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Six Degrees: Heat Check

Timbers 1, Sounders 0

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another ugly game decided late by an Argentine midfielder. When something works, why change it, right?

1) Two weeks, two ugly wins. One was wet and sloppy, the other was hot and sweaty, but both were ugly defensive battles against bad teams, and the Timbers somehow grabbed all six points.

This is tremendously good news. I know, I know, you want beautiful wins, not ugly, scrappy 1-0 wins. But trust me, not all games can be beautiful. Some are going to be ugly. And good teams have to win them, anyway. They have to win the games where bad teams park the bus, foul the hell out of you, and make the beautiful game ugly for 90 minutes.

Earlier in the season, the Timbers wouldn’t have won these games. The fact that they’re winning them now is reason for celebration. It’s reason to believe that we’re officially out of that early season nightmare. We’re officially a good team.

2) And our defense may be a little bit better than good. With three straight shutouts – the first of which was against NYCFC, an objectively elite opponent – it’s possible Coach Gio Savarese has finally got the defense figured out.

Jeff Attinella still hasn’t conceded a goal this year. Even better, he only had to make one save Sunday, and it was an easy one. This is because the crew in front of him were working together beautifully. With Larrys Mabiala coming into his own, and Liam Ridgewell coming back into his own, I can’t help wondering if they’re going develop a partnership simliar to the one Ridgy had with Nat Borchers back in 2015. If so, watch out, MLS.

On either side of them, Alvas Powell and Zarek Valetin didn’t look too good moving forward – Powell was particularly bad – but they made up for it with good work in the back.

Completing the defense were our three defensive midfielders, Cristhian Paredes, Diego Chara, and Andy Polo.

3) Notice that I once again listed Andy Polo with the defense. He was sneaking forward every now and then – as was Paredes – and even had a very nice shot on goal, but for the most part, he was hanging back in the same 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation we’ve seen for the last month or more.

It hard to argue with the results we’re getting, but how long do you think Gio Savarese will stick with this extremely safe, pragmatic, result-producing formation? Do you think he’s reaching a level of comfort with his new team that he might try something new? Something a little more adventurous? A little more front-footy?

My prediction: not next week. Next week, we’re hosting LAFC, and despite being a first-year team, they look extremely well organized, extremely well coached, and extremely dangerous moving forward. So, no, maybe next week, another 4-3-2-1’s the way to go.

But the week after that? Against the rotting corpse that is the Colorado Rapids? I think that’s when we’ll see Gio really try some new stuff. I hope so, at least.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the hell out of all these clean sheets, but I can’t help wanting to see some pretty soccer again.

4) Speaking of pretty soccer, there wasn’t much of it on display Sunday afternoon, but there was this one moment in the 87th minute. Take a look.

Fresh off the bench, Samuel Armenteros lays out a beautiful pass, cutting right through five or six heat-exhausted Sounders. The equally heat-exhausted Sebastian Blanco somehow finds the energy to make that run, then finishes it by chipping the keeper.

I said it before, but sometimes in ugly games you just need one moment of brilliance. Last week, it was Diego Valeri. This week, it was Armenteros and Blanco. Next week, if the LAFC game turns into another ugly slog, who’ll supply the moment of brilliance? One of our guys? Or one of theirs?

5) Some random thoughts.

  • I was a little disappointed with the lack of a halftime adjustment from the Timbers. I wanted Gio to fix everything at halftime, but it was actually Seattle who came out charging.
  • That being said, once we weathered the storm, the Timbers were the far more dangerous team from the 55th minute on, so I’ll give Gio credit there.
  • If you haven’t read Chris Rifer’s Timber Cruise, go check it out. He goes in-depth on the brutal 34th minute foul on Valeri that should have earned a red card, but didn’t. My opinion: VAR isn’t working. It’s a great idea, I definitely want it, but not in its present form. It’s just not working.
  • In the locker room after the game, Zarek Valentin had some really interesting thoughts on playing in the heat, which you can watch here. Valentin’s the best interview on the team and it’s not even close. If he retired today, he could do color commentary tomorrow and sound like a pro.
  • This is the second four-game winning streak in Timbers MLS history, matching a streak from 2015. The club’s never had a five-game MLS winning streak.
  • Everyone’s talking about how the Timbers haven’t conceded in 280 minutes. I’d argue that it’s actually longer than that, since the last ball to get past a Timbers goalkeeper was put there by Timbers center back Bill Tuiloma. The last goal scored by an opposing player? Same game, Darwin Quintero, 64th minute. According to my math, that makes our shutout streak 296 minutes. (And for the record, this is not a hill I’m willing to die on.)

6) Sorry to do this, but I’m gonna end the column on a bit of a down note. A bit of an annoyed note. I’m annoyed by some of the things I heard in the stands Sunday afternoon, and some of the things I’ve read in the comments sections since then. Things that remind me, once again, that there’s a very large group of Timber fans who hate Fanendo Adi.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you’ll deny it, but it’s true. Timber fans have been ripping Adi since the day he arrived, calling him lazy, calling him streaky, calling him divey, calling him hard-footed – that one especially cracks me up – and calling for him to be sent to the bench when there’s a bench player you like better, or sent to another team when there’s not.

Right now, the argument is that, with Samuel Armenteros, we’ve finally got a good forward. “Look who won the last two games for us as a late-game sub,” you scream. “Armenteros should be starting,” you yell. “Adi was good, but his time has passed,” you grumble.

Okay, for starters, did it occur to you that maybe the reason Armenteros looked so good in these last two games is because he came in fresh, and the centerbacks he was facing were exausted from fighting off Adi for 75 minutes?

Second, it was well over 100 degrees on the field Sunday. If Armenteros had started and played 75 minutes in that sauna trying to break down the 9-man brick wall Seattle built in front of goal, with Chad Marshall smashing him every chance he got, you think he would’ve done better than Adi?

Armenteros’s pass to Blanco? Briliant. Wonderful. But Adi’s pass to Valeri a half hour earlier? Also very nice. And he makes passes like this all the time.

I pulled up the numbers for some elite MLS scorers. Let’s take a look.

MLS Goals – 2014-present

  • Wright-Phillips 91
  • Villa 68
  • Diver 65
  • Giovinco 57
  • Wondolowski 57
  • Adi 53
  • Piatti 52
  • Valeri 52
  • Dempsey 45
  • Altidore 40

Adi’s only got two goals this year – more than or equal to four guys on that list, by the way – but mark my words, the dude’s gonna end up with double figures. And he’ll do it while having goons like Chad Marshall and Kendall Waston hanging on his back for 75 minutes. And when he subs out, Samuel Armenteros will come in and run circles around those center backs Adi was kind enough to tire out for him.

So come at me. Tell me I’m an idiot. (I kinda am, by the way) But the truth is, there are probably 15-20 fanbases in this league who would trade us their striker for Adi in a New York minute.

We’ve got one of the best strikers in the league, but when I hear how little appreciation he gets from Timberdom, I’m not sure we deserve him.