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Six Degrees: Back Down to Earth

RSL 2, Portland 1 — LAFC 1, Portland 1

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After five straight wins, maybe we were due for a week like this.

1) If you watch’s video highlights of last Wednesday’s game in Utah, the first thing you’ll see is RSL’s 11th minute goal. There’s not a single second showing what happened to Jeremy Ebobisse in the 5th minute. Fortunately, I found video elsewhere.

Honestly, what am I supposed to say about this? The goalkeeper challenges for the ball, he doesn’t get it, then he slides into Jebo’s leg, taking him down. That’s a clear and obvious foul. That’s a penalty. We should’ve had a PK. And yet, it didn’t even get a second look from VAR.

The Timbers have scored the first goal a lot this year. If the referee and the VAR had taken their heads out of their asses, we would’ve had a PK here and this entire game might have played out differently.

But they didn’t, the score stayed 0-0, and in the 11th minute, RSL did this.

No, that’s not Steve Clark in goal, it’s second-stringer Aljaz Ivacic, and yes, he screwed this one up pretty bad. On that initial long pass, Ivacic needed to come out of goal sooner. If he’d been decisive and raced out from the start, he probably could’ve grabbed that ball with two hands. Instead, he waited half a second, could only get a weak hand on it, and put it right into the goalscorer’s path.

There may be some of you who are goalkeeping experts and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts down below. Maybe you think this isn’t a rookie mistake, that it was a play that would’ve screwed up anyone. Or perhaps the opposite, perhaps you think it was easy as pie and even a rookie should’ve gotten it.

All I know is that if Ivacic makes more mistakes like this one, he may not get too many more starts.

2) About 15 minutes later, RSL scored again. And again, I’m not sure how annoyed to be with our defenders. Let’s look at the goal, then talk about it.

At first, I was ready to jump all over center backs Larrys Mabiala and Bill Tuiloma for letting that guy get so open. But after watching the replay a few times, the main thought I have is, Damn, that was a well-worked set piece. I mean, honestly, if the Timbers ran that play, I’d be crowing about how sweet it was. First RSL picked Larrys with a big clot of people. When he got past them, they picked him again. That’s really well done.

Were either of RSL’s picks slightly outside the Laws of the Game? I dunno. I’ll let you guys argue that out down in comments. To my eyes, it was just a well done set piece. I’m not quite ready to get angry about it.

What I am ready to get angry about? At least a little? The way we played over the rest of the first half. Zero energy, zero organization. After five straight wins, I’d gotten used to seeing a well-oiled machine. In this game, we were a rusty old jalopy. A few guys looked okay, I guess. Felipe Mora. Diego Valeri. Maybe Diego Chara. But everyone else? A little off, a step slow, a bit slow of thought. After five games of everyone working well together, suddenly everyone was on different pages.

I saw a lot of people online blaming Tomas Conechny, who got the start at left winger. To be honest, I think I agree a little. Was he the worst soccer player I’ve ever seen? No. Was he helping the team? No. Same for Cristhian Paredes. I’m not sure either guy is starter-quality anymore. While the rest of the team has improved since 2019, Conechny and Paredes have gotten worse. It makes me sad that it’s come to this, but facts are facts.

3) Conechny was replaced at halftime by Yimmi Chara and the team’s play got a little better. Not great, mind you. Just better.

Finally, in the 76th minute, Bill Tuiloma got us a goal.

I swear, man, we’ve become absolutely deadly on set pieces. Diego Valeri’s service seems to have gotten better with time and now he’s got an absurd number of set piece threats to aim for. With this goal, center backs Bill Tuiloma, Larrys Mabiala, and Julio Cascante have all scored this season, while Dario Zuparic scored in the MLS is Back tournament final.

One thing I find funny about this goal? Go back and watch the gif and this time focus on Felipe Mora and Larrys Mabiala. Even though neither got their head to the ball, they both nodded like they were taking a shot. Mabiala’s is especially obvious. He was five feet away from the ball, but was still going through the movement, just in case the ball snuck through. I dunno, I find it funny.

Mostly, I’m glad we scored that goal because the game had started feeling dull and hopeless. Tuiloma’s goal woke everyone up and things were fun again. The last 15 minutes were the best we looked the whole game.

Too little, too late, though, and the game ended as a 2-1 loss. A bunch of guys, including Valeri and Chara, played 90+ minutes at Sandy, Utah’s 4,450 foot elevation. Gio decided to leave two subs in his pocket, and in this exhausting, tightly-packed season with game after game after game, I’m not sure that was a wise move.

