2014 Postmortem: Part 3

Posted on: November 17th, 2014 by john nyen 1 Comment

 

Continuing our look back at the 2014 Timbers season we move onto topic,

 

#3 The Timbers were exposed defensively against better teams at the fullback position leading to unpredictable and poor play at the back.

 

The 2013 Timbers certainly didn’t have the same issues at fullback that they did at centerback during the 2013 season. While the combination of Rodney Wallace covering over Michael Harrington on the left ended up with Harrington and Wallace getting national team call ups, the right side of the defense was a bit less reliable with the veteran central midfielder Jack Jewsbury frequently used.

 

Talk to the Hand.

Talk to the Hand.

Teams began to pick on the side covered by Jewsbury using players with speed to match up against him with decent results from a play perspective. While Jewsbury compensated against the speed of the opposition with positioning; this methodology of defending often pushed him back forcing the team into a one sided offensive attack that was manifested, far too often, with the ball being forced down the left side of the offense.

 

While Jewsbury did an admirable job, considering that this is not his natural position and considering that he was 31 going on 32, the long term viewpoint of his contribution at that position was not of a permanent move. Jewsbury is not a speed player, he is a thinking player, and while he attempted to out-position players defensively, teams in the league very clearly started targeting his side of the field as the one to attack because of his athletic culpability.

 

"Into the MIXER" - Every announcer

As noted above, Rodney Wallace and Michael Harrington, in 2013, seemed to have a pretty dynamic partnership on the left. However, as a matter of the way in which he was tasked to play as well as his own style, Harrington frequently had the ability to get caught up field in transition and Wallace would be required to back up Harrington’s offensive forays. This all fell apart in 2014, when Harrington’s dashes up field were frequently not covered defensively due to Wallace being out injured for the first half of the season and this lack of defensive effort by the players on the field exposed the centerbacks and goalkeeper of the Timbers on build up play and counter attack opportunities.

 

The purchase of Steve Zakuani and the attempt of the Timbers to cover the left with defensively liable players like Gaston Fernandez placed more emphasis on Harrington to be defensively sound and his inconsistency with being defensively sound made the Timbers pay for pushing their fullbacks into the attack. Harrington was eventually replaced in the lineup on the left side by new acquisition Jorge Villafana on May 24th 2014 in a win against Red Bull New York.  Villafana started 8 straight games before sitting out six games for seemingly a variety of reasons which started with an injury and then morphed into the excuse of "the hot hand” a methodology that Porter seemed to employ religiously in 2014.

 

Villafana also benefited from having Rodney Wallace starting above him in the formation as he started all but 3 of the games in which Wallace started in 2014. It certainly could be argued that the lack of Wallace in the lineup has something to do with the seeming decline of Harrington’s play at left back in 2014, of course perhaps Harrington was always going to regress to the mean. However, Villafana seemingly solidified his grasp on the left back position by the end of the 2014 season providing defensive cover and occasionally a superb delivery from that position. He was, for 2014, one of the few positive upgrades over the course of the season.

 

As for the right back position, the season was a mixed one with Harrington, Jack Jewsbury, and Alvas Powell tried out at that position with Powell the heir apparent by seasons end. Powell is the proverbial gem stone not polished, at this point in his career. He easily had one of the worst moments on the field in 2014 with a horrendous red card tackle against Columbus. After this game, Powell was sent to Sacramento Republic on loan.

 

 

Powell missed 14 straight regular season games due to his loan and came back into the MLS lineup on August 30th, 2014 in a win against the Vancouver Whitecaps. It certainly appeared that Powell’s time with Sacramento gave him more game time that the player needs,as he appeared to be more settled at his position. However, it remains to be seen if the sometimes irrational and wild swings of the early season 7 games or the seemingly more stable late season 8 games will define the Alvas Powell of the future.

 

As it stands, the Timbers have Harrington and Jewsbury as the backups for the left and the right with the 20 year old Powell starting at the right back position and given that they still do not officially own the Powell’s rights, it remains to be seen if he continues playing with the Timbers or not. As well, Taylor Peay showed well in his limited appearances during the US Open Cup and the pre-season. Peay is an interesting option who will hopefully receive more playing time either during the pre-season or during the regular season with Timbers 2. It must be said that while Powell shows both maddening inconsistencies and interesting play, that he has yet to show that he can maintain any level of consistency over the course of an entire season. Timbers fans can only hope that if he shows a massive level of progression in 2015, that the progression happens in a Timbers uniform.

 

Of course here is where we stop and set the gentle reminder that the expansion draft is coming up. It is entirely possible that Jewsbury and Harrington will both be left unprotected. This of course doesn't mean that either would be selected, but it certainly feels like the Timbers will be again acquiring new talent to bolster the fullback position on the team in 2015.

 

In the end, the Timbers suffered at the fullback position during the 2014 season on both the right and the left before finding some measure of defensive solidarity late in the season.

 

While the fullbacks and the issues with them don't, in my opinion, define the 2014 season; the continuing issues in finding a stable back four partnership does define every season in Major League Soccer for the Timbers. The Timbers going forward can argue that they have some pieces to build with at the fullback position, however they must be careful entrusting their lineup to merely serviceable players given the huge inconsistencies shown by this same group over the course of the last season or two.

 

My honest belief is that one can look at the past signings that the Timbers acquired at the fullback position as an indication of the level of import that the Timbers place on the position. As such, I would expect the team to make some moves with existing players and attempt to fill the roster out at that position with a 100k or less level player for 2015.

