Six Degrees: On the Verge

The Timbers are on the verge of being a really good team. They’re also on the verge of being a really bad team. I have no idea which team will win out in the end.

1) After a wonderful March and April, the Timbers have spent the last two months establishing themselves as the league’s greatest enigma. During our most recent 12 game stretch, the team’s gone 2-5-5 and managed to look wonderful, horrible, and somewhere in between, often within the same game. They’ve been toying with our emotions, giving us a couple bad losses, followed by a couple 2-0 wins, followed by losses to two of the worst teams in the league, followed by three straight draws to some of the best teams in the league. They’ve given us games with no fight whatsoever, followed by games where they’ve busted their asses for 90 straight minutes. Trying to figure them out is a fool’s errand.

This past week is a good example. On Saturday, the team played Sporting Kansas City – the best team in the West – on the road, with a paper-thin roster, and somehow pulled out a draw. It was a weird, vaguely frustrating draw, but still, road draws against good teams? We’ll take ’em.

Four days later, the Timbers got to play Chicago – the best team in the East – this time at home, but with an even thinner lineup. What happened? The Timbers dominated for pretty much the entire game, led in all the important stats, and yet somehow managed only a 2-2 draw.

So who the hell are we?

The answer, as always: I have no idea. This team is a complete mystery. I will say this, though: the Timbers are on the verge of being something. They’re either on the verge of being a really good team or a really bad team. A team with great chemistry who crushes it for 90 minutes, or a team that gets a lead, takes its foot off the gas, and pisses away points. A team that goes toe to toe with teams at the top of the table, or a team that loses to doormats Minnesota, Colorado, and very possibly, in a couple weeks, Real Salt Lake.

So, which Timbers team do you think will win out in the end? The team that drops points and sinks further and further down the table? Or the team that regains its early-season form and begins a slow, inexorable climb toward the top?

Both these destinies seem equally likely.

2) The Timbers came out strong Wednesday night, dominating in most regards, but soccer being the cruel sport it is, Chicago was the one to open the scoring. And it was a fairly cruel goal.

I’m pretty sure Jake Gleeson was setting himself up for Nikolic to touch that ball. When Nikolic didn’t, Jake was caught wrong-footed and the ball went dribbling into goal, a bit uncertain how it got there, I’m sure.

I think we have to blame Jake, at least a little. But to be fair, he’s not the first keeper to get fooled by an attacker not touching a ball. I distinctly remember Liam Ridgewell fooling the Columbus keeper last year with just such a play.

Does a better keeper stop this shot? I’m not so sure. If we can agree on one thing, it’s that Jake Gleeson’s a helluva shot-stopper, with lightning-quick reflexes. If he can’t stop this, I’m not sure there’s many who do.

Though maybe you disagree. Do you think the Timbers need a better keeper? Convince me.

3) So there we were, dominating the game, yet down 1-0. Up in Section 203, I had my head in my hands, wondering why I followed such an awful sport and if heartbreak was all the Timbers would ever give me.

But to their credit, the boys kept pushing, kept Chicago on their heels, and in the 22nd minute, this happened.

In our last game, Diego Valeri sent a PK down the middle, straight into the keeper’s waiting arms. So what did Fanendo Adi do with this PK? Sent it down the middle, straight into the back of the net.

I’m starting to think PKs are nothing but random chance and the best you can do is just put it on frame, knowing that once every ten times, it’ll get saved.

4) Chicago’s second goal bugged me a little more than their first. The first was just a weird, oddball, freak goal. The second felt like blown coverage.

Who’s to blame for leaving Brandon Vincent so completely wide open? A variety of people, I think, but mostly Zarek Valentin. Look how he follows that runner into the box, leaving, not one, but two guys open on the right side. Ben Zemanski and Lawrence Olum are too slow picking those dudes up, and Chicago makes us pay.

There’s an alternate take here, of course. Maybe Valentin wouldn’t have followed that run so closely if he thought Olum was ready to do it himself. As usual, defense is a complicated, multi-player dance, and if anyone steps awry, the whole thing falls apart.

Speaking of defense, Larrys Mabiala will be eligible to play in our next game. Will he? Is he already practicing with the squad, getting to know the players and developing chemistry? I surely hope so. Just as we expected at the start of the year, defense is this team’s weakest link. I hope Larrys can help us fix that.

5) Down 2-1 in the 62nd minute, there was really no telling which Timbers team we’d see. The team on the verge of being great, or the team of the verge of tumbling down the table.

It turned out to be the former. The boys put the pedal to the floor, continued their dominating play, and in the 70th minute, scored one of their prettiest goals of the year. This is a long gif, but is worth a full look.

I count eight passes, covering 80 yards, spread between six different players, and culminating with a very nice Valentin/Asprilla/Valeri/Blanco combo. And how about Valeri making that defender think he was going left, then coming back to Sebastian Blanco on his right? Just a lovely team goal, start to finish, and the kind of goal that makes one wonder why we can’t do that more often.

Speaking of Diego Valeri, he’s now on pace for 16 goals and 11 assists. That ain’t bad.

And speaking of Sebastian Blanco, congratulations on your first log slice, sir. Let’s hope there are many, many more. Now go give your wife a kiss.

6) Some random thoughts to finish us off.

  • That Fanendo Adi game-winner that was waved off? It was a good call.

  • Could somebody make a gif of all the times the Timbers shot the ball directing at the keeper? We had nine shots on target and I’m pretty sure the goalie didn’t have to move on five or six of them. It was maddening.
  • Victor Arboleda‘s like a shot of nitrous oxide. Win, lose, or draw, he should be subbed into every game, just so we get five minutes of watching him go hell bent for leather toward goal.
  • Despite his possible culpability on Chicago’s 2nd goal, it feels like Zarek Valentin’s currently our best right back. Do any of you think it’s still Alvas Powell?
  • Speaking of lineup issues, with Blanco doing so well on the left and Dairon Asprilla doing so well on the right, what do we do with Darlington Nagbe when Diego Chara and David Guzman are both available? Send Dairon to the bench and put Nags on the right?
  • And finally, speaking of heads, Asprilla gets his head on a lot of balls… and does absolutely nothing with them. It’s to the point I almost want him not to head the ball. Let someone else head it. Someone who can put it on target. Am I alone here?