Is my headline too harsh? Do we really suck? Let’s break it down.
1) The arguments against suckage: our first game was in the snow, at elevation. Our second game was against a Supporter’s Shield candidate. Our third game was against a team all geeked up for their first home game ever.
The arguments for suckage: we gave up two goals to a 10-man Colorado team. We didn’t just lose to LAFC, we got blown out. We didn’t just lose to Cincinnati, we got blown out and shut out.
Our defense? It isn’t just bad, it’s historically bad. We’re the first team in MLS history to give up 3+ goals in each of its first 3 games. Not enough for you? How’s this: last year’s Orlando team set the MLS record for defensive futility by allowing 74 goals. This year’s Timbers are on pace to allow 113.
Our offense? They’ve scored exactly one goal against a full-sided team. And the guy who scored it, Jeremy Ebobisse, was benched for the next game.
So, yeah, we suck. I don’t think we’ll suck forever. We might even become good. But for right now, yes, my headline is fair. We suck.
2) Why do we suck? Well, it’s hard to tell. One of my main thoughts during Sunday’s first half was that the team’s chemistry seemed off. Everything was choppy and clumsy, passes were being sprayed all over the place, balls were clanging off feet and shins. All in all, the Timbers looked like a bunch of guys getting to know each other.
Which made sense, since Gio made five changes to the Starting XI. Changes were understandable, but five? Personally, I think Gio went a bit too far. Two players too far, actually.
The automatic change was Bill Tuiloma for Diego Chara, who was out because of a red card. The non-automatic changes were Cristhian Paredes for David Guzman and Claude Dielna for Julio Cascante. Three changes out of six defenders? As bad as our defense was those first two games, replacing half the defense seemed appropriate.
What I don’t entirely understand are the changes in the attack. Specifically, replacing effective striker Jeremy Ebobisse with chronically ineffective striker Lucas Melano, and replacing fairly-decent-and-showing-improvement Andy Polo with known-commodity-and-really-only-good-in-the-preseason-and-playoffs Dairon Asprilla. These seemed like two replacements too many.
I’ll agree, the offense hasn’t been great, and yes, I remember the stat from earlier that we’ve only scored one goal against a full-sided team, but still, I didn’t like the Melano and Asprilla starts. There was a long stretch from maybe the 20th minute to halftime when the Timbers dominated play, and I can’t help thinking that if we’d had Jebo at striker, maybe we’d have scored during that stretch, and maybe the entire game would have played out differently.
3) Let’s look at some gifs and see if we can figure out what the hell’s going on with our defense.
The main thing to see here is Claude Dielna getting absolutely roasted by Kendall Waston. To be fair, Waston’s beaten a lot of center backs before Dielna, but still, this is ugly. I’m kind of fascinated/appalled by what Dielna’s doing with his foot. Is this his usual strategy on free kicks? Or did he realize he’d been roasted, knew he couldn’t get to the ball with his head, so he kicked out, hopefully getting ball and not face? All in all, a bad first impression for our newest center back. Let’s hope this isn’t the norm for him.
There are so many things to see here, none of them good. I see Dielna getting pulled out of the box. I see Larrys Mabiala looking utterly flat-footed and not stepping to the guy in front of him. I see Bill Tuiloma blocking a pass, which, unfortunately, continues into the box. I see Zarek Valentin racing to cover the guy who’s charging into the box, who probably should have had a d-mid following him, or perhaps Dairon Asprilla. I see the guy Valentin left behind standing wide open in front of net. I see Asprilla guarding grass.
Once again, there is so much to see, and so little of it is worth seeing. I see Asprilla, yet again, doing nothing. I see Mabiala and Dielna covering the same guy. I see the center mids sort of covering a guy, then letting him go, then doing nothing. I see Jeff Attinella being hung out to dry. I see very little energy and drive. And in the end, I see a bunch of players who look defeated.
Do I know what should be done to fix this defense? No. That’s for the coaching staff to figure out. They’re a lot smarter than me. But whatever they come up with, I think it might involve communication. I think it might involve players holding their position. I think it might involve our d-mids stopping those runs into the box. I think it might involve Dairon Asprilla not being allowed on the field again. Like, ever.
What do you think? If you were Gio, how would you fix this?
