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Six Degrees: Welcome Back

Timbers 2, Galaxy 1

MLS: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in months, I’ve got an actual game to talk about! Even more unusual, I’m facing a little bit of a deadline. Game ends late on Monday night and I want to get this published by noon on Tuesday? No time for fucking around, let’s write some words! (LATE EDIT: Turns out I didn’t quite make the noon deadline. Too much fucking around. Not enough words.)

1) My main over-arching thought on Monday night’s 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy is that it was the first time this season that we looked good. We got bombed by Minnesota in our first game, so that was bad. Then we had a 1-0 win over Nashville, but looked defensive and boring and cowardly for most of it. But Monday night, after the four-month COVID-19 break, the Timbers finally looked good.

Not entirely, of course. There were some bad stretches. The game moved in waves of energy. We had a ton of energy early, then faded a bit. LA had some energetic, effective moments, too, but on the whole was the lesser team until late, when we went a man down.

There were a few surprises in the starting XI. I thought Jaroslaw Niezgoda would start at striker, but no, it was Jeremy Ebobisse. I was quite pleased with this, of course. Gio seems to think of Jebo as a winger, but I prefer him up top.

A little more surprising was our right winger. I think we all expected Yimmi Chara, but got Marvin Loria, instead. He had one nice shot from distance, but was otherwise unimpressive.

A much bigger surprise, I think, was in the middle of the field, where Eryk Williamson started instead of Cristhian Paredes. I really thought Paredes was a write-his-name-in-ink starter for this team. I’m interested to know if there’s some drama in this story.

At right back, we got Chris Duvall, and the only drama there is the status of Jorge Moreira. First there were reports his loan had expired. Then there were reports he didn’t want to return to Argentina and his loan had been extended for the rest of the season. Now, it seems he’s gone. I really don’t know what to think. Maybe I should pay less attention to “reports” I see on Twitter.

2) The Timbers came out of the gates pretty strong, looking the better team for the game’s first ten minutes. That didn’t translate into goals, unfortunately, and the game’s first big break went LA’s way when, in the 11th minute, our new Croatian center back Dario Zuparic did this.

Does anyone on this planet know what a handball is, or are we all just making it up every time? It seems like we change the definition of a handball every season, without making it any less arbitrary and random. Like, on this one, did Zuparic’s elbows stop the flight of the ball? Yes. Did he do it intentionally? Probably not. Was he making himself bigger? Well, he was twisting away to avoid some pain, which makes me think no, but his elbows did increase his silhouette. I guess. Maybe. Actually, I have no fucking idea, and I’m pretty sure no one else does, either. Play that over 10 times and I have a feeling it would be called a handball five times and not a handball the other five times. Handballs are just like that. Other than perhaps offensive charging in basketball, I think handballs are the most difficult thing to judge in all of sports.

So, that was in the 11th minute. LA’s big new signing Chicharito converted the penalty shot to put his team up 1-0, right?

Wrong! It was Steve Clark time, baby! And he didn’t just give us one save, but two!

I have two thoughts.

One, I love what a nerd Gio is. He looks just like me when I’m watching a game. We’re both total dorks.

Secondly, fuck yeah, Steve Clark. Fuck yeah.

3) The game went to halftime 0-0 and I’m not sure what was discussed in the locker room, but the Galaxy came out flying in the second half, while the Timbers were completely flat. We’re lucky we didn’t give up a goal or two. Or three.

Things didn’t improve until exactly the 58th minute. Why do I say “exactly?” Because the 58th minute is when Yimmi Chara came into the game, and for the next eight minutes, the Timbers looked like Bayern Munich or Liverpool. Was Yimmi the reason? I dunno, man. I just know that one minute after he checked into the game, the Timbers put together one of the nicest sequences you’ll ever see.

Holy hell, would you look at that! That wasn’t just one nice play, it was like three nice plays rolled into one. First there was shortest-guy-on-the-field Yimmi Chara putting a header on goal. Not awesome enough for you? How about Diego Valeri’s sublime little backdoor pass to Sebastian Blanco? Still not enough? Okay, how about Seba picking up his head, dribbling down the endline toward the keeper, drawing the defense toward him, then putting a heat-seeking missle right onto Jeremy Ebobisse’s foot? Or maybe his shin. Or his knee. I’m not exactly sure how Jebo put that into goal and I don’t really care. He can score goals with his face if he wants, just keep scoring. (By the way, can I tell you how happy I am that Jebo’s still rocking the mountain man look? I want this so badly.)

