Seriously, though, who are we? Are we the team that plays elite teams on the road and wins? Or the team that plays middling teams at home and draws? Are we awesome, or an unreliable mess?
1) We’ll start this two-game week with Thursday’s disappointing, thoroughly maddening 1-1 home draw with Orlando. Portland could not have dominated the stats any more.
Lots of media guide-type stats that don't mean much but-— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) July 19, 2019
Fewest chances created by a POR opponent (1)
Fewest shots ever by POR opponent (2)
Biggest shot differential ever by POR in a MLS match (26 to 2)
First time ever opponent was held without a shot for an entire half #RCTID
This makes perfect sense when you consider Orlando’s strategy coming into the game. They wanted a 0-0 draw, which means parking the bus. And when they accidentally took at 1-0 lead, they brought in a second bus and parked that one, too.
It all shows pretty clearly in the expected goals map.
But the only numbers that matter are the final score. The Timbers played their 1st choice lineup at home against an average-at-best team and could only get a 1-1 draw. That ain’t good.
2) Let’s look at the goals, starting with Orlando’s at the end of the first half, which was completely against the run of play.
You saw what Zarek Valentin was doing there on the sideline, right? Rather than possess the ball, he was trying to hold off his opponent and let the ball roll out of bounds. Except the ball didn’t roll out of bounds. Instead, his man snuck it out of there and started an attack, Valentin chasing after him, feeling like an idiot. A cross hits Jorge Moreira’s foot, bounces right to an Orlando attacker, and Steve Clark doesn’t have a chance.
That’s just shitty, shitty luck, all the way around. We completely dominate the half, but go into the locker room down 1-0. Soccer truly is the cruelest sport.
In the second half, we continued to dominate the action, continued to attack their defense, and continued to be stymied. Orlando always had 8 or 9 defender in the box, and our response was to send in cross after cross after cross – an absurd 41 crosses in total – all to no avail.
In the 82nd minute, we sent in yet another cross, but this one was slightly different in that two Timbers got their head on it, first Brian Fernandez, and then Jeremy Ebobisse. Orlando stopped all our one-headed shots, but the two-headed shot? That got through.
In this game, Orlando gave the rest of MLS a blueprint for how to beat the Timbers at home. Don’t let us beat you on the counter, pack the box with defenders, and force us to find a way through. Our only idea on how to beat Orlando’s bunker was cross, cross, cross. It didn’t work. We’ve got to find a different bunker-busting strategy, because I can guarantee there are many more to come.
3) Ready to see something upsetting? Here’s Orlando defender Alex De John accidentally getting knocked unconscious in the 8th minute.
Pretty awful, right? He eventually woke up and left the field under his own power, but that was the end of the day for him. Brian Fernandez received a yellow card and the game moved on.
End of story, right? Well, no. I kinda want to talk about that yellow card. And be aware, my thoughts on this aren’t set in stone. I have more questions than answers. Still, it’s an interesting topic, so let’s get into it.
A few years back, I saw some random video of some random player attempting a bicycle kick. He was completely focused on the ball, of course, and was up in the air, fully in the motion of his bicycle. What he didn’t see was the center back coming in to head the ball away. The ball, the foot, and the center back’s head all arrived at the same point at the same time. The defender got kicked in the head, the attacker got a yellow card, and I got a bit annoyed.
A yellow card? I thought at the time. How does the attacker deserve a yellow card? He didn’t kick the dude’s head, the dude head-butted his foot! He had no idea the dude was even there! If that’s a yellow card then every bicycle kick should be a yellow card! If bicycles are reckless when defenders throw their heads at you, then they’re reckless when defenders don’t throw their heads at you, right?
And this is sort of what I’m thinking on Fernandez’s yellow. He tried a really weird tae kwon do kick. If Alex De John doesn’t go for the ball, he doesn’t get kicked in the head. But, of course, he’s got to go for the ball. That’s his job.
Likewise, if BFF doesn’t try for the golazo, De John doesn’t get kicked in the head. But BFF’s got to go for the golazo. That’s his job.
So how do we fix this? How do we keep defenders from getting kicked in the head? Outlaw trying to score on high balls? But those are the best goals! You’d eliminate all bicycle kicks, all scissor kicks, and all tae kwon do kicks. Do you hate fun?
Or maybe we should we outlaw defenders trying to head the ball away when attackers are winding up for a golazo. Well, that’s absurd. They’ve got to go for the ball. That’s their job. They can’t just step back and say, Welp, he’s already started his bicycle kick. Guess I’ll just stand back and hope for the best. Defenders who do that will very quickly be unemployed.
So maybe we try the middle ground and say the rule is “don’t try scoring on high balls when there are defenders nearby.” Well, sorry, but that’s pretty much the only time these awesome kicks happen. If there were no defenders around, the attacker would just let the ball drop to the ground and score it the old-fashioned way.
As you can see, I don’t have an answer here, I just think the question is worth asking. Did Fernandez deserve a yellow card? Should every high kick be a yellow, or just the ones where the defender throws his head into the path of your foot? Let’s talk it out down in comments.
4) Now, on to the Seattle game. It had just about everything you could want. Big goals, big misses, pushing, shoving, a post game brawl. Let’s start with the expected goals map.
As you can see, there are a couple big misses for each team. The xG people say that Jeremy Ebobisse’s 18th minute miss was worse than Raul Ruidiaz’s 22nd minute miss, but I’m not buying it. Let’s take a look at both.
