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. Continue reading

Seattle v. Colorado: One Big (DP) Thing and Several Smaller Ones

Speaking as a Portland Timbers fan, goddammit. Speaking as a U.S. Men’s team fan…I’m sorry. Dropping the blasphemy is the best I can do right now. I lost money on this thing (you don’t want to know) so it’s going to take some doing to get over the bitterness.

Hell of a win for Seattle, obviously, as most 4-0 wins are. What impressed most was the slow strangulation of the Colorado Rapids – something that goes double after an opening 10 minutes that saw a number of Seattle players cough up the ball (Djimi Traore, Osvaldo Alonso, etc.)

One thing I noticed, though: this team is fucking addicted to heel-flicks. MLSsoccer.com typically posts a sort of “best plays” compilation (example): I imagine it’s going to be lousy with Sounders highlights.  I blame Clint Dempsey. Speaking of…

The Big (Obvious) Thing
Clint Dempsey owns his DP label in 2014. And in a very, very complete way. He’s dropping toward midfield to facilitate possession, riding challenges, dishing passes (2 of every three coming off one of his heels) and he’s getting kicked for his troubles, often. See: Mari, Jose (though it wasn’t as bad as Kasey “Shameless Homer” Keller made it sound. Useful as that can be, Dempsey’s also unlocking defenses with those same showy (admittedly entertaining) moves. (Still, fuck him.) The way Marco Pappa continued his run into the box on the way to Seattle’s second goal testifies to his teammates’ faith in Sir Clint’s ability to play out of trouble. Dempsey appeared completely closed down – two defenders closing around him, with two more between him and the goal – but he popped the ball free (with the heel, natch) to Pappa, who shot toward a mitten-handed Clint Irwin, who bobbled it for, yes, Clint “Goddamn” Dempsey to clean up. More troubling still (for the rest of us, anyway) is the way Dempsey took the set-up role from Obafemi Martins, who has ably filled that role for the past couple games.

Bottom line, Seattle pinned Colorado into their defensive end and just ran at them and ran at them and ran at them. The Sounders did it with enough ease to make it seem like they’ll be able to do this against any team they can pin back. Sigh…and oh my gawd. The thought of Seattle-ites with another reason to feel smug does turn the stomach.

Other Smaller Things
– Keller got one big thing right in this game: Colorado passed Seattle the noose by giving the Sounders second and third chances. And Irwin had a terrible game, coughing up rebounds readily and often as a 20-year smoker coughs up phlegm. By contrast Stefan Frei held on firmly to the few shots he faced. It mattered.

– Similar contrasts defined this game: Consider Dempsey versus Edson Buddle; Martins v. Gabriel Torres; DeAndre Yedlin v. Chris Klute; Alonso v. Nick LaBrocca. The Rapids won only one of those match-ups by my count – I put LaBrocca over Alonso and by some distance – and maybe they punched even with Klute v. Yedlin, but the forward comparison was elementary school versus college. Torres did nothing and Buddle did little more than give up the ball.

– Bottom line – and I think it’s pervasive – Colorado doesn’t have much for final third game. They’ve thrived on PKs, but even those (or at least two of them) came from through-balls that originated fairly close to midfield – typically through the absent Dillon Powers. Might have mattered last night. It’s fair to assume that the Rapids would have fared better with a little more control up top. It’s fair, even if you don’t buy it.

– Several Rapids players had good games; that’s the weird thing. Drew Moor might have got beat on a couple scrambles, but he also cleaned up a ton of mistakes. Mari was good and LaBrocca very good. (I won’t lie; I’ve always liked LaBrocca; he does bald men proud.) It just wasn’t enough with everyone else not quite there.

– Finally, that sweater Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni wore? Totally DP-caliber.

What New York v. Houston Says About Houston v. Portland

ImageNow, one could call this a late post, seeing as it looks back at the Wednesday night game between the Houston Dynamo and Red Bull New York. But one could also call it early, because much of the focus goes to what the Portland Timbers can expect in an early (goddammit!) Sunday afternoon match against Houston.

Typically, there will be a frame for this kind of post – i.e. what I’ll do when I talk about matches: One Big Idea, plus as many little ones that seem worth mentioning (e.g. while I didn’t think much of Eddie Robinson as a player, I think he’s pretty good in the booth). Originally, this week’s Big Ideas was going to be a contrast between Houston’s Will Bruin and New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips (hereafter “BWP”). In the end, though, I decided that adding to many words about New York/BWP (e.g. that he played a pure poacher’s role) would take too much time away from things Houston (e.g. how much deeper Bruin plays/played, how much more work he put into the build-up).

