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Six Degrees: Road Warriors

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Portland 2, RSL 1

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

It’s rare for a team to have three straight road games. It’s even rarer for a team to win them all. In fact, in their entire existence, dating all the way back to 1975, the Timbers have never won three straight games that were all on the road. Until now, that is.


1) On Saturday against Real Salt Lake, the Timbers came out in a 4-4-2, with no changes in personnel. They looked good from the start, though not dominant. To be honest, the two teams seemed evenly matched. Then, in the 23rd minute, Zarek Valentin got a little handsy.

I imagine some of you will get angry with me, but I think that’s a pretty obvious handball. Yes, the ball came at him pretty fast, so it was hard to get out of the way, but his arm was up and away from his body. I’m not saying Zarek did it on purpose, but that doesn’t matter. Even if it was unintentional, his arm was making him bigger. Feel free to flame me down in the comments.

In the end, though, it didn’t really matter, because Steve Clark came through big time.

Not bad, Steve-O! (I just made up that nickname. I’m not sure what I think of it.) Not bad, Steverino! (Still not quite there. I’ll keep working on it.)

Here’s a cool stat.

And here’s an even cooler stat.

Let’s talk about our goalkeeping situation. I’m completely unsure how to feel. When Jeff Attinella was benched last week against Toronto, I was like, “No biggie, they’re just resting him, it’s totally planned, Jeff Jeff Jeff will be back next week.”

But then Jeff Jeff Jeff wasn’t back. Instead, Steve Steve Steve got a second start. (My bar is doing the Steve Steve Steve chant, by the way. It’s kind of funny I guess. It also feels a little disloyal to Jeff.)

Actually, the whole thing is confusing. I like Jeff. I also like Steve. They’re both genuinely likeable dudes. They’re also both good goalkeepers. Jeff had a rough start to the year, but honestly, I’m blaming almost none of that on him. Over and over and over, the defense was hanging him out to dry.

And then when he finally won a game, giving up a season-low 1 goal in the process, what happened? He got benched.

You know what it reminds me of? Last year. If you remember, Jake Gleeson was our starting goalkeeper for that season-opening five-game road stretch where we had 0 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws. He then won the home opener, 3-2 over Minnesota, and was benched the next game. Jeff Jeff Jeff took over and Jake never played another minute for the Timbers.

Is that what’s going to happen this year? Is Jeff the new Jake? Is Steve the new Jeff? As I said, I like Steve, he’s a good dude, and if he’s gonna win games for us, then I guess that’s the main thing I want.

But still... I feel bad. I kinda want Jeff to start in our next game, while at the same time wanting us to stick with the guy who’s just won two in a row.

What are your thoughts on this? And if you were Gio, what would you do?

2) Clark’s PK save kept things 0-0, and about 10 minutes later, Sebastian Blanco gave us the lead.

Seba absolutely tattooed that second ball, didn’t he? He shot it right at the keeper, but it was going so damn fast, the dude couldn’t do a thing about it, other than listen to it whistling past his ear.

I think my favorite thing about this goal is how Blanco’s first shot was with his right foot, and his second shot was with his left. Google tells me that the foot-equivalent of ambidextrous is ambipedal, though the word is rarely used. Why is that? Why don’t we use that word more often? I’m thinking of making this my next mission. Instead of trying to make “Hey Ho Jebo” a thing, I’m gonna go all-in on “ambipedal.” Who’s with me on this? Can I count on you to use “ambipedal” in conversation today? You don’t even have to use it correctly, since nobody knows what it means.

Anyway, something worth noting on Blanco’s ambipedal goal – which was totally ambipedal, by the way – is that Diego Valeri almost had his league-leading seventh assist of the year. Don’t worry, though. El Maestro will make his mark on the game later. Not an ambipedal mark, but a mark nevertheless.

3) But first, let’s look at RSL’s goal, which came in the 62nd minute. I’m not sure which Timbers defender I should be angry with. Maybe you can help me decide.

I’m not real happy with Larrys Mabiala for leaving Sam Johnson to cover Corey Baird, but since no one else was covering Baird, maybe Larrys had no choice? Of course, Baird makes Mabiala pay, with a nice little backheel to Johnson, who turns and toe-pokes it off the left post and into goal. You can see Jorge Moreira trying to close on Johnson, but he’s just too far away and Johnson’s shot is too quick.

There’s a lot going on here, and defending is always a group effort, but I think Mabiala’s most to blame. He should’ve stayed with Johnson. Let me know down in the comments if you see it differently.

4) Well, the Timbers must have crumbled after that, right? Their confidence must have been completely shot, so they gave up another goal or two?

Wrong. That’s the old Timbers. These are the new Timbers. The new three-game-winning-streak Timbers. These Timbers barely waited five minutes before re-gaining the lead. And who was it? The tragically un-ambipedal Diego Valeri.

That seeing-eye goal – which appears to go through the legs of a diving dude, then through the legs of a standing dude – puts El Maestro into MLS’s 70 goal/70 assist club, a club with only nine members.

Now, to be clear, there’s no way Diego’s catching Landon Donovan, and for good reason. Donovan started in MLS when he was 19. Valeri started when he was 26. Even El Maestro can’t overcome a seven-year advantage.

But how close do you think he’ll come? How many goals and assists do you think Valeri has left in him? He’s 33 now. Assuming no catastrophic injuries, but a normal diminishing of skills, I think 80/80’s a sure thing. 90/90 probably is, too. But 100/100? Can Valeri join that club?

