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.