Conifers and Citrus

Seattle 3-1 Timbers: Well, That Didn’t Go as Planned

Even with a car this fly, we need an upgrade, upgrade!

Even with a car this fly, we need an upgrade, upgrade!

I, like you, just watched the Portland Timbers cough up a hairball to Seattle Sounders SC. I, like you, have thoughts about that game.

No, a 3-1 loss for Portland wasn’t the goal, at least anywhere outside the greater Seattle metro area (and among those having no taste/discernment for the finer things). Sadly, it wasn’t undeserved for Seattle. For Portland, meanwhile, it looked like a road game, a situation where a decent team (Portland) created a couple decent shots in a hostile-ish environment. The only disappointment comes with seeing the home team (Seattle) make, and get away with, a handful of mistakes – including and up to a minimum of three situations when the ball landed on the ground near or inside the six-yard box, and much to the surprise of all involved, and on both teams…and that’s where a theme kicks in:

This was one of those goddamn clichéd, “they took their chances” kind of games: Seattle did take their chances, or forced them, while Portland did the latter, but not the former (C’mon. Jack Mac; an audition is a lousy time to let the ball get caught up between one’s spokes. even if it’s an extended one). Small wonder, then, that Portland walked out losers on the night. With that, the damned dirty playoff race tightens, if in a fairly predictable way. Even with Week 24’s results breaking Portland’s way besides, the race tightened, and that leaves the Timbers one win by any of three teams from falling over the red velvet rope and landing on a waiting list that ends in wasted hours and disappointment. (That said, am I worried about Vancouver? Nah.)

Were the Timbers screwed over in any way tonight? No, not as I saw it; if anything, Vytas could have been carded earlier and sent off later, were it not for the ref’s indulgence. Were the Timbers genuinely bad? Nah, not particularly. They played all right for me, only to be hobbled by a couple major/minor gaffes (see: Vytas Andriuskevicius’ penalty-kick-inducing foul and Steven Taylor’s to-be-expected stutter-start (honestly, he wasn’t bad in any meaningful sense, even if 1) he learned that Major League Soccer players (e.g. Jordan Morris) can be strong and fast as players in England; and 2) his drop-off on Dempsey’s second goal made the space that let it happen).

On a deeper level, though, tonight’s loss points toward a flipping of the script, if anything – e.g. a scenario where Seattle rages into the post-season on the back of a change to the line-up/formation equation, much the same way Portland did in 2015. Here, the point is that Seattle has done something to make its team better heading into the post-season. It may be too late, as some postulated as recently as a month ago, and they may yet be proved right. Portland made changes, too, but they’re neither dramatic (e.g. on the attacking side) nor did they take nearly so quickly as Seattle’s did.

Which is funny, because that’s kind of the punch-line for Seattle’s win tonight: Nicolas Lodeiro didn’t play a huge role tonight; I think Portland (Jack Jewsbury, especially) man-marked him for a lot of the match (but I kept losing track; iCarly was on a TV next to the one I was watching). Instead, it was old hands like Clint Dempsey and a guy like a semi-homegrown hopeful like Cristian Roldan who defined the game tonight and made the difference for the Sounders. For me, Roldan gets man of the match: if I’m not mistaken, he drew the penalty, played in Dempsey for Seattle’s second goal (see links above) and, sure, enough, he scored the double-insurance winner as well. Call it soccer’s triple-double: the kid’s fingerprints lingered all over this thing, regardless, and that’s sorta badass and encouraging to boot, at least if you’re a U.S. Men’s fan. By that I mean, please note where Roldan plays – e.g. deep and central – and notice how he plays – e.g. with a decent attacking brain. Just sayin’…

Then again, sometimes new parts change the dynamic for your old parts. Or it could just be that Seattle found a good place for Roldan by way of freeing up a spot for a new DP (Lodeiro). Either way, the Timbers look like they’re on the wrong side of the equation right now. Is there a way to flip the negatives/positives to the other side of the equation – e. g., to Portland’s side of the equal sign? Mmm, not sure.

Now, to Portland. First, I’m not going to dwell on the defense a lot, and for the simple reason that it’s going through some kind of transition; call it necessary, call it experimentation, call it shuffling chairs on the Titanic if that’s where you are, but, to this point, the status quo worked about as well as a PT Cruiser – e.g. just well enough to be road-worthy – and, jesus fuck me, if I don’t know the full meaning of that experience first-hand and at some cost. I thought Liam Ridgewell and Taylor at least met the threshold of work-in-progress, while I thought Powell had a damned solid night, and on both sides of the ball. Vytas, meanwhile…Vytas. He coughed up a penalty that wasn’t great, and he got a little foul happy, but he showed some potential in rolling up Tyrone Mears’ side of the field, especially late. More significantly, none of the goals, apart from the PK, went up Vytas’ side. (UPDATE: As others have pointed out, this came at a cost; think I missed this; mea culpa.) Still, the fouls, they are a concern…

