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Six Degrees: A Changing of the Guard?

Portland 3, Colorado 2

MLS: Portland Timbers at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

These are weird times in my head, and it’s entirely about the Adi/Armenteros battle.

1) I’ve been carrying the Fanendo Adi flag for years now. I think he’s a great forward, a great teammate, and a great person, who for whatever reason, many, many Timber fans love to shit-talk. I’ve defended him for years now, and I’ll continue to do so.

All that being said, I think I’ve got to admit that it’s time for him to sit. I don’t want to feel this way, but Samuel Armenteros has forced it upon me. In four straight games – San Jose away, Seattle and LAFC at home, and now Colorado away – we’ve scored most of our goals (and all our game-winning goals) with Adi on the bench.

In the face of all this, am I gonna hold out? Am I gonna keep carrying Adi’s flag? Well, yes and no. His “great forward, great teammate, great person” flag? Yeah, I’ll carry the shit out of that.

But his “starting forward” flag? His “the team’s at its best when he’s on the field” flag? I’m not sure I can carry that anymore. Armenteros is forcing me to drop it.

I’ll be honest, this upsets me a bit. But what am I gonna do? Armentero’s crushing it right now. Adi’s not. We’ve got to go with Armenteros.

Do I hope Adi becomes a super-sub, coming off the bench and banging in one late goal after another? Hell, yeah. Do I hope we see plenty of those great Adi goal celebrations where he howls with joy, then brings the entire team in for a bear hug? Hell, yeah. Do I hope he plays so well that Gio Savarese is forced into another tough decision about who starts? Hell, yeah.

But am I ready to admit that, for the moment, Armenteros has won the starting spot? Yes. It makes me a little sad, but I’m ready to admit it.

2) I’ll say this for Armenteros: he knows how to give the people what they want. Last week, he ran into the stands after scoring. This week, he made one of the prettiest moves we’ve seen from a Timbers player.

That’s just heavenly, isn’t it? The gentle touch past the defender, the spin in the opposite direction, the mystified defender not sure what’s happening.

It’s a move that brings to mind two players: Dennis Bergkamp from the Netherlands, and Marta from Brazil. Let’s compare.

Which move do we like best? I think I’m giving my vote to Marta. She had a little more work to do. Armenteros and Bergkamp both received entry passes, while Marta had the ball from the start and had to create something out of nothing.

But one thing Armenteros has on the others? His finish. Just a gorgeous finish. So many times we see players make beautiful moves, then clang their shot straight into the keeper’s knees. But after Armenteros’s beautiful move, he was calm, collected, and clinical, sending a looping ball over Tim Howard’s shoulder and into the upper left corner. Utter class.

3) Armentero’s second goal? Much less spectacular. It was a Johnny-on-the-spot goal, very similar to Adi’s goal versus NYCFC. Both times, the keeper got a touch, but our striker was waiting at the far post, ready to re-direct it into goal.

Our third goal was in some ways the quintessential 2018 Timbers goal. A long outlet pass leading to a Sebastian Blanco/Diego Valeri breakaway. The difference this time, of course, is that the long outlet pass was from a member of the opposite team.

There are a number of small details I love about this goal. I love how both Blanco and Valeri are staying as wide as possible, rather than gumming up the middle of the field. I love how Blanco’s pass threads the needle between two defenders. I love how Valeri stays calm, keeps his head up, and puts an easy, professional strike past the keeper. And I love how Diego Chara crashes the box, just in case there’s a rebound. I’d have liked Blanco to crash the box, too, but at this point maybe I’m just picking nits. It was a lovely goal.

4) One week after an almost spotless game against LAFC, things weren’t nearly so clean for young center back Julio Cascante, who was directly involved in both of Colorado’s goals.

He actually scored their first goal, in the 31st minute. This ties him with Bill Tuiloma for the team lead in own goals, which I’m sure is a big thrill for him.

To my eyes, the worst Timbers defender on this play isn’t Cascante, but Alvas Powell, who’s bumbling aimlessly and ineffectually through the entire sequence. But Cascante definitely gets out-maneuvered by his man, which results in him sticking out a very late and desperate foot and accidentally poking it into goal. Hopefully he learns from it.

Cascante was also responsible for Colorado’s second goal, a penalty kick late in second-half stoppage.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what happened here. Watching it live – with no audio, since I was in a loud bar – everyone around me was wondering if the attacker was going to get red carded for scissoring Cascante’s legs. You can imagine our surprise when Cascante finally limped off and we discovered the ref had called a penalty.

Perhaps it just comes down to the attacker tapping the ball first. Still, though, weird call. Can an attacker earn a penalty and a red card on the same play? Because that’s kinda how this play felt.

Regardless, the ensuing PK was good, but it was the last play of the game, so the Timbers came home with a 3-2 victory.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • With five goals each, Blanco and Valeri are now tied for the team lead. With three assists each, they’re in a three-way tie with... wait for it... wait for it... Cristhian Paredes.
  • I’m a tiny bit concerned about the non-celebration after Armenteros’s second goal. He barely celebrated, the team barely celebrated, it was all very weird. This might be something, it might be nothing, I just know it concerns me a tiny bit.
  • Chara’s a beast. He never stops. Ever. I’ve been watching the dude for almost eight years now and it seems like he just keeps getting better.
  • Take away the own goal and the mystery PK and it’s a fourth shutout for Jeff Attinella.
  • I’ve worn the same shirt for all six of these wins. What about you? What have you done to keep this whole thing going?

6) Per Timbers #StatMan Mike Donovan, these six straight wins match the longest win streak for the Timbers across all eras,

We’ve got a long way to go if we want to break the all-time MLS record. This is because in the league’s early days there were no draws, and tie games were decided by shootout. Back then, teams could put together ridiculously long winning (and losing) streaks.

I don’t think we’re matching any of those streaks. But taking our six-gamer up to seven games? Yeah, we could totally do that.

This Saturday, the team’s at home again where we’re a tidy 4-0-0 this year. Even better, we’re playing the LA Galaxy, who have the payroll of a very good team but the performance of a very bad team. Will they be missing some of their stars to World Cup duty? Quite possibly. Will they play better without those stars? Also a very real possibility. There’s a long history of teams exceeding expectation when their big name players aren’t available.

We’ll be missing some players, too, of course. Andy Polo and David Guzman will both be gone for the World Cup. Liam Ridgewell’s out for at least another week with his quad injury. And who knows about Armeteros, Powell, and Cascante. They all limped off the field Saturday in Colorado. Are those injuries bad enough that they’ll be missing time? We may not know until game time Saturday afternoon.

But even if all those players are absent, we’ve still got a good shot. After only 11 games, Gio Savarese’s proven that, week-to-week, he can shift strategies, shift formations, and shift players. I trust him to come up with a good game plan for next weekend.

Will he start Adi? Armenteros? I can’t say for sure. But I can say that, in this league, a lot of coaches are forced to choose between two crappy strikers. Gio’s got the opposite problem, and it’s a good problem to have.