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 

11 Comments Six Degrees: Ugly Wins Are Still Worth Three Points

  1. John Lawes

    I went to a hockey game on Sunday and a soccer match broke out…

    Though I thought that the really ugly part was the Timbers parking the bus in the second half. WTF? I’d get it if we were a terrific defending team and had a rep for grinding out 1-nil wins. But…dayum, Porter…WHY would anyone, let alone the guy who’s see how this team defends closer-up than any of the rest of us, think that was a good idea..?

    As much as I’m glad we gutted out the last home game of the season, I really don’t have a lot of confidence in this season’s squad. They’re not awful, they’re not even “bad” they’re just…not quite there. Just always something a tiny bit short of what they need to get over that last hill. I suspect that we’ll lose a tough one in Vancouver just because there’s something not quite right about the team this season…

    I do agree about Adi. Damn, but I wish I felt that 1) the FO could figure out a way to keep him and 2) he’d find a way to be happy staying here. But I don’t think that 2) is a real possibility so I don’t think that there’s a way for 1) to be, either. He’ll be hugely missed. That sort of talent is just that difficult to find.

    Reply
    1. Timber Dave

      If Adi does leave, and I too hope he doesn’t, Porter will have to re-make the team’s tactics. Adi’s style of play is central enough to the way we play, and his skill set is sufficiently rare, that his leaving will require a reboot. Porter can do this — he did it when we gave up Porterball and subsequently won the MLS Cup — but it’s going to be a big change.

      Reply
      1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

        I agree completely. Can we play the same way with an Urruti-type forward? With a JackMac-type forward? With even someone as brilliant as BWP in New York? No, Adi is his own thing and, if he leaves, Porter will have to rethink everything the offense does.

        Here’s a question: are there any Adi-types out there we could grab? Both in MLS and elsewhere?

        Reply
  2. Timber Dave

    I don’t see us winning these next two games. One of them, maybe, and personally I hope it’s the Vancouver one (I have no love for CONCACAF or its refereeing), but I just don’t see two wins what with all the suspensions and injuries. I just hope it’s not zero.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      It’s getting even worse. Apparently, Jack’s banged up, too, and won’t play Wednesday.

      Like you, I’d rather win Sunday. We’ll be short-handed, but Vancouver’s not that great, we have a good history there, and godalmightydamn are we due for a road win. Why not now?

      Reply
  3. Papez107

    I’ve heard talk that Adi is going to stay. I would love for that to be true. I don’t see us doing much in CONCACAF without him if we beat Saprissa. If Adi does stay then next year could be a whole lot of fun. This year I have spent more time looking at our injury report to guess at starting lineups than by who is playing the best. I have a feeling that the injury bug is just too great this year to have a deep run.

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      I hope Adi comes back. Even more importantly, I hope he comes back in such a way and with such a contract, that he’s HAPPY to come back. If he’s resentful, he’s no good to us. But I trust that Gavin and the FO know that.

      Reply
  4. John Lawes

    Ridiculously frustrating loss (okay, draw, but loss-on-aggregate) to Saprissa yesterday in that the team showed;

    1. How painfully steep the drop off in attacking skills is after Adi and Valeri (Grabavoy and Barmby showed perhaps SOME ability but Melano was useless and the three together would have had a hard time hitting water if they’d fell out of a boat…),
    2. Another horrible soft defensive concession, and
    3. A complete inability to adjust to the way the center referee was calling the game (outside Chara, who seemed delighted to be playing in what must have seemed like a Friday-night-pickup-match-in-Bogota; “Oh, so we’re gonna get away with THIS? Sweet! How about a helping of Colombian cleat, Tico!”)

    Ugh.

    Admittedly, if we had to lose one I’d just as soon lose this one. But the futility showed how thin we are once you get past the regular XI…

    Reply
  5. Roy Gathercoal

    Yep to all of it.

    I keep waiting for Porter to tell Adi “play mean and play big” again. I know the guy gets fouled all over the place, and that his style of play welcomes the body push foul, but man. . . if we go into games thinking the result rests on persuading the ref that we are the aggrieved party. . .

