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Six Degrees: Not Perfect, But Not Awful Either

LAFC 3, Portland 2

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Is my headline talking about the game or the newly re-modeled stadium? A little of both.

1) Since the stadium expansion was such a big part of the story this weekend, please forgive me as I dedicate an entire degree to it. We’ll get to the game eventually, I promise.

Let’s start with my history at the stadium.

Back in 2012, my job brought me to Portland, I came to a random Timbers game, and fell head over heels in love. At that point, I was getting my tickets from random sources, so each game I was sitting in a different section. Sometimes the seats were good, sometimes they were awful, and to be honest, I think moving around week to week was actually a good thing. It let me get a feel for the entire stadium.

In 2013, I bought a package of maybe 10-12 games up in section 218. There was a post that partially blocked the north goal, so anytime the ball would get down in that area, pretty much the entire section would start leaning forward and leaning back, trying to see around that post, trying to follow the ball. Strangely, I have fond memories of that. It was a charming little quirk.

In 2014, I found a back-channel source for TA seats. It was a family who’d moved to Seattle and couldn’t come to the games anymore. Rather than cancel them, they just sold the whole season to me at face value, so from 2014 through 2018, I was in the TA for each and every game. Usually in 103 or 203.

This offseason, after seven years, I finally made it to the top of the waiting list, and bought a single ticket up in the new section. It was a bit more expensive than I’d like, but I figured, hell, I might never get another shot at those tickets, so I’d better get ‘em while I could. I ended up on the middle deck. It’s got a name, but I can never remember what it is. The bottom one’s Tanner Ridge, right? And the top two are called... erm... the Duracell Deck? And maybe the... I don’t know... the Mattress World Buy One Mattress At Full Price, Get the Second For Half Price Deck? I think that’s the one I’m on.

So what did I think of my new seat? Well, for starters, it a hell of a view. It was honestly like watching Camera 1 on TV, only much, much better, since Camera 1 can’t see the whole field, plus the stands, plus the West Hills in the background, the sunset turning everything orange and red. Just lovely. Sure, there’s about 20 minutes where the sun’s in your eyes, but – Pro Tip – pulling your hat way down blocks it out just fine.

Now for the bad part.

In this new section, it feels like I’m watching a soccer game. In the TA, it felt like I was watching a soccer game while at a party. And a friggin’ awesome party, too, with flags and singing and confetti and smoke and all sorts of crazy shit. The new section doesn’t feel like that. The view is much, much, much better. And it’s nice being able to sit down whenever my feet need a rest. And it’ll be nice rolling in two minutes before kickoff (though will I do that? I really enjoy watching warmups...).

But missing the party atmosphere of the TA? That’ll take some getting used to. I’m still singing and clapping, but maybe not quite so much, since it’s just me. Without a capo up front egging everyone on, I’m not sure the new decks are ever going to rock like the TA. (And before you say anything... no, I’m not going to walk to the front of the section and be a capo. Sorry, but it ain’t happening.)

Another weird thing – and I’d love to hear from other folks down in comments – but it wasn’t that loud up there. I’ve seen tons of tweets and interviews remarking on how loud the stadium was, how it was clearly louder than before, but that wasn’t my experience. I didn’t find it all that loud up in the new section. Is it possible the cheers don’t reach us? Maybe our cheers go down to the field but everyone else’s cheers don’t come back up to us? Is that possible? I’d love to hear thoughts on this from other folks in the new sections.

Actually, I’d love to hear any and all thoughts on our first game back. Do you like the new stadium? Is it significantly different for you, or mostly the same?

Now, one final thing in this absurdly long opening degree: the LAFC fans. On Saturday and Sunday, both at the stadium and then later reading the tweets and the articles and the interviews, I didn’t hear a single bad thing said about the LAFC fans.

But then on Monday, I saw a friend of mine who sits in section 221, which was right next to the LAFC crowd, separated by just a single aisle. My friend says it was a fucking disaster. He says the LAFC fans were throwing beers into his section for almost the entire game. He says the teenage girl next to him got absolutely soaked. He says an older couple in front of him just left early. He says an LAFC fan’s beer hit another LAFC fan, but the second guy thought it came from a Timbers fan and almost started a fight, then when a Timbers fan came forward to try and calm him down, a third LAFC fan started hitting him.

