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Six Degrees: Eight Minutes of Madness

Orlando 3, Portland 2

MLS: Portland Timbers at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What was it I wrote last week? Something about how the Timbers had given us 45 perfect minutes against Chicago? And how we were close to getting a perfect 90? And, see, I was right. We were close. 75 minutes close, to be precise. The Timbers were damn, damn good for 75 minutes. And then it all went to shit.

1) Let’s start with those opening 75 minutes. They were really quite good. Maybe the best the Timbers have looked all year.

The defense continued to be solid. It’s unclear whether the Timbers lined up in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-2-1. Why is it unclear? Because, yes, Andy Polo was out there, and, yes, Andy Polo is, in theory, a winger, which implies a 4-2-3-1. But Polo played so defensively the entire game, there’s a chance he was actually playing on the same line as Diego Chara and Cristhian Paredes. Ergo, a 4-3-2-1.

Wherever Polo was playing, he was pretty solid on defense and occasionally invisible on offense. Well, he did have one offensive action early in the game, but he kinda screwed that up.

The player to watch here is Samuel Armenteros. If Polo plays a simple square pass across the face of goal, Sammy’s tapping that home and the Timbers are up 1-0. Instead, Sammy’s throwing his hands up, as frustrated as the rest of us.

That wasn’t the last time we’d be frustrated. There were these two plays, which happened exactly 90 seconds apart.

Those are some awfully fine passes leading to some awfully frustrating finishes.

2) But we did have two good finishes. In the 20th minute, Diego Valeri scored his second goal in two games by sinking a PK hard and to the left. It was the first Portland goal this season that Sebastian Blanco didn’t either score or assist, but since he’s the guy who caused the penalty (more on that later), I guess we’ll give him a pseudo-assist.

In the 59th minute, Valeri got a real-life, honest-to-God assist off a corner kick. And it was our possibly-permanent-left-center-back Bill Tuiloma who scored it, for his first MLS goal.

Last year, Tuiloma scored 3 goals in 986 minutes for T2. If we call 3000 minutes a full season, that translates to about 9-10 goals, which I think we can all agree is hella good for a center back. Could Tuiloma do that for the Timbers? Is it possible he’s one of those odd people who are good at scoring headers despite being short? This would be a nice thing to have on our team, especially since we’ve got Fanendo Adi, who’s kind of the opposite in this regard.

That goal put us up 2-0 with 30 minutes left and I was practically giddy with the idea we were finally gonna win a game. But of course, that’s not how the Timbers do things. We don’t hold leads. We give them away. And Sunday in Orlando, that’s just what we proceeded to do.

3) Last week, I made the joke “Remember when we had a coach who never used his subs?”

This week, the joke is “Remember when we had a coach who parked the bus as soon as we got a lead, causing us to lose points over and over and over?”

These jokes aren’t actually funny, are they? More sad, really. The kind of jokes that make you want to get in bed and stay there forever.

The truth is, to my eyes, we didn’t park the bus immediately after that Tuiloma goal. We actually stayed on the front foot for awhile. I was pleased.

But then in the 64th minute, we put Lawrence Olum in for Paredes. This confused me. We were taking off a box-to-box 8 and replacing him with a deeper-sitting 6? We weren’t gonna park the bus, were we?

Four minutes later, we got our answer. Yes. Yes, we were gonna park the bus.

Gio put Dairon Asprilla in for Armenteros. Did this make Asprilla the striker? Or did we just have no striker? Were we suddenly playing a 4-2-4? Or maybe a 4-6-0? Why not put Adi in? He’s a great pressure release. Have him stay forward, keep the center backs honest, and be an easy target for outlets. Asprilla provided none of that.

If Gio replaces Paredes with Andres Flores, I’m fine. If he replaces Armenteros with Adi, I’m fine. But these two subs? No, man, you’re just undoing all the great work the team had done up to then.

To be clear, I’m annoyed to be complaining about Gio’s substitutions for a second straight week, but I’m not ready to call the guy a failure. And I’m certainly not ready – as some people are – to call him an NASL coach who’s in over his head. Please remember that, on more than one occasion, we questioned Caleb Porter’s substitutions, too.

