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Six Degrees: Up and Down Week

Great Wins 1, Disappointing Draws 1

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

A cross-country flight from New York to LA, a gigantic Open Cup win against the best team in the league, a flight up the coast, and a somewhat ugly, vaguely disappointing slog of a draw right here in Portland. It’s been a strange week.

1) Just last week, I declared our 1-0 road win over NYCFC to be our best win of the year. Well, that game held the title for only three short days, because on Wednesday, the Timbers had their new best win of the year, a 1-0 win over LAFC.

On three days rest – with one of those days taken up by a 3,000 mile flight – the Timbers faced a team that hadn’t lost at home all year, that had a home goal differential of +22, that was coming off 5-1 and 6-1 victories, and was playing its first choice lineup. Oh, and we were missing our head coach. If that ain’t a great win, I don’t know what is.

That’s not to say it was a pretty win. We were on the back foot for probably 80% of the game. There was a nice stretch at the end of the 1st half where we played them pretty even, but otherwise, no, we were on our heels.

The good news? That’s just fine, since absorbing pressure and countering seems to be the only way to beat LAFC this year. Very few teams have pulled it off, but the Timbers did.

2) It was no sure, thing, though. In fact, it was 0-0 for so long, that I began mentally preparing myself for extra time. And after that, perhaps even penalty kicks.

But then in the 84th minute, we finally broke through. How’d it happen? Well, it started with a heavy touch from the King of Thunder, Brian Fernandez. Watch how the ball gets away from him. He races to get it back, but LAFC defender Jordan Harvey beats him to it, and taps the loose ball to... Jeremy Ebobisse.

Watching live, I didn’t see that Harvey had gotten the last touch. I thought Jebo was offside, and therefore had a hard time celebrating. But no, the pass came from Harvey, so the goal was good.

Ironically, I was angry with Jebo earlier in the game, when he blew a really good scoring chance by trying to switch the ball to his preferred left foot. But look what happened. He learned his lesson and scored the winner with his right peg. Well done, sir.

3) Some random thoughts on the LAFC game.

  • Two straight shutouts against two of the best teams in the league, NYCFC and LAFC. It’s hard to believe how far our defense has come since the season’s opening six games. It’s night and day.
  • Deserving special mention is left back Zarek Valentin, who matched up against the without-a-doubt best player in the league, Carlos Vela, and shut him right the hell down. Well done, Zarek!
  • Want to see a frustrated man? Here’s Larrys Mabiala getting denied twice in two minutes. Pity him.

  • After winning a game that felt as momentous and exhausting as World War Two, what’s the Timbers’ reward? A semifinal game on the road, at Minnesota. And if we win that? Another fucking road game, either at Orlando or Atlanta. Last year, Houston won the US Open Cup playing 5 of 5 games at home. If we win it this year, we’ll have done it playing 1 of 5 at home. And that, friends, is a pile of shit.
  • Sorry to bring you down like that. Here’s something that will cheer you up again – LAFC coach Bob Bradley getting hit in the face with a soccer ball.

Okay, that’s the LAFC game. On to the Colorado game.

4) I am often pathetic, but rarely prophetic. This Saturday, though, when I saw the Starting XI and looked at who was on the bench, I had a very worrisome premonition.

Fortunately, the team didn’t need an extra center back, they needed an extra left back. Why? Because in the 10th minute, the Pride of Gresham, Marco Farfan, was taken off injured. Zarek, get in there! You’re our new left back!

Crisis averted, right?

Wrong. Because in the 55th minute, this happened.

Okay, first things first, that’s 100% a red card. Julio Cascante takes out Kamara from behind, and scissors him a little bit, too. That’s a classic leg breaker and a definite red card.

But it never should have happened. Because 10 seconds earlier, Sebastian Blanco had gotten absolutely cleaned out. You can actually see him in the gif, still on the ground farther up the field. If referee Kevin Stott blows his whistle on that foul, Cascante’s foul never happens. But Stott doesn’t blow his whistle, because he’s a no good, awful, very bad referee.

I can’t overstate how bad Stott was in this match. There was absolutely no consistency. The entire game I had no idea what he was going to do next. He might give someone a yellow card, he might let a horrible foul go with no whistle. When a ref is inconsistent like that, the players don’t know how to play, and the game turns to shit.

I’ve been writing these columns since 2013, and just for a laugh, I searched my archives for “Kevin Stott.” Here’s what came up.

  • April 12, 2015: “Kevin Stott was an absolute travesty. From the opening whistle, Orlando City beat the crap out of us and Stott let them.”
  • April 2, 2017: “Kevin Stott was a mess on Sunday. Enjoy the incompetence.” (This was followed by three straight gifs of Timbers getting crushed and Stott doing nothing.)
  • June 2, 2017: “Players who aren’t good enough for MLS get cut. Refs who aren’t good enough should get cut, too. Kevin Stott should be reffing USL games. If he improves there, maybe he can play in the big leagues again. But not until then.”

