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The Blame Game

Or, How to Name Names by not Naming Names.

Steve Dykes

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter didn't mince words following Saturday's 4-4 draw against Seattle. He was pleased with the offense, and... not as pleased... with the defense. "The mistakes we made in and around our box and around our backs—that part of our team was very discouraging and concerning," Porter said in his post-game press conference. Combined with a few comments following Monday's training session, we can piece together just who Porter blames for the team's four conceded goals—and one of them is clearly not Porter himself.

On Saturday, and again Monday, Porter said that he was pleased with the performances of "six/seven" players. The players that he mentioned by name on both days were Maximiliano Urruti, Kalif Alhassan, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson, Diego Chara, and Alvas Powell. The lone anomaly was Andrew Weber, whom Porter talked about after Monday's training session, saying, "I thought he made some great saves and I don't know that he was really to blame for any of the four, to be honest with you."

It doesn't take a ton of great detective work then to deduce that Porter was particularly displeased with the trio of Norberto Paparatto, Pa Modou Kah, and Michael Harrington (although the vote on Powell could be split—good on offense, not so good on defense). Porter called out both Papa ("The second goal... we're on the ball, then we give it away,") and Harrington ("You've got to be able to shut guys down 1v1, that's a part of the job for outside backs,") pretty explicitly, and there was at least one other reference ("Center [backs] need to win balls in the box,") that could have been designed to include Kah.

Combined with statements from Monday regarding changing players ("I will certainly be looking at [lineup changes] for sure and you have got to be looking at the back line... you have got to look there because I thought the front six—the middle three and the front three—were fantastic,") and it's easy to see why there's plenty of discussion about whether Futty, and maybe Jack (it would seem Powell's inclusion in the lineup was primarily an offensive one as he can better "pin back" the opposition's wingers and backs), may be inserted back into the lineup to re-create the back line of Harrington-Kah-Futty-Jewsbury that did well to finish out the 2013 season.

But perhaps the most notable (and missed) comment from Porter were his seemingly disguised attempts to clear himself of any wrongdoing. "It's one thing if your organization is leading to mistakes," Porter said in the post-match presser, "I don't think that's the case."

Here, "organization" means the team's shape and tactics; their defensive plan—which Porter is responsible for creating and implementing. "We made some mistakes," Porter continued, "Individually, critical mistakes individually that led to us giving up four goals. I don't think it's an organizational thing, it's an individual thing. We're making individual errors."

For those of you keeping score at home, that's 4 "individuals" (i.e. not Porter or his tactics/scheme) that caused those goals.

As per usual, Porter did say it was on him to get the problems sorted and corrected, which he assured he would do. But it was odd to hear a hint of Porter deflecting blame and clearly laying it at the feet of the players. While he's never shied away from mentioning (or not mentioning, as the case may be) certain "individuals," I'm not sure we've heard him protecting himself before. Perhaps the honeymoon truly is over and the weight of massive expectations that have gone as-yet unfulfilled, are beginning to weigh on the even-keeled manager.