I got a text from sunshine yesterday afternoon about the imminence of the announcement of the Timbers new manager. Those who read yesterday’s post will be aware that sunshine had speculated (or repeated the speculation of others) that it would be University of Akron and U.S. U-23 head coach Caleb Porter. With his usual aplomb, sunshine provided what I think is a pretty good account of what we might expect from him. It cannot be a bad thing that Nagbe was a member of a national championship winning side under him at Akron. In any event, I am in agreement with all the salient point he made. With all due respect to John Spencer (or more than what was due depending on your opinion of him) I am afraid that the available evidence suggests that he was just not flexible enough to work with the materials with which he was presented here.
It now appears increasingly clear that the central problem with Spencer’s approach was personified in the figure of Kris Boyd. I don’t think that bringing him here was obviously a bad move. I also think that, given the right circumstances he could still provide value. We have the best part of a season’s evidence, however, that suggests that running the offense through him is a losing proposition. Boyd’s most positive attributes over the course of his career have been his imposing size and his finishing ability. He now seems to possess only one of these traits. Sadly, it is the former. Boyd was never the most mobile guy in the game, and time and injuries have certainly not improved this. According to people around the team, he is still a deadly finisher on the training pitch, but that and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee.
The lack of pace up front meant that teams could play a very high line against us. Thus it was no surprise that we tended to get suffocated in midfield. Normally, the way to counter such an approach is to put balls over the top and have your forwards chase them down. This was simply not an approach which Boyd could make work. For him to do the business it was going to be necessary for us to work the ball to the byline by building up effectively on the outside. For much of the season we simply did not have the personnel in wide positions to do this. The failure to make this approach work could be seen in the repeated midfield giveaways. Without the speed, technique, or creativity to make the strategy work, players simply dribbled themselves up blind alleys or turned around and passed the ball negatively.
The end result was that we couldn’t get Boyd anything like the service he needed to be successful. Even when we did, he didn’t demonstrate the requisite level of precision in terms of finishing. The failure to score had a ripple effect throughout the team. It magnified the defensive frailties in the side. This is not to say that things like the 5-0 tonking that we had from Dallas was Boyd’s fault. No, there’s blame enough from that dreadful outing to go around. When we did keep it close, however, the fact that we couldn’t produce much in terms of attacking threat meant that the slightest error in defense was liable to wash all of our good works down the drain. That’s just how football is. It’s the mirror that flatters not, and in fact times it makes you look downright ugly.
There is no mistaking the improvement that has been wrought in the team since Boyd was shifted to the bench. Faced with the combination of Zizzo and Dike, teams are now forced to respect our speed and to play a little deeper in defense. The added space has done a power of good to Darlinton Nagbe, who can now use his mobility to much better effect. It also helps that Frank Songo’o seems to have turned a corner in terms of his fitness, as well as his willingness to take on defenders and force them to make plays in the defensive zone. This constitutes a fundamental change in approach from that which involved just lobbing the ball in Kris Boyd’s general direction and hoping that he could somehow find his way through the swarm of defenders crowding around him. Now teams have three or four guys that they have to think of in terms of attacking threats and the results have been promising.
I like Kris Boyd and I think that there is still possibly a role for him to play here. But the days when the idea was that the offense was going to run through him are (or should be) over. This does not mean that he has no valuable contribution to make to the team, only that he is going to have to make it under different circumstances and with rather less playing time in which to work. I can imagine Boyd being an effective changeup thrown on later in matches against teams that have managed to thwart our passing game. I suppose the question has to be asked as to whether he would accept such a role (even if it was on offer). For this I have no answer.
In a not unrelated news item, the Oregonian reported yesterday that the club is planning to widen the pitch dimensions at the JW for next season. It makes a certain amount of sense if you think that one of the other things that they are trying to do is build a more mobile, passing oriented approach. As an expansion team, it was nice to have the smaller dimensions, if only to keep things a bit tighter at the back. Now that the team is really learning to play in this league, it’s probably time to spread things out a little bit. Anyway, this topic has been beaten absolutely to death in these pages, so I will spare frequent readers any further repetition.
Ok, I have an annoyingly early work meeting to which I must toddle off.