Hey there, Stumptown Footy. I'm C.I. DeMann and I'm your newest columnist. I've been writing over at Slide Rule Pass for almost four years, but now I'm here.
For those of you unfamiliar with my work, here are my areas of expertise:
- a vague understanding of how soccer works.
- a willingness to be, not just wrong, but extremely wrong in pretty much everything I say.
- insights into the Timbers that range from “obvious” to “that's just stupid.”
- and above all, a desperate desire to crack jokes, even though I'm not the slightest bit funny.
Does any of that sound appealing to you? Awesome. Let's do this. And what better way to start than with a 2-1 loss that, quite honestly, could've been a 4-1 loss. And I'm gonna see this as a good thing.
1) Saturday's game in Utah went off the rails pretty quickly. From roughly the 5th minute to the 30th, RSL didn't just dictate play, they blew us off the field.
Caleb Porter called this a lack of urgency, and I'm not gonna say he's wrong, but I'd add that our problems could also have been due to all the changes in the lineup.
No Diego Chara meant Darlington Nagbe shifting to CDM. With him back there, Dairon Asprilla had to fill in on the right wing. At left fullback, Vytautus Andriuskevicius was out, and Roy Miller was in. And, hey, look who's next to him at center back: It's Liam Ridgewell! Welcome back, buddy! Here's an armband. Your first mission, turn this group of six strangers into an actual functioning defense. Ready? Go!
Alas, Ridgy was not up to the task, and the Timbers defense spent a large part of that first half acting like they'd just met.
Think a well-coordinated defense doesn't matter? Watch this play from the 17th minute.
Right at the start, what's Nagbe thinking? The ball's coming toward him... and then it's past him. For no obvious reason. Can any of you guess what he was thinking there? Did someone call him off? It's bizarre.
And then Jeff Attinella in goal, what's going on with him? I genuinely have no idea how this ball gets past him. He seems to have a good view of it, he only has to move a foot or two to his right, and while the ball's well-hit, it's not coming impossibly fast. But, just like with Nagbe ten seconds earlier, the ball's coming toward him... and then it's past him. For no obvious reason.
Does this entire play come down to communication? Or is it something else? I was working on a theory that the good citizens of Utah were once again using mind control, even though they've been told many times to stop, yet they don't seem to learn from past mistakes, but then I decided that theory required far too many italics, so I'm just going to fall back on my usual theory that “soccer is weird and sometimes things happen that make no sense.” If you have a better theory, please let me know. And if it involves mind control, I'm 100% listening.
That one weird goal aside, since Jake Gleeson's finally healthy enough to make the Gameday 18, the big question is once again upon us: Who Should the Timbers Start In Goal?
By my count, Gleeson has five clear and obvious screwups this year (3 missed punches and 2 times getting chipped, unless it's the other way around), while Attinella only has two (a missed punch in Seattle and Saturday's mind-control goal).
Who should Caleb Porter start next week? Who should Gavin Wilkinson bring back next season? These are questions I think we'll be asking for quite awhile.
2) I want to dedicate this degree to something that didn't happen. The Timbers didn't get blown out.
As I watched in horror the roughly 25 minutes when RSL wasn't just the better team, but the vastly better team, my mind started drifting back to previous losses, games where we didn't just lose, but absolutely capitulated. Our last loss, 4-1 to Toronto. The loss before that, 4-1 to (guess who) RSL. A loss from May, 4-1 to Montreal. Another loss from May, 3-0 to San Jose.
Since Caleb Porter arrived in 2013, the Timbers have been pretty good about avoiding big losses. This year, that's changed. The 2017 Timbers have made an art out of turning 1-0 deficits into 2-0, then 3-0, then 4-0 deficits.
Watching us stumble up and down the field Saturday night, I couldn't help thinking, Oh, dear, it's happening, isn't it? We're gonna fold. We're gonna get blown out.
Except, this time, amazingly, we didn't. We took some serious punches, but we didn't fold. We didn't capitulate. We didn't get blown out.
This may seem like an odd thing to celebrate, but given this year's history – and the fact that RSL been blowing a lot of teams out over the last 10 weeks – I think it's a really positive sign. In 25 minutes of getting dominated, the team only gave up one goal, not four. After months of being soft, this team might finally be growing a spine. They might finally be toughening up. Call me crazy, but I'm gonna celebrate that.
3) And then, somewhere around the 30th minute, the bleeding stopped and things started to shift our way. Was it the back six figuring each other out? Something else? Whatever it was, we started to get a little more possession. We shifted to the front foot. And then, in the 38th minute, we almost broke through.
Okay, first off, hell of a play by you, Sebastian Blanco. Love the aggressive run to the end line, love the cut back, love picking the head up, and love the final pass.
