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Six Degrees: Coming Down the Homestretch

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Timbers 5, Galaxy 2 — Timbers 1, Whitecaps 0

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

1) Last Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the LA Galaxy had seven goals (apparently, that’s how math works), so we’re gonna have to bang ‘em out pretty quickly. Buckle up.

Goal one, Jaroslaw Niezgoda in the 6th minute.

I like Jarek’s movement on this goal. Watch how he varies his speed, fast to slow, drifting toward the penalty spot, bringing his defender with him. Then when Jorge Villafaña puts in the cross, Jarek bolts forward, leaving his defender behind and getting a wide-open header.

Goal two, Jarek again, this time in the 19th minute.

Niezgoda always seems to be moving at half speed. It makes him a little weird to watch. He does everything so calmly, you almost feel like he’s not doing enough, like he’s not working out there. But clearly he’s doing something right, since this brace gave him seven goals on the year. Four of those goals? Headers.

Goal three, Diego Valeri with a 30th minute PK

I’m extremely conflicted about Valeri taking this PK, versus giving it to Niezgoda. Yes, I love Valeri and love that he got another goal, but come on. Jarek was on a brace! We could have finally had our first hat trick!

Counterpoint: would Jarek getting a hatty because the captain gave up his PK have felt weird? Would it have felt deserved? I genuinely don’t know. As I said, I’m conflicted. What do you think?

Goal four, the Galaxy score 17 seconds into the 2nd half.

Mostly, this is down to a horrendous giveaway by Steve Clark. I’m not sure we can blame Larrys Mabiala for leaving the goalscorer open. Larrys had to close out the guy in the middle. It’s also a little hard to blame Pablo Bonilla. He raced back to help as soon as the ball was turned over, but it was already too late. The whole thing happened fast. Bang, bang, bang, and it’s 3-1. This one’s on Clark.

This goal, by the way, led to a roughly 10-15 minute period in which the Galaxy ran the game. They were dominating play, we were on our heels, and it really looked like the game could get away from us. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, because...

Goal five, Eryk Williamson in the 60th minute.

Honestly, could Eryk look any calmer? Any more composed? Remember earlier when I said Niezgoda does everything calmly? Well, this was a calm pass from Niezgoda, leading to a calm finish from Williamson. I want to go steady with this goal.

But I want to make sweet, sweet love to this next goal.

Goal six, Andy Polo in the 74th minute.

I’ve written many negative things about Polo over the years, but I will say this for the guy: he may not score often, but when he does, it’s memorable. In fact, who’s ready for an ANDY POLO MEGA COMPILATION? It won’t take long. There’s only three goals to see. All of them memorable.

Goal seven, the Galaxy, seconds into stoppage time.

This was the third straight game we’d given up a stoppage time goal. Remember that if playoff position comes down to goal difference.

2) Two quick things, then we’ll move on to the Vancouver game.

First up, Yimmi Chara tied an MLS record against the Galaxy.

Secondly, Pablo Bonilla did this.

Show some respect, young man.

3) I have far less gifs to make for Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Vancouver, because apparently 1+0 = 1. (I believe that’s correct, at least. Could someone double-check my math?)

Sunday’s first half was pretty even. We had more of the possession and more of the chances, but very few of our chances were dangerous. Our best chance came from an unlikely source, center back Larrys Mabiala, who’s apparently a striker now.

Things got really dicey in the last five minutes of the half, when Vancouver had multiple good chances, that, thankfully, they couldn’t finish.

We were lucky the game went to halftime 0-0, and we’d need more from our attack in the second half.

4) And that’s exactly what we got. Less crosses, more combinations in the box. Some of those combos were really quite lovely, including the one that led to Yimmi Chara’s 61st minute goal.

That’s nice, right? Valeri to Felipe Mora to Valeri to Yimmi to Jorge to Yimmi to the back of the net, all of those passes taking place either within the box or just outside it. I’m not sure we had a single goal this nice in 2019. In 2020? It’s fairly routine. Well done, Gio. I’ve had some complaints in previous years, but in 2020, you’ve got the boys playing some pretty soccer.

So, that goal was in the 61st minute, which gave me 29+ minutes to be a nervous wreck, waiting for us to give up an equalizing goal, since, you know, that’s kinda been our thing lately.

