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Six Degrees: Rock Bottom?

SKC 3, Portland 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken

Please tell me this is as bad as it’s going to get. Because if things don’t improve, if the rest of the season is like this past week, I’m not sure I can take it.

1) Last Saturday at 8 pm, just prior to kickoff with Vancouver, we were the hottest team in the league, riding a 15-game unbeaten streak. This past Saturday at 8 pm, exactly one week later, we’d just lost our third straight game, the final two games by three goals each.

My, what a week makes.

Lose a game 2-1 but fight all the way to the end? Not a time for overreaction. Get destroyed 4-1 at DC? Maybe time for overreaction. Sleepwalk through a 3-0 beatdown to Sporting KC. It’s time. Overreact all you want. I certainly will.

The sad truth is, the Timbers have looked bad for longer than just this three-game streak. The game before we finally had our first loss? A deceptive 3-0 win over Philly in which we did not look dominant. Before that? We needed some late-game Fanendo Adi heroics to beat a crappy Houston team 2-1. Before that? We got outplayed by Montreal in a 2-2 draw. Before that? A hot, sweaty, ugly 0-0 draw at LAFC.

Does the hot, sweaty, ugly 0-0 draw count as our last good game, since it was on the road against a good team? Or do we have to go back to the previous week when we snuck past San Jose, the worst team in the league? Or the week before that when we gave up two goals to a Seattle team that, at that point, couldn’t kick the ball into the ocean?

You can see my point, right? It’s hard to figure out the last time the Timbers looked genuinely good. Yes, we had a 15-game unbeaten streak and, yes, that was wonderful. But the truth is, for much of that streak, we were walking a fine line, never dominating, always just barely coming out on top.

And then in the Vancouver game, we once again walked the fine line, but then didn’t come out on top. Since then, we’ve looked like a balloon that – after 15 glorious games – has finally been popped.

2) Isaac Harris has started putting out some cool articles here on Stumptown Footy. They specialize in stats and maps and field positions and whatnot. I hope he won’t get mad if I preemptively steal a map from him.

Here are SKC’s offensive actions in Portland’s half of the field in the game’s first 10 minutes.

Offensive actions by SKC in the opening 10 minutes.

And here’s what Portland did in SKC’s half during those same opening 10 minutes.

Offensive actions by PTFC in the opening 10 minutes.

That’s three touches past midfield in the opening 10 minutes for the Timbers. Just three short backwards passes, and one of those wasn’t even successful. If we’ve played a worse 10 minutes this season, I’m not sure when it was.

Things got a bit better the rest of the game, but not by a lot. SKC were better in every facet of the game. Better on the ball, better off the ball, better in effort plays, better in skill plays, better in fitness, better in coaching. For 90 minutes, it looked like SKC was playing a high school team.

3) Imma give you all three SKC goals in one gif. Why waste time and space on painful things you don’t really want to watch anyway?

If there’s one person in these clips who draws my attention, it’s David Guzman. Look at number 20 on all three goals. Does that look like a guy busting his ass? Does that look like a guy with some urgency and desperation? I’m not ready to call it “Ridgy vs the Red Bulls” bad, but it’s still not a good look.

And, oh, I guess I should show at least one Timbers highlight. There aren’t a lot to choose from.

If that Samuel Armenteros shot had gone in, we’d have been up 1-0 completely against the run of play. But let’s be honest, the way we looked, going up a goal wouldn’t have changed the outcome much. Remember, we led 1-0 in DC, too.

4) Speaking of the DC United game, I have a confession to make: I wish I’d gotten angrier in my last column about the Starting XI vs DC.

A mid-week game on short rest? Across the continent? Against an Eastern Conference team? Knowing we’ve got a third game in just a few days? That was the game when we should have played all our second-choice players.

Because if we lose that game, no big deal. We’re not fighting DC for a playoff spot. They’re Eastern Conference. That’s the game when we should have seen Guzman and Marco Farfan and Cristhian Paredes and Andres Flores. Hell, I could just keep listing second-teamers. We could have thrown out an entirely second-choice XI against DC United and I would have been okay with it.

Because the important game was three days later in Kansas City. That’s the team we’re fighting for a playoff spot. That’s the team who should have faced a fully-rested first-choice XI.

But, no. Gio Savarese did the exact opposite, and we rolled into the SKC game with a mix of subs and exhausted starters.

I didn’t complain about this in my last column and I regret it. It was a huge strategic mistake by Gio. He needs to do better moving forward.

5) Another thing Gio needs to do better? Substitutions. What the hell was up with our subs in Kansas City?

His first sub was Larrys Mabiala? A center back? Center backs almost never get subbed out, but that’s the first sub Gio makes? And he makes it a couple minutes before halftime? Larrys couldn’t make it two more minutes so you could have made the decision in the locker room? Completely bizarre.

Then Gio’s next sub was Paredes, who hadn’t played in weeks. If anyone on that field should have been fresh and full of energy, it was Paredes. And yet, that’s the next guy Gio takes out. Again, completely bizarre.

And our final sub was Diego Valeri, who look exhausted from the opening kick. Hell, Valeri looked exhausted getting off the bus, but not only does Gio start him, he leaves him in until the 80th minute. Bi-zarre.

I genuinely don’t know what to say about any of this. Between the starting lineups and the substitutions, I’m officially concerned about Gio Savarese. Will personnel decisions turn out to be the biggest chink in his armor?

6) The good news? We’ve got eight days to prepare for our next game. The bad news? We’ll be playing Seattle, who – God, it pains me to say this – are the hottest team in the league right now, having won six in a row, including this weekend’s 5-0 win over the LA Galaxy.

What Timbers side will we see next Sunday evening? The scrappy side that went undefeated for 15 straight games? Or the exhausted, inept, and disinterested side that just lost three games in one week?

Gio’s got eight days to figure it out. He’s got eight days to figure out lineups and formations and strategies. He’s got eight days to figure out how much Jorge Villafana and Lucas Melano will contribute. He’s got eight days to figure out if any regulars have played badly enough to lose their spots, or if any subs have played well enough to earn more time. He’s got eight days to figure out if that 15-game unbeaten streak was all smoke and mirrors. He’s got eight days to figure out if this three-game losing streak is who the Timbers really are.

If this is who the Timbers really are, it’s going to be a long, depressing season.