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Six Degrees: All Good Things Must Come To An End

Vancouver 2, Portland 1

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The bad news for me: it’s much less fun to write about a loss. The good news for me: I haven’t had to do it since April.

1) As you know, the Timbers came into Saturday night’s game with a 15-match unbeaten streak, and there were multiple reasons to think they’d extend that streak to 16 games. For starters, Vancouver’s not that great a team, plus they were tired from last Wednesday night’s Canadian Championship first leg, plus they’d probably rest a few players for this coming Wednesday’s second leg, and finally, rest or no rest, their best player, Alphonso Davies, was out with an injury.

So, easy win, right? Or at least an easy draw, right?

Wrong. Because this is soccer, and soccer is a dickhead who just wants to break your heart.

During this long unbeaten streak, the Timbers had become a team that liked to sit deep, absorb pressure, then hit you on the counter. And that’s cool and all, but you know who else does that? Vancouver. And they do it even better than us.

So, coming into the match, the question was, which team would blink? Which team would come out of their shell and attack?

Turns out, it was Portland who came out of their shell. We set a new team record with 69% possession, our 26 shots were the third most in Portland’s MLS history, and none of it mattered, because Vancouver did what they always do, what they want to do. Sit deep, absorb pressure, hit on the counter, and win ugly.

2) There are two Timbers to blame on Vancouver’s first goal. Well, one and a half Timbers. Larrys Mabiala only deserves a little blame. Yes, he got thoroughly beaten to the ball by Kei Kamara, and normally he’d get full blame, but his mistake is clearly outweighed by Jeff Attinella’s mistake. Jeff’s the guy you really need to watch.

The irony is that Attinella’s supposed to be our smart, reliable keeper. Dumb mistakes like this – coming out of goal for a ball he can’t possibly get – that’s usually Jake Gleeson’s job. But no, this time it was Dadtinella making the bad decision and, 14 minutes in, the Timbers were down 1-0.

3) Roughly 25 minutes later, the Timbers had their chance to draw even. Diego Valeri got the ball in the box and was bowled over by Kendall Waston, who’s made a hell of a career out of bowling people over.

Now, I like showing you gifs of penalties because there’s usually lots to look at, but the resulting PK’s? I rarely make gifs for those, since nothing much happens. Guy shoots, guy scores, not much to see.

Except sometimes there is much to see.

A few things to note here. First thing, when was the last time Valeri missed a PK? I’m sure it’s happened but I can’t remember it. Dude’s generally automatic.

Second thing, how great is it that Samuel Armenteros comes up and kisses the maestro’s head? I’m pretty sure this is the first Timbers kiss since Pa Modou Kah kissed Darlington Nagbe back in 2014. I can’t find video of that, but trust me, it was awesome then and it’s awesome now.

Third thing, Valeri’s miss turned out to be a two-goal-swing, since a couple minutes later, this happened.

There are a lot of people blaming Alvas Powell for this goal, saying he’s a bum, that he should never start again, and ought to be playing for T2 next week.

And, of course, there are other people saying he was Man of the Match. So, you know, take it for what it’s worth.

To my eyes, yes, Alvas was beaten on this goal, but it happened farther upfield than what’s shown in this gif. Cristian Techera won their battle by getting ahead of Alvas somewhere up the field, then staying ahead of him all the way into the box. At that point, what can Alvas do, tackle the guy? Then you’d be complaining about the penalty he stupidly made.

Alvas isn’t a bum, he just got beat on this one play.

But in truth, like I said earlier, Alvas isn’t the story here. The story is that, because of Valeri’s missed PK, in the course of two minutes, a scoreline that should have been 1-1 was suddenly 2-0. It’s not unfair to say that Valeri’s miss decided the game.

4) In the 69th minute, the Timbers drew their second penalty of the game. (Also, their fourth penalty in two games, which, unsurprisingly, #StatMan Mike Donovan has stats for.)

I wouldn’t call this as rock solid as Valeri getting bowled over in the first half, but I wouldn’t call it a dive, either. Sebastian Blanco wants to move to his right and can’t because a defender’s stiff-arming him. Let’s call this a teachable moment for all the kids out there. Keep your grimy little mitts off attackers when they’re in the box.

