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Six Degrees: Let the Homestand Begin

Portland 4, Minnesota and Vancouver 3

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

As usual these days, it was a two-game week. One US Open game, one league game. Let’s break ‘em down.

1) Last week’s US Open Cup semifinal was not center back Claude Dielna’s finest hour. He was involved in both of Minnesota’s goal, the first by giving up a PK in the 21st minute. It was a penalty I was ready and willing to cry bullshit on, but then I saw the replay.

The ball wasn’t going to hit Dielna in the head. It was going over his head, but for some reason he reached up and hit it with his forearm. JFC, man.

Sadly, Dielna didn’t stop with just the handball. He also got burned on Minnesota’s second goal.

How much do we blame Dielna here? I’m not sure we can blame him for being slower than the attacker. I mean, Mason Toye’s tall, lanky, and 20 years old. He’s faster than almost everyone on the field. I can forgive Dielna for being slower than him.

So what’s Dielna supposed to do about it? Play off Toye a bit more, so he won’t get beat deep? If he does that, we’d complain about he wasn’t keeping a high line, and wasn’t trying to catch Toye offside.

In other words, Dielna’s screwed either way. Sometimes speed kills and that’s the end of the story.

2) Sandwiched between those two Minnesota goals was a Brian Fernandez goal in first half stoppage time.

That’s a great finish by Fernandez, but the real star of the show is Jeremy Ebobisse’s one-touch assist. Absolutely suh-blime.

And I don’t think it’s an accident that the King of Thunder’s goal came off an assist from King Jebo. Those two complement each other so well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, #FernandezAndEbobisseOnTheFieldAtTheSameTimeForeverThankYou

That being said, Jebo played this game as a winger, even though I gave Gio very clear instructions in last week’s column that I wanted Jebo in the middle. My feelings on the issue are only growing stronger. Fernandez needs room to run at goal. The box is too crowded for his brand of magic, but I think it’s just fine for Jebo’s. Put BFF on the wing, with Jebo in the box, and I think our attack will be pretty much unstoppable.

3) That 2-1 loss in Minnesota knocked us out of the US Open Cup, but the team didn’t have much time to mope about it, because on Saturday, the Vancouver Whitecaps came to town.

The league’s figured out how to stymie the Timbers: play a tight, disciplined bunker and force us to break it down. Colorado and Orlando got road points bunkering. We figured Vancouver would do the same, and sure enough, they did.

What you’re seeing on the right side of the field are a whole lotta very low percentage shots. We took 23 shots, but managed only 1.49 expected goals. With such a low xG, how did we score 3 goals? With two absolute golazos from distance. In fact, can you even see them on that xG map? They’re colored yellow, but they’re so tiny, you may not be able to find them.

“Hope for a couple golazos” is not a good strategy for breaking down bunkers. Until this team figures out how to pull the defense apart, we’re going to keep facing these kind of bunkers and it’s going to be frustrating as hell. Again, “hoping for golazos” is not an acceptable strategy.

4) But despite all my doom and gloom, we did actually score a couple golazos. And interestingly enough, they were almost mirror images. Let’s start with Sebastian Blanco’s banger, which was from the left side.

Not bad, Seba, but Marvelous Marvin Loria sees your banger from the left side, and raises you a banger from the right side.

Both those goals are absolutely awesome, and I hate to be a dick, but I’m gonna repeat what I said in the last degree. Scoring bangers from distance is not a systematic, repeatable way to break down bunkers. When the bangers dry up, what are the Timbers going to do? They’re going to drop points at home, that’s what they’re going to do. I want Gio to figure this out.

5) Blanco and Loria weren’t the only ones scoring golazos Saturday night. Vancouver’s 19-year-old Theo Bair did this.

That’s just stupid. What are you supposed to do about a goal like that? Just applaud, I guess. Just do like Steve Clark did; pick yourself up off the ground, dust yourself off, and move on.

