Since my last column, the Timbers have scored eight goals and given up zero. Not a bad week, eh?
1) I promise, I’ll eventually start talking about how awesome this past week’s been, but first, I’m gonna rain on everyone’s parade a little. Please forgive me.
In the past week, we’ve won 4-0 over LA Galaxy in the US Open Cup and 4-0 over Houston in league play. A lot of people are calling these our two best wins of the year, but I’m going to push back on that a little. Our most dominant wins, yes. Our most fun wins, yes. But our best? No.
To my eyes, the year’s best win so far was beating 1st place Philadelphia on the road. They were at full-strength, at home, and we whooped them.
But LA last Wednesday? They were without Ibrahimovic, Dos Santos, Antuna, Lleget, and more. Houston on Saturday? They were without Elis, Quioto, Manotas, Rodriguez, and more. The Timbers? Not only were they at home for both games, for the most part, they were full strength.
So let’s pump the brakes a little. Despite the 8-0 week, we shouldn’t start booking flights to MLS Cup just yet. We were at home against two very weakened opponents.
That’s the bad news.
The good news? The Timbers did exactly what a really good team should do. If you’re a really good team facing a very weakened opponent, you better kick the holy shit out of them. You better put them to the sword. And that’s exactly what the Timbers did. They played good, hard, attacking soccer for the full 180 minutes, scored eight goals, and gave up none. That’s what good teams do, so for now, at least, the Timbers have proven they’re a very good team.
But our best wins of the year? No, just our most fun wins. The road win over Philly’s still our best win.
2) That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the hell out of Saturday’s game. It was an absolute blast, start to finish.
You know I’m a big #PlayTheKids guy, so Saturday’s Starting XI was a joy for me to behold. With Sebastian Blanco suspended on yellow cards, and with Bill Tuiloma, Zarek Valentin, and Cristhian Paredes all a little banged up, Gio Saverese had to dig a little deeper when filling out his lineup card.
On the back line, Jorge Moreira and Julio Cascante were easy choices, but farther upfield, things got interesting. Any other week, I imagine Gio would have done the safe, boring, and mildly annoying thing, by starting Andres Flores in defensive midfield and Andy Polo on the wing. This week, though, with Flores and Polo playing with their national teams, we were saved from that fate, and instead got Renzo Zambrano in midfield and Marvelous Marvin Loria on the wing.
And the two young fellows could not have looked better. There was never a single moment the entire game where they looked out of place, where they looked like kids. They utterly belonged.
In fact, Marvelous Marvin didn’t just fit in, he excelled. He scored our first goal, drew the penalty for our second, was named to the MLS Team of the Week, and had his goal nominated for Goal of the Week. Let’s take a look at it.
First up, that’s a hell of a goal. Secondly, you know who’s the unsung hero of this goal? Jorge Moreira. He’s a right fullback, you know, but watch him busting his ass straight up the center of the pitch, heading to the open space on the left, getting the pass from Diego Valeri, then laying the perfect cushioned header into Loria’s path. Just outstanding work from a guy who’s currently neck-and-neck with Valentin for that starting right back role.
3) So that was Loria on the first goal. Here he is drawing a penalty for the second goal.
You know what makes me 100% certain this was a penalty? As soon as it happened, not only did DeMarcus Beasley come up wagging his finger, his teammate started wagging his finger, too. Never wag the finger, kids! It’s a sure sign you’re guilty!
Here’s Diego Valeri finishing the PK.
Was I the only one scared to death on that PK? Valeri had taken two penalties this year and missed them both. If he’d gone up there and missed a third one? I don’t know if I could take that. So, yeah, my heart was in my throat for that PK. I’m not sure if it was good for Valeri’s psychological well-being, but it was definitely good for mine.
Valeri had one goal and three assists Saturday night, and was named MLS Player of the Week. He now leads the league in assists with 10, and is on pace to finish the season with 24, which would be two short of the MLS record. Not too shabby, eh? The old man’s still got it.
4) So Valeri’s PK made it 2-0 good guys. Less than two minutes later, the King of Thunder made it 3-0.
Guy’s a fucking machine, isn’t he? Just a ruthless goal-scoring machine. If I was on the other team, I’d be straight up terrified of him. Seriously. Dude’s a cold-blooded killer.
