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Six Degrees: A Sinking Ship?

New York and Minnesota 2, Portland 0

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

This week, we had two games, got one point, and scored zero goals. All at home. How ya like them apples?

1) I’m always a bit torn when we play the New York Red Bulls, because they’re easily my second favorite MLS team.

It’s not an emotional attachment. I don’t love the Red Bulls, I just love the way they play. Anytime I get a chance to watch them take on some other team, I enjoy the hell out of it. The way they press like madmen, the way they switch from defense to attack in a heartbeat, the way they ping the ball around the box, the way the send a first wave of attackers, then a second wave, then a third wave. I love it.

But when they’re doing all those things to the Timbers, the team I have a true emotional attachment to? It’s kinda awful, because 90% of me is thinking Oh God, this is awful! Why can’t we stop them?!? while 10% of me is thinking, God, that’s beautiful soccer. Why can’t we play like that?

A perfect example of this? New York’s 3rd minute goal. It was simultaneously awful and beautiful.

At the very start, New York’s taking the ball off us. Instantly, they switch to attack. Pass, pass, pass, and seconds later, Blondie’s got it on the edge of the box. He looks up to see not one, but two targets in box, and even more importantly, a third guy and a fourth guy on their way. And if none of them worked out, there was actually a fifth guy at the top of the box who could have cleaned up a loose ball. New York hits you fast and they hit you with wave after wave.

Three minutes later, they did this.

It’s the same script: force the turnover, lightning fast transition to attack, quick decisive passes, and wave after wave of attackers. This is why they’re my 2nd favorite MLS team, and this is why, as I watched them do their thing against Portland, 90% of me was utterly devastated, but 10% of me was like, Damn, that’s some nice soccer. I wish we could do that.

2) While the Timbers never played as beautifully as I might have liked, their play did improve. After getting utterly overrun for 10-15 minutes, the team finally started to exert a bit of control on the game.

To my inexpert eyes, the improvement was mostly a matter of the team thinking faster and passing quicker. Get rid of the ball before the New York defender can get there. Take one touch instead of two. Ping the ball around. Make New York chase. Hope they wear themselves out. That’s what I saw the Timbers doing after that hellish opening quarter hour. It reduced the number of turnovers, reduced the number of counterattacks, and led to a few chances on goal.

None was more important, or more heartbreaking, than this Diego Chara miss.

There is nothing quite like Providence Park when Chara gets the ball with a good chance to score. The entire stadium stands up and screams, and I’m pretty sure everyone present would sacrifice their firstborn child if it would allow Chara to score. That’s how much we love him.

Alas, he didn’t score. Instead, he hit the crossbar, breaking all our hearts. If he finishes that, and the score’s 1-1, who knows how the game finishes? Maybe our quicker passing and quicker thinking continues. Maybe we bag another goal. Maybe New York’s stoppage time PK doesn’t happen. Maybe we win 2-1.

But he missed. As did Jeremy Ebobisse a couple times in the 2nd half, as did Brian Fernandez late. The tiny bits of offensive improvement I saw were for naught, and New York gave us our second straight shutout loss at home.

3) Let’s have some random thoughts.

  • Much to my delight, Jebo started the game up top, with BFF on the wing. Things went so poorly so fast that I’m not even sure how long they stayed that way. Ten minutes, tops. Despite this, a) I’m glad Gio tried it, and b) the start of the game was such madness, I’m not sure we can judge how well the experiment worked. I wish things hadn’t gone to shit so quickly, so we could’ve seen them in those spots a little longer.
  • Cristhian Paredes had to be stretchered off the field in the 73rd minute on a play that could’ve resulted in a red card, but wasn’t even called a foul. The only good news? It turns out Paredes wasn’t seriously injured, and played 69 minutes against Minnesota.
  • In his post-game press conference, Gio Savarese said “to stay connected with our fans as a united front.” Apparently it’s the 2nd straight week he’s used that phrase, “a united front.” Make of that what you will.
  • Diego Chara’s the only Timber to get 10 or more tackles in a game. He’s done it four times.

  • But as good as Chara was, he was nothing compared to our other defensive midfielder, “Charo.” That guy was amazing.

4) As you know, it was another two-game week for us. And not only did Portland and Minnesota play, they set a new MLS record! 49 shots in a scoreless draw! And yes, I’ll agree, it’s not the kind of record you really want to be a part of, but still, it’s something.

A few other MLS records were within spitting distance, too. The MLS record for saves is 16, and on Sunday, Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone had 12, which ain’t too shabby.

I don’t know the league record for blocks, but Minnesota defenders threw themselves in front of eight of our shots Sunday. Surely that’s gotta be close to a record.

And how about the woodwork? I’d say it saved three or four shots on Sunday. Probably not record-breaking, but still... record-splintering? Y’know... because it’s wood? With splinters? No? Not even a pity-laugh?

Anyway, between Mannone, sliding defenders, and the splintering woodwork, that’s about 24 Portland shots that coulda, and maybe even shoulda, been goals. And yet, we ended up with zero.

I can’t decide if this is reason to feel good about the team or reason to feel incredibly depressed. I’m leaning toward depressed.

5) That being said, the defense did get a clean sheet, and the attack did show signs of improvement. Small signs, but still, signs.

To my inexpert eyes – that’s the phrase of the week, by the way. “To my inexpert eyes.” – against Minnesota, it seemed like the wingers – or whoever found themselves with the ball out wide – weren’t settling for long, hopeful crosses. Instead, our guys were making more of an effort to get closer to goal, even if it meant having to dribble their way past defenders.

Did they always make it past the defenders? No, but at least they made the effort. Did they sometimes make it past the first defender, only to stop and send in a cross? Yes, but at least that cross was from just outside the box, rather than from way out on the sideline.

Was any of it perfect? No. Did any of it lead to a goal? No. But did it seem like progress, however slight? Yes. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

The attack’s pretty broken right now, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But there were at least small signs of improvement this week. Slightly quicker play versus the Red Bulls. More effort to dribble into the box versus the Loons. Small signs of improvement. To my inexpert eyes.

6) Let’s finish with some more random thoughts.

  • Welcome back, Larrys Mabiala! We only had one shutout while you were injured. Hopefully, we’ll be bagging a few more, now that you’re back.
  • Larrys saved our bacon on this Minnesota first half break. Shut it right the hell down. (Also, big ups to Diego Chara for sprinting back to cover that 2nd man.)

  • This will be a shocker, but we’ve got another two games this week. I’ve gotta tell you, all these games back to back to back is kinda wearing me down. I think it’s wearing the team down, too. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. It’s tough getting hyped up for game after game, and we’re seeing the results both on the field and in the stands. Fans are listless, players are listless. Turns out, too many games is actually kind of a bad thing. I’m looking forward to a normal schedule next year. A game at home, a week off, a game on the road, a week off, another game at home, and so on. That kinda sounds like heaven right now.
  • I said it in last week’s column and I’ll say it again now: if we do end up making the playoffs, I think we’d be better off playing on the road, where we probably won’t face a bunker.
  • But if we do as badly in the season’s final three games as we did in these past three games – these past three shutouts – we won’t have any playoff games to worry about, just a long off-season, filled with sighs.