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Six Degrees: The Cruelest Sport

Seattle 1, Portland 0

Portland’s Samuel Armenteros versus Seattle, 27 Aug 2018
Kris Lattimore, Instagram: kris.lattimore

I feel like I’m in a dysfunctional relationship with soccer. I love it so much, and it keeps treating me so badly. We play our archrivals, dominate them in every facet of the game, don’t allow them to score, and still lose 1-0? What the fuck, soccer? Why do you have to be such an asshole?

1) I say we dominated Seattle, and in many respects we did. We had more possession, we had more shots, we had more of pretty much everything. But there was one part of the field in which we did not dominate: the opponent’s 18-yard box. Take a look at our passing in the opponent’s half.

Not a lot of action in the box, eh? Not much action just in front of the box, either. Here, let me draw a very clumsy blue line to mark the borders of our own, personal Death Valley.

I see three passes in that ugly blue box. Three. Over 90-plus minutes. And only one of the three was successful.

To mis-quote the movie Raising Arizona, Seattle’s box was a rocky place where our seed could find no purchase.

2) Need more proof? Out-shooting Seattle 22 to six sounds pretty impressive, right? But two of Seattle’s six shots were on goal. Of Portland’s 22, only three were on goal. Eight were off target and an amazing 11 of them were blocked.

Look at the shot chart.

That’s a whollllllle lotta shots from distance.

Facing a box locked up this tight, the Timbers were never able to get any nice flowing attacks, not even on counters. For most of the game – and especially after going down 1-0 – it felt like our only chance was to score an ugly goal off a corner or a cross. Though clearly not, since we had a healthy 9 corners, an unhealthy 34 crosses, and still weren’t able to put a single one in the net.

The way Seattle defended? It’s similar to what we saw the last time the Timbers were at home, when we lost to Vancouver, 2-1. Vancouver packed the box and won. Now, Seattle has packed the box and won.

Think our future opponents will be watching the game tape and taking note? Me, too.

3) As much as it hurts, I guess we should head to the other end of the field and look at Seattle’s 76th minute goal, which in typical Sounders fashion, they didn’t actually score themselves. Instead, it came on a Julio Cascante own goal.

First thing to point out, Cascante didn’t exactly kick it into goal, did he? Instead, it just kind of clattered off his feet. I don’t know if this is worse or better. Maybe it makes him look a little clumsy?

Second thing, man, look at the poor guy’s reaction. He’s heartbroken. He looked just as heartbroken after the final whistle, with multiple teammates coming to console him. I guess this is the brightside? It shows he cares?

Third, this whole thing is started by Seattle’s number 20, running up the right flank, completely unguarded, then calmly dribbling into the box, head up, looking for a pass. Who is number 20? Kim Kee-Hee. A center back. A goddamn center back.

Fourth, who’s supposed to be guarding that part of the field? Left back Zarek Valentin, that’s who, but you can see that he’s guarding Nicolas Lodeiro... as are Lawrence Olum and Andy Polo. Three Timbers guarding one man? That’s the kind of thing that leads to a center back calmly dribbling into the box, head up, and looking for a pass.

And finally, I actually feel a little bad for Liam Ridgewell on this play. He wants to come out and challenge Kee-Hee, but he’s also got Seattle striker Will Bruin right there behind him. Does he leave the striker so he can guard the center back? If he does, Bruin’s wide the hell open. You can see in Ridgy’s movements that he’s not sure what to do, that he’s in an un-winnable situation.

It’s hard for me to blame Ridgy or Cascante or even Jeff Attinella. Instead, I blame Valentin. And maybe also myself, for falling in love with a sport where Seattle can win games with bullshit like this.

4) Okay, up to now, I’ve been holding back. But it’s time for me to lay into the guy I really want to lay into. The guy I blame for this loss. And maybe the straight three losses before this loss. Gio Savarese.

Jesus H. Christ, Gio... what’s it going to take for you to play some attacking soccer? We started the game in a very defensive 4-3-2-1, ready to stand firm against Seattle’s attack. When Seattle didn’t attack, what happened? We stayed in a very defensive 4-3-2-1.

Yes, Diego Chara came forward a bit, and yes, Andy Polo came forward a bit, and yes, Alvas Powell came forward a bit, but you know what those three guys have in common? They’re all defenders! We had three, count ‘em, three actual attackers on the field. And as I pointed out in my first two degrees, Seattle had their box packed up tight. At what point does Gio shift tactics? At what point does he start sending people forward? Or start putting attackers into the game?

Oh, wait, in order for Gio to put attackers into the game, he’d need to have attackers on the bench, which is something he never, ever has!

Quite a few times this season I’ve commented on how Gio likes to have extra defenders on the bench. My frustration with this was minor when we were working on a 15-game unbeaten streak. But now that we’ve lost four in a row? Now that we’ve had four straight games of falling behind and not being able to put attackers on the field? Now my patience with it is completely gone.

First sub, 77th minute, Sebastian Blanco off, Dairon Asprilla on. That’s one attacker off, one attacker on. Math tells us that this is an attacking increase of zero.

Next sub, 79th minute, Andy Polo off, Andres Flores on. A d-mid for a d-mid. How exciting! We really mean business now!

Final sub, 88th minute, Lawrence Olum off, David Guzman on. Again, a d-mid for a d-mid.

Why didn’t Gio put an attacker on? Because there were no attackers on the bench! His other options were Bill Tuiloma, Marco Farfan, and Cristhian Paredes. A center back, a fullback, and a d-mid.

So, to summarize, when Gio picked his bench before the game, he chose five defenders and one attacker. And that one attacker was Dairon Asprilla, who scores goals about as regularly as my mom.

I’ll admit, this is an outstanding bench if you’re ahead and trying to kill off the game. But we’ve been behind in four straight games, and each time all Gio can do is send in some d-mids.

Foster Langsdorf has 14 goals for T2 this year. Marvin Loria has six assists and 43 chances created. Jeremy Ebobisse was a top 4 pick in the draft and has one goal and three assists in 325 MLS minutes. You’re telling me none of those guys would have helped Sunday night? Or, really, at any point in the last four games when we’ve been behind and desperate? You’d rather put in d-mids?

Like I said, this is how Gio’s been manning the bench all year. When we were winning, it was mildly concerning. Now that we’re losing, it’s out-and-out infuriating.

Fix this shit, Gio. It used to work. It ain’t workin’ no more. Fix it.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • I already mentioned him up above, but Liam Ridgewell, everybody! He’s alive! And wearing green! And starting for the Timbers!
  • Strangely enough, both Larrys Mabiala and Liam Ridgewell were listed as questionable on this week’s MLS injury report. Turns out one was more questionable than the other.
  • Speaking of Ridgy, before the game, #StatMan Mike Donovan noted that the Timbers had a 19-0-2 record in Ridgy’s last 21 home starts. I guess that record’s 19-1-2 now.
  • Moving on to “People Who Are Not Liam Ridgewell,” Sebastian Blanco left Sunday’s game with a tight groin. There’s no way he plays Wednesday against Toronto, right?

6) Actually, let’s just move on to Wednesday night’s Toronto game. Damn, it’s coming up fast. Who the hell is Gio gonna play?

Well, this is actually quite similar to the DC United game a week-and-a-half ago. That game was on short rest against an Eastern Conference team. Since we weren’t competing with DC for playoff position, and since it was short rest, it would have made a lot of sense for Gio to play his B-team, so the A-team could rest up for the weekend game. (Gio didn’t actually do this, of course, but it would have made sense if he had)

The difference between then and now? Then, we only had a one-game losing streak. Now, we’ve lost four straight. Should we rest our regulars against a talented and desperate Toronto side? Should we risk turning this into a five-game losing streak?

I think we should. Diego Valeri’s tired, Blanco’s got an injured groin, Ridgy’s made of glass. Just like with DC United, playing our A-team’s no guarantee we’ll win, and they’ll just end up more tired than before. There’s a lot of sense to playing our kids on Wednesday, then playing our A-team on Saturday at New England.

But, of course, Gio doesn’t always do the sensible thing. He’s proven that with his bench choices. I’ve said my piece. All any of us can do is wait and see.