Hey everybody, Michael Orr is back (temporarily)! Michael was on the ground in Tucson for today's match and was gracious enough to give us his thoughts on the game.
Before you get any ideas, I haven't come out of retirement. Not permanently anyway. But thanks to my in-laws living in the general vicinity of Tucson, I got to spend the early afternoon watching the MLS Cup holders in action against Real Salt Lake. Many of you likely watched the web stream or have at least seen screen shots of Jack McInerney's Nolan Ryan impression, so I won't bore you with a play-by-play. However, there were a few things to glean from the the Portland Timbers' final Tucson appearance of 2016.
The first thing to note is that this game was highly segmented: First, several starters including Fanendo Adi, Adam Kwarasey and Zarek Valentin were absent from the first XI with Adi and Kwarasey not even dressed; Next, Darlington Nagbe returned from national team duty, pushing Ben Zemanski back out of the starting group; Third, a big fight late in the first half removed McInerney and inserted Ben Polk; Fourth, Caleb Porter made four halftime changes including Neco Brett; and finally, wholesale changes for both clubs came with about a half-hour to play with youth team players and a collection of draft picks and trialists filling out the twenty-one players not named Nick Rimando.
So, on the whole, the game was disjointed and chippy. The first half was quite well executed by both teams, but especially the Timbers, while the second half was a mere facsimile of MLS play.
With all that said, let's get to the action!
The Timbers scored in the first minute, much to the surprise of the two dozen in attendance. I honestly can't remember the exact sequence of play, but since the web stream hadn't yet picked up, I could say pretty much anything and you'd be forced to believe me. The gist of it, however, was the Timbers playing the ball from Alvas Powell into the middle to Diego Chara who in turn sent Dairon Asprilla a perfect through ball toward the right corner. Asprilla sent a cross in front of goal, where Rimando, focused on McInerney at the near post, came off his line. But McInerney couldn't get a touch and the ball skipped across the six-yard box to Lucas Melano, who either easily poked the ball in for a first minute goal or pressured a now forgotten Salt Lake defender into recording a horribly embarrassing own-goal. Either way, it was a very well constructed sequence, highlighting the strengths of a half-dozen Timbers.
But wait, what about no play-by-play? Ok fine. The rest will just be general observations:
Portland dominated the first thirty minutes of play. Asprilla and Powell terrorized the RSL left side, leading to repeated opportunities around the box. Melano should've scored at least once or twice more in that opening half hour. Meanwhile, McInerney proved to be quite effective at holding the ball up. McInerney is adept not so much at posting up in the Adi model but in sinking deeper into the attacking zone, muddying the waters of static formation diagrams. Were aliens to descend and try to name the Timbers' alignment when McInerney, Valeri, and Nagbe are together, they'd likely plead the Fifth.
Anyway, before the fight, Portland controlled the run of play. And then the fight happened. Other than the headlock, it was hard to tell exactly what was happening, despite Jake Zivin chatting away right behind me. The main thrust of it, from a Portland perspective, was that Jermaine Taylor and McInerney did their best to show they had the backs of their new teammates, which I found both interesting and now as a fully partial fan of the Timbers, encouraging. One of my biggest questions going into the season is just how big of a divide will there be between the dudes who actually won the MLS Cup and those who have joined the club in the L-shaped sheet-covered, cigarette-smoking afterglow? Obviously on the field, ball recognizes ball, so that's not going to be an issue. But you know what I mean. And clearly McInerney and Taylor are cognizant of that possible dissonance, and they jumped directly into the fray to support their teammates, even in Mac's case, to his playing time detriment.
After McInerney went off, with Polk replacing him (pushing Melano up top; Polk played wide left the rest of the half before going up top in the second), there wasn't much to the half that didn't begin with a bored sigh. The good news for the Timbers was that they thoroughly controlled a full half against another team's mostly starting unit.
Porter made a few subs, including both centerbacks (in came someone called Morley and Anthony Manning) as well as Brett. The former pairing did fine while Brett continued his impressive February, at least as long as Nagbe, Melano and Valeri were on the field. Brett's got good speed, tricky moves, decent vision and a lot of confidence. However, his impact on the game dropped off precipitously with the removal of the three players mentioned two sentences prior. While he does exciting things on the ball, off it Brett sometimes lingered too close to Powell, both crowding his right-sided partner's space while also not providing a run down the line. Maybe that's nitpicking but before he earns up any significant minutes in the first team, the draft pick will need to improve on a few things. Still, he looks like the most exciting prospect to come out of the draft in a while, even if that excitement sometimes comes at the expense of sound positioning and rote effectiveness.
The game ended with a bunch of people I didn't recognize and mostly don't care much about. RSL took a page out of Dean Smith's book and subbed the entire group (other than Rimando) with a half-hour left. Emery Welshman still exists, if that's of any interest, though he didn't really do anything of note. I did get to see a wee bit of Valentin, Ben Zemanski and Eric Avila, who was the named trialist. Avila wasn't particularly impressive, but it's not really fair to judge him solely on a performance of fewer than thirty minutes amid young and untested teammates. Zemanski looked back to his simultaneously frenetic and casual form, roaming all over the midfield and playing a lot of back passes. Valentin is good. And that's to say nothing of having a really nice head of hair. If he ends up being the left back (Chris Klute was there, by the way, but spent most of his time walking slowly in bare feet and covering himself in sunscreen), he'll have the opportunity to make amends for our dearly departed Jorge Villafana's poor, poor choices.
So that's it. I went to a game, there was a fight, it was hot, there were dudes I've never heard of playing semi-significant minutes and there were no goals for 89.99 minutes. Oh, and it's worth noting that the team's polos look really nice with the secondary (now primary, right?) logo and a white-and-yellow-tipped collar reminiscent of the club's 1979 kits.
Thanks for a few minutes. I'll leave now and give you back to those who actually know something about the 2016 Portland Timbers.