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Six Degrees: Rolling

Timbers 6, Galaxy 3 — Timbers 3, Earthquakes 0

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

One week, two games, nine goals, six points. Thank you, sir, may I have another?

1) In last Wednesday’s game against the Galaxy, the Timbers once again scored the first goal. I’m no #StatMan, but I’m telling you, this is a real thing, this is a real phenomenon. If I can ever get up off my lazy ass, imma go through some old box scores and find out how significant this whole scoring first thing is. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Felipe Mora’s 14th minute goal.

Go back and watch Yimmi Chara on this play. When the pass comes to him, he does that thing he’s done a few times before. Instead of collecting the pass, he lets it go past him, does a quick spin, and races after it. He’s suddenly at full speed, but his defender is left behind. He did this on a goal earlier in the year, he does it on this play, and he tried it again later in this same game. It really does seem like his signature move. Sebastian Blanco’s got his walk-it-up-the-end-line-looking-for-a-target move and Yimmi’s got his dummy-the-ball-and-spin-around-the-defender move. I like them both.

Anyway, great move from Yimmi, then a pinpoint cross, and Felipe Mora’s scoring one of the easiest goals of his career.

Our second goal came on a 23rd minute free kick. The great thing about this goal was the build-up. Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse were both standing over the kick, but everyone knew Jebo was only there as a distraction. Valeri would take it, he always takes it. The only question was whether El Maestro would go over the wall, under it, or around it.

It seems I wasn’t the only one waiting for Valeri’s move, because when Jebo psyched us all out by taking the shot, the LA defenders and goalkeeper were all a little flat-footed.

That was a great bit of psychological warfare there. If you want the inside story, Jebo talked about the on-field decision in this interview.

Up 2-0, the Timbers continued looking good and nearly scored an amazing third. I wish I had video to show you, but I don’t, so let me describe it. It’s possible you remember it, too. It was pretty memorable.

LA’s energy was pretty bad and we were possessing the fuck out of the ball. We had this one possession that started innocently enough. Just a few passes, building out of the back. But we just kept the ball and kept the ball and kept the ball, and honestly, we may have had 30 straight passes. It all led to a Pablo Bonilla cross into the box that Jebo got his head on. If Jebo had sunk that (and he really should have), it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn it was the most passes leading to a goal in team history. It was an epic buildup.

But alas, alack, Jebo missed the header, the game was still 2-0, and in the 34th minute, the Galaxy scored on a total banger.

It’s hard for me to get too upset when a d-mid is scorching balls just inside the post from 25 yards out. We cleared the corner kick pretty well, but the kid had a golazo. It happens.

What I do have a problem with is our lack of energy afterward. For the entire rest of the half, LA was clearly the better team. For whatever reason, our energy was completely gone. LA was on their toes, we were on our heels, and it very easily could have been 2-2. Hell, without Pablo Bonilla’s double clearance off the line, it would have been.

Quick question: if Bonilla makes the first clearance but not the second, it’s an own goal. But who scores it? Bonilla, for hitting a sweet ricochet trick shot off Larrys Mabiala’s chest? Or Larrys himself, for being the poor bastard Bonilla decided to bank it off of? Any guesses how the official scorer would deal with this?

2) With LA essentially owning the last 15 minutes of the 1st half, I had genuine worries that they would come out of the halftime locker room, continue kicking our ass, and tie it up, 2-2. I’m sure that was LA’s plan.

But Gio Savarese had other ideas. He made the halftime adjustment of bringing Eryk Williamson into a more attacking role. After sitting pretty deep in the opening 45 minutes, Eryk came forward a lot more in the 2nd. The LA defense had one more guy to account for and they couldn’t handle it. Just a few minutes into the second stanza, Diego Valeri scored this loopy goal.

That goal put us up 3-1 and took the wind right out of LA’s sails. All their late-first half momentum was gone. The Timbers were back in the drivers seat.

But, of course, being back in the drivers seat doesn’t mean complete domination. LA did score three goals, after all, including this header in the 55th minute.

