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Six Degrees: Don’t Get Too Excited

Portland 3, Columbus 2

MLS: Columbus Crew at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Not all wins are created equal. I’ll take this win and its three points, but I’m not going to get too excited about it, and neither should you.

1) I’ve got a friend named Adam who’s still pretty new to the Timbers. He’s fallen in love fast, though, and is gorging himself on articles and videos and statistics and rosters and all that sweet soccer heroin you and I have been addicted to for years. Before this game, he asked me “Who are Columbus’s important players? Who should I be watching for on Wednesday night?”

I don’t know the Crew perfectly, but I told him to look out for Gyasi Zardes, Federico Higuain, and Justin Meram. “That’s the heart of their attack,” I told him.

Funny story, none of those guys started Wednesday night. And none were subbed in. The Crew were starting a bunch of bench players and their starting XI had scored a grand total of seven goals on the season.

And what did this collection of misfit toys do against us? They came out and spent 10-15 minutes looking like Barcelona. Seriously, it was total domination. It was one-way traffic.

Columbus scored a beautiful goal in the 7th minute mark and should’ve scored one or two more. They looked organized and energetic and like the far, far better team.

The Timbers, meanwhile, looked like a bunch of guys who might have played soccer before, but had certainly never played together. And were also a little hungover.

At around the 15-20 minute mark, I’d abandoned all hope. Seriously. I was up in 103, my arms crossed, steam coming out of my ears, wondering why the fuck I’d picked the world’s worst team to support. I thought we were going to lose 4-0. I thought the season was over.

2) And then things started to improve. Not all at once, but slowly and steadily. Columbus stopped looking like Barcelona, we stopped looking like Chivas USA. Then in the 18th minute, Andy Polo and David Guzman drew us even.

One of my frustrations with the Timbers offense is that we rarely have multiple targets in the box. So many times we’ve got a guy on the ball, looking for targets, and only seeing one guy. A guy who’s blanketed by two center backs.

Not on this play. On this play, Polo has not one, not two, not three, but four Timbers to choose from. And look how perfectly spaced they are. So many options! Why can’t we do this more often? Did something magical happen here that can’t be reproduced? I see other teams doing this regularly. Why can’t we?

But it sounds like I’m complaining, right? I can’t just be happy we scored?

Well, no, not really. I was relieved we’d scored, but up in 103, my celebration was rather tepid. I was still worried about how poorly we’d started the game. I needed to see more before I’d believe the Timbers were ready to play ball.

3) And over the next 20 minutes, the Timbers delivered. They weren’t amazing, but at least they looked like a real, professional soccer team. They were finally showing some energy, some urgency, some organization. Columbus still had a few chances, but the one-way traffic was over.

And then in the 37th minute Andy Polo opened his Timbers account in the coolest way possible.

That’s amazing, isn’t it? There was much cheering and celebration in the North End, but since the goal happened way down at the other end of the field, we couldn’t tell exactly what happened, how the ball actually ended up in the net. When they showed the replay on the big screen and we saw that absurd Kung Fu golazo, we erupted anew. It was a pretty cool moment, actually. It was almost like we got to cheer two goals.

But that freaky, weirdo, awesome finish, that was just the end product. The rest of the goal? That was impressive, too. Look at Polo. He gets the ball way down at the other end of the field, pins his ears back, and just tears down the field. He’s cooking along, picks his head up, and sees three options, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Sebastian Blanco. Was Blanco the best choice? I’m not sure. Was Polo’s pass the best quality? No, definitely not. Does Blanco make a great decision, one-timing it right back to Polo? Hell, yeah. And then Polo takes it from there, with his crazy kung fu magic.

Yes, the finish was amazing, but the build up? That’s the good shit. If the Timbers could bottle that shit, if they could have three or four of those every game? They’d be in the Supporter’s Shield race.

Congratulations on your first log slice, Andy Polo. Keep attacking like this and I think there will be many more slices to come.

4) Our third goal started with a pretty good counter attack as well. It began with Sebastian Blanco forcing a turnover, then it was off to the races for Valeri, Chara, Samuel Armenteros, and, with a late run up the left side, Jorge Villafana.