Chabala, Mike hall_140x200 Miller, Ryan I Purdy, Steve Smith, Steven Timbers.KimuraMug.LP002Palmer, Lovel_0 (1)

 

2014 Postmortem: Part 2

Posted on: November 6th, 2014 by john nyen 7 Comments

 

Continuing the postmortem of the 2014 season we move on to what I consider the main issue that the Timbers had in 2014, the Defense.

 

#2 The Timbers were exposed defensively against better teams at the centerback position leading to unpredictable and poor play at the back.

 

The 2013 season ended because of the two centerbacks of the Timbers: Full Stop.

 

Exhibit 1:

 

 

Exhibit 2:

 

Exhibit 3:

 

Futty Danso and Jack Jewsbury goal allowed (more on Jack Jewsbury and the fullbacks later)

 

 

 

With three of the four goals in the first leg of the playoffs, the centerbacks directly either lost their defensive marker or simply had poor plays to allow chances on goal. This wasn't an isolated incident as the entire game Salt Lake had chances only to see a number of them parried away by Donovan Ricketts.

 

This kind of play is indicative of the games played against the top level teams in MLS by this duo of Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso, who despite their record forged at the tail end of 2013 were exposed repeatedly by an excellent Real Salt Lake team setting the blueprint for how teams played in 2014 against the Timbers.

 

The front office and coaching staff’s offseason tweaks for 2014 were to send off Andrew Jean-Baptiste (a frequently used, yet temperamental centerback for the Timbers) and acquire Norberto Papparato from Argentina while not re-signing Mikael Silvestre after his rehabilitation from ACL surgery.

The front office hope was that Paparatto would pair well with Pa Modou Kah and offer stability at a position that has frequently vexed the Timbers.

 

While the Danso/Kah partnership reaped rewards at the end of the season in 2013 it was really a result of excellent defensive shielding play by the midfield and some magnificent saves by Donovan Ricketts, who had a career year.

 

The Paparrato/Kah partnership didn’t even get a chance to get off the ground as Kah was substituted out with a hamstring injury in the first half of the first game of the season. Kah didn’t make it back til the 3/22/14 game against Colorado by which point Paparatto didn’t even make the 18 (groin injury) after giving up a goal by way of a penalty kick for a shove in the back in the game previously. During the first 8 games of the 2014 season, the Timbers were subject to repeated mistakes at the center back position which repeatedly cost them points.

 

Whether it was Paparatto giving up a goal by way of a penalty kick against Chicago,

 

 

Futty and Jewsbury letting Deshorn Brown slip by them in Colorado that resulted in Donovan Ricketts completely boneheaded kung fu kick red card or Kah and Futty missing their man in the Colorado game which resulted in Webber giving up a penalty kick, the center back position ineptness defined the Timbers season in 2014.

Paparatto started two more games (a loss against Dallas and a home debacle against Seattle) after coming back from injury after the Colorado game and was then left on the bench for seven straight games before coming into the team as a substitute during a road win in New York.

 

There is an often used phrase in Major League Soccer that it often takes imports from South America a long time to adapt to the league and despite Diego Valeri’s immediate impact this appears to be true when it comes to Paparatto.

 

Whether it was the rotating partnership that he endured with Pa Kah, Futty Danso or any other warm body put back there to work with him or the change in style of the game or the culutural change that comes from moving to the United States, learning a new language and trying to settle, it really took the arrival of another centerback from England to bring out the best in Paparatto.

 

After four months of inconsistent play at the core defensive positions on the field, the Timbers signed Liam Ridgewell on June 25th 2014.  The addition of Ridgewell was an attempt to shore up the problems that arose in 2014 with injuries and inconsistent play.  The Englishman trained for a month with the team before making his starting appearance with the team against Colorado in a 2-1 win on July 18th 2014.

 

SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT

Prior to Ridgewell’s first appearance the Timbers were 4-6-9 (W-L-D) on 21 points after 19 games and coming off a four game streak without a win having dropped games to Seattle and Kansas City and drawing Dallas and Los Angeles. The team was second from the bottom of the west and 5 points below a playoff position. Ridgewell started his first Timbers game next to journeyman Danny O’Rourke who was signed May 27th 2014 with the Timbers attempting to create depth and solidifying their lineup.

 

It must be said that the root of all the troubles during the 2014 season was the complete lack of ability that the Timbers had at the defensive positions. Whether through injury, poor play or poor partnerships, the Timbers centerback position was a revolving door of fecklessness.

 

No Timbers centerback played more than 2000 minutes for the Timbers with Pa Kah the highest minute getter, grabbing 1749 minutes during the regular season. The Timbers rotated through Kah (1749), Ridgewell (1350), Paparatto (1049), O’Rourke (975), Futty Danso (866), and Rauwshan McKenzie (496) with the rapidity of a roadrunner on speed. Despite setting a club record in MLS for goals scored (61), the team also allowed 51 goals on the season, just 5 fewer goals than they allowed during the calamitous 2012 season.

 

If the root of the problems in 2014 come from the defense, than the mother of all of the issues was germinated directly from the 2013 offseason where the team attempted to improve the defense by switching out one player and relying on depth that was porous at best.

 

We must have a small word about the acquisition of Danny O'Rourke, as well. Brought in to provide depth, O'Rourke shuffled around the back line of the Timbers somehow knocking out 975 minutes after it started to become clear that Porter was taking the approach of "Who hasn't screwed up, raise your hand" with the back line. O'Rourke started the season unaffiliated with any team in MLS, attempted a trial with Toronto and Seattle before waiting for the Timbers to offer him a stellar $55k salary. O'Rourke's acquisition allowed the Timbers to then almost immediately shift Futty Danso's "massive" $85k salary to Montreal for a 2015 draft pick. While Danso was not particularly sterling in 2014, the Timbers decided to cut 33k, pick up a player who was just doing some wind sprints for fun, pick up a draft pick that may or may not pan out and eventually start O'Rourke in the decisive game of the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions league, which the Timbers lost. For the front office sake, one hopes that the 2nd pick in 2015 ends up more like Darlington Nagbe and less like every one of the other draft picks that the Timbers have acquired so far.