If he can bang out 10 goals and 10 assists for the next three years, he’s in. Same if he averages 7.5 goals and 7.5 assists for the next four years, or six goals and six assists for the next five years. That seems pretty do-able, right? Except in five years, he’ll be 38 years old. Will he still be playing? Will he still be getting starts? If not, how many minutes is he getting off the bench?

Personally, I think think he can do it, and I think it’ll take him four years. And when he makes it, he’ll be part of a very small, very elite club. Landon Donovan, Jaime Moreno, and Diego Valeri. Rarefied air, indeed.

Gimme your thoughts down below. How do you see the rest of Valeri’s career playing out? How long does he last and how good will he be?

5) Let’s bang out some random thoughts.

  • It’s amazing how disorganized our defense was at the start of the year, and how organized it is now. Is this entirely due to finding the right personnel? Moreira for Valentin, Valentin for Villafana, Tuiloma for Cascante, Paredes for Guzman. Is our improvement as simple as that? Or is it the formation? Maybe the 4-4-2’s allowing us to win the midfield battle, and that’s why our defense looks so much better. If you’ve got some tactical insight, let’s hear it down in the comments. Educate me.
  • After yet another win, San Jose is now above the playoff line. As I wrote last week, our embarrassing loss to them seems less and less embarrassing by the week.
  • I really like this stat. I like when a team spreads the goals around. It gives the opposition more players to worry about.
  • As you’ve no doubt heard, David Guzman – the only player ever to play in a World Cup match while being on the Timbers roster – has been traded to Columbus, where he’ll play for his former coach, Caleb Porter. And judging from this past Saturday’s lineup, it would seem Renzo Zambrano’s replacing him on the bench. Does this mean Eryk Williamson’s rated lower than Renzo? Or does it mean Gio doesn’t see Williamson as a d-mid?
  • Actually, I’m not sure where Williamson fits. If he’s not a d-mid, what is he? A number 8? A number 10? Would he sub in for wingers like Blanco or Andres Flores? Or maybe withdrawn striker Valeri? And if that’s where Gio sees him, but isn’t putting him on the bench, I guess Gio rates Flores and Andy Polo higher. Which worries me, because...
  • ...Williamson’s crushing it week in and week out for T2. He might be the USL league MVP at this point, and yet he can’t even make the first team’s bench. I worry that if we don’t start playing him, he’s going to ask for a trade. But who do we sit so he can play? Cristhian Paredes? Diego Chara? I’m kinda thinking maybe we should pull Chara at the 60 minute mark every game and put Williamson in. It’ll save some tread on Chara’s tires, while giving Eryk the minutes he deserves. Is this an awful idea? Got something better? Let’s talk about it down in the comments.
  • But, of course, the team’s just added another player who’s ahead of Williamson on the depth chart...

6) After all the awesome attackers we almost signed this year, I told you I wouldn’t get too excited about the team’s newest high-profile signing until he’d actually landed at the Portland airport. Welp...

Welcome to the team Brian Fernandez! (And look at that, your name’s bolded now, just like the rest of the roster. That’s gotta feel good.)

My main thought on Fernandez – which you’ve heard before – is that he better not send Jeremy Ebobisse to the bench. But the truth is, I don’t think he will. Maybe he’ll occasionally play the 9, if Jebo needs a rest, but I think (and hope, and pray) he’ll be on the right wing, replacing Andres Flores/Andy Polo/Dairon Asprilla/Insert Your Favorite Non-Goal-Dangerous Winger Here.

Here’s a good question for us to chew on: what would make Fernandez’s first year a success? Five goals? 10? 15?

Let’s start by looking at our previously biggest mid-season attacking addition, Fanendo Adi, who arrived in May of 2014. How many goals did Adi have that first half-season?

24 games, 18 starts, 9 goals, 4 assists. That’s a hell of a first half-season.

Now, let’s narrow it down to Adi’s first five games.

Adi’s first appearance was on May 17. He subbed in for seven minutes and got an assist. In his next game, he played six minutes, but didn’t register any stats at all. In his third game, shit got real. He started, played the full 90 minutes, and registered 4 shots, 3 shots on goal, and 2 goals. He got an assist in his next game (a substitute appearance), and in the game after that (his second start), he had his second brace.

Two braces in his first two starts? That’s an incredible start, and an incredible first impression to make on a team’s fanbase. If I recall correctly, the title of that week’s Six Degrees was “Fanendomania!”

Is that what we’re expecting from Brian Fernandez? Do we expect him to knock our socks off right from the start like Adi did? Two braces in his first two starts? Nine goals in his first half-season?

To a certain degree, I think that is what we’ll be expecting, at least subconsciously. Oh sure, we’ll say things like “oh, you know, go easy on the guy, it takes time to adjust to a new team, a new league, a new country,” but in the back of our head, we’ll be thinking of Adi’s start, and judging Fernandez based on that.

Is that fair? I honestly have no idea. Because, you know, it really does take time to adjust to a new team, a new league, and a new country. But if Adi did it, maybe Fernandez should, too. Or maybe not. I can’t decide.

One advantage Fernandez has over Adi? He won’t have to deal with all the long road trips every new MLS player has to adjust to. Arriving just in time for a long, long stretch of home games can only help Fernandez this year. It certainly helped Wayne Rooney last year in DC.

What do you think? What should our expectations be for our newest attacker? Let’s talk about it down in the comments.