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Six Degrees: A Very Lucky Point

Portland 2, Montreal 2

MLS: Montreal Impact at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

This streak is amazing!

(Wait, I just realized I’m not sure which streak I mean. The 13 straight unbeaten in MLS? Or the 19 straight winless without Diego Chara? Probably both. Let’s call it both.)

These streaks are amazing!

1) As I wrote a few weeks back, if you’ve got to play three games in a week, the best way to do it is Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday. That way, you’re getting three days rest between each game.

The worst way to do it? Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday. Which is exactly what the Timbers just finished doing. Sunday game, two days rest, Wednesday game, two days rest, Saturday game. Oh, and also hotel life. And airplanes. And time away from family and friends.

So if you’re searching for a reason why the Timbers looked so flat in the first half Saturday night, maybe that’s your answer. Maybe they were just worn out.

Or maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe we just looked bad because Diego Chara wasn’t on the field. Maybe without him, fires weren’t put out, attackers weren’t blown up, our transitions were slower, Montreal’s defense could get set, and the entire team kinda ground to a halt.

Or maybe they were just tired. I can’t decide.

2) Whatever the reason, to my eyes, Montreal was clearly the better team coming out of the gate. Better in possession, better in defense, more energy, less sloppy. Name a soccer thing, and the Impact were doing it better.

So when they pulled off this lovely little goal in the 23rd minute, I wasn’t terribly surprised.

Lots of beautiful work by Montreal, lots of ugly work by the Timbers.

Do we get angry at Julio Cascante for being so far forward? I’m not sure we do. That area of the field belongs to Zarek Valentin, and since you can see he’s still coming back after an attack, someone had to go challenge that ball. But just as Montreal was better in the game, Alejandro Silva was better on this play. He showed both skill and tenacity coming out of there with the ball, and Cascante’s left picking himself up off the ground, wondering what the hell just happened.

But Silva wasn’t done clowning Portland defenders. Next up was Lawrence Olum, who got faked out of his jock strap. (Do people still wear jock straps? Is that still a thing? Or has the world moved on to newer and better athletic underpants technology? Young people, help us out. Jock straps: still a thing?)

Anyway, Silva made a very nice soccer play that separated Olum from his athletic undergarments.

From there, it’s just a drive into the box, a nice cross to a late runner, and a professional finish from Saphir Taider. Really nice work from Silva and a very deserved goal for Montreal.

3) Portland answered in the 39th minute, but it wasn’t nearly so beautiful, or nearly so deserved. It was both ugly and lucky.

It’s a decent, though not perfect entry pass from Alvas Powell, which Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush gets a weak fist to. He punches it right into the path of Cristhian Paredes, causing the entire crowd to rise in anticipation of Paredes’s scorching blast into the net.

Alas, it was neither scorching, nor blasted, nor into the net. Instead, it was one of the ugliest shots you’ll ever see, a wildly spinning lob straight into Bush’s hands.

Or maybe not. Is it possible Paredes’s shot was actually perfect? Turns out he hit the thing so damn badly, and it was spinning so damn hard, that Bush couldn’t handle it, it spun right out of his hands, and Samuel Armenteros was standing there, ready to put a nice calm shot into goal.

It was an ugly, lucky goal, but sometimes that’s just what a team needs. The score was 1-1 and the Timbers were back in the match.

And that lasted for about two minutes.

As you can see, the play was clearly onside. A beautiful run by Matteo Mancosu, a beautiful pass by Ignacio Piatti, and a beautiful finish at the end. Not much we fans can do but shake our heads in sad, frustrated admiration. (Or, alternatively, boo the referee mercilessly, thinking the play was offside, and making it look like we don’t understand the rules of soccer. Whichever.)

That was a tough way to end the first half, but at least the players could gather themselves in the locker room and the coaching staff could come up with a new plan for the second half.

4) Which they did.

