Sunday morning, we cheered the Thorns at the airport. Sunday afternoon, we watched the Timbers stomp DC United 4-0. Sunday night, we threw a party for the two-time champion Thorns at Providence Park. It was a good day.
1) Despite the final score, a Timbers win was no foregone conclusion, especially in the first half. In those initial 45 minutes, we pretty much owned the middle part of the field, but as soon as we moved into the attacking third, DC's defense would just envelop us. The longer it went on, the more anxious I became, and somewhere around the 35th minute, I turned to the guy next to me in section 104 and said, “This feels like one of those heart-breaking games where we're gonna do everything right, then somehow give up a cheap goal and lose 1-0.”
He responded, “If we can make it to halftime 0-0, maybe Porter can come up with a new plan for the second half.”
Fortunately, that wasn't needed because in first half stoppage time, Darren Mattocks did what Darren Mattocks does best; draw penalties.
A few things to note here.
One, check out Mattocks pounding his fist on the turf in celebration. I love it.
Two, check out the defender who screwed up the back pass covering his face in shame. I love it and I feel bad for loving it.
Three, is this the fourth penalty Mattocks has drawn this year? It's kind of remarkable how good he is at this, isn't it? I'm willing to admit that Mattocks is a questionable, perhaps even woeful finisher, but drawing penalties is an unambiguously good thing, and at this, Mattocks is MLS Best XI. If we add the four penalties to his goal count, Mattocks is suddenly responsible for seven goals this season, which ain't bad for a backup striker.
Does it make him valuable enough that he'll be on the team next year? I genuinely have no idea. Same for Fanendo Adi. The only striker I'm sure will be back is Jeremy Ebobisse, but where on the depth chart he'll be is a mystery.
But that's not the point of this degree. This degree is about how that first goal changed everything. Suddenly, Caleb Porter didn't have to figure out DC's bunker. Being down a goal meant DC would have to come out and play.
2) And coming out to play meant we could punish them with three second half goals. Let's break them down.
First up, Alvas Powell.
The Alvas Powell/Zarek Valentin debate continues. At its simplest level, it comes down to offense vs defense. Valentin gives you less brain farts on defense, but I'm not sure I've ever seen him attack goal like this. Has Porter picked the guy who'll take us through the playoffs? I'm not sure. He may keep switching them up.
Next goal, Sebastian Blanco.
What's the best thing here? Valeri tapping that ball three times in mid-air? The give-and-go between him and Seba? Or the final shot, a left-footed screamer just inside the far post?
But maybe you don't like left-footed screamers just inside the far post. Maybe you were hoping to see Blanco clown some fools. Well, my friend, you're in luck.
Okay, I’m just gonna say what we're all thinking: Diego Valeri would never humiliate an opposing defense like this. His soul is just too kind.
But Blanco? Blanco don't give a fuck.
3) Let's talk about the defense. Yes, those four goals were nice, but there was an additional log slice being lifted Sunday, thanks to Jeff Attinella getting his 4th shutout of the year.
Attinella's had a pretty good run since coming on for an injured Jake Gleeson against Toronto on August 12th. Yes, he gave up four goals that particular day, but in the eight games since, the Timbers are 5-2-1 with four clean sheets.
Is this recent success entirely due to Attinella? Of course not. In fact, I would argue that Larrys Mabiala getting settled in is a bigger factor, as well as Liam Ridgewell starting the last four games.
But I think we have to at least acknowledge Attinella's good work. His save percentage tops Gleeson's 71% to 62%, and his win percentage is 46% to Gleeson's 38%. I don't know if Jeff will be our number one keeper next year, but, barring injury, I think he's the guy taking us through the playoffs.
4) And, yes, we are going to the playoffs. The Timbers clinched Sunday, which is awesome, but there's still a lot more to play for next week. Let's see if I can break it all down.
First off, here's the current table.
Portland and Vancouver are the only two teams that can win the Western Conference. Even if Seattle wins next week – which is quite likely, as they're playing Colorado at home – and finish with 53 points, they'll still be behind whoever wins or draws the Portland/Vancouver game.
