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Six Degrees: Not The End Of The World

LAFC 4, Timbers 1

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Remember our 2nd game last year? We lost 4-0 on the road to NYRB. Clearly, this isn’t the end of the world.

1) In fact, in many ways, this year’s 4-1 loss is a little better than last year’s 4-0 loss.

For starters, well, we scored a goal, didn’t we? So that’s progress.

Additionally, last year, we were playing New York’s B-team. This year, we were playing one of the best teams in the league.

Last year, we had Liam Ridgewell loafing on D. This year, we had some guys playing poorly, but nobody was loafing.

Last year, we had a first year coach and weren’t sure if he knew what he was doing. This year, we’ve seen what Gio can do over the course of a season. He’s fixed problems before, so we figure he can fix problems again.

But, while it may not be the end of the world, a 4-1 loss is still a 4-1 loss. It’s tough to watch, it’s tough to think about afterwards, and it makes you question everyone on the team, including your favorite players.

So let’s do the hard thing. Let’s wade into the crap, watch some video, and see if we can figure out what went wrong and how Gio might fix it.

Fair warning, though, if you want answers, you’ll find none here. Answers are Gio’s job. I’m just here to ask the questions.

2) Lots of goals to cover – most of them by the wrong team – so let’s hustle through them.

On LAFC’s first goal, I’m upset with two Timbers. I’m somewhat upset with David Guzman for starting the play behind the goalscorer and then staying behind the goalscorer, allowing him to, you know, score the goal. But I’m more upset with Jeremy Ebobisse for not closing on the ball. See him there in the middle of the box, standing perfectly still, waiting for the ball to get to him? Don’t wait, Jebo! Go to it! Get there first!

Fortunately, Jebo made up for it 15 minutes later by scoring his own set piece goal. He definitely attacked the ball this time. He may also have attacked Walker Zimmerman’s foot. Did Jebo get kicked in the mouth? I think he got kicked in the mouth.

LAFC’s second goal was a bit of a mess and I’m not entirely sure what happened. Was it an own goal? I wish I had perfect video, but I don’t. Here’s what I’ve got.

I have two questions. No, three.

  • Was it an own goal?
  • How the fuck did that ball get through? Zarek Valentin blocked it, Larrys Mabiala and Jeff Attinella converged on it, and yet somehow it snuck through.
  • How angry should we be about this? Our defense did almost everything right, it was just kind of a seeing-eye ball that squirted through everybody. And in the end, it’s not even clear LAFC scored it. From the way he reacted afterward, I think Julio Cascante may have gotten the last touch. I’m having a hard time getting angry about this goal.

3) LAFC’s 3rd goal, on the other hand, makes me a little angry.

Remember when we thought the defense’s weak link was right back Zarek Valentin? I’m beginning to suspect it’s actually left back Jorge Villafaña who’s not pulling his weight. Or Julio Cascante next to him. Or hell, maybe Larrys Mabiala, too. Should we just replace the entire back line except Zarek Valentin?

But we ain’t done yet. Just a couple minutes later, LAFC bagged their fourth. And as you can see from the video, the defense is a mess, physically and mentally.

Look at everyone after the goal’s scored. That’s what it looks like when a defense has had its spirit broken. Zarek’s hanging his head, Larrys is waving his arms, Attinella looks shell-shocked. Those guys are done.

Our defense has given up seven goals in two games. If you were Gio Savarese, what would you do? What lineup would you put out there on Sunday in Cincinnati? Has Julio Cascante lost his starting job? Has Larrys? Jorge? Zarek?

What about the defensive midfielders? Do they deserve blame, too? If you were Gio, would you bench David Guzman and Diego Chara? Are you cold-blooded enough to bench Diego Chara?

4) Well, you can’t bench Diego Chara, you cold-blooded bastard, because in the 71st minute, he went and got himself a second yellow and the one-game suspension that goes along with it.

