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Six Degrees: Home Field Disadvantage

DC United 1, Portland 0

MLS: D.C. United at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

What’s killing us more? Injuries or bunkers?

1) We can’t discuss Sunday afternoon’s rainy 1-0 loss to DC United without talking about our lineup. I can’t even remember the last time we were full strength.

First choice center back Larrys Mabiala missed his fifth straight game, with the Timbers getting two wins and three losses without him. Center back Julio Cascante was also out.

We did, however, finally have a defender on the bench in fullback Marco Farfan. Supposedly Zarek Valentin’s close, and might only have missed this game due to a newborn baby.

So, in summary, we had two healthy center backs and three healthy fullbacks. And this is actually an improvement.

Up front, things weren’t much better. Sebastian Blanco missed his second straight game with a “lower leg injury,” whatever that means. The stomach ailment that limited Brian Fernandez to a substitute appearance last week kept him out of the 18 entirely this week. And normal d-mid starter Cristhian Paredes started the game on the bench, but I have no idea why.

After having extremely good health during that long road trip to start the season, as soon as the Timbers came back home, suddenly it’s a M*A*S*H up in here. All those hopes we had of racking up big points on this long home stretch have been dashed, and these countless injuries are a big part of the reason why.

2) But another big part of it? Our complete inability to break down a bunker. Every single team that comes to Providence Park knows how to win: put 10 guys in the box and make us find a way through.

So far, the Timbers haven’t found a way through. Our only solutions seem to be a) cross after cross after cross, or b) fire a whole lot of low-quality shots from distance.

Are xG charts perfect? No. Do long range shots sometimes go in? Yes. But as I have said before, hitting golazos from distance is not a systematic, repeatable way to win games. But, alas, as far as I can tell, it’s the only way we’ve got.

Legit question: how many times do we have to face a bunker before we figure it out? At what point do we come up with a plan that works? Is it possible we’re not that good? Is it possible Gio’s not a good coach? Would a better coach have cracked this nut?

Or was this loss less about the bunker and more about the injuries? Because, you know, if we’d had Larrys in the back, maybe that own goal never happens. And if we’d had Seba and the King of Thunder up front, maybe we could’ve broken their bunker apart. Or at least scored on a counter.

I really do want your opinion down in comments. What’s killing us? Injuries, bunkers, or both?

3) I guess we have to talk about the goal we gave up. What is there to say about Bill Tuiloma’s 25th minute own goal? It sucked. He felt bad. It cost us the game.

The first thing I notice about this play is how much easier it is to make beautiful little passing combinations when there are only four people in the box, rather than 10. DC United looks great here, and I wish the Timbers could have done the same, but, sadly, the Timbers never faced a box this empty. Every time we got the ball in the attacking third, we faced a none-shall-pass box filled wall-to-wall with white jerseys.

The second thing I notice about this play is that Tuiloma didn’t need to stop that ball. The pass was heading toward nobody. If Tuiloma had let it go and Steve Clark had let it go, it would have just rolled off toward the far corner, and possibly out of bounds.

4) Speaking of goalkeeper Steve Clark, there are many, many things he does well, but something he’s not so good at? Coming out of goal to either catch or punch crosses. He messes those up fairly often, and it usually leads to trouble.

Case in point, this play from the 37th minute. It was one of the most interesting moments in the game, despite not affecting the final outcome whatsoever.

We found out after the game that the VAR did not recommend a review, because the on-field call was “not clear and obvious.” Looking at the video above, I agree. Did it cross the line? Maybe, maybe not. And “maybe, maybe not” is the exact opposite of “clear and obvious.” So I 100% applaud the VAR for not overturning the call.

But I can’t help but recall what happened to us last month in Minnesota. Remember how Larrys Mabiala got called for a handling penalty? The on-field call was no handball, but it was overturned after review, despite being in no way “clear and obvious.”

The referee crew completely blew it against Minnesota, and they completely nailed it against DC. “Clear and obvious” should be exactly that. Clear. And. Obvious. If you can look at either of these plays and call them “clear and obvious,” you need to lay off the meth. (Yes, yes, I know it’s delicious, but it’s starting to cloud your judgment.)

But as I said at the start, this play didn’t affect the final outcome whatsoever. Even without this call, DC won the game 1-0. Did they need to win 2-0? No, of course not. Should they have? Hard to say. All I can really say for certain is that Steve Clark needs to do better when he comes out to punch crosses.

5) Who’s ready for some random thoughts?