Here we are, two years later, and Stott is still destroying MLS games. When will it end? I suspect never.

Well, anyway, that red card meant no more Cascante. Since there was no center back on the bench, my pre-game prophecy came true, and our new left back Zarek Valentin moved over to center back. Our new new left back? Defensive midfielder Renzo Zambrano. But only for a little while. Later, Zambrano moved back to d-mid, Cristhian Paredes became our new right back, and former right back Jorge Moreira became our new new new left back.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s four different Timbers who played left back. Farfan, Valentin, Zambrano, and Moreira. Surely this is a record.

So, all in all, I’d say including only one back line defender in the 18 was a mistake. Hopefully, the Timbers won’t make it again.

5) Fun fact: the Timbers did not score an open play goal on Saturday, while Colorado scored three – one for us, two for them.

Here’s the Timbers 27th minute goal, which, of course, was not scored by the Timbers.

That’s as good a header as you’ll ever see. Coaches should use this video in training. Perfect form. He shows pretty good form afterwards, too, lying face down on the ground, praying the Earth will swallow him whole.

Just one minute later, the Rapids scored again. This time, into the proper goal.

Valiant effort by Cascante trying to clear that off the line. If he’d known he was going to get red-carded later in the game, think he would’ve just reached out with his hands and grabbed that thing? No? Maybe? Probably not?

Here’s the handball that led to Diego Valeri’s 63rd minute penalty kick goal.

I think my favorite part is Blanco immediately getting in Abubakar’s ear. Blanco doesn’t even look angry, I think he just wanted to talk shit. Those two were chirping at each other all night long, and I kind of loved it.

Valeri converting the PK gave us an unexpected, shorthanded 2-1 lead, but, alas, we couldn’t hold it. In the 76th minute, left back Marco Farfan... Wait... Zarek Valentin? Who was our left back in the 76th minute? (checking notes) Renzo Zambrano! In the 76th minute, left back Renzo Zambrano got beaten like a guy who hadn’t planned on playing left back that day.

After the game, Gio Savarese took some blame for that, saying he should have had Zambrano playing on the bench side, so he could give him verbal help. But way over on the other side of the field, Renzo was on his own, and paid the price. That tied the game at 2-2 and that’s how it ended.

It was a sloppy, ugly, dissatisfying game, but after the unexpected 3 points we got at NYCFC, I guess I can live with us dropping a couple points at home. Let’s not make a habit of it, though.

6) Some random thoughts on the Colorado game.

  • Dairon Asprilla started on the right wing and was extremely, extremely Dairon-y. Lots of great moves, always ending in a turnover.
  • We’ve played Colorado twice this year. Both games had a red card, an own goal, and a penalty kick.
  • As you know, I was in the TA the last four years, but this year, sitting up in the new section, I get to hear the TA from the outside. After the Cascante red card, I got to enjoy the loudest “You’re so shitty it’s unbelievable” I’ve ever heard. It was remarkable. I tell ya, when the TA decides to turn it up to 11, it’s pretty breathtaking. You think they’re already at full voice, and then suddenly they’re at FULL VOICE, and you’re like, dayum! Well done, Army. When you bring it, you friggin’ bring it.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Steve Clark’s epic double save.

  • Sebastian Blanco played the full 90 on Saturday. He was the only field player who went the distance in all three games last week. (Yes, he got pulled at the 90+2 mark against NYCFC, but I’m still giving the honor. In three games, he went 270+ minutes.) Hell of a week, Seba. You deserve a game off.
  • And that game off will certainly be on Thursday against Orlando. In fact, because of idiotic scheduling, I think everybody from both teams will be getting that game off. Orlando just had a home game, now they’re flying to Portland for a game Thursday, then they’re flying back to Orlando for a game Sunday. Meanwhile, the Timbers don’t want to wear themselves out, because they’ve got a derby match on Sunday in Seattle. There’s an almost 100% chance both teams will be playing second- or third-choice lineups. ESPN wanted a Thursday night game? Well, congratulations, ESPN, your viewers get to watch a bunch of backups. Enjoy!
  • And finally, in closing, the Seattle game on Sunday is noteworthy for me. Believe it or not, despite following the Timbers obsessively since 2012, this Sunday will be my very first time traveling to a Timbers away game. That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? As you can imagine, I’m very excited. I’m riding up there on one of the TA’s buses. It’s gonna be a loooong day, so let’s hope the Timbers give us reason to celebrate on the drive home.