It seems that we have been here before—not losing, but not winning. The concessions of late equalizers should now be as expected for Portlanders as the two weeks of heat in late July and early August or the countless days of rain every other week of the year. But, as certain as can be that it will happen, that certainty does little to ease our frustration when that late leveler does happen.
So, we ask again and again: Why? How? And why and how some more. And the answers are as easy and as difficult as you care to make them. But, ultimately, they fit into the play on the field, which has not changed in the first six games of the season. The urgency and pace of the last season have been supplanted by complacency and, perhaps, an expectation that the tactics will get the team through the rough patches. Unfortunately, for the tactics to work the pieces need to fit and the players need to perform. Clearly they do not fit and they have not performed.
No better example of this in last night’s game is the fat Will Johnson and Diego Chara spent the majority their time behind the half-line rather than ahead of it. What does this mean? Well, it means that pressing play we saw in the first 60 minutes of last weekend’s game was absent for 70 minutes yesterday. After the Johnson scored the goal in the 8 minute it seemed the Timbers were content to sit back and let play come to them. Given the limited abilities of the backline to man-mark and play a tight defensive line, this was a recipe for disaster. And it was once again that failure to press a team into their own half that led to Goats eventual leveler.
To their credit, Chivas did a good job keeping the fight in the center of the pitch. Indeed, especially in the second half, they controlled possession and kept the play pushing into the Timbers half of the pitch. This would have been fine if the Timbers were a team built to withstand a continued offensive attack. They are not. They are a team that lives and breathes through sharp, precise passing from every player on the pitch. And when one player breaks down the team is able to fight back by keeping pressure on the ball, typically winning the ball back with the first 20 seconds. But when every player, from the backline forward, turns the ball over regularly, the system implodes, making the team’s work impossible to compete. And that was the story and curse of last night.
Here are the numbers that prove it:
8, 29, 22, 23, 39, 24, 25, 29, 14, 14, 14, 20
I will give you a minute or 90 to consider that these represent the complete and utter breakdown of possession based football. Each one of those numbers is associated with number of turnovers committed by each of the 12 players who graced the pitch for the Timbers last night.
Obviously, for the first ten minutes of play they looked sharp. But then their play devolved into a complacent and pedestrian game of what to do next. Given the early and excellent interplay between Urruti, Nagbe, and Johnson for the first goal, you could be forgiven the belief that the Timbers were going to eat up the Goats. The problem is the Timbers believed that too.
What resulted was 72 minutes of mind-numbing anticipation of Erick Torres’s eventual equalizer. As expected, the undoing all the hard work the Timbers put into holding the 1 nil lead came down to the usual communication breakdowns and poor marking absent in the play of teams who consistently challenge at the end of the season. While Powell was beaten for the umpteenth time on the right flank and was at fault for Leandro Barrera’s excellent cross, the breakdown came from the usual suspect—Kah. Rather than marking center forward, Erick Torres, as one would expect a central defender to do when the threat of a cross is eminent, he turned his attention away from the actual threat and to his little buddies, Powell and Futty. I cannot fault anyone who has their friends’ backs, but this was not a rumble or a fist fight, this was a football match and every player has a responsibility—shoe tying is not one of them. He was caught ball watching and Harrington was caught watching the man. Though Torres was not his responsibility, communication is and was then. Given Kah did nothing in the build up to the goal but watch the play develop, it would seem Harrington failed to inform him that he needed to pull back and mark Torres.
Such is the season so far.