Six Degrees: Return of the King

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After three straight draws, during which the Timbers scored a total of one goal, it was easy to ask, Where did all the goals go? Turns out, Diego Valeri had ’em. Sunday, he brought them back.

1) After the New York game, I wrote the following:

We scored in 17 straight games. Now we’ve played two straight without Valeri and we’ve been shut out both times. Coincidence? Maybe. But anyone who watched Darlington Nagbe – a world-class #8 – trying to replace Valeri at the 10, can see how valuable Diego is. He’s the straw that stirs our drink. Nagbe’s great. Fanendo Adis great. But without Valeri connecting them, the offense sputters. Get well soon, Maestro.

The Maestro got well Sunday, and so did the Timbers offense. More shots, more chances, more confidence. Diego Valeri is truly the key to this team. He makes everything better.

At the start of the year, when I was feeling incredibly optimistic about the 4-3-3 we’d ridden to the MLS Cup, I made the ridiculous prediction that Diego Valeri would get 15 goals and 15 assists this year. As the season’s gone on, my prediction’s seemed more and more unlikely. And yet, here we are, 21 games in, and Valeri’s got 9 and 5. Could he pull it off? Could he make it to 15 and 15? If he does, the Timbers will rise in the standings and Valeri will rise in the MVP discussion.

2) Let’s look at both of the Maestro’s goals. Here’s the first, just before halftime.

The truth is, Valeri had options here. A nice soft ball to the left or right might have meant goals for either Fanendo Adi or Lucas Melano. But Valeri’s a finisher and his finishing shoes had a few weeks dust on them. Hard to blame him for taking this shot, especially considering how clinically he stuck it inside that far post. That’s a thoroughly professional goal.

Then there was his second goal, which may have been a bit lucky.

Was that a shot or a pass? Was he aiming for Adi’s head? Personally, I think it was a shot. A hopeful shot, but still. When you’re feeling hot, why not give it a try?

Another thing worth noticing in this gif is the initial pass from Jermaine Taylor, a long, field-switching pass that leaves the defense behind and sets Valeri up with a 1-v-1. It’s Taylor’s third assist on the year, which, believe it or not, ties him with Darlington Nagbe for third on the team.

3) Who are tied for first on the team, with five assists each? The Sublime Argentines, Valeri and Melano.

The improvement of Lucas Melano has been a huge talking point the last month or so, and with good reason. He still can’t score goals, but oh my, is he doing everything else. All over the field, the guy is finding ways to help the team.

I want to revisit Valeri’s first goal for a moment, just so we can fully appreciate Melano’s work. Watch him and Valeri bring the ball up the left side.

His first great moment is reading Liam Ridgewell‘s long pass correctly, then collecting it with his chest. Lovely stuff.

It’s a bit less lovely when he loses the ball, but no worries, because Valeri’s there and – BOOM – we’re off to the races. I love the speed of this entire play. No hesitation, no stopping to think, just two guys charging straight for goal. They’ve even got Adi joining the fun. A brilliant counter attack.

But that’s nothing compared to Melano’s work on our last goal of the day. On the first goal, Ridgy and Valeri helped move the ball from end to end. On this goal, it was all Luca.

Oh my goodness, ladies and gentlemen. Lucas Melano is a one man fast break. As soon as he gets the ball and sees all that open field, he is gone. Yeah, sure, he could’ve – maybe even should’ve – hit Adi earlier. But on the other hand, by waiting, he got all four Seattle defenders to collapse on him. After a quick pass to a wide open and just barely onside Adi, then the soft-as-can-be chip from the big man, it’s 3-1 good guys.

Why have the Timbers turned into a counter-attacking team? Maybe it’s because we’ve got a guy who can do things like that. Caleb Porter’s got a thoroughbred. It would be foolish not to let him run.

4) It was another excellent day from our no-longer-interim first choice goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. He gave us all the great saves we’ve come to expect, and I’m finding myself more and more pleased that someone who’s put in so much time as backup is finally getting his reward. There’s a justice to this story that’s very appealing.

All that said, I’m a little concerned by the number of shots Gleeson faced Sunday. If you remember, that was my biggest concern when Jake was first thrown into goal, the enormous number of shots he was facing. It made me think there was a communication problem between him and the defense. It’s gotten better in recent weeks, putting my mind at ease, but then Sunday came and he faced 12 corner kicks, 33 crosses, 13 shots, six of them on goal. Yes, only one shot got past him, but I still don’t like the workload. I want him to be utterly bored back there.

If the defense keeps giving teams this many corners, crosses, and shots, things could get ugly. Let’s tighten it up, boys in the back. Let’s give Jake some boring games, what do you say?

5) Some quick player notes.

Adam Kwarasey. You were an outstanding Timber and my 2015 Six Degrees Player of the Year. Godspeed in Norway, sir. Come visit anytime. You’ll drink for free.

Diego Chara. My biggest complaint from the Montreal game was a lack of urgency in winning the ball back. Sunday, Chara showed us how it’s done. Welcome back, Diego. Let’s not have any more suspensions, okay?

Nat Borchers. Holy hell, did you make a serious goal-saving block in the first half. Those old legs can still move when they need to.

Jack Jewsbury. Speaking of old legs, I was surprised to see you in the XI instead of Ben Zemanski, but I have to say, you’re awfully good on the set pieces. I’m curious if we’ll be seeing more of you the rest of the season, just for that reason.

Darlington Nagbe. So close. So close.

6) What I’m about to write is entirely premature, but still, it’s on my mind, so here it comes.

I’m already worried about where the goals are going to come from next year. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to Adi leaving, so what goal-scorers remain? Diego Valeri, yes. He’s reliable. But Lucas Melano? Darlington Nagbe? No. They’re great players and wonderful creators, but finishers? No.

Jack McInerney? Yes, he can score, and it’s possible he could put up Adi numbers if he played Adi minutes, but still… I’ve gotten so used to having a big strong target in there, I have a hard time imagining a little poacher taking his place. It would be like going back to Gaston Fernandez.

Right now, if Valeri and Adi can stay healthy for the rest of the year, the Timbers could put up a lot of goals. But lose either one and I fear things will dry up in a hurry. And that concern will carry over to next year.

The Timbers have signed their new left back.  Maybe our next target should be a striker? If so, I say we get him now, rather than in the off season. The more time he has to get used to things, the better.