So, that’s that. Now, what the hell happened to Houston Wednesday night? (4-0, that’s what.) Continue reading

ImageIt can be hard, at times, to judge the wisdom guiding Major League Soccer’s fairly accelerated program for expansion. It could be striking while the iron’s hot on the one hand, or, on the other, running headlong into a big ol’ wall with “hubris” written all over it – and without a helmet.

I’ve enjoyed the mad dash for the most part – it certainly helped that it appears sustainable – but there’s something about the latest round that finally left me uneasy. And looking at those seats behind home plate (pictured at bottom above) in the daydream sketch of what will be at Yankee stadium gets at why. Begging for a place to play (no matter how nice), the plain awful aesthetics of that set up, feels like a step back to the bad old days. Slapping an NYFC logo under that massive gap of dead air does nothing to shrink or hide something that manifestly non-ideal. Continue reading

MLS Week 7 Feelings Check: Sister Kissing and Absent Forwards

ImageAs just about anyone who cares to know knows, Major League Soccer has a major sister-kissing problem. Hell, the Chicago Fire’s already well around second base, but more than a few other teams – my Portland Timbers among them – well, let’s just say they’re grasping at all the wrong bra straps. Look outside the nuclear family, boys, and chalk up some decent, American wins. Ya sickos…

This has been commented on and, fortunately, there is an upside. Those ties are a fucking god-send when your team is struggling to get started. At least one team comes to mind…with hope’s wings a-flutter over it.

A couple other thoughts occurred to me over this past Week 7, things that don’t fit neatly into the team-by-team narrative that will unfold below. On that, I quit Power Rankings cold turkey (seems to be the only way), so don’t read anything into the order below; I listed all 19 teams in the order that they came to me. And that’s it. I’ll make my measure of them in the comments (and why the hell do I sound like a late 19th-century prospector tonight?).

Getting back to those trends, how many teams are suffering from lost gambles on certain forwards to solve the problem? Think Eddie Johnson, Teal Bunbury, and, more recently, Andrew Wenger (no, I will not give him time to get going). There are more, I’m sure. What about the struggles of once/former stars like Marco DiVaio, who has failed to get going so far, or even Will Bruin who promised so very much….though that was in one game…maybe we all should have seen that coming.

On a related note, I’m not even sure the Timbers have a forward… Continue reading

Vancouver v. LA: A Meditation on Difference-Makers

My interest tilted toward the home team when I tuned into the Vancouver Whitecaps v. LA Galaxy. Memories of the season-opening curb-stomp against Red Bull New York the angle: maybe the ‘Caps would do it again, especially if they carried some confidence over from the prior week’s narrow loss to LA at the Stub Hub.

Pedro Morales made one hell of an impression in that opener. Talk of how he’d eviscerate any team fool enough to leave him alone with the ball at his feet bubbled into commentary. Yep, all very promising.

The Pedro Morales I watched last night was not that guy. He did hit a couple cross-field beauties, balls that landed on a dime’s edge from 40+ yards away – things o’ beauty, in all honesty – but he squandered those hot little flashes with some alarmingly loose, shorter-range passing. You start to wonder if Morales can only hit the long ball. Continue reading

RSL v. Portland: Curse That Baby-Kissing Bastard

ImageGoalkeepers are like Congressmen: you’re OK with your own, but the rest are thieves or assholes. (OK, potentially obscure title, but what do Congressmen do on the campaign trail? Kiss babies, amirite?)

This week, Nick Rimando is both a thief and an asshole. He turned in a man-of-the-match kind of night, only for the wrong team. So, yeah, thief and asshole. The Portland Timbers had at least three (3) high-quality chances on goal and the son-of-a-bitch stoned them all. Two of them after the Timbers went down 1-0 to a goal by Ned Grabavoy. I only just learned about Grabavoy’s once-medically fragile daughter and, being a father myself, I can’t imagine the stress, so, Ned, have that goal on us. And a pint. Just keep in mind that it’s the last one you get. Are we good? Good.

The four people who routinely check my Twitter feed will know that I saw a 1-0 game. I just thought that Portland would be on the right side of the final score. I can’t say why – and gods know I’m fucking awful at predicting anything more complex than the sunrise – but something told me, this is around the 15 minute mark, that the Timbers would pull out this game. They didn’t obviously, but… Continue reading