Six Degrees: Rimando’d

Photo Jaime Valdez, USA TODAY Sports

1) I know, okay? Before you even start, I know. Points are the only thing that matter. Draws are getting old. Put it in the net, already. I know and I agree.

But that being said, it’s hard to be too upset with the Timbers after Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake.

I’m upset with Nick Rimando, of course, for once again being impossibly awesome and fanning the flames of the Rose City’s love/hate relationship with him. I’m upset with the stupid ball for not going in. I’m upset with Diego Chara for, apparently, mystifyingly, being human and feeling pain and stuff.

But upset with the Timbers? No. They just looked too good Saturday night.

We were down three of our best players – Valeri, Chara, Johnson – we were incorporating four new faces into the starting XI – Kwarasey, Borchers, Fochive, Asprilla – and we were going up against one of the most consistently good teams in the league. We could have stank the place up.

But we didn’t. We dominated the flow of the game, we had pretty much all the dangerous chances, we forced some clutch saves at the back, and we looked like a team that’s in mid-season form.

And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, none of that matters, we should have gotten a goal, quit making excuses, there are no moral victories. I understand.

But still.

I can’t help feeling pretty damn good about the 2015 Portland Timbers.

2) The most exciting discovery for me was how good our central defense looked. So calm. So composed. New goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey could not have looked more relaxed back there. Just a guy chillin’, relaxin’, chewing gum and waiting for the bus. I half-expected him to pull out his smartphone and check Facebook. He made two saves the entire night and neither was especially challenging.

We can give a lot of the credit for that to our new centerback pairing, Nat “Treebeard” Borchers and Liam “The Beard’s In Its Transitional Stage Right Now, That’s All. When It Comes In, It’s Gonna Look Great” Ridgewell. I’ve spent a lot of this preseason wondering if the Timbers would finally, blessedly, have a good defense. After only one game, I’m not ready to give final judgment, but man, am I optimistic. Just like Kwarasey behind them, those two looked so relaxed, so composed. Every time RSL got close, one of them would step in and do the right thing. “Doing the right thing” might seem like a low expectation, but after four years of watching centerbacks “doing the stupid thing,” it felt like whole new world. I’m looking forward to a season living in such a world.

Speaking of doing the right thing…

3) …can I get a Hell Yeah for Jack Jewsbury?

In fact, I think a few of you may owe Jack an apology. Be honest, how many of you said he was done? How many said we should cut him? Jack’s been declared dead more times than Rasputin, and yet, like that Russian monk, he just keeps coming out and doing his thing. I’m not sure the guy had a single misstep the entire game. And he did it all while mentoring/babysitting last-minute sub/first-time starter George Fochive. The kid looked good and I’m giving some of that credit to the wily veteran.

Also, what about Jack’s set-piece delivery? Just fantastic. Pretty much every free kick and every corner was Right. On. Target. This was particularly wonderful to see after a preseason spent watching Gaston Fernandez spray the ball all over the field. What do we do if La Gata starts next game? Please don’t let him take set pieces. Please keep Jack on that duty. When Will Johnson and Diego Valeri come back? Okay, sure, then Jack will have to step aside. But until then? Fire it up, old man!

4) Let’s have some quick takes on different players.

Darlington Nagbe is obscene. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got a ridiculous handle. There were times Saturday night when it seemed he could do whatever he wanted and no one could stop him. (I mean, except for Rimando. Rimando could stop him. Rimando can stop anyone. Have you heard about that new movie that’s coming out? Batman vs. Superman vs. Rimando?)

Fanendo Adi was solid, moving around the final third, doing lots of different things, acting as more than just a target forward. But why save Maxi Urruti for so late? I was screaming for him from the 60th minute on.

Surprise starter Dairon Asprilla showed why he got the start. He just pins his ears back and goes for goal. It’s nice having such an aggressive guy out there.

Both fullbacks, Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell were solid, with Powell having a few amazing moments. It’s been nice watching him mature. I hope he doesn’t mature to the point where Europe comes calling.

Rodney Freaking Wallace was Rodney Freaking Wallace. Four shots, four shots on goal. Aww yeah.

5) Next Sunday, the defending champs come to town. LA will be missing the retired Landon Donovan, but don’t feel too sorry for them. They’ll still be blasting toward goal with Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Robbie Rogers, that Ishizaki guy, Villareal, Husidic, and a bunch of other scary dudes. Oh, and their defense is pretty good, too. We’ll have our hands full.

On the more optimistic side, no Nick Rimando.

Will we see the same lineup? Probably not George Fochive. Surely, Diego Chara will be back from his deep bruise. (Personally, I think there has to be something else wrong with Chara. A bruise? C’mon, who do you think you’re fooling? Chara can’t be bruised. He’s made of wood. Mahogany, most likely. Maybe teak.)

Up front, does Dairon Asprilla get another start on the wing? He didn’t do anything Saturday night to lose his spot, but maybe Caleb Porter wants to stick La Gata back in the center, sending Nagbe out to the wing. I hope he doesn’t. Nagbe was on fire in the middle. (And the outside. And the front and back. And on the drive home. Let’s face it, dude was just on fire.)

