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Six Degrees: Two Games, One Goal, and One Last-Second Point

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Colorado 1, Portland 0 — LAFC 1, Portland 1

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

1) Last Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Colorado was just the second time this year we’ve been shut out. Pretty damn impressive, really.

But in a way, this latest shutout shouldn’t be too surprising, considering how many attackers we were missing. Sebastian Blanco, out for the year. Jaroslaw Niezgoda, out for the year. Jeremy Ebobisse, still not back from a concussion. Diego Valeri and Yimmi Chara, on the bench, getting some well-deserved rest. Eryk Williamson, moved away from his usual #8 position so he could try to replace Valeri at the #10.

That’s, what, six attackers either not playing or playing out of position? It’s only natural the attack looked bad.

It was especially bad in the first half, though I’m not sure who specifically to blame. We could blame Eryk at the 10, or perhaps Andy Polo and Andres Flores on the wings. And, hell, let’s send a little blame toward Cristhian Paredes at the 8. He was a slow, off-target mess anytime he joined the attack.

But the attack, as anemic as it looked, wasn’t the biggest story in the first half. The biggest story was Bill Tuiloma being called for a handball in the box and the referee pointing at the spot.

1-0 Colorado, right?

Not so fast. Here’s how it actually went down. (Mentally insert audio of Colorado’s announcers losing their damn minds for, like, 20 minutes.)

First of all, let me repeat what I’ve said multiple times in the past: nobody knows what a handball is. Players, refs, announcers, fans, you, me, nobody knows what a handball is. It’s being made up each and every game. This decision we saw right here? There is no guarantee we’ll see that again in the next game. We might see the exact opposite. Every single handball is an adventure, and there’s absolutely no telling which direction it will go.

All that being said, the ref waved it off this time, and here’s why.

Enjoy this brief moment of a referee following the letter of the law, because next time, who knows what the ref will do? Nobody knows what a handball is. Nobody.

2) So the attack was a mess in the first half, but things improved when Yimmi entered the game at the start of the second half. 10 minutes after that, Valeri came in and things improved even more. The counterattacks improved, the slow buildups improved, and we basically just looked more like ourselves. Turns out, talent matters. Who woulda thunk it?

And, hell, things improved again in the 68th minute when Marco Farfan limped off and was replaced by Jorge Villafaña. Jorge and Valeri almost put us up 1-0 with this piece of artistry in the 75th minute.

Alas, alack, despite all the improvement, we never broke through with a goal, and in the 83rd minute, Colorado made us pay.

First of all, that’s a laser beam of a finish from Kellyn Acosta. Kudos to him. Secondly, as much as it pains me to say something bad about my guy, this entire sequence starts with, not one, but two giveaways by Diego Chara. Turns out, he’s not a perfect being.

3) So that made it 1-0, bad guys, and the Timbers spent the rest of the game trying to tie it up but failing.

There is one last story to tell, though. Remember a guy named Dairon Asprilla? Mercurial winger, ran hot and cold, only seemed to score in elimination games, went by the title Mr. November? Remember that guy? He had knee surgery back in May and I figured he was done for the year.

But Mr. November had other ideas. He surprised everyone by showing up on the bench Wednesday night, then dramatically entering the game in the 88th minute, his team in desperate need of a goal.

How’d he do? In stoppage time, in the 96th minute, in truly the last moments of the game, oh my God, dear sweet baby Jesus, Mr. November nearly pulled it off. He nearly scored another clutch goal.

I’m pretty sure if that shot had gone in I’d be dead right now. I would have exploded. Literally exploded into a red mist of blood and meat. So, you know, maybe it’s good he hit the post. I can’t decide.

Anyway, the real star of that gif isn’t Asprilla, it’s Jorge Villafaña, grabbing his head and falling to the ground in agony. I think most of us were doing the exact same thing at home.

