when you dislike someone it is rather difficult to delineate between your feelings toward that person and reality when attempting to be objective. keep this in mind when i say that this side has not made any progress of note since giving spencer the sack regardless of the fact they earned a point against toronto. while the revisionists will describe last night as a game where the timbers salvaged a point, that assessment could not be further from the truth. sure, the timbers now have back to back draws. there is a distinction between the two results. against dallas, the timbers looked to be out of the match until jewbury’s wonder strike to salvage a point. last night, the timbers blew a lead due to the one thing that has plagued them from their inception as an mls side–they failed to defend at the most crucial moments. the timbers have now gone 7 games without a win and the further they go since sacking spencer the more apparent what the philosophical issues actually were—regardless of his stubborn adherence to antiquated footballing ways, spencer actually cared about winning.
both sides were suffering from a serious lack of personnel, which is a point that should not go unnoticed if you were to consider this match a barometer of where the timbers stand. not that you would need one, but if you were, that would be one to deflate your balloon. last night the timbers were without kalif alhassan, who was suffering from a knee knock, and franck songo’o, who was suffering from excessive naughtiness and was forced to sit in the corner. excluding eric hassli and torsten frings, toronto was without the majority of the first team. i cannot be arsed to repeat the names and faces of the first and second team missing from last night’s match, but there were quite a few.
as comforting as it may be that the timbers again retained nearly 60% of possession in a match while completing 81% of their passes, and i am sure the interim coach will hang his hat on them, the stats do not express how unleashed and undisciplined the play actually was. i have always held the opinions that possession stats are relatively meaningless and that unless you are barcelona all the possession in the world is not going to replace the ability to play defense. this brings me to the pith of my complaint about objectivity. it is ironic that a man who once played defense has an acute inability to put together an effective defense, or coach defense well enought to make the current one resemble something that could be called effective. whether it is the drilling, lack of drilling, the players, or simply the system, it is not working.
but let me back up and start at the beginning as the timbers and toronto started—from the center of the pitch. for the first 20 minutes of the match, the timbers and toronto played ping pong football in the center of the pitch. there were some good breaks within the first 20, but for the most part i suffered from motion sickness.
the first threat of the match came in the 19 minute when eric hassli turned hanyer mosquera in circles at the edge of the 18 yard box to fire on goal. the first test for the timbers new keeper, donovan ricketts, and he stood well.
two minutes later, steven smith took an ashtone morgan conceded corner. he put in a signaturelooping outswinger to david horst. horst flicked the ball back to sal zizzo, putting the toronto defense off balance in the process. that gave zizzo enough room to get off a shot that looked to have corssed the line, but was ruled a fair block. nevermind, he buried the rebound. 1 nil timbers and sal zizzo finally scored for the timbers. the rest of the half the timbers pushed their attacking lines forward and kept toronto under pressure. frankly, it was effective at preventing toronto from taking any meaningful shots on goal.
in the second half, toronto made several adjustments. one was forced by injury, as they were required to substitute andrew wideman for reggie lambe. lambe came on and did well on the left side for toronto. toronto also employed a higher line, pushing the timbers back into their end which gave them time to pressure the ball and the timbers. another advantage of the higher line was the ability to play an effective offside trap. this worked especially well in the 53 minute when nagbe attempted to set boyd free, who was quickly waived off. it was an easy effort for the toronto back four to simply step forward as boyd made his run. nagbe was unable to get the pass off before boyd strayed off and that effort was killed. the fact boyd is slower than a slug sucking on a salt lick and requires a few “extra” steps to beat any defender, but the point is valid—their defense for the early stages of the second half worked well enough together.
the timbers employment of the same high line often has disastrous effects. in the 56 minute, horst’s exuberant push forward resulted in a foul on luis silva. eckersley, better known as “what the heck, eck” eckersley, took the resultant free kick. i have seen some lobs, i have seen some lofty free kicks and corners, in fact the timbers own steven smith is known for a lofty corner kick, but what eckersley did can better be described as a moon launch. he put the ball up and hoped a teammate would win the 50-50 challenge. it is frustrating when players fail at their job. but when they fail to even attempt to perform their job, it is infuriating. how toronto was able to score the first goal is still a question worth asking, but try not to ask the central midfielders and defenders who took long efforts to observe the effectiveness of heading balls to teammates as displayed by toronto rather than defend properly—they could only shrug. eckersley’s ball went up and the timbers defense evacuated the space most likely for the ball to land. adrian cann maybe jumped 6 inches to head the ball directly into the path of an unmarked luis silva, who drilled a shot at ricketts. unable to grasp the shot, ricketts parried into the path of eric hassle who put it away for an easy goal. now, to answer how that goal was scored, you only need to look at jack jewsbury and the rodwall–both were marking silva. when the ball went to cann both defenders were drawn to it by unnatural forces, because we all know they have never done this before. when those two defenders follow the ball, silva is left open and easily takes the ball in stride for his trike. this is the frustrating thing about the timbers—they lack defensive discipline like a steer lacks his junk. it has not changed and until a quality defensive coach is brought in, i do not see it happening any time soon.
so, 1 all and still 34 minutes left. what else could possibly go wrong? well, in the 64 minute weideman gets the ball and takes it down the left hand touchline. kimura does well enough to push the youngster to the corner, but weideman does suffer from having some foot skills and crosses kimura up. he moves to his right and laces in a low cross towards hassle who had set up behind mosquera and in front of horst, again unmarked. hassli bent for the ball and flicked it goalward to luis silva. silva easily tucked it away for 2-1.
the timbers did have a clear penalty denied. evidently, in the mls when a the last defender prevents a clear goal scoring opportunity by taking out the attacking player on the ball it is not a penalty, nor is it a bookable offense. so, in the 71 minute when fucito and boyd exchanged passes in a break towards goal and fucito is taken out at the knees and the ball is not played, a penalty should have been awarded. It was not. what are you going to do, they are canadians and so was the ref. excuses. excuses. excuses. right? wrong. regardless of the penalty that was not awarded, the timbers should have been more disciplined in the back. they were not.
not to ruin any surprise, but the timbers did get back that second toronto goal. in the 82 minute the timbers performed a great serious of one touch passes that resulted in a nagbe header for goal. it was beautiful. steven smith took the ball from a throw in. as he broke towards goal he passed to boyd, who then quickly passed to eric alexander. alexander watched smith’s and slotted the ball to the ginger defender. smith drove to the post and pulled kocic out of position. rather than taking the glory for himself, he wisely crossed the ball to nagbe, who smartly waited on-side. nagbe then plunked it into the back of the net. that was a goal I am sure everyone who reads this blog has been waiting to see all season. well, you got it. file it away–you may never see another one like that. it was the gift of the match to help overlook all the things that continue to go wrong for the timbers.
if i sound unhappy about the draw, it is for good reason. the timbers did not draw with the toronto first team.–they nearly lost to toronto’s reserves. that is not something to celebrate, that is something that requires us to question why it continues. 7 games without a win and the same discipline issues that occurred with spencer continue to happen with gavin. how is it the timbers cannot hold a lead when they have captain forever in the defensive mid role and the preferred starting back four all playing in the same eleven? so, when i ask how can i be objective when i look at what gavin has done since taking over the role as interim coach, the answer is relatively simple. the results speak for themselves.
as they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…i wish i could be happy about this result, but it portends disaster for the remaining games of this season.
buck up, it will be 105 today.