Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Timbers v Sounders April 5, 2014

On Saturday morning I received a message via Facebook from my wife's cousin's husband,  Kevin.    "Are you ready for the Sounders?"  he asked from his digs in Portsmouth England.  Kev's a loyal supporter of Pompey,  Portsmouth's ancient but ill-starred football club.  The loyal fans in this bastion of the Royal Navy know adversity--their club had to be rescued from financial meltdown through a herculean effort by the supporters,  an effort we hope the Timbers Army never has to even imagine.  

The fact that a match between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders is on the radar screen for folks who have their own fine brand of football to fret and exult over is a sign that we are now truly on a bigger stage.  I wrote back with the flippant reply that "20,000 fans say "yes"!"   And on this Saturday past,  we were ready for the Sounders,  but not perhaps for Clint Dempsey.   

This match gives me heartburn.  Any time Portland and Seattle go to battle,   everyone says it's  a fierce tussle.    But leaving Kenny Cooper (KENNY COOPER!) unmarked on the back post three minutes into the match is not a sign of being ramped up and ready.   I almost suspect the Sounders practiced the concept---"If we get an early corner or free kick, let's have Kenny drift into the back post--it'll be unmarked.  That'll show the Timbers."

I honor the effort the team made after that first mistake (again).   They weren't disheartened and disorganized.   They kept their poise.  They ignored the early strike and the potential insult.  When Chara cruised forward looked,  settled and struck,  I was ecstatic.  Chara has always been one of my favorite players on our side.   He works and works and works--snapping at the heels of the opponents.  And creatively bringing the ball forward into the attack.   In the years we've been in MLS it's clear that Chara is not the shooter--he's the disruptor of opposing teams and the initiator of counter attacks.   This weekend, though,  he smashed expectations with two brilliant strikes from outside the 18 yard box--a point of a attack that the Timbers' precision style doesn't often use.   Each shot was exquisitely placed and from the Sounders' scouting perspective,  totally unexpected.  

The clock ticked on.  Chara's first shot brought us even.   Followed by Valeri's magic spin and shoot in tight quarters to bring us back up.  But then another hiccup in the defense.  Dempsey receives the ball with no one to challenge him just yards from goal and nails the shot.   Kah was to his right,  the closest Timber,   but was nowhere near 'marking'  the Sounder who has to be considered the deadliest risk.  

The clock ticked on.   Chara,  in a second moment of vision and poise,  puts a second strike from 22 or so yards into the net.    And then,   in a tumble of plays which seem to crush the Sounders' chances,   Maxi Urruti steals a ball from the Seattle defense and places an exquisite shot curling to the right but with enough 'english' that it drops into the corner of the net  and makes the tally 4-2 Timbers.   The clock showed us at 56 minutes.   

I have a son in Ashland, a brother in Enterprise,  and they text me when games are on.  They may or may not be able to watch on a big screen somewhere but they are Timbers' diehards.  So we text.   At 72 minutes into this match,  I sent a text  saying   "we can't let down'"  because I was seeing on the field a tendency for our crew to fall back en masse when the Sounders got the ball-- fewer challenges over the fifty yard line-- an organized retreat into defensive mode.  We had numbers back in the box,   but we were giving away momentum and space.   

What happened next needs no explanation.   The Sounders,  ball in our end,  got  a cross to Dempsey,  unmarked,   though Powell was close,  and he made it a 3-4 game.    And within minutes we coughed up a pk  that Dempsey finished for a hat trick and a tie.  

My sense?  Once we took the bunkered point of view,   we were betting that the time would run out before they would dissect our defense.  That's a horrible strategy.  Especially since Caleb Porter substituted offensive players which should have given the message that we were  "goin' for broke"  and not that we were hunkering down.   

I rate this match as one of the most exciting Timbers v Sounders matches in my memory going back to the 70s.   However,  I also rank it as one of the most disappointing.   We had the game in our hands and couldn't focus on how to hold on to it.   We showcased the best and the worst qualities of our team.

Coach Porter (no relation) has to solve this problem.  It's not enough to shut out opponents if we don't score goals.   It's not enough to score goals if we don't shut down opponents.  Yin and Yang.   We have to find balance.  The Timbers deserve it.