Monday, March 18, 2013

Soccernomics: Timbers

Why is it that MLS crests have the little TM on them - even on the game jerseys?
If Barça, ManU, Munich, Milan and others don't need it, do we? Looks cheesy to me. 
Interesting to read (if only from afar) The Oregonian editorial board's take on the MLS Timbers 3 years later.  I find it hard to argue that the Timbers has been anything but a runaway success is just about any metric one uses to measure such things.  But of course there is always those that try and push the economic development engine that is, or is not, professional sports.  I have stated this before that this is not what spectator sports should be sold as. On the other hand there is nothing wrong with providing a city an entertainment option that is clearly valued and valued greatly.  Anyway, all I can say is it is nice to see old Civic Stadium reborn as centerpiece to the city for no other reason than I think it is a cool aspect of the city that I, personally, value.

Now that I have some excuse I can now chat randomly about the Timbers.  [This is, by the way, by popular demand - I have resisted so far to get a better idea of what the Timbers are and about but now I feel as if I am getting to know them better]

Unfortunately, my ability to follow the Timbers in Brazil is severely constrained - I have been able to watch the last two games only through the great and noble efforts of the great citizens of the Philippines, Belarus, Russia and other far flung places that manage to stream live TV on the internets. [Amusingly during Saturday's match with the sounders the person whose TV was being live streamed decided to set his DVR for another game - all of which I watched live and discovered that this person is a Comcast customer in the US]  The first match was televised here on ESPN+ which I don't get but luckily there are bars that do.

Anyway here is my analysis, FWIW.

The team is impressive and much improved over last year's team.  The biggest misconception about playing the 'Barcelona-style' possession game is that it is all about the movement and short passing.  The most under-appreciated aspect of Barcelona is how, when dispossessed of the ball, they immediately press as a team (from Messi on back) and make it incredibly difficult for the other team to work.  They generally win back the ball quickly.  This is a key component of the possession style game and it takes commitment and effort from all 10 field players - one person slagging off leaves gaps and openings that relieves the pressure.  I have been impressed with the Timbers so far on this account.

It is very hard to get teams to play this way for 90 minutes as you are asking a lot of your players.  Bringing in players like Will Johnson who provides the leadership and the effort is key.  It has to come from the field.  Chara has always been this kind of player and, so far at least, Valeri, Nagbe and Ryan Johnson (to name a few) have shown a great deal of industry and effort that shows they are buying in.

Often the way teams try and play against this style is to pack in the box and counterattack (read: Montreal).  The Timbers have shown some frailty in this area and need to improve, but given that Silvestre had little time to get used to Jean-Baptiste, who is young and a bit erratic but looks every bit the real deal, I am not too worried.

The desire to get the outside backs into the attack has hurt them a couple of times.  In my book a balanced attack will push one back up into the attack while the weak side back tucks in for cover.  Something that seemed to be much better against the sounders.

It is really the working through the center of the midfield that stands out to me.  Too often in the last couple of years the ball immediately went out to the wings for a generally poor cross rather than trying to break down the center of the defense (Songo'o at his peak at least showed some willingness to try).  There is a real emphasis on this in this new team, it seems. And Valeri is extremely adept at this and is already showing his class.

The real offensive machine takes a while to work itself out as players get more and more sued to each other.  I expect that the Timbers will, over the course of the next 4 games or so, start to become even more dangerous.

All in all then I give the Timbers an excellent mark so far in the season.  Yes results matter but already they are much more fun to watch and they seem o have much more heart and desire than in previous years.  That said, they still have some big steps to take and the results will have to start coming.

Some other quick thoughts:

Porter seems to be the real deal.  He already has placed his stamp on the team, has them playing exceptionally hard and has done pretty well dealing with the near crisis the center back position has been in (injuries, inexperience, late-arrivals. etc). Putting his faith in Jean-Baptiste is courageous and smart.  He will learn a lot from Silvestre and only get better with more field time.  He got the tactics and adjustments just right against Seattle IMHO, and if not for a blazingly quick and exceptionally well-excecuted counter, we would have shut them out.  He has a clear philosophy and appears, at this point, to be a good man-manager.

On that note, I am waiting to see what he can get out of Alhassan.  He is as talented as you get but still needs to learn to do the dirty work and translate his exceptional technical ability into team-orientated movements.  He is getting better, but I was sad to see him dropped from the Seattle game if only because I love to watch him play and would like to see him successful.

Valeri is the man so far.  Great find.

Wider field is working.  Great to see the Timbers fix a mistake (if not admit it) and make the field wider, it has a noticeable impact on the beauty of the game on the field.  Next up: shift the South goal back about 5 yards and it will be perfect....except for the grass.  Not saying now, but in 5 years that turf has got to go...

Wallace - please don't start calling for him to be in the starting lineup (eg, Geoff Arnold). His energy is great but his technical ability lacks.  He is the perfect super-sub and excels in that role.  It is nice that Porter has identified subs that can come in and inject something into a game.  This was one of the real failings of Timbers past - subs that did nothing to change the game.    Right now Wallace and Valencia both do a lot as subs and make life hard for tiring defenders.

Finally, it is a long and grueling season in the MLS, well see if the Timber can keep up the kind of energy and commitment throughout the year.  I hope Porter is thinking about this as this is a huge difference from the college game.

Oh and the new kit?  Meh.  I didn't mind the new shirts that much but now that I see them in action I think they are a step down from the previous ones.  My kids don't like all the detail that is missing from the youth versions.  Still, they could wear pant suits for all I care as long as they play well...

Go Timbers!

1 comment:

Jeff Alworth said...

Excellent work, keeping up on the Timbers and keeping me educated in your absence. And bless those Belorussians.