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Six Degrees: Playoffs Achieved

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Portland 3, San Jose 1

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After almost a full month of losses and draws, the Timbers finally won a game, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.


1) I’ll tell you, man, Sunday was pretty much the perfect weather for a soccer game. It was sunny, not too hot, not too cold. The Timbers had been at SKC last weekend, so we fans had actually had a break from all the non-stop home games. That week off seemed to give the crowd a little extra energy. Or maybe it was the beautiful weather. Or the fact that it was the last game of the year. Or the fact that it was basically a do-or-die game. If San Jose won, our season would be over. If we won, their season would be over. The stakes were high, and both teams played like it.

The scoring was opened in the 29th minute by Larrys Mabiala.

Remarkable job by Mabiala to fight the momentum carrying him toward goal, reach back with a big long leg, and awkwardly redirect that ball into goal. It’s a goal that won’t win any beauty contests, but we’ll take it anyway.

At that point, Dallas was already leading SKC by a 2-0 scoreline, so San Jose knew that if they wanted to make the playoffs, a draw wasn’t gonna do it. They’d have to beat us, which meant they’d need to score at least two goals.

They got their first in the 39th minute, via some guy named Chris Wondolowski. Yeah, I’d never heard of him, either.

Honestly, how many goals has Wondo scored like that? In the six yard box, with a late dash toward the near post, just barely sneaking in front of a center back. He’s probably scored fifty goals exactly like that. I want Jeremy Ebobisse to do an internship at the Chris Wondolowski Academy of Poachers. The dude’s probably gonna score another 15 goals next year, too, when he’s, I dunno, 73 years old or whatever.

2) Wondo’s goal made it 1-1, but as I said earlier, a draw wouldn’t do it for them. With Dallas trouncing SKC, San Jose had to win. They needed another goal.

Actually, make that another two goals, because in the 59th minute, the Timbers bagged another, and guess who it was? Dairon “I Am A Totally Liability From March Through September, But Holy Hell, You Want Me On The Roster When There’s An Elimination Game, Because That’s When I Somehow Transmogrify Into Kylian Mbappe, And Yes, I Know This Is A Very Cumbersome Nickname, But This Is The Sort Of Thing You’re Willing To Put Up With Because It’s Playoff Time And I’m Dairon Motherfucking” Asprilla.

Were you really surprised he scored? I wasn’t. He’s been shit all year, I’ve thrown dirt on his grave at least once this year, but then last week in Kansas City, he banged in the tying PK, and then this week, in a loser-leaves-town elimination match, of course he was going to score. You could have bet your house on it.

My biggest question on this goal is who deserves the most credit? Asprilla, for taking that beautiful first touch and zooming right past his defender, straight toward goal? Or the defender, for taking the wrong angle, with his momentum taking him the wrong way, and leaving Asprilla a clear path straight toward goal? I think we’ll give them equal credit.

3) That goal made it 2-1, which meant San Jose needed to score another two goals to win.

Actually, make that another three goals, because in the 75th minute, Sebastian Blanco gave us this thing of beauty.

That’s just delightful, isn’t it?

Given the uncertain state of Diego Valeri’s calf muscle, it’s possible Blanco’s gonna have to be the guy in our first round game two weeks from now at Real Salt Lake. He might need to be the straw that stirs the Portland drink. I, for one, think he’s 100% up to the task.

4) Let’s spend a degree talking about the referee, Rubiel Vazquez, who had himself a bit of a day. There were many moments of concern, but we’ll limit ourselves to just four.

First up, this 26th minute foul on Cristhian Paredes. It’s clearly a foul. Anywhere on the field, that’s a foul. Is it card-worthy? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s definitely a foul. And, oh, would you look at that? It just happens to be in the box. Penalty awarded to Portland? Of course not.

