For the record, the Timbers got outscored 3-2 by Seattle Thursday night. For the record, no one cares.
1) Okay, let’s start with a quick reminder of where things stood entering Thursday night’s game. The Timbers were leading the series 2-1 on aggregate, but the Flounders had an away goal, which could prove an important tiebreaker. If Thursday finished 0-0, the Timbers would move on. 1-0 Seattle, and our season’s over.
But if the Timbers score a goal, then Seattle has to score two. And if the Timbers score two, the Flounders have to score four.
So how would the Timbers play it? Would they be ultra-defensive, going for the shutout? Would they attack a bit more? Try to put pressure on Seattle with a road goal?
Turns out, for about 60 minutes, this game was pretty much one-way traffic. Seattle attacked, we defended. Don’t believe me? Check out the box score.
A few things to notice here: corner kicks, 14 to 2. Crosses 57 to 10. Clearances 51 to 10. And total passes? Here’s what #StatMan Mike Donovan tweeted sometime in the 2nd half.
Heading into tonight, the most passes by 1 team in a MLS playoff match in Opta era (2010-) was 677 by SKC vs NE in 2013. Seattle has 760 and counting. #SEAvPOR— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) November 9, 2018
So, fine, we played a lot of defense. How were the counterattacks?
Shitty, thanks for asking. And you know who was especially shitty? The guy who’s been tearing up the league for the last two months, Sebastian Blanco.
Those are Seba’s passes during regular time. If you think it looks bad on paper, trust me, it looked worse on the field. Every time the Timbers started a fast break, every time we fans would rise in our seats, ready to see some of that counterattackin’ magic, Blanco would make a pass that wasn’t just a little off, but was so comically bad that it was like he was doing it on purpose. It was to the point where my friend Chris was yelling at the TV, “Take him out, Coach! It’s not his night!”
So anyway, that was the game’s first 68 minutes. Ugly on offense, rock solid on defense. But as long as the defense could keep it 0-0, that was just fine, right? 0-0 sees us through to the next round, so no worries, right?
2) Wrong. Because when you’re defending non-stop like this, you pretty much have to be perfect, and as good as the Timbers were, in the 68th minute, there was finally a fatal mistake. Jeff Attinella spilled a ball and Raul Ruidiaz was there to make him pay.
That goal flipped everything. The aggregate score was now 2-2, but the Sounders owned the away-goal tiebreaker, so they were suddenly the ones advancing to the next round.
After almost 70 minutes of sitting deep and playing defense, the Timbers had no choice. They had to come out of their shell and attack.
3) And when our backs were against the wall, when elimination was imminent, who came to the rescue? The guy who’d been stinking it up the entire game, the guy my friend wanted Gio to replace: Sebastian Blanco.
In all honesty, that goal may have been Blanco’s first positive offensive action of the game. Which is insane, considering how hot he’s been lately.
6 - Sebastian Blanco has six goals in his last seven @MLS appearances, after six in his first 28 of this season. Rolling.— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) November 9, 2018
Also worth noting: Dairon Asprilla, who entered the game only six minutes earlier, got the assist. (This is called “foreshadowing,” by the way.)
So Blanco’s goal flipped the series once again. 11 minutes earlier, Portland was advancing, 2-1 on aggregate. 10 minutes earlier, Seattle was advancing, 2-2 on aggregate, but with the road goal advantage. Now, the Timbers were advancing once again, 3-2 on aggregate, road goals even.
Your move, Seattle.
4) As busy as things got toward the end, maybe it’s no surprise there were six minutes of stoppage time. And as it turns out, Seattle didn’t even need them all. They ripped the victory out of our hands at 90+3, the heartless bastards.
That’s a goddamn beauty of a strike, isn’t it? Jeesh. You know, that was Raul Ruidiaz’s 3rd goal of the two-game series and his 13th goal in 14 games since joining the Flounders. Those are Zlatan numbers. Those are Josef Martinez numbers. I hope Ruidiaz doesn’t play like this next year. The guy’s been an absolute beast.
So that goal tied the series 3-3 in aggregate, and both teams had one road goal. On to extra time!
