Six Degrees: The Kid Is Alright

On Wednesday, the Timbers sent out a short-handed side to face a bottom-of-the-table team in front of a friendly home crowd, and got dusted, 4-1. Four days later, they sent out a short-handed side to face a playoff-caliber team on the road, and won, 2-1.

If any of you ever figure out how sports works, please let me know.

1) Coming into Sunday’s game, rookie Jeremy Ebobisse had played in only three games. Seven minutes in the first, one minute in another, and 18 mop-up minutes in Wednesday’s big loss to RSL. But with starting forward Fanendo Adi suspended due to anger management issues, and his backup Darren Mattocks off breaking Mexican hearts in the Gold Cup, the Timbers didn’t just need Ebobisse to play against Vancouver, they needed him to play well.

He did exactly that.

This is a lovely poacher’s goal, but poaching and opportunism aren’t the only skills Ebobisse showed us on Sunday. He also showed that, while his hold up work isn’t as good as Adi’s – whose is? – he at least has it in his tool box. And his ability/eagerness to make quick runs through a back line’s gaps might actually be better than Adi’s.

Seeing all this gets me a little excited, wondering if the two of them can work together and give defenses two different problems to solve.

Something else that got me excited…

2) …is how calm and composed he looked on this back heel assist to Sebastian Blanco.

Does Ebobisse look overwhelmed here? Is the game moving too fast for him? Is there panic in his eyes?

No, no, and no. This is an absolutely veteran play by a guy who came into the game with 26 professional minutes and came out of it looking like he’s got a helluva future in this league.

Also worth nothing, this is a wonderful run by Blanco, followed by an even better finish. That shot was so well placed, David Ousted didn’t even bother diving.

I hope I don’t jinx things by saying it out loud, but Blanco may be figuring out the league. He’s currently on pace for six goals and eight assists, which isn’t bad at all. But, even better, in his last eight games, he’s got three goals and three assists. Stretch that out over a full season and his numbers would be 12 and 12.

Dare we hope for that in 2018?

3) But offense aside, if you want to win on the road with an under-manned side, a rookie striker, and a mish-mash of depth pieces on the back line, your goalkeeper’s probably gonna have to stand on his head a couple times.

Jake Gleeson‘s didn’t have a perfect game, but he did save us a few times.

That’s at least a goal or two saved, right there.

But as always with Jake, there’s good and there’s bad. He almost gave up a goal on this play, only to be saved by Lawrence Olum, who looked as cool as the other side of the pillow while clearing this ball off the line.

Jake’s screwed up a couple times this year, charging out of goal, only to get chipped. It almost happened again here. Would he have been better served staying back? I honestly can’t decide. Keeper is a tough position, requiring split-second decisions. I’m just glad Olum was there to save Jake’s bacon.

4) Olum’s center back partner was Larrys Mabiala, who made his second start for the Timbers. After 180 minutes of watching Mabiala, I’m pretty sure I like the guy. He seems mostly solid. We lost his first game badly, but it’s hard to blame the guy too much since he started the game partnering with Roy Miller and ended it partnering with Olum.

Sunday in Vancouver, it was Olum the whole 90 and things looked better. Mabiala looked like a decent organizer, a decent 1v1 defender, and a decent presence in the air. He beats Tim Parker like a drum on this header.

Sadly, like Jake Gleeson in goal, Mabiala stubbornly refused to be perfect. Tim Parker returned the drum-beating on Vancouver’s only goal. That’s him breaking away from Larrys and getting his head on the ball that was eventually tapped into goal.

Assuming he stays healthy – and that’s a huge assumption – we’ve got 12 more games to decide if Mabiala can be our starting center back moving forward. For the moment, I’m hopeful.

Oh, one last thing on Larrys: he’s French. I thought he was Congolese, since that’s the national team he plays for, but he was actually born in France, raised in France, and played for the French U-21 team. Really, he’s a lot like Adam Kwarasey, who was as Norwegian as pickled herring, but could play internationally for Ghana thanks to immigrant parents. None of this is super-important, I suppose, I just find it interesting. And it means I’ll henceforth be be pronouncing Larrys with an outrageous French accent.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Diego Valeri had an interesting game Sunday. No goals, no assists, but plenty of possession and influence. At times, I wondered if he was filling the Darlington Nagbe role. You know, just keeping the ball moving. It was a subtle and interesting look which I may be completely misinterpreting.
  • Dairon Asprilla, on the other hand, was doing all the classic Dairon Asprilla things, in both the best and worst ways. He had some blistering attacks from the right flank, while also bringing the ball to a screeching halt with indecision and/or step-overs.
  • Welcome back, Diego Chara. Please never get hurt again.
  • Welcome to the bigs, Harold Hanson. You’re built like a brick house. That’s pretty much all I could glean from your one-minute shift on Sunday.
  • Welcome to the team, Bill Tuiloma.  I’m honestly so damaged by our team’s injury history, that my main hope for you is that your body’s made of steel or carbon fiber or something so tough that not even the Timbers bad luck can break it.

6) Saturday, we travel to Houston, Texas. The game will be at 8 p.m. Texas time, but I imagine the temperature will still be around 130. Fortunately, it’s so humid the team will be able to drink the air.

As you can see, Houston’s PPG is only a little better than ours, which is encouraging. Less encouraging is their home record, which is nearly flawless. Even less encouraging is the fact that they’ll be fielding pretty much a first-choice lineup, something we haven’t done this entire year.

We will, however, be getting David Guzman back from the Gold Cup. So that’s nice.

Darlington Nagbe, Alvas Powell, and Darren Mattocks, though? They could be in the 18, but it’s hard to predict whether they’ll see action, considering they’re all playing for the Gold Cup championship Wednesday night in San Francisco.

Will either Vytautas Andriuskevicius or Marco Farfan return to claim the left back spot?

Did Dairon Asprilla wreck his ankle in the closing minutes of yesterday’s win?

And this biggest, most fascinating question: is there any chance in hell that Jeremy Ebobisse gets the start over Fanendo Adi?

Can you imagine it? Now that would be a message sent. That would be a jaw-dropper.

I don’t think Caleb Porter’s got the guts to do it, but dang, I kinda hope he does. Not because I hate Adi or anything, but just because it would be such a monumental wake-up call to the entire team. It would be Porter telling his players, You know what, guys? You’ve been a mess for about three months now. The kid came in on Sunday, did everything I wanted him to do, and we won. That sort of play should be rewarded. Kid, you’re getting the start.

I don’t think it will actually happen, but dang, it’ll be fun to think about and argue about for the next five days.