This was an incredibly emotional match and I was trying not to cry afterwards. We’ll talk about that later. First, the actual game.
1) Let’s start pre-game. At some point Saturday, we got the news that Samuel Armenteros had hurt his back and was now being listed as “questionable.” Almost immediately, Timberdom began speculating. If Sammy couldn’t go, who would start at striker?
Dairon Asprilla? Well, one, he’s not really a striker, and two, in previous stints playing up top (I think it’s been twice this year? Both in the US Open Cup? Though I’m not entirely sure, hence all the question marks?), in his previous stints, he’s been decidedly unimpressive.
So who, then? Jeremy Ebobisse? Foster Langsdorf? Alas, alack, they were both in Los Angeles, playing for T2. (And playing well, thank you very much. Goal and assist for Jebo, two goals for Langsdorf, who needs a nickname. I’m leaning toward Wondo 2.0.)
Well, dagnabbit, who’s left? Had Gio Savarese accidentally screwed himself, sending all his backup strikers to LA, relying on the suddenly-injured Armenteros? Was Dairon the Winger our only option?
But wait. What’s that you say? Fanendo Adi? Could Adi see the field again? Hell, could Adi see the bench again? He hadn’t played, he hadn’t even made the 18 in so long. And just this past week, our speculations had been confirmed that Adi was asking for a trade, asking to be sent somewhere he could get more playing time.
Would the Timbers play Adi? And could the Timbers play Adi? Because if they were in negotiations with another team, the last thing they’d want is for Adi to get hurt. An injury might cause that potential trade to be ruined.
About six hours before the game, I made this prediction.
Bold prediction for tonight's #PORvHOU match: Adi gets the emergency start, gets the club's first-ever hat trick, and never scores another goal for the green and gold. Probably won't happen, but what a story it would be and what a way to go out. #RCTID— C.I. DeMann (@CIDeMann) July 28, 2018
Then, about an hour before the game, the Oregonian’s Jamie Goldberg broke the news.
Tonight will be Fanendo Adi's final game as a Portland Timber. The Timbers have completed a deal to move him. I do not yet have details on whether he is going to another MLS club or abroad #RCTID #MLS #PORvHOU https://t.co/oga3cXar9U— Jamie Goldberg (@Jamiebgoldberg) July 29, 2018
So that meant there was no way Adi would play, right? If there was a deal in the works, a deal pretty much done, there’s no way the Timbers would risk Adi getting injured, right? Not only would the Timbers not allow it, surely the team getting Adi wouldn’t allow it, either. Right? Right?
Wrong. When the starting XI came out, there was Adi’s name, down on the bench.
So what are we looking at here? A 3-5-2? Midfielders Dairon Asprilla and Diego Valeri playing as pseudo-strikers? Fanendo Adi on the bench, potentially not playing a minute, potentially just there as a decoy, potentially just there so the team could have 18 guys?
No one had answers, only questions. There were already about a million narratives and the game hadn’t even started yet.
So let’s fix that. Let’s get to the actual game.
2) The game started with Houston dominating. Just like us, they had three center backs, but unlike us, their attackers were pressing like hell. Seriously, they came out of the gates on fire, and were all over our defenders, getting right up in their shirts, looking for turnovers.
It definitely put the Timbers on their heels, but the good thing about high pressing teams is that if you can get past their initial press, there’s a good chance for a counterattacking goal. Which is exactly what happened in the sixth minute.
Quick question: which player ain’t nothin’ to fuck with?
Answer: Alvas Powell ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.
I gotta tell you, Alvas Powell may have been my Man of the Match Saturday. He was absolutely sensational, start to finish. When that dude gets free rein to attack, he’s a force. He and DeMarcus Beasley were going at it all night long, and Alvas was the clear winner. Offensively, defensively, passing, shooting, the guy was just sensational.
Do you think playing with three center backs is what allowed Powell to have a night like this? Did it allow him to be more aggressive? Because, if so, keep it coming. Gimme all of that you got.
3) So that put us up 1-0 in the 6th minute. Which is nice.
But remember what I said about Houston’s high press? That was still happening, and it was still making me very nervous. Moments like this didn’t help.
I mean, yeah, I guess that’s kind of cool move by Jeff Attinella, but it’s also kind of terrifying. Because it’s exactly what high pressing teams want you to do. They want goalkeepers and defenders handling the ball under pressure. That’s how turnovers happen and that’s how goals are scored.
