Friday, July 21, 2017

Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake - My Attempt at Catharsis (Part 1)

Dairon Asprilla tries his luck in the first half against RSL, but his shot was off
Dairon Asprilla hits and misses in the 1st half versus RSL
This isn't going to be a typical match recap or report regarding the Portland Timbers, but then again, there was nothing very remarkable about the end result of the match, a 4 to 1 dismantling that wasn't even as close as the final scoreline would indicate. Timbers Coach Caleb Porter was already dealing with an extremely thin bench due to lingering injuries and international call-ups in trying to field a game day roster, and while he was able to field a starting eleven with 5 available subs, it was apparent from the opening whistle that something was off. While various factors also contributed somewhat to the disjointed effort, the simple fact that became crystal clear when this one finished up was that this was a collective team implosion. Portland was outclassed and outplayed in their own grounds, and while there might be talent on this roster, there is a big gaping hole within the fabric of this roster that isn't going away anytime soon. Unfortunately for Timbers fans, I fear the resolution of this problem isn't going to be very quick, either.

The Timbers were already dealing with a litany of injuries with Amobi Okugo, Liam Ridgewell and Diego Chara out for an extended period, but Vytas joined the list with a lingering calf injury. Portland was also dealing with several players out for Gold Cup duty with Darlington Nagbe (USA), David Guzman (Costa Rica), Alvas Powell (Jamaica) and Darren Mattocks (Jamaica) all with their national sides. On a 27 man roster, that put the Timbers at 19 available for game day with 16 field players and 3 goalkeepers. While Larrys Mabiala did give some breathing room being finally eligible to play as his contract became eligible, Marco Farfan was also held out of the match so Portland fielded just 5 substitutes along with their 11 named starters - Jake Gleeson in goal, Roy Miller and Mabiala at center back, Zarek Valentin and Chance Myers as full backs, Lawrence Olum and Ben Zemanski as defensive mids, Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri and Dairon Asprilla as the attacking mids and Fanendo Adi as the striker. The available reinforcements were Rennico Clarke for defense, Jack Barmby, Victor Arboleda and Jeremy Ebobisse for attack and Jeff Attinella in goal.
Myers made his Timbers debut because of a lingering injury and knocks to others, but he left this match due to a serious injury.
Chance Myers started due to other injuries before he was broken

Portland has talked greatly about their improved depth in 2017 and how they have worked to find strength when their first choice options aren't available for whatever reason. However, the team has been severely challenged since pre-season when Gbenga Arokoyo suffered a ruptured ligament. The team didn't expect Ridgewell to miss as many matches as he has either, but the defensive line has been an absolute carousel of players, which hasn't exactly led to the best chemistry at certain points. During the first half, it was obvious that Myers was having difficulty finding his position on the pitch, whether on the attack or defending. When his night was ended in the 43rd minutes by an absolutely cynical tackle from RSL midfielder Joao Plata (don't worry - we'll talk officiating later) and he couldn't continue, Porter had to bring on Arboleda as the wing, move Olum to center back, put Blanco at central mid, Valentin moved to right back and push Miller out to left back. An already fragile balance in positioning with many players filling unfamiliar roles suddenly got pushed to new heights with the injury, but it's been a theme of the Timbers all season - next man up. On this night, however, next man up didn't necessarily provide much aid.

RSL put the Timbers on the back foot in the 10th minute when Portland inexplicably left RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman unmarked on the right flank just outside the Timbers box. The space allowed the unfortunately coiffed one to uncork a shot that beat Gleeson into the upper left hand corner of goal, and left everyone wondering what broke down there. While Gleeson needed to cover his goal better, this one came down to leaving a dangerous shooter completely free with time to plot and the ball at his feet. The line got worse in the 49th minute when Asprilla stepped on the foot of RSL midfielder Jefferson Saravino trying to defend in the box, and while the Timbers recovered the ball, Center Official Baldomero Toledo pointed to the spot for a penalty based on the contact. Plata converted the penalty in the 50th minute, but his night wasn't done as he tallied a second in the 80th minute playing the offside trap. Substitute RSL defender Danilo Acosta hit Plata in stride with just Miller and Gleeson to beat, and the diminutive midfielder did the rest as he now takes the mantle of Timbers killer on the RSL roster. RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak got into the act in the 68th minute off a breakaway when RSL caught the Timbers shorthanded, and he slammed a pass from Savarino past Gleeson for his fifth goal of 2017.

