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Six Degrees: Off The Schneid

Portland 2, Toronto 0

The Portland Timbers celebrate against Toronto, 29 August 2018
Kris Lattimore, Instagram: kris.lattimore

See? It’s just like I said in my last column. Forget attackers, I said. If you want to score goals, you need some d-mids!

1) After two straight shutouts, the Timbers finally scored. After four straight losses, the Timbers finally won. And after a long difficult period wondering if we’d ever be happy again, Timbers fans can finally exhale.

Just like on Sunday against Seattle, the defense looked pretty solid. Toronto got some dangerous looks here and there, including a ton of corner kicks late in the game, but in the end only had one shot on goal, so Jeff Attinella got himself another clean sheet.

On the offensive side of the field, though? Not nearly so impressive.

We started the game looking very dangerous in the attack, and were unfortunate to not grab a goal, but that faded after 15-20 minutes, and we began to look like the team that’s been shut out two straight games. There were usually only three men attacking, two of them outside the box, one inside it. With three center backs and a couple d-mids, Toronto’s defense always seemed to have a numbers advantage and rarely looked tested, rarely even looked like they were breaking a sweat.

Maybe you thought the offense looked better than that. Please tell me down in the comments. But to my eyes, we looked like an offense with no ideas, and as the clocked ticked toward 90 and the score stayed 0-0, I found myself getting more and more convinced that our offense was truly broken and that a third straight shutout was on its way.

2) And then, in the 64th minute, everything seemed to come together for the Timbers.

There are many, many things to appreciate here.

One, look at that pass from Zarek Valentin. No pause, no hesitation, just a perfectly placed, perfectly weighted pass to a streaking Sebastian Blanco.

Two, look at Samuel Armenteros drawing his defender away from the action. I think Sammy was looking for a pass, but maybe not. Maybe acting as a decoy was completely planned.

Three, look at Blanco letting the ball roll forward, untouched, while he surveys the field.

Four, look at his options. Instead of a double-covered Armenteros and no one else, Blanco has not one, not two, but three possible targets. Andy Polo in the middle, Diego Chara on the back post, or Diego Valeri making a late run.

And finally, look at Blanco’s pass. Just like Valentin’s, it’s picture-perfect.

That sequence right there, that’s what I’d been wanting to see all game. That’s what I’ve been wanting to see for weeks now. Flowing soccer. Multiple options in the box. A defense looking overwhelmed.

It seems like forever since the Timbers have attacked like this. If the boys can bottle that shit, if they can do it consistently from the opening minute to the last, this team could get hot again, start another long unbeaten streak, and start climbing back up the table.

3) There was a second goal, of course, in the 83rd minute, and David Guzman seemed to create it out of thin air.

The irony is that Toronto’s Michael Bradley had been really good all night long, but he utterly turned off here, and Gooz made him pay. Do we also blame the Toronto keeper? Did the pass hang Bradley out to dry? Could he have yelled some warning? Or is this totally on Bradley?

Or maybe it’s less about Toronto’s mistakes and more about Guzman making a great play. He had the legs to make a late-game hustle play, and his finish was absolutely clinical. Well done, Gooz. Keep it up and you may never leave the starting XI again.

4) Just a minute or so before Guzman’s goal, one of our exciting new players – or rather, one of our exciting returning players – Lucas Melano came into the game and, just a minute or so after Guzman’s goal, nearly got us a third.

That’s a nice little run from Melano, an absolutely gorgeous pass from Valeri, and an on-target shot that required a nice kick save from the keeper. All of the above, plus some good energetic work elsewhere on the field, has me feeling positive about Melano’s return. I don’t know if he’ll end up being a starter or a substitute, a winger or a forward, but I’m excited to find out. This team needs some attacking help. Maybe after a couple years in Argentina, plus working under a new coach, Melano will provide that.

But Melano wasn’t the biggest new contributor on Wednesday night. That would be starting left back, US Men’s National Team regular, and returning hero Jorge Villafana.

It’s hurts me to say this, but I didn’t think Jorge was all that amazing on Wednesday night. He certainly wasn’t bad, he just didn’t seem like an obvious upgrade from what Zarek Valentin has been doing all year. It’s possible – maybe even probable – that I just had unrealistic expectations, that I expected him to step in and instantly be 2015 MLS Cup Jorge. He’s clearly not there yet, but hopefully will be soon. What did you think of his performance? Am I way off base? Was he a clear upgrade?

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Much to my amazement, we had two actual, real, live attackers on the bench Wednesday night, including – he’s alive! – Jeremy Ebobisse. Apparently, miracles do happen.
  • When Sebastian Blanco brought his birthday baby out for the anthem, all I could think was, “Great, now Sydney Leroux’s gonna start whining about how she couldn’t bring her baby out for the anthem, too.”
  • I’ve liked Andy Polo a lot these last two games. He’s had a few moments of putting his head down and charging forward and it’s really impressive. I’d kind of like to see Gio turn him loose. Maybe set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Polo as a winger?
  • This was the first home victory for backup keeper Steve Clark and I was watching his face during the log ceremony. He looked amazed and delighted by the chants and the Tetrising and the kids running around on the field and just the overall awesomeness of a Timbers home win. Hopefully there will be many more coming.
  • Speaking of goalkeepers, this whole Jeff Jeff Jeff thing is remarkable. Signs, two-sticks, smaller flags, hundreds of people yelling “Jeff Jeff Jeff” every time he makes a save. Whoever started this, congratulations. It’s officially a thing.

6) Three games in one week is always hard, but it’s especially hard when they’re on Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday. It’s game, two days break, game, two days break, game. Making it even worse this week, our final game requires a 3,000 mile trip across the continent.

Here’s what we know about New England: they love to press high up the field, cause turnovers, and turn those into goals. It was extremely effective at the start of the year, and took them high up the Eastern Conference standings, but either their press has gotten worse or the rest of the league has figured it out, because they’ve been average to below average since the middle of May. And they been genuinely putrid lately, going 0-6-1 in their last seven games.

This, of course, means they’ll beat the Timbers 4-0.

Do we have any predictions about Gio’s starting lineup? He played pretty much his A-team against Toronto. How many of those players will get the New England game off? Will some A-teamers stay home? Not even fly to Boston?

As to that last point, I hope so. It’s late in the year, players are tired, and I think a true, honest-to-God stay at home and rest up week would do our team a lot of good. Does Gio agree? I have no idea. I’m about ready to give up on predicting Gio’s lineups.

But what I can do is give you the lineup I’d play if I were the coach.

I’d play the very rested Marco Farfan and Alvas Powell at fullback. I’d play Julio Cascante and Bill Tuiloma at center back.

I’d start Diego Chara solely for good luck, then pull him at halftime for Lawrence Olum. On either side would be Andres Flores and Cristhian Paredes.

The attackers would be... jeez, this is tough. I’d leave Blanco and Valeri back in Portland. Maybe Armenteros, too. So who’s our attacking trio? Dairon Asprilla, Lucas Melano, and Jeremy Ebobisse? I don’t feel good about that. There’s no clear number 10, no clear playmaker.

Dang, I’m now genuinely worried about my fake lineup’s chances. Do you think our 2nd-teamers could beat a death-spiraling New England team on the road? Who would you start if you were in charge? Throw some lineups at me down in the comments, okay? And please, please, please make one of them a 1-2-3-4. (WE ATTACK! THEY DEFEND!)

See you on Saturday, everybody.