Breakdown: Portland and Seattle plot their next steps in the wake of dramatic Cascadia draw
It takes a while for overarching meaning to settle in the aftermath of an instant classic. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid tried his best to sum up Sounders FC’s 4-4 draw in Portland on Saturday. And he somehow managed to capture the essence of the pulsating, topsy-turvy encounter in rather short order.
“Exciting,” Schmid told reporters after the match. “Great game to be a fan. Not a great game to be a coach, because it’s hard on your heart. Fantastic game for our fans, for their fans, for national TV. I think it was a great advert for soccer.”
Schmid likely understands advertisements often lack the substance to endure over time. This sort of match – open from first to last, settled by glittering stars and shoddy defending – fits into the same category: it captivates the neutral and provides the coach with talking points for the weeks ahead.
Most of the positives stem from the enterprising work at the sharp end. Both teams exhibited the precision required to produce goals on a consistent basis. Portland perked up its attack by adjusting its spacing (more on that below) and taking advantage of its movement. Seattle relied on the emerging chemistry between Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins to match the production at the other end.
These sorts of outbursts – rare as they are in a series that never had a meeting end in that scoreline before Saturday – reflect the menace presented by both teams in full flight. The ruthlessness mustered is enough to send a cautionary note to the rest of the league: maintain the proper defensive standards or face considerable consequences.
Diligence posed some problems in the defensive third on this occasion, though. The problems mostly originated through individual errors and pieces of brilliance, not systemic issues ignored prior to the match. The recurring nature of those problems in some individual cases constitutes cause for concern even in the rather one-off nature of this particular derby meeting.
“Any game against good teams and good players you’re going to give up some looks,” Portland coach Caleb Porter told reporters. “I thought for the majority of the game, we defended well, but we made big individual mistakes that cost us three points. It’s tough, because we had our foot on their throat at 4-2, could have got the fifth goal. We had several chances, but you shouldn’t need to get the fifth goal when you’re up 4-2.”
It is an instructive lesson to adopt from a match few, if any, of the participants will forget quickly. This early-season meeting offered the perfect time for an expansive affair demonstrating the potency of both sides. But the frailty presents a take-home point worth monitoring. If this derby draw urges both teams to redress their defensive concerns, then this thriller will serve as both a meaningful example of what MLS can produce on its finest days and as a useful tool for two ambitious sides as they push forward.
Five Points – Week 5
1. Portland benefits from a renewed emphasis on width: The early stages of the Timbers campaign revealed an overcrowding problem in certain areas of the final third. Caleb Porter addressed the concerns in the 4-4 draw with Seattle by asking Darlington Nagbe to operate primarily on the left.
This tactic benefited the home side for two reasons: (1) it encouraged Nagbe to test DeAndre Yedlin one-versus-one in space (and two-versus-one when Michael Harrington joined the attack) and (2) it stretched the field horizontally for Diego Valeri to operate more freely.
Portland’s resulting improvment – including influential displays from Nagbe and Valeri – occurred with ample aid from the mistake-prone Sounders FC rearguard, but it still bodes well for the future for a team more reliant on its collective than a star like Clint Dempsey to deliver results.
2. D.C. United finally tastes victory: It took 16 attempts for United to win a match in MLS. The string of 15 defeats ended with a 2-0 triumph over New England on Saturday night. United isn’t quite out of the woods yet after collecting maximum points for the first time since August, but the importance of breaking the duck and establishing some positive momentum to help the process of molding this revamped squad together.
“Yeah, it’s relief,” United coach Ben Olsen told reporters. “It was just important for us to move forward in our play, but also get the win. It feels good. It feels good for a lot of those new guys, and in particular some of those old guys as we got a little bit of a demon off our back, and we can move forward now.”
3. Real Salt Lake relies on resolve to snatch point at Sporting Kansas City: This MLS Cup rematch – a 0-0 draw largely controlled by the home side – did not unfold as RSL might have preferred. Sporting asserted control over the match in midfield and disrupted any semblance of rhythm created in possession. The return of Chance Myers and the continued (and noticeable) absence of Joao Plata reduced the usefulness of direct service down the left flank, too.
RSL’s struggles to present issues for Sporting (five total shots, one on target) or push out for sustained periods of time (43.1 percent of the ball, according to Opta statistics) piled pressure on the defensive structure to secure a point. The entire shape responded in kind. Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler formed the core of the efforts from central defense with a defiant and rugged display and steadied makeshift fullbacks Rich Balchan (solid enough in his first MLS start since 2011) and Abdoulie Mansally (caught out a few times with his tactical positioning at left back, but never punished for it). Jeff Attinella produced his best Nick Rimando (ruled out with a knee injury) impression to thwart Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi (excellent on the night) and the rest of the Sporting attack.
In this particular affair, RSL adhered to the best formula for trying to snatch a result at Sporting Park on these sorts of nights: keep it tight at the back, stop Sporting from nicking a goal on a set piece and hope your goalkeeper and some wayward finishing ultimately yields a result.
4. Common sense requires leniency from time to time: Referees must balance several factors when presented with a decision to keep a player on the field or send him off. Houston (David Horst’s straight red for a routine challenge on Fabián Castillo) and Vancouver (Matias Laba’s second booking for handling after an evident foul went uncalled in midfield) found themselves on the wrong end of decisions that turned their respective matches in rather uncharitable fashion. In both instances, the players placed themselves in peril and the referees rendered their verdicts within the Laws of the Game. But is the scale truly weighted correctly when those situations result in game-altering decisions when the context cries out for a more measured approach?
5. LA Galaxy keeps the ball, tears apart Chivas USA: Galaxy boss Bruce Arena assessed the landscape ahead in the SuperClasico and plotted wisely. He deployed a diamond in midfield and partnered Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane up front. The combination of deft work in possession and vertical balls over the top ripped apart the fragile Red-and-White rearguard en route to a 3-0 victory at the StubHub Center.
“We’re putting our passing team on the field,” Donovan told reporters after the game. “We have a lot of quality on the field so we move well and pass well. When guys are combining, it’s really difficult to defend against. When Robbie and I get underneath the other guys are recognizing it well and moving forward. Marcelo [Sarvas] got behind them, Baggio [Husidic] got behind them, Stefan [Ishizaki] got behind them, Juninho got forward and made plays, so when you make defenders deal with all those things, it makes it very difficult.”