4) With all the absences I discussed above, plus Diego Chara out for yellow card accumulation, I entered into Sunday’s game against LAFC expecting to lose. But even with those tempered expectations, I was amazed at how bad the team looked in the first 45 minutes. We were awful. LAFC was applying high pressure and we were utterly unable to deal with it. Not only could we barely get the ball out of our own half, we looked almost afraid to try. Every time we had the ball, we looked panicked, confused, and afraid. We weren’t just turning the ball over, at times we were passing it directly to LAFC players.

Now, I’d like to say you can see this perfectly at the beginning of this next gif, but the truth is, you can’t see it because it’s not in the highlights because the fucking idiots at FS1 like to show close-ups of players and coaches while there’s actual soccer happening and I probably screamed at the TV about this five to ten times over the course of the game, not that I’m bitter or anything.

Anyway, here’s the goal.

It seems like just a week ago that I was calling Eryk Williamson calm, cool, and collected, but there ain’t no sign of that here. Not from him, not from anybody.

Also worth noting in the above clip, Jorge Villafaña’s utter lack of urgency. How angry should we be with him? I’m leaning toward “somewhat,” though I could be talked into “quite.”

Vela’s goal made it 1-0, and it’s truly amazing it didn’t turn into 4-0 by halftime. LAFC were all over us, forcing saves from both Mr. Steve Clark and Mr. Wood Work. Those two were huge and are the only reason we made it to the halftime locker room down just one.

5) Thankfully, Gio and the boys pulled their heads mostly out of their asses and the second half was much better. The main change that I saw was a huge increase in energy and urgency. Suddenly, we were going like hell for every ball, which most definitely wasn’t the case in the first 45.

This didn’t turn into shots, though. Yes, we were improved in the back third and middle third, but the final third? Not so much.

LAFC on the other hand, continued to get dangerous shots. Steve Clark finished with six saves. Wood Work had another three. Truly, this game could have been a blowout.

Our first shot was in the 58th minute, by Valeri. Our first shot on goal, that was in the 80th minute, also by Valeri. Here’s what it looked like.

That’s actually some really nice movement and a really nice shot from Valeri, but to me, that’s not the main talking point. The main talking point is that this was our first shot on goal! And it was in the 80th minute! Just an amazingly bad day at the office for our attackers. Actually, two straight bad days at the office, considering Colorado shut us out on Wednesday. Looking at these two games, it’s hard to believe we’ve scored the 2nd most goals in MLS. I guess being down two of your three strikers makes a little bit of a difference, eh? Talent matters.

Fortunately, in the 90th minute, the team finally broke through. We did to LAFC what multiple teams have done to us this year. We broke their hearts by turning a loss into a draw.

I’m glad I could show you that clip from the very beginning because, one, it shows that Steve Clark really was Man of the Match, and two, it shows the Timbers doing what they do best: hitting on the counter. Clark makes his save at 89:27. Villafaña scores at 89:44. That’s a 17-second end-to-end fast break goal. Clark to Farfan to Mabiala to Polo to Mora to Polo to Valeri to Villafaña to the back of the net. Eight guys, 100 yards, 17 seconds. Absolutely deadly.

In the end, I’m not sure how to feel about this game. It really could have ended 6-1, which is bad, but it didn’t, which is good. We survived, we kept ourselves in the game, and we scraped out a point on the road against a really dangerous team, despite missing a lot of attackers. I guess on the whole, I’ve gotta feel good about it. Sometimes just surviving is a victory.

6) Some random thoughts.

  • That horrendous first half needs to act as a wake-up call for the team. We may face some high pressure in the playoffs and Gio needs to get the boys ready for it. We’ve got to handle it better than we did on Sunday.
  • How many times this year have I talked about the Platonic ideal of a cross? Valeri’s cross to Villafaña wants in on that conversation.
  • And not only was it beautiful, it let Valeri tie an MLS record.

  • Want to put money on him breaking that record next season?
  • We finished the regular season 3rd in the West and will host Dallas in the first round on Sunday the 22nd. That means two weeks to rest and get healthy.
  • It also means that next week I’ll be giving you a playoff preview and announcing the 2020 Six Degrees Player of the Year. See you then.