Okay, I’ll grant you, it was from only a yard away, but Jebo had absolutely no time to react to that. No way is that a gimme. Ruidiaz’s on the other hand...
Holy hell, did we dodge a bullet there. That shot was harder to miss than make, but somehow Ruidiaz managed it.
Seattle had a lot of misses, actually. Roman Torres had at least two, maybe three, open headers in the box. As you saw on the xG map, the Sounders should have scored 2.93 goals, but only scored 1. The Timbers, meanwhile, scored pretty much exactly what xG says they should have scored.
Here’s the first goal, courtesy of His Royal Highness, the King of Thunder.
I love Jorge Moreira getting his man to bite so hard on the right foot, only to switch to his left, come into the box, and send a screamer off the crossbar. I’m not sure I’ve seen Morge use his left foot like that. (And, yes, I’m calling him Morge. Our back line has one Jorge too many, so I’m going with Jorge and Morge. My friend Arden came up with it. Feel free to add it to your gameday lexicon.)
Just as nice as Morge’s screamer off the bar? Fernandez judging the angle, judging the bounce, repositioning himself, and slapping that ball into the empty net. 1-0, good guys.
5) Sadly, in the 50th minute, Seattle answered, and it was our previous big misser Raul Ruidiaz.
I’m honestly not sure who to blame here. It’s either Larrys Mabiala or Steve Clark, right? Mabiala gets outpaced by Ruidiaz, while Clark either comes out of goal too late or too early, I’m not entirely sure. Or maybe no one’s to blame, maybe it’s just an awesome run, an awesome pass, and an awesome finish. Whatever the cause, that goal made it 1-1.
Now, as you may remember, I was actually at this game. It was the first time I’d ever gone to a Timbers road game, and I got the full experience. I went up on one of the TA buses, I got herded into that section way up in the top deck, I got held there afterwards until the stadium had cleared out, I got the bus ride back to Portland, and I got home well after one in the morning.
The experience that surprised me the most? How awful it is to have the entire stadium cheering an opposing goal. It was horrible. And it wasn’t just any opposing fan group. It wasn’t 2,000 sad, lonely Dynamo fans on a rainy Wednesday night in Houston, it was 50,000 asshole Sounders fans.
I cannot overstate how much I hated them for cheering their stupid goal. I hated their cheers, I hated their little green flags, I hated their flaming goalposts, I hated everything in that moment. I could have powered an aircraft carrier with my hatred.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to hold on to that hate for very long, because about 60 seconds later, Brian Fernandez did this.
Well, that shut them up pretty good, didn’t it? And, oh Lord, was their silence sweet. Up in the top deck, I was giving the entire stadium double birds, while simultaneously thrusting my hips in a way that I’m actually a little ashamed of. Road games can take you to a dark place, my friends. A dark and infantile place.
6) Let’s finish with some random thoughts. I’ve got a lot of ‘em.
- The King of Thunder now has eight goals in nine MLS games. Coffee’s for closers, ladies and gentlemen, and Brian Fernandez is a mothereffin’ closer.
- That being said, the Timbers have still never had an MLS hat trick.
- Can I just say how glad I am that Sebastian Blanco’s a brunette again? This blond hair thing is getting out of hand. Against Orlando, five of the 11 starters (Blanco, Fernandez, Polo, Paredes, and Dielna) had dyed blonde hair. It was a confusing mess.
- Speaking of Seba, on Sunday, he wasn’t just mouthing off to the Sounders, he was mouthing off to their fans, too. At one point, I thought one of the rich guys sitting pitchside was gonna come onto the field. It was awesome. Seba’s the best.
- But he wasn’t the only one mouthing off on Sunday. Check out this gif. There is not one single second of it that I do not love. I love their evolving facial expressions, their sotto voce argument, their subtle elbow shots, their realization that the referee is watching, and then Fernandez patting Torres on the shoulder, like, “No, no, it’s fine, we’re friends, it’s all good.” I want to crush this entire gif into a fine powder and snort it up my nose.
- Not enough for you? Need a little more entertainment? How about a post-match brawl? That do anything for you? There’s so much to love here. Torres coming at Clark. Clark talking mad shit back at him. Dairon Asprilla flying into a rage over something Kim Kee-Hee did, and having to be held back by three people. Clark getting into a second fight with Stefan Frei. And the cherry on the top? Sebastian Blanco acting as peacekeeper. You heard me right. Sebastian Blanco acting as peacekeeper!
- It’s hard to follow a game with that much entertainment value, but the Timbers will have to, since the LA Galaxy are coming to town on Saturday. Frustratingly, we’ll be playing them without Diego Chara, who picked up his eighth yellow card in Seattle and the one-game suspension that comes with it.
- Fortunately, LA might be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, too. He might miss the game because he’s a elitist man-baby who’s too special to play on turf, or he might be suspended for breaking a guy’s cheekbone with his elbow this weekend. Either way, I’ve come around to the opinion that Zlatan’s a dick and I don’t particularly want him in my town.
- The Timbers now have six road wins. That’s after getting only four in 2018 and 2017, and zero in 2016. Somewhat amazingly, we only have two MLS road games left. There’s the early August game at Minnesota, then 10, count ‘em, 10 straight home games, followed by a late September road game at SKC. But all those home games won’t do us much good if we keep drawing them. Time to start banging out three-pointers. Returning to the question I asked at the very start of this column, are we a team that plays elite teams on the road and wins? Or a team that plays middling teams at home and draws? Are we awesome, or an unreliable mess? Maybe Saturday’s game against LA will provide some answers.