Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Soccernomics: Timbers in Disarray Edition

Class: Stephen Ireland was clearly the best player on the pitch last night.
His movement, both laterally and vertically, never stopped.
Because I know that this is the first place you turn for your soccer news, I find it my duty to oblige.  It has been a very interesting diversion to watch the Timbers implode this season and no one seems to know what to make of it.  Except me, of course...

The dismissal of John Spencer as Manager Head Coach (it is funny how we adopt some British terms but not all) caught me by surprise.  Sure the Timbers are struggling but they are a second-year expansion team with an incredibly young and inexperienced roster.  What do you expect?  I believe Spencer thought he had some time to build the team and it was my general opinion that he should be given three years and evaluated only at the end.  

So what happened?  My guess is it all comes down to Nagbe.  Well, not just him, but his category: young developing players of which the Timbers have a lot: Nagbe, Mwanga, Alhassan, Renken, Rincon, Valencia, Jean-Baptiste, Mosquera, etc.  If you look at Nagbe today versus a year and a half ago can you really see growth as a player?  No.  Is it Spencer's fault? Probably not entirely, but I suspect that this is why Paulson chose to pull the trigger so quickly.  This is the only reason I can think of that you would make such a drastic move, if you think the development of these players is hurting and needs to be corrected right away.

Spencer's style is to have players play very specific roles on the pitch and he likes to play a very direct version of football. This is probably not a bad thing for a young team but it does limit creativity somewhat.  Still, when Nagbe has been given a free license to be creative he has not been able to be the creative playmaker in the midfield, so I don't really think that is the problem.  What then is?  Not sure. I would have been more patient I think.

As for the Timbers, the aftermath has been pretty interesting to watch.  The Dallas debacle was instructive: players really seemed to sort themselves.  One player who I have maligned in the pans, and who has really started to play his best football, is Franck Songo'o.  He is finally starting to assert himself on the field and put in a full effort.  Well done.  Eric Alexander is a great player until he gets to the box where his shots are, face it, terrible and his passing uninspired.  If he can develop a shot he could really become a top notch player.  On the other hand, Jewsbury is looking a bit tired and old these days and is not the force in the midfield he was.  Palmer is a disaster - wins the ball well, but then rarely does anything useful.  And the new guy - Kimura - who was supposed to solve the right back problem is horrendous.  I liked Jack there better.  

Last night's exhibition was a lot of fun: you get to see a lot of the youngsters like Brent Richards (man that kid's got hops) and Ryan Kawulok.  Raw, but energetic.  The most instructive thing for me was that even though Aston Villa was not as adept at possession ball as Valencia (the previous exhibition), they still possessed the ball better and, especially, moved the ball faster than the Timbers.  The Timbers are still way too ponderous on the ball and way too static when one player is trying to dribble and break people down.

What I expect from the Timbers for the rest of the season we caught a glimpse of last night: playing compact, especially at the start there was only about 10 yards of space between each line of player. Playing youngsters more.  Within the compact team play allowing players more freedom to move out of position and interchange.  It'll be rough perhaps, but entertaining.


~~R said...

I don't dispute what you say, but what is your background in football, your credentials?

Patrick Emerson said...

I have none whatsoever. But I am not sure what credentials are necessary to give opinions. As I alluded in my self-deprecating remark at the beginning, I write about soccer because I like to not because I have any particular insight. That said I play and have done all my life, am a licensed coach and I watch way too much soccer. So I am not entirely ignorant.

The great thing about a blog is, one, you can write whatever strikes your fancy and, two, readers can consume or not as they choose.