Six Degrees: Tough Times

Seattle Photo - Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland Timbers

I chose the above photograph for two reasons. One, that tifo was basically the highlight of the match, and two, that MLS Cup win back in December was the last time the Timbers won a game on the road.

1) We’ve lost four of our last five, we’re the only team in the league yet to win a road game, we’ve got a -2 goal differential on the year, and our biggest rival is now the hottest team in the league. Without a doubt, this is a tough time to be a Timbers fan.

On the other hand, remember how dire things were last season? After seeing how quickly things turned around then, I’m not sure we can give up on this year until the team’s mathematically eliminated.

That’s easy to say and hard to do, but it’s a good point to keep in mind as we go over Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Seattle. It might ease the pain a little.  Maybe.  It’s worth a try, at least.

2) After a first half of sitting back, ceding possession, and looking like a solid bet to finish with a 0-0 draw, Caleb Porter and the coaching staff must have decided at halftime, You know what? Fuck it. Let’s take the game to them.

Generally, I applaud that sort of attitude. It usually leads to more possession, more chances, and more action. Unfortunately, it can also lead to more goals allowed, which is what happened Sunday. Let’s look at all three and see if we can assign blame.

Goal one was the penalty. I love you, Vytas Andriuskevicius, but this was a mess. Maybe you got the ball, maybe you didn’t, but that dude didn’t fall down on his own. You plowed him over. That’s a foul anywhere on the field. Don’t make a habit of this.

Goal two, this one’s on the new guy, Steven Taylor. I don’t know how Clint Dempsey got this open in the first place – maybe it’s Taylor’s fault, maybe it’s Jack Jewsbury‘s, maybe it’s Diego Chara‘s – but once Dempsey’s got it in that location, don’t just stand there and let him do his thing. Close him out! Whether you’re in MLS or the English Premeir League, if you give a good striker this much time and space, it’s almost guaranteed he’ll seal the deal.

Goal three, this is on another Englishman, Jack Barmby. Yeah, sure, the corner kick was re-directed, but Roldan read it pretty well, so why didn’t you, Jack? You were right there on him. Look alive, kid.

3) The Timbers had 16 shots Sunday, which is a very solid number. Good on them for creating chances. Finishing those chances, however? That’s another issue entirely.

A number of times this year, I’ve referred to Jack McInerney as a finisher. I’m beginning to wonder if that was a mistake. He may automatically lose that designation for this play alone.

There are so many things wrong with this play, they pretty much blur into one giant wad of ugly. I’m not ready to give up on JackMac as a finisher, but Sunday was not his best performance.

On the other side of things, Fanendo Adi didn’t see much of the field Sunday, but still managed to renew his membership in the Finisher’s Club with this stoppage time goal.

The goal had little effect on Sunday’s game, but perhaps it will pop Adi out of his rut moving forward. Speaking of Adi’s psychology…

4) … the big fella was a last minute scratch from the starting XI. What gives? Here’s the best info we have.

Not too surprisingly, after the game, the Timbers staff dodged all questions on the matter, saying they’d keep it in-house. What can I add to the discussion? Not much. Adi wanted a summer transfer to a bigger team and didn’t get it, but I was hoping he’d respond by scoring bushels of goals, raising his status and his salary next year. That hasn’t happened. Instead, his scoring’s dried up a bit and now he’s missing flights. How much should we worry? Is the locker room falling apart? Is the team spirit fraying a bit?

Officially, our current DPs are Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, and Diego Valeri. Adi’s not on that list, but it kinda feels like he could be. I’m starting to wonder if next year Valeri will be the only one of those four who returns. Adi covets a bigger league and a bigger paycheck, Melano is always on the verge of breaking out but never does, and Ridgy’s body is breaking down to the point he only plays about half our games.

Guys wanting to leave, guys worried they’ll have to leave, this isn’t a recipe for success. We’ve got two months left. If the team’s psychology sours, you can bet its on-field performance will sour as well. We may already be seeing it.

5) A few player quick takes.

