1) I know, okay? Before you even start, I know. Points are the only thing that matter. Draws are getting old. Put it in the net, already. I know and I agree.
But that being said, it’s hard to be too upset with the Timbers after Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake.
I’m upset with Nick Rimando, of course, for once again being impossibly awesome and fanning the flames of the Rose City’s love/hate relationship with him. I’m upset with the stupid ball for not going in. I’m upset with Diego Chara for, apparently, mystifyingly, being human and feeling pain and stuff.
But upset with the Timbers? No. They just looked too good Saturday night.
We were down three of our best players – Valeri, Chara, Johnson – we were incorporating four new faces into the starting XI – Kwarasey, Borchers, Fochive, Asprilla – and we were going up against one of the most consistently good teams in the league. We could have stank the place up.
But we didn’t. We dominated the flow of the game, we had pretty much all the dangerous chances, we forced some clutch saves at the back, and we looked like a team that’s in mid-season form.
And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, none of that matters, we should have gotten a goal, quit making excuses, there are no moral victories. I understand.
I can’t help feeling pretty damn good about the 2015 Portland Timbers.
2) The most exciting discovery for me was how good our central defense looked. So calm. So composed. New goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey could not have looked more relaxed back there. Just a guy chillin’, relaxin’, chewing gum and waiting for the bus. I half-expected him to pull out his smartphone and check Facebook. He made two saves the entire night and neither was especially challenging.
We can give a lot of the credit for that to our new centerback pairing, Nat “Treebeard” Borchers and Liam “The Beard’s In Its Transitional Stage Right Now, That’s All. When It Comes In, It’s Gonna Look Great” Ridgewell. I’ve spent a lot of this preseason wondering if the Timbers would finally, blessedly, have a good defense. After only one game, I’m not ready to give final judgment, but man, am I optimistic. Just like Kwarasey behind them, those two looked so relaxed, so composed. Every time RSL got close, one of them would step in and do the right thing. “Doing the right thing” might seem like a low expectation, but after four years of watching centerbacks “doing the stupid thing,” it felt like whole new world. I’m looking forward to a season living in such a world.
Speaking of doing the right thing…
3) …can I get a Hell Yeah for Jack Jewsbury?
In fact, I think a few of you may owe Jack an apology. Be honest, how many of you said he was done? How many said we should cut him? Jack’s been declared dead more times than Rasputin, and yet, like that Russian monk, he just keeps coming out and doing his thing. I’m not sure the guy had a single misstep the entire game. And he did it all while mentoring/babysitting last-minute sub/first-time starter George Fochive. The kid looked good and I’m giving some of that credit to the wily veteran.
Also, what about Jack’s set-piece delivery? Just fantastic. Pretty much every free kick and every corner was Right. On. Target. This was particularly wonderful to see after a preseason spent watching Gaston Fernandez spray the ball all over the field. What do we do if La Gata starts next game? Please don’t let him take set pieces. Please keep Jack on that duty. When Will Johnson and Diego Valeri come back? Okay, sure, then Jack will have to step aside. But until then? Fire it up, old man!
4) Let’s have some quick takes on different players.
Darlington Nagbe is obscene. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got a ridiculous handle. There were times Saturday night when it seemed he could do whatever he wanted and no one could stop him. (I mean, except for Rimando. Rimando could stop him. Rimando can stop anyone. Have you heard about that new movie that’s coming out? Batman vs. Superman vs. Rimando?)
Fanendo Adi was solid, moving around the final third, doing lots of different things, acting as more than just a target forward. But why save Maxi Urruti for so late? I was screaming for him from the 60th minute on.
Surprise starter Dairon Asprilla showed why he got the start. He just pins his ears back and goes for goal. It’s nice having such an aggressive guy out there.
Both fullbacks, Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell were solid, with Powell having a few amazing moments. It’s been nice watching him mature. I hope he doesn’t mature to the point where Europe comes calling.
Rodney Freaking Wallace was Rodney Freaking Wallace. Four shots, four shots on goal. Aww yeah.
5) Next Sunday, the defending champs come to town. LA will be missing the retired Landon Donovan, but don’t feel too sorry for them. They’ll still be blasting toward goal with Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Robbie Rogers, that Ishizaki guy, Villareal, Husidic, and a bunch of other scary dudes. Oh, and their defense is pretty good, too. We’ll have our hands full.
On the more optimistic side, no Nick Rimando.
Will we see the same lineup? Probably not George Fochive. Surely, Diego Chara will be back from his deep bruise. (Personally, I think there has to be something else wrong with Chara. A bruise? C’mon, who do you think you’re fooling? Chara can’t be bruised. He’s made of wood. Mahogany, most likely. Maybe teak.)
Up front, does Dairon Asprilla get another start on the wing? He didn’t do anything Saturday night to lose his spot, but maybe Caleb Porter wants to stick La Gata back in the center, sending Nagbe out to the wing. I hope he doesn’t. Nagbe was on fire in the middle. (And the outside. And the front and back. And on the drive home. Let’s face it, dude was just on fire.)
Other than those two positions, I think the rest of the lineup is set, probably for the next month or two, whenever Will Johnson and Diego Valeri get back from injury.
6) And perhaps those two guys are the main reason I’m feeling optimistic about this season. What did the team need Saturday night? Offense. Someone to stick the ball in net. You think El Maestro and the Captain might help with that? They only combined for 17 goals and 16 assists last year. As dangerous as we looked against RSL, when those two come back, we should look even better. Some of those shots will turn into goals.
ESPN.com’s preseason power rankings put us at #12. MLS.com’s put us at #15. That’s 6th worst in the league. And yeah, sure, I know those rankings mean pretty much nothing, but still, I’d love to see the Timbers prove them wrong.
It all depends on these first couple months. So far, we’re 0-0-1. We can’t have a repeat of last year’s 0-3-5 debacle.
My opinion? We’re better than last year’s crew. Yes, yes, we’re also more injured than last year’s crew, but whatever. I still think we’re better. I think the defense will carry us here at the start, I think the offense will do just enough, and then, when we start getting guys back, we’ll take off.
Optimistic? Sure. But remember last year. After those first eight games, we were as good as anyone in the league. I say we’re still as good as anyone in the league, only this year, it won’t take us two months to figure it out. 3-2-3 in our first eight games. That’s my prediction. Take it to the bank.
What do you think, Portland? I’m predicting three wins, two losses, and three draws in our first eight. Disagree? Tell me why.