 

Chinstraps are OVER.

As well, there is the fact that the Timbers lost assistant coach Amos Magee to DC United and replaced many of his tasks with long time USL Timbers defender Cameron Knowles. Certainly the downturn in result from the defensive perspective asks the question of all members of the Timbers from the front office to the players to the coaching staff. The appointment of Knowles seems to exist within the methodology of the Timbers staff to promote from within rather than searching for experienced coaching staff outside the Timbers family.

 

2013 First place to 2014 First place: The Conference Connection #FistBump

While the issue with the Timbers was seemingly the result of many of the players return to the mean, the issue really is that the front office and coaching staff was forced to react during the middle of the season as their offseason plans simply did not pan out. While Paparatto played much better with a competent centerback partner during the late stages of 2014, the team philosophy of standing pat with all their players and acquiring one during the offseason simply did not work.

 

By the end of the 2014 season, not one single player that started the first game of the season on the Timbers back line started the final game of the season.

 

 

The current Timbers centerback options at the end of the 2014 season are:

 

Ridgewell

Paparatto

Kah

McKenzie

O’Rourke

 

Given the issues seen during the last season, I would expect that the Timbers would make moves during the 2014 offseason to shore up the position by not keeping McKenzie, O’Rourke or Kah. They need to acquire another CB pickup to challenge Paparatto for the second starting CB position and find bench players that can competently play when called upon in need. Kah’s salary is simply too expensive to expect him to sit on the bench and he has not shown to be a player that excels in Caleb Porter’s system that requires defenders to play with a technical ability and be able to snuff out danger from the counter attacks that teams frequently use against the Timbers.

 

So far, it appears that the midseason acquisition of Liam Ridgewell has been a positive one for the Timbers and his partnership with Paparatto brought the best out of the Argentine defender. However, it remains to be seen if the defenders can provide a long term pairing that allows the Timbers to succeed.

 

With regards to Ridgewell, he appears to be a player that the Timbers can utilize going forward, but it must be recalled that he has shown the ability to switch off defensively as he did during two of the three goals that Olimpia scored in the final game of the CONCACAF Champion’s league in Honduras. I would think that all fans of the Timbers would like to see a full season with a stable centerback partnership before we start anointing Ridgewell as the savior of the Timbers defense.

 

In short, the 2014 offseason is now as important to 2015 as the 2013 offseason was important to 2014. The 2013 offseason may have yielded negatives for the Timbers in defense but they have the chance to correct those issues by adequately addressing the issues from 2014 by focusing on improving the options available at center back.

 

 

Your A$$ Or A Hole In The Ground

Posted on: October 31st, 2014 by john nyen 5 Comments

 

Things you can find, Things you can touch, Things you might see differently while drunk, Things that you may not know the difference between....

 

Things an owner would say

Let's stick with things that you can find for right now, before shifting into "Do you know the difference between?"

 

More specifically, here we talk about player acquisition and development. Appropriately done, player acquisition is the lifeblood of a team. Inappropriately done with high contracts and poor player fit,  it will hamstring a club for years.

 

Here's the ALL-TIME PORTLAND TIMBERS MLS PLAYERS list organized by position with notations as to whether they are still with the team and statistical total summary.

 

We will do it like this:

 

Player Name (alphabetically) - Current Status with Timbers - Where they are now

 

FORWARD:
Adi - Timbers Player
Boyd - Not With Team - Rangers FC
Cooper - Not With Team - Seattle Sounders
Dike - Not With Team - Toronto FC
Fucito - Not With Team - San Jose Earthquakes
Eddie Johnson - Not With Team - Retired
Ryan Johnson - Not With Team - Henan Jianye (China)
Mwanga - Not With Team - NY Cosmos on loan from Colorado Rapids
Perlaza - Not With Team - Millionaires
Piquionne - Not With Team - US Creteil (Ligue 2)
Richards - Not With Team - Not with any team (physical rehabilitation)
Umony - Not With Team - Not with any team -
Urruti - Timbers Player
Valencia - Not With Team (despite what you may read) - Rosario Central

 

TOTALS: 14 players - 2 with team - 2 not playing any professional soccer - 1 retired- 63 goals scored 

Note: Despite what the Timbers website might say, Darlington Nagbe and Gaston Fernandez very infrequently play as a true forward and therefore are included as midfielders. As well, Valencia is NOT with the team and Tshuma was on loan, which means that the Timbers had only 2 forwards for the second half of the 2014 season.

