well, that sucked. not because losing was unexpected--it was not--but because of the way the timbers lost. following real salt lake's first goal a collective hangdog low was noticable upon the face of each timber on that pitch in rio tinto. aside from a few moments of handbags, which i attribute more to the frustration of sucking than to any desire to fight on, they were resigned to the fact of losing.
spencer made some changes to the starting eleven. rather than starting boyd up top with mwanga he brought in three central midfielders, one of which was actually effective. whether tactical or simply down to the personnel available to him, we may never know. but considering real salt lake held nearly 70% of the possession in the first half against seattle, i imagine the starting eleven was perceived as a form of tactical genius. the rub is this: he tried to do something he is typically unable to do--think tactically.
i am sure during pre-match meetings with amos, spencer walked to the digital dry-erase board and said "guys. guys. guys. i have an idea...now shut your haggis traps and have a think on this." he then proceeded to instruct them on the benefits of playing with 3 defensive midfielders. in reality, and theory, playing 3 defensive midfielders against real salt lake might make sense if the other two defensive mids were not #facepalmer and captain jack.
#facepalmer is inept at most everything he does with the exception of hitting widely, off-target shots from distance. sure, he did have a respectable game against san jose, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut, now and then. jack? well, jack is jack. and so long as trees have leaves, birds migrate south for winter, pigs remain walking, and snow fails to accumulate in hell, jack will start. if ever there was a player who did less to deserve a starting position in the eleven, it would still be jack. during the match, i found myself think-humming raspberry beret. yes, think-humming. you know? when you imagine the tune of a song but never actually hum it or sing it or whistle it--think-humming. back to prince. apropos of nothing timbers related, aside from the fact a certain set of lyrics seemed to capture jack's contribution to this team.
seems that i was busy doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before.
i guess it takes a little man from detroit to describe a big man from missouri. with the exception of an adroitly employed cruyff turn with no opposition near him to justify employing a cruyff turn, jack's contribution to the cause last night consisted of the usual half-time interview.
i get what spencer was doing. real salt lake play possession football. in order for their style of play to be effective they must retain the ball as much as possible. spencer did something that could potentially disrupt the flow of real possession and ball movement. and, to be fair, for 60 minutes the plan worked. sure, it was painfully negative football, harkening back to the mourinho halcyon days with chelsea where they held back and waited to hit teams on the counter attack. however, the most obvious deficiency and problem in the timbers employment of similar tactics is that danny mwanga is not didier drogba.
it is not as if quality moments of play did not exist in the first 60 minutes of the match. they did, most belonged to real salt lake and a few moments could be claimed by the timbers. in particular, eric alexander began a few counterattacks good enough to get my heart racing with anticipation of a goal. both moments came in the 33 minute. latching onto a nice attack splitting pass from kimura in the timbers final third, alexander pushed forward on the left. he dodged a few real players, before switching the ball to chara on the right. chara had daylight and took the ball into real's 18 yard box. whether chara was out of ingenuity or he thought alexander or mwanga had continued their runs to goal, he pushed the ball across the face of goal and out for a goal kick. almost as quickly as nick rimando put the ball in play, alexander had it again. this time he took matters into his own hands and let fly what would have been a good shot on goal had it not taken a deflection. after that minute, i was left saying to mrs sunshine and mags, if only the timbers finishing was as good as their build up.
and that was the end of the timbers threat against real. before the 33 minute and after the 33 minute, the only players i was aware of were paulo junior and javier morales. those two combined with will johnson on the left of attack gave the timbers fits. in the 18 minute, morales literally dumped captain jack on his butt--without touching him. it is fair to say they had the timbers on their backheels.
as excellent as real were, so too was troy perkins. even with the sun in his eyes and the howl of 10,000 mormons, who are quite possibly the worst sports in the world, he stood against everything thrown his way. in the 18 minute, through the graft of morales, johnson was given space and drilled a rocket from 30 yards out. perkins made a difficult save look easy. in the 23 minute, johnson let loose another shot from the leftside of the box, which perkins also saved easily. aside from a dreadful, but not disastrous, cock-up with horst who failed to make the demanded clearance during the 33 minute, perkins was impeccable.
the half was blown and i thought: mission accomplished. the timbers failed to score, but more importantly, so did real. given his tactics, it was clear that was spencer's goal and game plan.
in the second half, real picked up where they left off--spending time in the timbers half of the pitch. my notes read: paulo junior. paulo junior. paulo junior. paulo junior lofts ball to nat borchers who heads wide. paulo junior lofts another ball into the box, but perkins collects. needless to say, paulo junior asserted himself on the match. his attacking play also suggested real did some homework on futty. they were attacking aerially.
sure enough, what had been threatened for the first 15 minutes of second half came in the 60 minute. alvaro saborio shadowed futty. he got behind him and abused him, heading home a direct and stinging kyle beckerman aerial pass. i cannot say this enough: centerbacks give up goals and i accept that. but the issue with this goal is that it came from naive positioning and was wholly preventable. there is no excuse for futty to be positioned in front of saborio. none. zilch. nada. i am not suggesting saborio would not have scored had futty been positioned better, i do not know what ifs, but i do know it would have made things much more difficult had he done so.
that was the end of the match. sure, saborio scored a second within 2 minutes of his first after some dismal team defending and smith being caught on the backheel. and sure saborio completed a hattrick from a penalty awarded thanks to a chara handball as he cleared a real set piece off the line--with his hand.
sure those things happened, but there were bigger issues in this match. the tactics were negative and prevented any chance of the timbers scoring. failing to care about scoring, spencer would rather sit his best defensive player to prove a point than to even give the timbers a sniff at a chance. admittedly, futty and horst have developed an outstanding partnership, likely the best the timbers have, but i still believe when mosquera is healthy and able to play, he should play. finally, when down two goals, instead of bringing on further offensive help in addition to fucito and boyd, spencer rather gallingly puts on mosquera. at that point mosquera's inclusion was too late to matter. speechless for the 16 minutes preceding that substitution, i emphatically and rhetorically asked mags what point was there in making that substitution. shell-shocked, he completed a first in our long relationship--he failed to have any retort, witty, dumb, or otherwise. i think the sad silence of acceptance had set in.
i wish i could have provided you a more glowing and happy match report, but as dell boy says: only fools and horses...
enjoy the gorgeous day.