Short post today due to what Reginald Perrin’s brother in law would refer to as a complete cock up on the blogging front. From time to time I leave my phone in my car, and it is generally on those occasions that sunshine texts me to let me know that he needs me to do the post tomorrow. So here I am trying to work in a bit of blab about the Timbers in and around my professional responsibilities. Sadly, you probably won’t notice any drop off in quality from my normal standard.
I was reading the player ratings from the Chivas match in the Orgo. As usual they are pretty well-considered and I generally get what their point is in places where they disagree with me. But I must say that I think that giving AJB at 7 was overly generous, at least from where I was sitting. I think he deserves a lot of credit. He’s a young guy who really wasn’t projected to get the kind of starting time that he has had so far this season and he has performed admirably. But my feeling is that our defense succeeded against Chivas mostly in spite of him rather than because of him. There are a lot of things to which one could point, but for me the goal is crucial. He didn’t track back particularly quickly and when he did he went to the place that Kah usually occupies. Don’t get me wrong, Kah was at fault too. But when Chará, who is about as tall as the average coffee table, ends up fronting an attacker in the box to defend a cross (while the two center halves look on like slack-jawed gawkers), that’s not an optimal situation.
More generally I thought AJB looked slow to the ball a lot of the time and indecisive when he got there. His passing improved over the course of the match, but I still don’t see this performance as being either up to the level of quality we have come to expect from him so far, or particularly good in broader terms. Anyway, thinking people can disagree about this and I’m sure that they will.
Another interesting tidbit from the Orgo was their story from the other day asking the question as to whether we rely too much on Diego Valeri. I think this is a legitimate question to ask, but perhaps it needs to be phrased slightly differently. For me the questions is: what alternatives to we have for those situations when Valeri is not available? And, unfortunately, the answer is: not many. This is a problem, particularly because the secret is out about what role Valeri plays for us and the solution that many teams have settled upon is to kick him.
Given that this is the case, the chances that Valeri is going to spend some time injured are pretty good, and in fact this eventuality has already come to pass. I recall having said something silly around the fourth week of the season or so to the effect that our system was working so well that it didn’t matter so much exactly who it was that we had out there executing it. This proved to be overly optimistic. The reason (or at least one reason) why we have had such a great deal of success so far is that people have been put in positions where they can succeed. Nagbe is not really a playmaker. He’s a guy who breaks down defenders one on one and makes slashing runs into the box. His success this year has everything to do with the fact that he’s been allowed to do the latter rather than asked to do the former. Similarly, Rodney Wallace is a slashing, dynamic midfielder, not a guy who is instinctively inclined to fight to the byline and put in a cross. One important aspect of Porter’s reconstruction of this team is that he’s put guys where they can do what they do best and brought in others to fill the gaps.
Valeri is the perfect illustration of this. Last season we simply did not have a guy who was going to be an effective playmaker and string puller. Admittedly, the team was not organized around a principle that would demand that (to the extent that it was organized at all). But it meant that we only had the one arrow in our quiver, and if that wasn’t happening (as so often it was not) we ended up completely befuddled.
To be sure, the overall quality of this team has improved. The pairing of Will Johnson and Diego Chará in midfield means that we have a solid platform in midfield from which to attack, at least when they are both fit and in town. Ryan Johnson is a definite improvement on anything we’ve had at that position so far, while Piquionne adds technique, experience, and class. There is every reason to believe that the addition of Urruti will also have positive effects. But the fact remains that we just don’t have anyone whose skills really approximate those of Valeri. Until we do we’re really only one bad kick from being a side that is not going to compete effectively against the better teams in this league.
This is probably going to be our lot. I don’t see us being a team that can compete in terms of spending with Seattle or L.A. Our goal (and I think we’ve done well in this respect so far this season) has to be identifying players (like Valeri) who can improve the team without attracting competing interest from wealthier sides. We’re unlikely ever to sign the likes of Clint Dempsey or Thierry Henry. But if the season so far has showed anything it’s that marquee names such as those are not a necessity in pursuing success in MLS.