Six Degrees: A Vaguely Frustrating Three Points

Friday’s 2-0 Timbers victory over San Jose was a play with two acts: the exhilarating first 50 minutes and the maddening final 40 minutes.

1) That first act was pretty fantastic, wasn’t it? You could argue that those 50 minutes were the best the Timbers have looked all season. Non-stop attacking, high pressure defense, and a complete domination of the Earthquakes. In the first half Friday, Portland had over 60% possession and double digit shots. San Jose didn’t have a single shot, a single corner, or a single answer to what the Timbers were doing.

The only thing that could stop us Friday seemed to be the woodwork. Does anyone know the record for most posts hit in one game? Because there’s a good chance we broke it Friday night. I’m not complaining too much, since it didn’t slow down our attack, but it was frustrating nevertheless. In fact, soccer’s such a cruel sport, the longer we dominated San Jose without scoring, the more certain I was that the Quakes would steal a cheap goal on a corner kick or something, sending us all home without the full three points.

Fortunately, in the 50th minute, Diego Valeri finally broke through. Unsurprisingly, the post was involved.

With all our hard work finally rewarded, the entire stadium could relax a bit. Unfortunately, the Timbers relaxed, too.

2) Which brings us to our second act, the maddening final 40 minutes.

Dear God in Heaven, why do teams take their foot off the gas after they’ve scored? Is it the coach’s fault? Did Caleb Porter call off the dogs? Tell the team to sit back? Tell the defenders to quit joining the attack?

Or is this on the players? Do they use the newly-gained lead to relax a bit? To catch their breath? Once their desperate drive to score is satisfied, do they unconsciously start playing as if the game is won?

Whatever the reason, it was absolutely rage-inducing on Friday night. After being penned in their defensive half for 50 minutes, San Jose was finally able to attack. After zero shots and zero corners, San Jose was suddenly getting both. Up in section 203, I was going out of my mind.

My madness only grew in the late stages of the game when some of our players looked visibly winded and Porter refused to make any substitutions. Yes, this has happened before, and yes, our no-sub winning percentage seems to be pretty good. Regardless, I still question Porter doing it. You don’t trust your bench, Caleb? What happened to all that talk of a deeper team? The only way to make your team deep is to give your subs some time on the field. Especially when there are starters out there sucking wind.

3) I can’t decide who was the Man of the Match Friday. It was either Diego Valeri, with his two goals, or referee Kevin Stott, with his breathtaking, all-encompassing incompetence.

Stott was a disaster from the opening kick. When the game was ten minutes old and Stott was already letting fouls go uncalled and yellow card offenses go un-booked, I turned to the guy next to me and said, “Oh, God, this is gonna get ugly.”

And I was right. Just like always happens in these situations, the players saw what was happening, saw that Stott wasn’t going to protect anyone, and decided to protect themselves. Fouls got harder, yellow card offenses came more often, and finally, in the 36th minute, like a substitute teacher who’s lost control of the class, Stott decided to send a kid to the principal’s office. Darwin Ceren got two yellows in two minutes and was gone for the day.

Now, I want to be clear, San Jose was not the only team playing rough. Stott was letting both teams get away with way too much, and both teams responded by getting uglier and uglier. It’s what players do. When the ref won’t protect you, you protect yourself.

Players who aren’t good enough for MLS get cut. Refs who aren’t good enough should get cut, too. Kevin Stott should be reffing USL games. If he improves there, maybe he can play in the big leagues again. But not until then.

4) Let’s talk about our players, starting on the flanks.

Our two wingers, Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco, both had very good games. Very different from each other, but equally good. Blanco was on the left, filling in for Darlington Nagbe and, as such, playing a very Nagbe-esque game, floating around the field, acting as a possessor and distributor.

On the right side, Asprilla was much more an attacker. When he got the ball Friday night, he was either heading to the end line and releasing a cross, or trying to go straight through his defender and into the box. I found it to be one of Asprilla’s best performances this year, with less thinking, less dribbling, and more attacking.

Staying on the flanks, our fullbacks had a hell of a game, too. On the left, Vytautas Andriuskevicius showed an excellent balance of attacking and defending. I’ve heard some talk that Marco Farfan deserves playing time again, but I think Vytas is gonna keep the job if he keeps playing like he did Friday.

