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Six Degrees: Only Close Wins

Portland 2, San Jose 1

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It seems wrong to complain when you’re on an 11-game MLS unbeaten streak, but I’m gonna complain a little anyway. What’s a guy got to do to get an easy win?

1) Saturday night’s game started well, with San Jose picking up an always-rare 1st minute yellow card. Things continued well from there, and in the 14th minute, the Timbers finally got on the board. The goal started with Lawrence Olum’s interception.

Going on a quick Olum tangent— last year, I liked his play as a center back, but not as a defensive midfielder. This year, he’s impressing me in the midfield, too. And his solid play must be forcing some very tough decisions on Giovanni Savarese. Does he keep playing Olum? Replace him with Andy Polo or David Guzman, who, ohbytheway, are the team’s only World Cup players? And whither young Cristhian Paredes? For awhile, he was an automatic inclusion in the Starting XI. Now it’s been two games without him. Injury? Poor performance? Both? Neither?

Anyway, the goal started with Olum’s interception.

That’s a solid pass from Diego Valeri and a solid goal for Samuel Armenteros. One funny thing about it? Roughly a minute earlier, their roles had been reversed, with Armenteros passing to Valeri, but Valeri had gotten it stuck in his feet. A minute later, Armenteros handled the pass just fine.

2) Valeri assisted on all three goals against Seattle last week. The goal up above made it four in a row. Anybody want to go for five straight?

That’s a hell of a counter-attacking goal. Last week, we scored a goal that took 10 seconds to get from Jeff Attinella’s glove to the back of the opponent’s net. This one took 12 seconds. Fear the counter. Fear it.

When we think of braces, we think of Fanendo Adi, who’s had about a thousand of them for the Timbers. It would seem Armenteros wants in on that sweet brace action, too, since this is his second of the season. Four of his six goals have come via braces, which is an Adi-esque stat if ever there was one.

But you know what neither Adi nor Armenteros have done? Scored a hat trick. And when Darwin Quintero put three in the net for Minnesota United last Wednesday night, it left the Timbers as the only club in MLS to have never scored a hat trick. What a crazy stat, right? All these braces, but never a hatty? Weird.

Armenteros was trying for the hat trick, that’s for sure. He got a bunch of chances. A bunch.

Actually, hold on. This topic deserves its own degree.

3) The Timbers are crushing it lately. There’s no arguing this point. 11 games unbeaten in MLS play? 8-0-3? 2.45 PPG? That’s Supporter’s Shield-level play. When your team’s doing that well, you’d have to be a real asshole to complain, right?

Turns out, I’m a real asshole. I kinda want to complain a little. Just a tiny bit.

Our eight wins during this streak? Seven of them have been by one goal. The only exception was our 3-0 win over NYCFC. Everything else? 1-0. 2-1. 3-2.

So here’s the question that’s been worrying me lately: do the 2018 Portland Timbers know how to put teams to the sword? Do we know how to destroy a team, humiliate them, make them abandon hope? Or will we keep allowing opponents to hang around, keep them playing hard for the full 90, knowing that they can grab a late goal and steal a result?

It’s nerve-wracking. It really is. I want some 3-0 wins. Some 4-0 wins. Especially against bad teams like Seattle and San Jose.

Now, all that being said, it could be worse. The club’s longest unbeaten streak was back in 2013, when we ran off 15 straight without a loss. But that team’s record was actually worse. During the streak, they were 7-0-8, for a PPG of 1.93. That’s a lot of draws. Compare it with our current streak, when we’re 8-0-3 for a PPG of 2.45 PPG.

Clearly, even if this team doesn’t know how to put teams to the sword, they at least know how to win. So that’s something.

4) And another thing this crew’s doing better than 2013’s team? When that team got a lead, they would often switch to a defensive posture. Take their foot off the gas.

This group, they keep attacking. They keep creating chances. In fact, they created so many chances Saturday night, I felt compelled to put them all together into one long gif. We’ll call it The Timbers Trying To Put San Jose To The Sword But Not Quite Pulling It Off Mega Compilation.

There’s a lot of frustration to be had watching those missed shots, but there’s some good, too. My favorite thing to notice? There were a few shots Saturday night that came from a moment of individual brilliance, but those were rare. More often, we were getting our shots because of really nice team soccer. Off the ball movement, giving and going, stringing together passes.

Those are the missed shots I find the most encouraging, because they feel repeatable. Moments of brilliance? Those aren’t always repeatable. But good quality soccer? Players working together? That’s repeatable.

Will it be harder against an opponent better than San Jose? Say, perhaps, LAFC next weekend? Yes, of course it will be harder. But if the Timbers keep doing all those nice things, keep playing good team soccer, the chances will come. Maybe only half as often against a better team, but that’s still gonna be a pretty high number. That’s still gonna be a lot of good opportunities, and a lot of good shots on goal.

Now, if we can only finish them...

5) Our poor finishing skills allowed San Jose to retain hope, and in the 87th minute, they put fear into all our hearts by making it a one-goal game.

I’m not sure who to blame on this goal. Is there a Timbers who truly blows it? Or is it just a really nice goal by San Jose?

I’m hesitant to blame Olum. He’s marking Quincy Amarikwa pretty well. He even has help from Valeri. Amarikwa just does a really nice job holding possession and working his way out of trouble.

That run from Florian Jungwirth, do we blame Julio Cascante, since he was the closest man? Or is it just a really nice run?

And then Amarikwa’s gorgeous side of the foot pass to Jungwirth? Again, maybe it’s just a really nice play. Maybe there’s no one to blame there.

What do you think? Is there a clear and obvious scapegoat?

6) Well, here we are on our last degree, I’ve already written a fuck-ton, and I’ve still got a fuck-ton to say. There’s only one solution: a bulleted list!

  • Armenteros tries shit. Sometimes he pulls it off, sometimes he doesn’t, but at least he’s trying it.
  • He has six goals in his last seven games. That’s Josef Martinez production, right there. And his interplay with the rest of the team – particularly Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco – is improving visibly.
  • It makes me a little sad to say this, since I’m a big Fanendo Adi fan, but I think Armenteros may be the best striker this team’s ever had. The dude’s good. Really good.
  • We, of course, have no idea what formation Gio will put out there each week, but do we like Dairon Asprilla starting next to Armenteros? Or would we prefer Adi, instead? Or would we prefer only one forward and a whole bunch of midfielders? Give me your thoughts down below.
  • When Alvas Powell left the game, he looked hurt, not tired. Think Vytautas Andriuskevicius will get his first start next week?
  • You’re damn right I spelled Vytas’s name correctly without looking it up!
  • Speaking of back line starts, has Cascante taken that center back spot permanently? Or does Liam Ridgewell earn it back?
  • Diego Chara got his seventh yellow card Saturday night. His next yellow means a one-game suspension.
  • Larrys Mabiala’s also one yellow away from suspension.
  • Damn, I almost forgot Attinella’s save. Look at this shit! The ball was behind him!

  • Next week will be tough. If you have to have three games in a week, the option that gives the most rest is Saturday/Wednesday/Sunday. The worst option is Sunday/Wednesday/Saturday, which is exactly what we’ll get next week. It’s gonna be brutal. Expect a lot of squad rotation.
  • Perhaps good, perhaps bad, the first two games are both against LAFC (one’s an MLS game, the other’s US Open Cup), so at least the team won’t have to travel. Let’s hope their hotel in LA is extra nice.