What We Learned from Portland’s Thursday night win over Seattle

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  • Portland can still execute their Plan A

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Timbers’ performance in Seattle got so much attention for their change approach (one that actually happened two months ago), people may have forgotten: Portland’s still capable of playing that high-pressure, constantly moving brand of soccer that became associated with Caleb Porter as his name came to prominence. On Thursday, that style was Seattle’s undoing.

Initially, it looked like Portland was going to settle into Saturday’s approach, the match’s first 10 minutes seeing Seattle dominate possession. But then (and in hindsight, suddenly), Portland switched gears. Through the half’s final 30 minutes, Portland’s pressure created turnovers, breaks, and ultimately, goals. The passing and possession numbers were practically even at halftime, but Portland had monopolized the chances, with much of the game played in Seattle’s half.

Last month, Porter labeled his team’s reactive approach as Plan B – the one plan they used in Seattle. Tonight, the Timbers increased their lead to 5-1 because of Plan A. They’ve still got it in them.

  • Seattle’s attack just never gelled

Injuries and absences kept the Sounders’ big names from seeing much time together. Even tonight, the team only played 32 minutes with all of Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, and Mauro Rosales on the field. Arguably the most talented team in the league, Seattle never had time to gel.

The extent to which the team should have adapted can be debated, but the effects were evident in this series. The team scored three goals in two games, but two came on long throws, and all of them came decidedly after Sigi Schmid’s kitchen sink had been thrown onto the field.

It’s fair to expect a team with this much talent to be better, hardships be damned. It’s also fair to note more time together’s likely to produce better results. If the band’s back together in February, they’ll be more effective.

But if you’re a Sounders fan, it must be disturbing to note the team were outscored by five during this series while Mauro Rosales was on the bench. With him in the game, Seattle was +3.

  • And their defense wasn’t any better

Through 47 minutes, the defense looked just as bad as they did on Oct. 5 against Colorado (5-1 loss) and Oct. 9 against Vancouver (4-1 defeat). Almost any time Portland hit their line with momentum, the Timbers created a good chance, the one notable exception being Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s last ditch tackle on Diego Chara in the 14th minute.

In years’ past, Seattle’s decent defensive talent had been protected by their midfield, saved by their goalkeeping. But the midfield shakeup necessitated by Clint Dempsey and Adam Moffat’s arrivals unsettled that protection, while Michael Gspurning’s dip in form meant more mistakes would result in goals.

  • You can’t overlook Jack Jewsbury

Quietly, Jack Jewsbury had a huge series. Though Portland’s right back was beaten on Eddie Johnson’s 76th minute goal (though really, who expects him to win an aerial duel with Eddie Johnson), Jewsbury had already played a part in four Timbers goals during the series:

    • Jewsbury assisted on Portland’s  opener on Saturday, beating Leo Gonzalez to get his cross in to Ryan Johnson.
    • On Portland’s second in Seattle, Jewsbury’s run up the right flank pulled Gonzalez wide, opening up space for Kalif Alhassan, who eventually found Darlington Nagbe.
    • On Thursday, Jewsbury drew the penalty that led to Will Johnson’s goal, his chip beyond Djimi Traoré tempting the Malian defender to raise his left arm to the ball.
    • And on Portland’s second goal, another run up the flank opened up space in Seattle’s defense, with Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace able to create the series-winning goal.

Some of these are just things right backs are supposed to do, but that’s the point. At the beginning of the season, Jewsbury was a central midfielder. When he moved to his new position, it was viewed as a way to get the former captain into the team. Now, the 32-year-old seems like an honest-to-goodness right back, even having an impact going forward.

  • Still some naivete left in these Timbers

If Caleb Porter needed something to keep his team grounded, conceding two goals in three minutes does the trick. That they were two eminently preventable goals will only add tension to the likely Friday film session.

The Sounders’ first came off the same type of long throw that produced the goal in Seattle. Surely the Timbers worked on that during the week? On the second goal, Michael Harrington gets beat by DeAndre Yedlin, the resulting cross seeing Eddie Johnson matched up on Jewsbury.

In both cases, it’s simple stuff, the exact type of mistakes you can point to and wonder if your team temporarily lost focus. In Seattle, it happened when the Timbers were up two. In Portland, they were up four.

Perhaps inexperience didn’t cost Portland against Seattle, but it was still evident in how they closed out the series’ two legs.

  • Sigi Schmid didn’t do himself any favors

Being down 3-0 would have felt too familiar to Sounders’ fans, who may have been asking themselves how many times the team has to be in this situation before they see change.  If Sigi Schmid had the benefit of the doubt before Thursday’s match, a resounding playoff loss to Seattle’s arch rivals (where Schmid elected to start Shalrie Joseph at forward) changed that. It’s going to be hard for the Sounders to justify retaining their coach.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —