Third game in eight days? 3000 miles away? With a 2nd choice lineup? I can live with a draw.
1) At the end of my previous column, I talked about how the Timbers were in the middle of an always-brutal three games squeezed into eight days Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday week. Even worse, the final game required a 3,000 mile plane ride. I pleaded with head coach Giovanni Savarese to give his players as much rest as possible, and maybe even leave a few of them back in Portland.
Turns out, Gio reads my column and makes all of his major decision based on what I write. Here’s Saturday’s starting lineup.
Not too shabby, Gio! Diego Valeri and Diego Chara watching on TV back in Portland? Liam Ridgewell and Jorge Villafana, too? Samuel Armenteros on the bench, hopefully not playing a minute? I approve!
Sebastian Blanco and Zarek Valentin starting? Hmm, I’m a little less fond of that, but I guess not everyone can rest.
And look at all those attackers on the bench. Four attackers! After so long in the hot, dry d-mid wastelands, my cup runneth over!
Looking at this lineup and this bench, you can get a sense of what Gio had in mind. Play defensively, keep it 0-0 if possible, then throw some attackers in late and try to steal a road victory. Not a bad strategy at all.
Of course, a strategy like that and a lineup like this probably won’t give us fans any pretty soccer to watch. The first half was especially slow and uneventful, with zero shots on goal for either team, and no real highlights to see. In fact, let’s just move on to the second half, when a few noteworthy things finally started happening.
2) In the 56th minute, Jeff Attinella hurt himself (more on this later, I promise) and 2015 MLS Cup hero and backup-keeper-we-signed-only-because-Gleeson-got-hurt-but-I-think-we-all-hoped-we’d-never-actually-have-to-see-play Steve Clark came in.
Two minutes later, he gave up a goal.
Ouch. Not a good way to introduce yourself to your new teammates, Steve.
There are many people to blame here, including Lawrence Olum, who gave the ball away just before my gif starts, but in the end, it comes down to Clark spilling that ball. If he holds on to his initial save, there’s no goal scored.
1-0, bad guys.
3) 12 minutes later, Gio blew my tiny little mind by replacing defensive midfielder Cristhian Paredes with attacker Lucas Melano.
Wait, what? A defender went out and an attacker came in? This is possible? This is a thing that coaches are allowed to do? I had no idea!
And it worked out, too, because literally seconds later, we scored.
David Guzman starts it with the corner kick, Julio Cascante gets his head on the ball, flicking it on to Lawrence Olum, who shows some hella good reflexes, sticking his foot out and re-directing it into goal.
I always enjoy goals where some rarely-seen rule of soccer comes into play. This one, of course, is the did-that-ball-completely-cross-the-goal-line-before-it-was-kicked-back-out rule. Gotta give head referee Jose Carlos Rivera credit, he got the call right without having to go to VAR.
Game tied, 1-1.
4) And now we move on to the thing I wish I didn’t have to talk about. Melano’s miss. I just... I don’t even know what to say, because I’m pretty sure all the things I could say would make me sad and hopeless and...
Fuck it, let’s just watch the stupid play.
How? How can he miss that? How can he not even touch it? How is that physically possible?
Even worse, what does this say about Lucas Melano? Does this mean that he learned nothing these last two years while he was loaned out to those Argentine clubs? Is he exactly the same puts-himself-in-good-situations-becasue-he’s-super-fast-and-fairly-clever-but-for-whatever-reason-just-can’t-score-goals guy? Is he still that guy? All that hope we had that this was the new and improved Melano, should we just throw those hopes into the trash? I mean, I want to have hope. I want to believe in Melano, but then this happens. The winning goal was right there and Melano completely whiffs.
Fuckin’ shit, man. I got no answers. Let’s just move on to something less emotionally painful.
5) Like, oh, I don’t know, Jeff Attinella’s injury? Is that less emotionally painful?
As you know, Jeff Jeff Jeff came up gimpy in the 56th minute. Apparently it’s a hamstring pull and with soft tissue injuries like that, recovery can be extremely fast or incredibly slow. It’s possible Jeff Jeff Jeff misses zero games and it’s also possible he misses the rest of the season. Only time will tell.
But I might as well use this space to plead with Gio not to replace him with Steve Clark. Instead, replace him with Kendall McIntosh. It’s not that I dislike Clark or think he’s a terrible keeper. It’s that we know exactly what he is. He’s a league-average MLS keeper with a lot of miles on his odometer, and he’s most definitely not this team’s future goalkeeper.
But Kendall McIntosh? Maybe he is. Maybe he’s going to be a starter in this league for the next 12 years. Maybe he’s going to be the next Nick Rimando. We have no idea. The only way to find out is to play him in MLS games, and here we are with a perfect opportunity to do just that.
If Jeff Jeff Jeff’s done for the year and McIntosh is in goal for the stretch run, is there a chance he blows it for us? Is there a chance we lose a few vital points here and there because our young goalkeeper plays like a young goalkeeper? Yes, this is a possibility.
But there’s also a chance that he plays great, that he proves himself, that he shows he’s our keeper for the next 12 years. None of that is happening with Steve Clark.
Playing McIntosh is the riskier move, but it’s the move I hope Gio makes.
6) Okay, folks, it’s officially that time of year. It’s time to start thinking about the playoffs and what we need to do to get there. Here’s the current table.
Looking at that, I’d say only those top eight teams have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
At the top of the standings, no teams are especially hot, with Dallas and SKC going 2-3-1 in their last six, and LAFC only a touch better at 3-2-1. But because those three are so far above us, it may not matter. They’d have to completely fall apart to miss the playoffs.
Farther down the table, just above and below the Timbers, are three of the hottest teams in MLS. Seatte’s won eight games in a row, RSL’s won three in a row and scored 12 goals in the last two, and Vancouver’s gone 4-0-2 in their last six.
Of the eight teams I said have a realistic shot at the playoffs, the two teams doing the worst right now are the LA Galaxy (0-3-3) and your Portland Timbers (1-4-1).
We picked the wrong time to go ice cold.
But it’s not all bad news. Three of our eight remaining games are six-pointers. As you know, “six point games” are when you’re playing a team that’s close to you in the standings, chasing the same playoff line. Beating them doesn’t just mean we’re three points closer to the playoffs, it also means they’re three points farther away. Hence, a six point game.
Our remaining six-pointers? RSL twice and Vancouver once. Win all three of those and we’re almost certainly in. Lose all three and there’s a good chance we’re out. Mix and match? Then it’s harder to say. Then we’ll probably need to do well in our other five games.
Two of those five are against good teams: Western Conference leader Dallas and Eastern Conference contender and currently-hot team (4-1-1 in last six) Columbus.
But three of those five are against Colorado, Houston, and Minnesota. These are all crappy teams, and, as such, I think it’s fair to call them must-win games. If we win them all, that’s nine points, which takes us to 50 on the year.
If we beat the three crappy teams and lose to everyone else, we’ll end up at 50 points. Does 50 points get us into the playoffs? Many years, yes. Some years, no. Still, it’s a good starting point. Beating those three crappy teams and getting ourselves to 50 points is the least we can do.
And look, here comes a crappy team now. This coming Saturday we play Colorado and we need to win. The playoff race is officially starting, folks. Keep one eye on the field and one eye on the standings. From here on out, every point matters.