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Six Degrees: Ugly Game, Beautiful Point

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Portland 0, LAFC 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It was hot, it was sweaty, and it was ugly. No, I’m not talking about the back seat of my car on prom night (bada bing!). I’m talking about this week’s Timbers game. On the road, in the sun and heat, against a great team who score goals by the bushel? That’s a 0-0 draw I’ll definitely take. To the prom. (bada bing?)


1) Sunday’s 0-0 road draw against LAFC wasn’t the most pleasant game to watch. High temperatures and a cloudless afternoon made for hot, sweaty players whose minds wanted to play soccer, but whose bodies would have preferred a nice little nap in the shade. It led to a game where you could almost see the players wilting. As the clock ticked on, the attacks came slower, the bursts of speed came less often, and by the end, the Timbers were clearly happy to kick the ball back and forth, wait for the referee to blow his whistle, and get out of there with a 0-0 draw.

And hey, a road draw against a good team is always a nice thing, right? A few weeks back, we had to do it against league-leading Atlanta. This time, we had to do it against an LAFC team that came into the weekend tied with Dallas atop the Western Conference standings and had banged in a conference-best 41 goals. Did the Timbers have a chance? Could Gio Savarese work some more of his magic?

Yes. Yes, he could.

The Timbers came out in a 5-3-2, with jack-of-all-trades Lawrence Olum switching from defensive midfield to third center back, right between Larrys Mabiala and Julio Cascante. This was pretty much the exact same thing we did against Atlanta, and just like then, it worked.

With a full eight players manning the box and the area immediately in front of it, LAFC was rarely able to get anything going offensively. They had some shots from deep, plus a few open looks off set pieces, but for the most part, they spent the day frustratedly banging on our front door, but never getting in.

The 5-man backline’s a tool Gio’s pulled out of the toolbox twice this year, and both times, it’s worked. Will we see it again? Perhaps whenever we play a scary offense? Or maybe it’s just for road games? Or hell, maybe Gio will use it randomly, so the opposing team won’t be expecting it?

Clearly, I don’t have the answers, I’m just asking the questions. But I do know that, once again, Gio’s plan worked, Sunday’s game was played on our terms, we’re up to 12-straight unbeaten in MLS play, and I’m starting to think that, if Gio Savarese’s not the top candidate for MLS Coach of the Year, he’s in the top two. The only guy who might have a better case is LAFC’s Bob Bradley, who, ohbytheway, Gio just took a road point from.

2) With all that heat and all that sun, neither team ever broke through. But despite the lack of goals, the Timbers did create some chances, a few of them very good. I’ve put them all together into another mega compilation.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that should be all-caps. MEGA COMPILATION.

And probably bolded, too. And italicized. With some exclamation points. MEGA COMPILATION!!!!

Okay, I’ll stop now.

Yes, I know there were some shots I didn’t include, but, sadly, I don’t have the footage. Blame the guy who puts together the official highlight reel. Regardless, the MEGA COMPILATION!!!! still shows some more-than-decent chances, especially the one where Samuel Armenteros banged it off the far post. The Timbers definitely could’ve grabbed a goal or two.

And a goal or two is all it would have taken, because down at the other end of the field...

3) Jeff Attinella was pitching another shutout,

It was Dadtinella’s 5th shutout in 11 starts this year, which is damn impressive. I wouldn’t call it his most impressive shutout, though, simply because he didn’t have to make any impressive stops. Take a look at LAFC’s shot compilation and count the number of times they hit the ball right into Jeff’s hands. (Again, some LAFC shots are missing. Again, blame the guy who puts together the official highlight reel.)

Nothing too amazing, right? Yeah, there were some quick-reflex stops, but even those were pretty much right into his hands.

Just know that I feel bad casting doubt on the quality of this shutout. Forgive me. I still think Jeff’s awesome. I thought he controlled his box really well, he communicated, and he made the stops he had to make. He’s still leading the league in Goals Against Average (0.73) and Save Percentage (85.7), he’s still the only ‘keeper who hasn’t lost a game, and if he keeps it up, he should definitely be in the running for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

That being said, I hope all his saves are as easy as these were.

4) Storytime: maybe three or four years ago, mlssoccer.com’s always-brilliant Matt Doyle wrote a piece listing the best two or three players at each position. Maybe it was for an All-Star game or an end of the year Best XI, I can’t remember. What I do remember is that Diego Chara’s name was nowhere to be found. Down in the comments, I asked why Chara hadn’t made it, and Doyle answered something like “I can think of 4 or 5 defensive midfielders above him.” (I have no documentation of this, btw, you’re just going to have to trust my semi-reliable memory.)

Anyway, fast-forward to Sunday afternoon, and Doyle’s tweeting this.

And then on Monday morning, Charlie Davies posted this article praising Chara to the heavens.

So here’s my question: why is everyone finally appreciating Chara? Has he gotten a lot better in the last few years? Have the other d-mids gotten a lot worse? Or is Chara playing exactly the same as always, only now the rest of the world’s finally noticed?

