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Six Degrees: Back and Forth

Timbers 3, Sounders 2

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

I had a hard time coming up with a title for this column. I was thinking Us, Them, Us, Them, Us. Or maybe Punch, Counterpunch, Punch, Counterpunch, Punch. They both seem a bit too complicated, but definitely capture the feel of the match. It was back and forth the whole second half.

1) In last week’s column, I talked about how much I enjoy not knowing what lineup and formation Gio Saverese’s going to give us each week. I even started a game called What Crazy Shit Will Gio Do In Our Next Game?

I suggested a 4-3-1-2, with Vytas at left back, because why not? It was a good guess, though not nearly as good as this guess from the comments section, which I would argue might be the greatest lineup in the history of soccer.

Regardless, neither one of us were right. We zigged and Gio, being Gio, zagged. Here’s what he came out with on Saturday.

As I said on Twitter, OH MY GOD!!! THAT’S DAIRON ASPRILLA’S MUSIC!!!!!!!

That’s right, after last being seen inside the tiny doghouse that is itself inside a somewhat larger doghouse in Gio Savarese’s back yard, Dairon Asprilla made his second start of the year – his first having come when the Timbers hit rock bottom, the 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls B-team.

2) Perhaps even more surprising than seeing Asprilla in the XI, was seeing him listed, not as a winger, but as a second forward in a 4-4-2 diamond.

Did it feel like a 4-4-2 diamond to you guys? I’m truly no expert on 4-4-2 diamonds, but watching the game, it felt more like a 4-3-3. Samuel Armenteros was in the center, while Asprilla and Diego Valeri were on either side. But, again, I’m no expert. What did you see?

Regardless, it’s another week, and another tactical surprise for Gio Savarese. I gotta be honest, I’m loving it. And I suppose I’ll keep loving the surprises for as long as this unbeaten streak continues. When we start losing again, maybe I’ll start complaining and asking for consistency.

But we’re at 10 games unbeaten. 12 games if you count the US Open Cup. So bring it on, Mad Scientist Gio! Go into the lab each week and see what new insanity you can create! (And, oh by the way, have you considered a 1-2-3-4? I really think you should. It may be the future of soccer.)

3) How did Gio’s lineup work against Seattle? Pretty good, actually. For the first time in a long time, the Timbers weren’t sitting back and countering. In the first half, especially, we really dominated possession. I wish I had some halftime stats to back up this statement, but all I can offer is what I saw, and that was a Timbers team controlling the pace, dictating the game, and keeping Seattle on their heels.

Best among them? Dairon Asprilla. He was a dynamo the entire first 45 minutes, as these numbers confirm.

Granted, all that energy, all that possession, all that time in Seattle’s half of the field didn’t amount to any goals. With the score tied 0-0 at half, I’ll admit I was a little nervous. Would we see some goals in the second half?

4) In a word, yes. Five of them, actually.

Last week, I talked about how reliable a defender Larrys Mabiala had become. What I didn’t mention is that he’s now one of the hottest goalscorers in MLS. After scoring once with his head last week, he banged in two more headers on Saturday.

Here’s his first goal.

That gave the Timbers a 1-0 lead, and as Mike Donovan pointed out on Twitter, it was the first time Portland had ever led a regular season game at Seahawks stadium.

And as Mike Donovan also pointed out, the lead lasted all of two minutes.

There are a number of people to blame here. For starters, over on the touch line, Andres Flores and Zarek Valentin get a little confused about who was in charge of that ball, allowing Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro to swoop in and take it from them. Equal blame for both Flores and Valentin.

The next Timber to blame is Alvas Powell, who’s got to do a better job of reading Victor Rodriguez’s movement. Alvas takes a quick look over his right shoulder, so he knows Rodriguez is there, but he needs to be a lot more decisive. Rodriguez is charging forward, while Powell’s merely drifting. One nice cross later, and it’s 1-1. Powell’s got to do better.

5) Remember how I said the Timbers spent the first half possessing, instead of countering? Well, that shifted in the second half, and our next goal was a quintessential counter attack strike from Samuel Armenteros.

Bing, bang, boom. 10 seconds from Flores gaining possession to Armenteros rippling the back of the net.

That put us back on top, 2-1. Our first lead lasted two minutes. This one lasted 11. And when Seattle tied it up again, yes, there were once again people to blame.

Oh, Larrys, you’ve been so amazing lately, especially on set pieces, but clearly you’re not perfect, because you got taken to school on this one. Two things will make you feel better, though. One, Chad Marshall’s schooled a lot of people over his career. And two, you got your revenge just six minutes later.

That was Mabiala’s fourth shot on the day, all four of them on frame, two of them for goals, and three goals in two games. Clearly, Mabiala wants in on the striker competition. It’s no longer Adi vs. Armenteros. It’s now Adi vs. Armenteros vs. Mabiala.

6) Let’s finish things off with a few random thoughts.

  • If any of you are under the impression that I understand soccer, I can assure you, I don’t. This week’s proof? While watching at the bar, I thought Diego Valeri had a remarkably quiet game. Then I got home and saw this, proving that I know nothing.

  • Those three assists, by the way, that’s called an assist hat trick. Also known as an ass hat. And yes, I am 12 years old.
  • Diego Chara is soooooo friggin’ good. He makes plays where I’m not entirely sure how he did it. Take this one for example. He’s completely beaten, and then suddenly he’s not. How? It’s like dark magic or something. Chara’s a sorcerer.

  • I thought Armenteros got stronger as the game went on. His first half was very quiet, but he got more and more involved as the game went on. Does this mean he’s better in a countering game than he is in a possession game? I have no answers, I’m just asking the questions.
  • It was another missed game for both Fanendo Adi and Liam Ridgewell. I’m not sure when Adi’s quad situation will resolve itself, but Ridgy’s baby situation resolved itself Sunday morning. Say hello to Apollonia Ridgewell, everybody! (It’s unclear if she’ll be playing for the US or England in the 2043 World Cup.)