It can be hard finding a silver lining in a season-ending loss, but I’ll try anyway: the Timbers didn’t lose this game. Atlanta won it. We didn’t piss it away, Atlanta won it fair and square. That’s some solace, at least.
1) Coming into Saturday’s MLS Cup, I think there was a general agreement that Atlanta’s attack was goddamn terrifying. They led the league in goals scored, their striker Josef Martinez had smashed the league record for goals, and their number 10 Miguel Almiron was arguably the best player in MLS. So when the game started, my main thought was, Please let’s not give up an early goal. If we can keep things scoreless for 20-30 minutes, we’ll be in good shape.
And the Timbers did exactly that. The game’s first 35 minutes went just how we wanted. Atlanta attacked, we defended, they got a few half chances, but we never broke too big a sweat. It was just what we wanted.
But all that great work frustrating Atlanta’s attackers would mean nothing if the Timbers couldn’t grab a goal on the counter. And despite all the great work by our defense, the Timbers offense was pretty much a no-show in the first half. The score stayed 0-0, then in the 39th minute, our defense finally made a big mistake, and Atlanta made us pay.
I think the two guys to blame here are Jeremy Ebobisse and Larrys Mabiala. Ebobisse’s super-hard touch receiving that ball, then his slow run to recover it, allowed Michael Parkhurst to zoom in and poke it forward to Josef Martinez.
And the only reason Martinez is onside? Larrys Mabiala.
Liam Ridgewell did his best to intercept that ball, and Jeff Attinella did his best to stop the shot, but let’s be honest, when Josef Martinez gets the ball in the box, he’s scoring. The dude’s ice cold.
2) So that put the Timbers down 1-0. End of the world, right? Wrong. The Timbers had gone down 1-0 to SKC. They’d gone down 1-0 to Seattle twice. So while the Atlanta goal was definitely a body blow, it wasn’t a knockout punch.
In fact, only three minutes later, Jeremy Ebobisse had the best chance of the entire night.
Damn, that was close. Fabulous through ball from Zarek Valentin, fabulous cut-back pass from Sebastian Blanco, semi-fabulous header from Ebobisse, and a fabulous save from Brad Guzan. If Jebo does a little better on that shot, or if Guzan does a little worse on the save, the game’s tied 1-1 and the entire rest of the game plays out differently. As always, soccer is a cruel, cruel sport.
3) Down 1-0 at halftime, Gio went into the locker room, did his usual dark magic, and the Timbers came out flying. The attack looked just sensational from minute 45-53, but were unable to finish any chances. Then in the 54th minute, Atlanta did this with a free kick.
So many Timbers to blame here. On the initial header by Martinez, I think it’s Jebo who should have been marking him. Or maybe Liam Ridgewell. On the final finish by Franco Escobar, I sorta kinda want to blame Jorge Villafana for ball-watching, but he was trying to hold his line, wasn’t he? And if Escobar’s a few inches farther forward, he’s offside and Jorge’s the hero.
In the end, I think I’m going to blame Jebo for this. Which is a drag, since he was also to blame for the first goal, and he’s to blame for not finishing his header. It was a tough, tough day for the kid, but I’m not going to throw a single bit of dirt on his grave. Jebo’s sun is rising, not setting. We wouldn’t have made it to MLS Cup without the huge leap he made in the last 2-3 months. Yes, he had a bad day Saturday in Atlanta, but I still want him at the top of the forward depth chart in 2019.
4) Some random thoughts.
- The last Western Conference player to score a goal in MLS Cup remains, and may always remain, Rodney Freaking Wallace in 2015.
- Speaking of beloved former Timbers, Darlington Nagbe was remarkably aggressive early in the game, wasn’t he? All that Atlanta firepower and it was Nags who took the game’s first shot. Crazy.
- At a certain point in the first half, Nagbe got knocked down, and my friend Luke made a joke about how he was such a diver. Not only did I instantly get up in his shit about it, but strangers around us in the bar were getting up in his shit, too. He made it very clear he was joking, which is good, or his ass mighta got cut. We still love us some Nagbe ‘round here.
- Want to talk about Mabiala’s potential penalty in the 14th minute, or his questionable foul in the 53rd? Here’s what the Instant Replay guys had to say. Spoiler alert: they’re extremely torn on both calls. As am I.
- Over five games in these playoffs, the Atlanta defense gave up exactly zero goals from open play. NYCFC and RBNY each scored one corner kick goal, while PTFC didn’t score at all. That’s just huge. As I said at the beginning, we didn’t lose this game, Atlanta won it. They deserved to raise the Cup.
- That being said, I feel good about our team’s future. Giovanni Savarese turned out to be a hell of a hire, didn’t he?
5) When we won the Cup in 2015, a whole mess of transactions happened just a day or two after the final. That seems to be the case again, though on a smaller scale. We haven’t had any Maxi Urrutis or Jorge Villafanas being traded away, but there’s still some news. Here’s the Timbers press release from Monday morning
By the time you read this, many more things will likely have been announced, but let’s discuss a few things on this list.
- Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, and Dairon Asprilla all coming back? This surprises me, but I’m not considering it a done deal. Once the dust settles, I predict Melano’s the only guy who returns.
- Also, don’t be surprised if Andres Flores, Lawrence Olum, and Tomas Conechny return. The Timbers might be re-negotiating Conechny’s loan, but I think he’ll be back in 2019. Flores and Olum, I’m less sure of, but they seem like Gio favorites who can be plugged into multiple positions.
- On the other hand, maybe their roles will be filled by Marvin Loria and Renzo Zambrano, who are getting well-deserved first-team contracts. I hope they tear up MLS like they tore up USL.
- It’s not surprising, though slightly saddening, to see Samuel Armenteros will be gone. Damn, that dude’s talented, but damn, did he fall out of favor in a hurry. My only theory is that maybe he decided he wanted to be back in Europe next year and started loafing in practice. That’s just a theory, though. I have no inside information.
- There’s a lot of talk on Twitter that the Timbers will be signing a Designated Player this off-season. I have no idea at what position, but it had better not be striker, since I want Jebo there from opening day.
- Lastly, it appears that FC Cincinnati will not be taking any Timbers in Tuesday’s expansion draft, thanks to the Fanendo Adi trade. Another savvy move by Gavin Wilkinson.
As I said, a lot’s happening right now, and much of this could have changed by the time you read this.
6) Okay, those are the roster things. What else can we look forward to in 2019?
Well, the stadium currently looks like this...
...but will eventually look like this...
...though don’t get too excited, since it won’t be ready until late Spring, which means the team will play its first 10-12 games on the road. No worries, though, because MLS teams who start the year with long road trips generally make the playoffs.
With LAFC and Portland both making the playoffs, every MLS team that has ever started the season with 5 or more consecutive road matches has made the postseason.— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) October 23, 2018
If we make those 2019 playoffs, you know who won’t be tweeting about it? Timbers owner Merritt Paulson. He gave up Twitter on Monday morning.
But one of his last tweets was this 2019 kit tease. Hoops! Do we like hoops?
We’ve got a couple months until training camp, so you know what that means, right? We get to have some good fun arguments here on Stumptown Footy. I’ll start the conversation with a bunch of questions regarding the 2019 Portland Timbers.
What sort of soccer do you think we’ll play? What sort of soccer do you hope we’ll play? Will we continue to absorb and counter like we did in 2018? Or will Gio, with a year under his belt and possibly a few new players, try something different? When he came here from the New York Cosmos, I heard a lot of talk about possession-based soccer. I heard about a high press, too. Will we see those things next year? Will they be successful?
What about our older players? Will the Diegos start slowing down? It’s got to happen some day, you know. Will it be in 2019?
If Ridgy’s back, he’s got to start, right? Or would Gio put those old bones on the bench and start Mabiala and Bill Tuiloma? Or Mabiala and Julio Cascante? Or Mabiala and some player we haven’t even heard of yet? What are you hoping to see back there?
Who’s our right back next year, Alvas Powell, Zarek Valentin, or someone we haven’t signed yet?
Will Andy Polo still be our right winger? If he is, will he make as big a second-year jump as Sebastian Blanco did this year?
What about our youngsters? Loria, Zambrano, Conechny, Eryk Williamson. Do you think any of those guys get serious playing time next year?
Final question, are you excited by the idea of all those home games at the end of next year? With that long opening road trip, the end of next year will be busy, busy, busy. You saw DC United this year, right? They were playing Wednesday night games pretty much every week. Yes, they were all at home, and yes, DC was winning them, but still, three-game-weeks are kind of exhausting. How do you think the Timbers will do with it? How do you think you’ll do with it? Looking forward to heading to the stadium two or three times a week for the entire second half of the year?
As for me, I have no idea what I’ll think of all those home games, since I’ll be watching them from an entirely new location. That’s right, after years of watching games with the Army, next year I’ll be sitting up in the new section.
I’m actually quite torn about this. Yeah, it’ll be nice rolling in five minutes before kickoff. And yeah, it’ll be fun sitting where everything’s new and shiny and fancypants. And yeah, it’ll be cool being able to sit, instead of stand.
Or will it? Will I miss standing the whole time? Will I miss singing non-stop? Will I miss hanging out at the park for an hour and a half before kickoff?
And what if the people around me are assholes? If that happens in the Army, no big deal, I’ll have new neighbors next week. But in the new section, I’m stuck with them and they’re stuck with me. What if we hate each other?
I had all these worries when I bought the tickets, but here was my thinking: if I hate it, it’ll be super-easy to move back to the Army in 2020. But moving from the Army to the new section? That’ll be a lot more difficult, so I needed to seize this chance while I could. Hopefully sitting up there with all the rich, clean, well-behaved people won’t affect this column too much. Hopefully I’ll still find a way to lose my goddamn mind two or three times a game. It’s kinda my brand.
Training camp starts in February. See you then.