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Six Degrees: Weirdest Season Ever

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Portland Timbers v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

1) Welp, the 2020 regular season is finally done, and, oh, what a weird season it was.

We played two games, then for reasons I can’t entirely remember, took almost four months off. I think we can all agree that’s pretty weird.

The season then resumed in July with the MLS is Back tournament, during which all the league’s teams packed into an Orlando bubble, barely leaving their hotels for weeks. Again, undeniably weird.

Three of those games? Regular season. The other four? Not regular season. Not any season, actually. Statistically, I’m not sure those games even happened. That Dario Zuparic goal in the final? Never happened. Weeeeeird.

Ohbytheway, the Timbers won that tourney. Not weird, just wonderful. Much more wonderful than I expected, actually. I found myself surprisingly invested in that tournament, cheering like mad for our boys to raise that first-and-probably-last-time-we-have-this-tournament trophy.

Then the regular season resumed again, but to cut down on travel, we didn’t play teams from all over the league, just teams on the west coast. And for most of those trips, we didn’t even stay the night. It was fly down in the morning, play a game, fly back that night. Totes weird.

And, if you think it was weird for us, save a thought for the Canadian teams, who came to the States, then weren’t allowed to go back home. Vancouver played their home games here in Portland, which meant their home game against Portland and their away game against Portland were both played here in Portland. Weird, eh?

We had a game postponed due to Colorado having a COVID outbreak, we had another game postponed for a player’s strike, and for a few days there, I thought we were gonna have one postponed due to wildfire smoke. Is this weird? Or sad? A little of both, I suppose. Plus a few other adjectives.

And now the regular season’s over after playing only 23 games. 11 less than we were supposed to play. It’s hard to imagine we’ll ever play a weirder season.

But was it an unsuccessful season? No, it was actually pretty awesome. We won that tournament in Orlando, we played some wonderful attacking soccer, we occasionally played wonderful defense, we saw some new players come in and do well, and we saw some veteran players continue to hold Father Time at bay. All in all, a really good year, despite all the weirdness.

And now it’s time for the playoffs. On Sunday, FC Dallas comes to town for our first round game. Here are some reasons you should be worried, followed by some reasons you shouldn’t.

2) Why you should be worried.

I know it’s been said many times before, but we’re injured as fuck. One DP lost for the season with a torn ACL is enough to sink many teams. We’ve lost two. That alone should worry you.

But wait, there’s more!

Jeremy Ebobisse’s missed the last five games with a concussion.

But wait, there’s more!

Felipe Mora and Andy Polo have spent the last week with their national teams – Chile and Peru, respectively – and normally, they’d have no trouble getting back in time for Sunday’s game. But this is 2020 and everything’s different, so they’ll still be in quarantine when the team kicks off on Sunday. (LATE EDIT: this may no longer be the case. The league just announced they’re working on a solution. We’ll have to wait and see if it actually works.)

How much will missing then hurt? A fair bit, actually. Since Sebastian Blanco went down for the year, Polo’s importance on the wing increased quite a bit.

But losing Mora is an order of magnitude worse. When Jaroslaw Niezgoda also went down for the year, Mora’s importance at striker increased dramatically. Then when Jebo went down with his concussion, Mora became the only real striker on the team. He became literally irreplaceable. And now we have to replace him.

With whom? Fuck if I know. Dairon Asprilla? Diego Valeri? You? Me? Maybe we just won’t field a striker. Maybe we’ll line up in a 4-2-4-0.

However...

3) Why you should be confident.

...I have a feeling Ebobisse’s ready to play. Check out this tweet from the Timbers.

Based on that fourth photo, it would seem Jebo’s practicing again, so I’m gonna be optimistic and pencil him into Sunday’s Starting XI.

Another reason for confidence? Dallas has some injuries, too, including DP Bryan Acosta, and young-USMNT-prospect-who-at-times-looks-hella-hella-good Paxton Pomykal.

Third reason for confidence? Dallas is abysmal on the road. At home this season, they’re 7-0-3, for a Supporter’s Shield-worthy 2.4 PPG. On the road, they’re 1-5-3, for a Wooden Spoon-worthy 0.67 PPG.

Fourth reason for confidence? Dallas can’t score. In the season’s final 11 games, Dallas scored just nine goals. All nine of those goals came in five games, which means that in the other six games, they were shut out. In other words, if the Timbers score even a single goal, there’s a really good chance they’ll win. And they’ve been shut out just twice all year.

And a fifth really good reason why a banged-up Timbers squad should still win this game? It’s November, and we’ve got Dairon Asprilla.

4) Prediction time.

I’ve got us winning 3-0, with Yimmi Chara assisting all three and Jorge Villafaña getting hockey assists on all three. This will be the first double ass hat in MLS history, causing #StatMan Mike Donovan to pass out in front of his television.

I’m thinking an early Jebo goal, maybe in the 8th minute, hopefully not with his head. Then two second half goals, one from Diego Valeri, the other from Dairon Asprilla. Asprilla will do a tumbling backflip, followed by a dance. Steve Clark will wear his Halloween mask when he raises his clean sheet log slice. Up in one of the luxury boxes, Sebastian Blanco will put on his Chucky mask in solidarity.

Second prediction, at no extra cost to you: LAFC will beat Seattle, denying the world another Cascadia playoff game, but giving the Timbers a second game at home.

5) Award time.

I’ve been writing this column since 2013, first at SlideRulePass and then here. At the end of each season, I give out my Six Degrees Player of Year award. It’s an extremely prestigious award, coveted by all. Marvin Loria has a clause in his contract that if he ever wins this award, the team will buy him a brand new Corvette. So, yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.

Let’s look at our past winners and why they were chosen.

So those are the past winners. Any predictions on who will win it this year?

6) I’ve gotta be honest, 2020 feels like another “no one else stood out” kind of year. I mean, did anyone set the world on fire this year?

  • Diego Chara had a career-high six assists, but I wouldn’t call that “setting the world on fire.”
  • His brother Yimmi led the team with eight assists, but four of them were in one game, which, in my mind, takes a little shine off the accomplishment.
  • Diego Valeri was his usual productive self, both scoring and assisting, but at this point, we just sort of expect that.
  • Sebastian Blanco was the MLS is Back tournament MVP and seemed ready to run away with this award, but then he blew out his ACL, because this is 2020, so of course he did.
  • Likewise, Jeremy Ebobisse looked ready to run away with this award, then got concussed and missed the last five games, robbing him of another few goals.

When you have a season like this where nobody clearly wins the award on the field, what do you do? You look at what happened off the field.

Clearly, the number one off-field issue this year was COVID-19, but not far behind that? The Black Lives Matter movement. And who was at the forefront of that movement, not just for the Timbers but for the entire league? Jeremy Ebobisse.

And to be honest, that isn’t at all surprising. If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention these past four years, you know how smart Jebo is, how politically aware he is, how dedicated he is to social justice. Earlier this year, when cops killed yet another Black person, then another, then another, Jebo got together with other Black players from around the league and formed Black Players for Change, an independent organization of players, coaches, and staff from all over MLS working to bridge the racial equality gap that exists in society.

And as the season continued, as Jebo gave interviews off the pitch, while still playing at an incredibly high level on it, an unexpected thing happened: he started to become the face of the Timbers. Has he permanently taken that role from Diego Valeri? Probably not. But this year? Yeah, he kinda did it, and in the best possible way.

And, ohbytheway, he also led the team in goals. So, you know, that’s kinda cool, too.

Congratulations, Jeremy Ebobisse! You’re the 2020 Six Degrees Player of the Year!

Portland Timbers v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images