Thursday, June 28, 2012

Portland Rain clogged midfield, path to playoffs for Spokane Shine

The Spokane Shine went into last Saturday’s contest against the visiting Portland Rain with a great opportunity to grasp firm control on their fate in the chase for the WPSL Northwest Division’s playoff spot. Instead, the team came out flat and gave an uninspiring performance that in the end left head coach Jason Quintero deflated as well, looking toward the week off for a fresh start as they face long odds for making playoffs.

“They had a game plan. They are on the road, they played last night - a tough game – and they executed their game plan better than we did,” Quintero said after the game, referring to Portland being well organized in the first half.

“We just didn’t play well. We need to reload and come back – we could really use this off week, we got some injuries to [Tseng Shu-O] and to Alyshia Madison; and Darci Smith is still obviously not 100 percent. She had a couple crucial mistakes. So it’s gonna be nice to come back healthy in a couple weeks,” he added in a deadpan response under the glaring sun that he only broke from in reaction to his young child he was holding during the interview.

Things just did not go the way Quintero wanted that afternoon at Joe Albi Stadium. The Rain came out and played with a high back line and clogged up the midfield. Something Quintero was not able to fix until the break at halftime, but at that point it was already too late as Portland had already taken the advantage from a goal eight minutes in, something Portland coach Janine Szpara was pleased with considering the circumstances they were facing on the weekend. 

Portland Rain coach Janine Szpara
“Due to scheduling, we tried to make a really good game. We ended up playing before the U23s yesterday - the Timbers team - so it kinda pushed us back-to-back home and away,” Szpara said. “But the nice thing is that these guys showed what they could do, that they are a really good team, and that they did not let it bother them. They did not let it get to them, they came here and played really well. So, when players understand what they can do, it makes a huge difference and it makes the success even better.

“I think we came out organized and ready to play. I think they kind of overcame what the situation was - which was not optimal - but when the game started they were ready. So [the goal was] early, but in a sense they had been warming up and playing for an hour so they came out very well prepared and ready to play and all credit goes to them.”

The same could not be said for the Shine.

“We were playing in our regular formation in the first half, and they were just clogging the midfield for us too much,” said Quintero. “It was just a matter of them clogging the midfield, and us not figuring out how to possess the ball around that.”

The changes, and whatever Quintero said in the locker room, seemed to have an immediate effect as the Shine came out and created a series of scoring chances in the second half, but the answer just could not come for a side that now has just two goals in the last four games as they have struggled to find the finishing touch.

Quintero trying to make in-game changes
“We just switched it up in the second half, said we were gonna play a little more direct and it resulted in some better chances and more chances,” Quintero said of the adjustments they made. “Right off the bat we came out hot and we just couldn’t finish.

“You live by the sword and you die by the sword when you come out and you try to play direct. And [when] you’re committing players forward like that, you are bound to get stung if you don’t finish early, and that’s what happened. We tried to do that for 45 minutes and we finally got burnt halfway through.”

With the new direction, the Shine were flying at Portland throughout the second half, even after giving up the second goal on a penalty following a handball in the box. However, the lack of finishing was accompanied by some unfortunate timing as chance after chance was blown dead by the referee’s whistle for being offside.

“Portland ran a pretty organized offside trap,” Quintero said of the flag consistently being raised. “There were a couple questionable calls, but for the most part we just didn’t figure it out. Our timing was off. We were trying to put ball through after three or four touches when one or two could have sufficed. So that’s just timing of runs and timing of service; and credit to their offside trap as well playing high. Usually, I like it when teams play high against us because we have some pretty special athletes up there that can usually beat it. Today we just couldn’t.”

It is a busy weekend in the division this weekend, except for the Shine, who are idle. There are five matches around the division as Emerald City travels to play Eugene Friday, June 29 and the Rush the following day. Issaquah, similarly, travels to Oregon to play Portland Friday and Eugene Saturday. The weekend wraps up with the Rain the visiting nearby Rush in Bend.

Quintero and the team will be awaiting the results as their playoff hopes now rely on finishing with wins in their final four games in addition to having two losses suffered by Issaquah, whom they tied 1-1 at Joe Albi and defeated 1-0 on the road. But more importantly, the coach was just thankful for the opportunity to take a break and rest up.

“We need it. The girls need a rest; they have been working hard - credit to them,” he said after the loss. “We kind of hit a plateau I think. We kept getting better, getting better, getting better; and then we kind of hit a plateau and dropped off. I haven’t seen us play this poorly since our first game in Eugene. The season is full of ups and downs, peaks and valleys; so we were riding an up and now we are coming down. So we need to figure out how to go back up again.

“We are still gonna go hard in practice. The hard part about two weeks in between a game is hopefully the girls don’t shut off mentally and just kind of coast through things during training because there is nothing to play for the [first] week. We can definitely use the week off. We are gonna do everything thing we can do get better and still push for the playoffs, now obviously we are fighting a huge uphill battle losing points at home like this to Portland, who is now in sole possession of first place. We can either give up or keep pushing.”

The answer will come July 6 when the Shine play host to Eugene Metro FC, looking to avenge their season-opening 2-0 loss in Oregon. The 7:00 pm match that Friday night will be followed with the return road leg of their season series against the Rain on Sunday, July 8.