LA’s first goal came after a corner. This second goal came after a throw-in. Is this a sign of problems with our set piece defense? Are we mentally turning off a little? Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic look a little mentally turned off on this goal. I don’t know if there’s a communication problem there, if Zoop needs to be talking to Larrys more, but Zubak, the guy who scored that goal, was essentially unmarked. This is unacceptable.

Fortunately, these are the 2020 Timbers, and they have zero trouble scoring goals. We didn’t even have to wait five minutes before we scored our fourth of the night. And, holy hell, was it lovely. Not the final shot, but the buildup. Just gorgeous.

Nice, right? The possession? The combinations? The courage to make those tough passes in tight spaces? It was Eryk to Valeri to Yimmi to Jebo to Yimmi to Jorge to Felipe to the back of the net. I’m not sure we saw a goal this nice in the entire 2019 season. This year? We’re seeing them fairly often and I couldn’t be happier.

By the way, that was the season’s third assist for both Yimmi Chara and Jorge Villafaña. Jorge’s had all three in his last four games played, and Yimmi had two in this game and would have had an assist hat trick (AKA: an ass hat) on Valeri’s loopy goal if there hadn’t been a defensive deflection. Also getting an assist in this game – way back on Mora’s first goal – Diego Chara. Hold that thought. We’ll talk more about it later.

3) Mora’s second goal made it 4-2, but these are the 2020 Timbers, so, of course, the scoring wasn’t over. Just three minutes later, it was 5-2, thanks to Larrys Mabiala.

Before the initial save, did the ball go off Zuparic’s head, or off number 16’s shoulder? I guess it doesn’t really matter. This was Mabiala’s eighth MLS regular season goal for the Timbers, setting a new record for Portland defenders. 5-2 good guys.

But these are the 2020 Timbers, so, of course, the scoring wasn’t over. Just six minutes later, Cristian Pavon made it 5-3.

The funny thing is, just before this play, I was thinking how Pablo Bonilla was doing a pretty good job against a guy who a lot of pundits think is a MLS Best XI player. And, of course, as soon as I thought that, Pavon scored. So it’s my fault, guys. Sorry.

But these are the 2020 Timbers, so, of course, the scoring wasn’t over. Nine minutes later, Jeremy Ebobisse got his second of the night.

That goal was almost called back for Villafaña possibly being offside, but the VAR decided it was too close for a second look. The score was 6-3 and that’s how the game ended.

I think we should acknowledge that surrendering three goals is objectively bad. You’re gonna lose most games where you give up three goals. But since these are the 2020 Timbers, and scoring six ain’t no big thing, who cares, amiright? A win’s a win, and this one was our fourth straight.

Could we make it five in a row against San Jose?

4) Yes we could!

Sunday’s game against San Jose, played in cold, rainy Providence Park, was a tale of two halves. San Jose was definitely the more dangerous side in the 1st half, and to be honest, Steve Clark is the only reason we didn’t give up a goal or two.

But we weren’t down, it was scoreless at the half, and then 35 seconds into the 2nd half, it was 1-0 good guys.

First of all, holy hell, that’s a great cross from Diego Chara. Fifth assist of the year for him, tying a career best.

And a beautiful header from Jaroslaw Niezgoda, too. He sends it back in the direction it came from, using the goalkeeper’s momentum against him, nestling it just inside the near post.

More importantly, the Timbers scored first again! Okay, I said I’d get off my lazy ass and research this, so I did. I don’t have #StatMan’s databases, so I had to search out old box scores, but here’s what I found out.

  • In 2017, we scored first in 21 of our 34 regular season games. That’s 62%.
  • In 2018, we scored first in 19 of our 34 regular season games. That’s 56%.
  • In 2019, we scored first in 15 of our 34 regular season games. That’s 44%.
  • And so far in 2020, we’ve scored first in 13 of our 16 regular season games. That’s 81%!

So, yeah, it’s official. This is a real thing. The Timbers are scoring first at a historic rate. (And, of course, now that I’ve said it aloud, they won’t score first again the rest of the season. This is on me, folks. I’ve never been good at just shutting the fuck up. I’m the guy in the dugout who’s definitely talking about a no-hitter.)

Anyway, our boys in green weren’t done scoring. In the 52nd minute, San Jose had a bit of a clusterfuck in front of their goal, and Niezgoda was there to make them pay.

