1. Nick Rimando is the best Goalie in Major League Soccer. This game was proof of that and then some. How in the world Ricketts got the award for best keeper in the league last year is beyond me. Rimando is on a completely different level. We’re all lucky to have this guy here.
2. Ned Grabavoy (and the rest of the team) needs to shoot more. During the run of this game I constantly found myself yelling “Just shoot it already!” A lot of times it happened to be on Grabavoy’s feet just around the 18. There seemed to be this desire in the team to want to build that “perfect goal”. Where you end up passing the ball into the net after dicing a team through the 18. This is great, but sometimes you just gotta shoot the damn ball. Grabs finally did this late and what do you know a goal happened.
3. We committed turnovers & mistakes in this game that a better team punishes. The most glaring of these was the turnover by Mulholland in the middle of the pitch about 30 yards from goal. Lucky for us, Urutti decided to try to pick out the top corner when he could have easily just picked a side and taken the lead. Against a more “in-form” offense, we get punished on that chance as well as potentially a few others.
4. The lack of chemistry between Garcia and Saborio is worrisome. This was especially shown when Plata came on and suddenly we could move the ball into the attack. I think it’s just a matter of two different style players not being able to connect. In reality, the partnership that Garcia worked best in last year was next to Sandoval. I think the safe bet going forward is to try to get those 2 on the field at the same time as the connection between Olmes and Sabo just isn’t there. Sabo connects with Plata best, Sandoval with Garcia best. Rotate to accommodate.
5. Tony Beltran had a pretty strong defensive night. A lot was asked of Beltran as he not only had to play in support against Urutti and Alhassan but he was constantly in a 1v1 with Darlington Nagbe. A lot of the chances Portland generated came down his wing, but he did enough to prevent them from becoming goals. It wasn’t going to be a night where he dominated play but he did an admirable job defending one of the league’s brightest young plaers.
6. Jeff Cassar was slow on the subs – but they were fantastic nonetheless. Around the 58th minute you could feel the momentum really swinging Portland’s direction. RSL was in need of a change as simple things in the middle were going awry and there was just a complete lack of cohesion. Cassar was slow to go to his bench but the picks he made won the game. I wish he would have pulled Mulholland earlier – and against a better team he might get punished for being slow – but I’m happy to see the double sub that was made. Those 2 changed the tide for RSL.
7. What the tifo!? I said it in my pregame piece – there is a respectable “rivalry” going between us and the Timbers. The tifo this game showed that it isn’t just something on the pitch. Credit to all of you that have worked on any kind of display outside clapping and singing (not that those should be viewed as negative by any means). This game had a more electric feel to it than your normal regular season game and I feel it had a lot to do with how much people were willing to put into it themselves. Well done fans.
8. The midfield didn’t have a great night for RSL. The first 10-15 minutes of this game RSL simply dominated. Our midfield was pushing the tempo, finding the forwards in dangerous positions, and allowing the outside backs to push into the attack. From about the 15th minute to roughly the 75th, this wasn’t the case. Portland did well to absorb and counter, sure, but RSL was missing on the little things during that stretch. It shouldn’t be perfect at this point in the season, but a bad stretch of play that long is a bit concerning.
9. Alvaro Saborio lives and dies by the service provided to him. In this game, that was about none. A lot of fans get upset in these type of games with Saborio because it looks and feels like he is doing nothing. There is a bit of truth to that, but it more comes down to RSL not involving him in the play. As a #9, Sabo has to stay central and look to be the guy RSL builds off of. That wasn’t happening this game. Portland was clogging the middle of the pitch and RSL wasn’t necessarily looking to probe either. To get a good game out of Sabo, you have to give him service. RSL didn’t do it and it’s why he had a quiet night by his standards.
10. Sebastian Velasquez is an incredibly bi-polar player. This is expected of young guns, but I feel Seba takes it to a new level. One moment he is dicing up midfielders and hitting Grabs for the assist on the game-winning goal. The next he is losing the ball at midfield under minimal pressure when a simple back pass is open. This leads to a counter that Nicky eventually bails us out on. Seba has to clean it up. I love the creative flair, but there is a time and place for it. Recognizing when and where that is will be vital to his success here.
11. Luke Mulholland lacks 90 minutes of fitness. I’m not sure if this is by design or just how he plays, but Luke has run out of gas at the 60th minute of every game he has started. It could be a matter of Cassar telling him to bust his tail for an hour and then he’ll rotate, or it could be that Luke doesn’t know how to hold it back to keep his stamina. Either way, it nearly cost us in this game and is slightly concerning.
12. Plata’s return couldn’t have come at a better time. Well, that’s not 100% true. We could have used him as a sub in Philly last week, certainly. That said, his introduction changed the body language and confidence of the team. This isn’t a knock on Garcia or the other players, but Plata just connects best with the midfield. He and Javi connect in a way you can’t coach, it’s just natural. Keeping Joao healthy the rest of the season is vital to RSL’s success.
13. What has happened to Portland? The team that was a threat all of last season and picked to be a force this year has lost their identity. Through a lot of the first half I thought they were going to find it again – it lies with Darlington Nagbe. But they still couldn’t get that last piece to fall. What is the difference? To me, it’s Rodney Wallace. Last season he and Nagbe would combine to really torture teams. His injury (ACL) is killing this team. They don’t have that final piece in the offense and I’m thinking it’s due to Wallace’s absence.
14. Rotation is needed for RSL. There is a really hard balance that Cassar has to find. On the one hand, you need to start building chemistry and get wins with a “first XI” and their subsequent subs. At the same time, there needs to be rotation to keep players fresh and to give opportunities to the other players for development. In the coming weeks, I’m hopeful that RSL will rotate by choice and not necessity. The injury bug has forced us to go deep so far this season. I’d like to see Cassar give some rest to guys like Saborio and Beckerman so we can keep them fresh and the “reserves” up to speed.
15. How long can the unbeaten streak go? RSL was a bit lucky in this Portland game to not go behind and potentially lose. Rimando is the main reason for that. How long can RSL keep it going? A test against an offensively talented side in Vancouver this coming weekend could spell disaster on the run if RSL commits the same kind of mistakes in the middle and defensive third of the fields. Some minor changes, though, and it’s hard to see where RSL loses.
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