 

MIDFIELD:
Alexander - Not With Team - Red Bull New York
Alhassan - Timbers Player
Braun - Not With Team - San Antonio Scorpions
Chará - Timbers Player
Fernández - Timbers Player
Jewsbury - Timbers Player
Will Johnson - Timbers Player
Lowry - Not With Team - Retired/Assistant Coach with St Mary's College
Marcelin - Not With Team - Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Moffat - Not With Team - FC Dallas
Nagbe - Timbers Player
Nanchoff - Timbers Player
Pore - Not With Team - Retired
Ring - Not With Team - Indy Eleven
Songo'o - Not With Team - PAS Giannina
Valeri - Timbers Player
Wallace - Timbers Player
Zakuani - Not With Team - Retired
Zemanski - Timbers Player
Zizzo - Not With Team - Sporting Kansas City

 

TOTALS:  18 players - 10 with team - 3 retired - 99 goals - 121 assists

 

DEFENDERS:
Brunner - Not With Team - Houston Dynamo
Chabala - Not With Team - Not playing professional soccer
Danso - Not With Team - Motreal Impact
Goldthwaite - Not With Team - Retired
Hall - Not With Team - Wilmington Hammerheads on loan from Toronto FC
Harrington - Timbers Player
Horst - Not With Team - Houston Dynamo
Jean-Baptiste - Not With Team -Chivas USA AKA Dispersal Draft Player
Kah - Timbers Player
Kimura - Not With Team - Red Bull New York
McKenzie - Timbers Player
Miller - Not With Team - Retired
Mosquera - Not With Team - Aguilas Doradas
O'Rourke - Timbers Player
Palmer - Not With Team - Chicago Fire
Paparatto - Timbers Player
Powell - Timbers Player (on loan from Portmore United)
Purdy - Not With Team - Retired
Ridgewell - Timbers Player
Silvestre - Not With Team - Chennaiyin FC
Smith - Not With Team - Rangers FC
Villafaña - Timbers Player

 

TOTALS: 22 players - 8 with team -  2 retired - 1 not playing any professional soccer

 

GOALKEEPERS:
Bendik - Not With Team - Toronto FC
Brown - Not With Team - Retired
Gleeson - Timbers Player
Kocic - Not With Team - Retired
Perkins - Not With Team - Montreal Impact
Ricketts - Timbers Player
Weber - Timbers Player

 

TOTALS: 7 players - 3 players still with team - 2 retired

 

SIGNED BUT NEVER PLAYED A MINUTE IN MLS:
Evans - Timbers Player
Fehr - Not With Team - SC Sagamihara
Fochive - Timbers Player
Gallego - Timbers Player
HOGG- Not With Team - Metro AFC
Kawulok - Not With Team - No Team
Long - Not With Team - Seattle Sounders
Lopez - Not With Team - Sacramento Republic
Peay - Timbers Player
Renken - Not With Team - Arizona United
Rincón - Not With Team (ON LOAN) - Tigre
Taylor - Not With Team - No team
Thompson - Not With Team - No team
Tucker-Gangnes - Not With Team - Retired
Tshuma - Timbers Player

 

TOTALS: 15 players - 5 with team - 3 not playing any professional soccer - 1 retired

 

 

MLS TOTALS OVER FOUR SEASONS:

 

76 different players - 28 still with the team - 9 retired - 6 not playing any professional soccer 

 

Both the defense and forward position are a wasteland of jettisoned contracts over the last four years. The defense only retained 8 players for four positions moving 14 to other teams. Meanwhile the forward position only has two players left (unless you count rookie Tshuma) having moved 12 to other teams/destinations. These numbers reflect those players who played at least one minute in the MLS regular season, for obvious reasons.

 

The best value for the Timbers has clearly been in the midfield which has scored a whopping 99 of the 189 goals scored by the Timbers over the last 4 seasons.

 

Given that the Timbers have had a poor defense for 3 of the 4 seasons that they have played in MLS, this continuing acquisition/divestment of players in that category is hardly surprising.  The worry is that after four years, the Timbers haven't, yet, found consistency in the back line. As well, I would anticipate that there will be more losses either from contract negotiations, expansion draft, or players not making the cut to the back line numbers in 2015.

 

The midfield numbers could, as well, see some change in the 2014 offseason with some players getting older and more likely to not be protected in the expansion draft as well as others retiring.

 

These names and numbers will be important to track, going forward as a measure of the front office success in acquiring talent and putting them in a position to succeed.

 

48 players lost over 4 seasons is an average of 12 per season. That means that for better or worse, the Timbers have turned over nearly half of their available lineup every season with virtually the same results, excepting one season (2013).

 

But wait.

 

In 2012, the same year they fired him, the Timbers front office gave a 3 year extension to John Spencer.

 

Before we start throwing around that this is a big deal that the Timbers add/remove that many players from their 30 every year, lets look at some things.

 

Is that a big deal? Does anyone know? I mean, I'd like to know if that makes a difference. It seems like something that could make a difference. It seems that every year I hear that roster stability is the key to success but I'd rather have the numbers to back that information up than relying on hearsay.

 

Well, here's the information...

 

Here's some of the player acquisition numbers over the past 4 seasons for a number of teams. First we have the best and worst teams for the past 4 seasons. (I picked 4 seasons because that is how long PTFC have been in the league)

 

2014:

Seattle - 1st in MLS - 19 players acquired 17 players let go

Montreal - 19th in MLS - 16 players acquired 14 players let go

 

2013:

Red Bull New York - 1st in MLS - 21 players acquired 20 players let go

DC United - 19th in MLS - 14 players acquired 12 players let go

 

2012:

San Jose - 1st in MLS - 7 players acquired 4 players let go

Toronto FC - 19th in MLS - 16 players acquired 18 players let go

 

2011:

LA Galaxy - 1st in MLS - 14 players acquired 10 players let go

Vancouver - 18th in MLS - Expansion team, all players technically new/let go

 

So if anything, one can say that somehow the team that won the Supporters Shield in 2014 and in 2012 had dramatically different methods of player acquisition.

 

Seattle picked up 19 players and four of those brand new players were in the top 10 of total minutes for the team in the same year they were acquired. Five of the 19 had over 1000 minutes and Kenny Cooper was only 11 minutes away from joining that party.