Alvas Powell and Jack Jewsbury. A very solid game from the both of you. Well done.

Liam Ridgewell and Steven Taylor. A very uncertain game from the both of you. Some good moments, but some others that left me concerned. Please put me at ease about our back line.

Clint Dempsey. Feel free to go fuck yourself for this elbow to the ribs.

Diego Chara. I’ve watched this gif a bunch and I’m not entirely sure why Lodeiro goes flying. Is there some contact I’m missing? Something that deserves a yellow card?

Fortunately, El Maestro came by to tell the ref how he felt about his performance.

6) A few weeks ago, I talked about us, SKC, SJ, and Houston as the four teams competing for the last two playoff spots. Things have change dramatically since then. For starters, SKC’s running away from the rest of us, making it seem there’s only one playoff spot really up for grabs.

2016-08-22 (1)

Second big change? Seattle is on fire. In fact, not only have they climbed back into the race, right now I’d call them the favorites. Not the favorites to win it all, mind you, just the favorites to take that last spot. They’re currently two points behind us and they have a game Wednesday. Win it, and they’ll come into Sunday’s rematch having already passed us.

I’ve heard some people say the entire season rests on Sunday’s game. I think that might be a little extreme, but I will say that there’s only so much longer we can scuffle along. We’ve got to pull out of this tailspin now or we’ll be spending the last month of the season talking about next year’s team.

Am I frustrated right now? Yes. Would missing the playoffs suck? Yes. Would it be the end of the world? No. Would it mean the Timbers are a failure in every possible way? No. Should we abandon ship? Absolutely not.

As a very wise young woman said…

19 Comments Six Degrees: Tough Times

  1. Roy Gathercoal

    Men in blazers last week talked about one EPL team’s supporters as either “Champs by destiny!” Or “doom and despair–fire everyone!” with nothing in the middle. I believe Portland is heading there.

    Some reality checks. . .
    (1) We were apparently out of contention last season at this time–and much later than this! No match at this point of the MLS season is “must win.” Not for anybody.

    (2) We have Never won a regular season game at Seattle. Not in 2013, not in 2015. To get too strung out over a loss there is just historically unwise.

    (3) I would rather be in our shoes than Seattle’s. Remember their “games in hand” debacle of a few years back?

    (4) for whatever reason Sigi is no longer coach at Seattle. In spite of any temporary bump due to coaching change, in the long run I would much rather face Schmeltzer in the post season or even in the throes of a final season push than the second-winningest coach in MLS.

    (5) and they will have to work out a bunch of new relationships mid-season–including all of the new coach-to-coach, coach-to-owners and coach-to-press relationships (not even mentioning players who had trust in Sigi. . .) While allegedly playing football games in a league where parity punishes even small mistakes.

    (6) of course we need to start winning games. Yet I could point out at least six road games in which we played good enough to win in most parallel universes. Close doesn’t count but in the long run–such as over the whole season–you have to like the odds that a few of those close games will fall our way.

    At the beginning of the season I mentioned some reservations about this team. I am still concerned about our tendency to sit in a “wait for something scheduled to change” rather than playing our fool hearts out today. We cannot win by waiting for the perfect lineup and set of conditions to showcase our championness.

    And it is a different kind of team attitude required to win the cup than the shield. So far, no one has done both in a full-sized MLS.

    Remember Leicester!

  2. Bill

    Melano broke out a long time ago and that’s all there is. The one win in the last five had Melano on the bench. The other four he did his usual standing around one, maybe two so-so passes and the rest just plain giveaways. He can’t dribble, he can’t attack, he has no eyes, and he’s lazy. And standing around is what he does best,along with endless crying to the refs…You want wins? Line ’em up like you did against KC. Send Melano packing – anything – Just keep him off the pitch.

  3. Roy Gathercoal

    Btw CI. You are a brave soldier for writing your column the last few weeks. Many lesser men would have called in sick. Thank you. You are an inspiration to us all.