Diego now has three yellows in two games, which is not good at all. And his third and final yellow was the most mystifying of the bunch.

Why, Diego? Why would you do this? I know the score was 4-1, but jeez Louise, man. Use your brain.

And what did he even do? Was it a slap? A tickle? An ear flick? A wet willy? Did he lick his palm and rub it across dude’s face? Nothing about this makes sense.

Did the guy dive? Yes, absolutely. Does it matter? No. Diego put his hand on the guy’s face. That’s a red card. In fact, at first I thought it was a straight red, because in MLS, a hand to the face is usually a straight red. But no, for some reason, this time it was a second yellow.

Unfortunately, a second yellow might actually be worse. If you get five yellows, you get a one-game suspension. This second yellow adds to Chara’s total, while a red card wouldn’t have. So that’s a future problem to consider.

But whether it was a second yellow or a straight red, Chara’s suspended for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. And, yes, yes, I know you’re sick of hearing the “winless without Chara” stat, but here it comes anyway: the Timbers haven’t won an MLS game in their last 22 matches without Diego Chara.

Who starts in Diego’s place next week? Andres Flores has been on the bench these first two weeks, but he’s never felt like a Chara-replacement to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Flores stays on the bench and Cristhian Paredes gets the starting nod. What do you think?

5) As long as we’re talking Diego’s replacement, let’s talk about the XI as a whole. In the preseason, I wrote about how I’d like to see a few games in this season-opening 12-game road stretch where we leave a few of our starters back in Portland. Don’t even put them on the airplane.

Well, we know Diego Chara’s not making the long plane ride to Cincinnati. Could this be a week where we leave a few others back in Portland, too? Leave Diego Valeri at home, start Marvin Loria in his place? Leave Sebastian Blanco at home, start Tomas Conechny in his place? Leave the entire back line at home, start four bags of russet potatoes in their place?

In the end, I think not. There aren’t a lot of games during this road stretch where I think we should definitely win, but this game against expansion side Cincinnati is one of them. If I was Gio, I’d take our full squad to Cincy, go for the full three points, then leave some starters at home when we’re playing a tougher opponent. Maybe Dallas on April 13th.

This is an extremely good question, though, so I want us to bang it out down in the comments. When’s the best time to leave our big guns back in Portland? When we play the good teams or when we play the bad teams? Or don’t do it ever? (And hell, just to round out our choices, here’s a fourth option: leave the big guns at home against all the teams, good or bad, because really, you’re not here for points, you just want to watch the world burn?) Gimme your thoughts down below.

6) And I’ll close by saying how bummed I am that our next game is also FC Cincinnati’s first home game.

I’m rooting for Cincy to do well this season, but I also need the Timbers to get their first win.

I’m rooting for their fans to have a fun first year, but I also need for their first home game to be a loss.

And I’m rooting for Fanendo Adi to score 20 goals this season, but I also need him to not beat us this weekend.

So what’s the perfect outcome for me? I don’t know, maybe a nice sunny day for the Cincinnati fans? Maybe a lot of things for them to cheer, but in the end, disappointment when the Timbers win 5-3?

Maybe Adi can get his first career hat trick? But then Diego Valeri gets his first career hat trick, too?

Maybe the other two goals are by Jeremy Ebobisse, who protects his sore mouth by playing the entire game with some crazy metal mask like that guy Bane from the Batman movie?

Maybe a solid performance by young guns Cristhian Paredes and Eryk Williamson at d-mid, and an even more solid performance by the four bags of russet potatoes on the back line? A performance so solid that we spend the entire next week arguing about whether Gio should keep starting them? Whether human beings are inherently better at soccer than root vegetables, or whether the bags of potatoes have forced us to question that assumption by giving up less goals against Cincinnati that the humans did against LAFC?

Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good plan for Sunday. Let’s see if we can make it happen. I can supply the potatoes, but I’m gonna need one of you to make Ebobisse’s Bane mask. Who’s in?