Speaking of keeping the job, Zarek Valentin got his second straight start on the right side. If you’ll allow me to use an archaic word that I only half-way understand, whither Alvas Powell? Are we watching him lose his job? This doesn’t appear to be an injury situation, so his demotion must be because of either performance or attitude. Stay tuned, I guess.

5) Now let’s look at the team’s spine.

Judging Fanendo Adi‘s performance Friday depends on how you feel about posts. If you hate posts, you’ll give Adi five stars, because, man oh man, he was hitting that post like it owed him money. On the other hand, if you’re someone who prefers shots that hit the back of the net, you’ll be a bit frustrated with the big fella. I imagine Adi’s frustrated, too.

Moving down the center of the field, Diego Chara and David Guzman had a solid day. You know, all season we’ve been sold this narrative that Guzman’s a deep-lying Six and Chara’s a box-to-box Eight. All season I’ve questioned this, and Friday’s game didn’t change that at all. To my eyes, they’re the 2 in a 4-2-3-1. But if we’re actually playing a 4-3-3 (you decide), then I’m calling Gooz the 8 and Chara the 6. Maybe it’ll change, but so far, that’s what I’m seeing.

Farther down the center of the field, let’s congratulate Liam Ridgewell, Roy Miller, and Jake Gleeson for getting the team its second clean sheet of the year. The other was way back on March 12 against Los Angeles, who – whoops! – also had a man sent off in the first half. What do you think? Are the Timbers capable of shutting out an 11-man side? I’ll believe it when I see it.

6) Let’s finish off this column with the goal that finished off the Quakes. It was somewhere around five minutes into stoppage time, and – whatta ya know? – involved the post.

Why does Adi hate the post so much? What did the post ever do to him? Can they put this animosity behind them and work together to bring us some wood-free goals?

They’ll get a chance this Saturday night when Dallas comes to visit. I don’t know if you heard, but Dallas set an MLS record this weekend.

And if that’s not enough, their magician in the middle, Mauro Diaz, has made an early recovery from his Achilles injury and is being slowly worked back into the lineup.

In other words, Dallas is pretty good and they’re only getting better.

8 Comments Six Degrees: A Vaguely Frustrating Three Points

  1. Roy Gathercoal

    I have a theory about Adi (of course).

    When we collectively experienced the miracle of 2015, and that miracle even had a bar named after it, Adi’s head got turned. After reflecting upon this for some time, Adi recognized that the true path to fame in Portland is to be the post. After all, how many bars can you think of named after actual players?

    So after Adi started off with a bang this season, and discovered that no watering holes yet bore his moniker, he changed strategies and started attacking the posts.

    Whether out of a desire to accomplish fame by being the one to win the “Most Post” distinction, or out of spite and jealousy at this undeserved glory, our trepid hero has been lashing out at those posts from every direction. I suspect he might be aiming for the triple-post distinction.

    Being such a big guy, he has persuaded several of his teammates to join him in this quest. Only Diego Valeri is skilled enough to BOTH punish the post and score. I am just not sure this is quite good enough for Adi.

    Expect more tries.

    Reply
  2. Roy Gathercoal

    I was really impressed with Valentin’s contribution. He was surprisingly (given his past performances) effective on both sides of the field. I am not alone.

    MLSSoccer.com’s fantasy game gave Valentin 15 points for the match, tying the contribution from Valeri.

    Whoscored.com scored Valentin 8.26, compared to Valeri’s 8.56. They credit Valentin with a 91% pass completion rate, 63 of 67 completed, including 3 key passes. He was never dispossessed.

    Of course, four Portland players finished with better than 90% pass completion average–that tends to happen when the other team is sitting back allowing you to pass back and forth all you want.

    I was impressed with the young man’s game, having been unimpressed with Mr. Powell in recent outings.

    I guess this is what Porter was talking about when he talked about competing for positions?

    Yet I agree with the “play the youngsters” notion. I am not sure why Porter has so little faith in his bench–given the amount of boasting about how deep it is–that he did not use even a single substitution.

    Yes, we were ahead 1-0 when we entered “the sub zone”. But this was against 10, then against 9. I would not be nearly so concerned about “messing with success” when my team gets 20 shots with just one going in. Ultimately this is a game that favors quality over quantity.

    Perhaps some different legs–fresher or not–from the bench might have stirred something in the team’s soul?

