before i get into the specific thoughts i had during and after watching the timbers first pre-season match, i must remind you all that it was just a pre-season match. i do not want to get carried away with the optimism of a new year with new players and a new coach, but i was impressed. i can understand why people might be gun-shy, reluctant to accept things may be changing in portland, and if they do accept the changes they may still find them to be of dubious effort given the jaded affect left by several months of exposure to just plain awful football. but be assured this team looks like a team.
for a number of years i had heard of this word–team–but was unaware of what it meant. and, just to be certain i was on the right track i did some research. old mr. merriam, who teamed up with mr. webster to create the greatest weapon ever owned in most homes north of the mason-dixon line, defined team as:
two or more draft animals harnessed to the same vehicle.
well, that really wasnt helpful and reminded me of the type of football once played by john spencer, or the type of industry still employed in the southern regions of the state of oregon. so i had to read a little further. i passed the other multiple definitions that included references to ducks and turtles, and landed upon something that was really quite enlightening. a team is also defined as
a number of individuals associated together in work or activity.
now, this was getting somewhere: these people who work together, must do so in a way that combines their intangible abilities in a beneficial, complimentary, and satisfying way. i know what you may be thinking, likely the same thing as i was thinking. and i was thinking: what the heck is all this about?!?! team? combining intangible abilities? benefiting others in a group to promote success??!?!!? yeah, my mind was blown. and as simplistic as the concepts may be they were lost on the previous coaches.
but tuesday confirmed what has been indicated through the last two months of transfer dealings and player acquisition–the timbers now have a coach who understands the concept of team. earlier in his introductory phase at the timbers, porter stated that he may not go out and buy the best players but the players that fit our side the best. it is a subtle distinction but one that is so obviously overlooked by many coaches and managers, today. bringing in the latent that fits and compliments the other players in the team only improves the team. where bringing in a great player because they were so great at some point in their career may not do so. i know i have banged on about this ad nauseam, but it really is a point that cannot be stressed enough.
so, i can now step off of my soapbox and back into the discussion about what we saw from the timbers last tuesday.
tuesday the timbers were excellent in possession. indeed, they exhibited a distinct improvement in the nature of their possession compared to the type of possession we saw from gavin’s interpretation of those tactics in the waning months of last season. the team had purpose–they always looked to drive forward into the final third, they looked for the open man, and, more often than not, they made the correct decisions to get open. as is typical with all new systems, the moves were not instinctual but they were far more natural than what we have come to expect from the timbers in the last few years.
We had eight days to train and we have focused on certain things – every day is a building block. And this was another building block. We wanted to see that there was a positive performance based on our good preparation leading into the game, and I thought, overall, we saw that.
if it takes only eight days of instruction and practice to advance this far within the new system, i am hopeful for march 3rd to be at the very least an entertaining game. porter was also surprised at how quickly certain players had developed an understanding, commenting that it
was interesting to see that Nagbe, Ryan [Johnson], Valeri some of these guys have already started to form a relationship, a partnership, and how they link together.
not that it takes a rocket scientist to infer johnson, valeri, and nagbe will be the starting offensive players in whichever formation porter chooses to employ this season, but it does help if you read or watch football or even listen to interviews. clearly porter rates this grouping, and for good reason. they are quick, great with the ball, and, for some strange reason, compliment each other. i know. i know. i know. combining players in roles that compliment each other is as overrated as sitting down to a plate of buttermilk bars from tonalli’s on alberta and a carton of blue milk (i’ll be picking up my free dozen for that unsolicited product placement, thank you very much). but if you are going to put together a team, i guess bringing in players who fit roles rather than fill holes seems to work best.
i am not going to suggest that the introduction of one player into the squad has improved the overall play, but it has. valeri was everywhere and when he had the ball he was looking forward, finding his teammates in positions that would assist the advancement of play. these were not the typical rodney-wallace-finds-the-next-open-man-kicks-the-ball-and-does-nothing type passes, they were searching, they considered the run of play like a chess match. everything i saw of valeri indicated the timbers finally have a player who thinks ahead of where the play is at that moment. porter could not be more complimentary:
He’s a game-changer. He understands the game and understands the flow of the game. He knows how to unlock a team with passing. He had some good moments.
there were several other players i thought worthy of notice–ryan miller, ryan kawulok, ryan johnson. frankly, all the ryans were good. for me, though, it was all about the second half inclusion of last year’s unicorn: trencito. the kid simply oozed class. he is not the prototypical number 9, which for me is excellent. he can make his own chances, he places defenses on edge with his pace, and has the requisite athleticism necessary to play for the timbers. i was aware of all those qualities when watching tuesday, but was more impressed by the silky nature of his movement–while he has the physique to be a bull in the china shop, he tends to use other skills to get past players. you cannot teach that, and if you could dike would be a better player for that education. i think he will force porter to ask some questions soon.
alright, ok, those were my more positive impressions of the first few days of zona zonal training. hopefully, we will see more confidence in our third of the pitch. mags was dead on about the noticeable fear of perpetuating the last year’s defensive lapses, but i think those kinks will work themselves out once the team strings together some success and belief in their new system of play.