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Six Degrees: Parking the Bus

Vancouver 1, Portland 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

They say there’s no such thing as an ugly win, but if I was a Vancouver fan, I’d have taken two or three showers after the game Friday night, just to get all the ugly off of me.

1) This game may have been decided in the opening 20 minutes. And what a weird 20 minutes it was. Tons of action at both ends, but not much going on in the middle. Vancouver would race to our end and get a shot off, then we’d race to their end and get a shot off, repeat, repeat, repeat. The middle third of the field was barely touched. Kind of exciting, kind of weird.

I’ve heard some people suggesting that Vancouver’s pitch is to blame. That it’s harder than most artificial surfaces, that’s it’s faster, that it takes visiting teams awhile to get used to it. Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not. All I know is those opening 20 minutes were completely different from the rest of the game, and sadly, it’s when the game was decided. Specifically, in the 9th minute, when Freddy Montero did this.

Anytime we give up a goal, I try to find someone to blame, but it’s hard figuring out who it should be here. Should I blame Jorge Moreira for taking a chance by cutting in front of Montero? I would, except he actually intercepted the ball, so it was a successful move, right?

Only then the ball took an unlucky bounce to Russell Teibert who snuck it back to Montero, who had a great finish.

So did I blame Moreira? Do I blame Larrys Mabiala or Bill Tuiloma? Or do I blame the Vancouver pitch, which everybody says plays weird?

Imma blame the pitch. It’s an easy target. 1-0, bad guys.

2) Those fast, frenetic, back-and-forth opening 20 minutes? Say goodbye to those, because the rest of the game was an ugly slog. Vancouver didn’t just park the bus, they parked two buses. And an RV. And a well-appointed Chevy Suburban.

That’s what eight guys in the box look like. Nine, if you count the goalkeeper. In fact, it’s appropriate that I used a still shot instead of a gif, since it seemed like those defenders were frozen in time, never to leave the box, no matter how many minutes or hours or days or years passed. They were born in that box and they would die in that box. For 70+ minutes, the Whitecaps bunkered like mofos, and the Timbers tried to break them down like mofos. It led to a ton of Portland chances, a ton of Portland shots, but zero Portland goals.

3) In fact, that’s pretty much Vancouver’s game plan. Give up a ton of shots, but very few goals. Check out this chart.

Crazy, right? I’m not sure Vancouver can keep winning with this strategy, but for now, it’s working.

You know what? Imma just throw a ton of those chances at you, all strung together into one gif. We’ll call it the Bang Your Head Against A Wall Mega Compilation. Pay attention to how many defenders are in the box, and how many nice saves the Vancouver keeper had. Also, pay attention to how many goals the Timbers scored. Zero.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you bunker your way to three points.

4) Vancouver wasn’t the only one playing lock-down D. Diego Chara was also out there putting on a clinic. Know some kid who wants to be a defensive midfielder? Show them these two clips. Text. Book.

If we get that sort of stellar defensive play this Wednesday against Houston, it’ll be from someone other than Chara, because in case you haven’t heard, he picked up his fifth yellow card Friday night, which means a one-game suspension. (Insert “Timbers Haven’t Won In Goddamn Forever Without Chara” statistic here.)

So, who plays instead of Chara?

Clearly, Cristhian Paredes will still be out there. If you ask me, Gio should write Paredes’s name onto the lineup card in the darkest, most permanent ink he can find. The kid’s crushing it.

But who’s next to him Wednesday night in Houston? Who takes Chara’s spot? The three obvious choices are Renzo Zambrano, who’s been sitting on the bench these last few games, Eryk Williamson, who’s been dominating USL on a weekly basis, and Andres Flores, who’s been starting on the wing of late, but who we know Gio trusts pretty much anywhere on the field. Another option, of course, is a different formation, one that doesn’t require a second d-mid.

Personally, I think it’ll be Flores. It’s not what I want, but it’s what I think we’ll get. What do you think Gio will do?

5) Who’s in the mood for some random thoughts?

  • In that “Bang Your Head Against A Wall Mega Compilation,” the last miss, in the 84th minute, was courtesy of Lucas Melano. According to the expected goals stat, it was our best chance of the night. Think Brian Fernandez finishes that? We might find out in Houston. He’s traveling with the team.
  • In the 62nd minute, center back Bill Tuiloma took a high-opportunity free kick from just outside the box, sailing it over goal. Does anyone have an explanation for why Diego Valeri gave that kick to Bill?
  • Did you notice Gio’s blue suit on Friday? No, you didn’t, because he was wearing some kind of black polo shirt and it freaked me out. Can we blame the loss entirely on Gio’s lack of a blue suit? I kinda want to. I enjoy blaming losses on inanimate objects.
  • I was very confused by Gio’s substitutions Friday night. Andy Polo for Andres Flores seemed like a wash, Lucas Melano for Jorge Moreira seemed like a loss, and Julio Cascante for Zarek Valentin just seemed weird. Take out both fullbacks and add a centerback? How does that add to our attack? I guess it kinda maybe allows Paredes and Chara to attack more freely, but I dunno, man. The whole thing seemed odd to me.
  • Steve Clark finally lost a game. Think Jeff Attinella gets the start Wednesday in Houston?
  • Speaking of Steve Clark, this commenter is a goddamn genius.

Here’s the song, everyone. Let’s make it happen. (Volume up for heroin-level addiction.)

6) A couple months ago, back when the Timbers were getting throttled week in and week out, we would have been happy with a 1-0 loss. And a 1-0 loss where we dominated the action? That would have been cause for true celebration. But those days are over. We’re a good team now, and we’re going to regret not getting a point from this game.

Vancouver’s not a terrible team. Yeah, they started the year horribly – sorta like us and sorta like San Jose – but they’re 3-1-2 in their last 6 and are just a point below the playoff line. But despite being decent, they’re still a much easier target than our next three opponents.

Houston and Philly are both very good. Houston’s got the 2nd highest PPG in the Western Conference, while Philly’s got the highest in the East. If we get points from either of these next two games, it will feel like a genuine victory.

And once we’ve run that two-game gauntlet, we’ll finally have our first home game, which is against... the best team in the league, LAFC. And they’re not just the best team in the league, they’re kind of lapping the field. They’ve got a +21 goal differential and there’s still five months left in the season.

So, back to my earlier point, the schedule’s about to get a whole lot harder, and when September comes and we’re jockeying for playoff position, I think we’re all going to look back on this Vancouver game and regret not getting at least a point.

But who knows... maybe we’ll make up for it by stealing a point this Wednesday night in Houston. Or hell — might as well dream big — maybe we’ll finally break that non-Chara non-victory streak. It’s gotta happen sometime, right?