5) You remember Blanco’s shitty passing chart up above? All the red lines? Here’s his passing chart for extra time.
Quite the improvement, eh? But Blanco wasn’t the star of extra time. That was Dairon Asprilla. In the 93rd minute, he put the Timbers back in front.
Look at that pass from Diego Valeri. Perfect. And the header from Asprilla? Absolutely textbook.
Is there a way we can sign Dairon Asprilla just for the playoffs? He’s completely underwhelming for 11 months out of the year. But in November? Dude’s cash money. In fact, I think it’s been decided that his new nickname is Señor Novembre. That’s official policy now, right?
So Señor Novembre’s goal meant the Timbers were going to win the series, right?
Wrong, because barely two minutes after the Timbers went ahead, Larrys Mabiala almost got called for hand ball. And one minute after that, Sebastian Blanco actually was called for a hand ball.
Hey...what if, and hear me out here, we made a handball rule that made any damn sense and wasn’t just a toss up every time the ball touches someone’s hand.— Bobby Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) November 9, 2018
Warshaw’s point is a good one, but on this particular play, I think it was an okay call. Blanco had his hands up like a Saguaro cactus.
But the truth is, Blanco’s not the real star of this clip. The real star is Crazy Valeri. I love Crazy Valeri. We only see him once or twice a year, but it’s always incredibly entertaining. (Remember when Crazy Valeri tried to pick a guy up and drag him off the field? Ah, good times... good times...)
Anyway, Nicolas Lodeiro converted the PK, the game was once again tied, and it stayed tied until extra time was over. On to PKs!
6) Wait... on to PKs? Or did we just win the game? Is the game over? Why is Valeri celebrating?
You saw that, right? When extra time was over, you saw Valeri and Blanco thinking we’d just won the series, right? It was hilarious.
I want to be clear, I’m not upset about this one tiny bit. I think it’s awesome. It’s awesome to see that they’re human, too. They sometimes get confused the same way I do. And seriously, folks, I get confused all the damn time. In that video, Blanco is me, and Zarek Valentin is all my friends, God bless them, who are trying to explain to me some obvious thing that I really should have known already.
But the truth is, in some ways, deciding a game with PKs is bullshit. It just feels so random. It feels less skill-based and more luck-based. Lionel Messi’s never missed a PK? Some shitty player’s never made a PK? Of course they have. So, I’m being completely serious when I say that if you, me, and three of our friends went into a PK shootout against Barcelona, there’s a legitimate chance we could win. Not a 50/50 chance, but 30/70? How about 20/80? If there’s a 20% chance you, me, and three of our friends could beat Barcelona in a PK shootout, that’s just not right.
On the other hand, we can’t just let extra time go on forever. Next thing you know, it’s like a baseball game entering the 21st inning. Fuck that.
So let me throw a ridiculous idea at you: have the players shoot from the penalty spot, but at the opposite goal, way down at the other end of the field. No goalkeeper’s in net, but they’ve still got to kick the ball almost 100 yards. Yes, it sounds a little goofy, but I can pretty much guarantee that you, me, and three of our friends aren’t beating Barcelona in that shootout.
But anyway, the PKs were thrilling, no doubt, but this column’s gone on long enough, and what can I really say about PKs? There were some hits, some misses, some saves, and in the end, we came out on top. Señor Novembre hit the final shot, winning it for us, then you, me, and all of Timberdom jumped and screamed and hugged strangers and maybe even cried a little.
And it wasn’t just us. Watch the players on the field afterwards. Which one are you? The better half of me wants to be Jorge Villafaña, kissing the crest over and over, but there’s a side of me, a more mischievous side, that might be Zarek Valentin, going over and celebrating right in front of the Seattle supporters, daring them to throw some beers.
All those happy Timbers? They’re going to get some well-deserved rest now. The international break means we’ve got two and a half weeks until the conference finals on Nov 25th and 29th. We’ll find out our opponent this Sunday at noon. If SKC wins that game, we’ll host the 1st leg. If RSL wins, we’ll travel to Utah for the 1st leg. Got a preference who we play? Let me know down in the comments.