Six Degrees: The Darren Mattocks Game

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Years from now, will people ask, “Were you there for the Darren Mattocks game?” Is that how we’ll look back on Saturday’s game? As the day Mattocks figured it out?

1) Okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but, damn, Darren Mattocks looked good Saturday, didn’t he? It was the kind of game that makes a Timbers fan wonder if he’s the solution to all our problems. Remember, Mattocks is officially a forward, not a winger, but this was his second straight start at left winger and he looked so amazingly solid out there, one can’t help but wonder if he’s there to stay.

A lot has been made of Caleb Porter’s quote after the game.

“We feel like right now we’ve got 11 guys that are all defending and 11 guys that are all attacking. There were some games this year that we didn’t have that. We had some guys attack and some guys defending. The biggest thing with Darren is I thought he brought balance. He’s going to defend, but also we’re not losing anything in the attack.”

Is he talking about Lucas Melano? Is Luca done in the Green and Gold? Or does Mattocks’s ascendency simply light a fire under Luca and we’ll bring back the 4-3-3 with Mattocks on the left, Melano on the right, and Darlington Nagbe in the middle?

I want to be clear, I know this was just one game. I know it could be a lone thunderbolt, never repeated. I know Mattocks will have to prove he can do it week in and week out.

Still, it was a hell of a game.

2) Let’s look at his first goal. And that’s how I look at it, as Mattocks’s first of two, even though he scored neither one. Still, let’s look at it.

See that Philly player Mattocks is roasting? That’s Keegan Rosenberry, their rookie fullback. He was an All-Star. He’s in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. When a fullback is being talked about for Rookie of the Year, you know he’s good. And yet, Mattocks abused him pretty much the whole game.

On this first goal, Mattocks beats Rosenberry to the ball, pulls a little Barry Sanders spin move, and heads straight for goal. As he approaches the six-yard box, there’s a worrisome moment, a tiny indication that he’ll do his usual “come to a complete stop, let the defense recover, then try to beat them with some crazy dribbling” thing that he always does. But no, he doesn’t. He gets the head up and puts a laser onto Diego Valeri‘s foot.

If we only get excited about one thing in this sequence, it’s that Mattocks didn’t try any crossovers. He played direct. He made one move instead of six, and that’s a huge improvement.

3) His second assist was even better, because it all started with some high-pressure defense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when the Timbers gets turnovers high up the field, they score goals.

Once again, that’s Rookie of the Year candidate Keegan Rosenberry getting spanked. Mattocks takes the ball, toys with Rosenberry a couple times, and then – and this is the important part – quits fucking around, picks his head up, and puts the ball on Fanendo Adi‘s foot. The defense is great, the dribbling is great, but looking for the pass? That’s the most exciting thing for me.

If Mattocks can keep this up, he may turn his career around. He may stop being “the forward who never lived up to his potential,” and start being “the winger who finally figured things out.”

But again, all my excitement may be premature. Mattocks could very well fall apart next week.

4) Moving on, do you remember that brief period Saturday when we led 1-0? How long was that? 60 seconds? 90? Good times, good times…

I’ve looked at this goal a few times, trying to figure out who’s to blame, and as much as it pains me to say it, I think Jack Jewsbury is the guilty party. Alvas Powell and Diego Chara do an excellent job blowing up Fabian Herbers, but then Chris Pontius swoops in and lights us up from distance. Who should have been marking Pontius? I think it was Jack.

And that’s all I’ll say on the matter, because this is a day we should be celebrating the Old Salty Dog. In case you missed it, on Sunday night Jack announced he’ll be retiring at the end of the season. I’ve said many times how Jack keeps getting written off as too old and too slow, but somehow manages to contribute in big ways, year after year. It looks like this will be the last season I’ll get to type those words.

When I think of the core Timbers, the ones who have carried us from the start until right now, I think of three names: Jack, Diego Chara, and Darlington Nagbe. I used to be able to put Rodney Freaking Wallace and Futty Danso in that club. I can’t really throw Jake Gleeson into the mix, since he’s spent so much time on the bench or out on loan. And so Jack, Diego, and Nagbe it is. That’s my Pantheon. And next year, the Pantheon will be down to two.

Jack, you were great for this team and great for this league. Thank you.

5) A few quick things to throw at you.

One, Jake Gleeson now leads the league in saves. This is not a good thing. He’s put up this huge total in six less games than the second place guy. We have to fix this. The back line needs to tighten up. I want Jake facing less shots the rest of the year. Guys who were on the bench for the season’s first two months should not be winning the saves competition.

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Two, I’ve written before about Adi and whether we should break the bank to keep him in Portland. The truth is, I think some club somewhere is going to make Portland an offer they can’t refuse, which saddens me, because we may never again have a forward of Adi’s caliber. Appreciate him while he’s here.

Three, Diego Chara played 270 minutes over eight days this week and still managed to terrorize Philadelphia all over the field Saturday. Also, he did this.

6) As we take our weekly look at the MLS standings… can you believe this shit?

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What a difference a two-game winning streak makes, eh? It’s not entirely about us winning, though. There are some other teams to thank. For starters, SKC drew on Sunday, so we’re now ahead of them. They’ve got two draws and a loss in their last three. Even colder than them is RSL, who have two losses and one draw in that same time period, and lost to last-place Houston this weekend.

Putting it all together, if this continues, not only can the Timbers stay above SKC, they could conceivably catch RSL, finish 4th, and have a knock-out game at home.

One team to worry about, though? Seattle, who continue their hot play since Lodeiro arrived. I know this will be tough for a lot of you, but we need to start thinking bad thoughts about Seattle, okay?

Final note, winning the Cascadia Cup is still very much a possibility.  Vancouver’s got two more Cascadia games, one against us, one against Seattle. If things fall right, we win. If things fall wrong, Vancouver wins. If things fall really wrong, there’s a three-way tie for first place, at which point a whole bunch of tiebreakers go into effect.

Again, when in doubt, root against Seattle.