Houston v. Portland: A Nothing Game in a Nothing Season

When even the in-house TV shills admit a game isn’t all that thrilling, you know you’re enduring something less than the finest in entertainment. That’s the kind of season it’s been for Portland, though. Just one game this season gave Timbers fans the sweet opportunity to dare to dream – the Seattle moment/debacle. Eight games into the season now and “mundane” best describes the attack and, “nervous,” the defense.

So, how bad was today? Portland scored – yay! – but only half-intentionally – sigh…. It’s what happened at other end, and keeps happening, that really freaks me out. 1-1. Another draw. Who the fuck are we, Chicago?

The Big Thing
Call this an attempt to finally define what troubles Portland’s defense in 2014: Pa Modou Kah is a terrible, terrible ball-watcher. This is a term I didn’t really consider till last season, instead filing most mistakes made by defenders under “fucking up.” I watch for it now and I see it a lot from Kah. He’s the worst of a generally reactive defense, of a back four a step too slow about attacking the ball and clearing it decisively. It’s not all Kah – see the moment when (I think) Will Bruin all but barreled over Mamadou “Futty” Danso on a cross from Corey Ashe, or when three Portland defenders gaped at a sprawled Donovan Ricketts after a save on a Brad Davis attempt. But Dynamo attackers breezed right past Kah at least three times today, the worst slip coming when Bruin bolted past him for a point-blank shot on a follow-up. Kah jogged back on that one. Intense as he is, he can’t be faulted for a loss of concentration. It’s more that he’s so mono-focused on what’s in front of him that he misses what’s behind him.

Pin the blame for Houston’s actual goal on both Twin Towers of The Gambia because, again, an opposition forward slipped into a pretty big gap between the two of them. That hurt only a little more than how easily Davis slipped behind Jack Jewsbury.

The Other Big Thing
Call the four-goal game what you will – anomaly, miracle, take your pick. Whatever one calls it, it’s definitely an outlier. The scrambling, swirling attack from last season is dead….long live…uh, what is the replacement? Here’s what Portland has so far: about 35 yards from goal, some central pushes the ball out wide to an overlapping back; they’ll pick up the ball and, more often than not, drop it back, where it gets cycle around a while; finally someone – typically Darlington Nagbe, Kalif Alhassan, or Diego Valeri – will try to run at the defense. Now, this ends with the relevant Timber either falling down or rolling the ball out to the flank. Where it will drop back to, maybe cycle it around for a while. Etc., etc., fucking etc.

Portland is very, very adept at demonstrating how possession can be overrated.

Other Smaller Things
–  Houston was the better team today, but only marginally. They at least have a wide game worthy of the name. They can cross fairly competently and their forwards attack the ball and they do well enough cutting inside to fire in from either flank. I credit Bruin with a decent game, Davis, too. Even Andrew Driver had some moments. As with Portland, however, I doubt anyone for the Dynamo believes it’s enough.

– David Horst was very effective for Houston, ditto for Warren Creavale. I thought Portland might get a little lift from Ricardo Clark’s absence, but that space opened up only once or twice. Credit to Creavalle and Horst for that.

– Both Nagbe and Valeri are shadows of their 2013 selves. This is a lot of what’s going on. Valeri looks stiff, Nagbe aimless. Timbers fans can give up on much happening till at least one of the players gets back online. Or till Rodney Wallace comes back (though he’s not bad in the pre-game stuff). The Timbers don’t get much penetration on either side, they keep running into a wall in the middle, and the team can’t do much with crosses, collectively.

– That’s what the Timbers need in a lot of ways: just one game in which all the weapons fire. I thought a couple players had good games today: Michael Harrington, Kalif Alhassan, and Diego Chara. These guys need help.

– As much as I appreciate the three goals he’s scored – and his third (today’s) was absolutely his best – Fernandez doesn’t inspire much for enthusiasm, never mind confidence. Their poacher’s goals, the sort that rely on Rube-Goldberg mechanics, as opposed to something consciously crafted.

I’m pretty well to the point of giving up. It’s not that I won’t watch, curse or cheer. It’s more that I can’t see the Timbers going anywhere this year. Not the end of the world, really, but not a great feeling either.

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