Six Degrees: A Most Unlikely Blowout

SKC Photo - Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland Timbers

As the game was winding down Sunday, I was in the TA, talking with the people around me, and we were in total disbelief that the Timbers were winning 3-0. Honestly, we should’ve been down 3-0. That result would have been easier to believe. And yet… soccer.

1) I’ve said in the past that SKC’s my least favorite team, and nothing’s changed. They make the beautiful game as ugly as possible. They dive, they delay, they bump, they annoy, they hit you when the ref’s not looking, then fall to the ground when he is. It annoys me so much, I want to punch them. All of them. Thank goodness I’m not on the field, right?

What would happen if I were on the field and they’d gotten up in my shit one too many times? This. This would have happened.

I love you, Diego Chara, but, yeah, that’s a red. And I probably would have punched the asshole, too.

That was in the 11th minute. 27 minutes later, Soni Mustivar did this.

Soni, you came in with a late, flying, reckless, endangering tackle, all while making no contact with the ball. I’d say that checks pretty much all the boxes for a red card. After the game, someone asked Caleb Porter about Valeri drawing that red card. Porter’s reply was something along the lines of, “I wouldn’t say he drew the red card. I’d say he got the shit kicked out of him.”

Worth noting? The Timbers are 3-0-0 this season after receiving a red card. Clearly, we need to re-think our anti-red card policy.

2) Based solely on performance, the best part of this game was the 27 minutes we spent a man down. We held firm in a difficult situation. I was especially impressed by the two center backs, Jermaine Taylor and Amobi Okugo. Then there was Jack Jewsbury in front of them, who came into the game thinking he’d have a partner at central midfield, only to quickly find himself alone.

Another guy having to change everything was Jack McInerney, who thought he’d be a second forward, but was instead forced into playing at winger. Good on him – and on everyone, really – for switching plans on the fly. Like I said, those 27 minutes when we were a man down were the stretch that impressed me most.

Somewhat bizarrely, things got worse, not better, when SKC lost a man of their own. And maybe this is a matter of expectations. As in, when we’ve got the same number of players as them, I expect us to play them somewhat even. Instead, we were ceding 75% of the possession (and it felt like 95%). SKC held the ball for minutes at a time, the Timbers defense laying back, giving them all the time and space they needed. Then, as soon as we got the ball again, it was over in seconds. SKC pressured us into turnovers nearly as soon as we touched it. Our only hope was fast break counters.

SKC wasn’t just the better team, they were vastly better. And then, suddenly, mysteriously, we were up 3-0.

3) Here’s a couple things to look at. First, the game’s possession graph.

skc poss w box

That’s breathtakingly lopsided, isn’t it? Most of those minutes were played with even numbers. I’ve put a big box around the period we played a man down, otherwise you might not be able to tell.

But here’s something a bit more encouraging.

skc shot chart

Yes, SKC outshot us 11-8, but look how many of their shots were from outside the box. When we remove those, the two teams are tied at six shots apiece. And, honestly, our six are generally from better spots than SKC’s six.

So, yes, we gave up possession like it was radioactive. And yes, we played the entire game with our backs against the goal. But maybe I should give us some credit for the quality of shots we gave up. That’s something to feel good about, I guess.

Oh, last little thing to point out from the shot chart: see Adi’s goal on there? See the block just a couple feet to the left? The one from his shot just seconds before? For some reason, this amuses me greatly. It feels like I’m watching the game from a bird’s eye view.

4) Let’s talk about those three goals, shall we?

When it’s the 65th minute, you’re on the back foot, and no one can do anything right, who ya gonna call? Diego Valeri.

This team doesn’t have many finishers, but by God, can Diego Valeri finish. Outside of the foot, on the half-volley, and he makes it look almost effortless.

Our next goal, in the 87th minute, was by another guy who knows how to hit it hard and straight, Jack Jewsbury. This goal is less about Captain Jack, though, and more about Darlington Nagbe.

I’m all for anything that makes Benny Feilhaber look stupid, and Nags certainly did that here. The guy’s spinning around like a gyroscope, then looks up and calmly, carefully, almost politely, puts a soft little ball on a platter for Jack.

Then, in stoppage time, Fanendo Adi scored as ugly a goal as you’ll ever see, but oh my, will we take it.

The truth is, only the buildup is ugly, what with four SKC defenders taking a swipe at that ball and none able to corral it. Adi’s finish, however, that was really quite nice.

Right now, this team only has three reliable finishers: Adi, Valeri, and JackMac. Two of them scored Sunday. Which is nice.

5) Some quick player takes.

Jack Jewsbury. Unless I’m forgetting someone, right now Jack’s our only healthy and available CDM. Every single year, people start writing him off, and every single year, he ends up playing an important role for the team. Please remember this next year when you’re writing him off yet again.

Lucas Melano. With only 10 men, all substitute strategies are out the window, but I was still surprised you didn’t come on until the 86th minute. Still, get used to the bench. I think Caleb wants to try JackMac, Adi, and Valeri on the field together. And anyway, I think you’ll be a good dose of speed off the bench.

Alvas Powell. Jesus Fucking Christ. We couldn’t even dress 18 guys on Sunday and now we lose another? What have the Timbers done to deserve this? Is it me? Is it my foul mouth always using the Lord’s name in vain? Then blow out my tendons, okay? Leave the Timbers alone. They’ve suffered enough.

Vytas Andriuskevicius. There is not a single person in Timberdom who is not madly in love with Vytas right now. I mean, he hugs kids, he gives flowers to stadium workers, he hits left-footed crosses. Can this romance last?

6) Last year, the Timbers lead the league in road wins with seven. This year, we’re 24 games in and still don’t have a win on the road. That needs to change and it needs to change soon, because of our 10 remaining games, only four are at home. If we don’t fix this problem, the season will end below the red line.

Speaking of the red line…

skc table

I think the rest of our season will be a race among the four teams in that box: us, SKC, San Jose, and Vancouver. I don’t think any of us will catch the top four. I don’t any of us will be caught by Seattle or Houston. I think it’ll be a four-team battle for the last two playoff spots. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad news, but we only have one game against one of those four teams, the season-ending match in Vancouver.

We play Seattle twice, and that would be a good thing, except they’re starting to get frisky with this new guy Lodeiro. I hope we’re not catching them right as they figure things out.

We play Dallas and Colorado three times total, and we know they’re good, since they’re battling each other for the Supporter’s Shield.

I could continue breaking down the remaining schedule game by game, looking for good match ups and bad, but why bother? The simple truth is we need to start winning and we need to keep winning. We’ve had hot streaks already this year. We need to start another one. Now.