  4. fdchief218

    I’d love to have something wise and witty banter to say right now, but the bottom line is the right now what our record says we are; a scuffling team going through a very bad patch. I wish I could believe, like Roy, that this is just a case of all the little campers turning that frown upside down and playing their lungs out. But our finishers aren’t finishing, out midfielders aren’t creating, and our defenders aren’t (consistently) defending. And our coach is getting outcoached…or, at the very least, not outcoaching his opposite numbers.

    It’s not doom and gloom to say that we are not a very good team right now. Can we be? Sure; we were the best team in MLS at the end of last season. But to be so we need to have a bunch of players who need to step up their games technically and Coach Porter needs to step up his tactical work. And that’s a big ask with only a handful of games to go…

    I’m pretty sure we’re looking at an early end to the season. So, for me, the question is; how do the Boys and Coach Porter go out in the best form possible and in a way to have a better 2017..?

    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      I enjoy talking about off season moves, but I’m going to wait a bit. Once we’re eliminated (and yes, it does seem inevitable), then we can open that topic. Until then, we watch and pray and put our head in our hands and drink.

      1. fdchief218

        I was thinking more along the lines of “what is the best approach to the final eleven games?” At this point does Porter try and cobble together his “best XI for 2016” and try to stay above the red line?

        Or do we start looking at the (for example) real possibility that Adi isn’t here next season and try and field a team that isn’t designed around him? Do we conclude that Ridgy’s injuries are a long-term or even permanent thing and revamp the centerbacks with that in mind?

        I ask this not to suggest the latter but as a real question. I’m not sure whether the team has the player-skill to survive this season or that Porter has the coaching savvy to use the players we have to eke out enough points – or, for that matter, even if he DOES, whether that will get us any further than the play-in match.

        BUT…as we learned last season’ playoff soccer is different. And getting to the play-in might be critical, and our fortunes might change, and we might go deep – or even all the way – into the MLS Cup run.

        So, to me, the “try and tool up to stay above the red line” is a business imperative for the people at the Timbers organization, and that’s what I think will happen.

        If so, though, it ends up putting the team in the same position we were in December 2015; having to rebuild the team on a short turnaround to try and stay competitive in 2017 – again.

        Is, instead, the “best” solution to a long-term Timbers dynasty to accept that we’re gonna take some losses at the end of this season that may well put us out of the playoffs to try and start rebuilding now, to start giving people like Taylor and Barmby and Okugo and BenZ serious minutes and putting JJ and Ridgy and Adi on the bench..?

        1. fdchief218

          Correction; the final EIGHT matches. I goofed and counted the three CCL matches into our final schedule…

        2. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

          I think Porter will and should play each game to win until we’re eliminated. That said, I think it would be smart to play next year’s lineup for those last few games (however many there are. and IF we’re eliminated). With all those caveats, it’s a fun game to play, so let’s do it.

          If/when the Timbers are eliminated, it would be fun to see this starting XI. Defense: Gleeson, Powell, S Taylor, Gbenga Orokoyo, Vytas. Midfield: Chara, Nagbe, Valeri. Frontline: Barmby, McInerney, Mattocks. First sub, Neco Brett. Second sub: I have no idea.

          Clearly, I went with a 4-3-3, and clearly, that frontline was the hardest to choose, which gives you a sense of how unsettled we are up top. If Melano and Adi leave, I’m sure we’ll see some new arrivals in the offseason. Still, why not play try these three up front and see what happens?

          Bear in mind, though, I don’t think we’ll see anything like this until the team’s eliminated. And maybe not even then. Still, it’s a fun game to play.

        3. fdchief218

          I tend to agree that it’s critical to keep playing for a playoff spot, if for no other reason that to hope that the lightning strikes again…

          That said…the problem I see with the “future” XI is that there’s still no proven real threat from the outside. Mattocks hasn’t shown it. Barmby? Hard to tell…but I don’t think he’s a winger by trade.