 

San Jose picked up 7 players and two of them had meaningful minutes for the team with only one player of those two making the top 10 in total minutes on the team.

 

 

Ok, but you you might say that most of those numbers seemingly defy any kind of pattern and to that I will say, well... yeah.

 

For example, a comparison in number of acquisitions, number of minutes played for the best and the worst team in the league in 2014.

 

Player name: Minutes -- Salary as reported by MLS players union (these are not exact numbers)

 

Seattle 2014 acquired player numbers:

Frei : 3060 -- $150,000
Marshall : 2790 -- $286,666.67
Cooper : 989 -- $265.625
Kovar : 25 -- 48,700
Okoli : 19 -- 48,750
Barrett : 867 -- 85,000
Bowen : 60 -- 70,000
Anibaba : 1283 -- 159,620
Lowe : 0 -- 68,500
Pappa : 1931 -- 75,000
Ockford : 0 -- 36,504
Pineda : 2233 -- 80,000
Azira : 606 -- 51,147.54
Weaver: 31 -- 49004.00
Parsemain : 0 -- 54,486.81
Long : 0 -- 36504.00
Apam : 0 -- 60,000

TOTAL MONEY SPENT = 1.62 million

 

and then we have

 

Montreal 2014 acquired player numbers:

Miller : 1646 -- 68,500
Gonzalez : 80 -- 50,000
Pearce : 1822 -- 100,000
McInerney : 1804 -- 294,166.67
Nakajima-Farran : 540 -- 110,000
Danso : 231 -- 87,500
Larrea : 428 -- 48,500
Krol : 961 -- 153,000
Piatti : 450 -- 387,500
Gagnon-Lapare : -- 40,504
Duka : 1023 -- 190,000
Jackson-Hamel : 132 -- 36,504
Soriola: 0 -- 120,000
Beland-Goyette : 15 -- 36,504
Bissue: 0 -- 48,500

 TOTAL MONEY SPENT - 1.7 million (this is cap hit as Piatti costs more due to his DP status)

 

So based on this small sample size the key  isn't exactly "spending more money" than the other folks (although having the resources to do so certainly helps). I mean none of us regular folks are privy to the actual numbers paid to the players but we can simply estimate based on the numbers the players union releases.

 

Ok, so what other pieces of information do we have.

How about player acquisition numbers for some of the teams that either won MLS cup over the years and/or perennially made the playoffs?

 

LA Galaxy
2014 -- IN 9 OUT 10
2013 -- IN 8 OUT 12
2012 -- IN 9  OUT 13
2011 -- IN 14  OUT 10

 

Sporting Kansas City
2014 -- IN 10  OUT 10
2013 -- IN 11  OUT 11
2012 -- IN 12  OUT 12
2011 -- IN 15  OUT 12

 

Real Salt Lake
2014 -- IN 7 OUT 9
2013 -- IN 13 OUT 9
2012 -- IN 9 OUT 5
2011 -- IN 9  OUT 6

 

Seattle Sounders
2014 -- IN 19 OUT 17
2013 -- IN 13 OUT 15
2012 -- IN 16 OUT 17
2011 -- IN 10 OUT 7

 

LA won the cup in two straight years by signing the most and one of the least amount of players over five years, while the year that KC won MLS cup was one of the lower acquisition years the team had in the last four seasons.

 

Final Thought:

 

There appears to be no evidence in the past 4 seasons with information from many of the clubs in MLS that turning over your roster is necessarily a bad thing. The issue is, as always, that good acquisitions will make your team better and bad acquisitions will make your team worse. The same could be said about keeping poor talent on your roster or overpaying for mediocre talent. If this is done repeatedly then the issue becomes the fact that the people in charge don't know what they are doing.

 

I say that again, if there is a problem in acquiring talent and making it mesh this is a front office and coaching staff problem. There is seemingly no problem with amassing talent, only the wrong talent and the wrong coach/system. SEE: Real Madrid with the right manager versus Real Madrid with the wrong manager.

 

There is, sadly, a gulf of talent between (for example) Rauwshan McKenzie and Nat Borchers. There is also a gap of about 188,143 in pay.  This is, however, not a direct comparison. The problem comes from the issue that Borchers played 2856 for Salt Lake in defense where the highest minutes winner for the Timbers defense in 2014 was now deposed left back/right back Michael Harrington with 1749.

 

Basically the highest minute getting defensive player for the Timbers in 2014 played half the minutes that Nat Borchers played for Real Salt Lake. By the end of the season, the Timbers defensive minutes were upside down with Harrington and Kah being the highest two players getting minutes with Jorge Villafana sneaking in there to break up a sandwich between "timbers players that don't start with the highest minutes" with Jack Jewsbury right behind him.

 

It seems that the Timbers issue is not exactly all about stability and more about having players playing that aren't starting level quality. When the players regress to the mean, the Timbers then either search for a replacement after the fact or rotate through other players til they get a result and then they stick with that player.  Perhaps Harrington's performance in 2014 wouldn't be so stilted if he had a better defensive player over him than Steve Zakuani, Kalif Alhassan and Gaston Fernandez. After all, when the Timbers played at their best in the last four seasons (2013) their leaders in minutes were their starting LB, their starting GK, their starting midfielders, and their starting RB (along with a CB they subsequently traded). So as you can see there is an argument to be made that stability is good, but stability is only good if the players are, also, good. Giving Pa Modou Kah 3465 minutes over two years with hugely varied results is probably an indication that you haven't found a stable back line with reliable players, yet. As well, paying him $245,000 to sit on the bench in a salary capped league is, to be very honest, very close to insanity.

