Six Degrees: Huge Point on the Road

No Gooz, no Adi, no Ridgy, no Jake? No problem!

1) On Sunday in Seattle, the Timbers began what is arguably their toughest three-game stretch of the entire year by getting an incredibly good road point against one of the hottest teams in the league.

The first interesting thing to talk about is the Portland starting XI. No, not the fact that Caleb Porter continues to ignore my repeated suggestions to start Jeremey Ebobisse over Darren Mattocks. More interesting to me was Darlington Nagbe taking over the #8 role in David Guzman‘s absence. This put Dairon Asprilla on the right wing and gave the Timbers a decidedly front-foot stance.

And, boy howdy, did it show. For the second straight game, the Timbers came out screaming. They had three corners and four shots in the first five minutes.

I’ll admit, this is making me question my “Start Ebobisse” shouts. Could Mattocks be what the team needs right now? Does the head coach of a professional soccer team know more about soccer than me?

I think my best play at this point is to just keep shouting it in a reverse-jinx sort of way. If this is what it takes for the Timbers to come out on the front foot, I’m in. Start Ebobisse, dammit!

2) Sadly, that fast start didn’t produce a goal. It was Seattle who opened the scoring in the 18th, and they did it with a goal so impossibly bizarre that it’s inspired me, for the second time this year, to break out the Yakety Sax.

Okay, first thing to note: I’m not sure if Jeff Attinella gets interfered with on this play. Any refereeing experts out there who can tell me?

Secondly, as I prepared this gif, I was thinking, It’s gonna be fun to count the number of Timbers who are standing around with their thumbs up their butts.

But after watching the goal a few times – and then a few more times, I’m pretty sure I’ve watched it 50 times now – I’ve actually become a little sympathetic. I mean, when the ball bounces around in impossibly random ways, like some poltergeist has decided it absolutely will not be kicked, what the hell is a defender supposed to do?

Look at Roy Miller. He wants to do something. A couple times, he almost kicks something, but there’s never anything to kick. What can he do? Just start randomly kicking at air, hoping he’ll accidentally hit ball? There’s no way that ends well.

And Vytautus Andriuskevecius, he starts by marking Will Bruin, and then he’s guarding the line, which seems a reasonable plan. At the end, he almost knocks the shot down with his arm, but pulls it back at the last second, which again, is a very reasonable action, probably saving him a red card.

I guess I could have some complaints for Darren Mattocks, not because he can’t clear the poltergeist ball, but because he spends the whole time with his arms up like a scarecrow, just asking for a handball. He actually does commit one at a certain point, but it’s not called. (Fun fact: Ramon Torres doesn’t actually see the goal scored. Why? He decided the smart soccer play was to sprint away from goal and scream at the ref. A bold gambit, Ramon, but I approve.)

I might have complaints for Dairon Asprilla, Diego Chara, and Zarek Valentin, since they all start out covering people, then lets their guys drift away while they watch the poltergeist ball do its poltergeisty thing. But if they had rushed into the center of things, joining Mattocks and Miller and Attinella and Torres and Roldan, would that have improved the situation? I genuinely don’t know. It would have made the six-yard box a hell of lot more crowded, I know that. Increased the chances of a penalty, too.

What do you think? Can anyone tell me one simple and obvious thing that would have solved the entire problem? And don’t say, “Clear the fucking ball,” because that’s what Mattocks was trying to do. The ball didn’t want to be cleared.

In the end, I think this was a perfect little storm of weird bounces, almost certainly involving poltergeists, and when that happens, there’s never a clear and obvious thing to do. When poltergeists attack, all you can really do is break out the Yakety Sax.

3) At the very end of the first half, the Timbers answered. No poltergeists this time, though maybe, possibly, a little bit of a soft penalty. (Sorry I don’t have better video. This is all I could find.)

First off, that’s a hell of a pass by Diego Valeri and a hell of a chest trap by Mattocks. As far as the penalty goes, it’s really hard to see what’s happening with this crummy replay, but on the live broadcast, there were slow motion replays of Mattocks maybe getting shoved from behind. I’ll say this: we didn’t see the view Mark Geiger had, and he seemed pretty sure of things, so there you are. Penalty kick for us.