          As you pointed out; a lot of our current woes are because we can’t spread the field in attack. And our current roster STILL lacks a true wide threat. Not sure how we succeed without doing something about that…

  5. Timber Dave

    Everybody’s so down right now! Of course things have been bad lately, but that’s only lately. Yes we’ve lost 4 of the last 5, but before that we had an 8-game unbeaten run.

    The influence of luck is underappreciated. With such close games — many, many soccer games are won by 1 goal — luck has a lot to do with results. We all want things to happen *for a reason*, and have a hard time accepting that luck has a large hand in the results, but there’ sno question it does.

    A season’s worth of games gets you near a reasonable-sized sample to judge a team’s quality, but using a mere 5 recent results to rate us against the rest of the league is woefully inadequate sampling, as would be using only the 8 results before that. That’s why I like to look at the quality of play, and by that measure we’re doing all right. Aside from the DC game, we have played well enough to win more than one of those 5, but the soccer gods didn’t smile on us. I think our quality will help us regress to the mean and get more positive results than we’ve been getting. Will it be enough to make the playoffs? I lean toward answering yes, though there’s still a lot of randomness and it could go either way. Also, Seattle is now playing decent quality ball, unlike earlier in the season, and that obviously decreases our chances.

    Again, luck will play a role — probably, for a team like ours that’s balancing on the red line, a large role. Sorry for the news!

    1. fdchief218

      True, but…can you truthfully say that at ANY time this year’s squad has looked settled, confident, and dominant? You say “eight-game unbeaten run” but to make that happen you have to throw in the three pretty ugly July draws, throw out the USOC loss to the Gals, and the shaky 2-1 win over CD Dragon in the CCL.

      Injuries have been killing us, a whole bunch of guys are way off their 2015 form, and Porter hasn’t exactly been setting the league on fire with his tactics or his matchday management. So I’m not sure it’s just a case of bad luck; we’re just not the same team we were from October to December 2015.

      And that’s not surprising. I think we and the FO underestimated how much RFW and Jorge were doing for us until they were gone. I think we hoped that Adi wouldn’t have one of his fairly-predictable off-streaks and he is. Or that Nat and Ridgy would have a sharp, sudden drop in form as players in their prime sometimes do…

      So I hope there’s another club hidden deep in the Porter bag here but…what? I want him to be magic, to give Luca a sudden spark, to suddenly outwit Arena and Kreis…but I guess I’m not sure how he does it. ISTM that both coach and team are getting hammered by bad breaks and unavoidable losses and letdowns from last season, and I’m not sure how he and they suddenly turn things around.

      A win over the Scum here this weekend would help, mind you…

  6. Roy Gathercoal

    I suspect, rather, that if for some reason we had not won the cup last year, folks would be saying last season was a bigger disaster than this season, even.

    Ease off the expectations. Dallas has multiple 5-0 losses this year. LA gave up their home invincibility shield last year and have failed to reclaim it this season. Is Philadelphia your example of a dominant team in the East? NYCFC?

    Fact is, no teams ever go undefeated. This just does not ever happen. And no MLS team dominates like Bayern or Barca dominate (used to?) their domestic leagues. But then, take a handful of teams out of the German or Spanish leagues and you are left with middling groups of teams who never win anything. . .

    realistic expectations, please!

    1. fdchief218

      Mmmmokay, Roy. What is “realistic”, then? Winning record every season? Playoffs every season? Every other season? Every two or three or five seasons? I mean…you are on record saying that the Timbers are a great team. What’s a realistic expectation for a great team?

      To me,anyway, “realistic” for PTFC is a relatively cohesive core group of players playing solid soccer. No extended periods of futility in front of goal. No repeated defensive derps. Looks comfortable beating the teams it should beat, plays its peers competently – if it gets beat it is because the opponent is just that much better on the day, or because of bad luck, or an individual or a couple of the guys having an off day, and that occasionally rises above itself and beats better teams.

      Have we seen that this season? At times, yes. Consistently? No. In fact, have we seen the team do that, say, two years in a row? Three? I’d also argue “no”.

