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Six Degrees: A Rude Awakening

Portland 3, Chicago and Atlanta 4

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

Just when it seemed like the Timbers were a top-level team, Atlanta comes to town and shows us that we’ve still got a ways to go.

1) Let’s start with the Chicago game last Wednesday. We won 3-2, but a lot of people are angry about the game. Should they be? Mmmmaybe a little. Or not. I can’t decide.

The reason folks are upset is that the Timbers ran out to a 2-0 lead playing perhaps their best soccer of the entire year. Here’s the first goal, courtesy of right back Jorge Moreira.

That’s a beauty of a chip, eh? So beautiful in fact, that in the moment, I thought it was Diego Valeri. But no, it was Morge, who clearly has some chippy skills, too.

A little over 10 minutes later, the Timbers bagged their second goal, this one from the King of Thunder, Brian Fernandez.

I don’t care what you say, you’re not convincing me he did that on purpose. He looked just as surprised as anyone when that ball dribbled into goal. Doesn’t really matter, though. Lucky goals count just as much as skillful ones.

That made it 2-0 for the good guys after just 21 minutes. And then nine minutes later, Chicago’s situation got even worse when Aleksandar Katai got shown the red card for throwing a right elbow and a left elbow at Julio Cascante’s head.

Up 2-0 and playing 11v10? It must have have been a cakewalk the rest of the way, right?

Erm... not really.

2) The reason so many fans are annoyed by the 3-2 win is because in the second half the Timbers got outscored 2-1 by a 10-man team. Why? A few reasons.

One, I think the Timbers took their foot off the pedal a little, which it totally understandable. Having just played a game the previous Saturday, and looking ahead to a game the following Sunday, I think the team just wanted to get the game over with. They didn’t want to exhaust themselves, they didn’t want injuries, they just wanted the clock to tick as fast as possible. Get the W, then start preparing for Atlanta.

Second reason we got outscored 2-1 in the second half? Chicago scored a couple weird goals. Well, one weird goal, one borderline-golazo.

Here’s the weird one.

Did Steve Clark get fouled there? Should the ref have whistled that play dead? I’m not 100% sure on this, but there’s a side of me thinking that if that play happens at midfield, the ref calls a foul. But for some reason, when it’s in the box and it’s Steve Clark, there’s no call.

Whether it was a foul or not, that’s a weird goal. Mess of bodies everywhere, and the ball goes in off Cristian Paredes’s back. Weird goal.

Chicago’s other goal wasn’t weird, but it was hella hard. Not exactly a golazo, but also pretty much unsaveable.

See what I mean? Not a golazo, but also completely unsaveable.

Another thing worth noting from that goal? How tired the Timbers look. How ready they are to be done with a game that was essentially over 70 minutes earlier. Hard to blame them too much. If I’d played as many games in as short a stretch as they had – plus I had Atlanta coming to town in a few days – I’d be looking for any and all chances to conserve energy.

3) Some random thoughts on the Chicago game.

  • There was a third Timbers goal, an utterly professional finish by Brian Fernandez in the 88th minute.

  • Tomas Conechny got the assist on that goal, his second straight game with an assist off the bench. Both of them were one-time passes on the break, which I think shows good decisiveness from the youngster.
  • Everything I’ve written so far about the Chicago game, you can ignore it, because the most impactful moment of the game was in the 35th minute, when center back Larrys Mabiala had to be taken off for injury. This has the potential to be a season-wrecking injury. They’re telling us it’s a hamstring, which I guess is better than an ACL or something. Still, I’ve seen some quick hamstring recoveries and some very, very slow hamstring recoveries. Let’s hope Mabiala’s recovery is the former. He’s absolutely vital to our defense. I’m not sure how far we can go without him.

4) Portland’s second game of the week was Sunday versus Atlanta, and I’ll be honest, it’s got me all mopey today. I think what’s got me down is that this felt like a really big game, a chance for the Timbers to make a statement, a chance for them to say “We’re the 2nd best team in the league, and LAFC, we’re coming for you, too.”

