I don’t really have an overarching theme for today’s column, aside from the fact that tonight is our one meeting this season with the Energy Drinks. Of course, it’s on the road. We’ve gotten a couple of points in recent matches, which is a step up from what came before, but it’s no secret that we haven’t gotten it done on the road. You’d have to be a pretty cockeyed optimist to think that we were going to get any kind of result here, and if someone were to offer us a point out of this I think most of us would bight their hand off. That’s not going to happen. Nothing is going to be given to us. If this team is going to move forward then it is in matches such as these that they have to improve. It’s the sort of thing that one approaches with a bit of trepidation. If we come out like we did against FC Dallas a few weeks ago, the results could be grim.
As the Oregonian points out, former Timber Kenny Cooper has been having a stellar season. He leads the league with 13 goals. It’s hard not to look at this as bad move on the part of management, although he only tallied eight for us last year. The difference is that he’s got a much better supporting cast in New York than he did here. There are a lot of guys on the field for the Drinks to whom it behooves the defense to pay attention, and this creates space for the big guy to operate. Overall, it’s pretty clear that this is a team with ambition and the money to back it up. They’ve managed to convince the like of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill to make the switch from better leagues. The latter signing was really remarkable. Frankly, I thought Cahill could have gone on for another few years in the Premier League. In terms of pure quality, he might not be the greatest to ever play the game, but he is one of the most dangerous guys in front of goal that I have ever seen. It says a lot about him that, although he’s about the size of the average barstool, he manages to score a lot of goals in the air. That says a lot about his cleverness, be also about his desire. Timbers forwards please take note.
I suppose that I might add as a caveat that New York has a little bit of a recruiting edge over Portland. To your average European pro, life in one of the consensus “great cities of the world” is probably going to be more attractive than pulling up stakes and heading to an out of the way corner of North America. On the other hand, if we could put together a winning side, I’m sure luring foreign talent wouldn’t be too difficult.
In any case, the situation is what it is right now. This is a bottom of the table team, and for all of the (small and halting) positive steps that we’ve taken of late, the fact of the matter is that we’ve not won a match since beating San Jose just before Independence Day. There are eleven matches left in the season and there is really only one question left to be answered for everybody involved with this team: are you part of the problem or part of the solution?
The guys over at Stumptown Footy have an interesting piece on offer about what it will take to beat New York (aside from the appearance of a star in the east and the arrival of three old guys bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh). They make a couple of interesting points about the defense that I think merit discussion. They make the point that the Timbers defense has to play better as a unit, and in particular that David Horst needs to overcome his tendency to ball watch. Point well taken, but I think that it could be extended to include a lot of other people playing in that area of the field. The number of times that Timbers defenders on the back side of play have gotten caught ball watching is simply shocking. And it’s not just the backline players either.
They also point out that, at least from a statistical perspective, Eric Brunner might be the better option. I’d be ok with that frankly, although who knows when we’ll see him again. As far as I am aware, he’s yet to even make it back to the bench since his concussion. The underlying point is not so much who but how. In order to be successful, there needs to be a much greater degree of organization and communication that his generally been in evidence over the course of the season. I will say that the situation has improved from the first weeks of the season (with some notable exceptions). However, this team is still prone to make one or two really catastrophic gaffes in the course of a match. Since we just don’t score that many goals, the consequences of such lapses tend to be dire.
A lot will depend too on the squad that gets sent out there. So far, the best looking eleven that I’ve seen has been Perkins – Smith – Horst – Mosquera – Kimura – Jewsbury – Songo’o – Chará – Nagbe – Richards – Boyd. Perkins is obviously not in the frame anymore. As for the rest, I liked having Jewsbury playing as a deep holding midfielder, with Chará accompanying Nagbe around the center of the pitch as muscle (similar to the way that Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas used to work together at Arsenal). That triangle in the center of the pitch looked more effective as anything else we’ve tried so far this term. If Songo’o is fit he provides the best option in attack up the left. I like the idea of giving Richards more playing time on the right. He seems to be growing into the position and I think provides a wider range of skills than Alhassan, although the latter clearly has more pace.
Finally, I know that a lot of you have reached this point before me, but I’m now becoming convinced that we would be better served playing someone besides Boyd up top, especially if they are going to be there all alone. Portland tends to play pretty deep, although they’ve been moving to remedy that of late. Whatever his other positive qualities might be, Boyd is simply not the kind of guy who is going to run on to a long ball over the top. Also, he seems really to have lost a lot of the mobility that he showed earlier in his career. If we need someone to hold the ball up, maybe that someone is Mwanga. If we’re looking for pace, guile, and/or effort, than perhaps Zizzo (or Fucito) might be a better option. At this point, we’ve got nowhere to go but up.