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Six Degrees: Losing Streak

Seattle 2, Portland 1

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s break this column into two parts. We’ll start with a few degrees about the game, then we’ll talk about the Iron Front business. They’re both important.

1) The truth is, I don’t really want to think about the game. It was just too painful. Losing to Atlanta a week ago was depressing, but losing to Seattle? At home? When a draw would have won us the Cascadia Cup? That was truly painful. That left me a little shaky all weekend and made me wish I didn’t care so much.

The Sounders opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, when Cristian Roldan poked a loose ball into goal. The real star of this play was Seattle left winger Jordan Morris, who put a pair of clown shoes on Zarek Valentin.

I love me some Zarek Valentin, but damn, that’s rough. Morris absolutely smokes him. It’s a little ironic that we consider Zarek to be the more defensive-minded of our fullbacks. “Yeah, sure,” we always say, “he doesn’t offer much going forward, but he’s rock solid defensively, right?” And yet, here he is, completely and utterly blowing it on defense. Ironic.

In Zarek’s defense, though, it’s no accident that Jordan Morris is regularly in the USMNT mix. He’s good. Zarek ain’t the first guy he’s smoked, and he won’t be the last.

But Zarek’s misplay isn’t the only thing worth noting on this play. Look in front of goal. There are one, two, three Seattle players in the six-yard box. Not the 18-yard box, the six-yard box. And they’re the only guys who actually touched the ball. Valentin didn’t touch it, Julio Cascante didn’t touch it, Steve Clark didn’t touch it, and Jorge Villafaña didn’t touch it.

Is “shambolic” the right adjective to describe that sort of defending? I can’t decide. Let’s move on.

2) The first half ended 1-0, and when the Timbers came out of the halftime locker room, Jeremy Ebobisse had replaced Marvin Loria, a move that pleased all of us in the #JeboAndFernandezOnTheFieldAtTheSameTimeForeverThankYou camp. The move nearly paid immediate dividends, as Jebo came oh so close to nabbing a goal in the opening minute of the second half.

He missed, though, and just a few seconds later, this happened.

Welp, turns out Jordan Morris wasn’t satisfied with smoking Zarek Valentin just once. He wanted to do it a second time.

In truth, Zarek’s not the guy I’m most annoyed with on this play. I’m more annoyed with either Julio Cascante or Bill Tuiloma. I’m not sure which one of them should have stayed with Raul Ruidiaz, but somebody should have. We don’t need both of them, plus Jorge Villafana, covering Cristian Roldan. Just like with the first goal, I’m considering the adjective “shambolic.”

3) That second goal was like a punch in the mouth, but I’ll give the Timbers credit, they didn’t give up. They attacked like mad the entire rest of the game. Far, far too many of the attacks ended in crosses – we had a season-high 45 – but at least we were showing fight.

Our lone goal came via Diego Valeri’s 54th minute free kick.

The thing that amazes me about this goal is the guy who deflects the ball, number 9, Raul Ruidiaz. Look how far ahead of the wall he is. That is so illegal. If the ball hadn’t ended up in the net, do you think referee Jair Marufo would have given him a yellow card for encroachment? Should he have given the yellow anyway? I think he should have, because that wasn’t the only time during the game that Seattle was encroaching on a free kick or a corner. They were doing it all night. It was really annoying, but I can’t remember if anyone ended up getting booked.

But none of those were Seattle’s worst offense. Their worst offense was the uncalled handball in the 40th minute.

Marufo thought it came off the defender’s leg, and apparently the VAR did, too, but they’re both wrong. That was a handball. If it had been called and the Timbers had sunk the PK to tie things up 1-1, who knows how the rest of the game would have gone?

4) I’m gonna finish with some random thoughts.

  • I thought we showed more fight in the 2nd half against Seattle than we did in the entire game versus Atlanta. I’ll take some small solace in that.
  • Julio Cascante had to be stretched into the locker room in the 78th minute. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that Larrys Mabiala’s ready to play this Saturday against RSL. If he’s not, do you think there’s a chance Valentin starts at CB next game? It would be quite a vote of no confidence for Claude Dielna, but that may be where we find ourselves.
  • Both goalkeepers, Clark and Frei, plus Valeri and Lodeiro, swapped jerseys at the end of the first half, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I thought the keepers might be doing it as a way of making up for their scuffle after the last game, but Valeri and Lodeiro? Maybe this was... What was this about? Any ideas?
  • Also, after the game, Connie Valeri was crawling all over Lodeiro like he was her Uncle Nico. What? No. This is not allowed. I’m not sure Connie understands sports-hate. Uncle Nico might be a great guy, but when he’s wearing that ugly green jersey, we are required to sports-hate him. These are the rules.
  • I know I’m repeating myself, but Jeez Louise, why does Gio keep playing Brian Fernandez as a lone striker? The league has figured him out. The goals are drying up. At what point does Gio try something else? It could be Jebo in the box and BFF on the wing, or maybe a 4-4-2 with Jebo and BFF in the box together, or maybe some third thing I’m not thinking of. Whatever it is, we need some new ideas. We’ve lost two straight, we’re blowing this long home stretch, and we need something different. Please, Gio. Please.
  • Last thought, and it’s a crazy one: maybe the team would be better off without any home playoff games. After all, our best wins this year have been on the road. Philly. NYC. Seattle. LAFC. Maybe we’re better on the road. Maybe that’s where we could make a run in the playoffs.

