There are days in a blogger’s life when you just don’t know what to write. I must admit that I was seriously tempted to just repost the piece that I wrote before the last match with Chivas because, quite frankly, not much has changed. Once again, we come into a match with a team that has real trouble producing goals (against everybody but us) having conceded five in our previous MLS match. I suppose that a glass half full sort of person, assuming that there are any such people left among us, might look at this and say that at least we had a decent performance against Aston Villa in the mean time. I myself am swiftly losing my ability to be a glass half full sort of person. Unless it’s a really, really big glass. And it’s half full of bourbon. Yeah, that I can get with.
My morning was colored grey by reading this piece from the The Shinguardian that sunshine sent around. It illustrates a point that I think most of us had grokked already: this team has been blighted by some really poor personnel decisions in the course of the last 18 months. Wallace, Palmer, and Chabala, just to pick three names, have really shown themselves not to be up to the standards of the league. This raises a number of troubling questions, none more acute than this: what can be done with them now that we have them? It looks very much like this team is going to have to be rebuilt in the off season. Given the role of the current management in bringing this group together, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence that they will be able to pick up the pieces and assemble a group that is going to be competitive.
Portland has some things going for it. There is a very dedicated fan base here, and along with good facilities and the quality of life factors in this town, this makes Portland an inherently attractive place. On the other hand, it’s hard to convince people to join up with an organization that hasn’t given a lot of positive signs in recent times. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think that the Timbers are quite as bad as some of their recent performances might suggest. Firing John Spencer seems to have had precisely the opposite effect that might have been intended. Instead of galvanizing the team and imbuing the players with a sense of purpose and urgency, it looks very much as if it was yet another body blow to the group.
Since Spencer’s departure, the team has conceded 11 goals in three matches, which is bad. What is worse is that is seems to have revealed an underlying malaise with this group that Spencer’s presence seemed to have kept in the background. Some of the play in defense during the debacle in Dallas would have resulted in recriminations during a Sunday kickaround, much less in a professional match. It’s not just that the players that we have don’t have the requisite quality. That is the kind of thing that can be adjusted for, at least to some extent. The problem now really seems to be that they look disorganized. It’s extremely depressing to see someone like Chará, who for me is one of the guys in the side who actually does have what it takes, running around trying to put out fires in midfield without getting the proper support. The situation up front is even worse. I firmly believe that both Kris Boyd and Danny Mwanga have the goods. I mean, if Kenny Cooper can make it in this league then Kris Boyd certainly can. Yet, match after match, one is confronted with the depressing spectacle of Boyd or Mwanga (they seldom seem to be on the pitch together) hanging around in forward areas not getting any service. Neither of these guys (and this especially applies to Boyd) are of the kind who can manufacture their own chances. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to tools to be successful in this environment. What it does mean is that the rest of the guys on the team have to work together to get the ball into the sorts of positions from which the proper service can be provided, and to cross the ball in such a way that it doesn’t just bounce off the first defender.
I’ve mentioned in previous columns the tendency of Timbers midfielders to get caught in possession, and perhaps this is a window into the most distressing aspect of the over lack of organization in the team. The tendency of our opponents has been to flood midfield. This takes advantage of the fact that our midfielders simply don’t do a very good job of supporting each other. Time and time again we attempt to advance the ball up the flanks, only to run it into cul-de-sacs of opposing players. Earlier in the season, I thought that this was due to a lack of quality at fullback. Well, that was certainly the case, but now it appears that a more pressing problem is that the wide players don’t have any idea how they are supposed to work together. Attempts by this team to work the ball up the pitch generally result in a giveaway somewhere around the center circle. The play in defense has not been very good lately, but it hasn’t been helped by the fact that even when we do get the ball we don’t seem to do much with it.
Ok, one small positive that we can take into this match is that Chivas has some injury woes going into this match. Apparently, Ryan Smith won’t be playing. This is kind of a relief, since he absolutely abused Steven Smith that last time around. Sunshine sent me a text to let me know that Brent Richards is supposed to figure in this match. I really wish that that gave me more confidence. I know that he’s a young player, but in the matches in which I’ve seen him participate he just hasn’t looked the part. It’s difficult to learn the trade in a side where you’re not getting a lot of good examples of how the game is supposed to be played.
Well, that’s me then. Sorry if this column has been a bit of a downer, but the team needs to pull it together and get some positive things going on. Once they do that I can get back to writing about the positives.