I'd still call the 1-0 win at NYCFC our best win of the year. But the year's most dominating win? That would be Sunday's 3-0 win over Orlando. Start to finish, it was a beatdown.
1) If I were to describe the Timbers offensive strategy Sunday, it would be this: through ball, through ball, through ball, through ball, through ball, through ball, and through ball.
The main beneficiary of all those through balls was Darren Mattocks, who put in perhaps his best shift as a Timber. Over and over, he rode the back line, then sprung the break.
I've actually heard a few complaints that he should have had 3 or 4 goals, but I say give the guy a break. He shot low, he shot high, he shot slow, he shot fast. He even tried a chip. Maybe Joe Bendik was just really, really good. He made 7 saves, after all. Heck, he even broke up a few fast breaks before a shot could be taken. For a guy who lost 3-0, Bendik had a helluva game.
Mattocks's lone goal didn't come on a through ball, though. At least, not a through ball to him. Instead, it was a through ball from Diego Chara to Dairon Asprilla, then a perfect cross from Asprilla to Mattocks.
For those of you keeping score at home, that's two perfect crosses in two games for Asprilla.
I'm trying to decide where this goal ranks on my Prettiest Goals of 2017 list. To my eyes, Chara's goal against LA is the clear number one. Second is probably Diego Valeri's beauty against New England. I'm thinking third is a race between this goal and Darlington Nagbe's out-of-nowhere golazo against Colorado.
Feel free to chime in on this in the comments. Just know that I really like team goals.
2) I might be alone on this, but my Man of the Match Sunday was Diego Chara. After all, our main weapon was through balls, and much to everyone's surprise, it was Chara making most of those passes. You've already seen him slipping a perfect pass to Asprilla. Now watch the buildup to our first goal, where Chara slips a perfectly — and I’m mean perfectly — weighted pass to Mattocks.
Dear Heavens, that pass. I want to marry that pass.
What the hell, Diego? When did you turn into our Maestro? Can we get this every game, or was it a one-time thing? Whatever you ate for your pre-game meal, keep it coming. It works.
The great thing about Chara was, he wasn't just dropping dimes all over the field, he was doing all his usual Chara stuff, too. Picking pockets, putting out fires, blowing dudes up. It was a tour de force.
3) So a Chara pass started the penalty play. He also started the gorgeous Mattocks goal. How about our third goal? Did he start that one, too? You bet he did!
I suppose we can't get too worked up over Chara's pass there. It was fairly pedestrian. But you know what we can get worked up over? The interplay between Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Mattocks. Holy guacamole, what a play! First Valeri dummies the ball, then Blanco taps it to Mattocks, and then all three of them are sprinting toward goal while the Orlando defense looks on in amazement and terror. The whole thing takes two seconds, tops. Just fabulous.
You know something else that's fabulous? Diego Valeri. Remember that time he set an MLS record by scoring in eight straight games? Now it's nine.
Not enough for you? How about becoming the first Timber of any era to score 20 goals?
Still not enough for you? How about passing Preki and Lee Nguyen to set a new MLS single-season scoring record for midfielders?
Still not enough for you? How about being one assist away from 20-10? To my knowledge, only one player has accomplished this; Sebastian Giovinco in 2015, and – cough, cough – he was the MVP that year.
I'm not saying a 20-10 year guarantees you the MVP, I'm just saying the chances are good. And maybe we should find a way to get Valeri that 10th assist. Maybe have him take all our corners and free kicks these last three games, eh?
4) With all those through balls and all those goals, here's something you may not have noticed: the Timbers got a clean sheet! Those have been rare this season, but it seems like – and I'm really afraid to say this out loud – it seems like our defense may finally be coming together.
I think some of that is due to Larrys Mabiala finally getting his feet under him. He's now had 10 games in the green and gold, and is looking steadier and steadier. He's not perfect, mind you. He still has weird, clumsy moments of looking like a new-born colt; but on the whole, I'm mostly trusting the guy. I think he may be for real.
Liam Ridgewell is definitely for real. Alas, he's also definitely made of glass. Will he make it the rest of the year without injury? A late-season/post-season run with Ridgy and Mabiala would be absolutely huge. Beyond huge. As we learned in 2015, runs to the MLS Cup are built on healthy, coordinated defenses.
So let's say those two stay healthy. Who's beside them?
I think Zarek Valentin's nailed down the right back spot, but I'm less sure about Roy Miller versus Vytas Andriuskevicius on the left. Caleb Porter's mentioned that he puts a lot of weight on how a fullback and winger work together, so maybe that will decide who lines up on the left side.
Okay, that's the back four. Who's behind them?
After his mystifying boner of a goal allowed last week in Utah, I thought Jeff Attinella might see the bench again. But no, not only did he start, he pitched a shutout. Does this make him our keeper for the rest of the year? Or is there still hope for Original Timber Jake Gleeson?
As always, I have no answers, only questions. What do you think? What's your ideal defense, and do you think Caleb Porter agrees with you?
5) Some random notes.
- I was going to write about Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman and who should be playing at CDM, but Chris Rifer already crushed that in his Timber Cruise. Just know that I find the whole thing fascinating and can't wait to see how it plays out.
- I worry about Roy Miller on headers. He doesn't seem to go up for them with nearly the urgency he should. Don't be surprised if this bites us in the ass at some point.
- The team's finally gotten used to having a small, quick striker, which means it's going to be very weird bringing Fanendo Adi back into the Starting XI. I'm not saying I don't want him back. I do. I just don't think it's gonna be a seamless transition.
- SJ is 4-0-1 at home since hiring their new coach. Plus, they're desperate to stay above the red line. Plus, they spanked us 3-0 earlier in the year. In other words, this upcoming game is no gimme.
6) And this last degree is just an excuse to show you three bits of video.
One, I've neglected to mention that we finished the game Sunday playing against 9 men. Where did the other two guys go? One guy got tossed for stomping a couple ankles, while the other was tossed for throwing an elbow. Was it a legit elbow? Yes. Did Chara sell it a little? Hard to tell. Here's a gif of both yellows and the red. You decide.
Secondly, I may piss some people off with this, but here goes. I love love love LOVE the kids coming onto the field at the end of the game. It's legitimately one of the best things about home games. Despite all that, I think their parents should hold them off until the opposing team and referees have left the pitch.
That being said, this is adorable.
But not as adorable as this.