Six Degrees: Not Entirely Convincing

After we beat Minnesota 5-1, my question for the world was, Are We Really This Good? That question is still very much unanswered. Minny went and lost their second game 6-1, while the Timbers went and won a game in a less-than-convincing manner. So, are we good? Average? Awesome? I still can’t decide.

1) Let’s make this a good news, bad news sort of column. I’m gonna hit you with a bunch of reasons we should be totally excited about the Timbers, and then bring out the one big problem.

Let’s start with some very encouraging numbers.

  • We’re two games into the season and already have two wins. How’s that compare to previous years?

  • Even better, those two wins came in March. Entering this year, the Timbers had won two March games total; one in 2012, the other in 2016. Now we’ve doubled that.
  • We currently have six points, which is the most March points we’ve gotten since joining MLS. The runners-up? 2012 and 2016, when we got four March points.1
  • Even more noteworthy, we just won a road game in March. You gotta go a lot further back to find the last time that happened.

  • Speaking of road wins, we now have one more road win than we did in all of 2016.
  • And finally, we did it in LA, which is a hard place to get road wins. Unless you’re the Timbers, apparently.

2) Another reason to be excited about this team? That friggin’ goal we scored. Dear God in heaven, it was beautiful.

Sebastian Blanco‘s long cross-field pass right to Diego Chara‘s head was insanely good. A barely-breaking-stride Chara one-timing it right into Diego Valeri‘s path was probably even more impressive.2 Valeri giving up his chance to shoot so he could pass to Chara was selfless. And Chara finishing his length-of-the-field sprint with an easy tap-in was a perfect ending for a perfect goal.

Much like Valeri/Adi/Will Johnson’s 2014 three-person masterpiece of a goal, Sunday’s three-person goal should be up for MLS Goal of the Year. Alas, it probably won’t even be up for Goal of the Week, since people will only see the tap-in at the end. But come on, people. End-to-end in five touches? The ball barely touching the ground? Insanely difficult. And so much more impressive than some stupid bicycle kick.3

3) Okay, we’ve had two degrees and both were good news. Are we on to the bad news yet? Nope. Because we need to talk about the defense. They just pitched a shutout, you know. And they did it with a fullback who’s a senior in high school and a center back who joined the team last Tuesday.

I’m not sure 18-year old Marco Farfan took a bad step the entire game. Was he breathtakingly good? No. Was he breathtakingly competent? Yes. And competence is exactly what you want from your 2nd-stringers, no matter their age.

Roy Miller, meanwhile, flew into town last Tuesday, practiced with the team maybe once or twice, then stepped into Liam Ridgewell‘s starting spot and, just like Farfan, showed breathtaking competence.

Over on the right side, Alvas Powell played through whatever injury he picked up last week, and Lawrence Olum4 continues to look remarkably like a long-term solution at center back.

Behind them, it was an up and down game for keeper Jake Gleeson. On the one hand, Gleeson didn’t punch a ball all day long. He tried punching a ball four or five time, but I don’t remember him hitting anything but air. And possibly Roy Miller’s jaw.

But on the other hand, he had two very nice saves. This one.

And this one at the end.

So all in all, I’d say Sunday’s defensive performance is a reason to feel good about the Timbers. They were supposed to be the team’s weakness, and yet a shutout? On the road? With a back line cobbled together out of scraps? Not too shabby.

4) Okay, we’re almost ready for the one bit of bad news, but first, let’s talk about something called “Points of Emphasis.” This is a thing referees do in pretty much every sport. During the off-season, the refs will get together, have a few drinks, give each other pedicures, and say stuff like, “You know what I’m fuckin’ sick of? Blank, blank, and blank. How about next year we really crack down on that shit? Who’s with me?”

Each year, the points of emphasis are different. In 2017, the MLS referees have four: holding and pushing in the penalty area on set pieces, acts of visual dissent, deliberate delaying of restarts, and persistent infringement. 

On Sunday, I think we saw two of those points in action.

I think the “persistent infringement” yellow should actually be called the “Darlington Nagbe” yellow, since Nags has spent a large portion of the last six years getting persistently infringed upon. And in the 52nd minute Sunday, we saw the first such booking on Nagbe’s behalf. Check out the foul.

