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Six Degrees: A Work In Progress

Galaxy 2, Timbers 1

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Another 9-month roller coaster of supporting the Timbers and reading these Six Degrees. Be assured, dear reader, both activities will be up-and-down affairs, and sadly, we’re not starting the year on a high note. Let’s break down Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Galaxy.

1) The first degree of the 2018 season goes to... our crappy defense! And, oh, how exquisitely crappy they were.

Clearly, the most craptastic defenders Sunday night were our fullbacks, Marco Farfan and Alvas Powell. Farfan at least has the excuse of being young and inexperienced. Powell? He can try that excuse, but I ain’t buying. Sorry, Alvas. You’re a veteran. Start playing like it.

Powell’s had some sensational games in his career, but he also has a habit of relying on his speed to make up for mistakes. That works against most MLS wingers, but not against Emmanuel Boateng, who can torch anyone in the league, and did so repeatedly on Sunday night. As a result, the night’s first substitution was Zarek Valentin coming in for Powell in the 61st minute. I’m interested to see who’s starting at right back moving forward.

On the other side of the back line, young Marco Farfan looked like a very young guy getting taken advantage of by older and wiser men. Fortunately, young people learn quickly, and I predict Marco and the coaching staff will spend a lot of time breaking down film this week and that he’ll look better in our next game. Fingers crossed.

2) The middle of the back line wasn’t atrocious. Center backs Liam Ridgewell and Larrys Mabiala had some bad moments – especially Mabiala – but they had some good moments, too.

Much more concerning to me were the defensive midfielders in front of them, David Guzman and Cristhian Paredes. Their job is to protect the center backs and gum up anything coming down the middle. In both these endeavors, they failed miserably.

Like Marco Farfan, Paredes has the excuse of being young and inexperienced. But like Alvas Powell, Guzman no longer has that excuse. He knows this league, he’s had success, he’s been a leader. Now, with Diego Chara still recovering from his broken foot, the team desperately needs Gooz to rise to the occasion and be our rock in the middle of the field.

He’s not rising to the occasion. He wasn’t in preseason and he wasn’t on Sunday night. Instead, it feels like he’s regressing. It feels like he’s a guy who can only be good when he’s got Diego Chara next to him.

When will Chara be back? I don’t know. Maybe next week, maybe not. All I know is, we need a hell of a lot more from Guzman. He’s the veteran in the middle. We need him to play like it.

3) Let’s look at the Galaxy’s two goals.

On this first goal, there are many things to enjoy. For starters, there’s Alvas Powell getting dusted in the corner by Boateng. After we miraculously survive that, watch LA’s follow-up cross. Marco Farfan looks like a boy among men, but that’s more than I can say for Andy Polo, who looks more like a blade of grass, calmly waiting for the sun to rise so it can get back to photosynthesizing, perhaps wondering why all these people are stomping around in their pokey shoes.

Speaking of blades of grass, we saw even more of them on the second Galaxy goal. After Larrys Mabiala did a piss-poor job winning a header, he said to hell with it and joined Polo, Farfan, and Powell in their grassy repose. The only defender doing actual work was Liam Ridgewell, and he got a eyeful of fingers for his troubles. That’ll teach him to try, eh?

You know who you didn’t see much of in either of those clips? Gooz and Paredes. I’m pretty sure that’s what soccer experts call “not a good thing.”

4) Wow, those first three degrees were awful damn negative. Did anything good happen on Sunday night? Well, yeah, kinda. Things improved in the second half. They still weren’t great, but they were better. The defense tightened up a little, the offense started influencing the game a bit. There was also this pretty sweet goal from Sebastian Blanco.

I love attackers who eschew the cross and instead drive into the box. Blanco got his goal by doing just that. Later in the game, Adi almost got an equalizing goal doing the same.

Speaking of goals, I’m gonna go ahead and make a semi-ridiculous prediction for the 2018 season. I think the Timbers will have four double-digit goal scorers. That’s right, I’m predicting Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Samuel Armenteros will all finish the year with 10+ goals.

Why make such a bold prediction immediately following a 2-1 loss in which our offense looked in no way unstoppable? Mostly, to make myself feel better. But also because I see genuine potential up front, particularly if we get the formation right.

5) Ah, yes, let’s talk about formations, shall we? The Timbers lined up in their classic 4-2-3-1 on Sunday. The 4 line was weak and the 2 line was MIA, which made it hard for the 3 and 1 lines to get anything going, particularly in the first half. But just like we saw in the preseason, when the team switched to a two-striker set up, things improved.

Any chance we’ll see two strikers from the opening kick next week? I’m hoping so. I’m hoping we’ll see a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Presumably, that would mean Diego Valeri at the front point of the diamond and David Guzman at the back point. Who’s on the side points? Well, Sebastian Blanco’s definitely on one side. Who’s on the other depends whether you want offense or defense. If you want defense, you put Cristhian Paredes over there. If you want offense, you put Andy Polo over there.

Unless you don’t. Unless you put Polo on the bench and instead play Dairon Asprilla.

Guys, I gotta be honest, our big off-season signing has not impressed me at all. It’s not that Polo’s been awful, it’s that he hasn’t been anything at all. After a full preseason and one regular season game, I cannot tell you a single thing about Andy Polo. He appears to be fast. That’s it. That’s all I can tell you. Oh, and also, sometimes on defense, he likes to stand around and watch.

So why’s he starting over Asprilla? Asprilla crushed it in preseason.

If I’m Giovanni Saverese – and maybe I am. You don’t know for sure, do you? – I’m starting Samuel Armenteros and Dairon Asprilla next week in a 4-4-2 diamond and we’re shootin’ for a 7-5 win. Who’s with me?

6) Speaking of next week, we play the Red Bulls of New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. Two straight road games to start the season? Negative, Ghostrider. Five straight road games to start the season.

What are we hoping for with this five-game road trip? How many points will it take to call it a success? If we come home with five points, will that be enough?

I say yes. Averaging a point on the road is extremely acceptable. We averaged 0.94 PPG on the road last year and all that got us was first place in the Western Conference. So, yeah, taking five points out of these season-opening five road games sounds pretty sweet. A win and two draws would do it.

And next week’s actually a pretty good chance to get that win. Why? Because the Red Bulls have a CONCACAF Champions League game tonight. Even better, it’s a cross-continent road game in Tijuana. And considering it’s CCL against a really good Liga MX team, I’m betting the Red Bulls play their first-choice lineup and go like hell the entire 90. And then they’ll have to travel back across the continent to play us on Saturday afternoon.

Will we face an entirely second-choice lineup? Probably not. More likely, we’ll face a mix of backups and extremely road-weary starters.

In other words, this is a road win waiting to happen. If we tighten up the defense, play two strikers, give Asprilla the start he deserves, and go balls-out the entire game, I can definitely see us winning this game. And if we do, a five-point road trip becomes a real possibility.

It’s a long season, folks. It’s not how you start that matters, it’s how you finish.