Other than those two positions, I think the rest of the lineup is set, probably for the next month or two, whenever Will Johnson and Diego Valeri get back from injury.

6) And perhaps those two guys are the main reason I’m feeling optimistic about this season. What did the team need Saturday night? Offense. Someone to stick the ball in net. You think El Maestro and the Captain might help with that? They only combined for 17 goals and 16 assists last year. As dangerous as we looked against RSL, when those two come back, we should look even better. Some of those shots will turn into goals.

ESPN.com’s preseason power rankings put us at #12. MLS.com’s put us at #15. That’s 6th worst in the league. And yeah, sure, I know those rankings mean pretty much nothing, but still, I’d love to see the Timbers prove them wrong.

It all depends on these first couple months. So far, we’re 0-0-1. We can’t have a repeat of last year’s 0-3-5 debacle.

My opinion? We’re better than last year’s crew. Yes, yes, we’re also more injured than last year’s crew, but whatever. I still think we’re better. I think the defense will carry us here at the start, I think the offense will do just enough, and then, when we start getting guys back, we’ll take off.

Optimistic? Sure. But remember last year. After those first eight games, we were as good as anyone in the league. I say we’re still as good as anyone in the league, only this year, it won’t take us two months to figure it out. 3-2-3 in our first eight games. That’s my prediction. Take it to the bank.

What do you think, Portland? I’m predicting three wins, two losses, and three draws in our first eight. Disagree? Tell me why.

11 Comments Six Degrees: Rimando’d

  1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

    Welcome back,, CI! I am confused, but gradually becoming accustomed to that state. Perhaps preparation for Alzheimers. . .

    In retrospect, this was the game we should have expected.

    We knew our defense was much, much better. If things keep moving along and players keep increasing their communicative links with one another, it should be near-impossible to score against us by mid-season. However, we are susceptible to injury. If we had lost three centerbacks in the first month (oops, that’s not up yet in 2015) like last season, we would be looking at a Peay/Manning/Besler combination in the center. Perhaps that would be where Jack Jewsbury would jump in and stop the disaster. Still, I shudder. Stay healthy, everyone.

    We ought to have known that Valeri’s absence would be felt deeply. We spread the scoring love around and that is certainly a strength. Yet when we face a team that digs their own trenches in the turf at Providence Park, we need more than individuals who can score.

    When facing an entrenched enemy we need an on-field conductor, a Maestro, who cues the piccolos and the oboes and the bassoons and the trumpet fanfares, while maintaining the steady bass line beat. So either Gaston Fernandez needs to develop a better understanding of team dynamics instead of just his opportunities, or Darlington Nagbe needs to start attacking the net in anger instead of hanging out at practice, or we need to find another #10, or our wait for the return of Sr.Valeri will be one punctuated by much holding of one’s breath.

    Against teams willing to run and play soccer the entire field, we can probably do all right with our current combination. It is against the best-organized defenses that our need for Valeri will be most evident. We simply will not face a more experienced, better organized defensive line than we saw Saturday night, at least until we next face RSL. That is helpful, but there are some other really fine defenses in MLS, and some will be getting better very quickly. Get better NOW, Diego, (pretty please).

    I was relieved and impressed by the performance of the guys in the defensive midfield. Real Salt Lake bunkered a bit, but I suspect a more accurate assessment was that two shots on goal were all they could get. They did not sit back in their own end; their heat map shows a more even distribution of time on the field. They maintained no sustained attacks, tending to withdraw to their defensive lines very quickly.

    Just for the record, the officiating was bad. Not the worst we have seen in 2015, but I hope that position is sewn up by the Vancouver game. Still, looking at the high number of red cards and fouls called this weekend across all games, it does seem that PRO–the officials’ organization–is serious about cracking down on repeat fouls and even relatively slight infractions in some categories.

    Ridgewell was wronged.

    I do hope Johnson and Chara are paying especial heed, so they can re-calibrate the contact portion of their aggressiveness and we can avoid the 10-man drills this season. There were some frequent fliers who got the red this weekend (e.g., Collin) but some traditional mild-mannered players were also nabbed (e.g. Matt Besler). I do hope a word to the wise will be sufficient.

    With any crackdown, there will be inequities. This game it did not seem so much that RSL got all the breaks, as much as players on both teams were entirely frustrated by the inconsistent calls. Play that happened right in front of the refs on one side was carded even later on the same side. Perhaps the refs need a longer pre-season to get their shit together. Some of the games this weekend seemed to be called really well. So there is hope. Good officiating helps this team.

    I have to disagree about Urruti’s substitution on Saturday. Adi was being so heavily physically challenged that inserting Maxi earlier in the game might have been a disaster. Just look at how few shots Adi got off in the game (2 shots, 1 on goal)–you can’t shoot when you are on the receiving end of a cross-body check (Adi suffered 5 fouls, most in the game, even one more than Nagbe!). Perhaps Urruti could have run around the offenders, or he might have been hurt.

    Overall, I like this team. I like their position starting the season; not the main targets, underrated. I like the match up against LA for next week. I especially like the looks of things when Valeri and Johnson return, and that we are not panicked waiting for that moment.

