Always Look on the Bright Side of Life?

27 Oct 2016 10:49 PM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
—by Robert W. Cross


"But this wasn't a talent issue." - Portland Timbers Owner & CEO Merritt Paulson

The Timbers' owner also noted that missing the playoffs was "not acceptable" and mentioned complacency and lack of leadership during his annual season ending appearance on Timbers in 30. Nothing was too notable to me except his statement above, "but this wasn't a talent issue."

I wholly disagree.

What equals 24 wins, 25 losses, 16 ties and a -10 goal differential?

That is the Portland Timbers' record in MLS during 2015 and 2016 aside from the Cup run. The Mighty PTFC switched to a 4-3-3 on the road in Game 32 against RSL and never were to lose again over 9 matches. This included winning our first MLS Cup in Columbus against the Crew. I remember; I was there.

The Timbers' championship was a by-product of good fortune (precipitated by Will Johnson's injury which afforded Coach Caleb Porter an opportunity to gamble with the 4-3-3), good form, and pluck: think Double Post, Steve Clark's miscue in Columbus, and the non-call for offside on Rodney Wallace's goal. The ball is round and the star was and forever will be ours.

Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and who else exactly?

Adi (16) and Valeri (14) combined for 30 of PTFC's 48 goals this season. That is 63% of the team's total production. The third highest goal scorer was #5Million with 3 goals. After that, Darlington Nagbe and a myriad of others with one lone tally apiece.

The Timbers attack was predictable and largely easy to defend. Clog the middle, let us operate on the flanks, and watch us either try to force the ball through the center of the pitch or send crosses to no one in the box. Poor wing play and production was a common facet of our offensive struggles in both 2015 and 2016.

The 2016 Portland Timbers conceded 53 goals.

This was the worst in the Western Conference. Is there any member of PTFC's back line that you think is a lock to come back next year? Both starting fullbacks have their faults, whether it is Vytas struggling in space 1v1 or Alvas Powell's forays up the flank rarely leading to anything in the final third. Steven Taylor was not effective in his late season audition with Liam Ridgewell, who has a serious issue to address off the pitch this offseason.

Will it be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 in the midfield?

The midfield was the strength of the Timbers in the MLS Cup run. Diego Chara, remarkably, manned the single pivot; Darlington Nagbe flourished; and the Maestro was the Maestro. Jack Jewsbury has retired, Ben Zemanski is oft injured, and a past strength of the Timbers is a real question mark right now.

What of Nagbe? Darlington's function and utility cannot be taken for granted, but this is an uniquely talented player who has scored 7 goals in 99 regular and postseason matches for PTFC the past 3 seasons. PTFC needs to drop the 4-2-3-1 if Nagbe is to remain. We cannot forsake production from an attacking player that far up the field, especially with Adi on his way out the door.

Is there talent to support the senior club elsewhere in the organization?

The Timbers signed their first Homegrown Player (Marco Farfan) from our Academy earlier this year. Much has been made of recent youthful acquisitions for T2, but our USL side offered scant support in MLS matches this past season. Do the names Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Schillo Tshuma, Nick Besler, or Ben Polk ring a bell? These are the Timbers' recent selections in the MLS SuperDraft. None have a made an impact with the senior club. There is no question that PTFC has made a concerted effort to improve in regard to the Academy, T2, and scouting. We will need more personnel support from inside our organization to be successful in MLS in the coming years.

Do the Timbers have a talent issue?

I think they do. What do you think?

Comments

  • 10 Nov 2016 12:19 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    JPTimbers says:
    Friday, October 28, 2016 at 7:03 am

