goddamn I love watching Nagbe run straight at the defense. I’m not joking, it’s one of my favorite things in sports. Every time he gets the ball, I start yelling, “Straight at ’em, Nags! Straight at ’em!” He’s phenomenal. There was a point in the second half, when he was surrounded – surrounded – by four or five defenders and I swear, I was fully supportive. I was like, yes, exactly, straight into the heart of them! Do it, Nags! How many players in soccer can you say that about? Surrounded by four players and you feel your guy has the advantage? Nags ain’t perfect, he’s got his downside, but oh hell do I love his upside. Straight at ’em, Nags. Straight at ’em.

In the 79th minute, we finally broke through with a goal. I’ve watched the video a half dozen times and I’m still not certain who it deflects off of, but are we at all surprised Dairon Asprilla finally found the back of the net? The guy’s like lightning in a bottle. I love me some Rodney Freakin’ Wallace, but if he doesn’t pick up his game, he’s gonna find himself on the bench, watching Aprilla go for goal. It saddens me, but it’s true.

3) And then we get to the worst part of the game, everything from the 80th minute on, when the Timbers did everything they possibly could to lose the game and give me a goddamn stroke.

No joke, those last 15 minutes may have been the worst of my life1. I didn’t know whether to scream, cry, leave the room, pour a beer over my head, or punch myself in the face. It was agony. We got our goal and then forgot how to play soccer. The old adage is “dance with the one who brung you.” Well, possessing the ball, moving it slowly up the field, that’s who brung us! But no, when the Timbers finally got the lead, that’s when they decided to start punting the ball deep. I was going out of my damn mind. Thank God for Adam Kwarasey, that’s all I can say.

All season, I’ve been trying to figure Kwarasey out. He seemed like a good keeper, but I wasn’t sure, since we hadn’t really seen him tested.

We’ve seen it now.

Despite how wonderful Nagbe was, I think I’m giving my Man of the Match vote to Kwarasey, only because his defense did pretty much everything it could to give the game away. Kwarasey had to make game-saving play after game-saving play. It’s the first time this season he’s really had to step up and be great. I feel much better about him now.

4) You know who I don’t feel better about? Our center backs, Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers.

What in the hell is going on with those two? For the first few games, I was completely sold. Sold to the point I honestly wondered if we had the best center back pairing in the entire league.

Now? I don’t know what to think. They’re fucking up left and right and I can’t explain it.

Is it because they’re both leaders? Maybe two leaders mean zero leaders. Maybe they’re each calling out instructions, messages get crossed, orders get contradicted.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe they each defer to the other, assuming the other will take care of things. Maybe that leads to players going uncovered, balls sitting on the ground between them.

I don’t know, I really don’t, but those heady days early in the year are long gone and now I wonder if we’re any better off than before. We’ve got a couple experienced dudes, but we’re still seeing one or two rookie mistakes every game. It’s got to stop.

5) Player Quick Takes

Diego Chara is like Mighty Mouse. Everything going to shit? Here He Comes To Save The Day!

After one game, I have no sense of Ishmael Yartey. My main impression of him is that he looks like Kalif Alhassan, minus the jazz hands. He had one or two nice plays. Seemed somewhat aggressive. Past that, I dunno. What did you think?

Jack Jewsbury is my comfort food. When Jack’s in there, everything’s gonna be okay.

Alvas Powell is the exact opposite. What a frustrating guy. He does so many wonderful things, then he turns around and shows you he’s just a 20-year old kid. Another stupid yellow. A few more giveaways. He’s a lot better than when he got here, but he’s still got a ways to go.

Jorge Villafana, on the other hand, is pure butter. Smooth, tasty, utterly reliable. I’m so high on this guy.

Fanendo Adi. He puts in work, I’ll give him that. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Still, I wish those feet were a little softer and those finishes a little more clinical.

Gaston Fernandez. You gotta feel bad for the guy. Every game, he’s further down the depth chart.

6) So apparently we’ve got another game next week? Against some team from up north? Where they invented soccer, apparently?

A week ago, we could have taken solace in the fact that Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were the only Flounders who could score goals. Then Lamar Neagle had to mess that up by getting a brace this weekend.

I’d love to write the Flounders off as an easy win, but I can’t. As always, they’re dangerous. They’ve got the league’s second best goal differential. They’ve beaten Colorado,2 New England,3 and Houston4. On the other hand, they tied Dallas,5 lost to LA,6 and lost to San Jose7.

