Another week, another 1-0 loss to Chivas. Or so it would appear, but appearances can deceive. This was a much better performance than in any of the past four matches. The lads looked well up for it from the opening kickoff and played hard until the final whistle. There was none of the lethargy and disorganization that was so plain to see in Dallas, and if it must be conceded that all their good works once again resulted in no points, it must also be said that this was a definite step in the right direction.
The changes started with the formation. Gone was the 4-2-3-1 which had been so ineffective. In its place was which you might describe as a 4-1-4-1. In central midfield, the team played an inverted diamond, with Jewsbury covering the backs and Chará and Nagbe playing over the top. This, along with a newfound compactness in their formation (about which I’ll say more later in the week), allowed the Timbers to really compete for the ball in the middle of the park, as well as providing copious opportunities to get forward. Not surprisingly, the team also created a lot more dangerous situations than they had in all of the previous four matches combined.
Losing always sucks. But the pill is a little easier to swallow when it there is evidence of progress. And with that, let’s do the numbers.
1. Troy Perkins: I guess we have to get the bad news out of the way early. Sad to say, responsibility for the goal rests squarely on Perkins’s shoulders (as he conceded in the post game interview). His decision to come out to try to parry Zemanski’s free kick was poor, as he was never, ever going to get there. That the goal proved to be Portland’s undoing highlights the sometimes cruel nature of this game, but it is what it is. This rating may strike some as harsh, but the magnitude of the error must tell here. 3
12. David Horst: A much more focused performance from Horst that in some other recent matches really set the tone at the back. He was physical when he needed to be, but was not put off by the speed and technical ability of Chivas’s attackers, which admittedly were not much in evidence for most of the match. 6
33. Hanyer Mosquera: Partnered well with Horst and didn’t foul anybody. This was due in part to Chivas’s lack of attacking ambition, but had also to do with the fact that we really suffocated them in the middle of the park. 5
14. Stephen Smith: Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re going to get Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. On Saturday night it was the former. In previous matches Ryan Smith’s ownership of our Scottish defender was such that he probably had to report him on his tax forms. In his absence, Steven Smith kept things calm on the flanks, using his pace and guile to keep things in front of him, at least in the vast majority of cases. 5
15. Kosuke Kimura: After a spate of poor performances, Kimura finally gave Portland fans a little glimpse of the qualities that led to his acquisition in the first place. Played well in defense and did a better job of assisting the wing on his side, in this case the rookie Brent Richards, in holding possession of creating forward production. 5
21. Diego Chará: Chará absolutely ran his socks off, and I strongly suspect that the injury that saw him limp through the final stages of the match was a result of this massive effort that he gave. And why not? Portland finally played a formation that allowed him to get close to opposing midfielders and make his aggression tell. This was one of his very best matches of the season. He harassed Chivas midfielders without mercy, won tons of ball, and time and time again turned defense into attack. For me, he was MOTM. 7.5
13. Jack Jewsbury: Once again entrusted with the captain’s armband, and playing in a formation that allowed him to use his skills effectively, Jewsbury showed marked improvement on his recent form. With Chará and Nagbe wreaking havoc ahead of him, Jewsbury could pick his spots and was able to blunt Chivas’s ability to attack through the middle of the park. 5
8. Frank Songo’o: Somebody needs to find out what Songo’o ate before the match and make sure everyone else eats that too. Wow, did he look up for this game. His level of technique and aggression has never been as high as it was on Saturday, and he repeatedly ran at defenders to good effect. He also put in a number of dangerous balls, although some of his set piece deliveries left much to be desired. You could say he was partly culpable for the goal, as the free kick from which it was scored was the result of a rather ill considered shirt tug in midfield. For my money, that would be a pretty harsh judgment given that the spot of the kick was some 35 yards from goal. In any case, overall you’d have to say that this was a very good performance. 7
16. Brent Richards: Welcome to the league my son. I haven’t been convinced up to now that Richards had what it took, but this performance made a believer out of me. Fairly early on he discovered that Jazic had about as much chance of sprouting wings and flying back to Nova Scotia as he did of winning a ball in the air, and he mercilessly exploited this advantage to put balls into dangerous places. He also showed that he has a throw in of Rory Delap-esque proportions. Still made some of the kind of mistakes that a young player will, but really showed a lot of promise. 7
9. Kris Boyd: Worked hard from the first whistle to the last and was more engaged due to getting much better service. He flubbed a number of chances from which he should have done better, so this his rating is a bit low, but if he keeps getting fed the ball like this he will prosper. 4
6. Darlinton Nagbe: Played in a slightly advanced role in midfield with Chará and looked quite good. With Chará’s ball winning keeping things steady in that part of the pitch, Nagbe was able to make better use of his skills and showed that he can be an attacking threat when formation and personnel allow him to be. 5.5
10. Danny Mwanga: Came on late and had a hard time getting into the flow. He seems to be another guy like Alexander who really needs time on the pitch to get into things. 4
11. Kalif Alhassan: Came on for Songo’o and you could kind of see that he wanted to try to make an immediate impact. Had some good touches, but his decision making in the final third was not great. 4
17. Eric Alexander: Usually, Alexander is a bit of a dud as a substitute, but he did reasonably well. Provided good service from the corner and at least made a show of wanting to get to the byline. 5