Six Degrees: And Finally

For Portland Timbers fans, the last day of the 2014 season held both triumph and frustration. A win and a loss. Which is pretty much the story of this entire year. Let’s cover the game pretty quickly, then we’ll talk about what we’ve been through and what’s ahead of us.

1) In the first half, the best player on the field was obviously Darlington Nagbe. He was doing all his typically great Nagbe things, and also going for goal. In the 12th minute, he forced a really nice save from Chris Seitz. In the 18th minute, he had a long, brilliant, one-man fast break, sending a shot just wide.

Then, in the 43rd minute, the soccer gods rewarded him for all his hard work, letting his third shot of the night deflect off a defender and bounce into goal. Timbers fans rose as one to cheer him, his teammates mobbed him, and Darlington Nagbe finally bathed in that warm glow that only comes from scoring a goal. Hopefully he’ll bathe in it a few more times next year.

2) So we’re up 1-0. What should we do in the 2nd half? Bunker, you say? Sure! Bunkering’s always effective, right? Let’s do it!

So the Timbers parked the bus in front of goal and, as a result, Dallas pretty much owned the 2nd half. From halftime to the 80th minute, Dallas averaged 75% possession. That’s 35 straight minutes of almost non-stop Dallas possession and non-stop attacks on our goal. It was awful. Twice Dallas put the ball in the back of the net, though, blessedly, both times, it was called back.

What the fuck, Caleb? I’m blaming you. Why would you do this? Have we ever bunkered successfully? You’re full of talk about playing on the front foot, so what’s with the bunkering? Cut it out. Seriously.

3) Then, out of nowhere, Maxi Urruti.

And it was such a typical Maxi goal, too. Catch, turn, fire, top shelf. The guy’s a sniper and he loves the top shelf.

Saturday’s goal put him at 10 goals for the year, in only 1181 minutes. That’s 0.76 goals per 90 minutes. Among players with more than 5 goals, that’s the 2nd best rate in MLS. Only Bradley Wright-Phillips has done it more efficiently than our Maxi.
18th on that list, with 9 goals in 1512 minutes? Fanendo Adi.

Which raises the question, is there any chance Caleb plays a 4-4-2 next year? Or is this the best system? Let Adi wear the defense down for 60+ minutes, then send in Maxi to put a stake through their hearts?

4) And speaking of stakes through hearts… remember that hour and 45 minutes when we were in the playoffs? That was fun, wasn’t it? And then Vancouver had to ruin it by winning. Actually, I’m gonna blame it on Colorado. C’mon, guys… why you gotta suck so bad?
But if our season had to end, at least we went down swinging. We started the year like lambs (0-3-5 in our first 8) but finished like lions (4-1-3 in our final 8). We scored 61 goals (third best in the league) and our defense, once laughable, ended the season with three straight shutouts.
At the start of the year, I kept asking, “is it time to panic yet?” Turns out it was, since those 8 winless games is pretty much the reason we missed the playoffs. We dug a hole too deep to climb out of. And the team will need to remember this if we get off to a slow start next year.

5) Speaking of next year, we’ve only got three months or so until the team heads down to Arizona for training. Then it’s back here in late February for the Rose City Invitational. By mid-March, we should be starting the MLS season. Any predictions on our starting XI?
Before you guess, be aware, we’ve got a lot of weird stuff coming up this off-season.

For starters, Chivas is going on hiatus for a couple years. What’s going to happen to their players? I have no idea. Possibly something called a dispersal draft (whatever that is).

Is there anyone on that team we’d want to pick up? Erik Cubo Torres is out, since he belongs to Chivas Guadalajara. Andrew Jean-Baptiste didn’t really hit it off with Caleb Porter. Carlos Bocanegra might be interesting at centerback, except he’s 75 years old. Nigel Reo-Coker’s good, but he’s a midfielder, where we’re loaded. Dan Kennedy in goal? Are we actually sure he’s any good? Has he ever played on a winning team? Maybe he’s an innocent victim, or maybe he’s part of the problem.

And anyway, I’m not even sure how this theoretical dispersal draft would work. MLS like to keep things secret.

6) But all that Chivas business is small potatoes compared to the really big thing happening this off-season. We’ve got a couple new teams joining the league next year – Orlando City and NYCFC (I still think they could’ve squeezed a few more letters into their name) – and that means some of our guys may soon be their guys.

I haven’t found all the rules for the December expansion draft – again, the league enjoys shrouding things in mystery – but based on how it was organized the last few times it was done, and based on what I learned here these seem to be the two main points:

Each club can pick 11 players to protect (with a few automatically protected, possibly DPs, though it’s a little vague). Only two unprotected players can be picked off each team.

So if these are actually the rules, who are the 11 guys our front office absolutely positively cannot live without next year? Here are my predictions:

  • I think they’ll protect all three of our DPs – Valeri, Adi, and Ridgy.
  • That leaves eight spots, which I think they’ll use to protect – Chara, Urruti, Nagbe, RFW, Powell, Villafana, Will, and Mikey.
  • If the DPs are automatically protected, that lets us protect 3 more – Zemanski, Kalif, Kah
  • If Nagbe’s auto-protected because he’s Generation Adidas, we can protect 1 more – Nanchoff

Clearly, this is all just my opinion, you may disagree, and I hope you’ll sound off in comments. But first, look at some of the names I left unprotected – Gaston Fernandez, Donovan Ricketts, Jack Jewsbury, Steve Zakuani, Norberto Paparatto. And looking above, Zemanski, Kalif, Kah, and Nanchoff, MAY be unprotected, depending on the rules.

Now, let me tell you about a couple names I almost left unprotected: Will Johnson and Michael Harrington. Big names, eh? Do you think the front office will leave Will and Mikey unprotected? After all, Zemanski played pretty damn well after Will got injured. And Mikey’s just plain lost his starting spot. Would the front office risk losing them?

We’ve got a lot to think about over these next three months. Our clubhouse may look very different when the team leaves for Arizona in February. Your favorite Timber may be gone. Your new favorite Timber may have just arrived. Will we have any new Argentines? Will Michael Harrington be wearing an Orlando City kit? Will the front office have signed somebody we haven’t even heard of yet who’ll spend next season knocking us on our collective ass?

I can’t wait to find out.

See you in a few months.