Six Degrees: Not With A Bang, But A Whimper

vancouver-melano-miss

In the course of five days, the Portland Timbers were knocked out of the Champions League, knocked out of the MLS playoffs, and managed to lose a seemingly unloseable Cascadia Cup. In a year full of bad weeks, I think this week probably qualifies as the worst.

1) What is there to say about Sunday’s 4-1 loss in Vancouver? It was awful in pretty much every respect. The team showed no fight. The offense was tame, the defense inept. Hell, even our one goal was weak. Not at all what I would call a stone cold penalty.

We could’ve lost the game by two and still won the Cascadia Cup, but to be honest, I’m kind of glad we didn’t. After that performance, we didn’t deserve a trophy.

So I’m actually not going to talk about the game too much. It was an ugly performance, the season’s over, and that’s pretty much all there is to say.

2) I will, however, make a few real quick points.

One, we might be able to play a single defensive midfielder if that guy’s Diego Chara, but otherwise, no. Not this year. God bless Jack Jewsbury, but he let people hang out in the top of the box like it was his job.

Jermaine Taylor is a replacement-level MLS player. Steven Taylor is not. If I were the Timbers front office, I’d buy him a one-way ticket out of town on the next thing smoking.

After a few very good games on the left wing, I finally saw the Darren Mattocks that Vancouver fans have been warning us about. Quick fucking around with the ball, Darren. Pass it or shoot it, but don’t just stand there doing step overs.

And then, late in the game, much to everyone’s surprise, Gbenga Orokoyo got capped. I’m not sure why, unless Coach decided the game was over and wanted to see if the new kid should be brought back next year. Whatever the reason, Orokoyo had a nice moment around the 83rd minute, stoning Erik Hurtado in the open field. Welcome to the team, kid. Now go help Steven Taylor pack his bags.

3) Now that all that’s out of the way, let’s put the season to bed by checking out a few numbers. Looking at MLS team statistics for 2016, the Timbers were remarkably average in most areas. And middle of the pack stats seems appropriate for a team that finished in the middle of the pack. But the team was exceptional in a few areas.

For starters, the Timbers were last in league in interceptions per game. That’s worrisome.

The Timbers were middle of the league in fouls committed, but second in the league in fouls suffered. Top three sufferers? Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, and… wait for it… Diego Chara! I swear, it’s true.

Speaking of Timbers getting hacked, the Timbers tied for the MLS lead in penalty kicks attempted and most penalty kicks scored. Which I guess puts an end to that old belief that we never get any calls. For now, at least.

Here are some numbers I bet you’ve heard before: the Timbers tied for most home wins in the league, with 12, but were also the only team to go winless on the road.

And finally, though I can’t find any statistics to back this up, I’m going to go on record as saying the Timbers led the league in number of games lost to injury by key players. We may have set the league record. In fact, I’m pretty sure Diego Valeri pulled a hamstring while I was typing that sentence.

4) Call me crazy, but I’m actually sort of looking forward to the MLS Expansion Draft, not because I look forward to losing a player to next year’s debutantes – Sporting Minnesota City FC and Atlanta Atletico United FC – but because it’s kind of fun predicting who the Timbers will protect and who they won’t. We went through this two years ago – here’s what I said about it then  – and we’ll probably go through it again in another year or two.

A quick summary: the two newbie teams get to select five players each. Current teams can only have one guy taken, then they’re safe. Pre-draft, each team can protect 11 guys. There are rules regarding Homegrown players and Generation Adidas players and Designated players, but I think the only rule we need to worry about is “you must protect DPs.” I think so, at least. MLS likes to keep their rules and sub-rules and sub-sub-rules a little opaque.

So let’s get to the fun. Which 11 guys do the Timbers protect? And which guys do they not mind losing?

Right now, we have three DPs – Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Lucas Melano. When the expansion draft happens on December 13, will all three still be on the team? Valeri, certainly. Adi, I hope so. Melano, almost certainly not, though I have no idea how we’ll actually get rid of him. Trade? Do the rules allow us to out-and-out dump him? The team will want to get something back on their investment, but from whom and in what fashion? This stuff’s complicated in any league, but I think it’s probably even more complicated in MLS.

  • Here are the 11 guys I think we’ll protect: Valeri, Nagbe, Gleeson, Ridgewell, Chara, Powell, Vytas, Mattocks, Barmby, Zemanski, Adi (if he’s with the team), Valentin (if he’s not). I could be convinced to flip Zemanski and Valentin.
  • Here are the guys I don’t want on the team next year, so they better not be protected, and dear God, someone take them, please, I’m begging you: Steven Taylor.
  • Here are the guys I think we’ll leave unprotected but who have some chance of getting picked: McInerney, Peay, Brett, Arokoyo.
  • Here are the guys I think we don’t have to worry about because they’re very unlikely to get picked: everyone else.

In 2014, the expansion teams could take 10 players each. This year, it’s only five, which ain’t many. It’s so few, in fact, that the Timbers might not have a single player taken. Still, if I were starting a team, would I take JackMac? Yeah, I probably would. Give him 30 starts and he’ll get you 10 goals. And with that, I’m starting to rethink my list of protected players. Maybe I should protect JackMac after all.

What do you think of my list? Anyone you’d protect that I didn’t? More importantly, who do you think the Timbers front office will protect?

5) Now that you’re done playing General Manager, it’s time to play Coach. It’s March of 2017, it’s the first game of the year, and you’ve got to name a Starting XI. What names are you writing on that lineup card?

I’ll go first. And I’ll even try to predict how they line up.

Gleeson

Powell     Unknown CB     Ridgewell     Vytas

Valeri     Chara     Nagbe

Barmby     Unknown Striker     Mattocks

I don’t feel terribly confident about this. Barmby could definitely be replaced by “Unknown Winger.” Likewise, “Unknown CB” could be replaced by J Taylor or S Taylor, God help us all. “Unknown Striker” could definitely be replaced by either Adi or JackMac. Or neither. Or both.

I’ve put the team in a 4-3-3, but it could be a 4-4-2 with Adi and Jack. Or a 4-2-3-1 with Zemanski next to Chara. Or some weirdo formation no one sees coming.

In January or February, we’ll have a better sense of the roster. Not an absolutely definitely final sense of it, as the team’s had early-season signings before, but at least a better sense. Then we can really think about lineups and formations.

6) These expansion drafts and trades and releases and signings are called the Silly Season, but if you ask me, they’re also sort of fun. And after the Sad Season we just went through, I could do with a bit of fun.

2016 wasn’t the worst year ever. We hung around until the final weekend (which is more than our MLS Cup opponent Columbus Crew can say). We entered the final game of the year with a chance to get a home playoff game. Yeah, sure, we didn’t do it, but at least we were there. Caleb Porter hasn’t turned us into a team that dominates every year, but he has turned us into a team that’s relevant every year.

Would I like to dominate next year? Yes. Can I accept another year of being merely relevant? Yes.

Would I like to be the Red Bulls or the Galaxy? Yes. Am I glad we’re not the Chicago Fire? Absolutely.

Next year, we can’t possibly have so many injuries. Next year, we can’t possibly go winless on the road. Next year, I predict we’ll make the playoffs. Next year, I predict we’ll have a little more fun and, hopefully, some glory as well.  I’ll see you then.