 

Smart ownership has a way of signing good talent, turning over the roster, getting rid of problem players and working with the coaching staff to finesse the roster to perfection. Poor ownership is reactionary and sign with limited success leading to fluctuations in talent level and results.

An elegy of sorts…

Posted on: October 30th, 2014 by sunshine 23 Comments

 

Yesterday, Steve Zakuani announced on his website that he was retiring from professional football because his body could no longer handle the strain and pain. It is hard to not feel bad for the man—a career cut short by a reckless challenge and a series of recurrent injuries attributable to that initial injury. And it is that sentiment that will kill any efforts towards objectivity. But do try to be real.

 

Evaluating Zakuani’s contributions to the Timbers 2014 season is a rather simple calculus. First, thanks to those recurrent injuries, he could no longer run. Without that speed he was simply average. Without that speed he was predictable. Without that speed he was hopeless. If you watched any one of his games you too would be convinced that he never once stepped foot in Arsenal’s academy system. His contributions to the offense were one goal in the Champions League and three regular season assists and that was all. Such a lack of productivity from a man who once led collegiate scoring with 20 goals in a single season would have been forgivable had he devoted even an inkling of a “give-a-fuck” to his defensive duties. But even that was outside his skill set.

 

The reality is that after one year with the Timbers he will be remembered as a nice guy. Despite the fact he is an ex-Sounder, being a nice guy could well be enough to persuade some of you to speak glowingly of his time with the club. But do not kid yourselves, he was an empty kit. I will not echo the sentiments of the Timbers apologists and revisionist historians by suggesting Steve Zakuani’s announced retirement will have any effect on the club other than releasing a cool $150K for other, better players. And hopefully his exit will trigger the exit of several other players, who contributed similarly to the mediocrity that tricked us all into an uncomfortable, post-season optimism. If so, we might actually realize the potential of this club.

 

This off-season is going to be a test of the technical director’s mettle and the coach’s vision. But haven’t we seen that combination already? Following the Timbers exit from the 2013 playoffs, they failed to adequately address the defensive frailties exposed by Real Salt Lake, opting to stick with two USL caliber central defenders and an untested Argentine. It was that same combination of mettle and vision which made the mensa-like decision to select Zakuani in the re-entry draft.

 

It has been a knock on the modern game that loyalty no longer exists in football. While loyalty to players who once helped build your name and career is admirable, it is equally stupid. Porter’s loyalty to Zakuani is understandable—he scored goals for the Zips and brought Akron a national championship. But that player died in Colorado, when Brian Mullan made this tackle:

 

 

Look, the Timbers had to bring in someone who knew the system and could potentially fit in seamlessly while Rodney Wallace recuperated from his ACL injury. But if this is the type of acquisition we can expect from Wilkinson and Porter when they must replace injured starters then we should be very concerned to see who they determine is an adequate replacement for Diego Valeri. That is the main point of this article, not to condemn Zakuani to the annals of another useless Timbers player, but to suggest that his deficiencies highlight the club’s deficiencies in need assessment and replacement. The Timbers were one point away from making the playoffs with a healthy Diego Valeri; imagine where they will be without him. If the Timbers make a similar acquisition for Diego Valeri's replacement we can already prepare the second line for 2015’s funeral.

What’s luck got to… got to do with it?

Posted on: October 29th, 2014 by john nyen 7 Comments

 

 

Not a damn thing.

 

Luck is a variance. Luck is something you cannot understand, approach or build. You create luck, or rather the appearance of luck by having a positive team.

 

Yes, the Timbers lost out on the playoffs by one point, but that wasn't luck.

 

That was this game:

 

Where the Timbers defense capitulated over and over again managing to give up two leads and a two goal lead AT HOME to their biggest rival.

 

That was this game:

 

 

Where the Timbers defense again capitulated after scoring in the first half to let the perennial cellar dwellars of the west force a draw AT HOME. The defense left Cubo Torres UNMARKED... UNMARKED in the box to slip in the game tieing goal. That, right there is the playoffs.

 

That was this game:

 

 

Where the Timbers again took the lead AT HOME to watch their lead disappear through silly defensive mistakes in the box and poor play. And where the offense worked so incredibly hard just to secure a point after Columbus scored another goal to go up 3-2. Once again... AT HOME.

 

That was this game:

 

 

Where the Timbers again took the lead (again AT HOME) only to completely squander the day and lose to the team that eventually pipped them for the Western Conference playoffs, giving the points they needed at the end of the season.

 

That was this game:

 

 

Where the Timbers took a lead into the 87th minute against Los Angeles only to watch two points vanish with a McKenzie own goal.

 

 

That was this game:

 

 

Where the Timbers took a 2 goal lead into the second half only to lose 3-2.

 

AND THIS GAME:

 

 

Where coaching decisions and lackadaisical defense (which heavily included Michael Harrington and Liam Ridgewell) combined to watch the Timbers knocked out of the only cup competition they controlled with one game left in the season.

 

So don't talk to me about luck being the deciding factor in this season.

 

This season was the result of incorrect personnel decisions and baffling coaching decisions that doomed the team to poor, reactionary defense that cost them valuable points over the entirety of the season.

 

You make your own luck.

 

Shit Defense is Still Shit Defense. And good defense would have propelled the team into the playoffs and the CONCACAF Champions League knock out round.

The Valeri Conundrum

Posted on: October 28th, 2014 by john nyen 4 Comments

 

Don Garber announced his news as he typically does to the fans, with an authoritative thud designed for the most impact and largest dispersal zone. Garber is basically the hammer, dealing out information crack with the spread pattern of a mallet. He attempts to bend the narrative to his own devices and fills the largely empty void of media coverage with the leagues own spin.