What can we glean from all this information? That it’s a fairly even match up. We’ll be in their house, of course, and that could be the deciding factor. But more important, I think, is whether we can start the game strong and avoid making stupid rookie mistakes. If we do those two things, I think we come home with a point. Maybe three points.

Going to Seattle and getting three points in front of all their smug, self-satisfied fans? Yes, please.

  1. Five minutes stoppage time? Are you fucking kidding me? 

  2. yawn 

  3. more impressive 

  4. who have the same record as us 

  5. who we beat 

  6. who we tied 

  7. who finished the game with 10 men 

17 Comments Six Degrees: Too Emotional

    1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

      I like Fanendo Adi. I see huge potential. He is young and athletic and smart.

      His job, his only real job, is to score.

      If he is going to soak up gorgeous feeds like he got from Nagbe and hit them a couple of extra times instead of shooting, he needs to sit on the bench until he finds his trigger. Almost any Timbers player could have been standing where Adi was standing when that beautiful side feed came rolling over from Nagbe, and nearly every other Timbers player would have put that into the net. Instead of hitting it nearly over the touch line to poke it completely without danger to the outside of the net.

      1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

        How funny is it that, at first, I wasn’t sure which Adi failure on a beautiful Nagbe feed you were talking about? There were two or three, as I recall. (oh, Adi… you’re the Adi-est…)

      2. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

        Also, a question: what are the chances Maxi starts in Seattle instead of Adi? I’d say 40%, but that’s a season high.

    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      I can neither confirm nor deny that I was at Pizza Roma Sunday. Nor can I confirm or deny that I stood on a stool and screamed for a solid 15 seconds when Asprilla scored.

  1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    Thanks as always, CI. . . Just a couple of notes in response, one to Adi and . . . A special pleading to Caleb Porter.

    Adi needs to grow up a bit. He starts all right, then some call goes against him. Not that we are short of blind refs making, or missing, bad calls. So he goes down, expecting the foul. It doesn’t come. He slowly gets up, now oblivious to the fact that his teammates are still playing football. He strides to the ref and starts complaining. I have heard him converse, and so I know his commentary is multi-syllabic and appropriate, full of rhetorical flourishes and persuasive kickers.

    But it never works. You see, the one thing these officials learn first is that “you should never ever doubt a call you have made. No matter how great the evidence, how frequent the particular offense, how outraged the one side and labrador-puppy-guilty the other, officials will not change their minds. Nor will they change their patterns of calling the game. If a player complains about being fouled, they will be extra sure to ignore additional fouls of the same type. In short, being able to be the god-like final voice on the pitch is so very much more important than getting the call right.

    So, dear Fanendo, you are wasting your time, and those beautiful flourishes. They are, in fact, falling on deaf ears.

    You note this, and so you continue to point out to the official at every opportunity how you have been wronged, and especially how your marking player continues to foul you in a particular way. You even make sure that your 5’4” solid frame body falls to the ground as if that particular foul were a trigger. You do everything you can to persuade the ref that he was wrong 20 minutes ago, and continues to be wrong.

    It doesn’t matter.

    Or more specifically, it does matter, just not in the way you intended. For when you are fouled legitimately in some new way, especially in the box, the official will assume you are falling down easily again. You will not get any call from this guy for the rest of the match.

    Except that you are so focused on proving your point to the officials that you forget your teammates. You forget your goal is to score goals, and that even if you were to be successful in persuading the official, your team will be worse off than if you spent the entire time focused on your play. You have been taken out of the game, as effectively as they would have been if they had been properly called for the yellow cards for which you have been asking.

    Please, know that we are on your side. We really are. few things would please us more than seeing your opponent’s smug face get slapped with a yellow, or two. Except if you were to score a goal. Yes, that would make us even happier.

    So before more coaches watch the game films and tell their backs “just foul the guy a bit dirty, just once in the beginning, then keep repeating that one foul”, before your scouting report says simply “get him focused on the ref and you will take him out of the game”.

    It would be so much better to see written “serious threat to score from anywhere in the 18. Must mark him tightly, perhaps double team.”

    Now to Coach Caleb Porter, because my previous pleadings have not proven effective.

    Coach Porter, you are quoted as saying
    ” Sometimes, you’ve got to do it with just one goal and defending well. Typically, on the road, that’s how you get results and that’s how we got it.”

