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Six Degrees: Great Win... But...

Portland 2, Seattle 1

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MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Seattle Sounders FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

I’m so torn on this win. I love winning, obviously, but that goal we gave up... it’s kind of a big deal.

1) Fans of the Portland Timbers may have shown up for Sunday’s game hours in advance, but the players themselves didn’t show up until about 10 minutes in. I mean, yes, there were people in green uniforms running around on the field for those first 10 minutes, but I’m not convinced they were players. Body doubles, perhaps.

Seattle had four of their nine shots in the opening 10 minutes, including the 10th minute goal by Raul Ruidiaz. It started with this turnover.

I wish I had a second or two more video, because I think it was the key moment. From what we see here, it seems Zarek Valentin was making a pass to Andy Polo and then something happened to make Polo fall over. Did he trip? Did he get smashed by Nouhou Tolo? (Insert “Tolo-on-Polo violence” joke here) Whatever happened and whoever is to blame, once Seattle had the ball, they were utterly ruthless in making us pay.

That’s a quality goal and I’m having a hard time blaming anything other than the initial turnover. Because of the turnover, Roldan’s already behind Valentin, then he just has to sneak a cross under Bill Tuiloma’s foot, to Ruidiaz, who’s making as good a near post run as you’ll ever see. Watch Ruidiaz’s movement through the entire gif. It’s world-class. He hangs out in Liam Ridgewell’s blindspot, then as soon as Ridgy looks away, Ruidiaz makes that last second little dash to the near post and pokes the ball home.

Sorry, but I just can’t blame Ridgy at all. It’s a sensational run and a sensational goal. 1-0 bad guys.

2) And if Seattle had played the rest of the game the way they played those opening 10 minutes, the Timbers would have lost 23-0. Fortunately, that opening goal seemed to be just the wake up call the Timbers needed, because they dominated the rest of the first half.

Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse drew us even in the 17th minute.

Notice that this goal starts with Liam Ridgewell beating not one, but two Sounders for a long ball, then poking it to Diego Chara, at which point the 2018 Counterattackin’ TimbersTM are off and running. Chara passes to Valeri, who one-touches it to Ebobisse, who one-touches it over the keeper and into goal.

I think what I like most about this goal is how calm Jebo was. Hell, how calm Jebo is, pretty much all the time. Remember his soft-as-butter pass to Valeri in the knockout game, despite getting bashed by two guys? Here he is again, making a perfectly-timed run between two center backs, then facing an on-rushing goalkeeper, and he doesn’t panic, he doesn’t break stride, he just calmly lifts the ball over the keeper and into goal. Beautiful. And extremely repeatable.

I’ve heard rumors that the Timbers will sign a DP striker for next year. If they do, I think I might riot. Teams dream of having a young striker with this much talent. We’re gonna send ours back to the bench? Don’t you dare.

3) But the Timbers weren’t done. For minutes 10-45, they looked as good as we’ve seen them look all year. They looked like a team that could absolutely win MLS Cup.

In the 29th minute, Sebastian Blanco made it 2-1. When you’re watching this gif, I want you to count how many times Seattle almost stopped the Timbers, without actually stopping them. I count five times. Three times they almost stopped Valeri, twice they almost stopped Blanco.

There’s an argument to be made that the Timbers have actually had four playoff games, not two. Seattle on Sunday, Dallas last Wednesday, and then the RSL home-and-away games at the end of the season which were super-vital for both teams and absolutely had a playoff feel.

In those four “playoff games,” Diego Valeri has had two goals and three assists, Sebastian Blanco’s had four goals and two assists, and Jeremy Ebobisse’s had two goals and three assists.

It’s the most important part of the year and the Timbers have got, not one, not two, but three red-hot attackers. That’s absolutely nuts. We need to stop a moment and appreciate that.

4) If Seattle dominated the opening 10 minutes, and the Timbers dominated minutes 10-45, who dominated the second half?

No one, really. Both teams went back and forth. Yes, the Timbers were on back foot a lot. Yes, Seattle attacked a lot, while we absorbed a lot. And yes, there were some scary moments. But there were also some really nice counter attacks. We almost put two or three on the board. In fact, I kinda thought we did for a minute or so. When Lucas Melano put us up 3-1, I was cheering and slapping hands and starting a chant in the bar, only to look back at the TV and realize, nope, it was called back due to Jorge Villafana being offside.