At any rate, the defense has new pieces and, ideally, it’ll improve as the players keep around one another. And, yes, I like Nat Borchers more than the next guy, think his foot sinks a little less into the water than most, but, honestly, the Timbers will need to find a replacement for him pretty goddamn soon and there’s no better time the present convalescence to give extended auditions to promising prospects, so time to get cracking, etc., etc., etc. At this point, I’m ready to see what’s next at defense. If it works out this year, hu-fucking-zzah! All the same, no, I’m not expecting it…one thing I am saying: his profile page says he’s 6’0″ (tall enough), so I say we see what Amobi Okugo can do out there. He’s one of the few defensive players I’ve watched this year where I wanted to watch him a little more to see what he can do. Whether in defense or midfield. As I tell everyone I know, I’m prepared to be open-minded always…

No, my bigger concern comes in the attack, an area where I’ve been decidedly complacent for most of 2016. For all that the Timbers remain on the (now, low) high side of average this season, I feel like I can no longer ignore the fact that Portland has two players on its roster who come perilously close to wasting an attacking player every time they take the field. In other words, yep, I’m back to wondering what the hell to do with Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Melano.

They’re different animals, to be sure. Nagbe actually looked interested tonight: I saw him get ahead of the ball a couple times, when he pushed gaps into Seattle’s backline by charging into retreating full-/centerbacks. Even if it didn’t come off tonight, that’s what I want from Nagbe – e.g. to be interested in scoring or, failing that, to do things that discombobulate/scare the shit out of the opposing defense. Tonight wasn’t enough, and, Hell yes, that has a huge amount to do with tonight’s approach not being the norm. All the same, Nagbe’s numbers haven’t looked elite in seasons now. At some point, this has to matter, whether in terms of finding a different role for him (my choice) or…let’s call it the unthinkable.

Melano, meanwhile…look, when is it time? Facts are stats, people, and stats facts, and, 26 games (including 23 starts, and 25 appearances) into to 2016 Melano has simply failed to be even an answer for the Timbers attack. He’s not a $5-million player at this point. I’d struggle to call him $1-million player. When do you call him a failed investment? If you sell Melano right now, you might break even on him. And I emphasize might. If he goes through another season like this, I’m guessing his value will plummet. God knows, were I a manager, I wouldn’t look at his body of work with Portland and wonder how high I’ll pile the money before him. No, this would be one of those sad conversations, freighted with hints of failure and “being realistic about where we are.” So…what to do?

I am loathe to say this, but I’d give him another year and hope – and I mean against all hope – that Melano turns around. Portland clings to the original premise that way – and without sitting in a clearly unenviable bargaining position. Still, anyone out there who doesn’t view this as a risk should probably steer clear of casinos for a bit…

There’s one last attacking player to discuss, one that embodies all that was best and worst about Portland’s attack tonight: yep, Jack McInerney. First, I’ve come to view the phrase “hold-up play” with some measure of suspicion. My point here is that I would file a lot of what McInerney did tonight under hold-up play: in other words, he did a solid job of dropping back to find the ball and then moving it somewhere useful, or at least at the feet of someone facing forward. I’d say he integrated the attack as well as any Timber tonight. And yet he failed in his primary mission – e.g. to score a goal. He had a couple good shots at goal, too, but he also missed his best chance (again, see above; the thing about spokes), and at a painfully awkward time and in still more painfully awkward manner. So…

So…

So…

I think that’s it. If you see last year’s miracle repeating, good for you. Nothing wrong with that. Also, I’m guessing you feel better about the future than I do, generally.

Personally, though, I’m not seeing this season ending like the last one. I would be shocked – and I mean to the point of getting a tattoo of Liam Ridgewell’s winking face on my ass (please submit/post fan art of this) – to see Portland make even the Western Conference semifinals. Things are too fluid, basically, and there are too many questions at too many positions to make me think this team has what it takes to survive the (at this point) inevitable play-in (I mean, we’re six points off LA right now), not to mention subsequent home-and-away playoff rounds. That’s only sad, or even upsetting, if you want or expect constant happiness and satisfaction. The project here, and forever, is to build and maintain a team that, over time, brings more happiness and satisfaction than less. Personally, I’d be good with a 55-45 split, plus the odd trophy thrown in. That said, I’m my team’s personal property forever for a whole lot less…not that I’d ever let anyone know my absolute cellar for loyalty. I do have my pride, after all…

Whoops. I really should say something about Joevin Jones for Seattle. Kid was a beast today…

Till next, ideally un-curs’d weekend. Damn the Sound!

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