 

Essentially the news was this.

 

Chivas USA is gone, done, kaput.

 

Fans of Chivas USA? Suffer.

 

There are, in the Portland Timbers ranks, a few fans that can empathize with the loss of a club from their day to day lifestyle.

 

However, the other news came in as well.

 

Two clubs on the move.

 

The defending champion (Sporting Kansas City) and the perennial place that no one wants to go during the summer to try to pick up points (Houston Dynamo) are moving west. What this means is a reshuffling of the order, and a reconfiguration of an already stacked conference.

 

However, what it means even more to the Portland Timbers is an elimination of what had become one of the "easier" points to take in the west.  When Portland played Chivas USA in 2014, they pulled 7 out of 9 points from the LA based team. Portland relied on pulling 7 out of 9 points from both Chivas and San Jose this season for a whopping total of 14 of their points. Hell, 4 of their 12 wins came from the two teams.

 

And now the goats are banished to the dustbin of MLS history along side Tampa Bay, Miami, Landon Donovan, and Andrew Shue's career.

 

This means that the western conference  just gained a defensive specific team in Kansas City that are incredibly difficult to break down and Houston who (at 100 degrees in the sun during the summer) are very difficult as well.  Not only that but they will now play them an indeterminate amount of times rather than the Home OR Home scenario from the past few years. This is an SKC team that beat Portland IN Portland during 2014.

 

Moreover the news came in from the Timbers sources that Diego Valeri potentially tore his ACL. Whether this is a full or partial tear, one could expect him to be out until April, May or even possibly June. This news dovetails to the column from yesterday in which I castigated the Timbers front office for attempting to replace Rodney Wallace with Steve Zakuani. This Valeri news also dovetails into a ton of different areas such as, the start to the season, replacements, an expansion draft where the Timbers may lose players, a Chivas USA personell dispersal mechanism, and the collective bargaining agreement. (which will be renegotiated this offseason.... hopefully... maybe...)

 

The issue here is the direction that the front office and coaching staff take in replacing a player who has essentially become the heart beat of the Timbers attack on every front. Valeri makes everyone around him better. He is the best player that has ever played for the MLS Timbers squad, full stop.

 

The idea of the team attempting to shoehorn in a discount replacement because of cap concerns, or potentially turning the reigns of the team over to Darlington "I've got one leg" Nagbe, or Gaston Fernandez will impact the first THREE months of the season which could impact a total of 10 games (that is, of course, if the season starts on time ... again... CBA!)  What the team big-wigs decide will have an impact on the Timbers ability to compete not only with the old guard of the Western Conference, but the new paradigm where the Western Conference just added Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo, and the Timbers no longer have allocation money coming in from making the CONCACAF Champions League.

 

Whether this player is tasked to play a new role and selected from the already existing roster or is acquired with the intention of creating competition and backup for Valeri's position, remains to be seen. However, it is my opinion that without Valeri in the lineup, over the course of 3 to 5 months, the Timbers will be forced to play slightly more defensively. If this is the case, then the front office acquiring better defensive talent this season becomes even more important along with correctly identifying a player to bring even half of Valeri's impact.

 

The next months will tell, but whether the Timbers break from the mold of acquiring discount "coming off a bad spell with their old team and possibly previously injured" talent  and find the gems they need to compete will have everything to do with the success of the 2015 season.

 

There will be no place to hide in the Western Conference in 2015.

 

 

The 2014 Postmortem: Part 1

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by john nyen 1 Comment

 

In the death throw of the 2013 season the coaching staff and front office of the Timbers were handed a number of obvious issues that needed to be addressed for 2014.

 

 

#1 Rodney Wallace was injured and would be out a number of months.

#2 The Timbers were exposed defensively against better teams at the centerback position leading to unpredictable and poor play at the back.

#3 The Timbers were exposed defensively against better teams at the fullback position leading to unpredictable and poor play at the back.

#4 Ryan Johnson was not interested in being re-signed by the team leaving a hole at the forward position in terms of offense, defense and link up play.

(not in order of importance)

 

 

Over the next month I plan on exploring all of the above items, how the team attempted to fix the problems and whether the fix the front office and coaching staff implemented, worked.

 

Firstly, some would argue that the team was set up to compete after a season in which the Timbers seemed to be defensively resolute, were top of the western conference (although they did not win the western conference championship, this went to Real Salt Lake) and went to the playoffs.

 

However, I argue that what the fans were watching was the slow pragmatic abandonment of the Timbers original ideals of pass and press (with a high line) when it comes to tactics and the implementation of more direct play with the injury of Mikael Silvestre and Caleb Porter losing faith in Andrew Jean-Baptiste. While the team had fantastic results and a fantastic season, over the course of the year the Timbers were exposed in defense by great teams, the most glaring of which was the battle with Real Salt Lake over the course of the season.

 

The Timbers finished the 2013 season 0-4-2 (W-L-D) against RSL in all competitions having lost to the Salt Lake team in the USOC and MLS Playoff knockout rounds. The Real Salt Lake outside/inside game of overloading the PTFC centerbacks and getting beyond the Timbers midfield seemed to define the strategy that many teams employed against the Timbers in 2014.

 

So, beginning the postmortem of the 2014 team we look at issue #1

 

 

#1 Rodney Wallace was injured and would be out a number of months.