Remember our 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls? That was all about defenders turning the ball over. Remember Diego Valeri’s goal 27 seconds into MLS Cup? That was all about a goalkeeper turning the ball over.
So when I saw the Timbers trying to build slowly out of the back on Saturday, when I saw our defenders making short little passes against that high press, I was very, very, very nervous. And – I swear this story is true – in the 12th minute, I was turning to my friend Kevin and saying, “Damn, why is Cascante trying to...”
But I didn’t get to finish that sentence, because that’s when this happened.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what can happen when defenders and goalkeepers try dribbling their way past a high press. It was a quick but painful death for Julio Cascante, and it made the score 1-1.
4) The rest of the game? As you can see from the chart below, while Houston had a couple periods of dominance, for the most part, once Houston tied it up, the game was all about Portland attacking and Houston defending.
The Timbers outshot the Dynamo 19-5, they had more passes, more crosses, more corner kicks, more of almost everything.
I mentioned up above that Alvas Powell ain’t nothin’ to fuck with, but you know who else looked good? Dairon Asprilla. Yeah, that’s right, the winger who nobody wanted to see line up at forward actually had a really good game. He was running his ass off, making himself available for through balls and crosses, and even got a couple really nice shots on goal.
I like this first shot because it’s a chip. Asprilla has a tendency to fire balls directly at goalkeepers, which is rarely a good plan. This time, however, he tried to chip it over the keeper, and while it didn’t work out, I applaud the effort. It’s progress.
And this one? Dear Lord. If he’d pulled this off, he might be up for MLS Goal of the Year. Absolutely gorgeous body control. Damn the keeper for denying the world such a beautiful goal.
So anyway, good game for you, Dairon. Perhaps you’ll be a decent backup forward, after all.
Also having a good game Saturday night? Diego Chara. Welcome back from your suspension, kind sir. You’re an absolute beast.
No quite as beastly, but still rather good: Our three center backs, Larrys Mabiala, Lawrence Olum, and Julio Cascante. Yes, Cascante screwed up on Houston’s goal, but I’m still pretty happy with what he and Mabiala are building. They’re a very solid CB pairing, and it makes me wonder if Liam Ridgewell can work his way back into the starting XI. (By the way, I’m wondering the same thing about Vytas and David Guzman. How many trades might we see in the next few weeks?)
A guy who’s not being traded is Lawrence Olum, since he seems to be 2018’s official Swiss Army knife. Whether he lines up as a center back or a defensive midfielder or some weird amalgam between the two, the guy’s become pretty reliable, he gives Gio a lot of options, and it’s clear the coach trusts him.
Another guy Gio seems to trust, but who drives me absolutely crazy: Andy Polo. So many times on Saturday I was screaming at Polo to attack. The guy is just so friggin’ passive. Am I wrong about this? Is he more aggressive than I realize? Or maybe passive is exactly the way Gio wants him to play? Please give me your thoughts on Polo. I don’t know what to think.
5) So, like I said, for the most part, this game was Portland attacking and Houston defending, but since none of our shots were finding the back of the net, the score stayed even, and I was up in the stands, getting more and more fearful, worried Houston was going to walk out of there with a 1-1 draw.
And then, in the 75th minute, who rises off the bench, pulls on a jersey, and walks to the 4th official? Fanendo Adi.
Watch that clip with the sound on. If you weren’t in the stadium when it happened, trust me, it was a magical moment. When we saw Adi getting ready to come in, the entire Timbers Army started buzzing. The buzzing quickly turned to “Adi Bomaye” chants and I felt my heart grow two sizes. I’m writing this right now with goosebumps. Seriously.
So, what do you think? If the Timbers had been ahead 2-1, do you think Adi would have come in? Do you think the team would have been willing to risk him getting injured, and potentially negating his upcoming transfer?
Personally, I think if we’d been ahead, he’d have stayed on the bench until stoppage time. I think he would have come on right before the death, everybody would have cheered him, it would be a wonderful moment, and that would be that.
But that’s not what happened, of course. We weren’t up 2-1. The score was even, time was running out, and the Timbers needed him. Upcoming transfer be damned, the team needed Adi. They needed him to come on one last time and grab us a victory. Could he do it? Could he?