But that’s not what happened. It was Atlanta who looked like the 2nd best team in the league. Atlanta was the team that saw a big game against a good team on national TV and didn’t blink. They looked composed, while the Timbers did not. They looked sharp in possession, while the Timbers did not. They finished their chances, while the Timbers did not. In many ways, it reminded me of last year’s MLS Cup. Both times, the Timbers didn’t get totally blown out, but in the end, Atlanta just looked the better side.

But even worse, this time it happened at home. After Atlanta played Club America on Wednesday. Then flew 3000 miles to get here. Just to punk us on our own field.

Pretty depressing, overall. That’s my main takeaway. This result depresses me. It worries me. It’s doing bad things to my psyche. My psyche needs the Timbers to kick the shit out of Seattle this weekend. I think the team’s psyche needs it, too.

5) The Timbers weren’t completely incompetent, of course. We did some nice things on the day, we created a lot of chances. But in the end, our chances weren’t finished, while Atlanta’s were.

In fact, let me just string together a whole bunch of missed chances for you. The one that really breaks my heart is the first one. Holy hell, Valeri was right there on the doorstep. If he pokes that home, we’re up 1-0 in the 2nd minute, at which point, the entire rest of the game would have played out differently.

Anyway, here’s the missed chances compilation. You might want to watch this while sipping an adult beverage. Or chugging it. Whatever. No judgement.

Frustrating, right?

But you know who didn’t miss their chances? You know who delivered when the big moment came? Atlanta. Here’s their first goal. Watch Josef Martinez as the corner kick’s coming in.

See how Martinez was hiding behind Robinson? Jorge Villafana’s covering him, but when Martinez curls around Robinson, Villafana can’t follow. This left Martinez completely open to get the initial foot on that ball. One Clark spill and Cascante whiff later, and it’s 1-0, bad guys.

The game was still 1-0 at halftime, and it’s quite possible the Timbers went to the locker room and came up with a great plan to retake control of the game. Alas, we’ll never know, because just one minute into the second half, Martinez blew all our plans right the fuck up.

That, ladies and gentleman, is a professional finish. One on one with the goalkeeper? On the road? In front of the Timbers Army? Martinez doesn’t give a shit about any of that. He is in no way intimidated by a big game. Remember how Brian Fernandez shut up an entire stadium in Seattle? That’s what Martinez did to us. Just ruthless. I can’t help but applaud. While also giving him the finger. Sports is complicated.

6) Okay, let’s finish with some more random thoughts.

  • Jorge Moreira got a yellow card against Atlanta, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be suspended for Friday’s match against Seattle.
  • I wasn’t too happy with Julio Cascante on Sunday, but I thought Bill Tuiloma looked good. Think we’ll see Claude Dielna on Friday? Anyone lighting candles for Larrys Mabiala’s hammy?
  • Late in the game, did you guys see Sebastian Blanco yelling at Tuiloma? Something to do with a pass, I think. I’m not sure how much to worry about stuff like that. There was a lot of bad body language on the field in Sunday’s second half. Should we worry? Or did it all seem like no big deal to you?
  • I just discovered that PRO Referees has a YouTube channel and each week they go through some of the big VAR decisions, showing all the different angles and letting us listen to the refs talk on their headsets. If that sounds like something you’d dig, you can subscribe here.
  • The best news from this past week? Diego Chara is now an American citizen!

  • Which leads to this interesting question.

  • We’re three games into our 10-game homestand and the team is 2-1-0. What do you think is an acceptable point total for these ten games? Twenty points? Six wins and two draws gets us there. Seven wins gets us to 21. Think we’ll get seven wins?
  • Here’s something that might influence your thinking on the matter.

  • I’m not sure how many wins I think we’ll pick up, but I think the most vital games might be our next two, which are against Seattle and RSL. Clearly, LAFC’s running away with 1st place in the Western Conference, but spots two through seven are going to be super-tight. If we want to get a high seed, and the home playoff games that go with it, we’re gonna have to win these next two games. They’re true six-pointers.