Six Degrees: Ugly Wins Are Still Worth Three Points

colorado-photo-craig-mitchelldyer-portland-timbers

It seems silly to talk about a Colorado game as being ugly. I mean, of course it was ugly. It’s Colorado. That’s what they do.

1) For my money, the best fight of 2016 wasn’t McGregor-Diaz II, it was Adi-Watts III: the Pain in the Rain.

Pretty much from the opening bell, Portland striker Fanendo Adi and Colorado center back Jared Watts continued the fistfight they’ve been in all year. Clinching, grabbing, tripping. Haymakers, body blows. By my count, they spent about an equal amount of time falling to the turf, climbing off the turf, yelling at the referee, yelling at each other, hugging, making peace, then immediately getting into it again. I think they may have played some soccer as well.

And that, in essence, was the game. Adi and Watts were the headliners, but there were some quality fights in the undercard as well. The entire game, from minute 1 to minute Dear-God-how-long-is-he-going-to-let-this-go-on, was a brawl. Which, of course, is exactly what Colorado wanted.

In my last column, I talked about how this Colorado team plays exactly like their coach Pablo Mastroeni did when he was in the league. Bump you, get in your head, make life miserable, then somehow sneak a goal and win 1-0. Until Pablo leaves, I have a feeling that’s going to be the Colorado way. I’m not really complaining. It’s ugly soccer, but it doesn’t bug me as much as the diving whiners and the whining divers of SKC. And since my favorite player is Diego Chara, clearly I appreciate physical play.

Still, it’s worth noting that Colorado have found their identity and that identity is ugly. But considering they may win the Supporter’s Shield this year, it’s hard to argue against it.

2) And yet, the Timbers snuck out the 1-0 win. The ugly, beautiful 1-0 win. How? By dominating the first half and surviving the second.

We had 62% possession in the first half, 36% in the second. We outshot Colorado 13-3 in the first half, they outshot us 8-6 in the second. We were playing to win in the first half, then playing not to lose in the second. We’ve seen this before from Caleb Porter-coached teams, and it’s tempting to cry foul, but I have a feeling almost every fanbase in the league has seen this from their team and been maddened by it each and every time.

My favorite player from the first half: Vytautas Andriuskevicius1 who was scintillating on offense, at times looking more like a winger than a fullback. Plus, he drew not one, but two penalties. The first was a little questionable, but cry me a river, Colorado. As rough as you play, I’m sure you get away with one or two penalties every game.

That 35th minute penalty, questionable or not, led to our only goal on an Adi PK.

Vytas’s 38th minute penalty? That led to this.

It was funny to watch this live, because Adi was so calm as he approached the rebound. My PK’s been blocked? No biggie. I’ll just tap this little guy in there and OH DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Sinking that rebound would have drawn the Timbers even with SKC on goal differential, but let’s save playoff tiebreaker talk for later. For now, let’s just acknowledge that Adi dreamed about that awful miss last night and probably will every night for some time to come. Shit happens.

3) Some quick player notes.

Jake Gleeson. As usual, the Big Kiwi had some gorgeous saves. He also benefited from the woodwork a couple times. Put it all together and it’s his 6th shutout of the year. Gleeson leads the league in saves (which I don’t like) and is second in the league is save percentage (which I do). Also, there’s this.

Darren Mattocks. Another very strong game for Mattocks, who’s starting to look like a genuine winger, not just a forward who’s been shoved out to the side. This is great news for next season, but this year? Dude keeps hurting himself. Will he be healthy enough to help us next week in Vancouver?

Liam Ridgewell. He definitely won’t be helping us next week in Vancouver, thanks to yellow card accumulation. Which sucks, since he’s genuinely the only center back on the team I trust. Personally, I hope we start Taylor Peay and Amobi Okugo. Would that pairing be worse than Steven and Jermaine Taylor?

Diego Chara. He also won’t be helping us next week, again due to yellow cards. On the plus side, there’s this. Congratulations, Champ.

4) Clearly, this was a huge win, but in the end, it will be remembered mostly as the last home game for a Timbers legend: Lucas Melano.

Whoops! My bad! I meant Jack Jewsbury.

If you haven’t seen it, please check out Roscoe Myrick’s piece on Jack.  He reached out to Timbers players, fans, coaches, and journalists, seeking quotes about Cap’n Jack. Here was my contribution to the piece.