Not that big a foul, right? Except it was probably the 18th time Nagbe had been fouled like that. Welcome to the “persistent infringement” foul, Galaxy fans.

The other “point of emphasis” we saw on Sunday? “Visual dissent.” It happened to Jelle Van Damme in the 31st minute

Did Chara dive? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn’t really matter. Van Damme wasn’t booked for the foul, he was booked for freaking out about it afterward. Welcome to the “visual dissent” foul, Galaxy fans.

And that yellow proved significant, because three minutes later, Van Damme went and did this to David Guzman.

Now, a lot of LA fans are screaming, “He didn’t even touch Guzman!” Well, maybe so, but the second yellow wasn’t for a trip, it was for an attempt to trip. Rules of the game do not require actual contact. The play was stopped because Van Damme attempted to trip Guzman. And let’s be honest, LA fans, if Gooz hadn’t jumped to avoid Van Damme’s leg, it would have been an actual trip and a 2nd yellow. In other words, LA fans, quit bitching about the yellow cards and start bitching about Van Damme being a dumbass.5

5) And so now we officially enter the bad news part of this column.

Yes, we’re 2-0-0. Yes, we got a road win. Yes, yes, yes to all the positive things I listed above. But those positive things are countered by two unassailable facts:

  • The team we stomped last week – Minnesota – is now 0-2-0 with a -9 goal differential.
  • The team we played this week – LA – was down a man for 60 minutes and we couldn’t put them away. Hell, we couldn’t even get 50% possession.

Those 60 minutes playing a man up were absolutely maddening, weren’t they? And waaaaaaaaaay too familiar. How many times have we seen Caleb Porter teams do this? They get a one-goal lead and then let the other team hang around, hang around, hang around, and the next thing you know, they’re giving up a lucky goal and losing two points. It almost happened again Sunday, only worse, since this time we had both a one-goal lead and a man advantage.

I’m not going to go into the psychology of this6 but the failure to stomp a 10-man Galaxy team into the ground is absolutely the top reason I’m not ready to call the Timbers a great team. It must be put off for another week. At least another week. Hell, I may never call them great. We may finish the season 34-0-0 and I’ll still be like, “Yeah, but we’re just sneaking by these teams, amiright? And we still haven’t won a game with our fourth-stringers, have we? And Adi only has 43 goals.  He should totally have 44.  And be honest, we haven’t been the same since Valeri ascended into heaven after that one goal he scored against Dallas. Remember that shit? God that was freaky.”

6) But on to next week.

Houston’s coming to town, and just like us, they’re 2-0-0. And just like us, I’m not not convinced they’re a great team. Or even a good team.

Did you know they won their last game 3-1 despite being outshot 14-to-7? And only getting 39% possession? And this is after winning their first game with 35% possession? Crazy, right? They might be winning with smoke and mirrors.

Of course, we might be winning with smoke and mirrors, too. This may be a battle between paper tigers. Or the two best teams in the league. I have no idea.

At this point, the only thing I feel certain about is this: Sunday’s game in LA is a game we would have lost last year. On the road? Injured starters? High school replacements? Gooz leaving with a busted shoulder? An offense unable to put in a second goal? The 2016 Timbers lose this game. At best they draw it.

But the 2017 Timbers won it and that’s a very good sign. Does it mean we’re a great team? No. But a better team than last year? Yes. That is something I’m willing to say.

And at the end of the year, when we’re 34-0-0 and beginning work on the Cathedral of Saint Diego of the Holy Ascension, maybe I’ll be ready to call us great.

  1. But let’s not mention how those two years worked out. By the way, did you know you don’t have to click on these footnotes to read them? Just float your cursor over the footnote and it will magically appear. We’re not sure how the magic works, but it must be some kind of blood sacrifice. It’s the only thing that makes sense. 

  2. The rules of soccer should be changed so Chara can get a secondary assist on his own goal. I feel very strongly about this. 

  3. It’s the second week of the season and I’m already getting angry about Blanco/Valeri/Chara not winning Goal of the Year. 

  4. a.k.a., the Kenyan MessiTM 

  5. and seriously, folks, look at those gifs again. In both plays, Van Damme misses the ball by about three feet. Rookie mistakes. 

  6. I have complete faith in my readers to discuss it in the comments. I would actually bet money on this.