Sorry for the failure to post yesterday. I spent the whole day being chased from pillar to post by a host of problems which started in the early morning and which each seemed to need immediate action to prevent utter catastrophe. Now I’m on sunshine’s you-know-what list. Which is bad. As a result, I’m having to post this from by safe house on an island in the Baltic Sea. I won’t tell you which one (out of concern for the safety of the locals) but I will say that there is a thick-necked guy named Günther wandering the grounds with an HK-91 and orders to shoot anyone who even vaguely resembles sunshine on sight.
Now down to business. There is an article currently running on the MLS website under the headline “Timbers Show How Far They’ve Come Since Last Loss at RSL. ” There is a certain amount of truth to the idea that we have improved since we were absolutely chased off the park by them in early July in a match that heralded John Spencer’s move to greener pastures. Still, this is an idea which, for me, only arrived in retrospect.
The first goal that we gave up is the kind of thing that has burned holes in my stomach all season. The thing that was most annoying was Horst’s failure to step up. Jewsbury also made a mistake: he touched the arm of one of the most notorious divers in the league, and no one can then be shocked that Morales threw himself to the turf. It’s a little like that guy who jumped into the tiger enclosure at the Bronx Zoo the other day. You can’t blame the tiger for trying to eat him. In the same way, expecting an inveterate flop artist like Morales to stay on his feet in a situation like this is really to rail against the forces of nature. Of course, he then also had the class to get up and start whining to the ref about how Jewsbury should have been booked. In that respect, at least, civilization won out, as the ref simply told them to get on with it and let Espindola pot the resulting free kick.
Perhaps I seem like I’m always coming to the defense of our keepers, but it really looked to me that the ease with which Espindola ended his goal drought (which at the time had extended to almost nine full matches) had a lot to do with the fact that the wall was completely static. The tendency of players to encroach at times like that is so well established that I was shocked to see our lads standing there passively as Espindola fired the ball through the middle of the wall.
Having set up their first goal by throwing himself to the turf, who could then blame Morales for feeling that he had a sympathetic audience in the officiating crew on the night? Who indeed? About twenty minutes later, he ran the same game and got just about the same result. He drew a feather soft touch from Jewsbury and then threw himself to the ground in a sobbing heap. This time he left it to his teammates to cry to the official for a booking (if you watch the match highlights you can see Espindola doing the honors). Unlike the case of the first free kick, this one was the keeper’s fault, at least in part. It was pretty well struck, but personally I thought that Bendik should have done a bit better than getting beat to his near post like that. In any case, it was a pretty just result for Morales who showed exactly the kind of benefits that can be reaped when you haven’t got a conscience or any integrity whatsoever.
Now, much as we were once again down early on the road, and remembering that it took FSL an hour to break down our resistance the last time we played them, can it really be said that our performance had improved? The match in July was a low point for the team in terms of the way that the offense was functioning or, more properly, not functioning. I think we could have been locked in the ground alone for that entire night without troubling the goal unduly. Our performance on Saturday night was better in a few respects. Jewsbury partially atoned for having been the straight man in Morales’s con job by stinging Rimando’s palms with a well-taken header in the period between the two goals, and in general it seemed like we had much more going for us in terms of attacking ideas that we’d had in the earlier match.
As for Dike’s goal, well, full marks to him for taking it. It came at the end of a pretty considerable spell of pressure from FSL which nearly ended up with Paulo potting their third after he ghosted unobstructed through our defense onto a through ball. That would have made it 3-0, the exact scoreline by which we lost the previous encounter, and it would have been achieved rather earlier in the match as well. It is for this reason that, taken as a whole, I have trouble looking at this game and seeing it as a massive improvement over the previous effort. Clearly, we did a lot better job of winning the ball and keeping it. If I recall correctly, one of the biggest problems from the earlier match was that FSL had something like 60% of the possession. Still, I don’t see that we were a whole lot closer to a road win this time around. Sure, Dike scored, and that did put us within one goal of a point. But I think the larger fact to consider about Dike is the degree to which his play showed him to be a “B” grade attacker. He’s not fast enough to blow by most defenders, or big enough to muscle them. He’s got decent technique, but my feeling is that he doesn’t bring anything to the team that Mwanga doesn’t do better.
Strange to say, but with four matches left and with only a game in hand over Chivas keeping us out of the cellar, we still have something to play for. A win and a draw versus Vancouver and Seattle would do it for us. Or a win away to the Sounders, but I’m kind of not holding my breath on that score. There are a few other permutations, but you get the idea. This season has been dire, but taking the cup would be a nice consolation prize.