Over the course of six years, what hasn’t Jack Jewsbury done for the Timbers?

When we needed a veteran to lead a brand new locker room? Show the newbies how to survive in the big leagues? Jack did it.

Midfield? Back line? Wings? Jack’s played ’em all.

Be the team’s offensive creator? Then switch to defensive anchor? Jack’s done that.

Be a fabulous captain, then give up the arm band? Jack did it with class.

Get written off as too old? Too slow? Jack’s done that pretty much every year. Step in when the young and the fast aren’t cutting it? Also an annual event.

I’m not sure Jack’s ever been our best player. But our most important player? I’d say yes. A house cannot stand without a foundation. Jack Jewsbury’s spent six years laying this team’s foundation. As time passes, we will see many great players wear the green and gold, but every single one of them will owe a debt to Jack Jewsbury. The Portland Timbers are the house that Jack built.

5) I’ve been writing this column for four years now. At the end of every season, I hand out the not-at-all-coveted Six Degrees Player of the Year Award, and I can tell you, 2016 has been the most difficult year for me to choose a winner.

2013 was easy. That team was all about fight, so the winner had to be Will Johnson.

In 2014, we couldn’t play defense, but the offense was lights out, so it was easy to give the trophy to Diego Valeri.

In 2015, it was the opposite. Our offense was middlin’, but our defense was great. Step right up, Adam Kwarasey.

Those choices were easy. But 2016? What’s the story of this year’s Portland Timbers? Injuries? Should I give the award to the medical staff? Or do they get the booby prize? Another big story this year: the inability to win on the road. So I give another booby prize, this time to the travel staff?  See?  2016 provides no obvious choice.

In the end, I deliberated between two players, Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi. They’re the two main cogs in our offense and really the only two guys we could count on to score goals. In addition to scoring goals, they both create for others, either through Valeri’s passing or Adi’s hold up play.  Both have been incredibly valuable during this weird, wacky, frustrating year.

So how did I break the tie? In the end, I decided this might be my last chance to give it to Adi. Valeri wants to retire a Timber, so I’ll have other chances to praise him. Adi, meanwhile, wants either a bigger paycheck or a bigger challenge or both. Or neither. We’re not sure. All we know is there’s a good chance he won’t be here next year. Which will be a damn shame, because in the entire history of this league, the number of players who’ve scored 15+ goals twice can be counted on two hands. Adi is one of those players. If he comes back next year, I bet he’d score another 15+. And truth be told, if I were running the team, I might break the bank to keep him here. He’s that rare.

I don’t run the team, but I do run this column, so congratulations, Fanendo Adi. You’re the 2016 Six Degrees Player of the Year!

6) Okay then.  We’ve said goodbye to Jack, we’ve handed out some hardware, now let’s take our weekly trip – nay, our final trip – into the playoff race. Here’s the current table.

standings-17-oct

Believe it or not, we’re actually in a pretty good spot, mostly because we control our own destiny. We don’t need anyone to do us favors. If we win, we’re in. We’ll have 47 points and will either be in 6th, 5th, or 4th, depending on results.

Actually, we could sneak in with a draw or even a loss, but only if SKC gets blown out at home by San Jose, thereby making their point differential worse than ours (this is where we rue Adi missing that rebound). Here are the MLS playoff tiebreakers, for what it’s worth.

The truth is, I’m not sure San Jose could blow out a U-12 team at this point, so really what the Timbers need to do is go up to Vancouver, get our first road win of the year, win the Cascadia Cup, and make the friggin’ playoffs. Past that, I think we should root for an SKC win and a Seattle/RSL draw, because that’s the scenario that leaves Seattle below the red line. Woo hoo! Schadenfreude!

We’ll have to get that first road win without Ridgy or Chara. Possibly without an injured Mattocks or an injured Valeri. And ohbytheway, we’ve got to play Saprissa on Wednesday, who are only the best club in Central America.

So will this be a tough week? Yes. Can we do it? Yes. Do I think we will? Hmm… y’know, I think I do. Call me crazy, but I predict we pull this off. Which means next week won’t be a postmortem on a disappointing season. Instead we’ll get to talk about the playoffs and how, once you’re in, anything can happen.


  1. I’m so proud of myself that I can now spell Vytas’s name without looking it up