Before getting down to the business at hand, I feel the need to bore you with a little (and still perhaps too much) personal information. This morning opened with my vision reduced to the scintillating pinwheel that is the precursor to a migraine. I have meds for this. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. This is the latter case. I have no way of contacting sunshine in a timely way and fobbing this column (which in any case I should have written last night) off on him. The upshot of this is that two characteristics which are pretty constant features of my writing (disorganization and typographical errors) will be rather more prominently in evidence than even frequent readers of this blog have come to expect.
But enough whinging. The match against San Jose was, in a lot of respects, a microcosm of our season as a whole. There was some parlous defending, a penalty kick conceded, and then what you might describe as a fight back if it weren’t for the fact that it was a matter of scoring on one of only two shots on goal. It’s not like we had the Quakes under the kosh for any considerable time during that match. Rather, and in this respect it illustrated our season quite appositely, we kept plugging away, tantalizingly close to creating dangerous situations until finally we managed to make something happen.
The goal was not a thing of beauty. Fortunately, there is no benefit to artistry. Dike put the ball in the back of the net and that was that. We’d managed to come back and get a point. Was it meaningless after all? Certainly, the die was cast long ago as far as our position in the league was concerned. I’ve talked in my last few posts about the value of finishing strong in terms of wanting to setup a better term next time around. Our performance on Saturday was a reasonable facsimile of a decent performance. San Jose are top of the league for a reason (actually for a whole bunch of reasons) so the fact that we didn’t get chased off the park is worth something. It’s not like the rested a lot of players. The side that SJ put out contained all their major faces. The fact that the Timbers managed to hang together and get a point of the match showed that, at some level at least, we can compete.
Allow me to wade for a moment into the swamp of Schadenfreude. Ok, Wondolowski did manage to get the goal that tied him with Roy Lassiter for the season record. He did not, however, manage to get it from open play. I take some joy from that, although in all likelihood Wondolowski and his teammates will not be bothered either way. We also didn’t let him get a second, keeping Wondolowski from breaking the record and at the same time showing that we could keep the what is far and away the league’s most prolific offense relatively quiet for the evening.
On the other hand, I must concede that I am not all that sad about the end of the season, if only for the reason that for a few months I won’t be treated to the weekly spectacle of the Timbers persistent failure to navigate the ball through midfield effectively. It’s not just that we do it poorly. That in itself would be aggravating enough. What really strikes one who watches a lot of these matches is that we don’t really seem to have a plan at all. It’s not that the strategy isn’t working, it’s that it’s M.I.A. Time and again on Saturday, the all too familiar ritual of Timbers defenders winning the ball and then proceeding to ram it up a blind alley up the wing was played out. It would help if whoever it is that they have covering over top of the central defenders (and this is most often Jewsbury) would be a little more aggressive about moving the ball up the middle and making a pass to someone moving forward. This, of course, would require the services of someone a bit more mobile and with a better ability to pass. We’ve been stuck all season with less than optimal choices in this part of the pitch, due in no small part to the need to stop the team from hemorrhaging goals. Jewsbury and a few others have done a decent job of covering Horst, Brunner, Mosquera, and whoever else was playing back there, but we end up getting put under too much pressure by our failure to advance the ball effectively.
Now, some of you might argue that, as of late, Portland has done a rather better job of holding on to the ball, at least if the possession statistics are anything to go by. But they aren’t. Running the ball up to half way and then kicking a negative pass back to one of the fullbacks is not really productive possession. It does little to relieve the pressure on our defense and allows their defenders and midfielders to pack up and press us all over the park. Yeah, holding on to the ball is better than giving it up, but dinking it around the space between the center circle and one’s own penalty area should not be confused with a really worthwhile activity.
Pretty soon, sunshine and I will start on our series of postseason player evaluations, during which we will flog this dead horse for all it’s worth (and more). At this point, it must suffice to say that the things that neutered our offense in the last match were roughly the same things that had been doing so for the bulk of the season.
I suppose I should be happy about the result, and in a certain sense I am. We’ve done a lot worse against teams that are nowhere near as good as the Quakes, so that fact that we managed to be so competitive is not inconsiderable. But now we enter a time of real flux for the team; one in which the flaws that have been so apparent for so long with have to be remedied. The questions that one has to ask are: have the people making the decisions seen these problems too, and what will they do to fix them? The last two years have not given fans of the team a great basis for optimism. We’ll talk about where we go from here starting tomorrow.