Six Degrees: A Quick Death

la Photo - Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland Timbers

As long as I’ve been a Timbers fan, it’s been LA that’s scared me the most. Year in and year out, it feels like they’re always right on the verge of dropping five goals on you. If you want to beat them, your defense has got to be on point for the full 90 minutes.

Saturday afternoon, our defense was on point for 79 minutes.

1) This match was decided in the first 11 minutes.

Robbie Keane started things off in the seventh minute. I’ve looked at this gif many times and I still can’t figure out what happened.

That is just bizarre. What happened? Who’s at fault? Giovani Dos Santos puts in a fairly normal cross and then Jermaine Taylor stops, Nat Borchers stops, and Jake Gleeson stops. The only person who doesn’t stop is Robbie Keane. I’d love to give you some great analysis of what we did wrong on this goal, but it’s utterly beyond me. My best guess is mass hypnotism. Or maybe narcolepsy. Nothing else makes sense.

2) And four minutes later, LA strikes again.

At least this goal can be explained. I’d call it bad luck. Boateng – who impressed me the whole game, by the way – out-quicks Alvas Powell and sends in a cross. Borchers is in good position, Taylor is in good position, but then Nat’s block takes an unlucky bounce, straight to Zardes’s head, and it’s 2-0.

I can live with this goal much easier than the first one. Bad bounces happen, right? Regardless, it’s the 11th minute, we’re down a couple goals, and LA knows they can pack it in and play defense the rest of the game.

3) And so they did. They packed those back lines together and set up an eight man fortress. We had plenty of chances, mostly on dead balls and counter attacks, but couldn’t take advantage.

We did pull one back in the 41st minute, with Zarek Valentin getting his first goal since 2012.

The key person to watch here is #10, Giovani Dos Santos. He’s covering Valentin at the start of the play, then starts ball-watching as his man drifts to the top of the box. Darlington Nagbe‘s in the box, doing wonderful Darlington Nagbe things, sees Valentin uncovered, feeds him, and Zarek lets loose a beauty, sneaking it through about four different guys. The keeper didn’t even move.

Another thing worth noting in this gif? Look at all the white jerseys in the box. LA was giving us no room at all. That was the case pretty much the entire game.

4) About two minutes after we grab our goal, Nat Borchers was on the ground, writhing in pain, and no one’s entirely sure why. I haven’t got a gif for you, I haven’t seen video of the event, and from everything I’m hearing, there wasn’t much to see. To be perfectly honest, this almost makes the injury scarier.

When a tough guy like Borchers is on the ground for that long, when he tries to get up multiple times but can’t, and finally has to be carried off the field, you know it’s bad. As in, his-season’s-over bad. And at Borchers’s age, maybe even his-career-in-Portland’s-over bad. Yes, I agree, that’s incredibly pessimistic, but if a 22-year old ruptures his achilles, that’s one thing. At Nat’s age, it’s an entirely different thing.

So let’s assume Nat’s done for the year. What does that mean moving forward?

The bad news: Liam Ridgewell‘s calf problem is starting to seem semi-permanent. I’m not sure we can count on him week in and week out. I imagine he’ll be missing the odd game here and there the rest of the season.

The good news: Jermaine Taylor is a known quantity. He’s not great, but he’s at least solid. Jake Gleeson knows him, the fullbacks are used to him, he provides continuity, and continuity is awful damn nice when you’re trying to keep your back line organized.

The other good news: Amobi Okugo looked pretty good filling in for Borchers Saturday. I doubt he’ll jump Taylor on the depth chart, but he’ll come in handy if Ridgy’s calf acts up.

The uncertain news: We may have signed another English center back, one with the unfortunate last name of Taylor.  He’s younger than Ridgy. Will he be as good? Regardless, even if he’s signed today, I doubt we’ll seem him on the field until mid- to late-August. Until then, it’s Ridgy, Jermaine, and Okugo.

5) Some quick player takes.

Fanendo Adi. This is sick, my man. Just sick.

Diego Valeri. Oh, you’re feeling sick, too?

Robbie Keane. I know you’re not a Timber, so I probably shouldn’t talk about you, but good God, man. If you’d scored this, it would’ve been the pass of the year, the goal of the year, the play of the year. Genuinely obscene.

6) I’ve heard rumors that there’s an MLS All-Star game this week, but I’m not entirely sure, since I don’t care. I’d rather get ready for next Sunday’s game at Sporting Kansas City.

SKC is just two points above us in the standings, so a victory means we pass them. It also means we’ll have our first road win of the year. Which would be nice.

The hardest thing about playing SKC? Simply getting a shot off. No, seriously. Twice this year they’ve held opponents to just a single shot. They’re the only team in MLS history to do this and they’ve done it twice.

What’s their secret? I don’t know for sure, but if they’re anything like last year’s team, it’s by playing ugly, ugly, UUUUUUUUUUUUGLY soccer. Last year’s SKC team was my least favorite team in the history of teams. I friggin’ hated them. I encourage you to read my rundown of our playoff game last year. You don’t have to read the whole thing, just the first degree. It’s my opus magnum on why Peter Vermes, Dom Diver, and the entire SKC team should be banished from this earth and cast into hell.  If we see that same kind of ugly, demoralizing play from SKC on Sunday, I imagine I’ll be drinking early and often.

But whether they play ugly or not, we need the win. Intraconference games are no joke. We just blew a six point game against LA. We can’t blow another next weekend. It’s late July and we still don’t have a win on the road. It’s time to change that.