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Six Degrees: Final Report Cards

SOCCER: NOV 22 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Round One - FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1) In October, I handed out my midterm report cards, which you can read here. Now it’s time for final grades. Who brought their grade up, who saw it slip, and who might be damn nervous showing this to their parents?

Here’s my grading system:

A – well above the average MLS player at their position

B – above average

C – average

D – below average

F – well below average

2) Strikers and Wingers

  • Jeremy Ebobisse – midterm grade: A – final grade: A- – Jebo tied for the team lead in goals, and until that late-season concussion, was one of the only sure things on the team. Plus, he put up numbers from both the striker and winger positions. He’s the real deal. Seems like only a matter of time before some European club makes us a Godfather offer.
  • Jaroslaw Niezgoda – midterm grade: B+ – final grade: B – I feel bad docking players for getting injured, but like Bill Parcells once said, “The best ability is availability.”
  • Felipe Mora – midterm grade: A- – final grade: A- – Speaking of availability, Mora finished the year as our only healthy striker. With Jarek starting next season rehabbing his ACL and with Jebo likely getting regular call-ups for USMNT duty, we desperately need to turn Mora’s loan into a permanent contract.
  • Sebastian Blanco – midterm grade: A- – final grade: A- – Clearly, this would have been an A or even an A+, if he hadn’t gone down midseason. Good luck with the rehab, Seba.
  • Yimmi Chara – midterm grade: B – final grade: A- – Started slow, but by the end of the year, Yimmi really was one of our most reliable attackers. I’m excited to see whether he improves even more next year.
  • Marvin Loria – midterm grade: C – final grade: C – Not great, not awful. A pretty average MLS winger.
  • Dairon Asprilla – midterm grade: D – final grade: C+ – I’m very appreciative that, when the team was desperately in need of attackers late in the season, Dairon came back from injury just a little early. Alas, he didn’t really perform all that well, but I’m still giving him a C+ for trying.

3) Midfielders

  • Diego Valeri – midterm grade: A – final grade: A – Diego Valeri is eternal. I hope we see him banging in goals and assists as a last-10-minutes super-sub when he’s 40 years old. #ValeriForever
  • Eryk Williamson – midterm grade: A – final grade: A- – His performance dipped a little toward the end of the year, but not horribly. Just like with Jebo, Eryk may get a few USMNT call-ups in 2021, which means we’ll see a fair bit of...
  • Cristhian Paredes – midterm grade: D+ – final grade: D+ – It was a season of regression for Cristhian and I have no idea why. Whatever the reason, I hope he figure things out next year. We may need him to play serious minutes.
  • Tomas Conechny – midterm grade: D – final grade: D – I don’t think Tomas will be with the team next year. He’s had his chances. Time to let someone else try. Perhaps someone like...
  • Blake Bodily – midterm grade: C – final grade: C+ – I was shocked to see Blake get minutes in our playoff loss to Dallas, but the kid didn’t look all that bad. With Valeri a year older and Eryk getting USMNT call-ups, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Blake get late-game minutes in that #10 role. I wish him luck.
  • Andres Flores – midterm grade: Incomplete – final grade: C+ – We’ve already learned that the team hasn’t re-signed Flores, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he signs a league-minimum contract at some point next season. Swiss Army knives are handy.
  • Andy Polo – midterm grade: B- – final grade: C+ – A lot of #YouPeople down in the comments rate Polo pretty high, mostly for his speed and his defensive effort, but I dunno, man, I’m not seeing it. The guy’s had three years to impress me and still hasn’t done it.
  • Renzo Zambrano – midterm grade: C – final grade: C- – Dude barely played this year. Methinks it’s time to give someone else a chance.
  • Diego Chara – midterm grade: A – final grade: A+ – Our boy finally made an MLS Best XI team! Of course, he should have made it every year he’s been in the league, but better late than never, right? Also worth noting: he doesn’t age. Like, at all. He’s been with the team for 10 years now, and is still only 24 years old. No one can explain this. #CharaForever