This might have been Vancouver’s best chance of the night, which Steve Clark saved beautifully.

But Vancouver never got closer than that, the Timbers held on until the final whistle, and we came away with the full three points.

That’s not to say we didn’t lose something. Both Niezgoda and Valeri went down in second half stoppage time and both injuries looked bad. Valeri did something to his ankle, but was able to limp off with a trainer’s help. Jarek wasn’t so lucky. He laid on the field, barely moving, as if he could tell something awful had happened. He was eventually stretchered off and, while we haven’t gotten official word yet, I’ve got a feeling he’s done for the year, (LATE UPDATE: Yep, he’s done for the year.) which would be our second Designated Player lost to season-ending injury. Suddenly, our wish to see Jeremy Ebobisse recover from his concussion and get back on the field becomes even more urgent.

I won’t be surprised if Valeri, Chara, and Williamson all sit out the Colorado game on Wednesday. Valeri to let his ankle heal, Chara and Eryk because they’re both one yellow card away from suspension and Gio might want to guarantee they’re available for the LAFC game.

5) Ready for some cool stats? Because I went digging around and found some cool stats.

First up, look at our top four goalscorers.

Jarek’s got seven goals on 12 shots. 12 shots, nine on goal, seven in the back of the net. That’s ludicrously efficient. Among MLS players with seven goals or more, his SC% of 58.3 doesn’t just lead the league, he’s lapped the field. The next highest SC% is Gyasi Zardes with 28.9. Jarek has doubled that rate. Insane.

Next cool stat, assists.

We’ve got six players with five or more assists, which is nice balance. The thing that blows my mind? The first four guys on the list have 1, 0, 1, and 0 game-winning assists. Eryk Williamson and Jorge Villafaña, though? Seven of their 10 assists have been game-winning assists. What does this mean? I have no idea, I just think it’s cool.

Last cool stat, yellow cards.

Eryk Williamson and Diego Chara have both earned seven yellows this year, so they’ve probably committed the same number of fouls, right? Wrong. Eryk’s committed 22 fouls, while Diego’s committed 44. That’s right, Diego’s committed twice as many fouls, but has the same number of yellows. This proves once again that Diego Chara’s super-power is not that he can run for 90+ minutes without ever getting tired, his super-power is knowing how to foul people just hard enough to stop them, but without actually earning a yellow.

You’re an absolute wonder, Diego. Your next mission? Get Eryk all trained up in the dark arts.

6) This time next week, the regular season will be over, so let’s take a look at where we stand.

Jack is one of the many underappreciated RCTID heroes. He’s been doing these charts for years now and I enjoy every single one of them. The 2020 line won’t make it to the top of the chart, obviously, since we’ll stop playing games well short of the usual 34. Regardless, this will go down as one of our best seasons ever.

Here’s what the Western Conference standings are looking like right now.

The higher our finishing position, the more home playoff games we’ll have, but with no fans in attendance, is home field advantage even a thing? I dunno. Maybe. I do know that the players don’t like sitting in those little airplane seats for hours at a time, so playing at home helps them avoid that.

As you can see, we’re currently atop the Western Conference in both points (38) and PPG (1.81). I don’t know if you’ve heard, but MLS decided that this year, with so many teams missing games due to COVID, final positions in the standings will be determined not by points, but by PPG. This means things could get very, very weird for the Timbers, since we’ll be finishing the year with 23 games played, while Seattle will have 22 and Sporting KC will have 21. We could easily finish with the most points but end up in 2nd place due to PPG. Just something to keep in mind.

And there’s also a chance we could win the Shield. A slim chance, but still.

How do I like our chances over these final two games? Pretty good. Colorado’s sneaky-good, despite their low place in the standings. They just whooped Seattle 3-1, after all. Still, if I were a betting man, I’d bet on a Timbers home win.

LAFC on the road, though? I think I’d bet on a draw. We play them very tough and have won in their stadium, but they’re still dangerous as hell. Reigning MVP Carlos Vela is finally playing again, (though he may not be 90-minutes fit), Diego Rossi’s aiming for this year’s Golden Boot, and Bradley Wright-Phillips is still very much doing Bradley Wright-Phillips things. Walking out of there with three points seems like a reach, which gives us added motivation to beat Colorado on Wednesday.

One week left. Let’s make it a good one.