I used that exact same headline in the 2015 playoffs, when we drew Vancouver 0-0 at home. We know how those playoffs worked out, so I’m using the headline again. We can do this.
1) I’m trying to think of an adjective to describe Sunday’s first half. Did we dominate? Watching the game, it didn’t feel like domination. In the moment, it felt a little closer to 50/50. Maybe 60/40.
But then I saw this.
Wow. That looks like domination, doesn’t it? Defensively, at least.
How about our attack? How did they do in the first 45?
Not too bad. Jorge Villafaña nearly put us ahead in the 6th minute.
Then, in first half stoppage time, we nearly scored two goals in two minutes.
So, as you can see, the Timbers had some real chances. But considering it was still 0-0 at half, I’m not going to call it dominant. One-sided? Yes. Definitely one-sided.
2) But that didn’t continue in the 2nd half. SKC fixed some things in the halftime locker room, then came out and started getting dangerous chances. Enough dangerous chances, in fact, that I’ve put together one of my world-famous MEGA COMPILATIONS!
First thing to point out: all those attacks started on the right side. SKC right winger Johnny Russell is good. So’s their right back, Graham Zusi. They were hella dangerous coming down that right side Sunday night, and they’ll be just as dangerous this coming Thursday. Jorge Villafaña’s earning his paycheck this series.
Second thing to point out: out of all those dangerous chances I just showed you, how many saves did Jeff Attinella have to make? Zero. In fact, Jeff Jeff Jeff only had one save on the entire night. It was in the 55th minute and was so unimpressive I can’t even find video of it.
If our defense goes to Kansas City on Thursday and puts in another performance like this one, I like our chances.
3) The Timbers had some nice attacks in the second half, too, including a 70th minute goal! You can see Liam Ridgewell getting on the end of a Diego Valeri freekick, knocking it off the post, and David Guzman being there to re-direct it home. 1-0, good guys.
But wait... was someone offside?
Yes. Ridgy was offside, so his initial header negates everything that came after. It was heartbreaking for VAR to deny us our goal, but it was the right call.
Our next best second half chance was Bill Tuiloma’s header in the 82nd minute.
Tim Melia, man... He good.
4) You may be asking yourself, Wait... why was Bill Tuiloma playing?
Because in the 16th minute, Larrys Mabiala — who’s been an absolute rock in central defense this year — was stretchered off the field.
It’s hard to tell, but maybe his right foot came down on the ball a tiny bit? Maybe that threw his balance off and he tweaked something?
I’m hearing that Larrys Mabiala has an ankle sprain. Severity is not yet known, but it looks like this is not the long-term type injury that I think a lot of people originally feared. I’ll ask Gio for more information later today #RCTID #MLSCupPlayoffs— Jamie Goldberg (@Jamiebgoldberg) November 26, 2018
It’s good to hear that it’s nothing truly major, but at this point in the year, even small injuries can be season-ending, or at the very least, series-ending. No way is Larrys ready to play again on Thursday.
Fortunately, Bill Tuiloma looked pretty damn good replacing him, so maybe not all is lost. And as long as we’re on the subject, Tuiloma’s performance lately bodes well for a 2019 that will probably not include Liam Ridgewell. If Bill shows well the rest of the playoffs, he and Mabiala may be our starting center backs next year. To which I say, long live the French Connection! Vive le Lien Français!
5) Some random thoughts.
- Our home shutout isn’t the only thing to be thrilled about. We can also cheer the fact that Ridgy, Valeri, and Diego Chara didn’t pick up yellow cards. Nobody will be suspended for Thursday’s game and yellow card accumulation can not eliminate you from the MLS Cup. A red card can, but not yellow cards.
- You know who had a quietly excellent game Sunday? Diego Valeri. Check this out.
Diego Valeri was credited with 7 chances created in the match. That is the most by any player in a playoff game this season. #RCTID— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) November 26, 2018
- Not enough for you? How about this?
Valeri has 17 chances created in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. The next most for any MLS player this postseason is 8. #RCTID— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) November 26, 2018
- News flash: Diego Valeri’s really good at soccer.
6) Time to look forward. Our two-game series with Sporting Kansas City finishes at their place on Thursday, and we do not have to win.
Repeat: we do not have to win.
A 0-0 draw on Thursday will take the game to extra time and possibly another penalty shootout.
But a 1-1 draw? Or 2-2 or 3-3? Those scorelines would put the Timbers through to MLS Cup, because we will have scored an away goal, while SKC has not. In other words, if we score any goals on Thursday, we’ll own the road-goal tiebreaker, and SKC will suddenly have to win the game.
And that’s why home shutouts are gold.
We’ve already said Mabiala will most likely miss the game. What about Andy Polo? If the injury he sustained over the international break has improved, does he start over Dairon Asprilla? Or at least make the bench over Tomas Conechny?
What about Samuel Armenteros? If his injury improves, does he make the 18?
And what about Alvas Powell? Neither he nor Zarek Valentin have claimed the right back spot as their own. Who will Gio start there on Thursday? Any predictions?
Sporting KC will probably have at least one lineup change on Thursday. Their starting striker, Diego Rubio, will be back from yellow card suspension. This is bad. He’s dangerous.
It will be interesting to see how much more dangerous SKC’s attack is on Thursday. Will they come out of their shell at home? Pin their ears back and attack?
I’ll say this, if the Timbers grab a goal – especially if it’s the first goal – SKC will have to come out and attack. And you know what that means, right? There will suddenly be tons of open space in the back that our counterattack can punish. To which I say, hellllllll yeah.
In the 2015 playoffs, we drew Vancouver 0-0 at home, I titled my column “Home Shutouts Are Gold,” then the team went up to BC and won 2-0.
Could that happen again this year? Absolutely. Will it? We’ll find out on Thursday.