These are some awful stories, right? So why haven’t I heard about them from anyone else? Aside from my friend – who’s a very trustworthy guy – I haven’t seen or heard a single thing about this. How is that? This seems like a pretty big deal, the kind of thing that might lead to travel bans, if not actual arrests.

So what about you folks? Anybody see any of this? How bad was it? Did anyone get arrested? Is anyone getting banned from future games?

Or did none of this happen and my friend’s a big fat liar?

2) Okay, that’s the stadium. Should we talk about soccer now?

Nope. Not yet. Instead, let’s talk about the referee, Robert Sibiga. A lot of people are furious with him. Me, not so much. I thought he could have done better, but he also could have done worse. And in one situation, he helped us out in a big way.

The first point I’ll make is that the Timbers fouled the shit out of Carlos Vela. In principle, I don’t have a huge problem with this. When you’re the best player in the league, teams are going to kick you. Get used to it. What should have happened is Sibiga should have started handing out persistent infringement yellows. He never did, which was awfully good for us.

Secondly, and even better for us, is Sebastian Blanco’s yellow in the 85th minute. It should have been a red. Sibiga did us a huge favor by not tossing Seba. Look at this replay.

Seba comes from behind, jumps into the player’s legs, and is not even close to the ball. Sorry, folks, but that’s a red. It just is. If Seba gets the ball, or even gets close to it, maybe it’s a yellow. But reckless, endangering, and nowhere near the ball? That’s a red card. We got super lucky.

Next, the handball. Sibiga’s call on the field was that it happened just outside the box and, looking at the replay, I don’t see how he can overturn that.

Remember, the key words with video review are “clear and obvious.” If you can look at this replay and call it clearly and obviously on the line, I’ll have some of what you’re smoking.

Next up, the stoppage time melee. Let’s look at the replay first, then break it all down.

The guy who comes out of this looking most like a dick is the LAFC assistant coach who plays keepaway with Jorge Villafaña. What a douche.

After that, the video shows Adama Diomande getting pushed and pulled by Blanco, Brian Fernandez, and Larrys Mabiala. What the video doesn’t show is what Diomande did to Julio Cascante’s throat. Check it out here.

That’s fucked up. Zlatan did something very similar earlier this year and got a two-game suspension. Diomande deserves the same.

The question is, will the league also penalize Blanco, Fernandez, and Mabiala? Their hands are all over Diomande’s neck. Maybe his face, too. I’m not sure I’d fine or suspend them, but maybe the league will. I dunno.

And our final referee controversy came at the very end, when the Timbers didn’t get their full 8 minutes of stoppage time. This is the first situation where I think we got screwed. In all of the above situations, I think the Timbers either benefited or it was neutral, but at the end, when we didn’t get an extra three or four minutes to try and find an equalizer? Yeah, I’ve got issues with that.

But that’s my only major complaint. Otherwise, I don’t think Sibiga screwed us. Feel free to give me the business down in the comments.

3) So, we’ve talked about stadiums and fans and referees. Should we finally talk about the game? Yeah, let’s do it.

Saturday was a big day for everyone. First home game of the year, first time in front of the big east side stands, and if that’s not enough, we just happened to be playing the best team in the league. With all that in mind, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that the team came out tight. For the entire first half, they played slow, they played tentatively, and they played just a little scared.

You know who didn’t look tight? LAFC. They were organized, decisive, and utterly relaxed. In short, they looked like the best team in the league. Which they are.

The best team in the league doesn’t really need help, but in the 6th minute, Jeff Attinella decided to give them some anyway, passing the ball directly to the best player in the league, Carlos Vela.

What is there to say? Jeff fucked up and he knows it. The only real question is whether he’s done for the year. This is the second time this season he’s gifted the other team a goal like this. Is that Gio’s limit? Is Steve Clark our starting keeper from here on? I have no sure answer, but if Jeff’s riding the bench the rest of the year, I’ll certainly understand.

Unfortunately, Jeff Jeff Jeff wasn’t the only guy playing tight. In the 34th minute, Jorge Moreira let his brain turn off for a few seconds and paid the price.

Moreira had absolutely no idea where Diego Rossi was. He was ball-watching that whole time, so when the ball started rolling to him across the box, he thought he had plenty of time. If Moreira steps to that ball a little quicker, he probably clears it out. Instead, he waited for it to come to him, and Rossi zipped in from Moreira’s blind spot and made him pay.

Just like with Attinella, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Moreira screw up, and just like with Attinella, if he’s riding the bench the rest of the year, I won’t be totally surprised.

