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Six Degrees: Chara Streak Broken!

Timbers 4, Galaxy 0

MLS: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s for sure this time. He didn’t start, he didn’t come on as a sub, and we won anyway. The Chara winless streak is officially broken.

1) Saturday’s game started a little rough, to be honest. In the first ten minutes or so, our guys had really hard feet. A whole lot of passes were well off target. The passes that were on target seemed to clang off iron feet. It was a worrisome start.

Things improved, though, and the Timbers started to look like themselves again. Then in the 37th minute, we finally broke through, courtesy of Cristhian Paredes’s head.

There’s a lot to love here. I love the big switch from the left side of the field to the right, which gets LA’s defense all stretched out and unbalanced. I love Jorge Moreira’s perfect cross, right to the top of the six-yard box. I love how Brian Fernandez makes a tiny little run to the near post, dragging two defenders with him. And, of course, I love Paredes’s quick dash into that empty space, where he sends the ball home.

Worth noting, Paredes nearly got kicked in the head on this play. Kind of ironic, considering last week I dedicated an entire degree to head-kicking. Though, last week it was attackers kicking defenders, while this week would have been a defender kicking an attacker. Let’s just be glad no contact was made.

2) Not much more than a minute later, before the green and gold smoke even had a chance to clear, the Timbers scored again. Only this time, it wasn’t through a slow build, it was through our old favorite, the lightning-fast counter attack.

One-touch passes are the foundation upon which fast-break goals are built, and this beauty started with three of them. Diego Valeri to Cristhian Paredes to Sebastian Blanco, then back to Diego Valeri. Bang bang bang bang, and the next thing you know, Valeri’s nutmegging some poor bastard and firing the ball into the side netting. 2-0, good guys.

Valeri looked really good in this game. The whole game, he was trying tricky stuff. Actually, everyone in the attack was trying tricky stuff. Lots of one-touch passing, lots of stuff that looked vaguely tiki taka. And I say, gimme more of that! I’ll take all the tiki taka you got!

But you know what I don’t want more of? You know what confuses and unsettles me? Diego Valeri taking his jersey off after goals and holding it up for the crowd to see.

I don’t understand this at all. Why, Diego? You’ve never done this before. Why now? Is there some hidden meaning? Were you sending some cryptic message? What is this strange new world I find myself in?

I have a possible theory. Maybe Saint Diego isn’t perfect, after all. Maybe, despite all his efforts, he still has some ego. And maybe that ego was a little annoyed with Zlatan Ibrahimovic acting like he’s the only player in MLS who matters. Do you think it’s possible that’s why Valeri held up his jersey for all to see? Maybe it was his ego making a very rare appearance?

What do you think of Shirtless Valeri? Got any theories on why he showed up Saturday night?

3) The old expression is that 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in soccer. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with that sentiment, but I will say that I was tense for a lot of the second half. It was only in the 81st minute that I was able to relax, thanks, once again, to Cristhian Paredes.

Can I tell you how much I love Jorge Villafaña kissing Paredes on the cheek after that goal? Just adorable.

That was Paredes’s second goal, of course, which immediately made me imagine how crazy it would be if the first Timbers hat trick came via a defensive midfielder.

Speaking of d-mids, Paredes is an absolute stud out there, but you know who else looked good on Saturday? Diego Chara’s replacement, Renzo Zambrano.

Renzo’s now had six starts this year, so maybe I should no longer be surprised, but still... the guy looks so at ease out there. He does not look in any way outpaced or overwhelmed. He 100% belongs. I hope we can hang on to both him and Paredes, but don’t be surprised if other teams come calling, looking to buy them up. Especially Paredes, who’s still only 21 years old.

4) Jorge Villafana got the assist on that last goal, but clearly he wasn’t satisfied, because just a few minutes later, he dropped another dime, this time to Jeremy Ebobisse.

That’s Jebo’s seventh goal of the year, which is second on the team. I like how the Timbers have a lot of different goal scorers. The Galaxy have one. Zlatan. If he ain’t scoring, nobody’s scoring. But the Timbers have options. So far this year, Fernandez has scored eight goals, Jebo’s scored seven, Valeri’s scored six, Paredes has scored four, and Blanco’s scored three. That’s balance, my friends. That’s a recipe for continued success.

