as we begin the retrospective analysis of the season, i am reluctant to inquire what might have been. that is like asking what would have happened had john not met yoko—while wonderful to muse over the idea, the beatles still broke up and the incident outside the dakota apartments still occurred just as the 2012 season. asking that question is an impotent attempt at sticking a finger in the dyke only to find the damn thing was loaded and primed with dynamite. given the failures of the last off-season, there was little the timbers management could have done during the regular season to change the results. there were attempts, drastic ones at that, but they still proved to be a finger in a big hole.
while bringing in kris boyd may have signalled not only the club’s ambitions but also that the owner, though naïve in his execution, is not afraid to pull out the pocketbook when he sees a player that he believes will help the side, it did not address the inadequacies of the squad. unfortunately for boyd, whether fair or not, the big price tag brought big expectations. and it seemed to work the magic needed to get people interested in the side again, even if it failed to keep their interest for the long-term. while this may seem tangential, the curse of this management team is that it sacrifices competitiveness for marketable moments. and there have been a few moments this season. but before we get there, let us not forget that the most marketable commodity the timbers have is their supporters who will stick with the club regardless. so, why the need for marketable moments? why bring in boyd when there is a cooper (though personally i never cared for cooper–it had to do with his inability to effectively involve others and his knack for lying down on the job )? why sack spencer to get the golden boy of us soccer? why bring in ricketts when there was a well-loved, well-respected keeper and leader serving the club? i honestly have no idea, but i would venture to say the wow factor sure helped cover up the glaring issues for a few weeks at the least.
last off-season i had expected to read any day that the timbers had acquired a creative midfielder and a set of solid defenders. instead, the timbers looked to begin the season with two very poor defensive backs in chabala and facepalmer, a mercurial winger, and an injured scot. the more i consider the dealings of the last off-season the more i question whether the management referred to the quaker play book for defense against invading forces, because the acquisitions made were similar to painting logs and calling them cannons. was there really a plan set in place to improve this side? even more galling was the fact this approach continued throughout the season, leaving the timbers gutted of character as the timbers faithful were left to scratch their heads.
yesterday, in his migraine induced stupor (i am entirely sympathetic to his condition, having suffered from migraines my entire life), mags described the essence of this team’s problems: they may well have the objective of the game down—scoring goals and winning—they simply have no idea how to go about accomplishing that objective. i would suggest their player acquisition is illustrative of this problem. without an understanding of how a team wants to play, how it wants to accomplish this style and form, and how it will impose that philosophy upon other teams throughout the season, the management cannot look to acquire players who will carry out that philosophy with any sort of confidence. instead, the management looked to convert square pegs into dowels, and dowels into works of art. and it made little sense.
to his credit, gavin, whether through his numerous and continuing conversations with caleb porter, has recently identified the type of play the timbers now want to employ going forward into next season. last week he stated that the timbers know the type of football they want to play:
[we] want to be an athletic team that looks to control games. We want to play dominant soccer. At every moment we want to put teams under pressure, which means we do need players that understand the game, that are versatile in the way that they play, and take good care of the ball in tight spaces.
well, ok, that is a plan. but did anything resembling that plan ever appear throughout the 2012 season? that is rhetorical—you know it did not. personally, i cringe whenever i hear or read the word athleticism. while being athletic is a wonderful trait, i would not look to create a team of bright dikes—as athletic as he may be, he simply does not have the skills and intelligence necessary to drive a team forward. there is something to say about intelligence on and off the ball, understanding the play, and knowing how to create the opportunities that positively bring teammates into the game. currently, the side does not have that player, which has been a complaint throughout this and last season. in numerous conversations with people in the growing world of timbers diy punditry, many of us have agreed we would rather see an intelligent player come in than usain bolt. fast as he may be, bolt is never going to see a defense splitting pass to unlock danny mwanga or kris boyd, or dribble past two midfielders before creating his own shot on goal. such feats require skill and intelligence above athleticism.
admittedly, the team did make strides toward possession football, but it failed to perform the basic tenets of the game—score, and score regularly, and defend (we will discuss the defending issues later). this is where mags point truly hit the nail on the head and bent it sideways—the possession we saw recently was not productive possession, it was the enactment of frustration. not one player knew what to do with the ball once it was at his feet, or if he did have an idea of what he was going to do with the ball the rest of the side had little idea of how to contribute in the execution. that is not just a tactical issue, but an intelligence issue. and athleticism is not going to cure those ills.
so going forward, i hope, i wish, i pray the timbers look to find some intelligent players to balance the bull in the china shop and some of the ninnies incapable of pushing forward into the final third.
well, day three of the off-season has not been so bad.