This morning’s Kick-Off ran some little item ran on FC Dallas head coach resting the team’s forward, Blaz Perez. To anyone in a position to do so: see that this, or a similar memo, hits the desk of the Portland Timbers’ head coach, Caleb Porter. I mean, why not pull on some big boy pants and try a little squad rotation?
As noted in the piece on Perez, it’s about him being old. Old and tired. I kid, but it is definitely about resting a key player to, as the article puts it, make sure he, and others like him, are rested “when [Pareja] truly needs them the most.”
The idea of squad rotation – or even the simpler idea of giving players time to fully recover from injury – comes to me every time Diego Valeri creaks around the field like the Tin Man (as he did for the first couple games). Or, say, every time Darlington Nagbe dusts himself off from another “professional” kick at his ankles. Sure, you can ride either player another 20 minutes, or, when it comes to Nagbe, sick the Twin Terriers on the perps goon-style (that’d be Diego Chara and Will Johnson) to see if that can’t chase the problem away.
I credit Porter for working Valeri in over those first few games, but I’d still like to see him tread a bit more lightly through the recovery stage because it’s not like the fall isn’t going to be a fixture traffic jam – i.e. see note above about “when we truly need them most.” Bottom line, why keep a limping Nagbe on for the full 90, with Kalif Alhassan ready to roll at least half the time? If Valeri gets kicked – and, I swear, he’s catching up with Nagbe – sub him a little early, especially when the team has a lead. Um…
So that’s not always on the cards, but, still, why not experiment with Plan B, or even C? Hell, switch a couple players and see what it does to the opposition’s game plan. Take a, uh, softer game (cough, cough…CHIVAS, cough!) and go a little defensive on the mids and fire long balls and Frederic Piquionne and see what happens.
I confess: I have never got my head around the whole thing with starting to sub at the 80th, or even the 85th minute. (And I find it almost insulting when a player gets subbed at the 89th or 90th.) But I do get the idea behind it – e.g. getting the first team, your best XI, minutes as a complete unit so that they swirl into some kind of magic soccer pudding. They need to figure out how to win, so more time can seem like better time. Sure, it’s vital to get key players like Valeri and Nagbe completely match-fit and in rhythm, but that all goes out the window if they’re sitting on the sideline come September, or god forbid, October, struggling back to health. And often prematurely. Like, say, Valeri did last year.
Still, I can’t shake liking what Dallas did with Perez. And there’s more upside where that came from: more “fer reals” – e.g. first team, regular season – minutes for other, younger players on the team. Portland has started the year relying almost exclusively on Gaston Fernandez and Maximiliano Urruti. Why not give Schillo Tshuma the occasional start? This serves purposes beyond resting your starters: it brings those players deeper into the team and gives them minutes, that sweet, sweet experience. That’s player development with the first team, which feels a little like planning for the future. The player I think of in this context would be the Vancouver Whitecaps Kakuta Manneh. Making that much raw talent wait on an injury to get a run out makes no sense to me. None.
It’s fair to acknowledge, at this point, that games might be lost and fans pissed to the point of baying for blood. Now, in a zero-sum setting like the Barclay’s Premier League, that flirts with the Kiss of Death (and makes plenty of sense as to why Gus Poyet lost interest in continuing to give Jozy chances). MLS, on the other hand, is the most forgiving league in the world. Pretty sure that’s a hands-down thing. In that setting how does it not make sense to bring along the more promising youngsters?
Put it this way, those fans won’t remember a blow-out loss in May if they see damn-near the entire first team lining up fit for the first playoff game. And if they’re playing the bench, they’re going to feel a lot more comfortable with the second-tier players. Probably….look, there are no promises in the game. Just gambles that come off.