After David Guzman blew his surprise PK on Wednesday, there were no surprises this time. Valeri took it and finished it. Like a boss.

This is now six straight games with a goal for El Rey, which I feel certain is a Timbers record. Will he make it seven straight against NYCFC?

Better question: will Valeri even be playing against NYCFC? Will he be suspended for this dive?

I expect he’ll be fined, not suspended. Regardless, this is not a good look. Nor was complaining about it for a good 90 seconds afterwards. You’re better than this, Diego.

4) Let’s talk about Jeff Attinella. He had a pretty good game Sunday night. Yes, the poltergeist ball eluded him, but these two second half shots from Jordan Morris didn’t.

One, those are great runs from Morris. Two, great passes as well. Three, Attinella stones them both. Four, some worrisome spillage after each save. Five, Jeff covers it up quickly each time.

Attinella’s best save may have been in the 90th, when he stopped Larrys Mabiala from scoring an own goal.

I don’t know what was going through Mabiala’s mind on this, but my mind was full of nothing but WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK?!?!!!?

Thankfully, Attinella’s mind was a bit clearer.

Big question time: have we seen Jake Gleeson‘s last game in goal for the Timbers? This hasn’t been the greatest season for him. Regressive, some might say. I can think of about five goals he’s allowed by doing dumb shit. Two by getting chipped, three by missing punches.

The one big selling point for Gleeson? He’s a hell of a shot stopper. But look at those Attinella saves again. Pretty good shot-stopping, eh?

So what do you think? Will Attinella be our starting keeper the rest of the year? What about next March? Will Gleeson be playing somewhere else? It would make me sad to lose another original Timber, but I also like winning soccer games. Maybe Jeff Attinella’s the guy who’ll help us do that.

5) As you can see from those saves Attinella had to make, the Portland defense wasn’t perfect, but again, somehow, against all odds, they saw out the game and didn’t drops points. And I know “not dropping points” sounds like an awfully low bar to set, but have you seen the 2017 Timbers? Dropping points is kinda their thing.

Except lately, maybe it’s not. These last three games – three games in 10 days – we’ve held on late to beat NY and Colorado, then held on late for a draw against Seattle. It’s never been pretty, it’s always been stressful, but none of that matters. The points were held, and that’s a big step forward for this defense.

I’d love to tell you who we can give credit to, but the personnel has been all over the place. Diego Chara, Zarek Valentin, and Jeff Attinella are the only guys who’ve played all three games in the same spot. Lawrence Olum and Roy Miller have played all three games, but they’ve shifted positions, and Olum didn’t even start Sunday.

So why are they suddenly looking a lot tougher? Why are they suddenly making the late-game plays they weren’t before? As usual, I have no idea, I just find it interesting and hope it continues.

6) The Timbers have a week off before their next game. Darlington Nagbe, David Guzman, and Alvas Powell will all be playing for their national teams. Everyone else, I assume will be resting and healing.

On September 9th when we finally line up on the postage stamp-sized pitch of Yankee Stadium, who will be present? Fanendo Adi? Yes, I think. Liam Ridgewell? Jake Gleeson? No, I think. Why? Because I’m not convinced we’ll see either of those guys play in green and gold again. Just a feeling. An admittedly pessimistic feeling, but there you are.

NYCFC has the second-best record in the league, and they’re used to playing on that tiny little pitch, so getting points there will be tough. Not impossible, but tough.

After that comes RSL, who mystifyingly continue their white-hot ways. After getting an utterly inept 0.89 PPG in their first 19 games, they’ve banged out 18 points in their last nine. That’s 2.0 PPG. They haven’t just righted their ship, they’re a genuine threat to grab the West’s #6 playoff spot. And lucky us, we get to play them on the road, at elevation.

I opened this column by calling this arguably our toughest three-game stretch of the entire year. Welp, after one game, we’ve got one point. If we scratch out another at NYC and a third at RSL, I’d be ready to call it a success.