    Please, stop saying this. Especially to the team and most especially to yourself.

    We escaped with the win this time, not because we got one goal and were good at defending, but because even though we failed to score more than one goal, we got lucky and NYCFC’s additional attempts did not go in. And Adam put in an exceptional performance. We were lucky, not skillful in defense.

    The team again noticeably eased off the accelerator after we scored tonight. Guys lost the small bit of urgency they had found and nurtured, and we failed to string together a number of passes going forward and we failed to connect with teammates in the opponent’s box.

    As long as you persuade the Portland Timbers that it is “normal”, as “part of the plan” or “a valid option” to score once then hang on with an exceptional defensive game, we will be prone to late game losses and ties.

    It is a psychological thing. It has to do with expectation management. Yes, it is possible to have the team come out ready to play in the first ten minutes and still have a psychological problem to their performance. A strong early show does not rule out a psychological problem.

    If our guys expect that it will take two or three goals to win a game, they will keep playing hard after scoring one. It will be clear their job is not done. They will not slow down to wait and see how our opponent reacts.

    That will then deny the other team the space they need to put together a strong and aggressive attack which will end up pinning us back into our own half for the rest of the game until the other team draws or beats us by a goal. .

    If, on the other hand, we all expect that it is acceptable to score one and then hold on, we will be inclined to do just that, to score one and then to rest back into a defensive mindset. To bunker in and hope to absorb whatever the other team throws at us.

    Coach Porter, we are a good possession, attacking, keep the other team on its heels team. We do that well when we are on. We are not good as a bunkering, defensive-minded team. We lack the personnel and the training and the mindset to do that. So when we score-then-wait, we are putting what we do well on the shelf and substituting it for what we do not do well.

    This is the problem with last season. At least one of the problems. It is not with a deficiency in personnel or a requirement that you give up your vision for playing a high-pressure, possession-with-purpose game. It does require that we continue to play that same high-pressure, possession-with-purpose game after we have scored a goal, that we do not then sit back, surrender momentum, and allow the other team to play its preferred game. This, Coach Porter, is one psychological reason we lost so many games by one point, and why we drew so many games. Logically, if we stop trying to score after we are successful once, the most likely next event will be that our opponent score, thus drawing the game, or that our opponent continue with the momentum we have surrendered to them, and score a second time, resulting in our loss.

    Depending on when the game ends, we will either be even or one goal down. Winning will be entirely unlikely.

    Perhaps some day we will be so dominant a team that we can impose our will on our opponent. Perhaps then we will be able to surrender and take back momentum at will. We are not that dominant team yet. We do not have the personnel nor the practice to play bunkered down for half of the game. Or even 5 minutes.

    We are the team most likely to give up a goal in the last 15 minutes of a game. Why? Because if we are ahead at that point, we will stop playing our game and try to play some other team’s game. We will stop trying to seriously score and will instead start playing the dreaded keep-away, just like in practice. Only in practice, when someone loses the ball, everyone laughs and we all continue. When it happens during a game, we lose the game. Not funny.

    Please work to eliminate from the realm of possible acceptable outcomes that we score one goal and then hang on to win through our failure to commit a mistake. At least until we can put together a string of games in which we do not commit goal-surrendering errors. Or we do not rely upon luck and the grace of the soccer gods to keep our opponents from capitalizing on one of our mistakes.

    Please let us freely score two or three goals because we retain the same urgency to score that was required for our first goal. I am really and truly sick of draws with teams who did not play as well as we played. You have said this several times before and you said it again in your post game comments.

    I know our attempt to put the game on pause is an unintended effect. I know you do not expect they will respond by playing at practice speed instead of at game speed. I know you don’t intend for us to give up late scores. I am sure this is driving you crazy.

    There are, no doubt, a variety of other factors. But please, stop thinking in your own head, or saying to the team “sometimes we will score a goal and then hang on with good defending to win.” It might happen this way. But when we go up a goal please set the stage so that each of our players realize that their next target is not to protect the ball, or to keep it from the other team; their next target is to score a second goal. Then a third, and a fourth if the other team has scored at all.

    Our goal is not to win by just one goal. The best game is not the one we win by 1-0, and the second best does not end 1-1. The best game is one we win 3-0, and the second best ends 3-1.

