Six Degrees: Better, But Still Not Enough

photo-colorado-rapids

When you play a game at 5,280 feet, you better get your goals early, because you’re gonna be too tired to get ’em late.

tl;dr, the Timbers didn’t get their goals early.

1) The Timbers were actually the much better team in the first half. We had the better of Colorado in pretty much every way. Our possession was better, our aggressiveness was better, our attacks were both more numerous and more dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, Diego Valeri led the way. In the 22nd minute, he and Fanendo Adi could have made magic, but Adi lost his mind for a moment, shoving Colorado’s center back to the ground with both hands.

In the 36th minute, Valeri almost made magic again, this time undone by the far post. Worth noting here, Alvas Powell‘s nice penetration, and Jack Jewsbury coming damn close to poking in the rebound.

We ran the Rapids off the field in those first 45 minutes, but when halftime came and it was still 0-0, I knew all was lost.

2) And the second half played out exactly as I’d thought it would. A visiting team can only go so long at a mile’s elevation. Eventually, the lungs can’t get enough oxygen, the legs grow tired, the mind grows desperate, and the home team takes over. Colorado rope a doped us, just like they do with every visiting team. An early goal might have changed everything, but that goal didn’t come, and eventually this happened.

Wow. That’s just some ugly, ugly defense, isn’t it? There are three or four guys to blame here. Can we give them the benefit of the doubt? Chalk it up to tired legs? I hope so.

For starters, Marlon Hairston makes Vytas Andriuskevicius and Diego Chara look vaguely drunk. Casual bystander Ned Grabavoy makes this a 1-on-3 victory for Hairston.

Moving our attention to the middle of the box, Steven Taylor‘s covering two guys, neither of them well. Why does he have two guys? Because Alvas Powell has zero. Look how open Sebastian Le Toux is. Disturbingly reminiscent of our defense last week in Houston.

Tired legs all around? Possibly. Or maybe just bad defense. It hurts me to include Diego Chara in this putrescence, but I guess even supermen are occasionally made mortal.

3) Allow me to revisit an earlier gif. Watch Fanendo Adi in front of goal.

I’m not going to defend Adi here. It was both an obvious foul and a stupid foul, since Diego Valeri was coming up the line, ready to do Valeri things. Adi’s foul negated that.

So why am I bringing it up for the second time in this column? Because I can kind of understand why Adi did it. After only 22 minutes, Adi was already tired of getting fouled.

There’s an unspoken rule in soccer that the ref’s not going to card you in the first 15-20 minutes. Oh, sure, it happens, but it’s rare. Very rare. And crafty players take advantage of this. They use those opening minutes to beat the hell out of you, knowing the worst that will happen is the ref will say, “No more!”

Saturday night in Colorado, during that unspoken period of amnesty, Sam Cronin had two or three yellow card worthy fouls. None were given. Marc Burch (brown ponytail) and Jared Watts (blond ponytail) both could’ve been carded once or twice. Neither were.

Is this why Adi shoved Watts to the ground, snuffing out a fabulous opportunity? Quite possibly. Did Colorado do all of this by design? Almost certainly. Is the Colorado team playing exactly like their coach Pablo Mastroeni played throughout his career? Without a doubt.

My favorite Timber is Diego Chara, so I fully appreciate the beauty of a guy who blows dudes up. That being said, there are times I wish the ref would show some cards early and often. Saturday night was one of those times. It didn’t happen, which helped the Rapids and hurt the Timbers.

4) With two games left, what’s up on the wings? Darren Mattocks is almost certainly done for the year. Ned Grabavoy did pretty much nothing of note Saturday night. There was a rare Lucas Melano sighting, but it was both late and uneventful. We even saw young Jack Barmby, though it’s unclear if he was a winger or a fullback. Either way, he had a decent moment or two, which is more than anyone else can say.

It seems Caleb Porter’s set on the 4-2-3-1, which means Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri playing their usual amalgam of winger/CAM. What about the third guy? If you were Caleb Porter, who would you start?

An argument for starting Melano: maybe he’ll go crazy in the last couple games and we’ll get more money for him in the offseason.

An argument for starting Grabavoy: he doesn’t put much on the table, but he doesn’t take much off, either.

An argument for starting Barmby: this season’s over. Play the kids.

5) You think the wings are a conundrum, what about the back four? Good lord, what a mess.

Liam Ridgewell is the only guy back there I’m sold on. Many in Timberdom aren’t sold on him, but I actually am. More importantly, Caleb, Gavin, and Merritt are.

Alvas Powell, I was sold on him. Just a couple weeks ago, I declared him as steady as Jorge Villafana. Clearly, I put the stink on him, because since then, he’s kind of been crap.

Vytas Andriuskevicius, I have no idea. Seriously. No idea. He’s had some nice moments and some questionable moments. I’m hesitant to judge him too harshly for Saturday’s mistakes, since I think he was playing hurt.

Steven Taylor, on the other hand, I’m pretty much certain sucks. Am I wrong? Have you seen something to make you think he’s worth bringing back next year?

Because those decision will soon be upon us. Whether the offseason starts in October, November, or December, some of these guys ain’t coming back. The wingers? The back four? Hell, the striker? These are all going to be serious conversations a few weeks from now.

6) I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the Timbers can still make the playoffs. It’s been that kind of season in MLS. Teams across the league have been drawing left and right all year long, and when points are continually left on the table, it means someone’s going to finish the season with 45, 46, maybe 47 points and still make the playoffs. Will that someone be the Timbers? Possibly.

standings-3-oct-2016

If Portland wins its last two games, we’ll finish with 46 points. That’s enough to pass three teams, assuming all of them lose out to finish the year. Do I think three teams will all go winless? No. It’s impossible, actually, since RSL’s last two games are against Seattle and SKC.

But could there be some combination of losses and draws whereby the Timbers sneak into the playoffs? Yeah, sure, it could happen. Will it? Hell if I know. Ask me after the Colorado game in two weeks.

We’ll have lots of fun stuff to talk about then. Potential ways to make the playoffs. Potential ways to win the Cascadia Cup. Potential ways to make the Champions League quarterfinals.

Each year, the end of the regular season is different. Sometimes we get to talk about a hot team that’s gonna do damage in the playoffs. Sometimes we get to talk about what we’ll do in the off season to fix our myriad problems. With two games left in 2016, we’re still not sure what to talk about.