Brian Dunseth is a Salt Lake based color analyst and radio show host for Real Salt Lake, ESPN700, Fox Soccer and NBC Sports. In an Op-ed today. Hours after the news broke, he reacted over coffee to the dismissal of his friend John Spencer as Portland coach.
After that, he pored over the remnants of the issues surrounding the club’s 2012 troubles and peeled the Portland onion apart.
Portland Lack the ‘F*** You’ Mentality
by Brian Dunseth
It’s such an interesting dynamic. I don’t think you can talk Portland without talking the rivalry with the Seattle Sounders. I absolutely understand the Cascadia rivalry but I don’t think it’s there yet in terms of what it was.
I don’t think the rivalry is there yet in terms of what it was in the previous incarnation. Not yet. I think it has the foothold to become that.
Right now with where Portland is and where Seattle is the rivalry is a little bit greater than after you bring Vancouver into the mix.
I’ve always wondered whether Portland’s own personal expectations coming in to match Seattle and having the success they had kind of tempers their growth. It tempers their growth in terms of stability.
At the end of the day, John Spencer was in the exact same statistical place that Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy were and LA Galaxy won MLS Cup in 2011.
Now you’re looking at LA being secure because they have a secure coach with an incredible amount of history underneath his belt versus a second year coach who is widely successful at Jeld Wen because of his fanatic fanbase, but dramatically unsuccessful on the road where they never scored more than a goal in MLS play.
That'[s partly his undoing and what it boiled down to. He has had the curse of an expansion team on the road.
Personnel wise, Kris Boyd and Danny Mwanga have made the team better, The development of Darlington Nagbe has absolutely made the team better.
When I look at this group of players, with the exception of Kris Boyd, I’m looking for one of these attacking players to take the game by the balls consistently.
You got a lot of nice players, a lot of really technical and creative individual players but Songo’o has had his fitness issues. Alhassan has been wildly successful and yet wildly unsuccessful. He hasn’t ever taken over the game on a consistent game in game out level.
The hope for both Darlington and Danny is that both of them have this incredible talent. They have more ability in their pinky toes than a majority of other players in Major League Soccer.
But I’m looking for that grit. I’m looking for that little piece of Fabian Espindola.
I don’t know if it is killer instinct. I call it the ‘Fuck You’ mentality.
Maybe that is killer instinct depending on how you term it. Darlington can do things that maybe players in this league cannot do. It’s the same with Danny.
That’s ultimately how they are going to be judged. Not for what they are doing for the team, but for what they are doing statistically.
Sometimes that’s wildly unfair but that’s where we are at in this league. How many goals? How many assists? How many All Star teams? How many championships? It’s not how much of a complete player are you at this point, especially for these young kids.
As an American, you’d like to see them figure out a way to become American citizens and add to the pool because I think they are good enough to be US internationals. Yet they are good enough to be internationals for their home country as well.
It’s an interesting effect that Portland has because I think from a talent perspective they have absolutely everything that you could want in terms of attacking. You just want them to dominate on the road the way they dominate at home. It shows you the effect of the home crowd and how much a soccer specific stadium can mean to certain teams.
Look at Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi. Graham has found a way to be statistically relevant. He’s got a great cannon on him. He’s one of the most consistent servers of the ball in this league but I also think that the team is built the right way for him.
It took guts by Peter Vermes to trade Jack Jewsbury and give a diminished role to Davie Arnaud as well, trusting that Graham was going to be the guy. On an interesting sidenote, Peter told me that over these three years of expansion drafts, he protected Graham knowing that Graham would have an immediate impact the year after. He felt that strongly about Graham being a big time player for him in the years to come but he wanted to bring him on in the right way.
Should Portland base their path then on working around one player? It all depends on what your style is. I think there are two styles to the Portland Timbers. That’s the most difficult thing right now. It takes the team to change their mentality when you go on the road.
Trust me, it’s not hard to sit in that stand and get pumped up at Jeld Wen. It’s easy to get up for games like that. But can you have that same mentality for going on the road?
It’s a little bit smaller confines. The ball plays a little bit differently on that turf especially when it’s wet, to playing on a wide field at altitude in Denver or at Rio Tinto. It’s a different mentality that you got to have. I’m not sure the team has figured that out yet.
If you look at that group, defensively there are not a lot of stars. You look at that team and they are very serviceable players but not a lot of guys that stand out. There are not a lot of guys about whom, you could say would be picked if you did a blind questionnaire and said ‘here is the back line of the Portland Timbers, which of them would you put in your starting XI’?
Before the acquisition of maybe Kimura, and because not many people know much about Smith, I’m not sure people could look at Rodney Wallace, Mike Chabala, Steven Smith, Eric Brunner, David Horst, Futty Danso, Hanyer Mosquera, Kimura, Lovell Palmer, Jack Jewsbury and point out one individual player and say ‘this would be a starting player on my team’ if you were another MLS coach.
That may be the biggest difference between them and Vancouver, but – that being said – that group works at Jeld Wen. It works at home. Maybe it doesn’t work on the road.
This is the most interesting theme about these MLS teams, is when you start peeling back individual layers. You examine these:
‘Here’s the way the team is built. Here’s the formation on how it is built. Here are the players whom it is built on. Here’s the money that is being spent on it. Ultimately this is what we are trying to accomplish.’
Doing that, you realise that there are very few teams that are built the same way.
As an example. Sporting Kansas City and Chicago Fire are very similar in terms of how they are built, but they both go about it in a little bit of a different way. Whereas Sporting Kansas City maybe finalised how they are built, Chicago is still adding bits and pieces and dealing with the foreigners that they are bringing in to buy into their mentality.
The dynamics are all very interesting when you start to peel that onion apart.
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