    Please don’t set us up for psychologically shutting down after we score first. Instead, prime this team so that they expect to score multiple goals every game.

    My heart can’t take another 2014 season. It really can not.

    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      I’m with you, brother. I feel certain that’s why the Dallas win was so fun. It was 3-1, instead of 1-0. 1-0 wins are what keep heartburn medicine so profitable.

    2. fdchief218

      Points taken…with the caveat that the problem is that unless one team is clearly superior technically to the other the very nature of the game dictates that it will be difficult to impossible to continue to push forward in possession when up 1-0. I’m not sure that this is some sort of team-culture/Porterball thing. I suspect it has much more to do with 1) the tactical changes that happen when one team goes down a goal and 2) our player quality relative to the rest of the league.

      Being down a goal frees up the chasing team to be more aggressive, press harder and throw numbers up. Losing 2-0 is not that much worse than losing 1-0, so taking the risks that would have been foolish earlier become reasonable. So the leading team is going to be pushed back; again, unless they’re so much better than the chasers that they can easily pass around the pressure. Not being Barca we’re not that good, so when we go up 1-0 we nearly always end up looking worse.

      Now, I’d LOVE to be that good…

      But the bottom line is that I’m not sure that this is a team-psychology problem, or a coach’s instruction problem. I think it’s a “we’re-not-that-much-better-that-we-can-avoid-the-tactical-issues” problem, and short of being better at passing and moving to space (i.e. upgrading to players who can do that) I’m not sure how that gets solved.

      1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

        Thank you for your comments, FDChief. Iron sharpens iron. . .

        Are you really saying that Portland is a lower quality team than the rest of the league? Or just that we are not good enough to avoid the pressure? We are good. We are deep. We have some amazing developing talent on our 18 and our 30. I am really not convinced that any other team in MLS is better than we are, talent-wise.

        Which is why this string of one-goal losses and draws is so frustrating. We are better than this. Much better. And it is why I believe we won’t get anywhere by trying to change personnel.

        When I watch other teams after a 1-0 lead, I do not regularly see them bringing their attacking ways to a close. There is something qualitatively different in the way Portland as a team responds to a lead.

        Yes, the other team does load up the attacks. Just like they do when they play any other team who gets a 1-goal lead. It seems, though, that our backing down happens before they start throwing men forward, that we are giving them half of the field (territory in which we were high pressing leading up to the goal) in which they can deploy whatever players they like, without threat.

        When other teams take a lead, They are sitting at the front gates, just waiting for the slightest misstep. For if there is an uneven deployment, or a temporary disconnect when pressing their back line forward, the team will quickly make it a 2-goal lead. Thus the chicken-and-egg problem is heightened. There is a risk to throwing your men forward. If something goes wrong, you are very vulnerable to a counterstrike.

        When Portland scores, it seems they take the lead by pulling back, so that even if the other team makes a significant error while pushing players forward, there is no penalty, no risk of Portland scoring a second.

        It seems when we score and take the lead, we assume the defensive position, then wait for the next development. Much of the play of the game falls back to midfield or in Portland’s defensive third, rather than focusing on the opponent’s 18-yard box.

        Again, I don’t see this in the play of other teams. We are doing something subtly different. This becomes different when we are scored upon, in that you can see a different team on the pitch. We return to pressing, more quick passes, changing point of attack, looking for runs across the field.

        I am not talking about specific coaching instructions, rather the powerful and subtle metamessage saying “we have scored now all we need to win this game–it is now time to play defense.” Porter says “they can’t score on you if they don’t have the ball.” After we score our first goal, and each time we have a 1-goal lead, that advice fades and is replaced by “they are less likely to score if we are thinking primarily about defensive soccer and put aside our attempts to score.”

        That is why I am calling it psychological. I see evidence for it in the comments that Porter has made on several occasions, including following this game (which was ugly, and in which our attacks after we scored were disjointed and disorganized).

        Hell, I don’t know, of course. I see a team that chronically underperforms, that draws more games than other teams–by a large margin–and that spends much of its time struggling to recapture the lead after having given up a lead. Something is causing these patterns, and this something is evident since Porter arrived. He is an amazing, thoughtful and calculating coach.

        Our own mental preconceptions are the most opaque to us. We often–all of us, part of being human–have big blind spots in our perceptual fabric, spots which sometimes carry the seeds of behaviors which have real and predictable consequences in our actions. Soccer players and coaches are no different.