Next up, the handball that wasn’t. This wasn’t called a handball in the moment, and when the VAR had the ref take a second look, it still wasn’t called a handball. I’ll be honest, I can live with this. Yes, it hits the arm, but to my eyes, the arm’s not in an absurd position, and I’m not sure the defense gained much advantage. Sorry. Feel free to flame me down in the comments. (But while you’re flaming, make sure to agree with me that Blanco hugging the referee is absolutely adorable.)

Next up, this play from the 85th minute, when Marvelous Marvin Loria gets absolutely smashed in the box. Penalty? Of course not. In fact, quite the opposite. Loria got book for simulation. JFC.

And finally, the red card that wasn’t. I didn’t get too upset about this in the moment, because it was super-late and we had the game in hand, but holy hell is this a red card. Scissoring a dude’s legs from behind? That’s textbook. That’s literally what they would put in the textbook to show you what a red card foul looks like. How do you not call that?

So, anyway, when this ref gets this week’s performance evaluation, I’m pretty sure the top line will read “you’re so shitty, it’s unbelievable.”

5) Who’s ready for some random thoughts?

  • I’m fascinated by Asprilla’s reaction after scoring his goal. I think he actually started crying. 2019’s been a rough year for him, and possibly his last as a Timber. It’s easy to believe his emotions are close to the surface right now. Let’s hope he keeps channeling those emotions into goals. If he scores enough, who knows? Maybe the team will bring him back in 2020. Though probably not for the whole season. Probably just September and October. Maybe November, if things go well.
  • Fun fact: this is the first time in the club’s history, dating all the way back to 1975, that we’ve made the playoffs three years in a row. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.
  • This video should be sent straight to the Meme Hall of Fame.

  • Let’s take a moment to appreciate Jack, who each week tweets out updated point graphs for the Timbers and Thorns. I have enjoyed them for years. Here’s his final Timbers chart for 2019. Not our best year, but not our worst. And quite an improvement after those opening six games, eh?

  • The league’s taking two weeks off for the international break, so there’s no Timbers game next week. Will any of our guys get called up to their national team? Over at mlssoccer.com, Matt Doyle thinks Jebo deserves a call up, especially if Jozy Altidore’s hurt.

  • With that international break, there won’t be a Timbers game to write about, so next week’s column will be dedicated to a full playoff preview, as well as handing out the 2019 Six Degrees Player of the Year award.

6) Now, let’s finish with some bad news. It came out Monday that Brian Fernandez has entered MLS’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

I know I like to crack a lot of jokes in this column, but there will be no jokes on this subject, only sadness. On a soccer level, this news is disappointing, but on a human level, it’s just heartbreaking. While it’s not clear from the article whether Brian’s fallen prey to drugs again or if he just fears it happening due to ongoing mental and emotional stress, I’m not sure it really matters. Both situations are bad and my heart goes out to anyone dealing with them.

Pretty much all of us have had some experience with addiction, either through family, through friends, or through our own flawed selves. It’s brutal and the scars last a lifetime.

When we signed Fernandez, we knew he had addiction in his past, but it seemed he was now clean and healthy and moving on toward the rest of his life, a life full of family, friends, and cheering fans. Alas, his demons may have caught him again. It’s possible they caught him months ago, and it’s possible they caught him yesterday. It’s possible the demons led to his drop in scoring, and it’s possible his drop in scoring led to the demons. Or maybe they’re completely unrelated to soccer. Whatever the cause, my heart goes out to him.

I think we can be pretty sure Fernandez is going to miss the playoffs, even if we make a long run. While this is a definitely a bummer, it’s not the end of the world. We just won a game without him, and I’m sure we can do it again.

But how this affects the Timbers is the very last thing on my mind today. Mostly I’m just heartbroken for Brian. Just like you and me, he’s a flawed human being. A flawed human being going through something awful. All I want for him is to overcome this, to beat his demons, and to come back to his family and friends a better, stronger person. I want this for him, even if he never plays another game for the Timbers.

Good luck, Brian. Don’t rush things. Get yourself better. We’ll see you when we see you.