Of the hundreds of ways a season can end, only one of them leaves you happy. All the rest leave you sad. This is the story of one of those.
1) As sad and frustrating as the outcome was on Sunday night, the Timbers didn’t actually play that badly. They came out hard from the game’s opening whistle, looking for an early goal, and thoroughly owned the game’s first 20 minutes. Hell, you could say they owned the game’s first 90 minutes, but that takes us to a dark place. For now, let’s just appreciate how much danger the boys put the Dallas defense under and how many saves their keeper Jimmy Maurer had to make.
Those are just the shots I was able to find video for. There were others. And as you can see, some of the shots came from nicely worked combinations, while others were just bombs from outside. Truth be told, the way Dallas packed their box up tight, I think the Timbers would have done well to shoot a few more bombs from outside. Andy Polo and Cristhian Paredes seemed to be our only “what the hell, imma let ‘er rip” guys on Sunday night.
I’m not sure I’m really complaining. This year’s team mostly abandoned the hopeful crosses of 2019 and dedicated themselves to combining in the box. I loved them for it all year long, so I guess I’ve got to love them for it here.
Anyway, that compilation pretty much sums up the game. The Dallas keeper stoned us again and again, while at the other end, Steve Clark had very little to do.
Well, aside from this bit in the 30th minute, which made all our our stomachs drop.
That’s actually a really nice fast break from FC Dallas. Fortunately, our defense did a nice job holding their line and the officiating crew did a nice job getting the call right. Crisis averted.
2) So the game continued being pretty one-sided, but we couldn’t seem to break through. Then, when the 80th minute came and went and I was ready to abandon all hope, one of our attacking combinations finally paid off.
You do realize that the final two goals of 2020 were Diego Valeri to Jorge Villafaña, right? One last bit of weirdness for this weirdest of seasons.
Gorgeous pass from Valeri, powerful finish from Villafaña, and a huge celebration for Timbers fans everywhere.
3) But of course, stringing together combinations in the box isn’t the only calling card of the 2020 Portland Timbers. The other thing their really good at? Giving up stoppage time goals. We lost at least three wins this season after the 90th minute, possibly more. And yep, here in the playoffs, we did it again.
I’ve gotta be honest, it only seems fitting that the season ended with us giving up a win in stoppage time. It’s kinda our thing.
I’m not sure who to blame on this goal. Commentator Taylor Twellman was ripping our defense for being flat-footed, and he’s probably right, but damn, that whole thing happened so fast. Clark has his goal kick with 91:53 on the clock. The Dallas guy gets his head on it at 91:56. Four seconds later, at 92:00, Ricardo Pepi’s behind our line, charging toward goal. Ball’s in the net at 92:05, 12 seconds after Clark kicked it.
Am I making excuses? Not really. Except maybe. I dunno. I guess I’m just feeling sympathy for the team. We dominated the game in so many ways, but it was all undone in 12 seconds. As always, soccer is the cruelest sport.
I should probably address the bigger problem here, which is how catastrophically awful we’ve been late in games this year. What have we given up, 15 goals after the 75th minute? I should probably try to come up with some explanation for this. But the truth is, I don’t know the reason. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s Gio’s substitutions. Maybe it’s his tactics. Maybe it’s the players mentally turning off. Maybe it’s a team-wide self-perpetuating psychological feedback loop. I truly don’t know. Do any of you? Is there a reason why we’re so bad late in games? Let me hear your theories down in comments.
4) Since these are the playoffs, games can’t end with a tie, there must be a winner, so we went to extra time.
Quick question: why do we even have extra time? No one ever scores. The only time I can remember scoring in extra time was the double post game in 2015. Usually, it plays out like it did Sunday, with everyone utterly exhausted, cramping up, limping off the field, and just trying to make it to spot kicks. That’s the usual script and that’s what happened Sunday.
Actually, let’s quickly talk about players limping off the field. You know we lost another goddamn player Sunday night, right? The soccer gods weren’t satisfied taking Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda. They weren’t even satisfied giving Jeremy Ebobisse a not-exactly-but-pretty-much-season-ending concussion. No, the soccer gods had to take Eryk Williamson, too. I don’t know how badly he’s hurt, but he had to leave the game just before halftime. Who’d we replace him with? I can’t even remember. Cristhian Paredes? Marvin Loria? Blake Fucking Bodily? Bodily played, you know. The guy’s played exactly one minute as a professional, during stoppage time way back at the MLS is Back Tournament, but there we were, our season on the brink, and we’re counting on Blake Fucking Bodily. Yeesh.
Of course, this wasn’t a 90 minute game, it was a 120 minute game, which means extra stress on the body. And as extra time wound down, guess who was on the turf, his hamstring cramping up? Yep, the Maestro himself, Diego Valeri. It was so tragic, it was almost comedy.
The great irony of this? Valeri didn’t have to leave the game, he was able to limp around for the final few moments, and then at the death, with the game’s very last kick, he damn near won it for us.
If he’d scored that after being unable to walk just a few minutes earlier? Straight to the Hall of Fame. No retirement needed, no voting required, just send his bust straight to the Hall of Fame.
5) And that’s pretty much all there is to say. There were spot kicks, but I’m not going to show them to you. Just know that everyone hit their shot. Our first five guys, their first five guys, all good. Their next two guys, our next two guys, all good. It was a remarkable display, to be honest, and a new MLS record.
Alas, Dallas’s eighth guy nailed his kick, while our eighth guy didn’t. Game over. Season over. Sad feelings all around.
6) And that’s where I’ll end the column, with me feeling sad.
I’ll keep putting out these column during the off-season. Next Tuesday, I’ll do a season review. After that, I’ll hand out some final report cards. And at a certain point, we’ll talk about what the team should do this offseason.
As I said at the beginning, there’s only one good way for a soccer season to end. All other endings are sad. So we’ll all be sad for a bit, have some ice cream, then come back strong. I suggest we try to channel our inner Diego Chara. Yes, sad feelings are barreling toward goal, but they don’t stand a chance. We’re Diego Chara. We’ll snuff them out and make it look easy.