Now, to be clear, the counter attack itself did not produce that goal. The counter only produced Chara’s somewhat middling shot. But at least it got us down the field in a hurry, got Columbus spread out, and their defenders on their heels. And maybe all of that is why there were no Crew defenders pouncing on that missed shot. Instead, it was Armenteros who grabbed it and took a shot.

But wait. Was it a shot? Or was it a cross? Or maybe it was a shross. (I hope I don’t owe Kalif Alhassan royalties for using that word. Does anyone know if he’s trademarked the word “shross?” He could, you know.)

Whatever it was, Lalas Abubakar and Lalas Abubakar’s amazing hair were kind enough to re-direct it into goal for us. Which we appreciate.

Own goal or not, it felt like a just reward for all the good work we were doing. For much of the second half, we had Columbus on their heels. I’m surprised a fourth never came.

But before we get too excited by all this great work from the boys in green, I feel obligated to remind you of what I wrote in my first degree: Columbus was not playing their A team. A lot of their “stars” were either watching this from the bench or from back home in Ohio. Yes, let’s enjoy the good soccer, and yes, let’s feel good about the three points, but let’s not get too excited, eh? Our A team was playing their B team. At home. We were supposed to win.

5) Okay, time for me to complain about Gio Savarese’s substitutions. Has this become a weekly thing? Should I try to get sponsorship for this part of the column? And now it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, “What The Hell Is Gio Doing” brought to you by Mattress World’s Buy One Get One Free September Bonanza!

But seriously, folks, what the hell is Gio doing?

In the 62nd minute, the Timbers were leading 3-1 and Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter did the always-rare three-man substitution. He pulled three regular starters and replaced them with three rarely-used kids. Why? Because Berhalter’s got another game on Saturday and was already preparing for it. In addition to those stars I mentioned earlier, the ones who didn’t even play at all, Berhalter decided that, with this game essentially over, he might as well pull some important players, put 30 minutes less wear and tear on their bodies, and hopefully have them a bit fresher on Saturday.

Well, you know who else has a game on Saturday? The Portland Timbers. And you know who doesn’t give a fuck about fresh legs for that game? You know who has zero interest in giving his stars a little rest at the end of a 3-1 game against a bunch of substitutes? Giovanni Savarese, that’s who! Gio don’t give a fuck! The world may end tomorrow, people. Saturday may never come, so you might as well run your players into the ground, amiright?

What do you think about this? Was Gio right to leave our stars out there to the very end? Or should he have kept them at least a little fresher for Saturday’s game? Let’s hash it out in the comments.

6) Only one degree left, but still plenty to say. You know what that means, right? C.I.’s World-Famous Bulleted List, Brought To You By Bed, Bath, And Beyond, Free Shipping On Orders Over $39!

  • It was a bloodbath of a first half, wasn’t it? A ton of fouls, a ton of yellow cards, a ton of guys getting hit in the face or pretending to get hit in the face. Polo whacked a guy in what I think was retaliation for Guzman getting hit just before Columbus’s goal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the ref won’t protect players, they’ll protect themselves.
  • Steve Clark ended up with six saves, some of them very good. He also seems like a helluva guy. However, my position on the subject has not changed. Kendall McIntosh should be playing. If you’re not going to play your high-performing kids in situations like this, why even have a USL team? Why even have an academy? Why not just sign some random MLS journeyman every time there’s an injury? If I were McIntosh – hell, if I were anyone on T2 – I might ask for a trade. There doesn’t seem to be any real avenue to the first team here in Portland.
  • I love the capos. They’re utterly selfless leading us in song, their backs to the field, not seeing a second of the game. God bless them. But you know who I don’t love? Whoever’s over on the capo stand choosing which songs we’re gonna sing and when we’re gonna sing them. Whoever that person is, the goal we conceded in the 93rd minute is 100% their fault. DO. NOT. MAKE. US. TETRIS. BEFORE. THE. GAME. IS OVER. If the Timbers end up losing a seeding position or a home playoff game because of goal differential, I’m blaming whoever that person is on the capo stand. I could not be more serious about this.
  • And I’ll finish with some numbers that apparently are true but which seem a little hard to believe.