        This is the explanation that fits the data best to date.

        1. fdchief218

          But if Porter is as thoughtful and perceptive as you say, why isn’t he seeing this? It’s not like this is a surprise – this team has had issues with defending leads and just dealing with heavy attacking pressure for the last two years now. You’d think that the guy would see this and say to himself “Gee…maybe I really should remind the guys not to park the bus after we score, that’s not really working for us…” Right?

          Instead of that what I see is that as a team we have issues with defending and we have horrendous finishing problems. (Chris Gluck has a nice post over at Stumptown Footy that shows this graphically – Basically, we’re slightly above average in “possession with purpose” but well below where we should be in finishing. And we have a defense that tends to panic under pressure and resort to long boots forward.

          Combine those two and we 1) tend to cough up the ball inside the opponent’s territory who then uses that to put pressure on our backline…that then usually boots it away right back to the opponent and the process starts over again.

          There may very well be some sort of mental issue or breakdown going on here as well. But I wish I thought it was ONLY that; if it was I’d have more optimism that there is a quick and decisive way to pull this season up.

  2. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    Be careful, CI, there are 18 Red States with laws against using “funny” as you have just done.

    You are right, and that makes the point more poignant. At several points during the match, Nagbe provided the ball on a silver platter with linens and one of those dome thingies and with parsley. All Adi had to do was to move his foot forward. Not even a lot.

    Two things about this:

    (1) This is, I believe, the outcome of Adi’s attitudinal problem I spoke about above. He is just a kid, still, and although he is cultured and well read and speaks easily, he still has not conquered that inner fairness demon. Until that happens, until he can move ahead after suffering a completely unfair injustice and still play with all of his skill and thought and heart, he will linger on the cusp of greatness.

    Great players need to be able to take that injustice and channel it, to use it to feed the fire inside, to make them faster and stronger and smarter as they play. Think Robbie Keane on a good day.

    So far, Adi is stymied when he is treated unjustly by the officials. When a call is not made on his side of the field, he persists in arguing with the official. As if a player’s persistence in making the argument over and over again might somehow change the official’s mind. They make mistakes. Tragic mistakes, some times. You have to be able to get over it and to increase your level of play.

    This comes (to some) with age, and so I am hopeful. But things will not go well for him if he becomes even more sensitive to perceived injustices on the field. For there will be perceived injustice. Every game. I promise.

    When a teammate works hard to provide a juicy fat bug on a plate, you have to twang it for the team. It is not your bug to choose to eat it or not. It is the team’s bug and the team needs for you to eat it and savor its juicy tart fullness. If you are on the team, it is not up to you to decide whether you will transform the opportunity. It is available to you only because you are a team member who is scheduled to be at that place and time. You don’t get the opportunity because of your merits, and so it becomes your duty to score. Nagbe was not doing Adi favors throughout the game, he was working to provide scoring opportunities for one of his teammates to convert into scores.

    In a hyper-individualistic culture this aspect of team-ness sometimes gets lost.

    (2) As I had speculated/hoped/anticipated in Darlington Nagbe has retooled himself once again and is providing exactly what the team needs–Valeri-like opportunities.

    This is perhaps the most encouraging outcome of the NYC game, to see Nagbe float in, using his God-given abilities to deliver an amazing goal opportunity to a teammate. If Valeri had handed those set-ups to Adi, we would have praised him for doing what only Valeri can do.

    Except Nagbe is doing it now, because this is what his team needs. We need the hold-up #10, and Nagbe is getting better each game at exactly that.

    How many players do you think would stop focusing on what they do best to fill a need for their team? This is Darlington Nagbe’s humility. It is not fear of confrontation, it is putting the needs of the team over his own career potential.

    These are reasons I am so high on this team, why a slow streak with a couple of losses early in the season does not rattle me at all. I see depth, and strength of character on this squad. The problems we have–and we do have our share of problems! are the kind that can be fixed.

    Our squad is young. T2 has some wonderful talent at every position gradually getting better, and they are learning even at that level, how to play like a Portland Timber. Our owner is willing to spend money (just compare this year’s All-star game to the bash Merritt threw last year!) and our coaching staff are taking a long-term approach, rather than breaking the bank for two years of a great player before retirement.

    Our supporters are the best in MLS, and I am beginning to suspect, the best of any football club in the world. Passionate, informed, respectful, community focused, loyal. What else could you want in supporters? Our club is part of our community, and vice versa.

