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Six Degrees: Almost There

Portland 2, Chicago 2

MLS: Portland Timbers at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an overused cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Chicago was a tale of two halves.

1) In our 4-0 loss to New York, we had nothing figured out. In last week’s draw against Dallas, we had the defense figured out. And Saturday in Chicago, we had everything figured out. For 45 minutes, at least.

Seriously, could we have looked any better in that first half? It was wonderful. The defense continued its solid work from the week before, the offense showed up for the first time all season, and we didn’t just win the half, we dominated it. It was the kind of half that makes a fan wonder if the work is done, if the new coach has finally got his system installed, if the team has finally figured it out.

And then the second half happened, and we realized, nope, we’re not quite there yet.

But, hey, watching 45 dominant minutes is still a pretty nice feeling. Especially when it’s the first time you’ve seen it all year.

2) Let’s break down the goals, starting with the two we scored.

There’s a lot to love about this first goal. For starters, watch how it begins, with Diego Valeri pressuring the ballhandler and knocking it straight to Sebastian Blanco. Now, I’m not sure we can call this an example of Gio’s famed “high press,” since it’s two-thirds of the way down the field, but regardless, it shows that, yes, Valeri can press and, yes, good things will happen.

But Valeri’s pressure was just the start. The real star of this goal is Blanco, who fights off a defender, fights him off again, survives a collision, keeps his feet, does a little spin, and somehow, without even looking, puts a gorgeous, perfectly placed, perfectly weighted ball right at Valeri’s feet. That, my friends, is impressive.

But, of course, 2018 MVP candidate Sebastian Blanco wasn’t done. In the 55th minute, he fed Andres Flores on the wing, then immediately ran into the box, where he outjumped a crowd of taller players to score his first headed goal as a Timber.

After four games, Blanco has three goals and one assist. I don’t think anyone went into this season expecting him to be our best offensive player, but so far, that’s what he is, and it’s not even close.

3) But those weren’t the only goals, of course. Chicago scored two, as well. And on both, it’s a little hard to assign blame.

On the first one, I think I mostly want to blame Larrys Mabiala. Look at how he leaves his area of responsibility. Granted, when Bastian Schweinsteiger has the ball, it’s hard not to chase after him. In fact, I think I see about four Timbers chasing him. Dude’s got gravity.

But Mabiala’s walkabout seems the most impactful, since it means Bill Tuiloma has to cover Mabiala’s man, which means Marco Farfan has to cover two men, Tuiloma’s and his own, and sure enough, one nice cross later, Chicago’s picking the ball out of the back of the net.

It’s a little easier to assign blame on the second Chicago goal. But, no, sorry, I’m not going to blame Jake Gleeson’s goalkeeping, and no, sorry, I’m not going to blame Zarek Valentin getting beat to the cross. I’m going to go all the way back to start of the play, when Schweinsteiger was standing on the ball, completely unmolested.

Look at Cristhian Paredes standing there. You can almost read his mind. Man, I can’t believe I’m on the same field as one of the best midfielders of all time. Look at Schweiny. So majestic. I wonder what he’s going to do with that ball? He sure does have a lot of time and space. Look at how he’s got his head up, picking out a pass. This is so exciting! I wonder what he’ll do?

Cristhian, you’re not a fan. You’re a defender. Close dudes out. Especially if the dude in question is a Hall of Fame midfielder.

4) A few random thoughts:

  • If you were hoping for some insightful thoughts on the whole Liam Ridgewell situation, sorry, but I genuinely have zero idea how this is going to play out. Zero. All I know is, I’m not gonna bad-mouth the guy too much. He may get his starting spot back, he may get the armband back, and he may play an incredibly important role for us the rest of the year. I’m not gonna bash the guy just yet. Let’s see how this plays out.
  • There should be a rule that all new players have to wear different-colored boots. There’s a few guys out there that I’m still having a hard time telling apart.
  • In the 75th minute, protecting a 2-1 lead, you, me, and everyone in Timberdom got hit by a bad case of FOAG. In fact, the guy next to me in the bar got a text from a friend. It was two words. “Shit. Gordon.” FOAG (Fear of Alan Gordon) is real. It is so, so real.

5) Speaking of substitutions, remember when the Timbers had a coach who wouldn’t use his subs?

Late in the game, clinging to a 2-1 lead, there were plenty of tired Timbers out there. Gio Savarese replaced none of them. In fact, his first substitution, in the 82nd minute, was forced upon him, when Farfan went down with a bad calf. He didn’t make another sub until after we’d given up the tying goal. It was maddening.

Is this what we have to look forward to? A repeat of Caleb Porter leaving tired players in the game too long? Is Gio gonna give us more of the same?

I’ve got an idea. It just occurred to me, like, 30 seconds ago. Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri, and Sebastian Blanco seem to work well together. So how about subbing them all out at the same time? Say it’s the 70th minute, they’ve been going like hell the whole game, so you pull all three of them out as a unit and send Samuel Armenteros, Dairon Asprilla, and Andy Polo in. They’d be like two distinct units. And we could give the two units really cool nicknames. Like, I don’t know, the AVB line and the AAP line. Only cooler. That wasn’t cool at all. But we’re a creative fanbase, we can come up with something cool. With tifo and t-shirts and shit.

And, yeah, I’ll admit this sounds a little weird. Maybe even a recipe for disaster. But what if it’s not? What if it’s actually a recipe for awesome? What if Army, Aspy, and Andy, (again, not cool at all, I really suck at this nickname thing) what if they embrace this new role? What if they start to build chemistry? What if they become a deadly late game weapon?

And then in August, when we get our first three-game week, Gio can sit the AVB line on Wednesday night and start the AAP line. The TA puts up a huge tifo celebrating them, we sing their as-yet-unwritten song, and they go like hell for 70 minutes before Gio sends in the AVB line to close out yet another 5-0 victory.

This may be the greatest idea I’ve ever had. It’s going to change soccer forever and I came up with it literally three minutes ago.

6) It’s hard to follow up an idea that will change soccer forever, but I’m gonna try.

The Timbers still haven’t given us a perfect 90 minutes, but maybe four games into a new regime, that’s too much to ask. For the first time all year, they gave us a perfect 45 minutes. Maybe that’s all we should ask for at this point. Maybe next game, they’ll be perfect for 70. And the game after that, the full 90.

That’s what I’m gonna tell myself, at least. And it’s a hell of a lot better than what we were all saying after that 4-0 embarrassment in New Jersey.

As it turns out, the Timbers don’t suck, Gio isn’t incompetent, and all hope is not lost. We’re getting better. We’re almost there. Soon, maybe even next week, we’ll be bringing home three points.