Anyway, each of those plays would have been amazing all by themselves, but all three of them back to back to back? Heaven. Soccer heaven.

4) So that put us up 1-0. Eight minutes later, Sebastian Blanco put us up 2-0.

Seba on the end line is a friggin’ wonder. And it’s not just this goal, or the assist to Jebo eight minutes earlier. Seba’s been working the end line since the day he arrived in Portland. He’s the only Timber who does it, and he does it all the time. He’ll either dribble to the end line or receive a pass there, then instead of retreating or blindly kicking the ball toward goal hoping for the best, he’ll do the much harder, much braver thing. He’ll pick his head up, dribble down the line toward goal for a bit, get the defense to come toward him, then either make a pass or take a shot. He’s the only Timber who does this and I friggin’ love it every single time. I think we should name that move after him. Bergkamp and Panenka had soccer moves named after them. I think we should call this move the Seba. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

5) Those eight minutes were amazing and gave the Timbers a 2-0 lead, but we couldn’t keep up the energy forever. LA climbed back into the game, and then in the 74th minute, this happened.

The yellow Zuparic got earlier for the handball was questionable, and this second yellow was moderately questionable, too. At first, I would have said extremely questionable, as I thought it was just a couple guys clipping each others feet. But upon seeing the replay, I can see that Zuparic kind of reached back with his left foot. That’s not the foot that actually clipped Pavon, but still, after seeing the replay, I can kinda understand the yellow. But only kinda.

That put us down to 10 men, and the Galaxy dominated the rest of the way. In the early 80s, they scored not one, but two goals that were called back for offside. (Ironically, one of them happened when the announcers were talking to Gio on the sideline, and I commend our coach for not cursing on national TV.)

Then, in the 87th, they scored for real.

Really nice run from Chicharito there. He may not be able to sink PKs, but he’s not completely worthless.

Fortunately, that was the last time the Galaxy put the ball in the net and the Timbers held on for a 2-1 victory, putting us at the top of our group.

6) Some random thoughts.

  • Diego Chara. Three games, three yellows. Fucking legend.
  • There’s a chance the Timbers will only have five games this season, and if Chara gets five yellows, I think he should be named league MVP. I’m completely serious about this. Someone plays in every game of the season and gets a yellow in all those games? I feel certain this has never happened before in the entire history of soccer and will probably never happen again. Give him the MVP, you cowards.
  • We got our first look at new striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda. It was late in the game, and we were a man down, so I couldn’t really tell if he was any good or not. Did he make an impression on any of you? Tell me what you thought down in the comments.
  • Of all the surprise starters, I thought Eryk Williamson looked the best. Chris Duvall was solid, Marvin Loria was unimpressive, but Eryk looked good. He earned himself more playing time.
  • What’s up with Cristhian Paredes? He was on the bench, so I guess he’s not hurt, but he didn’t start or come on when Eryk was taken off in the 88th minute. Is his fitness a problem? Is he in Gio’s doghouse? I think of him as a sure-fire starter, but maybe that’s not true anymore.
  • If we do only end up playing five games (or six or seven or eight, depending on how we do in the rest of this tourney), I think we will call 2020 a lost season, one that history will mark with a whole lot of asterisks. The stats might count on career lists, but team-wise, I doubt anyone will be handed a Supporter’s Shield or an MLS Cup. I expect 2020 will go down as the year we didn’t have a season. Not a real one, at least.
  • But there is a bright side to that. If at some point the team agrees that this is a lost season, maybe they’ll spend the rest of this tourney playing the shit out of their kids. Eryk and Marvin got starts against LA. Maybe Marco Farfan, Tomas Conechny, Pablo Bonilla, and Zac McGraw are next. Maybe at some point the staff will be like, “fuck it, this season doesn’t really count, let’s throw our kids into the deep end and see what they’re made of.” I, for one, would applaud this.