  • We had 23 shots Sunday afternoon, but only 4 were on goal. DC had 7 shots, but 4 were on goal.
  • Though, to be fair, since we scored their goal for them, DC could’ve won with zero shots.
  • Andy Polo doesn’t have an attacking bone in his body. He never makes the difficult pass or shot or run or anything. He always takes the easy way out. He gives us nothing on offense, and since we were on offense for 90% of the game, he gave us nothing.
  • I love me some Jeremy Ebobisse, but this tweeter makes a very good point.

  • Fortunately, we’ve seen Jebo add elements to his game before, so it’s quite possible he’ll add some Wondo-magic, too.
  • We’ve got a two-game week coming up. Wednesday we host the Red Bulls and Sunday we host Minnesota. New York’s lost three straight, while Minny’s won two of three, including a win at LAFC. I predict that none of this will matter, since both teams will just put 10 guys in the box and dare us to find a way through.
  • Here are some projected standings based on everyone’s home/away PPGs. The number in parentheses is 538’s playoff likelihood.

  • And here’s my hot take of the day: call me crazy, but I think we’d do better in the playoffs with nothing but road games. If we’re at home, teams will just bunker, and we know how that goes. I think sneaking in with the 7th seed might be the best thing for us.

6) Okay, that’s it for the game. Let’s talk about what’s happening up in the stands. My column has always discussed the Timbers from a fan’s perspective, and sadly, over the course of this year, the actions of MLS headquarters and the Timbers front office have had a bigger and bigger effect on us fans. And not in a good way.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking, Oh, God, here comes more Iron Front nonsense. I just don’t care about this, C.I.!

Well, bad news, my friend, but even if you don’t care, it’s affecting you. It’s affecting all of us. Everyone in the stadium is feeling the effects of the ongoing battle between MLS and its most ardent fans.

Remember when Timbers games were fun? Every game was a packed house, every game was a party. This wasn’t because of what was happening on the field. That was just soccer. Soccer can be played in front of 5,000 silent fans just as easily as it can be played in front of 20,000 screaming, singing, flag-waving fans. Hell, beautiful soccer can be played in front of 5,000 silent fans. Championship-winning soccer.

But it won’t be fun. It won’t be what we’ve come to love. It won’t be Soccer City USA.

And that’s what’s starting to happen at Providence Park. It’s starting to not be fun anymore. The TA’s feeling hurt and sad and angry, and even when their silent protests are over – protests I 100% support, by the way – even when they’re over, the cheering and singing feels a little more subdued. It’s the cheering of people who feel betrayed.

For years, MLS headquarters watched as we fans built and cultivated a wonderful, fun-loving, inclusive, completely organic supporter’s culture. And it wasn’t just the TA doing it, but all the best supporter’s groups, throughout the league. MLS headquarters applauded our work and used it in advertisements, holding it up to show everyone how great the league had become.

But in 2019? Suddenly, all that good will’s gone, and MLS headquarters has done nothing but shit on us. Why? Why are they willing to destroy this beautiful thing we’ve built? Because the Iron Front symbol makes racists and fascists uncomfortable. And their money’s just as green as ours.

If you’d told me a year ago that this was going to happen, I’d have predicted that the Timbers front office would have stood up for us, that they would’ve said, no, no, no, not here in Portland. We’re not shutting our fans up and we’re not letting you do it, either.

But I would have been wrong. From my perspective, the Timbers front office has sided fully with the league. They say they’re with us, but their actions show they’re not. This entire year, they continue to do the wrong thing, over and over, digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole.

As a result, all these fans who used to love the club, who used to be proud of how our front office always did the right thing, now they’e wondering, What’s the point? Why give my money to a team that would be just as happy replacing me with a bunch of Proud Boys? Why buy food and beer? Why cheer, why sing, why even come to games?

And so we find ourselves here, with empty seats and quiet fans. With games that just aren’t as fun as they used to be. With so many fans, all around the stadium, wondering, Why bother?

You may think this doesn’t affect you, but it does. Would you be okay watching soccer in front of 5,000 quiet fans? Because that’s where we’re heading. And it will be entirely the fault of MLS headquarters and the Timbers front office. If they don’t fix this, if they don’t repair their relationships with the supporter’s groups, then each game we’ll see more and more empty seats, quieter, more subdued stadiums, and longtime fans wondering if it’s time to give up their season tickets.

If I were Merritt Paulson, I’d do whatever it took to win back the hearts of my fans. Breaking ranks with the league might get him in trouble, it might get him fined, but it’s worth doing. We had this beautiful thing and it’s all falling to pieces, just so the racists and fascists won’t feel uncomfortable.

It’s time to take a stand, Merritt. Everything’s going to shit, but it’s not too late. You can still save this club. Take a stand. Reverse course. Do the right thing.