Six Degrees: A Vaguely Frustrating Three Points

Friday’s 2-0 Timbers victory over San Jose was a play with two acts: the exhilarating first 50 minutes and the maddening final 40 minutes.

1) That first act was pretty fantastic, wasn’t it? You could argue that those 50 minutes were the best the Timbers have looked all season. Non-stop attacking, high pressure defense, and a complete domination of the Earthquakes. In the first half Friday, Portland had over 60% possession and double digit shots. San Jose didn’t have a single shot, a single corner, or a single answer to what the Timbers were doing.

The only thing that could stop us Friday seemed to be the woodwork. Does anyone know the record for most posts hit in one game? Because there’s a good chance we broke it Friday night. I’m not complaining too much, since it didn’t slow down our attack, but it was frustrating nevertheless. In fact, soccer’s such a cruel sport, the longer we dominated San Jose without scoring, the more certain I was that the Quakes would steal a cheap goal on a corner kick or something, sending us all home without the full three points.

Fortunately, in the 50th minute, Diego Valeri finally broke through. Unsurprisingly, the post was involved.

With all our hard work finally rewarded, the entire stadium could relax a bit. Unfortunately, the Timbers relaxed, too.

2) Which brings us to our second act, the maddening final 40 minutes.

Dear God in Heaven, why do teams take their foot off the gas after they’ve scored? Is it the coach’s fault? Did Caleb Porter call off the dogs? Tell the team to sit back? Tell the defenders to quit joining the attack?

Or is this on the players? Do they use the newly-gained lead to relax a bit? To catch their breath? Once their desperate drive to score is satisfied, do they unconsciously start playing as if the game is won?

Whatever the reason, it was absolutely rage-inducing on Friday night. After being penned in their defensive half for 50 minutes, San Jose was finally able to attack. After zero shots and zero corners, San Jose was suddenly getting both. Up in section 203, I was going out of my mind.

My madness only grew in the late stages of the game when some of our players looked visibly winded and Porter refused to make any substitutions. Yes, this has happened before, and yes, our no-sub winning percentage seems to be pretty good. Regardless, I still question Porter doing it. You don’t trust your bench, Caleb? What happened to all that talk of a deeper team? The only way to make your team deep is to give your subs some time on the field. Especially when there are starters out there sucking wind.

3) I can’t decide who was the Man of the Match Friday. It was either Diego Valeri, with his two goals, or referee Kevin Stott, with his breathtaking, all-encompassing incompetence.

Stott was a disaster from the opening kick. When the game was ten minutes old and Stott was already letting fouls go uncalled and yellow card offenses go un-booked, I turned to the guy next to me and said, “Oh, God, this is gonna get ugly.”

And I was right. Just like always happens in these situations, the players saw what was happening, saw that Stott wasn’t going to protect anyone, and decided to protect themselves. Fouls got harder, yellow card offenses came more often, and finally, in the 36th minute, like a substitute teacher who’s lost control of the class, Stott decided to send a kid to the principal’s office. Darwin Ceren got two yellows in two minutes and was gone for the day.

Now, I want to be clear, San Jose was not the only team playing rough. Stott was letting both teams get away with way too much, and both teams responded by getting uglier and uglier. It’s what players do. When the ref won’t protect you, you protect yourself.

Players who aren’t good enough for MLS get cut. Refs who aren’t good enough should get cut, too. Kevin Stott should be reffing USL games. If he improves there, maybe he can play in the big leagues again. But not until then.

4) Let’s talk about our players, starting on the flanks.

Our two wingers, Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco, both had very good games. Very different from each other, but equally good. Blanco was on the left, filling in for Darlington Nagbe and, as such, playing a very Nagbe-esque game, floating around the field, acting as a possessor and distributor.

On the right side, Asprilla was much more an attacker. When he got the ball Friday night, he was either heading to the end line and releasing a cross, or trying to go straight through his defender and into the box. I found it to be one of Asprilla’s best performances this year, with less thinking, less dribbling, and more attacking.

Staying on the flanks, our fullbacks had a hell of a game, too. On the left, Vytautas Andriuskevicius showed an excellent balance of attacking and defending. I’ve heard some talk that Marco Farfan deserves playing time again, but I think Vytas is gonna keep the job if he keeps playing like he did Friday.

Speaking of keeping the job, Zarek Valentin got his second straight start on the right side. If you’ll allow me to use an archaic word that I only half-way understand, whither Alvas Powell? Are we watching him lose his job? This doesn’t appear to be an injury situation, so his demotion must be because of either performance or attitude. Stay tuned, I guess.

5) Now let’s look at the team’s spine.

Judging Fanendo Adi‘s performance Friday depends on how you feel about posts. If you hate posts, you’ll give Adi five stars, because, man oh man, he was hitting that post like it owed him money. On the other hand, if you’re someone who prefers shots that hit the back of the net, you’ll be a bit frustrated with the big fella. I imagine Adi’s frustrated, too.

Moving down the center of the field, Diego Chara and David Guzman had a solid day. You know, all season we’ve been sold this narrative that Guzman’s a deep-lying Six and Chara’s a box-to-box Eight. All season I’ve questioned this, and Friday’s game didn’t change that at all. To my eyes, they’re the 2 in a 4-2-3-1. But if we’re actually playing a 4-3-3 (you decide), then I’m calling Gooz the 8 and Chara the 6. Maybe it’ll change, but so far, that’s what I’m seeing.

Farther down the center of the field, let’s congratulate Liam Ridgewell, Roy Miller, and Jake Gleeson for getting the team its second clean sheet of the year. The other was way back on March 12 against Los Angeles, who – whoops! – also had a man sent off in the first half. What do you think? Are the Timbers capable of shutting out an 11-man side? I’ll believe it when I see it.

6) Let’s finish off this column with the goal that finished off the Quakes. It was somewhere around five minutes into stoppage time, and – whatta ya know? – involved the post.

Why does Adi hate the post so much? What did the post ever do to him? Can they put this animosity behind them and work together to bring us some wood-free goals?

They’ll get a chance this Saturday night when Dallas comes to visit. I don’t know if you heard, but Dallas set an MLS record this weekend.

And if that’s not enough, their magician in the middle, Mauro Diaz, has made an early recovery from his Achilles injury and is being slowly worked back into the lineup.

In other words, Dallas is pretty good and they’re only getting better.