Six Degrees: A Wild Sunday Brunch

Maybe it’s because we had an 11 a.m. kickoff and the morning coffee was still fresh in our veins, but Sunday’s game could not have had a crazier start. Two goals? Another couple that were called off? Two yellow cards for hand balls? Our first taste of VAR? And that was just in the first ten minutes!

1) Somewhere in the game’s first 120 seconds, Fanendo Adi put a really nice header into the back of the net, but was flagged for being offside. Sensing the crowd’s frustration, Liam Ridgewell only made us wait another couple minutes before letting us finally celebrate for real.

There are many wonderful things about this, starting with, Ridgy? Playing soccer? Awesome! Welcome back, Captain!

But to my eyes, the best thing on this goal is the work done by Roy Miller and Sebastian Blanco. Watch Miller streaking toward the near post, dragging a desperate Gyasi Zardes along for the ride. Even better, watch Blanco on the goal line posting up the much larger Joao Pedro. Blanco backs Pedro into goalkeeper Brian Rowe, taking not one, but two guys out of the play. The end result of Miller’s and Blanco’s work? A completely empty six-yard box, which is the natural habitat for big, fat, bouncing balls hoping to find Ridgy’s head.

Speaking of Joao Pedro, roughly 60 seconds after Ridgy’s goal, he did this.

Ladies and gentlemen, that right there is a perfect pass. And, yeah, sure, Roy Miller got dusted by Emmanuel Boateng, but who hasn’t? Boateng’s on my short list of fastest guys in MLS. Alvas Powell might be able to keep up with him, but Miller? No. Vytas? Marco Farfan? Probably not. With that in mind, plus Pedro’s inch-perfect through ball and Boateng’s lovely finish, I’m having a hard time getting angry about this goal. I can only applaud.

2) Okay, that’s the first six minutes. What should we do in the next four minutes? How about a couple handballs, an LA goal, and our first taste of video replay in action!

First up, Alvas Powell doing dumb stuff.

What the deuce, Alvas? Did you think the play was over or something? This is just weird. And I imagine it’s a point against you in your season-long battle to stay ahead of Zarek Valentin on the depth chart. It got you a yellow card and, worst of all, gave LA a free kick that led to this.

What the deuce, Jake Gleeson? How many friggin’ goals have you given up this year by missing punches? This has got to be the third, right? And if we also count goals given up when you come out of goal and get chipped, I think we’re up to five. I want to like you, Jake. I want to believe you’re our keeper for the next ten years, but jeez Louise, guy! You’re killin’ me here! Quit with the dumb stuff!

Second thing to note, Gyasi Zardes has a somewhat muted reaction to scoring that goal, doesn’t he? It’s almost like he knows something we don’t, eh?

Third thing, there is not a single camera angle in this gif that clearly shows a handball, right? If this were any other week of the year, we’d just go home thinking it was a goal, right? Fortunately, this wasn’t just another week, this was the first week with Video Assistant Referees, and somewhere in the bowels of Providence Park, the VAR was whispering in Drew Fisher’s ear. Here’s what it looked like in real time.

Since this is the first time the Timbers have been involved with VAR, let’s break it down. The goal was scored at 9:57. The goal was called off at 11:57. Exactly two minutes. The game actually started again at 12:39, when Gleeson kicked it into play. That’s a total of two minutes and 42 seconds.

If VAR didn’t exist, when do you think the game would’ve started again? Judging by that last gif, I’d say 10:45, which is 48 seconds after the goal was scored.

So, 48 seconds versus two minutes and 42 seconds. That’s one minute and 56 seconds of time lost due to VAR. One minute and 56 seconds of the “natural flow of the game” lost forever.

Is that acceptable? Are we willing to lose 1:56 so refs can double check stuff? Bigger question: what if this call hadn’t gone in our favor? What if the ref wasted 1:56 of our game to look at a screen only to discover that nothing weird happened, the goal counts, carry on? What if it happened again later in the game? What if the ref upset the flow for 1:56 in the first half, then upset the flow for another 1:56 in the second half, and both times, nothing was changed? Would this be acceptable? Would we be okay with this?

I, for one, would be. I’m willing to lose two to four minutes every game just so the refs can double-check things. And I don’t think my opinion would change even if the calls went against the Timbers or the calls were not changed one way or the other. At this point, I’m willing to give up 2-4 minutes of my life just so the refs can be sure.

What about you?

And, ohbytheway, don’t let this influence your opinion too much, but here’s what the VAR saw.

What the deuce, Gyasi?

3) Dang, I’ve written a ton of words and we’re still only 10 minutes into the game! I told you it was a crazy start.

Fortunately, things chilled out a tiny bit and it wasn’t until the 33rd minute that Diego Valeri decided to remind everyone that we are mere mortals, while he is a god.

The funny thing is, when I saw him lining up that shot, I was 100% certain he was gonna sink it. When a dude sends a heat-seeking missile into the top corner from 30 yards out and you’re not surprised, you know that dude’s pretty good at soccer.