4) On Sunday night, we welcomed LAFC into Portland. LAFC’s not nearly as dominant as they were last year, but in the last few weeks? They’re starting to look like their old selves. Fortunately, the Timbers have always played them pretty tough, and sure enough, the first half felt pretty even. Maybe even a slight advantage to us.

I think we can all agree that diving headers are way up there on the Cool Ways to Score a Soccer Goal Power Rankings, and in the 38th minute, Felipe Mora almost gave us one.

Remember last week when I described a Diego Chara pass as “the Platonic ideal of a cross?” Well, this Valeri cross wants to be part of that conversation. Perfectly placed. A little backspin. Nice and soft. Dang, I wish Mora had put it just a few inches to the right.

The game was 0-0 at the half, and as they’ve done a few times this year, the Timbers came out of the halftime locker room and bagged a quick goal.

There’s a lot of great stuff to look at on this goal. First, watch Jorge Villafaña harassing that LAFC player and getting us the ball back. Jorge’s been so damn good this year. It’s reminding everyone of 2015 when he was at his peak. Somehow, he’s peaking again. Let’s hope this time it doesn’t end with him signing a big Liga MX contract.

Next, watch Yimmi get it to Felipe who gets it to Jebo through Valeri’s legs. I’d love to know what Valeri was thinking there. Did he know the pass wasn’t intended for him? Did he know Jebo was behind him? Also, is it possible to get an assist if you never touch the ball, because I kinda want to give one to Valeri for this.

And finally, there’s Ebobisse’s cold-blooded finish. I’ll just say it now: Jebo is the front-runner for the 2020 Six Degrees Player of the Year. He’s been amazing. Jake Zivin gave his career stats, which were something like seven goals scored with his left foot, seven with his right, and eight with his head. I’m not sure if that’s exact, but it’s close. My question? How do his goals break down by the position he’s playing on the field? Because we’re seeing him score from both the striker position and the left and right wings. The guy’s amazingly versatile and that has to be an absolute blessing for Gio when he game plans. No matter the position and no matter the status of other players, Gio knows he can count on Jebo.

(That being said, Jebo looked to be in a lot of pain limping off the field around the 89th minute. Let’s all say a little prayer for his health.)

5) The next 15 to 20 minutes were fine. We held the lead, we got a few more chances, and things were pretty even.

Then around the 60th or 70th minute, the game shifted. I can’t tell you exactly why, (I don’t think it was due to Diego Valeri getting subbed out, because that was in the 75th), but whatever the reason, the entire rest of the game was tilted in LAFC’s advantage. They were getting all the chances, we were on our heels, and our defense was truly in survival mode. We held on and held on, and then in the 92nd minute, we could hold on no longer.

The kid who scored, Christian Torres? He’s 16. In fact, the game was on his 16th birthday. He’d been 15 just the day before. I don’t know about you, but when I was 16 I barely knew my ass from my elbow. I certainly wasn’t playing professional soccer and banging rockets just inside the far post. Happy birthday, kid. Good luck with your driver’s license test.

It was a great strike by Torres, but the really impressive play is Kwadwo Opoku’s spin move just before it. Absolutely gorgeous. Larrys Mabiala took a chance trying to cut that pass off and Opoku burned him. I’m not sure how angry to be with Larrys. Yes, he misjudged that play, but sometimes a great play by the opponent is just a great play by the opponent. I dunno. What do you think?

The main thing I think is that some draws feel like losses and this one definitely falls into that category, so we’ll go ahead and call this a two-loss week. But maybe after five straight wins, we were due for a week like this. Maybe we needed to be reminded that the Timbers are, in fact, mortal, and we can’t expect candy canes and daisies every time they take the field.

That being said, I’d like the Soccer Gods to know that we’ve learned our lesson, we are humble once again, and if it’s not too much trouble, we sure would like some candy canes and daisies this Thursday when we play Seattle.

6) Some random thoughts.

  • Diego Chara got a persistent infringement yellow in the 12th minute. This has to be some kind of record.
  • Cristhian Paredes is a mess right now. I think his confidence is shot or something, because the guy can barely complete a pass these days. Gio needs to figure out what’s going on there.
  • Anyone know why Marvin Loria wasn’t available Sunday night? The team had very few attacking options on the bench. Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Tomas Conechny, and not much else. I never thought I’d be longing for Andy Polo, but here we are.
  • And since we’re talking about our current shortage of attackers, let me once again emphasize the need to think good thoughts about Jebo’s hip. Say a prayer, light some candles, kill a rooster, whatever your thing is, do it. Jebo’s been our most reliable attacker. We can’t lose him now.
  • We had a rough week, but there is some good news. Seattle only got one point out of the week as well, so we’re still tied atop the Western Conference standings. We can knock them off their perch on Thursday night.