i hope everyone has picked themselves up from the floor and turned their stupor into something constructive. i know how difficult it must be for you all to accept the loss, especially this kind of loss–an end to an unprecedented, monolithic achievement. i was there with you; though i was preoccupied with the wonderful flavors of homemade fried chicken and gravy with creamed corn that i continuously piled into my mouth, i was right there with you. this was important, it was world-changing–the timbers are no longer unbeaten in preseason.
i know the team did not take the loss well. they were left holding their heads in their hands, wondering how it all went wrong, while aurelian collin and company celebrated in the middle of the pitch. had kc travelled with any sort of numbers i am sure a pitch invasion would have occurred–last night was that important. but the timbers will get through it just as we will. it is important to remember that it is one game, one loss. this is preseason and as the team builds upon its lessons as it prepares for the opening game so must we.
ok, with that bit of hyperbole sitting out there we can now concentrate on the reality of things. last night was just another night of training; the team has been instructed on a system of tactics over the last 10 days and they were required to exercise on the pitch what they had learned in the classroom. those efforts are not going to be a polished product or an immediate success. that is not to say the team lacked beautiful moments and great patches of play within the game–they had them, but they were not consistent enough to suggest a real comfort with the system. i am not concerned by this fact. the goal that was conceded was from a set piece through a well taken, dipping shot that looked to have taken a minor deflection. not really the type of frustrating goal that was conceded by the team last year. we need to consider and discuss the development of the team in terms of a trajectory and the apex will not be met until these players become more comfortable with the roles they are asked to play.
there are a number of players worthy of mention from yesterday’s match, with trialist michael nanchoff certainly earning praise for his graft and guile, but i will leave those evaluations for a later post. today i want to discuss some of the encouraging things i have seen within the defense, particularly with the play of certain centerbacks. earlier this week a few readers had expressed some concerns regarding the pairings in central defense, which are understandable–last year the timbers had a -24 goal differential and the pairings were less than convincing. well, they were convincing, but only convincing of the fact they did not play well together. sure, a good deal of responsibility can be placed with the unfortunate inability of the timbers management to find a capable right back, but even that cannot explain why communication between the centerbacks was limited to deciphering smoke signals into sanskrit, sanskrit into latin, and latin into braille. the communication that did occur clearly broke down at a fundamental level.
the team did not play defense as a unit, they we a group of individuals who lacked the personality strong enough to galvanize them into a wall. watching the recent preseason matches i have observed increased communication between the centerbacks and the fullbacks. it is not an observation limited to lip-reading, these fellas are developing a feel for each other that anticipates movements and reactions.
it is assured that you will hear the concept ”playing the ball from the back” so many times this year that you will become sick to death of it, but it is an important concept to learn in order to appreciate the flow of the game. the best example of it in the timbers play to date was the interplay between ajb and mikael silvestre against kansas city. when in possession, they looked to spread defenders by pushing the ball to one side and then the other and use the fullbacks to carry the ball into play, which opened space for the midfielders to enter the attack. as a diagram, it looked something like this:
i know you know what the tactics look like, but i really wanted to use that graph–it’s cool, and i like adding visual content to the blog. at any rate, silvestre and ajb were very adept at working these tactics throughout the 45 minutes they played together.
in comparison, spencer ball was the typical route one, clear the defending half by hoofing the ball up the pitch. although this is good defensively, as it clears your lines, it is next to useless for the attackers who, rather than being placed in a position to take the play to the opposition, are forced to compete for the ball in the air against the opposition’s defenders. those tactics are unpredictable and antiquated, and are similar to this:
thanks to porter, the good folks at white sands missile range have not had to scramble in response to too many futty danso moonlaunches since the timbers have been in arizona. but last night there were a few when danso and mosquera were partnered together. the last two games have been a great example of the old saying that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. futty has been a great servant to this club and to the fans, but, however large is personality and stature may be, his skill-set is limited in size and may not compliment the style he is being asked to play.
my surprise with the last couple games, especially last night’s match against kc, is how relaxed and composed mikael silvestre looks on the ball. yes, he has played in systems similar to that designed by porter, but i was never impressed by his abilities. he did start a bit roughly in the first game against colorado, but he grew into the match and looked the type of player with a pedigree in possession football. this really is painful to admit, but his pedigree and experience, as well as his ability to play all positions across the back four, really makes him a desirable and intelligent option in defense for the timbers. i am going to wash my hands after writing that…and my brain and eyeballs twice.
overall, i think it is clear that porter views jean baptiste as the starting rightside centerback and that he is looking to determine who fits best next to him last night. (pause)…silvestre looked to compliment the young man rather well.
ok, saturday is happening. go enjoy it.