In the end, the game finished 2-1, and I’ve heard some people complaining that the Timbers took their foot off the gas in the 2nd half.

I’m not sure I agree. Were we dominating like we did in minutes 10-45? No. But maybe that was unsustainable. And anyway, when you’re an absorb-and-counter team, maybe sitting deep isn’t taking your foot off the gas. Maybe sitting deep is exactly the right strategy. Lull them forward, tire them out, then bang ‘em on the counter. We almost scored a third, fourth, and fifth goal. If we’d done that, nobody would be complaining about us sitting so deep. Everyone would be like “man, that was so awesome how we sat deep and countered for those three second-half goals. Gio’s a genius!” But because those counters didn’t turn into goals, suddenly Gio’s a bum who’s taking his foot off the gas.

I think maybe this is just the nature of the 2018 Counterattackin’ TimbersTM and maybe the second half played out exactly the way we wanted it to. We held our lead, we didn’t give up a second goal, and we almost added to our lead.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • I was driven nearly insane on Sunday by the talking heads butchering Ebobisse’s name. It’s pronounced uh-BO-buh-see. If you’re a Star Wars nerd like me, think Boba Fett. Start with Jeremy uh-Boba Fett and slowly transition to Jeremy uh-BO-buh-see. They sound almost exactly alike. (EDIT: Hey, everyone, Future C.I. here. Turns out, maybe it starts with more of an “ee” than an “uh.” But I’m still right about the Boba Fett thing. This link lets you listen to him pronouncing it. Also, here’s some inside info on pronouncing the nickname.)
  • With his pace and energy, Lucas Melano’s a sneaky-good late-game sub. Think there’s any chance he sticks around next year, just to play that role? Or should we dump him and Dairon Asprilla, then ride with Jebo, Foster Langsdorf, and maybe Victor Arboleda?
  • Good news: Chara and Ridgy made it through the game without picking up a second yellow card.
  • More good news: Larrys Mabiala will be coming back from his red card suspension.
  • News that is not even the tiniest bit good: David Guzman might be missing a game due to concussion. Let’s hope it wasn’t as bad as it looked. If Gooz can’t go on Thursday, we’ll probably see Lawrence Olum, or maybe Andres Flores.
  • On the other hand, Seattle’s injuries are worse than ours. USMNT player Christian Roldan and former MLS Defensive Player of the Year Chad Marshall both had to leave Sunday’s game due to injury. Marshall’s injury looked particularly bad. He was completely alone, went to kick a ball, and had to be stretchered off. Guys his age don’t always recover from stuff like that. It’s hard for me to feel bad for a Seattle player, but in this case, I kinda almost sorta do.

6) As you know, we won’t be getting a full week off before playing Seattle again. Due to some weird conflict at the Seahawks stadium which may or may not involve a car convention, the second game of this series will be on Thursday.

If you’ll remember my last column, after the Dallas knockout game, I said that in these two-game playoff series, home shutouts are gold. Why? Because away goals are a key tiebreaker, and sadly, on Sunday, Seattle got one of those golden away goals.

So let’s do some math. How can the Timbers win the series? How can they lose? Here’s a grid from breaking down the scoreline each team needs to advance.

Playoff advancement scenarios, PORvSEA 2018

The grid’s pretty straightforward. If Thursday’s game finishes 0-0, we win the series. If the game finishes 1-0 for Seattle, the total goals will be even at 2-2, but Seattle will win the series because they’ll have an away goal and we will not. The rest of the results you can see for yourself, including the 2-1 Seattle victory that would send it to extra time.

There’s a side of me that kind of likes all the math involved with a two-game series. It makes it a little more interesting. On the whole, though, I think MLS needs to – and probably will – switch to a single-elimination format.

For starters, a single-elimination format would eliminate conflicts with the international break every November. Taking two weeks off in the middle of the playoffs is a real buzzkill.

But an even better argument for single-elimination is that it would make the regular season more important. Think teams would be happy just sneaking into the final playoff spot if that meant every playoff game would be on the road? Think teams would go like hell for the Supporter’s Shield if it meant every playoff game would be at home, including MLS Cup?

So don’t get too frustrated by or attached to all this weird math we’re doing. There’s a good chance it will be gone in the next few years.

In the meantime, we go to Seattle with a 2-1 lead, some red-hot attackers, and a clear knowledge of what we need to do. Last week, home shutouts were gold. This week, it’s away goals that are gold. Seattle’s got one. Let’s go get a few of our own.