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Six Degrees: On To Dallas

Vancouver 2, Portland 1

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver’s A team just beat our B team. Forgive me if I can’t get too worked up over this.

1) Going into the final game of the season, we knew Giovanni Savarese had a tough decision to make. Should he try for a home knockout game by starting his A team, trying to win, then hope for Dallas or Seattle to lose? Or should he play his B team, let the cards fall where they would, and have a fully-rested A team for the knockout game, wherever it might be?

Gio chose the second option, which gave us this Starting XI against Vancouver.

Not a bad B team, if you ask me. I see a couple first-choice guys who are coming back from injury (Jeff Attinella, Alvas Powell), a few guys who’ve started multiple games this year (Samuel Armenteros, Lawrence Olum, Julio Cascante), some kids (Marco Farfan, Cristhian Paredes), some national teamers (Andres Flores, Bill Tuiloma), and some attackers who do everything well except score goals (Dairon Asprilla, Lucas Melano).

Individually, there are some very good pieces here, but collectively, were they a team? Not to my eyes. More like a bunch of randomly thrown-together pieces. We could hope they’d be good enough to beat Vancouver’s A team on the road, but I don’t think we could expect it.

And, sure enough, Vancouver’s A team handled them pretty easily. A bunch of randomly thrown-together pieces – surprise! – showed very little chemistry. A lineup without an obvious central creator – surprise! – had very few ideas in the attack. A front line featuring Melano, Asprilla, and an ice-cold Armenteros – surprise! – couldn’t score goals. And a young back four playing together for the first time – surprise! – got roasted by a guy who’ll be with Bayern Munich next year.

Am I happy these things happened? No. Am I surprised? No. Am I going to freak out over it? No.

2) But as long as we’re here, we might as well look at some highlights. (Or lowlights, perhaps.)

Alphonso Davies is pretty damn good, isn’t he? He’s fast, he’s got soft feet, he can blister the back of the net. I hope he succeeds at Bayern Munich. I really do.

All that being said, come on Timbers! At the beginning of that sequence, why is everyone just looking at the ball? Where’s the urgency? Come on, Melano! Put your hand down and go challenge Davies for that ball! Come on, Olum! You can’t keep up with a 17-year-old wunderkind in the open field? (This is a joke, of course. Almost nobody can keep up with Davies in the open field.) Come on, Attinella! You can’t stop a heat-seeking missile? (Another joke. Clearly, I’m not too upset by this goal.)

Just a couple minutes later, Davies got his second.

What do you think happened to Marco Farfan here? Did he not realize Davies was there? Or did the ball just bang off his legs harder than he’d planned? Whatever the reason, it would appear that Vancouver’s teenager is better than our teenager. It would appear that Bayern Munich’s not going to be signing Marco Farfan any time soon.

I hope you guys will forgive me for not being too upset about these goals. If this was a normal game, I would be. I’d be losing my mind, probably. But just as Gio was resting our starters, I’m resting my outrage. Don’t worry, it’ll be back. Tanned, rested, and ready to go.

3) Did anybody show well on Sunday? Is there anything good to say? Yes. Yes, there is.

Welcome back, Alvas Powell. No, you didn’t play particularly well, but I’m still glad to see you up and at ‘em after that scary concussion three weeks ago.

And welcome back, Jeff Attinella! Not only did you wear the captain’s armband on Sunday, you were probably Man of the Match.

And our final highlight belongs to Andres Flores, who opened his MLS account Sunday in the 90th minute.

I’m happy for Andres. He’s always struck me as a good guy willing do to whatever the team needs. If this is his only year with the Timbers, at least he’ll have gone out with a goal.

4) Before we move on to Wednesday’s knockout game, let’s take a moment to appreciate the regular season we just completed.

To my mind, the story of 2018 was our new coach. I don’t think anyone thought we’d have a new coach this year, but after a completely unexpected off-season divorce, Caleb Porter was out and some dude named Gio Savarese was in.

How did the new guy do? Let’s look at Jack’s final points graph.

Second-best point total in the team’s MLS history? We’ve got to call that a successful year, right?

But check out some details from the last two years. 2017 is the top line, 2018 the bottom.

2017 final record
2018 final record

Last year, we had 53 points and won the Western Conference? This year we have 54 points and finish fifth? Crazy.

And check out our GF and GA. This year’s offense was six goals worse, but this year’s defense was two goals better. Any of that surprise you?

