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Six Degrees: Out Of Thin Air

Portland 1, San Jose 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For 88 minutes Saturday night, the Timbers were perfectly set up for a hard-nosed 0-0 road point. Then, out of thin air, El Maestro conjured a win.

1) I’m on record as saying there’s no such thing as an ugly win. But a boring win? Yeah, I think those exist. I think that’s what we watched on Saturday night.

The Timbers set up in a 4-3-2-1 formation that kept everything nice and mucked up in our defensive third. It was ugly, but effective, getting us a clean sheet.

That doesn’t mean it was fun to watch. It was a slog, most of it taking place in the middle third of the pitch. Games like that make you a little annoyed with your under-performing offense, but it’s good to remember that the defense was doing exactly what they wanted: frustrating San Jose’s attackers and earning the Timbers a second straight shutout.

2) The man in goal for both those shutouts? Jeff Attinella.

Most people consider Attinella to be the communicator, while Jake Gleeson’s the shot-stopper. But on Saturday night, Jeff showed he could get down a little bit, too.

Now that you’ve seen those stops, take a look at the team’s 2018 goalkeeping statistics.

There’s really no argument: the starting job is Attinella’s to lose.

3) You guys are probably gonna tear me up for this, but I thought Diego Valeri was a little underwhelming Saturday night. For 88 minutes, he was a little slow, a little off-target, a little invisible. I think if the game had ended 0-0, we might be talking about what an off night he had.

But, of course, it didn’t end 0-0. After substitute striker Samuel Armenteros used a nifty little spin move to get fouled in front of the box, El Maestro stepped up, took the free kick, and turned one point into three, just like that.

Soccer’s a funny sport, isn’t it? Sometimes a game comes down to a single moment. Play beautifully for 89 minutes, but slack off for one, and you’re crying yourself to sleep. Spend 89 minutes grinding out a 0-0 road point, then get a moment of magic from the Maestro, and you’re celebrating the whole plane ride home.

We’ll have our hearts broken a few times this year, I’m sure, so it’s important to enjoy the games where that one moment falls in our favor.

4) A few random thoughts:

  • David Guzman, Vytautus Andriuskevicius (you’re damn right I spelled that without looking it up), and Bill Tuiloma all started for T2 Saturday, which means they’re back from injury. When will they be back starting for the first team? I have no idea. Maybe next week. Maybe never.
  • Andy Polo continues to be a defensive player, which is not at all what I expected entering the season. Since the team’s currently winning games and pitching shutouts, I guess I won’t complain too much, but still, it would be nice to see Polo make a few forward passes each game. Just one or two would be a good start, I think.
  • Follow-up thought that just occurred to me: Is it possible Andy Polo is the new Darlington Nagbe? Is it possible the Portland Timbers are contractually obligated to have at least one player on their roster who’s a complete and utter mystery?
  • Zarek Valentin bashed his head open in such an unexpected way, MLS Digital put together an entire video on the subject. But that wasn’t the moment Zarek’s brother was focused on. Here’s what he posted on Twitter.
  • That whole thing’s pretty funny, but you know what’s not funny? Diego Chara going down in the first half with a hurt right foot. That’s the same foot he broke last year in Houston. Granted, Chara played the full 90 in San Jose, proving once again that he’s not human, but a cyborg sent from the future to blow up opposing players. Regardless, I’m gonna worry about that foot. And I want you to worry about it, too. Diego Chara is the single most vital player on our team. We cannot lose him. Everyone, everywhere, light some candles for Diego’s right foot.

5) Let’s run some numbers.

After five games – all on the road – the Timbers were 0-3-2. That’s 0.4 points per game. Undeniably awful.

Three games later – that’s eight games total, six on the road, two at home – the Timbers are 3-3-2. That’s 1.38 PPG. A hell of a lot better.

Our next two games are at home. If we take four points out of them, our record will be 4-3-3, with a PPG of 1.50. That’s really quite good, and very close to the 1.53 the team won the Western Conference with last year.

But if we win both home games, taking all six points, suddenly we’re 5-3-2, with a PPG of 1.70, and possibly sitting atop the conference. Quite a change from where we were standing after that 5-game road trip to start the year, wouldn’t you say?

But, of course, winning our next two would mean a five-game winning streak, and the Timbers have never done that, not since joining MLS, at least.

We’ve won three in a row four times: this current streak, another one last year, and twice in 2015. One of those 2015 streaks turned into a four-game win streak.

But a five-game win streak? That would be a first.

6) One thing in our favor? We’re playing Seattle next week.

The Sounders are objectively terrible right now. They sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. They’ve scored the least number of goals in the entire league. This past weekend, playing at home against Columbus, they played a man up for 75 minutes and couldn’t score. Even more pathetically, they had 38 crosses from open play, but only one shot on goal. MLS Digital spent three-and-a-half minutes talking about it here. And to make matters worse – for them, at least – they’ve got a Wednesday night game in Toronto, so they’ll be good and tired when they play us next weekend.

All that being said, they’re still Seattle and they’re still gonna come down here and play with the passion and fight that a rivalry game like this deserves. Clint Dempsey would love nothing more than to repeat what he did last year, when he scored a heart-breaking late goal, then shushed the entire Timbers Army.

The boys in Green and Gold will do their part to make sure he doesn’t do that again. Up in the stands, we need to do our part, as well. Bring your A-game next week, everyone.