If Vancouver wins, they finish with 55 points and the West is theirs. If we win, we'll match Seattle's 53 points, but beat them on the first tiebreaker (number of wins) so the West is ours. And if the game ends in a draw, Vancouver will match Seattle's 53 points and win the West due to that same tiebreaker.
So that's the good news. The bad news is if Seattle wins and Portland draws, we'll be in either 3rd or 4th place and will have a mid-week play-in game on either three or four days rest. Fortunately, it will be at home. That's guaranteed. Even if we lose next week, we can't finish lower than 4th.
But there's more. Sunday will also be a chance for us to win our first Cascadia Cup since 2012. A win and it's ours. A draw or a loss and it's Seattle's.
I really, really don't want Seattle to get that Cup. Let's break their fishy little hearts.
5) Some random notes:
- David Guzman currently leads MLS in yellow cards with 10, but the league's website hasn't yet updated this week's “Caution Accumulation Warnings.” I know Blanco's one yellow away from a suspension. Gooz may be, too. So, you know, there's something else to be stressed about next week. You're welcome.
- Apparently, Fanendo Adi's been spotted doing some pretty vigorous training. I'd really like him to see him on the field Sunday. He's going to be rusty. He needs minutes to work through that. Preferably before we get to the playoffs.
- Vytautas Andriuskevicius went the full 90 Sunday, but his playing time's been so up and down these last few months, I genuinely have no idea who our starting left back is going into the playoffs. Same for right back. And forward. I hope Caleb Porter knows what he's doing.
- In honor of Blanco’s crazy final goal, I put together a collection of goals from this season I’m calling “Rounding the Keeper 2017.” Pour one out for Tyler Deric, who Fanendo Adi clowns twice on the same play.
6) Okay, folks, this seems like a good time to announce the 2017 Six Degrees Player of the Year.
First, a recap of previous winners.
In 2013, this not-even-the-tiniest-bit-coveted award went to Will Johnson. That year's team was all about fighting and scrapping, and Will Johnson personified that.
In 2014, the team was much less scrappy, but at least they could score. Since Diego Valeri was our top scorer, I gave the award to him.
In 2015, we didn't score nearly as much, but daggum, was our defense lights out. Congratulations, Adam Kwarasey, you were my Player of the Year.
In 2016, I was torn between giving it to Diego Valeri or Fanendo Adi. Since I thought there was chance Adi would be leaving in the offseason, I gave it to him.
Which brings us to 2017.
Those of you who followed this column when it was at Slide Rule Pass know that I've seriously considered giving the 2017 award to the three-man Swiss Army Knife that is Roy Miller/Lawrence Olum/Zarek Valentin. After all, coming into this season, we didn't think those three would start a single solitary game. Instead, they've collectively started 65 games at four different positions. In fact, I seem to recall one game where Lawrence Olum started at CDM, then shifted to left center back, then shifted to right center back. Or was that Roy Miller? Or Zarek Valentin? Hell, it may have been all of them, all in the same game.
You see my point? If 2017 was “The Year of Holding the Team Together With Duct Tape and Baling Wire,” then those three really would deserve the Six Degrees Player of the Year award.
Except, as it turned out, 2017 wasn't “The Year of Holding the Team Together With Duct Tape and Baling Wire.” Instead, it was “The Year Diego Valeri Went Beast Mode.”
For most of this year, you could have a legitimate conversation about who was the best player on the Timbers. Was it Diego Valeri? Fanendo Adi? You could even argue for Diego Chara or Darlington Nagbe.
But then, somewhere in late-July, early-August, Valeri went Beast Mode. He set a new MLS record by scoring in nine straight games, he became just the second player in MLS history to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season, and most importantly, when our leading scorer Fanendo Adi went down with injury, Valeri put the entire team on his back, raising his game to the point where we're no longer asking if he's the best player on his team, but if he's the best player in the whole damn league.
Sorry, Olum and Miller and Valentin. You were all hella valuable this year, but when a guy goes supernova like Valeri did, you've got to give him the trophy.
Congratulations, Diego Valeri. You're my 2017 Six Degrees Player of the Year.