In his post-game remarks, Coach Giovanni Savarese mentioned flipping midfielders Paredes and Andres Flores to opposite sides, but to my inexpert eyes, the biggest change was an overall increase in energy, an increase in urgency. The most obvious evidence of this was the forwards and midfielders defending higher up the field, applying serious pressure to the Montreal defenders, making them rush their passes, and causing a few turnovers. It was the first time I can remember that kind of high pressure since the first couple games of the year. Is Gio ready to start using that high pressure defense again? Will we see more of it moving forward?

Only time will tell, but I did like the overall increase in energy, and in the 65th minute, it paid dividends. Or maybe it was just Evan Bush giving us another gift.

As you can see, after Diego Valeri nods the ball home, the Montreal players immediately start losing their minds, claiming Valeri interfered with Bush. The complaints lasted for far, far too long, and included Montreal’s head coach getting sent to the locker room. (Quick question: if a coach gets red-carded, does he miss the next game as well? This is a legitimate question.) The entire imbroglio reminded me of the Colombian team surrounding Mark Geiger at the World Cup. Geiger should have booked a few players that day, and I think Fotis Bazakos should have booked a few Montreal players on Saturday night.

Now, you can call me a homer (and I am, of course. I’m a total homer.) but I think it was a good no-call. Watch Valeri. He doesn’t move into Bush. He finds his spot in front of goal, the ball’s coming down, then Bush moves into him. Valeri actually ends up jumping (or being knocked) away from Bush. To my homeriffic eyes, it’s not interference, it’s a good no-call and a 2nd lucky goal for the Timbers.

That made it 2-2 with 25 minutes left in the game. The Timbers went like hell to the final whistle, but despite admirable spirit and many chances, were unable to find a winning goal. The MLS unbeaten streak reached 13, the winless-without-Chara streak reached 19.

5) A few random thoughts:

  • Cascante got his head on a lot of crosses/corners/free kicks, finishing the game with a team-high three shots on target. Between him and Larrys “Big Head” Mabiala, I’m feeling good about our set piece production moving forward.
  • The Impact had two shots on goal. Both of them were goals. This is depressing.
  • Both our goals were lucky, and we almost got lucky twice more, as Montreal tried to put two headers into their own goal for us, but failed. So clearly their finishing wasn’t perfect..
  • Did you see that cool free kick we had in the first half? Sebastian Blanco fakes the shot and runs forward, Valeri hits it short to Armenteros, then Sammy tries chipping it to Blanco in front of goal. We didn’t pull it off, but I love the creativity. Gimme more stuff like that, Gio!
  • Post-game, the Oregonian’s Jamie Goldberg asked Gio about Fanendo Adi. His answer was quite unexpected. Keep an eye on this situation moving forward. I have no predictions on how it will turn out.
  • Speaking of forwards, what does Jeremy Ebobisse have to do to get some playing time? No minutes against LAFC midweek, no minutes against Montreal. Is he that unimpressive in practice?

6) As you know, this was the team’s 13th straight MLS result. Take a look at our form guide.

A lot more draws than wins these days, eh? In fact, over our last seven games, we’re just 2-0-5.

However, before we panic too much, I’ll point out that three of those draws were against top teams (Atlanta, SKC, LAFC) and the other two were against teams that started the season slow, but have played their way back above the red line (LAG, MTL). So the sky’s definitely not falling.

But still... it’s time to start winning again. And we’re heading into a stretch where we could do just that.

Our next three games are at home, and unlike this past game, we’ll have a full week of rest between them all. Next Saturday we host Houston, a team that is definitely hovering around the playoff line, but who has won only one game on the road this year.

After that, we host Philadelphia. Again, a team on the edge of the playoffs, but traveling across the continent to face us.

And then we’re home to Vancouver, a steaming pile of dog excrement who just lost 2-0 to Seattle. Seattle!

These are three imminently winnable games. We’ll be at home, we’ll have rest, and, presumably, we’ll have Diego Chara.

You know what I’m thinking? Nine points or bust. Who’s with me?