Here's 10 Observations from Saturday's game:
1. Taking Care of the Ball - Despite their recent struggles and the fact they were playing an away game, It was refreshing to see CUSA pressing, looking to maintain possession, and playing with patience/discipline. They went into Providence Park with purpose, dominated the game, and deserved to come out of there with 3 points. This was the first time CUSA won the possession battle since their opening day win against Chicago and it was their highest pass accuracy of the season.
2. Did AJB Just Win the LB Spot? - I don't know if his Portland homecoming had anything to do with it, but Andrew Jean-Baptiste had a phenomenal second game at LB. He still had a tendency to push too far in on the weak-side but for the most part AJB was composed, big on the attack, and did a good job playing the patient pass. He seriously looked like a solid MLS left back and I wouldn't be surprised if this showing catapulted him over Tony Lochhead for the starting spot. (Eric Avila deserved his own bullet-point and had a great game on the right side. He did take down Nagbe in the box, but like the ref, I'm gonna pretend that didn't happen.)
3. Finally, McNamara in an Attacking Role - Thomas McNamara has been playing DM and LM for Wilmer Cabrera, but has played his best football when his focus is in the attack, as was the case on Saturday. Placed just under Erick Torres in a CAM role, McNamara was able to flourish -- picking his spots and creating opportunities for the attack. Before he went down, McNamara had an ever-efficient 97% passing accuracy and consistently found Leandro Barrera on the left flank. (It's also great to see the #McMullet phenomenon reach Portland as the nickname I pinned on McNamara was mentioned in the broadcast. This needs to pick up steam, people.)
4. Barrera Likes the Corner Flag - Speaking of Barrera, check out his heat map. It's safe to say he's was drawn to the corner. While he had some excellent services into the box, it's somewhat concerning that only 1 of his 14 total crosses actually connected. Then again, that lone connection was all that mattered.
5. Zavaleta's Decision-Making - It appears that Eriq Zavaleta is having a bit of difficulty deciding when to pressure the ball and when to drop back. In CUSA's last game against the Galaxy, Zavaleta found himself coming up too high to pressure the attack and as a result was indirectly tied to two Galaxy goals. Against Portland, the hesitation was still there, but he took fewer gambles and relied more on his midfield to stop the ball. He appears to be progressing.
6. Slow it down, Carlos - It's not that Carlos Alvarez had a bad game, it's just that he was so heavily involved that he became the focus on most possessions. He had a few decision-making errors in the final third and his clearances in the defense lacked purpose. In the 61st minute he botched a goal attempt after a nice bit of team combo passing. On another occasion, he launched a shot into the crowd instead of being a bit more patient.
7. What's up with Bobby? - It's good news to see CB incumbent Bobby Burling healthy enough to come on as a late sub, but it's a bit odd to see Eriq Zavaleta continue to get the start ahead of him. I would consider the job still being Burling's to lose and figure the limited minutes was just a case of Cabrera easing him back into the game. We will see what happens in Seattle, Zavaleta's old/current team.
8. AlvaTieri - With Oswaldo Minda still nursing a hamstring injury, AlvaTieri has temporarily filled in for MindaTieiri for the third game in a row. Its a bit of a change from the double destroyer tandem, but despite the defensive deficiencies, the Carlos Alvarez/Agustin Pelletieri tandem appears to be effective in linking the defense to the attack. Against Portland, Alvarez's favorite pass destinations were to the offensive likes of McNamara (12), Torres (10), and Barrera on the left wing (10). On the other hand, Pelletieri found Alvarez more than anyone else. It's an unlikely pairing, but it's a pairing that appears to have purpose.
9. Bad Time for Boca to go AWOL - There was no footage of it on the broadcast, but apparently Carlos Bocanegra left the field just prior to Will Johnson's opening goal. There was speculation that he needed an equipment change, possibly a change of cleats. For whatever reason, the Goats complained to the ref, but anytime a player voluntarily leaves the field, you're opening the door to trouble. (Update: A Timber fan posted a video of Johnson's goal on Youtube and, I may be wrong here, but it appears Bocanegra was waiting for the refs signal to come back into the game (circled in red). If he was told to wait, then yeah, I guess there is reason to complain.)
10. McNamara's Injury - Saturday's great result against Portland was bittersweet as it was heart-breaking to see McNamara go down. There's no word as to the extent of the injury, but his exclusion from the roster will be strongly felt. It's a testament to his quality that a second round SuperDraft rookie has developed into a key part of this team. Here's to a speedy recovery, Tommy.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!