I won’t show you the PK, since nothing noteworthy happened. Valeri took it, sunk it, and the score was 2-1 with about 20 minutes to play. Those final 20 minutes were filled with Portland attacking, Vancouver defending, Whitecaps players spending a great deal of time on the ground, seven minutes of stoppage time, and no further goals. The unbeaten streak was over at 15 games.

5) Here’s an entire degree dedicated to personnel issues. The starters, the reserves, the guys at T2, and the guys returning to the team after a few years away.

Let’s start with Saturday night’s bench. I’m starting to get really annoyed with Gio Savarese’s bench choices. Every week it feels like he’s got too many defenders and not enough attackers. Against Vancouver, we had exactly one forward in the 18, and he went down at halftime with an injury. Dairon Asprilla’s his backup? He’s not a forward! And on the bench it’s Andy Polo and Andres Flores? They’re barely attackers! This is a completely unacceptable bench.

Especially since we’ve got Jeremy Ebobisse and Foster Langsdorf tearing it up at T2. How are these guys still not making the bench? I’m starting to think they must have punched Gio in the face or something. What else explains it? We’re desperately short on forwards and they’re still not getting any play? It’s driving me insane.

And what about the recently-returned Lucas Melano? Is he our new backup forward? Is he even a forward? He played winger last time he was here, but didn’t play it all that well. In truth, I’d actually like to see him as a striker. Maybe he’ll be better there. It’s worth a try, at least.

Do you think we’ll see him Wednesday night in DC? Starting or off the bench? This might depend on the health of Samuel Armenteros. Whatever caused Sammy to leave Saturday’s game at halftime, keep your fingers crossed that it heals quickly.

But Luca’s not our only new/old player. Jorge Villafana flew into PDX on Sunday. Think he’s 100% guaranteed to win that left back spot? If so, when? Think he starts Wednesday, or do we not see him until next Saturday at Sporting Kansas City?

And what does Jorge’s return mean for current left back Zarek Valentin? While he doesn’t offer a lot as an attacker, Zarek’s widely acknowledged as the defense’s loudest voice. What happens if we lose our most vocal organizer? Does the defense fall apart? Should Gio find a way to keep Zarek on the field? Maybe as a third center back? Or a defensive midfielder?

Speaking of vocal defenders, I can’t even remember the last time Liam Ridgewell dressed. May 19th against LAFC? That’s the game where he got hurt six minutes in. I don’t think he’s dressed since then.

And while we’re on the subject of disappearing players, did you see Jake Gleeson Saturday night? No one did, because Kendall McIntosh was our backup keeper. Is Jake hurt? Or has he been demoted?

Lots and lots of personnel issues for us to talk about down in the comments. Sadly, talking is all we can do. Gio’s the one who’s got to decide who to play and who to sit. And he won’t have much practice time to figure it out, since we’ve got a mid-week game all the way across the country, then another game a few days later in Kansas City. It’s a tough time to be making tough decisions, but I guess that’s why he’s making the big bucks.

6) And I’ll finish with a request.

Please don’t overreact to this loss. It’s not the end of the world, we’re not a terrible team, the sky isn’t falling. We’ve lost once since early April. Once. So let’s not burn the city to the ground, eh?

And anyway, maybe a loss will help us. When the 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, then won two more to enter the Super Bowl at 18-0, what happened? They lost, finished 18-1 and all their fans were saying “Oh, I wish we’d lost the last game of the regular season. It would’ve taken the pressure off. It would’ve gotten everyone’s head straight.”

Maybe that’s what Saturday night’s loss will be like for us. Maybe it will take the pressure off. Maybe it will give us some sort of psychological reset. Maybe it will give Gio a chance to remind the team that they’re not perfect. That they can lose. Maybe they’ll re-group, figure some things out, get the new additions acclimated, then start working on a new streak.

If the Timbers win MLS Cup this year, maybe we’ll look back on Saturday’s loss and be like, “Yeah, that was a good loss. Took the pressure off. Helped get us ready for the rest of the season.”

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the end of the world, the sky is falling, and everything is shit. You decide.