When the year ends, will we have three double digit goal scorers? Four?

In 2013, the team had only one double digit goal scorer (Valeri) but three players scored nine (Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, and Darlington Nagbe) and another scored seven (Rodney Freaking Wallace). Only time will tell how this year’s group will match up to 2013’s, but I like our chances.

In fact, I’m just gonna go ahead and call it now. The King of Thunder, Jebo, and Shirtless Valeri all finish the year with double-digit goals. Place your bets.

5) But Saturday’s win wasn’t only about goalscorers. The defense pitched a shutout as well, our fourth shutout of the season, all of them since June 22nd.

The defensive highlight of the match was clearly this 75th minute save by Steve Clark.

Remember last year, when we started the year with Jake Gleeson in goal, but Jeff Attinella took over, got hot, stayed hot, won us all over, and carried the team to MLS Cup? This year’s been exactly the same thing, only with Steve Clark. The guy’s been unreal.

And it goes beyond the numbers. Clark has a personality that’s making us all fall in love with him. The way he held his arms aloft after that save? The crowd went absolutely batshit for that. And Clark does stuff like that all the time. He plays the crowd like no other Timber I can think of. I hope he can keep performing at this level, because I like the guy and think he can take us far.

But if Clark does falter, it’s not entirely clear who’s next in line, since we got the news on Monday that Attinella’s done for the year.

If Clark goes down, who do you think gets the nod? Current Timbers backup keeper Kendall McIntosh or current T2 starter Aljaz Ivacic? I’m rooting for McIntosh. He gives great interviews and he’s fun to watch in warmups.

6) Let’s finish with some random thoughts.

  • This was our second straight week with a post-game scuffle. Both times, Dairon Asprilla has gone a little ape shit. I’m thinking maybe Dairon’s the guy I want on my side if I end up in a bar fight.
  • Speaking of post game action, did you notice how Jebo raced off to the locker room as soon as the final whistle blew? I mean, he raced off the field. Do you think he desperately needed to use the bathroom? Do you think this is more common than we realize? Like, maybe there’s always one or two guys out there wishing they could take a leak? And now that the idea’s in my head, I’m wondering if players ever race off to the bathroom while the game is still going on. Or even worse, they try to hold it, fail, and have a little accident in their pants in front of thousands of people. Surely this has happened at some point, somewhere on Earth. I hope I never get to see it.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Larrys Mabiala and Julio Cascante. They traded Zlatan back and forth all night, and shut the annoying shit right the hell down. Well done, fellas.
  • Speaking of Mabiala, when Valeri got subbed off, he handed the captain’s armband to Blanco. When Blanco got subbed off, he handed it to Mabiala. Was this the first time as captain for either of those guys? Anyone know?
  • This win, as convincing as it was, did not answer the question of whether the Timbers can break down a bunker. LA didn’t park the bus like Orlando and Colorado did. I’m not sure Minnesota will do it next week, either, but on August 10th, Vancouver comes to town, and I can almost guarantee they’ll have eight men in the box from the very first minute. Let’s hope the Timbers are working on strategies to deal with that.
  • The Timbers don’t have a game until Sunday, but Diego Chara’s actually playing on Wednesday. For the first time in his exceptional career, he’ll be in the MLS All Star game. You can dismiss the All-Star game as silly marketing nonsense if you want (and you’d probably be right), but it’s still nice that the heart and soul of our team is finally getting recognized. The club released a Chara appreciation video on Monday which I highly recommend. You can watch it here.
  • The All-Star game itself isn’t until Wednesday, but on Tuesday there’s a Skills Challenge, where they’ll let players compete in tests of shooting and passing and, I don’t know, maybe dribbling or something. I don’t think this is fair to defensive midfielders. There needs to be a Skills Challenge for “blowing dudes up,” because Diego Chara would win that in a rout.
  • Actually, here’s an idea: incorporate the “blowing dudes up” challenge into the other challenges. For example, when the shooters do their thing, not only do they have to shoot, they have to do it while Diego Chara’s running at them, full speed. For the dribbling challenge, the dribbler gets a five second head start, then they turn Diego Chara loose. If you can make it through the dribbling course without Chara blowing you the fuck up, you win. My money’s on Chara.