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Six Degrees: Two For One

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Portland 2, Montreal and Dallas 2

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

I’m pretty sure this is my first time trying to cover two MLS games in one column. Let’s see how it goes.


1) First up, last Wednesday’s game in Montreal.

As I’m sure you remember, I was hoping the team would leave all their first-string players back here in Portland, resting up for the weekend game with Dallas. My logic was that a home game versus a Western Conference opponent was more important than a road game against a team in the Eastern Conference.

This was my reaction when the Starting XI was announced.

That’s a whole lotta #PlayTheKids, ain’t it? I could not have been happier. Yeah, I knew we might lose, but I couldn’t wait to see how the kids played.

How’d they do? Well, the kids did pretty well, but the few veterans sprinkled in here and there? It seemed like they were the ones screwing up the most. For example, look at this early counter attack led by Dairon Asprilla.

Young guns Tomas Conechny, Eryk Williamson, and Marvelous Marvin Loria do a pretty decent job racing forward and putting themselves in good positions, but Asprilla is indecisive and waits too long to pull the trigger, at which point it was a lost cause. Can you imagine how much better that would have gone with the first stringers?

There were a lot of moments like that against Montreal, a lot of moments when the team seemed right on the verge of something great, but then couldn’t quite pull it off. The timing would be just a little off, the touches just a little off, the decisions just a little slow. Good individual moments couldn’t be strung together into something greater. Each time, I’d shake my head and mutter something like “first team woulda scored that...”

Am I angry? No. This is what happens when you #PlayTheKids. They’ll learn from the experience. They’ll get better.

Will Dairon Asprilla learn? Probably not. I think he’s a finished product.

2) Same for Claude Dielna. When the team brought him in over the winter, they hoped he would slot in next to Larrys Mabiala and be a sure-fire starter, week in and week out.

The problem? He’s not very good.

That was Dielna’s brutally slow reaction time and even slower feet almost giving up a goal.

Now here he is a few minutes later actually giving up a goal.

Ugly stuff from one of the most experienced players in that kid-heavy lineup. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Dielna on the roster next year.

But the rest of the back line wasn’t perfect, either. Check out Montreal’s second goal.

I don’t know what to think about this. I mean, it really is an amazing shot. Sometimes you just gotta tip your hat. On the other hand, if either Julio Cascante and Modou Jadama puts a body on him, maybe that golazo doesn’t happen, right? Maybe?

What’s our center back depth chart right now? I think the top three are clearly Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma, and Julio Cascante. But after that, then who? Dielna? Jadama? It think I’d choose Jadama, for the same reason I would have preferred Foster Langsdorf over Asprilla. The old guys are set in their ways. #PlayTheKids, even if they sometimes fail. At least they’ll learn from the experience.

3) Tomas Conechny learned something against Montreal. He learned how to score his first MLS goal.

Nice work by Cascante fighting through traffic to get his head on that free kick, and nice work by Conechny putting it away. Hopefully, that goal’s just the first of many for the young Argentine.

And hopefully this game is just the first of many where we’ll see a kid-heavy lineup. That’s my main takeaway from Montreal, that Gio deserves a standing ovation for leaving the big guns here in Portland. Yeah, the decision may have cost us points, but they were Eastern Conference road points. We got good experience for the kids, and more importantly, got to rest the veterans, getting them ready for our Western Conference matchup with Dallas on Sunday.

4) And when Sunday came, those well-rested veterans came out like a house on fire.

Sunday’s first half was just wonderful. The team was playing a high press, absolutely hounding the Dallas back line, making everything as hard as possible.

It wasn’t all high pressure, though. There were also moments where we had long stretches of possession, looking very patient, trying to break down Dallas’s defense.

But when the team finally scored in the 42nd minute, it wasn’t through high pressure or possession. It was through doing what we do best: hitting them on the break.

He’s scored a goal in his first five MLS games, and that, ladies and gentlement, is a new MLS record. All hail His Royal Highness Brian Fernandez, the King of Motherfuckin’ Thunder!

A few things to note: first thing, remember that ugly Dairon Asprilla-led counterattack I showed you from the Montreal game? Compare it to this one. Utterly smooth, utterly decisive, utterly deadly. And not one, but two Timbers dummied Sebastian Blanco’s pass, letting it go to its rightful owner, the King of Thunder.

Second thing, I want to thank His Royal Highness for dying his hair platinum blonde. Much easier to ID him out there, now that he looks different from Blanco.

Third thing – and this might be a bit of controversial – I don’t think His Royal Highness should have gotten credit for that record-setting goal. I think it was an own goal. Remember, this year I’m sitting up in the new section, so I saw it from the opposite angle of the TV cameras. From where I was sitting, the King’s initial shot was way off target. It was going high and right, then it ran into Matt Hedges’s face, which was kind enough to redirect it into goal. The official scorer ruled it a goal and I don’t think they’re going to take it back, but I’m telling you, that was an own goal.

5) Okay, so the first half was awesome. Pressure, possession, fast break goals, and a 1-0 lead. How was the second half?

Kind of shitty, thanks for asking.

I’m not sure if it was because Dallas made some adjustments or because we fell off a cliff, but everything was tougher in the second half. Our high pressure wasn’t pinning them back nearly so much, we couldn’t maintain possession for more than 20 seconds, and we were allowing Dallas attackers chance after chance in the box. The truth is, Dallas won the second half, and if their finishing had been better, they’d have won the entire game.

Check out the expected goals from the game (courtesy of Bobby Warshaw’s column on mlssoccer.com).

The table shows that our best chance was Jeremy Ebobisse’s miss in the 52nd minute, but Dallas had three, count ‘em, three chances that were better.

Here’s what that looks like in map form. The little tiny gold dot? That’s our goal.

So, yes, the Timbers won, and we should celebrate that, but it was far from dominant. We’ll need to do better if we’re going to continue climbing up the table.

6) I’ve got a bunch of things left to say, but only one degree to say them in, so you know what that means, right? A bulleted list!

  • Dear God in heaven, how great was Diego Chara on Sunday? The guy went non-stop, start to finish, just putting out fires all over the field. Then, as soon as we’d get the ball, he’d be racing up field, joining the attack. The guy’s an absolute marvel and absolutely critical to this team’s success.
  • And since he’s so critical, Gio should seriously consider playing him less minutes. I’d love it if Renzo Zambrano came in at the 60th minute from here on out. I think the kid’s ready, and I think we’ll appreciate a rested, healthy Chara come playoff time.
  • Speaking of defensive midfielders, I know I’ve said it before, but Cristhian Paredes is really good. The kid’s only 21 years old, yet he’s already a 100% write-his-name-in-permanent-ink starter for this team, now and far into the future.
  • That’s two straight shutouts for Steve Clark. Check out what #StatMan Mike Donovan tweeted. I love me some Jeff Attinella, but these numbers are hard to argue against.

  • The Timbers better get plenty of rest over the next few days, because starting this weekend, they’ll have five games in 15 days. Yep, a game every three days. First up, Sunday at NYCFC. Then a Wednesday US Open Cup game at league-leading LAFC. Then back home for a Saturday game against the suddenly-dangerous Colorado. Then the very rare Thursday game hosting Orlando. Then Sunday at Seattle.
  • That’s a brutal two weeks and Gio’s going to have to rotate his guys to survive it. Do you think he’ll play the first stringers next weekend in New York, then play the 2nd unit down in LA? Or do you think he values the US Open Cup more than a roadie against an Eastern Conference opponent?
  • I think he has to play his 2nd unit for one of those games, and I think it’ll be the US Open Cup game in LA. Disagree? Awesome. Let’s talk about it down in the comments.