Monday, April 27, 2015

Let's talk about that Seattle-Portland match

Alright, so, as promised, here is what went through my head last night during that disappointing Timbers loss to that team up north.

Things started off smoothly, at least as afar as the back four were concerned. Nat Borchers was just kind of doing his thing, saving the day when Seattle looked like scoring. Liam Ridgewell followed suit. Alvas Powell was sort of caffeinated at right back, sniffing out crosses and trying to turn them into counterattacks.

What kind of sucked, and I mean this for both teams, is that the midfield play was weak. One side would charge forward, get a chance, try and keep possession, but falter when the midfield tried to do its job. It was the same script for the entire first 45 minutes. Portland gets a near chance that was bumbled by a poor ball in from midfield, Seattle takes over and can't get anything forward to Dempsey, Martins, or Neagle.

The Seattle goal was not even a very good play. The original ball in was aimed at Clint Dempsey, but it was too high. Andy Rose just happened to be there, unmarked (why?!), to take a rather ugly shot that bounced weirdly and caught Adam Kwarasey off guard. Several bobbles from Portland's keeper gave Dempsey the time to come and poach the goal.

After the goal, Caleb Porter opted to pull Maxi Urruti, who was having himself a pretty strong game, for Fanendo Adi, who had an awful game last week against NYC. Urruti was the one bright spot on the attack for Portland. He was the one player who felt like making things happen in the final third, he just needed some help that never came.

To be fair, Adi almost scored on his first touch, but his header went way wide after a beautiful run from Alvas Powell. He had a chance again that saw his well placed floating header get past Stefan Frei and onto the crossbar.

I am okay with Adi coming in. When his head is properly aligned he is a quality striker. I just disagree with who came off. Adi and Urruti have worked well together earlier in the season and that sort of up front chemistry was what Portland was missing here. The match against FC Dallas was easily the best match Portland has played so far, and Adi and Urruti started as a strike pair. Urruti scored the game winner and Adi got an assist later on.

Portland didn't just need a fresh striker, they needed a second one out there. I'd have pulled either Diego Chara or Jack Jewsbury, both of whom were having rather unremarkable days in central midfield. Doing so would have given the guys charging forward, like Powell and (not nearly often enough) Darlington Nagbe, an extra option up front and an extra man for Seattle's defense to think about.

One thing is for sure though, once Will Johnson and Diego Valeri (who was on the bench last night) are fully healthy, this team might actually do some damage. The weak spot for them in just about all their matches has been a disconnect between the strong back line of Borchers and Ridgewell, and the creative flair in attack that is Adi, Urruti, and Nagbe. Johnson, especially, will be able to fill this gap in a way that Jewsbery simply cannot do.

Valeri adds another guy who can actually finish a shot, among other things. Clearly Portland needs guys who can actually find the net. Last night's 11 shots with only two reaching the target is not a good recipe for victory. Him stepping into the number ten role pushes Nagbe wide to the right where he can better take advantage of his speed and dribbling abilities.

Valeri being there will hopefully take away the feeling that Nagbe and Ishmael Yartey have to go at it alone. Too many times (with Yartey especially) I was yelling at one of those guys to pass the ball away instead of continue their suicide run through the heart of Seattle's defense.

Here's how I see them lining up more often than not:

Johnson steps in as the transition box-to-box midfielder while Chara stays behind in the holding role. Valeri acts as the catalyst through the middle with attacks coming from Nagbe and Ishmael Yartey on the flanks. What works well here is that Yartey, Valeri, and Nagbe all can overlap positions quite seamlessly. In general, being wide gives Nagbe more space to run with the ball, while still allowing him to go down the middle if the chance presents itself.

At times when a second strike option is needed, Chara sits with Urruti stepping in up front.

Adi works as your primary guy with Urruti in support. Valeri still spearheads the attack, albeit from further back, and Nagbe and Yartey still provide driving runs up the flanks. Johnson will take a more defensive role here.

Either one of these set ups flows a little smoother than having Nagbe try and barnstorm through the middle, not looking for any options wide and hoping his long blast goes in or Adi can clean up the mess. He and Yartey can still do their little cuts to the middle, they just have an extra option with the highly skilled Diego Valeri to help them out.

I just hope the reinforcements arrive in time to salvage a playoff run. All you need to do is show up to the dance in order to make a run at the trophy. And with this team hopefully coming, and staying, together later in the season, they have a chance to get there. Thankfully, all the draws they have been accumulating mean they are only a point out at the moment.

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