A Polite Call for Caleb to Focus

“…[Portland head coach Caleb Porter] said he shouldn’t have to be preparing for this Saturday’s showdown with rivals Seattle Sounders…without two of his key players in [Michael] Harrington and [Darlington] Nagbe.”

Like the Limey’s say (though quite possibly about something else), it’s a fair cop. By that I mean, I don’t blame Porter for being pissy: MLS’s disciplinary committee basically admitted that the ref for last week’s game against FC Dallas screwed up on the red cards to Michael Harrington and JeVaughn Watson and Darlington Nagbe really does get the shit kicked out of him every week. So, the man bitches, MLS fines him, and we all move on.

Well, sort of. I don’t get the fining thing because officials do fuck up. I’d like to see the league save the fines for the persistent bitching, or outright character assassination, as opposed to the week-to-week frustration, but I can live in this thin-skinned world, too. And Porter can keep Harrington in his precious plans for this weekend’s biggie against the Oh-My-God-Is-That-Fucking-Ugly-Green* (*Psst…the Seattle Sounders).

There’s something in that quote, though, that never sat right with me and, really never went away. It’s nit-picky, so, please, indulge me.

I’m uncomfortable with Porter’s comment – or go with a fairer, literal reading, MLS’s reporter’s take on his position – for the way it implies the absence of a back-up plan. So, to state my position more clearly, I’m concerned that the flailing on the field reflects some flailing in Porter’s head about how to lay out the chips.

Off-season shuffles happen and they complicate things. Some other things that also happen: injuries, bad calls, stupid suspensions, loss of form, locker room tiffs, etc. In sports, as at the euchre table, you play the cards you’re given. It took a bit, but the Timbers got Harrington back (thank god…never thought I’d say that, but thank god), but Nagbe’s still out (shit; now that one I thought I’d say).

There’s more, of course: Norberto Papparatto might be slow or cursed with a child-like distractability (that’s not a word? really?); Gaston Fernandez appears to have only one trick – e.g. being in exactly the right spot for a tap-in, but only after the 90th minute; Diego Valeri hasn’t yet overcome his fear of having his dick* all tore up again (*I apply the word “groin” both broadly and specifically); we shipped Sal Zizzo in the off-season and suddenly he looks smart in Sporting KC’s mix of blues, etc. etc. etc.

The point is, Portland’s problems are bigger than Nagbe. Moreover, they precede Nagbe’s injury, genuinely sucky as that is. Something Stumptown Footy posted last week (or so) gets at some piece of them, albeit indirectly – at least as I see it. That post posed and answered the question of where Diego Valeri is at his most effective on the field. Arriving at their conclusion – e.g. the middle – took some review of the tape, and hat’s off to them for doing it, but I approached the larger concept from another angle: Portland should play Valeri in the middle not just because it’s where he’s best, but because there’s no one else on the roster who can play there anywhere near as effectively as he does.

For me, Darlington Nagbe was the particular player who answered that question. Nagbe needs space to do what he does best…so, there’s a new question that follows: why did Porter start Nagbe in the center against the Chicago Fire? I don’t begrudge Porter the experiment…well, yeah, actually I do, because it seems obvious to me. The same goes for seeing Diego Chara shifted to right back after Harrington’s sending off in the Dallas game, even if only briefly (because a midfielder who plays centrally seems like a poor fit for a right back; I’d rather see a sub, or the right mid pulled back, etc.) Bad things followed…maybe they were inevitable…gawd, isn’t second-guessing fun?

To be clear, this isn’t hitting the panic button. And, yes, there is a big ol’ suck in all this – specifically, that Nagbe’s injury boils down to still more time before the first team is fully-fit and, ideally, lethally-operational. So, the sputtering start to the season continues. Dammit.

A gutsy win over Seattle – or better still, a blow-out – would feel all kinds of nice. I’m neither expecting it, nor do I believe the Timbers really need it at this point. Soon, for sure, but not right now. There are definitely things to work out in the meantime, however, and, personally, I’d rather have the team’s coach talk confidently about adjustments than rail against fate. That’s all. It seems out of character besides…


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