    Been thinking about the season, and especially the injuries. Takes me back to a brief athletic trainer stint years ago. Then, the conventional wisdom was that a team made its own injuries–that a certain number of injuries will happen each season, but if there are an inordinate number of missed games, the coaching staff and trainers are likely culprits. This is a version of the “Klinsmann ruins players by overtraining” theme.

    This year, coincidentally, our training was taken over by a “Sports Science” firm that regulated players’ lives like they lived in a Stalag. Like, when you wake in the morning, you take your pulse and record vitals even before you kiss your significant other.

    Science is all about results, people, and if whatever they did resulted in increased injuries (which was the panic button all season) perhaps we ought to change something? On the other hand, it could be entirely other factors–coincidence is evidence that God has a twisted sense of humor. . .

    I am all on board on the “hope Caleb gets over his bromance with Steven Taylor.” Whether his performance has just plummeted, or he wasn’t that good to begin with, or he just can’t make the transition, I believe I paid more attention to the game unfolding around him than he did. Even when I was getting beer. I don’t think I have ever seen an experienced player look so lost so much of the time–like a country boy on his first trip to the big city. This is the first time he has played on a team other than his home fave, so maybe he just doesn’t get the transition to ANY other team. There’s politics in EPL around players, just as there is in any other life arena. Sometimes the best are not the ones kept.

    I am curious about Taylor Peay. The times I saw him play didn’t look bad. He was youngish and made some rookie errors, but to my unpracticed eye he showed adequate promise. Yet he got so little playing time, even when our back line was patched and bleeding. Is he good enough to play or not? If not, then let him succeed at something else in life instead of keeping him on the bench game after game as the FO goes after completely new squad members to try and fill every hole.

    What about a Ridgewell/Peay CB pairing? Some experience along with some youthful exuberance.

    My real concern is whether Marco Farfan is going to see real playing time, or if he has been promoted to a non-playing position. Thing with young players is patience. They are going to make mistakes, but if you keep with them, the cream rises and you just might end up with a great player. That never happens if they don’t play.

    So what do you see as the future of Portland’s picks? Will we go with young, unproven players and stick with them like Villafana, (or dump them like AJB) or will we continue to go the LA route (with considerably less money and unjustly less living place draw than LA) and keep buying old defenders hoping for a couple of more decent seasons? Dallas went the youth route and it jelled for them. Will we turn to one of the young’uns this postseason?

    Or does Farfan represent an entirely new type of player, being the first true academy product? Will he find a place on the field for some real minutes next season, or even in the playoffs this year? (is he allowed to show in the 18 this season, or does his addition after the roster freeze date mean he is technically unavailable?)

    I am still quite positive about Caleb Porter’s Finishing School for Wayward Boys. Mattocks might just have turned over a new leaf for his old coach, Adi has clearly blossomed. Villafana really came alive last year in the playoffs. Who will be this seasons last star?

    Reply
    1. C.I. DeMannC.I. DeMann

      One of my main complaints about Porter is that he doesn’t play the kids as much as I’d like. Which seems a little odd, considering he used to coach college freshmen. It seems to me his main skill — the CPFSFWB thing — is taking undervalued players and improving them. That’s a little different from playing his kids. I love, love, love the whole CPFSFWB, but I’m also envious when I look at Dallas and how Pareja plays his kids. I guess I can’t have it all. Porter’s got to have some flaws.

      Reply
  6. Roy Gathercoal

    By the way, I believe this team is not all that different from last year’s team. There were more than our share of defensive woes then, remember? Seems if we had won only eight of the last nine straight games we wouldn’t be thinking such happy thoughts about 2015. So yeah, we have a fighter’s chance at repeating as MLS champs. It would take a repeat of last year’s hot end, but streaks are recognized only in retrospect, and Vancouver is tired and dispirited.

    Folks do seem to remember all the good parts of last season and forget the “bottom of the table with a month to go” parts. Yes, we won more away matches, but we couldn’t win at home. . . remember?

    I think 2016 is not a worse team by far–just different. No good creating a legend, then using it to beat up future teams. Even drawing at Colorado is no mean feat. And so many of those road draws stank of rotting flukes. Perspective and accurate history, seems to be needed.

    Reply

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