    Thank you, Kevin and CI and John and everyone who reads this board, for helping to build it into a site worthy of such support.

    You make my Timbers experience better.

  3. thecaveatlector

    On those first 20-25 minutes of the game, we started with Yartey and Asprilla as inverted wingers. Asprilla was on the left wing and Yartey on the right. This meant we started the game with two midfielders playing positions they’ve never previously played for the Timbers (yes, in the case of Yartey, any position would have fit that bill, but the point still stands). This may have been another factor in the slow start to the game.

    My guess is that this was to counteract the small field, but we didn’t have the chemistry that we normally have – even with relatively newer partnerships like Asprilla/Powell on the right. The two wingers moved back to their natural sides around the 30th minute, and the situation seemed to improve.

    Speaking more generally, Kwarasey had a fantastic game. He got some criticism in the middle of the second-half for giving up a risky rebound (~58th minute), but I think he made the right choice. He had two defenders directly in front of him with an NYCFC player a little further to his left and behind Villafana. The initial shot wasn’t the strongest, but it was low and taken quickly. has to parry. If he parries the ball wide left or deep, the NYCFC player is closest to it. Certainly, if Kwarasey parries the ball way wide, there’s no problem. But if he’s off, he may just leave a sitter for the NYCFC player. Instead, he parries the ball directly in front of him, where he has two defenders on hand to finish the clearance. That’s a sign of good awareness. He still seems a little cautious, especially with holding onto shots, but he is coming into form and confidence.

    Finally, the thing about the Orlando City game was just how poor Villafana was in the game. He is quickly becoming one of the most solid left backs in MLS. Frankly, I think he should be getting called into USMNT camps for a look. I’m not saying he should be a starter for the national team, but he performing well enough to be in the running for a call up. He understands positioning. He is difficult to beat 1v1. He can provide good service from out wide. There have been a long list of quality right-sided wingers that Villafana has kept in check. I am consistently impressed with how good he is.

    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      Yes, yes, and yes.

      I did note the left-right switch for our wingers, but I didn’t make the connection to our improved performance. Good catch.

      It’s astonishing to me that a goalkeeper can actually DECIDE where to deflect a ball. Those guys must have super cyborg reflexes or something.

      Finally, I am all about some Jorge Villafana. Diego Chara’s my favorite Timber, but 2nd place is sorta up for grabs. Nags? El Maestro? RFW? Now, Jorge’s working his way into the conversation.

  4. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    FDChief, I didn’t get this reply in the right place, vis a vis your response, so please mentally make the move.

    You ask why Porter has not spotted this problem if he is as tactically and analytically skilled as I believe.

    This is the short answer.

    Because it is an implication of an otherwise accepted way of thinking rather than a direct thought.

    Porter has heard Guardiola and others say “The best games are won 1-0” and “Sometimes you need one good goal and a great defense.” And the simplicity of it is intoxicating. Put aside all the supporters’ cries for “more goals” and focus on putting your team on the field with a plan to score one great goal. Then continue your team’s waterproof defensive play.

    He doesn’t see it as bunkering or “parking the bus.” In fact, he would deny that he would ever do this.

    He never makes the decision to stop attacking, but his expectation stops at one goal. Players perform up to their expectations, often failing to exceed. If I think I will give an :”OK” speech, it is far more likely to be mediocre or worse than good or better. I don’t have to plan on giving a crappy speech; this is the effect from my attitude and mindset. The flip side of positive thinking.

    Players thus sail into a game with a plan to score a goal. If they succeed so that the score is 1-0, there is a lapse in purpose, for they have not internalized a plan for the next step other than “defend.” The result often is bunkering because reduced pressure on the opponent frees them to bring their own attack forward, putting us on our back foot and fulfilling the prophecy.

    This is unseen exactly because it is the unanticipated outcome of the plan, rather than part of the explicit goal. A clever person’s mental booby trap.

    1. John Lawes

      I hear what you’re saying, but it doesn’t really change my question. What’s supposed to be Porter’s strength is that he’s a student of the game, that he doesn’t work based on cliches and accepted wisdom but actually looks at the players’ strengths and weaknesses, the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and adjusts our tactics to get the best matchups possible.