You bet he could.
Are you kidding me? Is this real life or a movie?
Blanco to Polo to Valeri to Adi to the back of the net. That many one-touch passes in such tight quarters is either amazing skill, amazing luck, or a little of both. Regardless, we’ll take it. We will absolutely take it.
If you want to see the goal with sound, here’s the clip. John Strong’s making the call, the fans are freaking out. What a way for Adi to go out, giving us a 2-1 victory with the last goal he’ll ever score for the Green and Gold.
6) I’m going to use this final degree to say farewell to Fanendo Adi.
There are Timbers fans who don’t like Adi and never have. I suppose they have their reasons, and fine, whatever. I’ve got reasons, too. Let me give them to you. Let me tell you why we should say goodbye to this man with full hearts and best wishes.
For starters, he was this club’s first great striker. Who was better? Maxi Urruti? Ryan Johnson? Kris Boyd? Kenny Cooper? Maybe you could say John Bain was great, but he was playing in a much, much, much worse league. Adi was here while MLS was improving by leaps and bounds, and during that time he was, unquestionably, one of the best strikers in it, a striker other teams would kill to have.
Secondly, he’s been our best goalscorer since he got here. Yes, Diego Valeri’s got more goals overall, but remember, Diego’s been here a season and a half longer. Since Adi arrived in the middle of 2014, no one’s put more in the net.
Third, he’s been incredibly consistent. Check out his stats below. Nine goals, 16 goals, 16 goals, 10 goals. If he’d played full seasons in 2014 and 2017, you might be looking at 16, 16, 16, and 16. The dude was a sure thing.
Fourth, he’s been money off the bench.
Since making his MLS debut in May 2014, Fanendo Adi has scored 9 goals as a substitute, which is 2nd-most in that timespan behind only Alan Gordon. #RCTID— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) July 29, 2018
Fifth, he got pounded every single game. Go up and take another look at that clip of him entering the game. (I’ll make it easier for you. Here’s the link.) Right at the end, watch how Machado gives him an elbow while he passes, then Watts immediately gives him a shoulder. Play hasn’t even started yet! That’s just him coming onto the field! Every single game was like that for Adi and I can only remember one time he flipped out. (For the record, it was Beckerman who did it, giving him an elbow to the ribs.)
Sixth, he had some of the softest feet you’ll ever see. They weren’t necessarily quick feet, but they were definitely soft. You can see it clearly on my all-time favorite Timbers goal.
Seventh, he was a good person. Follow him on Twitter, watch him in interviews, hear stories about him around town, and see how his teammates treat him on the field. All of it points to someone who’s a nice guy, a fun guy, and a good teammate.
Eighth, he had the best goal celebrations. They were always the same: he’d put his arms out, kind of like airplane wings, he’d let out a big scream, he’d run maybe 10-15 feet, and then – and here’s the important part – then he’d gather all his teammates into a huge hug. If any of you have kids playing soccer, show them Adi’s goal celebrations. Show them Valeri’s, too. Adi does the airplane arms, while Valeri does the jumping fist pump, but then they both bring the entire team into a big group hug. This is how you do it, kids. Score your goal, be happy, then let your teammates know that they matter, too. This goal is about them, too.
And ninth, yeah, sure, he wanted a trade, but can you really hate him for that? Great players want to start. Great players want to make good money. Great players want to play against great competition. And great players in the prime of their careers should want all these things. Adi’s career was stalling here, so he’s moving on. If you hate him for that, let me ask you, do you hate Darlington Nagbe, too? How about Adam Kwarasey? Jorge Villafana? Rodney Freaking Wallace? Players move on. That doesn’t make them bad people. Nagbe’s a #TimberForLife and so is Fanendo Adi.
Adi’s been an amazing player for us, he should get his name up in the rafters someday, and when that happens, you should point up to it and tell people, “Yeah, I saw him play. Amazing player. Big dude. Soft feet. Took a beating every game. First great striker this team ever had.”
I’ll finish with a clip of him after the game, after he’d received his final log slice and went up onto the capo stand to say his goodbyes. Watch it with the sound on. It was an amazing moment. I was up in 105 trying not to cry.
I’ll miss you, Fanendo, and I wish you nothing but good luck. Except, of course, when you’re playing the Timbers.