I love how Valeri has this half-second where he turns off a little, annoyed with himself for not bringing the ball down, then he looks up and is like, Oh, wait! The play’s not over! It’s nice sometimes to see that your heroes are human, too.

We put the game well and truly to bed in the 86th minute when 2nd half substitute Felipe Mora made it 3-0.

Holy hell, that cross from Diego Chara. It’s perfect. It’s the Platonic ideal of a cross.

What’s gotten into Diego Chara this year? You realize he’s now leading the team in assists, right? That was his third assist of the week and his sixth of the year. His previous career best was five assists, way back in 2014. It took him 31 games to get those five. This year, he’s got six in just 14 games. Keep up that pace for a full season and he’s getting 13 or 14. Could this huge increase in assists be because his brother Yimmi’s on the team? Could it be tactics? Is Gio setting things up in a way that requires Diego to make some dangerous final passes? Whatever the reason, I’m all for it. I think we should maximize the numbers of assists we get from people named Diego. I’ve always said this.

Also involved with this goal? Felipe Mora, who is now tied with Jebo and Valeri for the team lead with seven goals. He’s scored in three straight games, something he also did back in late-August, early-September. But that’s not all. Yimmi Chara scored in three straight games in mid- to late-September, and Jeremy Ebobisse scored in three straight games in the MLS is Back tournament. Based on all this, I can pretty much guarantee that Niezgoda’s scoring in each of our next two games. In fact, I would advise you all to take out a second mortgage on your house and bet it all on Niezgoda scoring three games in a row. I’ll certainly be doing it, and when I cash that big, sweet Las Vegas check, all you suckers can kiss my ass goodbye.

5) Despite the brace from Niezgoda and the assist brace (assbrass?) from Chara, Sunday’s Man of the Match might have been Steve Clark. The guy made seven saves, and three or four of them were really tough. Here’s a few of the better ones.

And that doesn’t even include him picking up Jorge Villafaña in a big bear hug in the 80th minute. Actually, hold on. Imma go add that to my “Steve Clark Being Awesome” compilation.

Last week, I handed out my mid-season report card and refused to give anyone on the defense a grade higher than a C. My rationale was that they just gave up too many goals. There was no way I could call our defense an above average group.

But I’m starting to reconsider. I’ve looked at the numbers and it’s given me second thoughts.

In the five games immediately after the MLS is Back tournament, the Timbers surrendered 15 goals. That’s three goals a game. Objectively horrible.

In the six games since then, they’ve surrendered five goals total. Less than one a game. It’s been 1-1, 6-1, 1-0, 1-0, 6-3, and 3-0. Only one bad defensive performance in the bunch.

Is it time for me to change my tune regarding the defense? Are they good now? Above average, at least? Let me know what you think down in comments.

If they are good, God help the rest of the league, because our attack is definitely good. We’ve scored the second most goals in the league, and now that the defense is coming around, our goal differential just keeps getting better and better. At the start of our five game winning streak, our GD was -4. It’s now +9.

So, yeah, if this is real, if the defense really has figured it out, the 2020 Timbers could turn into a very dangerous team.

6) Some random thoughts.

  • Jeremy Ebobisse set a team record on Sunday. As NFL coach Bill Parcells once said, “the best ability is availability,” and game after game after game, Jebo is available.

  • Speaking of availability, who do you think sits on Wednesday? Seems like Valeri, Chara, and Eryk all need rest, but that’s our entire midfield. If we give Zoop a rest, too, our spine will be almost entirely 2nd choice guys.
  • Personally, I’d still rest ‘em. Let the B-team try to grab some points on the road against a weak RSL side, then have the A-team nice and rested when the suddenly resurgent LAFC come to Portland next Sunday. That’s what I’d do. How about you?
  • Final thing: I’ll close the column with something incredibly important, but which we may have forgotten. All this great play? The five straight wins? We’re doing it without our best player. Way back on September 6th, a full eight games ago, we lost Sebastian Blanco for the season. Faced with that sort of loss, most teams would have crumbled. The fact that the Timbers haven’t is remarkable. Giovanni Savarese and his staff deserves enormous credit.