      So regardless of what Pep or what other “experts” say, if the whole “score one and defend” thing isn’t working – and it’s obviously not – you’d think that if Porter is the coach he’s supposed to be he’d see that and adjust his tactics. If the idea is to score one great goal then you’d think that the conversion ratio would be better – Porter would be training the troops to hold their shot until that perfect opportunity was in front of them. If waterproof defending was the idea then you’d think that Porter would be training his defenders to play flawless defense.

      And if the players couldn’t do either of those things…then you’d think he’d change either his tactics or his training.

      But he hasn’t, and that really makes me wonder if that’s the problem.

      1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

        Thank you for the extensive courtesy of allowing me to try to communicate again what I obviously had failed to accomplish the first several times. I assume the responsibility for this disconnect, so I assume the fault is mine as communicator, not yours as communicator. The internet would be a happier place if more people were more willing to ask “did you really mean this?” or “I really don’t get what you said here” rather than making the assumption the other person is moronically unable to construct a thought more complex than the written text words can effectively communicate.

        This is part of what I like most about this site, and people’s tolerance for rants and some meat deeper than the “he sux; such a douchebag. and so do you–look it up!” typical internet comment.

        Part of being human, apparently, is that we are both ego-centric and locked into a temporally bound communication model. We can examine and contemplate and consider something in great depth yet still are constrained to our own perspective as frame. This often ends up as limiting obstacle as much as focus-tool. Porter is a student of the game. He looks at aspects and considers factors many others never get around to. His approach is analytic and not intuitive. So after his failure with the U-23s he went back and painstakingly constructed a detailed analysis of everything that went wrong and right. This means he can learn from his experiences, a quality most of us assume for ourselves but most lack.

        Now this is what I mean by that awful example of argot.

        (1) No matter how carefully we dissect some experience, we are always bound by our own perspective, the things we take for granted. We simply cannot grasp the world in all of its complexity; we need a framework from the beginning to make huge numbers of decisions for us about what will be important, what should be excluded, which is unlikely to be ever resolved, Part of our human way of seeing the world deals with the task of processing so much relevant information by making assumptions and accepting worldviews even before we note the details of a particular situation, so that we can dive in deeply, quickly, without re-establishing a lot of things we now presume to be the case.

        This is why humans can conceive of, develop, build and pilot rockets. To the best of our abilities to know, no other specie can come even close to that level of analysis. Reading and writing help, by deliberately excluding rich information we deem to be irrelevant to the subject. If I am reading a paper by Einstein, I am not having to deal with all the distractions that were present when he wrote the paper.

        This ability to dive deep and very specific, to decontextualize concepts, thus allows us to generalize in ways and to levels other animals simply have not demonstrated. It allows us to maximize our already comparatively big brains to specialize and concentrate our thought, thus solving problems that would otherwise require gigantic brains.

        This is one of the challenges facing Artificial Intelligence (AI). Even with a huge amount of processing power available, the largest most complex computers to date cannot pick out a songbird from a picture of a flock of assorted birds. Sounds simple, but it is a different sort of task than solving a chess problem, for example.

        With this ability comes some limitations. One of these limitations is our “blind spot”, or something that should be obvious to us, and is readily perceptible once pointed out, but that somehow our brains don’t identify when it is part of the overall picture. This extends far beyond even the “a new pair of eyes spot typos” phenomenon, and is what we are often thinking of when we talk about “thinking outside the box.” The “box” include our assumptions, definitions and prior knowledge which might end up being significantly limiting.

        Our ability to create the box within which we can think is itself a great asset. Sometimes this asset gets in our way, especially when we are deep analyzing familiar situations.

        So this is an element–an important asset–to humans. Caleb Porter presumably thus is susceptible to this. I can’t say definitely this is the problem here, but it is a potential answer to the question about why this unusually competent strategist might be limited by his a priori assumptive grounds.

        (2) I could understand how Caleb Porter could especially be prone to this sort of error in that he comes from academia. Even though college coaches are not strictly academicians–a fact entirely frustrating to many non-sports professors–this is exactly the sort of pattern of thinking that might rub off on someone surrounded by academic-type folks, attending academic meetings and generally putting on at least the trappings of academia to fend off the attacks by Literature, History, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering professionals about whether a pseudo-professional sports franchise is really where substantial university resources ought to be spent, for example.