 

Wallace was severely injured during the 2nd leg of the Timbers loss against Real Salt Lake with a right anterior cruciate ligament and a non-displaced tibial plateau fracture. During the 2013 season, Wallace exploded offensively and defensively after being moved up in the lineup to a forward/winger position for the Timbers. His play allowed the Timbers to expand the field, play vertically and play with combination down the left side while providing 7 goals and 6 assists on the season. Also highly underrated was his effort on the defensive side of the ball where he covered for Michael Harrington’s up the field exploits, with Wallace frequently flipping between playing as a winger, playing as a wingback and playing as a fullback as the situation dictated.

 

With Wallace out up to seven months the Timbers attempted to keep his diagnosis hidden while looking for available talent. Eventually, one month later, the team decided on a strategy for the 2014 season.

 

Wallace’s replacement was acquired when Steve Zakuani came in to the Timbers from the 2013 MLS Re-Entry process on December 12, 2013. Zakuani previously played with athleticism and speed during the 2010 season before being massively injured during the beginning of the 2011 season.

 

Zakuani’s injury was so severe that there was talk, at one point, about amputating his leg.

 

During the 2013 season, Sounders fitness coach Dave Tenney admitted (in a Seattle Times interview) that the injury forced Zakuani to have a gait (walking/running motion) change.

 

“Obviously in your gait, everything works up the pelvis, and there was actually some stuff through his gait that was affecting his pelvis and basically stressing his pelvis in a way that was totally abnormal because of how his gait had changed through coming back, and the fact that he’s an explosive guy who does stress his pelvis extensively. There was some stuff in that foot and ankle that was changing some things subtly, and it was having an impact higher up the chain. If you’re flat-out strong enough, maybe it won’t make us much of a difference. But him being explosive, trying to gain strength, being explosive and also trying to play ended up being too much for his pelvis. So he had trauma where everything attaches in there.”

 

Tenney referred to the fact that despite Zakuani rehabbing from his injury over the course of 2 years that he, in 2013, tore his groin requiring sports hernia surgery.

 

The idea of Zakuani replacing Wallace already was on a tenuous ground when the player was acquired given the injury history of the player, as well as his porous defense.

 

However, with Zakuani, Kalif Alhassan, and Gaston Fernandez, the Timbers Front Office indicated that they were satisfied that this would hold the team over until Wallace would return.

 

The reason why this article compares Zakuani to Wallace is because despite Zakuani’s infrequent minutes, he remains the only like for like player option that the Timbers tried on the left. Gaston Fernandez frequently cut to the middle of the field and appeared more comfortable in that position than as a pure winger. Kalif Alhassan tends to do the same as Fernandez and was one of the few players on the team to have fewer minutes than Zakuani as he completed a season of anonymity with 590 minutes. Darlington Nagbe was tried as an inverted winger out left and Fernandez on the right, but with both players cutting in, this typically clogged the midfield and did not provide width the way the coaching staff seemed to desire.

 

And so, the front office and coaching staff decided to gamble a portion of the beginning of the 2014 season on a player who was so heavily injured in 2011 that during his rehab his walking/running motion permanently changed causing him to tear his groin in a traumatic fashion as he attempted to play again in 2013.

 

Not much that Zakuani did during the season helped show that the player was “fixed” for the long term. He was infrequently used during the season due to the team needing to handle him delicately during training before eventually being shut down for the rest of the season on September 24th, 2014 for, yet again, another groin injury.

 

When he DID play, he showed that his defensive prowess was, at best, poor and frequently non-existent. While he did offer things from an offensive perspective, typically it was to run straight at a defender before sending in an off target shot. He took 19 shots with only 3 ending up on goal.

 

Zakuani, in total, played 739 minutes on the season and his best contributions to the side were in the form of his three assists and his goal for the Timbers during the CONCACAF Champions league match against Guyana minnow Alpha United. Of all the Timbers players to get minutes during the 2014 season, only six had fewer minutes than he did, and Ben Zemanski was clearly on his way to passing Zakuani after Will Johnson’s season ending injury.

 

After Rodney Wallace was fully fit and ready to contribute again, he contributed 5 goals and 1 assist in 1058 minutes. More important, though, were his contributions on the defensive end as Wallace would provide cover for the fullback and the pivot CDM allowing the Timbers to play more aggressively offensively and competently defensively down the left hand side of the field.

 

You cannot blame the entire fortunes of a team on the appointment of one player, and the struggles during the time Zakuani played are really a manifestation of the difficulty that the team had in playing defense and keeping opposing teams from scoring. The reality though is that Zakuani is a part of that defense as much as he is part of the offense and during his tenure the team gave up a large quantity of goals, many down his side of the field.  During his time starting for the team (9 games), the Timbers gave up 2 or more goals 6 times and never kept a clean sheet.

 

There will be some that will look at Zakuani’s acquisition as a net positive for the fact that the Timbers were also able to acquire Jorge Villafaña during the trade with Chivas USA that netted the Timbers the position to acquire Zakuani during the re-entry draft. However, as necessary as Villafaña was for the Timbers later in the season, it remains a major issue that the Timbers coaching staff and front office believed that they could replace Wallace’s production with an injury prone Steve Zakuani.

 

In total, it can be conclusively said that the acquisition of Steve Zakuani, as a replacement (even temporary) for Rodney Wallace in 2014, was an abject failure by the front office and coaching staff of the Portland Timbers. The warning signs were there in 2013 and 2012 that Zakuani may never regain his full capacity as a soccer player, and sad though that may be, the Timbers decided to take a chance on the oft-injured winger that did not pan out.

 

 

The final word comes from Caleb Porter on Zakuani,

“I don’t know if it’s biomechanics or what, but he continues to have problems with muscle strains. I think it stems ultimately from that broken leg, most likely." "We’re probably going to end up shutting him down for the season and figure out the next steps with him and his body, try to get him in to see a specialist.”"