4) Defenders and Goalkeepers

  • Dario Zuparic – midterm grade: C+ – final grade: B+ – When I handed out my midterms, I was a bit harsh on the defense, as we’d just gone through that miserable section of the season where we gave up 15 goals in five games. However, before and after that stretch, the defense was really quite good. Will any of them get an A? No. Their stoppage time failures means a B+ is the best grade I’m willing to hand out, and that’s what I’m giving Zoop. I think he’s quality and I’m excited to watch him patrol the back line for the next five or six years.
  • Larrys Mabiala – midterm grade: C- – final grade: B- – Alas, I thought Larrys took a bit of a step back this year. I’m not even sure why, I just know he didn’t look as reliable as he did in 2019. Let’s hope that gets fixed next year.
  • Bill Tuiloma – midterm grade: C – final grade: C+ – We saw less playing time for Bill this year and when he was in, he looked only okay. I’ll give him an extra half-point because he can play multiple positions.
  • Zac McGraw – Incomplete – The rookie never made his pro debut, but I hope that changes in 2021. It’s a proven fact that American center backs can succeed in MLS. Let’s find out if Zac can be that guy for us.
  • Julio Cascante – midterm grade: C – final grade: C+ – Julio was a decent third-choice center back, and hopefully next year he’ll really find himself for Austin FC. Though, hopefully not when he’s playing the Timbers. For those games, he needs to score some own goals.
  • Marco Farfan – midterm grade: C+ – final grade: B- – Own goals against the Timbers is also my hope for Gresham’s favorite son, who had some decent minutes this year at both left and right back. Good luck in LA, kid.
  • Jorge Villafaña – midterm grade: C – final grade: B+ – I think this was Jorge’s best year since 2015. Really solid at both ends of the field. I’m unsure what 2021 holds for him, though, since this new fullback we’re bringing in, Claudio Nicolas Bravo, has generally played on the left.
  • Pablo Bonilla – midterm grade: C – final grade: B-. Kid’s definitely got potential, but I’m not quite ready to call him solidly above average. I mean, did he ever 100% definitely win that right back spot? I think it was up for grabs the entire year. We’ll find out whether his playing time in 2021 will also be affected by us signing Bravo.
  • Chris Duvall – midterm grade: C – final grade: B-. Just as with Andres Flores, Duvall’s contract has not been picked up for next year, which is a shame, because he always seemed like a good dude and a solid, if unspectacular, player. Good luck moving forward, Chris.
  • Steve Clark – midterm grade: C – final grade: B – I’d say Steve’s an above average MLS goalkeeper, but wasn’t quite as good in 2020 as he’d been in 2019, when I’d have given him an A. Let’s hope he gets his groove back in 2021.
  • Jeff Attinella – midterm grade: C- – final grade: C- – Only played one game, but gave up 3 goals in a loss to the Galaxy. I doubt Jeff’s on the team next year, which is probably best for him. He needs to go somewhere he can start.
  • Aljaz Ivacic – midterm grade: C+ – final grade: C+ – Only played one game, but got the 6-1 win versus San Jose. Made three saves on one play. I imagine he’ll be our 2nd string keeper next year. (LATE EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me in the comments that Ivacic had a second game, a 2-1 loss to RSL. I have no memory of this game, which is either an indictment of me or of Ivacic, I can’t decide which.)

5) Coaches

  • Gio Savarese and staff – midterm grade: B – final grade: B+ – I’m giving them an A- for the attack, a B for the first-75-minutes defense, and a D for the everything-after-the-75th-minute defense. If we had ever fixed those late-game collapses, we could have competed for the Supporter’s Shield. Let’s see if we can make that happen in 2021.

6) Front Office

  • Gavin Wilkinson and staff – midterm grade: B+ – final grade: A- – I’m not including the activity of the past couple weeks in this grade. It’s based solely on last year’s attacking additions (Niezgoda, Mora, Yimmi, who all worked out great), defending additions (Zuparic and Bonilla, who were both very solid), and somehow getting Valeri to give up his DP status. On the whole, I think our GM and scouts knocked it out of the park this year, and I imagine most MLS teams would love to have them.
  • Merritt Paulson and staff – midterm grade: A- – final grade: A- – This was the weirdest MLS season ever, and I think our team and our league did about as good a job as you could ask for. Yes, they could have responded to COVID a couple months earlier, but I’d argue that the slow response wasn’t an MLS issue, but a nationwide issue, perhaps even a worldwide issue. When COVID finally came to a head in the US, the league and the Timbers shut the season down almost immediately, they kept the players fit and the fans engaged during the four-month layoff, they created the MLS is Back tournament, which I thought went great, and they gave us an odd, but still enjoyable, regular season. Or irregular season, perhaps. Did they do everything perfectly? No. Could they have done it much, much worse? Yes.