Will Gio get better with this? Or will he continue the mistakes we always saw from Caleb? Only time will tell.

4) Okay, I’ve put it off as long as I can. Let’s talk about Baldomero Toledo.

People have always whined about MLS referees, and, for the most part, I’ve declined to join them. My official policy has always been, “Go to any country on this fair earth, watch any soccer league you like, from the smallest to the largest, and you will hear fans whine about how their referees are blind and incompetent and the worst in the world. That’s what fans do, and the refs here aren’t actually as bad as everyone likes to believe.”

All that being said, on Sunday, referee Baldomero Toledo had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen. In any league.

It started with this yellow to Sebastian Blanco. I’m not actually angry about this one. I probably should be, but I find it more comical than anything else. Rest assured, I’m adding it to my “Blanco being Blanco” playlist.

I would love to know what Blanco said to Toledo there. I’d even more like to know what he said to Toledo after the game. Terrible things, I hope, because Toledo tried to give Orlando the game not once, but twice. The first time, he failed. The second time, he succeeded.

Those two exhibitions of incompetence? I won’t break them down here. The always-excellent Chris Rifer nailed them in his Timber Cruise, which you should definitely go read. The only thing I’ll add here is this bit of video which Chris didn’t have access to, as it just came out Monday.

Honestly. How does Dom Diver live with himself?

As bad as that penalty call was, even worse was the timing of the whole thing, approximately 60 seconds after we gave up the first goal. If Toledo doesn’t fall for Dom Diver’s bullshit and doesn’t give Orlando that imaginary penalty, there’s an extremely good chance the Timbers catch their breath, get their feet back under them, and the game ends 2-1.

Yes, we made some mistakes down the stretch, but in the end, that bogus penalty is what lost us the game. It took the wind right out of our sails and put it directly into Orlando’s.

If a player’s not good enough for MLS, he gets sent down to USL. It should be no different for referees. Send Toledo to the minors for awhile. Let him have long bus rides to dusty towns where he can ref small-time games in half-empty stadiums. Let him do that until he’s proven he’s ready for the big leagues.

5) Speaking of people who shouldn’t be in MLS, after the league’s disciplinary committee looks at the tape, Dom Diver’s probably going to banned from next week’s game. This does the Portland Timbers exactly zero good, since we won’t be playing Orlando next week. Philadelphia will be. So Philly’s the only team who will benefit from the DISCO’s decision. I guess the bright side is that Philly’s an Eastern Conference team, so a victory for them won’t hurt us as much as it would if a weakened Orlando were playing, say, Dallas or San Jose or any other Western Conference team.

This sort of retroactive red card nonsense has happened to us in the past and it’s always frustrating. Alas, I have no real suggestions how to fix the problem other than getting the call right the first time. Maybe the league could send us some money? $50,000 in TAM might ease our pain a little. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

6) Well, nothing to do but move on to the next game, right? And for the first time in 2018, that next game will be at home.

Last year, we beat Minnesota 5-1. Could we do that again? Probably not. That was the first game of their MLS existence, so they were clearly still figuring things out.

Have they figured things out? It’s unclear. Yes, they’ve won two games this year, which, according to my calculations, is two more than the Timbers have won. But neither was against good competition. One win was against Orlando and the other was against Chicago.

Oh, wait... Those are the last two teams we’ve played. Neither of whom we beat.

Ah, fuck.

Maybe we’re screwed. Maybe we’ll never win again. I have no idea. I just know I’ll be in the North End next Saturday, possibly in the sun, possibly in the rain, but definitely holding a beer in one hand and a plate full of tater tots in the other. I’ll be singing and chanting and cheering for our boys.

Last week, we looked great for 45 minutes. This week, we looked great for 75 minutes. Maybe next Saturday’s the day we finally make it the full 90.

(I just guaranteed we’re gonna lead for 90, then blow it in stoppage time, didn’t I?)