Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from Portland, Seattle and sharpness
It's actually kind of hard to imagine that this was just the warm-up, just the first half of what is set to be a 180-minute scorcher.
Seattle and Portland traded haymakers in an incredibly fast-paced 90 minutes at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night, with the Timbers coming away deserved 2-1 victors.
They were a little sharper, a little more sure of what they were doing, and got a little bit more "special" from one special player.
Let's start there:
1. Even when he's hurt, Nagbe is a factor
I think it's clear at this point that Darlington Nagbe is less than 100 percent. He took some crunching tackles and popped up (as he always does) looking ready for more soccer, but his burst on the ball is kind of missing. He's not as able to create easy separation as he was a month ago.
But the difference between the Nagbe of 2011-12 and this new Nagbe is that he's become smart enough to damage you away from the ball, and find that separation early rather than needing to create it immediately.
So he did this:
That is a very clever, very patient run. Nagbe lost himself between Osvaldo Alonso, who was right to step toward the space to honor the threat of a shot off the dribble, and Djimi Traore, who was, as is typical for him, reacting to the game instead of reading it.
Nagbe wouldn't have had the patience for this goal earlier in his career. Now he does, and he combines it with a first touch and balance that are world-class.
2. Side-to-side and the Sounders fall apart
When you attack a midfield diamond, you're most likely to find space on the wings. Caleb Porter knows this very well.
So he had his team focus their attack primarily on the sidelines, letting Nagbe and Diego Valeri, and occasionally Will Johnson or Diego Chara, all overload one side, force the Sounders compact, then hit them with quick cross-field switches.
It works best from left-to-right because Jack Jewsbury, trailing into the play as an overlapping fullback, is a hell of a crosser:
This play starts with seven Sounders on one side of the field, which puts them in an emergency defense posture once Nagbe, Valeri and Chara combine. Adam Moffat is never able to get out to Jewsbury and pressure the service.
Both lines of Seattle's defense come apart like an accordion.
Of course, the goal still could have been prevented if Traore or Jhon Kennedy Hurtado had done the smart thing and prevented Ryan Johnson from getting near post. That was some ODP-level defending (and communication) from the Seattle center back pairing, who wore the goat horns on the evening.
3. What do we mean by "sharper"?
Let's have ESPN's Paul Carr take it away:
Portland has six touches in the attacking box thus far (to Seattle's 11). Two of them resulted in goals.
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) November 3, 2013
That note came with about 20 minutes left in the game. It got much better for the Sounders soon afterward – Alonso's goal is gigantic heading into the second leg – but that inability to execute was the big reason for what is sure to be a sleepless night for most Seattle fans. To paraphrase our own Jeremiah Oshan: Seattle were good at getting into dangerous areas, but Portland were better at making sure those didn't turn into dangerous chances.
Eddie Johnson was particularly culpable, coming on the heels of what was probably his best all-around game of the season. On this night, he didn't complete an attacking pass until a 90th-minute flick-on.
The Timbers will want to make sure that happens again. For Seattle, if it does, then it's time for a long, cold winter of soul-searching.