5) Okay, now that we’ve talked about the game, let’s talk about the Iron Front protest. I haven’t written about it in this space before, and this might be the last time I do so, but it played an important role in Friday’s game, so here we go.

As you probably know, MLS has banned the anti-fascist Iron Front symbol. In doing so, they’ve taken a very small issue that pretty much nobody was talking about and turned it into a gigantic issue that’s getting media attention from all around the world. So, you know, well done, MLS. Your strategy is really working out.

This past week, the Timbers Army got together with the Seattle supporters groups and decided to be silent for the first 33 minutes of Friday’s game. They chose 33 minutes because it was in 1933 that the Nazis banned the Iron Front symbol. For the first 33 minutes of Friday’s game, there were no drums, no songs, no chants, no flags, no smoke, no tifo.

As regular readers know, from 2014-2018, I sat in the TA section, but during this off-season, I got tickets in the brand new eastside stands, and have been up there for all the games this year. All the games this year except Friday’s game, because on Friday, for the first and only time this year, I was back down in the TA, living it up with my friend Adam.

Kind of ironic, right? The first time I’m back with the noisy kids just happens to be the week they decide not to be noisy.

How was it? It was weird, man. Weird. And I think pretty much everyone in the stadium would agree with that sentiment. There was soccer being played and there was cheering, but without the singing? Without the chanting? Without flags and smoke and two-sticks? It just didn’t feel quite like a Timbers game. It felt like some other sporting event.

Actually, you know what it felt like? You know how at Trail Blazer games, every time there’s a timeout, the speakers start blasting music and pretty girls start dancing and team employees race onto the court, waving flags and shooting t-shirts into the crowd and shit like that? Imagine a Trail Blazer game where that didn’t happen. That’s what the first 33 minutes of Friday’s game felt like. There was a game going on, but it wasn’t entirely fun. It was a little awkward. And a little sad.

But there was one good thing about it. When the clock struck 33:01, holy hell, did we erupt. It was amazing. I’ve never been in a crowd that blew up like the TA blew up Friday night. We had all that energy bottled up inside of us, and when we were finally allowed to unleash it, we went absolutely nuts. It was sensational. Here’s some video, but trust me, it doesn’t do it justice. It was insane. Wonderfully, gloriously insane.

Timbers owner Merritt Paulson blew his top at a few fans after the game, yelling at them, telling them they’re the reason the team lost. After cooling down later, he apologized, but the original statement makes it clear he thinks the TA affects the game. He thinks the TA’s important.

And he’s right. The TA is important. Whether or not they actually affect the outcome of the game, the TA makes the games better. They make people want to come to games. They make players want to sign with the Timbers. They’re important to the team, to the players, to the town. Pissing them off was a very, very bad idea.

6) So, you know how I occasionally have ideas on what I’d do if I were in charge? Like how I’d have T2 play in Salem? Or how I’d change the US Open Cup rules? Or how I’d make all the players dye their hair blond? I’ve got one of those ideas now. It wouldn’t fix everything. It wouldn’t change the league’s no-politics rule. Instead, it would be a way for the team to say to the TA, “Look, we agree. This league-wide ban is bullshit, but we’re with you. We’re on your side. We may not be able to fix everything, but we can at least make our position clear.”

My idea? T-shirts. Signs are banned and flags are banned, but t-shirts? Apparently they’re okay. So if I was in charge, when the park opened for the RSL game on Saturday, there’d be a green t-shirt on every seat in the park. On the front, it would say something like “Portland Timbers: Anti-Fascist Since 1975.” On the back, it would have a short paragraph explaining the history of the Iron Front symbol. Maybe it would even include that cool mashup logo Zarek Valentin was rocking this weekend. I’d let the graphic designers figure it out.

NBA teams do this for pretty much every post-season game, so I feel certain the team could afford 25,000 t-shirts. They could also find plenty of volunteers willing to place them on each and every seat in the stadium.

But those t-shirts are just the first part of my plan. The second part? If anyone comes to me complaining about the t-shirts and their leftist commie antifa libtard message, I’d tell them I’d be very happy to refund the entire cost of their season ticket package. Then I’d hit up everyone on the waiting list and tell them it’s their lucky day.

So that’s my idea for Merritt Paulson. None of it would change the stupid MLS rule, but at least it would let all us fans know what side our team is on. On some issues, you can’t stay in the middle. You need to pick a side. The TA wants some concrete evidence of what side our team’s on. I think my idea would be a good first step toward that.