    Well written and thoughtful piece. Thank you for your contribution, Robert! It’s a funny game, isn’t it? 2015 & 2016 were not so different, yet one culminated in championship glory whereas the other ended in misery and frustration. In a league of such parity, the complaints you might categorize as excuses can actually amount to something. The retro reds, luck, psychology, the weight of a star, injuries, cap penalties. Ultimately we were 1 point away from, we’ll, in all likelihood an early exit from the playoffs. Toward the end of the season, I was hoping for a miracle that would send us through in CCL, thinking that would drive us to find substantial talent to fill the holes that became increasingly apparent as the season wore on. And we actually came a lot closer to beating Saprissa than I expected! Crazy that this season we bemoan a lack of wing production, when the game winner in Columbus was a lovely cross from Melano and a beauty finish by Wallace. My two big take homes from this piece is that we were deficient this year in our ability to threaten from the flank (few goals and poor service); and our backline was not solid (though I attribute a lot of this to injuries). I’m saddened that Melano hasn’t met with expectations, but that’s the risk of investing big in an unproven prospect. Big clubs make these kinds of deals en masse, buying up 20 Melanos with the hopes that one turns into something special. We’re not a big club. And when our two starting center backs are injury plagued or out for the season, its game over. Back lines function as a unit, and without the time to develop chemistry and trust, well let’s let our goals allowed speak for itself. Thanks for the thought provoking post.
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  • 10 Nov 2016 12:19 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Robert W. Cross says:
    Monday, October 31, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Thank you for reading and the the comments.

    Standing in the front row for CCL against Saprissa, I felt the team put forward a strong effort and it’s unfortunate that we did not get through.

    Heading into 2016, I was optimistic bc I rated Asprilla and felt we would be dangerous on the counter while being anchored by string CB play. Well, none of that happened.

    I agree that margins for MLS success or failure are too thin. PTFC needs to diversify their approach to building the club IMO and get returns from the Academy, SuperDraft, and T2 on the senior roster. MLS will only get more competitive moving forward.
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  • 10 Nov 2016 12:20 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Scott Jeffries says:
    Friday, October 28, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Of course we had a talent issue, namely at defense and wings. We had a patchwork backline all year, which to be fair was partly the result of Borchers’ injury and Klute’s… well, whatever was wrong with Klute all year. Clearly he was supposed to take over for Villafana and while I agree with their reasoning in selling him, that did not work out. We never had a decent LB until Vytas came in, and even then he was very inconsistent and error prone. Melano was garbage. Mattocks had, what, three good games at the end of the year (before his maddening play in Vancouver to close things out, dribbling the ball out the end line at every opportunity)?

    Without a reliable backline, we couldn’t play the exalted single pivot. It stifled our attack having to keep two midfielders deep and forced Nagbe out of what was clearly his best position. We had to play through inferior wingers who rarely created anything. Those are all talent issues.

    We had depth issues too, of course. But depth is who is playing midweek, in cup games, in CCL. We did not have a championship-caliber XI. That is a talent issue.
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  • 10 Nov 2016 12:20 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Robert W. Cross says:
    Monday, October 31, 2016 at 9:06 am

    I agree with your sentiments.

    Nagbe is a curious, perplexing player. IMO, it’s clear that his best position is as an 8 in a 433. The challenger however, is that formation is more difficult to execute than most and in particular, in MLS where you are dealing with salary cap and roster issues.

    Most teams lack wingers and FBs are on the cheap in MLS, both are critical to a strong 433. These challenges are why many MLS sides opt for the 442 historically.
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  • 10 Nov 2016 12:21 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Green and Gold says:
    Friday, October 28, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Totally agree. The 4-3-2-1 needs to go. It often looked like a drill where the 4-3 and 2-1 couldn’t cross the midfield stripe.

    Talent management has also been clumsy. Mistakes in who we’ve let go and who we’ve brought in. Here’s to hoping we admit our busts and get a true #10 DP to give us more buildup options.
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  • 10 Nov 2016 12:21 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Robert W. Cross says:
    Monday, October 31, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I’ve seen enough of PTFC in the 4231 w current personnel. We are too narrow and predictable in this formation.

    Nagbe, as an inverted winger, drifts centrally on the regular which leads to lack of width and Powell being on the ball too much in the final 3rd. It’s not a good look. Nagbe is most comfortable centrally, it’s where he wants the ball and it’s where he needs to be if PTFC is going to be successful.

    I think our biggest issue with talent management right now is that we are too reliant on procuring talent outside our system. We need to start bearing our own fruit and drafting better (in MLS SuperDraft).
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