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Six Degrees: Entirely Unconvincing

Portland 1, RSL 0

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, we got the full three points, but I’m not feeling all that positive. Forgive me for all the pessimism to come.

1) In truth, the first half wasn’t too bad. We had a beardless Diego Valeri, a pony-tailed Diego Chara, and played some really nice soccer up and down the field. I especially liked the interplay between our attackers, stringing together passes and creating real problems for RSL’s defense.

It was El Maestro Sin Barba who got us our goal in the 16th minute.

Big ups to 4th string center back Claude Dielna for starting that sequence with a bold diving header. Kudos also to Sebastian Blanco and Andres Flores for ping-ponging the ball to Valeri. In the end, though, 90% of the work was done by the Great Beardless One, who let loose an absolute golazo.

But what did I say a few weeks ago? Golazos are not a reliable, repeatable, systematic way to win soccer games. Unfortunately, of late, golazos seem like the only way the Timbers can score.

2) Our second half performance was even more worrisome. Maybe you disagree, but I thought we looked horrendous over the final 45.

Holding a 1-0 lead is when the Timbers should dominate. They should sit deep and counter the living shit out of the opposition. But we couldn’t do that at all against RSL. Yes, we sat deep, but then the counter just wasn’t happening at all. In truth, we could barely string two passes together. The defense couldn’t connect with the midfield, the midfield couldn’t connect with the forwards, and Steve Clark was sending outlet passes to no one.

Teams already knew how to shut us down by bunkering. Is it possible that RSL found some chink in our counter-attacking armor, too? Can we no longer sit deep and counter?

I’m sorry if this sounds overly pessimistic, but that 2nd half performance really worried me. The defense was on its heels non-stop for 45 minutes, the offense did almost nothing to help, and now I’m officially worried. Yes, we won the game, but no, I’m not feeling all that great.

3) Though if you put a gun to my head and forced me to be happy about something, I guess I’d be happy about the defense, which pitched a short-handed shutout.

And “short-handed” barely does it justice. The starting center backs were 2nd choice Bill Tuiloma and 4th choice Claude Dielna. 1st choice Larrys Mabiala, 3rd choice Julio Cascante, and 5th choice Modou Jadama are all injured. There were literally no center backs on the bench Saturday. If Bill or Claude had gone down, I’m pretty sure sideline reporter Nat Borchers would have been sent in to replace them, possibly while still holding his microphone.

And center back’s not the only position where injuries are crushing our defense. Jorge Villafaña and Jorge Moreira are probably our top two fullbacks at this point, but they better not get hurt, because their backups Zarek Valentin and Marco Farfan are also both hurt. In front of them, defensive midfielder Cristhian Paredes is injured and Renzo Zambrano’s missing next week for a red card. Is there a chance Jack Jewsbury’s gonna need to come out of retirement, too? If so, does he automatically get the captain’s armband? I kinda feel like he does.

But despite this borderline-comical number of injuries, the defense pitched a shutout, and I applaud them for it. Will the same short-handed group have to do it again next weekend? What about past that? Are we stuck with this crew for the rest of the year. There’s absolutely no telling. I’ve seen hamstring injuries that last a week, I’ve seen others that lasted months. My advice: light some candles and say some prayers.

The irony is that, up to this point, 2019’s been a pretty good year for injuries. I was going to comment on how lucky we’ve been, and then suddenly, our luck went right out the window.

Let’s hope Steve Clark doesn’t get hurt, because as the #StatMan pointed out, he’s having a hell of a year.

4) You know another guy who’s having a hell of a year? The patron saint of beardless men everywhere, Diego Valeri.

After an opening month in which he looked slow and shaky, the guy’s come back with a vengeance, and is now sitting on eight goals and 15 assists. If he can bang in two more goals in the season’s seven remaining games, he’ll have a double-double for the fifth time in his seven year MLS career.

And as long as we’re talking about career achievements, Saturday’s goal put Valeri at 76 goals and 80 assists. Earlier this year, he joined the nine-person 70/70 club, but if he gets four more goals, he’ll join the much more exclusive 80/80 club. Only two guys are currently in that club: Landon Donovan and Jaime Moreno. Those two are also in the 90/90 and 100/100 clubs. Donovan’s the only person in the 110/110, 120/120, and 130/130 clubs. He couldn’t quite make it to the 140/140 club. Slacker.

I’m not ready to say Diego definitely joins the 80/80 club this year, but next year? Definitely. And hopefully he’ll just keep on climbing toward those other clubs, beard or no beard.

5) Some random thoughts about Saturday’s game.

  • I’m concerned about Brian Fernandez’s body language. Maybe Seba’s a little bit, too. Are any of you seeing problems there? Somebody please convince me I’m wrong. Tell me it’s fine.
  • You know who I loved Saturday night? Marvelous Marvin Loria. Dude came off the bench in the 85th minute and brought such a jolt of energy. Maybe Gio should consider putting him in a little earlier.
  • Another guy I’d like to see more of is Eryk Williamson. He got just a couple of stoppage time minutes subbing in for Valeri, but I was still glad to see it. I like Williamson and want his great work with T2 to be rewarded with some real first-team minutes.
  • Speaking of T2, you know a guy we could really use right now? Roy Miller. When he left for Costa Rica, I didn’t think much of it, but that was before every member of our defense got injured. If you’re reading this Roy, please call Gavin. We need you.
  • And while we’re at it, where are Futty Danso and David Horst these days? Somebody must have their contact information. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

6) For the first time this season – but certainly not the last – let’s look at the playoff race.

Western Conference Standings - 3 September 2019

Look at teams 2-8. You could cover them with a handkerchief. And, interestingly, all of them would be in 4th place in the East. Put those seven teams in the East, and, by Points Per Game, current 4th seed DC United would suddenly be the 11th seed.

The big question, of course, is which of those seven teams will miss the playoffs. As you can see, it’s currently Portland who’s on the outside looking in. A month ago, I would have said, “Well, sure, but games in hand, and home field advantage, and blah blah blah...”

Lately, though, all of those arguments are ringing hollow. Between the home draws vs Colorado and Orlando, then the home losses to Atlanta and Seattle, then this weekend’s ugly, unconvincing win over RSL, I feel like the Timbers have, a) blown their games in hand and, b) have zero home field advantage.

I would love for some of you to talk me off the ledge down in the comments, but right now, I don’t think the playoffs are a sure thing. Please tell me I’m wrong.