        (3) When you are surrounded by innuendo-laden cryptic comments about how awful it must be to be a head coach off to another slow start like the one we all mostly presume is responsible for what we often take for granted must have been an awful disastrous season last year, you often will retreat within your comfortable thinking patterns and reinforce them It is particularly difficult to start freeform thinking outside the box when the pressure is on.

        (4) International Football has traditionally been a blue-collar, or no-collar sport. Unlike baseball or gridiron football, for example, where college has often supplied the innovation and proving grounds, so that only the more successful strategies are imported to the high-stakes professional level, Football has a rich history of being driven from the gut, of the story of great innovations really making their mark at the international level competition. In contrast, the forward pass in gridiron football came from an innovation by a college coach, at Notre Dame.

        This means unlike many other sports where novel ideas are discussed and diagrammed in strategy meetings and even international-scale conferences, new ideas in International football tend to come within the heads of one coach, aided by a select group of assistants, and almost always birthed through adversity: When you simply don’t have a #10 for the upcoming big game, you either give up the game and your job and your career and become a national traitor, or you find a new way of playing that makes best use of the players you have.

        As a result, innovations in International Football tend to be initially kept close and quiet for as long as is possible. Most innovations have a limited shelf life, as others eventually figure out how to overcome the innovation with other innovations. This information tends to get passed on by player transfer and most often, by scouting trips where the actual team is carefully observed making the innovation either work or fail against another team, whose coach might himself be instituting some innovation.

        However, in International football the stakes are so high that the most striking innovations have come from rogue coaches with monumental egos and a characteristic inability to see reality that contradicts their innovation. Which is why most innovative coaches in International Football history have gone out screaming and clawing and accusing their players, fans, other coaches and most often, their employers, of being bad people with no ability to recognize greatness when they see it.

        (5) Thus innovations in International Football tend to start out as doctrine, articles of faith, rather than as the reasoned conclusion from a progression of academic proofs. “Do you believe?” is often much more important than “Do you understand?”

        If a coach from US academia, who is by nature analytic and extremely dogged in his pursuit of new ideas is to learn from the place where innovation tends to happen in International Football–the great clubs–he will need to swallow much pride, listen quietly, spend a lot of time observing, and eventually get close enough to the coach with the ideas to ask the important “do you understand” questions. To do this, he (pronoun gender carefully considered) will have to accept huge encyclopaedia of assumptive grounds. His teacher is sharing his passion, not his learning.

        (6) These assumptive grounds will be difficult to discern from the hidden key principles which make the innovation successful to begin with. To believe the latter you must accept the former.

        What is more, he must get into the practice of adopting these assumptive grounds instead of hauling everything out for pre-analysis at each point of refining his emerging theory, or figuring out which parts he needs to modify. That is, when carefully considering what needs to change to keep his team afloat because injuries have deprived him of two of his key weapons on the field, he will tend to look at the bullet points of the theory rather than the underlying assumptive grounds.

        (7) Which is why I believe–I am making a lot of assumptive reaches, here–that because he turns to an aphoristic response when his guard is down after a rare win, we might look at that bumper sticker statement as a key to seeing something he has taken to be the truth and not subject to consideration, specifically because a couple of his varied coach/theorician/models have also made the assertion without any particular support or apparent expectation of anything but unqualified acceptance of the idea.

        More like saying “the sky is blue, after all, so if we are heading up and surrounded by blue, it is a good sign!” than “at 18.7 miles at the equator, it is because the critical light-reflecting particle concentration falls to 2.79 that we experience the change from blue sky to the black sky of space.” The first statement is laced with assumptive grounds, the second (complete fiction, by the way) relies upon verifiable postulates.

        Which is why it is important for Caleb Porter to reframe his vision to accept that “the ultimate goal is to create a game in which you win 1-0” is not necessarily true, and should be evaluated on its own, rather than accepted as a reason other decisions might be made. I don’t have direct evidence that Porter makes the links in his mind, and this is really part of my point–I don’t believe he is making the link, and is therefore not considering the possibility that unexamined undertones from the “1-0 is perfect” melody might be interfering with “multitude of minute decisions made on the field in the wake of our score” so that we end up bunkering without intentionally making moves that would be considered bunkering.

        This has been torturous, even by my unearthly standards. I respect your writing, John, and have come to especially appreciate those who make this a place to think about soccer. Please forgive me if I have pitched it wrong, but after having failed a couple of times to explain what I was talking about, I decided to err on the conservative side. Thank you for your respect.


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