So, that’s two golazos for us, one golazo for them. As the game got closer to the end, Vancouver started to get a little desperate, started to push numbers forward a bit, and in the 90th minute, the Timbers finally, finally were able to do what they’re built for, what they do as well as any team in the league. Destroy you on the counter.

That’s gorgeous. The through-ball from Diego Valeri was lovely, the one-timed cross from Tomas Conechny was perfectly weighted, the first touch from Ebobisse was soft as rose petals, and the finish was utterly professional. They should show this gif in Counter Attacking 101 (which, if it isn’t a freshman-level course at Portland State, really should be).

6) Let’s finish with some random thoughts. I have many.

  • Dairon Asprilla started for Valeri in the Minnesota game. I was hoping the fact that it was an elimination game would cause Playoff Asprilla to show up, but no, it was just Regular Asprilla. Also known as, Do Lots of Fancy Stuff, Then Lose the Ball Asprilla.
  • My friend Adam thought maybe Shirtless Valeri could have turned that Minnesota game around. This raises some serious questions in my head. In some future game, if the Timbers need a spark, could Valeri just take his shirt off, throw it into the stands, and play the rest of the game shirtless? I mean, yes, of course, he’d get a yellow card, I accept that. But is playing the rest of the game shirtless an automatic red card? Is there precedent on this? Because it’s an idea worth exploring. The team may need a spark at some point. Shirtless Valeri might be just what we need.
  • You know who’s crushing it this year? Steve Clark’s crushing it this year. He’s leading the league by a pretty healthy margin in Goals Allowed minus Expected Goals (G-xG).

American Soccer Analysis -

  • I don’t know if you’ve heard, but, apparently, August is National Handball Month. We had handball penalties called against us in both the Minnesota games, and then a handball penalty wasn’t called on Vancouver this past weekend. Look at this bullshit. You’re telling me Vancouver didn’t benefit from that guy knocking it with his hand? Blanco’s standing right there! The ball could have easily fallen right at his feet. Terrible no call.

  • Gio only used two of his three subs Saturday night, one in the 87th minute and one in stoppage time. Do you think he knows we have a game this Wednesday? Should someone tell him? You have a bench, Gio! Use it!
  • Speaking of our bench, man alive, I love our depth this year. In all the years I’ve been following this team, we have never had depth like this. By my count, four of Saturday’s starters were depth pieces. We might see just as much rotation on Wednesday against Chicago and that doesn’t worry me in the slightest.
  • One of those depth pieces, Renzo Zambrano, was named to the MLS Team of the Week, which initially surprised me, since I can’t remember him doing much of anything. And then I realized, that’s the point. When you don’t notice a young defensive midfielder, that’s a good thing. That means he’s playing a nice, quiet, highly efficient, highly competent game. Well done, Renzo.
  • Another depth piece, Marvin Loria, not only scored a golazo, he also took four of the six corner kicks. I wonder how Valeri feels about this? I wonder how Shirtless Valeri feels about it?
  • And a third depth piece, Bill Tuiloma, played so well at center back that he might not be a depth piece anymore. Do you think Saturday’s performance was enough for him to jump Julio Cascante and once again become our first choice pairing with Larrys Mabiala?
  • We just finished a brutal Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday week, but things ease a bit now. This next stretch (starting with the Vancouver game) is a much easier Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday-Friday. Yes, it’s a lot of games, but there’s decent rest in between. Plus, they’re all at home.
  • This weekend’s opponent, on the other hand, is gonna have to do some traveling. Atlanta’s playing Club America at home this Wednesday in the Campeones Cup, then they fly out here to play us on Sunday, then they fly back east to play their “rival” Orlando in Florida next week. If I’m Atlanta, I’m not sure I send my starters on a 3,000 mile flight to Portland for a non-conference, non-tournament, non-rivalry game. What do you think? Think we’ll get lucky and face their B-team?