First up, nice D, Jermaine Jones. Please never play for the USMNT again. Thanks.

Secondly, I did some very simple math this morning. At 24 games played in a 34 game season, we’re approximately 71% of the way through the year, which means Valeri’s on pace for 17 goals and 11 assists, Adi’s on pace for 14 and 4, Blanco’s on pace for 7 and 8, and Darlington Nagbe‘s on pace for 3 and 5.

For comparison, here are the stats from 2016.

If my simple math pans out, Valeri’s numbers will be up quite a bit, Adi’s goals will be down, but his assists will be up, Nagbe’s assists will be the same, but his goals will be up, and Blanco, on the whole, will have exceeded the stats of Jack McInerney and Lucas Melano combined.

I have no real point here, I just find the numbers interesting.

4) But the only way Adi’s reaching those numbers is if he’s healthy, and I’m worried he’s not. Watch him reach for his hamstring on this play.

One, dang that’s a nice through ball from Blanco.

Two, dang that’s a nice back heel from Adi.

Three, dang that’s a nice shot from Powell. No finesse, no fuckin’ around, just grip it and rip it. Next stop, the side netting. I love it.

Four, dang I’m worried about Adi’s hammy. You can kinda see him falter as he receives the ball from Blanco. Just the subtlest of hitches in his stride. Then, give him credit, he doesn’t give up on the play, he draws his man along, then delivers the gorgeous back heel. Sadly, he then immediately stops and grabs the back of his leg. You could even see him holding back on the goal celebration. He knew.

Yes, it’s exciting to think we might see more of Jeremy Ebobisse if Adi’s down, but that’s truly the only good that can come of this. We’re not a better team with Ebobisse. Different, yes, but not better. Not yet, at least.

We need to hope that this is a very minor injury, and Adi will miss very little time.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Despite giving up the one goal, I was pleased with Roy Miller at left back. I thought he played a smart game, and used his positioning and length pretty well on the shorter, quicker Boateng. Alas, I think he’s suspended next week for yellow card accumulation. Vytas is back just in time.
  • I loved the way Liam Ridgewell managed the backline. There was such a clear difference in leadership out there. However, I did not love him leaving the game in stoppage time with some kind of injury. Jeez O’Pete, is Ridgy made of glass? How long will he be out this time? Serious question: did we just see Ridgy’s last game in green?
  • I’m still happy with Larrys Mabiala, and I thought he played well in his first game with Ridgy. If Ridgy’s gone this winter, what’s next season’s CB pairing? Mabiala and Gbenga Arokoyo? Is Arokoyo any good? We won’t truly know until we see him play real live minutes.
  • Does this look like a penalty to you? Adi’s trying to shield the ball, the defender sticks his leg in front of Adi, gets zero ball, and trips Adi up. That’s not a penalty? Better question: that’s not even worth a second look? You’re allowed to go to VAR more than once a game, right?
  • Also worth saying, maybe you should have just shot the ball, Fanendo. You can sink that. You’ve done it many times before. Don’t count on the ref. Take the shot.

6) Okay, I know it’s still early August, but I’ve officially flipped my playoff race switch to ON. Expect regular updates as to where we stand in the Western Conference.

First thing to note, for about 16 hours Saturday night and Sunday morning, the Timbers were below the red line. This is mildly significant because it’s the first time it’s happened all season and means the franchise still hasn’t had a wire-to-wire playoff season in MLS.

Fortunately, beating LA put us back above the red line. The only question is, where, exactly?

By points, we’re in second place, along with four other teams. But since the tiebreaker is goal differential, we’re actually in fifth place. Unless you go by points per game, in which case we’re in sixth place, just barely ahead of San Jose.

And, as long as we’re talking about points per game, dang, we’ve played a lot of games, haven’t we? And dang, we should be terrified by all those “games in hand” the other teams have, right?

Eh… I’m not so sure. As has been said a million times before, games in hand are a double-edged sword. Yes, you’ve got a lot of games in which to pile up points, but all those games come at a cost. Vancouver fans are diggin’ those three games in hand right now, but will they still be diggin’ ’em when the team’s playing 3 games in 8 days, over and over and over.

The Timbers only have one more mid-week game this year. Dallas and Seattle have two. Vancouver and San Jose have three.

Three games in a week will wear a team down. When they’re played during a playoff race and the team’s desperate to get points? Players get hella tired. And hella tired players get hella injured. The Timbers know this from experience.

So, I, for one, am glad the Timbers have spread their games out this year. I’m glad we’re not going to be playing a bunch of games down the stretch.

This week we travel to Toronto and play the league’s best team. The Reds have got stars, they’ve got depth, and they’re the clear favorite to win the Supporter’s Shield.. They’d be hard to beat here in Portland and they’ll be nigh impossible to beat on the road.

But it looked pretty unlikely a couple weeks ago that we’d grab three points in Vancouver, and we did that. Who knows? Maybe the boys are ready to do it again.