The Big Sides, however, played to a 1-1 draw the day before so the issue of Whose Cup will be decided – unfortunately for the Timbers, whose record abroad resembles Italy’s (the army's, not the team's) – in Seattle and Vancouver in October.
At any rate, my observations of the matches – in order of date but in no other particular order.
Saturday, 15 SEP 12 POR 1 – 1 SEA
I hoped that the first team would run out with a) energy and b) a tactical plan to carve into the poorly-dressed visitors from the Emerald City.
The first? Yes, and more than yes. The team hustled for the full 90, and showed impressive energy and spark.
The second? Mmmm…not so much.
He’d clearly watched the films and recognized that Portland really has no go-forward options in central midfield other than Darlington Nagbe. Shut down Nagbe and the Timbers are back in SpencerWorld, running up the touchlines. And the pie-gobbling rascal had planned for that too; he knew that if you fronted Franck Songo’o he would turn inside where you could force him to make a poor pass. And Sal Zizzo just had to be smothered. So he set Gonzales to just obstruct Zizzo’s runs long enough for a midfielder to track back and help out. He used his central midfield to harass Nagbe all match. And, sure enough, Franck kept turning the ball into the traffic jam inside and getting his pocket picked.
And I think that he, and the rest of the league, has figured out Dike. The man just doesn’t have a good touch; if you throw a body at him he will cough up the ball, or lay it off, or take a forced, poor shot. Without anyone else to help out up front that was pretty much that.
Sadly for the Green and White Faithful he fired his looping bullet just after Ricketts had gone off (with what appeared to be an arm injury – the very thing I worried about when we traded Troy for him; the fragility of that arm…) and caught a jumped-past-Jake-Gleeson-on-the-keeper-depth-chart-for-some-reason-I-don’t-quite-get Joe Bendik off his line for the initial goal.
Taken altogether I’d have to say that it was a deserved result for both sides.
With a passing sneer at the man in the middle, again - honestly, MLS, how bad does the boy Salazar have to be to get assigned to the U-12 development league? His calls really didn’t benefit either side (other than the Chara foul, which I didn’t see as quite as automatically-PK-worthy as many, but your mileage may vary on that question) but it went a long way towards making the match as ragged and ugly as it was for long stretches.
Communication. I loved the energy and the hustle Saturday. I hated the looking-like-we-played-together-just-the-past-week. How many times did Dike play a through ball to Zizzo…who wasn’t running for it? Three times? Four? Or the “Franck-Songo’o-square-pass-to-nobody”? Hanyer Mosquera marking space while pointing to a nearby unmarked Sounder? I agree we have individual talent out there. I’m not sure why the coaching staff seems unable to make it play as a team.
Throw-ins. Are we the worst team in MLS West with throw-ins? It sure seems like it. The secret to gaining possession from the Timbers seems to be to force them to boot it into touch and then wait for the throw; the Timbers will stand there marked into oblivion and then throw it right to you. This doesn’t seem like a difficult play – why do we seem to have such difficulty with it?
The one other thing I wanted to see Saturday was a coaching staff with a tactical plan to attack Seattle; instead it seemed like Gavin (or Sean, or whothehellever is marking the chalkboard now) didn’t really have a notion of where they could find an advantageous matchup. I want to think that these guys can figure out a way to go to the House of Astroturf and stonewall the Sounders for 90 minutes and the away draw.
Sunday, 16 SEP 12 POR 3 – 2 SEA
More than 8,000 people showed up for a meaningless reserve match on a lovely sunny Sunday.
Think about that for a moment.
Are we really “Soccer City USA”?
The Sunday match was an odd affair, with Portland running out with a side full of unused starters before giving way to the bench players, trialists, and the youngsters. Seattle, on the other hand, fielded mostly their regular team bench until late in the match. The difference showed immediately, as Portland scored an improbable three goals inside fifteen minutes.
One huge factor was the play of Alexander and Alhassan in midfield. In particular the second goal was created by a lovely sliderule pass from Alhassan to Boyd who then chipped Ford in an almost Cantonaesque fashion. Lovely piece of work.
Kris Boyd…he’s a Sounders killer.
Why didn’t we sub him in Saturday..?
Hogg looked decent at left back, making several studly blocks on crosses that should have swelled Gavin’s little Kiwi heart; the man is hard, no error. Several other of the Timbers reserves showed well, including Cam Vickers and young Mitch North, who was thrown into the fire when Jake Gleeson got cleated in the right hand (Are you SURE you want to trade away Troy Perkins, Gav'? Oh, well, never mind...)
Charles Renken came on after halftime and helped settle the midfield defensively.
Brent Richards is looking much tougher on defense that he did at the beginning of the season. He scored a lovely goal, turning on a loose ball in the box and settling it before lashing a rocket past Ford.
He also has a terrific throw
(remember where I was bitching about throw-ins? This kid should take every one, and anytime we get a throw inside 18 yards of the opponent’s goal he’s almost as good as a corner!)and he can still outjump pretty much anyone else on the pitch.
Lots of good stuff there.
The backline looked like a rat-scramble at times. Eric Brunner, while showing why he is so badly missed with the first team, also showed that he’s not really match fit yet, and Futty played his typical 95% steady 5% WT...Futty!? match.
The Little Train?
Still - he looks like he’s a promising piece of lumber in the overstocked Timbers Forwards Woodshed.
Two matches, two days; one fraught with the tensions of this season, the other, perhaps, a hint of sunnier days ahead.
All that was no matter to my little man who skipped happily, full of soccer and candy and sunshine as we walked back to the car after the match on Sunday.
But, never despair – Onward, Rose City!
(Cross-posted - I'm fiercely proud to say - from SlideRulePass.)