For those of you hoping that Sunday’s 1-0 win over NYCFC meant we could finally say goodbye to the dreaded Chara Winless StreakTM... sorry, but it’s complicated. Yes, we broke the streak of losing games where he didn’t start, which is nice. But the streak of losing games where he didn’t play? Sadly, that one’s still alive. Unless it’s not. Like I said, no one can agree on this.
1) One of the big stories coming into this game was the fact that it was just the first of three games the Timbers will be playing this week. First, a game on the road in New York, then a long flight to LA for a game on Wednesday, then back to Portland for a Saturday night game against Colorado.
So the question was, would Gio play his first-stringers on Sunday against NYC? Or play the second-stringers, thereby saving his big guns for LAFC? Which door would Gio choose?
Turns out, Gio chose a 3rd door, mixing his first- and second-stringers together.
Up top, I see our three Argentine attackers, but Dairon Asprilla’s on the wing instead of Jeremy Ebobisse. Okay, I guess I can live with that.
In the back, I see Larrys Mabiala, but no Julio Cascante? Claude Dielna instead? Hmm... I’m suddenly a little worried.
And wait... where are the Jorges? Not a single Jorge at fullback? This is concerning.
And looking at the midfield, OH MY GOD, WHERE IS DIEGO CHARA? NO DIEGO CHARA?!? WE’RE DOOMED! DOOOOOOOOOOMED, I TELL YOU!!!!!
Except... maybe not. We played the mixed lineup and won. The backups played well. The kids played well. Our bench came through when we needed it.
It’s a little shocking to say this, but it would appear that our team finally has real, legitimate, reliable depth. After all these years of bemoaning our bench, it seems like it’s fixed. After all these years of wishing the Timbers would #PlayTheKids, we’re finally seeing it happen. And after all these years rooting for a team with only eleven competent players, we now find ourselves rooting for a team that can actually rest some starters, play some backups, give the kids some experience, and still get wins.
It’s a brave new world, people, and I like it.
2) The game’s lone goal came in the 14th minute, off the foot of Sebastian Blanco.
When I watched this live, I thought it was an accidental goal. Sort of a “whoops, how did that happen?” kind of goal. But looking at the replay, the goal seems much less accidental and much more skillful.
Yes, it starts with a weak touch by the NYC defender, leaving the ball in the danger zone. We were lucky there. But Seba getting a quick foot to it? That’s not luck, that’s skill. And then giving that ball the perfect loft to get it over the keeper and into goal? High, high degree of difficulty.
In the moment it looked like a lucky goal, but after a few views, I’m giving Blanco full credit. Not only was he quick in thought and movement, but his touch was intentional and perfect. Well done, sir. 1-0, good guys.
3) And that goal was enough to win the game because the defense dug deep and kept NYC scoreless.
Wait, did I really just say “dug deep?” I hate that. So many times, I roll my eyes when people talk about “digging deep” or “winning with heart” or “wanting it more.” It just feels meaningless and lazy.
But the truth is, in this game, that’s exactly how it felt. It felt like a test of heart. NYC had so much possession and so many good scoring opportunities. Our defense was under siege the entire second half, and they just kept surviving and surviving and surviving.
Like I said earlier, we didn’t have a single Jorge at fullback, instead relying on Zarek Valentin at right back and Centennial High School’s own Marco Farfan at left. They both crushed it. That’s no surprise for Valentin, but every time I see Farfan standing tall against quality opponents, it gives me hope for his future with the team.
In the middle, it was the French Connection, Larrys Mabiala and Claude Dielna. I think I may owe Dielna an apology. Just last week I was ripping him for his poor work in Montreal, but on Sunday in New York? He looked pretty damn good.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate how well the defense has done in Bill Tuiloma’s absence. Some of that is a credit to Cascante and Dielna, but perhaps the main credit goes to Mabiala. He’s the sole constant. He’s the guy holding it all together. And check out what mlssoccer.com’s Bobby Warshaw wrote on Monday.
Considering Warshaw played center back in this league, I’m inclined to believe him.
And the last member of the defense? Goalkeeper Steve Clark, who is now 6-1-0 on the season, with all three of the team’s shutouts. Last year, Jeff Attinella was the hot hand, and we rode him all the way to MLS Cup. This year Steve Clark’s the hot hand. Maybe we can ride him just as far.
4) Some random thoughts.
- We now have 5 road wins this year. In all of 2018, we only had 4.
- A week ago, I didn’t know the MLS Title Belt was a thing, but now that it’s ours, I think it’s probably more important than MLS Cup and the Supporter’s Shield put together.
- At the end of the first half, the Timbers got five yellow cards in eight minutes. That’s gotta be some kind of record.
- Zarek Valentin’s yellow? He’s lucky it wasn’t a red. High boot to the face? Ouch. We got off lucky there.
- Have you seen this gif of Steve Clark hugging Sebastian Blanco? It’s friggin’ adorable.
- And finally, I’m sure you noticed that Brian Fernandez didn’t score. What have I been telling you people? The guy’s a BUM! Get him outta there! He’s garbage! Worst signing ever!
5) Final thought on this past weekend’s win. I think it might be our best of the year. I know just a couple weeks ago I said the Philly win was our best, but I think this NYC win beats it.
Yes, Philly were – and still are – atop the East, but NYC’s leading the East on PPG, and they were on a 12-game unbeaten streak, and we were playing a mixed lineup, and we were mostly without Diego Chara.
Considering all of that, I’m calling this our new best win of the season. It was a little ugly at times, but sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do on the road against a really good opponent.
6) Speaking of being on the road against a really good opponent, the team’s flying straight from New York to LA, because on Wednesday we’ve got a US Open Cup quarterfinal game against LAFC.
Quick reminder: LAFC’s not just good, they’re so much better than everyone else, they’re pretty much lapping the field.
I got that tweet from a really good article on American Soccer Analysis. It breaks down all the ways in which LAFC is good, and also some ways in which they might be beaten. It’s recommended reading, but if you don’t wanna, here’s the TL;DR on how to beat them: play great defense and be devastating on the counter attack.
Well, funny story, those just happen to be two things the Timbers are good at.
But can they do them perfectly? For 90 minutes? On the road? On short rest?
But no matter how the team does on Wednesday, they can’t dwell on the result too long, because then it’s back up here to Portland for a Saturday night game against the back-from-the-dead-and-suddenly-quite-dangerous Colorado Rapids.
Who starts Wednesday in LA? I truly have no idea. Probably a mixture. That worked in New York, right? If Gio throws a slightly different mixture out there, maybe it’ll work again.
And then on Saturday versus Colorado, maybe he throws yet another mixture out there.
It’s a brutal stretch of games, folks. We started well in New York. Can we keep it up? Let me hear your thoughts down in the comments.