Secondly, I see you, too, Diego Valeri. Putting a shot on goal while falling on your butt? Extra points for that, good sir.
Third, I guess we sorta have to call this being Rimando'd. (Or do we all-cap that? RIMANDO'D! [Ed note: we do not.]) But, honestly, as Rimando saves go, it's not his most superhuman; just a short dive to his left. Color me unimpressed. Now, if someone in the crowd had used a little mind control on him? Then we could talk. But, as it is, not the most Rimando-y Rimando I've ever seen Rimando'd.
Lastly, what the deuce, Dairon Asprilla? If Valeri can get a shot on goal while falling on his butt, surely you can do the same while standing unmolested 8 yards in front of goal. Coffee's for closers, Dairon. No coffee for you!
4) So after getting manhandled for about 25 minutes, then regaining some control for 15, the Timbers went into the locker room at halftime, talked things through, and came out smokin'.
Seriously, we owned the first 10 minutes of the second half, including this moment in the 47th when Asprilla made up for his first half miss with one of the prettiest, most precise crosses you're ever gonna see.
Look at that cross. Absolutely gorgeous. Absolutely pinpoint. Maybe you do get coffee, Dairon.
Switching topics: here's a list of MLS players who have scored in 8 straight games: Diego Valeri. That's it. He's the only one.
Not Donovan, not De Rosario, not Twellman, not Wondolowski, not Giovinco, not Wright-Phillips, not nobody.
Valeri's been #1 in our hearts for years. Now he's also #1 on this list. Congratulations on your first MLS record, Diego; may there be many more to come.
You know another MLS record Valeri might be challenging? Most headed goals in one season. I don't actually know the current record, but Valeri's at 5 and counting.
This is glorious in its own right, but its glory is raised even higher when you remember that he came into this season with exactly zero headed goals. That's right, zero in four years, but five this season.
He's been called El Maestro. He's been called El Rey. I think it's time to consider calling him El Cabeza. The Head. Or perhaps El Glorioso Cabeza de Los Milagros. The Glorious Head of Miracles. It's a bit cumbersome, I'll admit, but I think it'll fit on a two-stick. And if anyone's earned a ridiculously long nickname on a two-stick, it's Diego Valeri.
5) Speaking of miracles, in the 61st minute, Jefferson Savarino conjured one out of thin air.
Yeah, sure, maybe Roy Miller should've been tighter on Savarino, and yeah, sure, maybe Attinella could've made a dive or something, but honestly, a goal this pretty? A goal that hits the side netting at precisely the spot where it meets the top left corner of the frame? Maybe that's a goal that's just meant to happen. Maybe that's a goal that you should just gaze at rapturously, maybe with your mouth hanging open a little.
So anyway, that made things 2-1, which, sadly, ended up being the final score. The Timbers had a few late chances to draw even, RSL had a few late chances to bag a third.
In the end, 2-1 seemed a fair result. The Valeri header and the miracle goal canceled each other out, so the difference was that weird 17th minute goal where Nagbe and Attinella got mind-controlled for a few seconds.
I could be really negative right now and bitch about mental toughness and how brains turning off for a few seconds is the difference between championship teams and also-rans. Yes, all of that is true and I could definitely focus on it. But for some reason, I don't want to.
I'd rather note how there were ample opportunities for the Timbers to fold and they didn't. I'd rather point out how the defense was a bunch of strangers getting to know each other, and they somehow only gave up 2 goals; at elevation, no less. I'd rather focus on how we just had three straight road games against three very hot teams and came away with 4 points.
I'd rather consider that, even though the Timbers are clearly not a perfect team, they may be turning into a good enough team.
6) Good enough for what, exactly? Good enough for these next four games, then whatever awaits us in the playoffs.
We're back home Sunday against Orlando, a team that was utterly putrescent for three months, but in the last two weeks won a road game at DC, then dropped three goals on a very good Atlanta team in front of a league-record 70,000 angry, screaming fans. In other words, we need to be careful with Orlando.
After that, it's away to San Jose, a team that has gone from nowhere to 5th in the Western Conference, partially by going 4-0-1 at home since changing coaches. In other words, we need to be careful with San Jose.
And then comes October, when – surprise! – we'll need to be careful with two more teams.
The moral of this story? Buckle up, kids, the ride's far from over. A first round bye's still very possible; so's the Western Conference championship. And, hell, the Cascadia Cup's ours for the taking.
Or, it could all fall apart and we'll end up below the red line, wondering how it all went wrong.
But I don't see that happening. Three of our last four at home? The team starting to grow a spine? Starting to look good enough? I’d say the playoffs are almost guaranteed. And once we get there, who knows how far we could go?