    This sounds more critical than I feel–but only because we did (at the final whistle) get the second goal. I suspect I would be singing in disharmony if we had ended up in a tie, even with the same performances on the field.

    Look. Either we have a deep bench or we don’t. If we have a deep bench, then you use that bench to rest your mainstays and to groom the next generation. If you don’t have a deep bench, then you start the same guys each week and pray the injury fairy skips over your goal line without a second thought. Porter seems to be caught in the middle. He is willing to start Valentin, but unwilling to give Farfan or Arboleda playing time, even against 9 opponents.

    His post game comments have also been inconsistent this year. He has invoked the “we don’t have the same eleven every game” argument, but isn’t that an admission he lacks faith in his bench? Otherwise, you could give up two or three players and still be assured of a quality outing.

    But I confuse easily. Seems more frequent as I age more severely.

    Reply
    1. Timber Dave

      I understand Porter’s lack of subs. Not saying I agree with it, but at least I can see some reasons for not substituting:
      * He had two bench players, Valentin and Asprilla, out there already. (We’ll see if Valentin remains a bench player!)
      * He didn’t want to risk losing. Sometimes it’s worth a bit of risk to get younger players some playing time, but here the team needed a win so badly that it wasn’t worth that risk, particularly with a lead of only one goal.
      * With players injured and out for NT duty, who would he have subbed on? Barmby and Mattocks would be the usual subs, but they’re both injured. Arboleda, Farfan, Olum, and Okugo are all a step down. (Olum less so, but changing the centerback chemistry mid-game isn’t such a great idea.) Powell might not have been a step down, but with Valentin playing really well and still full of energy, that didn’t make sense.
      * Rotation was not much of an issue: the players were going to get plenty of R & R since we’re headed into an international break. The only exception here was Guzmán, but anyone coming on for him would be a BIG step down.

      I might have put Powell on for Valentin, but I can also understand Porter’s choice to not make any subs.

      Reply
      1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

        These are all excellent points. The only change I might have liked was Arboleda for either Blanco or Valeri.

        Something I forgot to mention in the column: who the hell was backing up Adi Friday night? No Mattocks, no Ebobisse. Who’s our 3rd striker? Arboleda?

        Reply
      2. Roy Gathercoal

        Yes, certainly excellent posts. Of course.

        I understand the aversion to losing.

        My point, however, is a bit more nuanced.

        Porter has said his system yields situations in which he can plug in bench players without a drop in team performance. He emphasizes this, especially in the early season.

        Yet when push comes to shove, he doesn’t seem to want to play any but his current starting eleven. Homegrown players are starting every week across MLS, even in teams with much better records than the Timbers. Shouldn’t it be a cause for concern if our homegrown players are MLS-quality in name only?

        And more to the point, those home growns who are starting elsewhere are going to develop much more quickly than our homegrowns who sit on the bench. It seems we are making the classic business mistake of sacrificing long-term strength for this quarter’s profits.

        MLS is going to be competitive, no matter who we stick out there. You can look at the rosters of many MLS teams and find players who would not even make it into the Timbers’ gameday 18.

        Are we saying that we are a step below the rest of MLS, that we have to have our absolute best 11 on the field if we expect to win? Is that really the admission?

        And *everyone* seems to be saying “homegrowns are the future of MLS.” If that is the case, and if our guys don’t get crucial playing time, will we be left behind?

        So if our guys get minutes only when we are hopelessly behind or ahead, and if a two-goal difference doesn’t make an outcome hopeless, when will they get growth minutes?

        Reply
        1. Timber Dave

          I agree that Porter doesn’t play his youngsters enough for their development. I’m not sure if this reflects a weakness of our academy; it is still relatively new, and also we have a smaller population base (sometimes much smaller) than other academies so the talent may simply not be present.

          But we are starting to see some success with Farfan starting some games. In this game we had only a 1-goal lead until the final kick, and needed a win even more than usual, so I get it. I too hope we’ll see more academy products playing — especially playing meaningful minutes, since the team plays differently when the game isn’t out of reach.

      3. Timber Dave

        Wrong! I said “the players were going to get plenty of R & R since we’re headed into an international break”, but the Timbers are not taking a week off — they play Dallas this Saturday. We’re playing right through the FIFA break. Sorry for the mistake!

        Reply

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