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Six Degrees: Player of the Year

MLS: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

No games this past week, so today I’ll be reviewing the regular season, previewing the post season, and announcing the 2019 Six Degrees Player of the Year.

1) The Timbers put together an outstanding year-in-review video, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Watch it now or watch it later. It’s good.

As you’d expect, the team kept the video pretty positive, focusing on the peaks and leaving out some valleys. I think a more accurate timeline of the season would look like this:

  • The season begins with three months on the road.
  • It starts horribly. We look awful.
  • In our 5th game, we play the worst team in the league (San Jose) and get crushed 3-0, which means it’s now the Timbers who are the worst team in the league.
  • In mid-April, we finally win. We keep winning. Confidence grows.
  • We beat the top team in the East (Philly) on the road.
  • On June 1, we finally have our home opener. LAFC ruins our day. Their fans throw beer and start fights.
  • Brian Fernandez arrives. He scores in his first 5 games. Timberdom is delirious.
  • We go on the road and give NYCFC their first home loss.
  • Three days later, we give LAFC their first home loss (US Open).
  • Two weeks later, we give Seattle their first home loss.
  • We’re the hottest team in the league, and with all the upcoming home games, everyone assumes our success will continue. Finishing as the 2nd seed feels more than possible, it feel inevitable.
  • Instead, we go ice cold.
  • We lose two games in four days in Minnesota.
  • We play 10 straight games at home, but instead of banging out wins, we muddle along with too many losses and draws.
  • The team faces bunker after bunker after bunker and never figures out how to crack it.
  • With so many home games in such a short time — many of them mid-week — it actually starts to get a little exhausting going to all the games.
  • To make things even worse, the Iron Front controversy starts bubbling up. The Army is silent for the first 33 minutes versus Seattle. They continue silently protesting during the first 3:30 of future games. People who’d never even heard of the Iron Front symbol quickly learn all about it.
  • The stadium starts looking empty, the fanbase starts feeling sad, and the team’s play on the field is mediocre and frustrating.
  • Finally, MLS cracks. The Iron Front ban is lifted. There is much rejoicing.
  • We finally have a road game. After the long, crowded, gloomy home stand, it’s actually a nice break.
  • On the last day of the year, there’s gorgeous Fall weather, the fans are rested, the stadium’s rocking again, Playoff Asprilla shows up, the team remembers how to win, and we earn a spot in the playoffs.

That’s how I remember the season. Did I miss anything? Any big moments I’m forgetting?

2) But, of course, the regular season’s done, so let’s talk about the postseason. Here’s the bracket:

Quite a change from when we were crushing the league and everyone assumed we’d be the number 2 seed. But as I’ve stated many times, playing on the road might be a good thing. After all, we suck against a bunker, and home teams rarely bunker. So, you know, maybe we’ll end up winning four straight road games and lifting the MLS Cup in someone else’s stadium.

3) A home game’s not completely out of the question, though. Two home games are possible, actually, since we have a better record than Dallas, New York Red Bulls, and New England.

Our hosting New York or New England in the MLS Cup? Eh... it probably ain’t happening. I could see the Timbers getting hot and stringing together three straight upsets on the road, but New York or New England doing it, too? That’s asking a lot.

But hosting Dallas next week? It could happen. I mean, Dallas only has three road wins all year, but Seattle isn’t a juggernaut. It could happen.

4) But can we win this Saturday in Utah? I think we can. It’ll be tough, but we can do it.

Yes, RSL’s hella good at home, with 12 home wins, second in the league after LAFC. But Portland’s hella good on the road, with six road wins, third in the league after LAFC and NYCFC.

And yes, RSL’s got an impressive 16 wins this year, but you know how many of those were against Western Conference playoff teams? One. They’re 1-9-2 against the other Western Conference playoff teams.

Two of those nine losses? August 31st, when we beat them here in Portland, and May 4th, when we went to Utah and won 2-1.

And yes, Sandy, Utah is at 4,450 feet elevation, which is always tough, but we’ve had two weeks of rest. Our legs are fresh.

We won’t have Brian Fernandez, but who needs him when we’ve got Playoff Asprilla? We might not have Diego Valeri, but we didn’t have him a couple weeks ago, and looked damn good beating San Jose.

I like our chances. I could easily see us sitting deep, hitting them on the counter, and sneaking out of there with a win. In fact, let’s call it. Let’s make the bold prediction. 2-1, Timbers. Goals for Jeremy Ebobisse and Sebastian Blanco. Assists for Jorge Moreira and Dairon Asprilla.

5) Now, on to the Player of the Year. I’ve been writing this column since 2013, first at SlideRulePass (RIP) and then here. At the end of each season, I give out my Six Degrees Player of Year award. Let’s look at our past winners and why they were chosen.

So those are the past winners. Any predictions on who will win it this year?

6) I’ve gotta be honest, 2019 feels like another “no one else stood out” kind of year. I mean, did anyone set the world on fire this year?

  • Brian Fernandez started setting the world on fire, but then cooled off in a big way.
  • Diego Valeri had a career high 16 assists, but still managed to feel a little quiet.
  • Larrys Mabiala was a rock on the back line, but I wouldn’t call him dominant.
  • Sebastian Blanco had moments of dominance, and was definitely valuable, but his goal scoring dropped from last year, while his assists stayed the same.
  • Diego Chara was his usual elite self, and actually made the All-Star game (where he terrorized Atletico Madrid for 45 minutes) but he got this award just last year. Could I give it to him again?

In the end, it came down to two guys: Jeremy Ebobisse and Steve Clark.

Jebo scored a career-high and team-high 11 goals, he was the only guy to play in all 34 games (only the 3rd Timber to ever achieve this, after Kenny Cooper and Darlington Nagbe), he played multiple positions in attack, he defended big guys in the box on corner kicks, he came up with clutch goals to win games, and he continued to improve his game, week after week.

Steve Clark started the year as a backup, took the starting role in late April, and didn’t relinquish it the rest of the year. He finished 2nd in the league in Goals Allowed/90 minutes with 1.04, finished 1st in the league in Save Percentage with .771, and finished 1st in the league in Goals Saved Above Replacement (which is a new stat you can learn about here). Additionally, he finished 1st in the league in Doing Cool Shit After Saves To Get The Crowd All Geeked Up, which is a stat I just made up but can support with the following highlights.

Clark was running away with the award until he gave up two goals to NYRB, New England, and SKC in the course of two weeks. At the same time, Jebo was heating up. The truth is, if Jebo had scored a goal on the season’s final day, he’d probably be getting this award. But he didn’t, so you know what that means...

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the 2019 Six Degrees Player of the Year... Steve Clark!