some mornings, and this morning is not an exception, finding the words to write down in this forum for you all to read can be difficult. we all know the subject matter and that likely the words involve some dissection of issues surrounding the timbers, but this week there has already been so much talk regarding last weekend's game that it seems trivial to now add my two cents to the conversation. but here we are, it is thursday morning, with the weekend looming and another match against the footballing equivalent of the hansen brothers to look forward to, and so i must.
at the risk of overstating something that is as plain and obvious as the nose on zlatan's face, it really needs to be said: san jose are bullies. if they are not throwing in the rough stuff in an excessively aggressive challenge, they are surrounding the referee in a group display of solidarity and protestation against some perceived wrong they suffered after they had used their elbows to perform rhinoplasty on an opponent. after re-watching the last match, it took some moments to realize that an objective of their game plan is to use force or the threat of force to intimidate people on the pitch. and if the referee or the opposition suffers from any confidence issues, the tactics work.
in last sunday's match, san jose, and by san jose i really mean corrales, cronin, wondolowski, and, surprisingly, bernardez, persistently mobbed the ref at every chance they had--even when the timing was illogical. having a good cry to the ref is as common in any other sport as it is in football, and, for the most part i tend to forgive it as that--part of the game--but their bleating was ridiculous.
in a conversation with a good friend of the blog, and a fella whose opinion i respect above many, the bullying theory took a new curve. not only is san jose forcing a ref to quake in order to gain some illusive upper hand (yes, i meant illusive, which evokes elusive but also connotes the idea of illusory) when big calls need to be made (as if an mls ref is consistent enough to place such faith in their abilities to side one way or another) but they also use the mobbing tactics to extend the time of the game. not surprisingly, their efforts are employed with greater regularity towards the end of regulation play. reading that, it should come as no surprise that last season wondo scored more goals in the waning minutes of the match than any other player in the league. i am not suggesting that mobbing is directly responsible for the increase in late minute goals for the quakes, but the coincidence is there. if i recall, of the 27 goals he scored over half were either late minute equalizers or winners. if a team is extending the amount of added time by implementation of cheap, playground tactics, it does make scoring late goals that much more possible. and given their reliance on the dump-in-the-box scramble for a ball, it makes an even stronger case for increasing the amount of extra time in a match--defenders' legs get tired and defending against a couple of bash brothers and a poacher can be difficult in the late minutes of games.
those are some of the non-footballing tactics we can expect this coming sunday when the timbers take the pitch at the buck shaw. if we can see them so can the timbers. and, of course, they do. but in their preparations for the match hopefully they spend more time concerned with their own game than with the time wasting of last year's supporter's shield winners. besides, if the rules are to be followed, only the captain and any individual player who is affected by an infraction can approach the official. remember that new rule? hopefully the referee considers that the next go around.
stepping past the puerile antics of the hansen brothers...i mean the bash brothers. amongst the bleating and the pleading and the bullying, a 90 minute games does actually take place. certainly, the timbers would rather prepare for the body checks, the cross checking, and the forechecking of san jose than their other tactics? well, indeed that is the case. as the captain described in a post-game interview last weekend:
You know against San Jose what their style is. It’s very bullish, very alpha, they kind of want to fight and play a lot of long balls and battle and crunch and that’s their style. And you have to respect it because it’s been effective. We knew that coming in [to last Sunday's game], it wasn’t a surprise. We knew it was going to get chippy.
first of all, only a canadian would use a hockey term to describe the quakes style of play. yet that is the type of football they play--hard fought and boring as it may be, it is effective. and while porter acknowledges san jose's physical style, stating he has "no problem with it because we’ll fight, too. we’re not going to back down," he is more concerned that the timbers continue to eliminate the individual errors and stick to their game.
We've played two very balanced games where we've played our style, had the ball, we've created chances, we've scored goals, and we've defended well. We need to continue that.
and why not? over the last 6 games, the timbers have scored 10 goals, 8 of which were assisted. they have made goals by passing, averaging 529 passes per game. the only exception was the wind bowl against colorado, where they managed just 378 passes. still, 378 passes is 87 more than san jose could put together last sunday. passing works so long as the passing includes driving to goal, getting in positions where the attack is actually attacking. any team, and i do mean any team, can pass the ball around the top of the 18 yard box in a sophisticated game of keep-away, but only by a determined effort to get into those dangerous positions will the team score. it is a simple concept for success and one that porter continually beats into the heads of his players--possession for possession's sake will not win games.
the tactics worked to an extent against san jose, but, as you will recall, the timbers did little to break down the physical defense of the quakes. they relied on a free kick to earn the three points. an acceptable way to dispatch a bunch of moaners and groaners who spoil the beautiful game, but it is preferable to not have to rely on a set piece to win. in the overall play, it appeared ryan johnson could have benefitted from a partner up top. nagbe and kalif were as industrious as they could be, but they are not physical specimens who can handle the beating victor bernardez willingly puts on a player. perhaps this sunday a formation that involves an additional centerforward, specifically frederic piquionne, could assist in handling the physicality of bernardez and harden, and dispatch with bullies the only way possible--punching them in the mouth. [disclaimer: the axe blog does not actually condone punching people in the mouth, but if wondolowski and sam cronin had fat lips at the end of sunday's match we would gleefully look the other way]
regardless, san jose will be insufferable this sunday.