I’m going to wait on the player ratings, just because I’ve not had the chance to look at the game film again since it happened. Experience has shown that I have only the most tenuous grip on what’s going even at the best of times, so I think it best for all concerned that I wait until I’ve had a chance to get a little better informed.
Before getting down to Timbers business I want to mention that it was announced yesterday that Robert Lewandowski was on the verge of signing a contract with…oh…my…god…Bayern Munich. This is especially "shocking" because both he and his new employers have spent the last three or four months denying that any such thing was being planned. Obviously, he can go wherever he wants, and it’s best for Borussia that he goes now and goes to somewhere big, since they are pretty much guaranteed a hefty transfer fee. He is out of contract at the end of next season, and at that point he’d leave anyway and Dortmund would get squat.
Recently, there have been some complaints from other sides in the Bundesliga with respect to Bayern’s transfer policy. At a podium discussion put on by the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper last Thursday, Mainz 05 manager Christian Heidel voiced his annoyance at the apparent pre-signing of Eintracht Frankfurt star Sebastian Rode by the Bavarian giants: “I have the feeling that Sebastian has already agreed to terms for next year, although official negotiations are not yet allowed.” Heidel’s larger point was that the expression of interest by Bayern Munich in the period before actual contacts were allowed functioned to drive down the fee that Eintracht could get for Rode by scaring other potential bidders out of the market. This is a major concern for teams up and down the ladder in the Bundesliga.
You could argue that it is just the normal functioning of the market, but the rich-get-richer dynamic that this creates also raises the specter of a loss of overall competitiveness in the league. There are a lot of countervailing forces at play. Merely having league power concentrated at the top is not necessarily detrimental to league interest. Take the example of La Liga which still retains massive interest even though the title has been won by Barcelona or Real Madrid all but once in the last ten years, and in that time it has only happened three times that they didn’t finish 1-2. The Bundesliga tends to be a bit more competitive. Bayern wins a lot, and they have an internationally recognized brand, so they get a lot of other money rolling in, but it should be remembered that as recently as 2007 they didn’t even finish in the top three.
What is a little bit eye opening about this particular situation is that after winning the Champions League and taking the Bundesliga by 25 points, Bayern have contrived to buy the two best players from their nearest rivals in both competitions. It’s not as if they have simply been skimming the cream off the bottom feeders. There are those of you out there will simply say, “That’s the way it is,” and you’re not wrong. Maybe I’m extra sensitive about this, given that Arsenal has functioned as a sort of minor league system for Barcelona for the last seven or eight years. But this is how dynasties are built, and it is as it has always been.
On to the matter of the Timbers, and perhaps we should note with relief that, whatever the oddities of the league remuneration structure, at least it keeps the talent spread out throughout the division. This is, I think, especially relevant to the match against D.C. the other night. In terms of pure quality (i.e. with respect to the abilities of the players) we are not miles better than United. However, we have a team concept that is signally lacking among the boys from the capital and that meant that even lacking our best playmaker, and even on a night when we didn’t really play our system for a lot of the match, we still came away with a reasonably comfortable win on the road.
I should preface what follows by saying that by the time the team lineups were posted on Saturday I had several hours of recreation already behind me. Thus I plead diminished capacity my weird speculations about what the shape of our lineup was going to be. In the event, we played what amounted to a 4-4-2, with Chará and Will Johnson playing deep and Nagbe at least nominally positioned on the wing. We played Ryan Johnson and Piquionne as an old style two up striker pairing. What actually happened, or so it looked me, was that we played a kind of total football approach, with Piquionne, RJ, Nagbe, and occasionally Will Johnson or Chará playing a kind free flowing rotation in the attacking zone.
Three things really struck me about how this went down:
1. We didn’t seem to be totally comfortable with this system. It was dictated by the personnel that we had available. It lent itself not so much to our normal passing game, but rather two balls over the top (generally to be held up by Piquionne) or attempts to get wide. The latter skill is one that we still don’t really have the players for, and the former just seems to result in us knocking it around. The first goal came off an attacking zone throw in which was received by Piquionne and shepherded across the middle until he saw RodWall bursting in to the left side of the area. The second goal was even less typical of our usual scoring m.o.: Nagbe trapped a long ball out of defense, played it back to RJ, who then played the return ball over the top back to Nagbe. It was an excellent finish, but not one that bore lot of similarities to our more common pattern of breaking onto through balls. The upshot of all of this is that we managed to grind one out on what was clearly not our best night. That is a promising thing.
2. The defensive alignment that we had going called for Will Johnson and Diego Chará to cover a lot ground. Normally we play a bit tighter in midfield, but the fact that they both played so deep so often, and tracked back so aggressively after getting forward, meant that there was more than the usual amount of space in the middle of the park. A better team might have made better use of the opportunities this provided. It is a tribute to the efforts of our defenders that we managed to keep a clean sheet.
3. Let me just say that Rodney Wallace’s goal was about as sweet a strike as you’re going to see in this league. Granted, Hamid should probably have done better on his near post, but you have to hand it to Wallace for backing himself and putting a sizzling shot on frame. Wallace is just brimming with confidence these days, and rightly so. He has struck a rich vein of form and the days when he languished on the substitutes bench seem an age ago. I don’t think anyone thought at the beginning of the season that he would be making contributions in the way that he has done so far. Can there be a Timbers fan so jaded as not to feel a moment of pure joy at the sight of a young man confronting adversity and coming good? Not this on anyway.