4) Let’s talk about personnel.
I don’t know what to think about Dielna’s performance. He had some good moments, but he had some bad ones, too. I’ve heard he’s a big talker on the practice field, but I didn’t see a lot of communication during the game. Maybe what we saw Sunday was the real Dielna, or maybe it was just a guy playing his first game with a new team. Maybe he deserves more chances.
As with Dielna, I found Tuiloma’s shift a mixed bag, with some good and some bad. I’ll say this for him, he’s versatile, he’s athletic, and he seems like he could be a smart and steady player. As with Dielna, I wouldn’t mind him getting more playing time, either as a CB or a CDM. I wonder if he’ll fill in for the suspended Mabiala in our next game?
I generally liked Paredes. He was playing more of a box-to-box role, and seemed aggressive moving forward, without having too many problems defensively. I could live with him starting our next game instead of David Guzman, but I’m willing to be talked out of this.
Elsewhere in our defense, it hurts me to say this, since he was so damn good back in 2015, but Jorge Villafana’s no longer reliable. I think it may be time to bench him. I think we should consider Jorge Moreira at right back and Zarek Valentin at left. Valentin may not be flashy or much of a threat in the attack, but he’s consistent and reliable, and that’s something the team could use right now. As for Moreira, I think it’s time to see what he brings to the table.
5) I haven’t talked much about our offense, since, let’s be honest, not much happened up there, but let’s go a little more in depth on our two surprise starters. Gio thought playing Melano and Asprilla would be a good idea. It was not. At all.
In the gifs up above, we saw Asprilla’s ineptitude on defense. On offense, he was his usual regular-season self; always right on the verge of doing something awesome, then losing the ball.
As for Melano and his iron feet, check out this cool/horrifying thing Chris Rifer found.
Melano completed six passes. One of them was sideways, two of them were backwards, and three of them were on kickoffs.
In case you missed that, let me scream it for you: HALF OF MELANO’S COMPLETED PASSES WERE ON KICKOFFS.
So, anyway, I think I’m done with Melano and Asprilla. They aren’t cutting it, either as starters or as subs. The front office messed up keeping them on the roster this offseason, but there’s nothing we can do about it now except exile them to T2 and give their minutes to some kids. I want Jebo and Polo starting again, and I want Marvin Loria and Foster Langsdorf on the bench. Sorry, Luca, sorry, Dairon, I like you just fine as people, but as soccer players, it’s time to move on.
6) I’ve said pretty much everything I want to say, so let’s finish with some random shit.
- In 2015, we made MLS Cup. In 2016, we didn’t win a single road game. In 2018, we made MLS Cup. In 2019...
- Portland’s played three games, and none of those games have finished with 22 players on the field. Can we make it 34 for 34? Can we have a red card in every game this season? I think it’s worth trying.
- Six of the 10 goals we’ve allowed this season have come in the 2nd half. Four goals have been allowed between the 61st and 68th minutes. Does this mean something? I have no idea.
- There were way too many guys on the field Sunday with dyed blonde hair. I couldn’t tell them apart, and I think the team needs to do something to help me. I have two suggestions: 1) have each guy pick a different color, maybe blonde, pink, and light blue, or 2) they can all go with blonde, but they have to spray paint their jersey numbers onto the top of their heads. This seems completely reasonable.
- Because of the international break, our next game’s not for awhile, but I’ve already got a crazy idea for how we should play it. What do you think of a 3-5-2 with Dielna, Tuiloma, and Cascante as center backs, then Moreira and Valentin as wingbacks? That do anything for you? Chara, Paredes, and Sebastian Blanco could run the middle, while Diego Valeri and Ebobisse could be up top. What do you think? Too crazy? Or just crazy enough?
- And as long as I’m throwing out crazy ideas, here’s my craziest yet: is it possible that the guy on the sideline Sunday wasn’t actually Gio? Is it possible it was Gio’s evil twin? You saw that he was working on a beard, right? Beards are the classic sign of an evil twin. And he wasn’t wearing a blue suit, either. The beard alone? The fleece vest alone? I’d dismiss it as coincidence. But the beard and the fleece vest? No. That’s no coincidence. That’s an evil twin. Somebody needs to investigate this.