Anyway, that’s two goals for the bad guys, and both were practically gift wrapped in a box with a bow on top.

4) I’m not sure what happened in the halftime locker room. Maybe they calmly talked tactics, maybe Gio gave them the hairdryer treatment, or maybe they just drank a bunch of triple-shot espressos. Whatever happened, it woke the team up and they came out in the second half like a team on fire.

The Timbers had zero shots on goal in the first half. They had three in the first 45 seconds of the 2nd half, culminating in this goal by Cristhian Paredes.

And that wasn’t the end of it. The Timbers kept attacking, non-stop. It’s hard to overstate how much better they looked than in the first half. It was night and day. They were relaxed, organized, aggressive. When they lost the ball, they’d get it back quickly. When they attacked, it wasn’t three or four guys attacking, it was everyone. It really did feel like they were going to draw even, then probably go ahead. They were the better team.

But then, for the third time in the game, they shot themselves in the foot.

Who’s to blame for not picking up Latif Blessing? I don’t think it’s Villafaña, as he’s just too far away to do anything. So the blame lies with either Bill Tuiloma, who was – questionably – doubling LAFC’s striker, or Diego Chara, who, to my eyes, is just ball-watching.

I’m gonna blame Chara unless you can talk me out of it in the comments. Blessing runs right in front of him. I think Chara’s got to follow him.

3-1, bad guys.

5) Blessing’s goal would have broken the spirit of a lot of teams, but it didn’t break Portland’s. They kept fighting, didn’t let LAFC score a 4th or a 5th, then in the 84th minute, drew within one on a Brian Fernandez golazo.

That’s Fernandez’s fourth goal in three games, which is just absurd. Can he keep this up? Probably not. Will he try? Absolutely. The guy goes like hell for 90 minutes, constantly pushing for a goal. That’s not always the case with forwards. A lot of forwards are hit or miss. They drift in and out of games, sometimes disappearing completely. But in three games with the Timbers, I haven’t seen even the tiniest hint of that from Fernandez. He’s working his ass off the entire game.

Time will tell, of course, but for now, it seems like the front office completely nailed the “high level attacking DP signing” it took them so long to make. Well done, Gavin and company. You hit this one out of the park.

Going back to Fernandez’s bicycle kick goal, surely you noticed that he only scored once Jeremy Ebobisse had entered the game. Did he score because Jebo was out there with him, or no? Correlation does not equal causation, but still, this is something I’ll keep my eye on moving forward.

As I’ve written constantly for the last three weeks, I want the two of them playing together. I don’t want center backs leaning on Fernandez for 90 minutes. I want them leaning on Jebo. I want Jebo camped out in the box, occupying their attention, allowing Fernandez to roam, to find the angles, to run into empty spaces, to score goals. Jebo doesn’t need to score goals. He can be a target forward, a big body in the box, keeping the CBs occupied, and laying balls off to Fernandez, Blanco, and Diego Valeri.

I’ve felt all this before, but now that I’ve seen Jebo starting on the bench and Fernandez playing the classic striker’s role, I’m feeling it even stronger. Fernandez/Ebobisse is better than Fernandez alone. And if you need a nice, short, easy to remember hashtag, how’s this one?

6) Let’s finish with some random thoughts.

  • Blanco’s yellow card was his fifth, which means he’ll be suspended for our next MLS game.
  • Don’t feel too bad for Blanco, though. Suspended or not, he’s still the single coolest human being on the planet.

  • Bill Tuiloma came off hurt in the 60th minute. Let’s hope it’s not too bad.
  • But if it is, he’s got plenty of time to rest up. The Timbers don’t have a game next week. Or the week after that. Seems almost cruel to keep the team away for so long, give us our first home game, then immediately go on break. Our next MLS game isn’t until June 22nd.
  • There will be a soccer game, though, just not an MLS one. The Timbers travel up to Seattle on Wednesday, June 12th to take on Seattle in our first US Open Cup game. I’m not sure if the game’s being played at a high school, a middle school, or a church parking lot, but I’ll be interested to see who Gio starts. Sometimes US Open Cup games are a chance to give second-choice players a start, but since we’ve got this break in MLS games, I think Gio will play our first choice XI, simply to keep them fresh.
  • I’ll see you all next Tuesday. I already have a bunch of goofy bye-week stuff planned. Should be fun.