I think it’s the latter. I think Chara’s been doing this the entire time he’s been in the league, but no one outside of Portland ever noticed. I’ve literally never seen a Timbers game where Chara wasn’t running for 90+ minutes, snuffing out attacks, starting counter-attacks, putting out fires, blowing dudes up, walking the fine line between foul and yellow card, and basically making the top of the box a no-fly zone for opposing attackers.

You and I, we’ve understood and appreciated Chara since the moment he entered the league. The rest of the world’s finally catching up. Better late than never, I guess.

Now, about that MLS All-Star Game...

5) A few random thoughts.

  • We’re halfway through the year and I still don’t know what Andy Polo is. He’s certainly not a bad player, but is he a good player? If he’s good, what kind of good is he? Is he a hold-possession-in-the-middle-of-the-field-Darlington-Nagbe-type of good? Or is he something else? Gimme your Polo thoughts down below.
  • Also give me your Gio substitution thoughts, because I can’t figure them out. You saw that he only used two subs, right? On a hot, exhausting day, where everyone’s dragging ass, he left a sub on the bench. That’s Porter-esque, isn’t it? Another confusing thing? All the defensive subs. Three times this year, he’s subbed on Vytautus Andriuskevicius. Another three times, he’s subbed on Bill Tuiloma. Another three, Lawrence Olum. Once, Julio Cascante. And these aren’t someone-got-hurt-in-the-first-half subs. These are two-minutes-left-in-the-game subs. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m just saying it’s unusual and I don’t fully understand it. Gimme your thoughts.
  • I have a small collection of gifs labeled “Blanco Being Blanco.” They’re basically just a historical record of all the times Sebastian Blanco tried and failed to start a bench-clearing brawl. I’m trying to decide if this gif should make the list.

Does this clip show “Blanco Being Blanco?” Or does it show someone having a completely appropriate response to getting spiked right next to their baby-maker? I think it’s the latter. I think if Lee Nguyen were to spike Pope Francis in that same spot, his Holiness would probably have the exact same reaction. Not that I want to see this. (I kinda do, actually.)

  • The MEGA COMPILATION!!!! up above doesn’t include this beauty. Enjoy.

  • And finally, here’s a photo of Larrys Mabiala watching his home country play in the World Cup final. Larrys is honestly becoming one of my favorite Timbers. He just seems like a really good dude.

6) I hope the Timbers liked LAFC’s new stadium, because they’ll be playing there again on Wednesday night. It’s the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup and we’ll be playing LAFC for the second time in four days.

Will we play the same 5-3-2 formation? Mmmmmmmaybe. Or maybe not. Maybe Gio will want to throw something new at them. Perhaps he’ll roll out that 1-2-3-4 I’ve been dreaming of every night for the last three weeks. (Don’t judge me.)

Will we play the same players? Almost certainly not, since, one, they’re tired, and two, they’ve got another game on Saturday. But maybe a few will play. Diego Chara, almost certainly, since, one, he doesn’t get tired, and two, he’ll be suspended for Saturday’s game, so why not use him while you can.

Who else plays a second straight game? Maybe either Diego Valeri or Sebastian Blanco? To run the offense? Maybe Jeff Attinella? Because, you know, keepers?

The truth is, with Gio showing us this year how much depth the first team has, and also after seeing some T2 guys play in our previous US Open games, I wouldn’t feel too hopeless if our lineup was nothing but second-stringers. Fanendo Adi and Dairon Asprilla up front? I have zero problem with that. Andres Flores and David Guzman in the middle? Bring it on! Vytas and Tuiloma in the back? I trust those guys. And there’s a whole slew of young guns I’d enjoy seeing. Jeremy Ebobisse and Foster Langsdorf? Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano, and Marvin Loria? All five of those kids have looked good every time I’ve seen them. And, hell, what about Gresham’s own Marco Farfan? Put him in, Coach, he’s ready to play!

But not only does Gio need to think about Wednesday night, he also needs to think about Saturday, because guess who’s coming to town? The Montreal Impact, who’ve been surprisingly frisky as of late. After starting the year 4-10-0 (0.86 PPG), they’ve played at a Supporter’s Shield level since, going 6-2-0 (2.25 PPG) in their last eight, and finding themselves in the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff spot. Is it all smoke and mirrors, or is Montreal a genuinely good team? And what’s with the lack of draws? Did you notice they haven’t drawn a single game the entire year? It’s all W’s and L’s. How is that possible?

Anyway, the point is, Montreal’s a much more dangerous matchup than they once were. Making things even harder, we’ll be playing them without Chara, who’ll be sitting this one out due to yellow card accumulation. The Timbers are 0-11-7 with a -21 goal differential in their last 18 games without Chara.

Which streak gets broken on Saturday? Our 12 games unbeaten in MLS streak? Or our 18 games winless without Chara streak? There’s only one way to find out. See you Saturday night at the park.