    Many folks severely mis-read Portland’s 2014. We did not make the playoffs, but it is barely possible to miss it by less. So many games were decided by one goal and there were so many draws in which one goal would make it a win. Just one goal in any one of a dozen games would have made the difference. I must confess I am not sure how we might have fared in the off-season having just lost Valeri in the last regular season game. Perhaps it is just as well.

    This means in 2015 we are a team deep and strong and particularly because of last year, hungry. Short three defensive midfielders, this squad proved how good its defense has become. Not many teams hold Real Salt Lake to two shots on goal. Only great defensive squads have a shot. And defense was our glaring weak spot last time around.

    Reply
    1. Timber Dave

      Our defense was indeed good, and hallelujah to that. It’s nice not to have to hold your breath so much during games when the opponent is attacking. But was RSL’s offense particularly anemic? Is the absence of Joao Plata and Ned Grabavoy killing their attack? Is their change away from the diamond disorienting the team? They didn’t even look threatening in midfield, where they usually dominate, and consequently their forwards barely saw the ball.

      I always say that the sign of a good defense is that the opposing offense has a bad game, but in this case, I’m wondering if some of the credit has to go to the opposing offense just not being very good.

      Reply
      1. C.I. DeMann

        These are excellent points, Dave. I think some questions will be answered this Sunday against LA. Despite the loss of Landycakes, their offense is still pretty intimidating. If we make them look anemic, that’ll be two games in a row. That’s almost an honest to God sample size.

        Reply
        1. Timber Dave

          LOL. Think of it not just as 2 data points, but 180 data points — 1 for every minute. Or better yet, 10,800 data points, 1 per second!

          OK maybe not.

      2. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

        I thought as you do until I read the RSL web site. They don’t seem to be much concerned about their attack, apart from Plata being gone. RSL did have the edge on possession and passing percentage; hard to understand why they would choose to pass the ball around defensively, if they had a choice. Just confused, as usual.

        Reply
        1. Timber Dave

          True dat. I’ve been wondering about the possession stat though — it didn’t seem like we were that dominated in possession, and it should have been around a 50-50 split. Then I read somewhere (Stumptown Footy maybe) that the possession stat is based on passes completed, not time with the ball. That would make better sense, as the Timbers dribbled a lot more than usual and had a lot of possession time without that many passes.

  2. fdchief218

    It wasn’t JUST RImando. I mean, how many times did someone in claret-and-cobalt get in front of the damn ball on every attacking flurry? Two? Three? The ball kept going in and coming back out ping-ping-ping and then there’d be Rimando going all flying-monkey-fist-kung-fu and making the insane save.

    But, yeah; I really dreaded seeing these guys come in the first match, but walked out thinking as I did last October that they were lucky to sneak out with a point. WAY better than I expected with our patched-together eleven. Agree with your player ratings, especially Old Man Jewsbury; he was a stud, and I wish he could sit WJ down and school him on set-pieces. Brought back memories of 2011 and how we used to freakin’ feast on corners and freekicks.

    Still; I also agree that LA will be a true test. RSL still seems to be adjusting to the 4-3-3 or whatever the hell they’re using. LA is a whole ‘nother story.

    Reply
    1. Roy GathercoalRoy Gathercoal

      I agree completely about Salt Lake City’s defense. To put it another way, Rimando did not make the risky lunge out of his six unless he could pass two or three defenders on his way through. So while this did mean that several other RSL players made these saves, you could argue that Rimando would not have taken the chances, and subsequently gotten beat to the ball, had the players not already been in place.

      Perhaps Jewsbury is THE reason we dropped from near top of the league in set pieces in 2011 to near bottom in 2013. Something to think about. . .

      Reply
  3. Cody Carrete

    Cody here,

    I predicted 0-0 vs RSL and 0-2 vs LAG. That puts us at 0-1-1. I’m thinking we will win at SKC and VAN making us 2-1-1. Loss at home to Dallas and winning against Orlando will be 3-2-1

    With our new look back trio, I expect us to get many shutouts through the season, despite losing two in the opening six.

    We are kind of lucky to come up against LAG this early as we have a chance of winning or getting a report. We are historically poor away to them, so I’m counting those as write-offs and hoping I’m wrong about this weekend.

    What do you think about Jack staying on the ball for free kicks that are far from goal? My opinion is that he is much better than Valeri in that situation, specifically. He will be able to slide back into position after the delivery whereas Valeri can be at the top of the box to receive a poor clearance or a pass or a rebound.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMann

      You don’t like us at home, do you? I could definitely live with a 3-2-1 start, but you’ve got us winning all our road games, but have Orlando as our only home win. I hope you’re wrong. Needing 3 points on the road is a tough way to go through a season.

      As far as Jack goes, I love your free kick idea allowing Jack to easily fall back into a defensive position. Unfortunately, I think he’ll be long gone by the time Valeri’s back. Remember, Will got hurt about a month before Valeri did and will be back on the field about a month earlier. Once Will’s back, I think Jack’s on the bench. (I’m really not sure how I feel about this, actually. I hope our fine defensive form continues with Will on the field. Fingers crossed.)

      Reply

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