At home, this year’s team had the exact same record as last year’s, but on the road, this year’s team was better. One draw better, to be precise.

What do you think of all this? Think we can call Gio’s first year a rousing success? I think we’ve got to, right?

But was his first year as good as Caleb Porter’s first year? No. That year, 2013, was the Timbers all-time best points total. Let’s look at the details.

2013 final record

Three points better than this year. One win less. Five losses less. Five draws more. Better home record. Worse road record. Same goals scored, less goals allowed.

What does all this mean? Not much, I think. Caleb was good. Gio’s good, too. In five years, Caleb raised a couple trophies (MLS Cup, Cascadia Cup). If Gio’s here five years, I think he’ll end up raising some trophies, too.

And with that incredibly lukewarm take, we’ll call a close on the 2018 regular season. On to the playoffs. On to Dallas.

5) I’ve got to be honest, our knockout game turned out about as good as we could’ve hoped for. Yes, it would have been nice to have it at home, but if it has to be on the road, we did pretty well.

First good thing, we’ll be playing a Dallas team that’s been taking on water for about 3 months now. Since the start of August, they’ve gone 4-6-3, for a PPG of 1.15. Compare that to LAFC’s 1.61 and Seattle’s seemingly-impossible 2.33. Of our three options, we definitely got the weakest opponent.

Second good thing, the game’s Wednesday, not Thursday, which means Dallas’s starters will have only two days rest, while ours will have a week-and-a-half. Gio resting his A team is looking pretty smart right now, eh?

Third good thing, it’s supposed to rain in Dallas that day. Who do you think will play better in the rain, players from the Pacific Northwest, where we’re all basically a bunch of amphibians, or players from Dallas, where I’m pretty sure everyone eats prickly pear and sand? I thought so.

And last good thing, the rain means that instead of Dallas getting its usual not-even-a-little-bit-raucous crowd of three or four thousand, instead there will probably only be about 20 or 30 Dallas fans in the stadium, all of them cowering under plastic tarps, terrified of whatever this wet shit coming out of the sky is.

Seriously, though, if you and 19,000 friends want to road trip it down to Texas and roll up to the stadium two minutes before kickoff, you’ll have no trouble finding tickets. Hell, they’ll probably pay you to come in and watch the game.

6) So, if you’re Gio Savarese (and maybe you are, how would I know?) what’s your Starting XI on Wednesday night?

Did Alvas Powell do enough against Vancouver to get the start? Did his occasional runs forward inspire you to play him over Zarek Valentin? No, me, neither.

How about Julio Cascante over Liam Ridgewell? Nope, I’m not feeling that, either. Say what you will about our fragile Englishman, the stats don’t lie. The team’s better when he’s in there.

Can I interest you in a Samuel Armenteros at forward? He scored eight goals earlier this year, you know. And maybe he can handle playoff pressure better than young Jeremy Ebobisse. No? No interest? Me, neither.

Now, here’s an interesting question: Lawrence Olum or David Guzman? Who ya got? Me, I’ve got Gooz. I think he’s been playing his best soccer of the year these last two months, and I’d ride his hot hand. But Gio might disagree. He’s kinda got a thing for Olum, you know. I think he sees Olum as a security blanket. I’m rooting for Gooz, but wouldn’t be completely shocked to see Olum.

And finally, the really tough decision: Steve Clark or Jeff Attinella. Clark looked sensational in our home-and-away wins over RSL. Maybe we should ride that hot hand? Except Attinella was clearly our best goalkeeper this year, and looked really quite good on Sunday in his first game back from injury. If he wakes up Wednesday feeling healthy, I think you’ve got to put him in net. But does Gio agree?

And more importantly, do you agree? Let me know down in the comments. Do you foresee any weird personnel decisions in Dallas? Think Gio will throw an unexpected formation out there – maybe a three-man backline or a 4-4-2 diamond – or is he done with that and it’s 4-2-3-1 from here on?

What about the scoreline? Are we winning 2-1 or 3-1? Oh, you’re predicting 7-1? Bold. I like the way you think.

And finally, the most important prediction: will the Dallas fans be outnumbered by sideline ball kids? I think there’s usually only about 10 ball kids, so it’ll be close. Hmm. This is a tough one. Okay, call me crazy, but I’m gonna predict more than 10 Dallas fans. But not a lot more. It’s gonna be raining, after all.