      And while I’ll agree that MLS, in particular, lends itself to streaky years and rapid rises and declines in fortune, I’d argue that we have yet to see any evidence that PTFC is on a steady course just to stay in the top half of the table every season. I’d argue that would be a “reasonable expectation”. And, so far, we are still doing the “odd year good, even year bad” yo-yoing thing.

      I don’t think it was “unrealistic” to assume that after a Cup-winning season that PTFC would be comfortable second or third in the West, at least. And I don’t think it’s “unrealistic” to be concerned that a loss to Seattle here this weekend will put us below the red line.

      But I guess I’m not sure how you’re defining “realistic”…

    1. Roy Gathercoal

      If we had those 16 points we would currently be three points ahead of Dallas and on target to win the Supporters’ Shield.

      Look, I am not saying “realistic” means just showing up and having a pulse. On the other hand, every single team in MLS makes the kind of errors we are heralding as the harbinger of the end of the world. I would say that having expectations that we will always be the best performing team throughout the entire season is unrealistic. No team jumps out to a lead and then stays on top throughout the season. No one.

      Most teams spend a hunk of time below the line at some point in the season. Teams tend to get streaks–which is exactly what saved our bacon last season.

      I agree about there being characteristics that mark a team as great. I don’t think these include not making mistakes. In this league at least (and in every league I have ever watched) even the top teams make even stupid mistakes. Sometimes they get punished, sometimes they escape. The things that make a great team for me is not the lack of mistakes, but the character of the team whether they are currently making mistakes or not. How a team reacts when unexpected injuries happen. Whether a team gives up on games. Can the team come back from behind? Can they weather in-game catastrophes? Can they play good football even after being “cheated” by a string of bad calls? Are they just a one-trick pony, or can they adapt to different situations and circumstances.

      This is also a team that is just 5 years old, as a MLS team. I would also say that truly great organizations need more than a handful of years to establish and nurture the culture that makes a team great, even when they don’t win. We aren’t there yet, but I like the progress.

      No, whether we have a weak spot in the roster that keeps getting us beat is not the measure of greatness, or its lack. Having a team that circles and protects the player who is not performing up to standard, while encouraging them to improve quickly and effectively, is one sign of a great team.

      Great teams don’t just collect the best individuals and then win because of their immensely superior talent. And a team that sees its stars align once is not a great team. If Leicester can continue to do what it did with second-tier players, replacing those who leave–especially with its own academy graduates–and if it wins games as often because of the team attitude as because of raw talent, then it will be great.

      1. fdchief218

        Interesting comparison to LC, because they’re getting hammered at the moment; two brutal losses in the Champions Cup, losing the Charity Shield to ManU, and in the league an opening day loss to Hull City (Hull City!!!) followed up by a tepid home draw against the Arse…right now last season’s Championship is looking increasingly

        I think my point isn’t that we’re doing something no other team does (failing to hold a lead) it’s that we’re consistently failing to hold leads. We’re really pretty awful at that, and it’s not just this season, either. I’m ALWAYS nervous when we go up 1-nil; I just don’t have confidence that we won’t punt that lead away…

        And I guess what gets to me most is what you are most pleased with; progress. That’s what I DON’T see. It’s not that we don’t have spells of good play. It’s that those spells are littered with crap games, that the roster changes mean that the good play is often executed very differently by different players. I’m NOT seeing a stable team playing consistently well from season to season or even within seasons.

        And I’m sorry; I don’t buy the “the team is only five years old” trope as a reason we haven’t been consistent. LA was in the Cup Final the first season of MLS, second in the West the next year in ’97, lost in the semifinal in ’98, won the West in ’99, second in ’00, won the USOC in ’01 and went to the Final again before finally winning it all in ’02. And that was without a USL starter-kit like we had…

        Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that we’re doooooomed. But I think this is going to be like 2014 and 2012; a difficult season that we’re going to need a lot of luck and things breaking our way to have a sniff at the playoffs. And that gets kinda wearing.


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