With that goal, Brian Fernandez tied a league record by scoring in the first four games of his MLS career. If he scores in his next game – wait, let me take that back – when he scores in his next game, the record will be all his.
At what point does Fernandez graduate from the King of Thunder to the God of Thunder? What are the prerequisites for God status? Goals in his first five MLS games? First six? At some point, it’s going to happen. He’s going to graduate from king to god, at which point I assume we’ll get to watch him rise up into the clouds or something. I hope somebody gets that on video. It’s not every day you see a god born.
Side note: Siri raises a very good point.
Fernandez does more casual touching of the heads of opponents than I feel comfortable with. I fear that it will bite us someday.— Regular old Siri (@siriharding) June 23, 2019
There’s a chance Fernandez gets red-carded at some point for some very innocuous shit and we’re all going to be furious. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
5) So, I think Loria’s goal qualified as a golazo. Maybe Fernandez’s, too. Think Jeremy Ebobisse would be willing to give us a third golazo?
That is a friggin’ blast! And with his weaker foot, too!
I’m so glad Jebo scored. I was starting to worry about him. He’s been playing great lately, doing pretty much everything well... except scoring. And when strikers hit a dry stretch, it can sometimes get in their head. I was worried that if Jebo didn’t score soon, he’d start to get a complex about it. Start to get the yips. But not only did he score, it was an absolute scorcher.
Remember how worked up I’ve gotten over the idea of Fernandez sending Ebobisse to the bench? I was absolutely adamant that we didn’t need a new striker, what we needed was a new winger, so clearly that’s where Fernandez should go.
Turns out, there was an option I didn’t consider: let Fernandez play striker and make Ebobisse the new winger. And he’s been great out there. Getting assists with his left foot, getting goals with his right. I tell ya, if Andy Polo comes back from the Copa America and puts Jebo on the bench, I think I might riot.
Speaking of riots, here’s some footage from the Timbers Army.
Not only did we get that cool chant, but the TA broke out a new Valeri song at both games this past week. At least, I think it’s new. I’ve never heard it before. It goes “Heyyyyyyyyyy, hey Valeri! I wanna know... will you score a goal?” Well done, TA! Love me some new chants!
Now, who do I have to fuck to get “He’s short, he’s hard, he’s got a yellow card, Dee-ay-gooooooooooo Chara!”
6) Next up, another two-game week, only this time, both games are league games, which somehow makes it feel more real to me.
As I wrote in last week’s column, the most important games in this busy two-week stretch are the games against Western Conference opponents. Not only does beating them get us 3 points closer to the playoffs, it gets them 3 points further away.
That’s not the case with Eastern Conference opponents. Beating them is always awesome and always helps our cause, but it’s not quite a six-pointer.
Which is a long, convoluted way of saying that this Wednesday’s game at Montreal isn’t quite as big a deal as Sunday’s home game against Dallas.
So who do you think travels to Montreal? Surely, surely Gio will do the smart thing and leave some of our first-choice players here in Portland, right? Personally, I don’t want Chara or Valeri or Fernandez or Ebobisse on that long-ass plane ride across the continent. And, hell, why stop with those four? I could totally live with Gio playing an entirely 2nd-choice lineup in Montreal. I really could.
But maybe having a “veteran core” would be wise. Maybe three or four of our top players would strengthen the youngsters enough for us to steal a point in Quebec. Heck, maybe three points.
Sebastian Blanco’s well-rested, so he seems likely to travel. Valentin, Paredes, and Tuiloma were on the injured list for the Houston game, but maybe they’re better now. Maybe Gio wants them, plus Blanco, to be the “veteran core” of Wednesday’s lineup. Those four, surrounded by a bunch of kids.
Here’s the problem: Gio doesn’t want to tire out that “veteran core” too much – especially Blanco – because the important game is on Sunday against Dallas.
There’s a lot the think about, right? A lot of decisions to be made. Like I said, I can live with playing nothing but kids Wednesday. I’m not sure I can live with all our veterans traveling. That would annoy me.
Fortunately, I don’t get a vote in the matter. Gio’s the one making these decisions, and he knows a lot more about soccer than I do. He’s been making all the right moves lately, so, In Gio We Trust, right?