Six Degrees: Two Mistakes

Did Saturday’s game come down to two plays? Two mistakes that occurred within two minutes of each other? I’ve been pondering the idea. If you change Adi’s miss in front of goal, then change Gleeson’s charging out of goal two minutes later, the Timbers probably spend the majority of the second half with a 2-0 lead and probably finish with the full three points.

As always, soccer is a cruel sport.

1) The Timbers couldn’t have looked better in the first half of Saturday’s match. In fact, it felt like a continuation on the previous two games – the shutout of San Jose and the shutout of Dallas. We looked like a team that had left the 0-3-1 miseries of May behind, and was ready to reclaim its place as a Supporter’s Shield contender.

Leading the way? Sebastian Blanco. Starting his third straight game on the left wing, he was as aggressive as we’ve seen him this entire year. From the start, he was driving into the box and putting dangerous shots on goal. Then, in the 18th minute, he did this.

Watch how Blanco peeks over his left shoulder, forcing defender Marlon Hairston to follow the overlapping Vytautas Andriuskevicius. Then, once Hairston’s gone, Blanco gets Michael Azira to overcommit, and cuts behind him, into the box. Then, before Jared Watts can stick a leg in, Blanco fires a beauty into the top right corner.  The keeper didn’t even move.

Officially, Diego Valeri gets an assist here, but as you can see, Blanco does all the heavy lifting. When the Timbers front office signed Blanco in the offseason, this is the Blanco they hoped they were getting. If he can play like this every single game, the team’s gonna be in really good shape moving forward.

2) Which raises a question: is Blanco best on the left? Counting the San Jose game, the Dallas game, and the first half in Colorado, the Timbers had 225 really good minutes with Blanco playing the position we thought Darlington Nagbe would play.

So what should the Timbers do? When David Guzman comes back from international duty, he’ll take that central midfield role from Nagbe. Where does Nagbe go? Back to the left, sending Blanco to the right? Dare we mess with Blanco’s great form on the left?

Zooming out a little, I occurs to me that Nagbe’s ability and willingness to play multiple roles is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, he’s a Swiss Army knife, yes, he’ll be whatever the Timbers need him to be, and, yes, for the most part, this is a good thing.

But is all this shifting around preventing Nagbe from reaching his highest potential? Would it be better to let him do one thing extremely well, versus doing a lot of things pretty good? Is our coaching staff hindering him by sliding him all over the field? Is there a way to unleash Beast Mode Nagbe? Or is this already Beast Mode Nagbe? Is shifting around and doing a little bit of everything his one great skill?

That’s a long list of questions to which I have zero answers. They’re questions worth asking, though, and I suspect Caleb Porter has pondered some of them, as well.

3) After owning the first 45 minutes, the Timbers found the second half much more even. That being said, we still had chances to get a second, possibly game-sealing goal. In fact, we had the chance. The best chance of the entire game for either team, as you can see by looking at this expected goals map.

That gigantic circle in front of the Colorado goal? It’s this 49th minute shot by Fanendo Adi. Though calling it a “shot” is generous.

A few things to note.

One, that ball Adi kicked? It still hasn’t come down. Scientists speculate it was caught by the jet stream and is now drifting through the stratosphere, somewhere over Central Asia.

Two, unsurprisingly, it’s Blanco who starts the whole thing, being aggressive as hell and forcing a hard save out of Tim Howard.

Three, at 6’7” and 210 pounds, Colorado center back Axel Sjoberg is one of the largest human beings in MLS, but Adi throws him out of the way like a toddler. But don’t feel too sorry for Sjoberg, as he and the rest of the Colorado defense were pounding Adi the whole game, knowing it wouldn’t be called.

Four, if you think Adi’s miss bugged you, imagine how he’s taking it. He’ll be dreaming about that miss for quite some time, I bet.

Five, as stated before, it was easily the best chance of the day. More expected goal data from Opta.

4) On the above chart, please note what happens just two minutes after Adi’s miss. Yep, Colorado made us pay, with Dominique Badji running onto a long, lovely pass and chipping it over Jake Gleeson.

Whoops! My bad! That was the other time Jake got chipped, back in March. Though, to be fair, it’s easy to confuse the two goals, they’re so similar.

On both goals, Jake didn’t really need to come off his line. In fact, staying home probably would have made things a little more difficult for both shooters.

Does this make Jake a horrible goalkeeper? No. Does it worry me a little? Yes. Am I also worried about his tendency to come out on crosses only to miss the punch? Yes. Am I the world’s expert on keepers? No. Do I know how to fix the problem? No. Am I hoping goalkeeper coach Adin Brown does? Absolutely.

Most important question, if Caleb Porter benched Jake for a few games, would I kind of understand?

[Long, sad sigh…]

Yes. Yes, I would understand.

5) And then, in the 89th minute, we were reminded of this ancient bit of wisdom.

It hurts because it’s true.

Here’s the goal itself.

Now, I’m not gonna rip Lawrence Olum too much, since, let’s be honest, Alan Gordon’s done this to a lot of center backs over the years. But that being said, Olum really isn’t all that good in the air. I mean, I really like the guy, and I appreciate his versatility, but, damn nation, do I wish we had a dominant pair of center backs. Remember Ridgy and Borchers in 2015? I want that again. Will Larrys Mabiala and Gbenga Arokoyo give it to us in 2018? I hope so. I really do.

And yes, you’re correct, I’ve decided Liam Ridgewell won’t be back next year. The team just can’t afford a center back who’s made out of glass.

But anyway, Timbers heartbreak and Alan Gordon-hatred aside, just once in my life, I’d like to have a moment like this. In fact, I wish everyone could have a moment like this. The world would be a better place, I think.

6) A few concluding thoughts.

One, what’s up with Caleb and the subs? Of all places, Colorado is where you sub early and often. And then the first two subs were defensive subs. I understand nothing.

Two, the editing crew at Root Sports put together a wonderful montage of Adi getting his usual beatdown. Does anyone have video of that? It was perfect.

Three, this game gave us yet another handball call that went against the Timbers. It wasn’t the most egregious no-call I’ve ever seen, but still, one of these days a handball decision needs to go in favor of the Timbers. I question when it will happened, though, since, apparently, karma still doesn’t give a shit.

And finally, on a completely unrelated note, an amateur designer put together these Timbers kits. I want to make out with the green kit, I want to make sweet, sweet love with the white kit, and I want to get married, settle down, and have a bunch of kids with the gold kit. Merritt Paulson, please hire this man.