Well, that game went about as I feared it would. The Portland Timbers' home winning streak was stopped at eight by a Sporting Kansas City team that did what they do - it wasn't pretty, at times it was infuriating, but it was an amazingly effective master class in how to shut down a potent offense.
Um, the final score was only 1-0? I mean, there wasn't a lot of positivity to take away from this game, really. Nobody got carded, which edges Diego Chará ever closer to getting one of his yellows rescinded under MLS' new fair play guidelines.
As of this season, if you're one game away from a suspension, and you then play five games card-free (up from three in previous seasons), you get one yellow removed from your season total. This relief is available three times during a season (it used to only be able to be used once).
My other favorite moment was also from Chará. He gave up the ball fairly cheaply on a Timbers attack, and the ball was worked across the pitch to Dom Dwyer, rushing up the other way. Chara ran a good 40-50 yards (sadly, this gif only has the end of the run) and took it right back from him. But that play encapsulates why I love Chará so much, and why I think he's the most underrated player in MLS. He does a ton of work like that and doesn't get a lot of light shone on him for it. He should.
Oh, and Darlington Nagbe almost scored an amazing goal.
Yep, that's really about it for the good.
Repetition. The Timbers' attack this year is based on working the ball in from wide positions toward the middle, then basically running down the throat of the defense and utilizing one of the many scoring/shooting options they have available. Rinse, repeat, and win.
That worked - and will continue to work - very well against lesser defenses, but on Saturday, it came up against a well organized SKC defensive unit that was having none of it. They all knew their roles, they all stayed at home, and they did an amazing job of both keeping the play harmlessly out on the wings and, when the Timbers did work the ball into the middle, shutting it down as quickly as it got there.
The most frustrating part is that the Timbers didn't adjust. They kept trying the same thing, it kept getting shut down, and what the heck let's try it again maybe it'll work this time? And of course, it didn't.
Size matters. One of the advantages that Fanendo Adi has, to highlight the obvious, is that he's a big dude. He can generally use that big body to back down defenders and get into good positions, and once he does good things happen. On Saturday, though, the 6'4", 185 lb Adi squared up against the 6'2", 180 lb Ike Opara. And guess what happened? Opara neutralized Adi pretty well.
Adi did have one chance, a shot that was much more Kris Boyd than Fanendo Adi, but overall, Opara kept Adi in his pocket pretty well. With Adi also not getting the service he was accustomed to, it was a quiet night for the Timbers' all-time scoring leader.
Gravity. For all that I admire SKC's rock-solid defense - and I really do, they're great at defending - I detest the number of times they go to ground to do it. They show no hesitation in pulling, pushing, or otherwise forcing their opponents to the floor and often going with them, and after a while, it gets hard to watch.
SKC used to be a less physical team than this, but in the last few seasons, Peter Vermes has really ramped up the old-school bruiser defensive tendencies. It works, but it's kinda gross.
Drew Fischer. Complaining about referees - in any sport - has a very short shelf life for me. It's too easy, it's mostly pretty lazy, and it ignores the fact that the players could and should adjust to the conditions being created by said referee, instead of railing against the injustice of it all. And I am in no way suggesting that Fischer cost the Timbers this game because he didn't.
That said, he didn't help. He let a ton of SKC fouls go, he ignored physical play on both sides, and he never really looked like he had control of the game. MLS is (in)famous for having substandard refereeing, and on Saturday, we got a master class in that...I can't call it an "art", but it's an all too common thread in MLS and my optimism that it'll get better somehow is dwindling by the season.