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Six Degrees: Maddeningly Inconsistent

Minnesota 3, Portland 2

MLS: Portland Timbers at Minnesota United FC Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, I titled my column “Good Teams Beat The Bad Teams.” Since then, we’ve lost to two bad teams – Houston and Minnesota – but we’ve also beaten a good team – Columbus. What does that make us? Good? Bad? I have no idea.

1) For the second straight game, the Timbers started the game with so little energy that it looked like we were playing Barcelona. For the first 45 minutes, the Timbers were lethargic, they were second to every ball, and they were allowing Minnesota to dictate how and where the game would be played.

On Minny’s first goal, Julio Cascante shoulders much of the blame. Watch how he runs with Darwin Quintero. If Cascante doesn’t run? If he holds his line? Quintero’s offside.

But is Cascante entirely to blame? No. Because the real star of this gif is Liam Ridgewell. Watch him. Romario Ibarra’s sprinting forward, hoping for a pass. Ridgy’s got to see him, right? So why’s he jogging? If Ridgy sprints, does he intercept that final pass? I think he does. He at least makes it difficult, instead of a tap-in.

And does this play remind anyone else of his loafing in the NYRB game back in March? That play caused Ridgy to get benched for over a month. Think this latest bit of loafing will get him benched again?

2) The star of our second clip is Andy Polo, who makes a very nice pass to Minnesota’s Darwin Quintero.

Minnesota pressed our defenders a lot on Saturday, trying to get turnovers high up the field. Rather than bypassing the pressure with long balls, the Portland defense often tried to play through it with short passes. This is a brave and noble tactic, but you have to be 100% accurate with it, because any missed pass can be turned into a quick chance for the opposition. Which is what happened to Polo.

Minny’s third goal, just before half, wasn’t on a break, but on a corner kick. I can’t pick out just one Timber to blame here. Almost everyone is moving at half-speed.

Look at the body language after the goal. Lots of frustration, lots of slumped shoulders, lots of looking around for someone to blame. This does not look like a well-functioning unit.

The first half ended 3-0, but trust me, Minnesota easily could have scored two or three more.

3) Things improved drastically in the second half. At the start of the half, Diego Chara replaced Tomas Conechny, which tightened up the defense, and in the 55th minute, Alvas Powell got us on the scoreboard.

I wouldn’t say Alvas had a great game – at times, he was as lethargic and sloppy as everyone else – but this goal ain’t nothin’ to fuck with. What I really like is how it’s still rising when it rips into the back netting. I can only assume that, without the net there, Powell’s shot would have continued rising until it left the Earth’s atmosphere and began a long, lonely journey through interstellar space. Are there any physicists out there who can confirm this?

In the 74th minute, Diego Valeri replaced Andres Flores and it also sorta looked like we switched from the 4-3-2-1 to the 4-2-3-1. Just a few minutes later, this paid dividends. It was Diego Chara to Diego Valeri to Jorge Villafana, then the cutback pass to the penalty spot, and a one-time finish for Sebastian Blanco.

I love cutback passes, mostly because they catch me off guard. And maybe they catch the defenders off guard, too? Maybe defenders are looking for an attacker closer to goal, just like I am?

But that was it for the scoring. The Timbers had a few more chances to draw even, but Minnesota had some chances, too. In the end, it finished as a well-deserved 3-2 loss.

Turns out, letting the other team score the first three goals is a bad strategy.

4) Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself: is Giovanni Savarese a good coach?

I honestly don’t know. During the season’s miserable first five games, I was really doubting the new coach. Then during that 15-game unbeaten streak, I thought he was a genius. But in the 3-6-1 stretch since then, I’m seeing a lot of the same things I saw in the season’s opening five games. Disorganization. Lethargy. Lackadaisical play. I thought all those things had disappeared during the 15-game unbeaten streak, but had they really? Were we winning because those things had disappeared, or did winning just hide them?

Another good question: what’s Gio’s master plan? What does he want this team to be?

At the start of the year, I thought he wanted to be a pressing team. When that didn’t work, he switched to sitting deep and absorbing pressure. That worked for awhile, but now it’s not. So what does Gio do? What sort of team are we going to be the rest of the season? Will we be pressing high? Sitting deep? Some third option?

Whatever Gio’s master plan is, can he do it with this lineup? If he can’t, can we expect major roster changes in the offseason? Who might leave? Who doesn’t fit his master plan?

And again, just to drive the point home, does anyone have any idea what Gio’s master plan is?

5) A few random thoughts.

  • Pour one out for Zarek Valentin, who for the first time all season, didn’t see the field.
  • Tomas Conechny got his first start as a Timber, then got yanked at halftime. Think we’ll see him again this year?
  • Speaking of young players, 32-year-old goalkeeper Steve Clark just lost a game 3-2 to Minnesota. I’m pretty sure 24-year-old Kendall McIntosh could have done that, too. I’m also pretty sure we’re not going to see him play this year. (If you need me, I’ll be banging my head against my desk.)
  • Once again, Samuel Armenteros looked flat. How long since he’s looked lively? How long since he’s looked dangerous?
  • Blanco’s missing next week’s game with yellow card accumulation. I have zero idea who’ll replace him. Conechny? Lucas Melano? Long-lost Dairon Asprilla? A two-forward set with Jeremy Ebobisse?
  • Speaking of people getting cards, in the 89th minute there was a red card shown to Minnesota defender... wait for it... Fernando Bob. This man’s name is on the shortlist of greatest soccer names ever. I mean, he’s no Yaya Banana, but who is?
  • After last year’s Minnesota game, here’s what Timbers fans got to see on live television.

Vytas: It is the second... shitty game from us.

  • One year later, we got to watch this exchange.

Nat Borchers: What are you telling your team at halftime right now?

Gio Savarese: That they fuckin’ were terrible today.

Nat Borchers: (pause) Thanks, Gio.

  • Apparently, traveling to Minnesota turns you into a potty-mouth.

6) The good news? We’re all done with three-game weeks. The bad news? We’re also all done with weak opponents.

A few weeks ago, I said we only had three bad teams left on the schedule – Colorado, Houston, and Minnesota – so we damn well better win all of them. Welp, we went 1-2. Not good.

Now, there’s only four games left and all of them are against good teams. Dallas is fighting to win the West, RSL’s fighting to stay above the red line, and Vancouver’s fighting to climb above it.

We blew our chances to fatten up on weak competition, so it’s time to put on our big boy pants. Four weeks, four games, four more chances for us to figure out whether this is a good team or not.