These two battled all night until they literally scrummed in the second half and were eventually ejected.
Adi and Beckerman battled all night. Literally.
The complexion of the match had changed dramatically before Rusnak's goal as both sides saw their lineups dramatically change. Arboleda's night was finished in the 54th minute as he challenged Plata for a loose ball at midpitch and got his arm slightly up, and when Plata collapsed to the turf in agony, Toledo wasted no time in pulling out the red card for Victor. Toledo's red card got more work 2 minutes later when Adi and Beckerman tangled midpitch after a loose ball, and Adi took exception to having his foot stepped on by Beckerman. During a stop in play, Fanendo shoved Beckerman to the turf, and within moments, there was a scrum on the pitch with Adi on top of him. Toledo sent both players away, leaving Portland with just 9 players to RSL's 10, but the Timbers were still fuming about other various missed calls under Toledo's watch. Olum and Valentin earned 2 of Toledo's 10 issued cards on the night for hard fouls, but Portland was upset at several serious tackles and fouls that Toledo chose not to caution - the most serious being the Plata takedown of Myers. Valeri joined the collective at the halftime break getting a caution for dissent in talking with Toledo about some issues, yet RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando lingered with Toledo for several minutes in a lively discussion that didn't yield any discipline.

In watching MLS games for many years, Toledo has a reputation for being a loose cannon, so it's expected that calls could go in any direction at a moment's notice. I'm actually surprised Valentin didn't pick up a second caution after his reaction to Asprilla's penalty considering the reaction, and consider the Timbers lucky to only have 2 players sent off. Both ejections were entirely valid in my opinion - shoving another player and then trying to tackle him will always draw an ejection, while I admit that I missed seeing Arboleda's arm move up when battling Plata - but Baldomero missed a lot of other calls that left the home side frustrated. I also give credit to RSL Coach Mike Petke and his side as they came in with a plan to control the tempo and be physical with the Timbers, and they jostled at nearly every juncture. The RSL players also sold light contact to draw fouls, and when your side is the aggressor, that usually means getting some benefit from the officiating. The scoreline only got some relief when Barmby, subbed on for Asprilla in the 72nd minute, blasted a distance shot that spun past Rimando into the right corner of goal in second half stoppage to give the Timbers a small something positive for the night.

Baldomero Toledo called this a penalty. I am not entirely sure from this angle.
Toledo called this a penalty. Looks like incidental contact.
Portland is now winless in their last six matches since knocking off FC Dallas at home on June 10, an affair notated by the Timbers using 3 different center back duos within the same match due to injury in what I called one of their most impressive results. Since then, Portland has lost 3 and drawn 3, including having two matches decided in the dying minutes and that has caused some concern among the faithful. After starting the 2017 like gangbusters with 5 wins and 2 draws in their first 9 matches, including breaking their winless streak on the road from the 2016 season, Portland has come crashing to earth with just 2 wins and 3 draws in the 12 matches since yet they still sit in 5th place in the West. They now face a near impossible scenario for their match happening on July 23 versus the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada, playing in a venue that Portland has had solid success in during the MLS era until most recently.

Porter indicated in comments to the media today that the Timbers' injury list grew longer as Myers is now out for 6 to 7 weeks with a torn ankle ligament and other foot damage while Farfan is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out for a bit. With Vytas and Chara still trying to recover from their knocks, Portland will likely have just 11 First Team players available to play (considering Adi and Arboleda are suspended). The unusual circumstances will require the Timbers to call up several Timbers 2 players - at least 3 to have the game day minimum of 11 starters and 3 available subs for a total of 14 - to just fill their game day selection. With the bad taste of the RSL loss still in the air and a difficult assignment for this weekend, many fans have been pining about options to get this team jump started. I've gone around and around and I finally think I have answers - well, my thoughts based on observation and analysis - to hopefully right the ship coming in my next entry.

No comments:

Post a Comment