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Six Degrees: Top of the Group

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Portland Timbers v Houston Dynamo - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

1) In last week’s column, I described our 2-1 win over the Galaxy as being the first time all year that we looked good. Welp, let’s run that flag up the pole again, because we’ve had two straight 2-1 wins, and in both of them, we looked genuinely good. Perfect? No. But good? Yes. And at times, great.

My favorite thing from these past two games? The way we’re attacking. One of my biggest complaints about the Timbers since Gio took over in 2018 is how boring and predictable our attack has been. Sitting deep and countering? We’ve been good at that. But trying to create opportunities against a set defense? No. Not at all. We’ve been terrible at that.

Until these last two games, that is. Last week against the Galaxy and this week against the Dynamo, our front four of Jeremy Ebobisse, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Yimmi Chara has been delightfully dangerous in the box. Adding to the mix is two-straight-starts-so-maybe-he’s-our-new-number-eight Eryk Williamson. That fivesome looks great together. Quicker passing, better runs, guys moving and making themselves available. Is it happening 100% of the time? No. But it’s definitely happening more than it used to. More than it happened in our first two games back in March.

2) And here’s my favorite example of it from Saturday’s game. These Jebo/Yimmi/Seba/Eryk interchanges didn’t result in a goal, but holy hell were they fun to watch. Keep doing this, and the goals will come.

Jebo’s a goddamn beast in that clip. Penned in by two, three, four defenders, and he’s still making calm, precise passes to open teammates. Fanendo Adi was good at receiving a ball with a defender on his back, then laying it off to a teammate, but Jebo’s got the potential to do it even better. He certainly showed it in that last clip.

So, all of this has been my very inexpert thoughts on the attack, but if you want to hear from an actual soccer expert, watch this video from Matt Doyle. Better video, better analysis, but the same basic conclusion. After two years of being really, really ugly, the Timbers attack is looking a whole lot better.

3) Okay, let’s break down the goals. All that shit I was saying about organized buildup in the box? None of that applies to Jebo’s 35th minute goal. It was just a moment of individual brilliance.

Gorgeous pass from Seba, then a friggin’ rocket of a finish.

The Timbers paid a lot of money this offseason to bring in Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Felipe Mora, but now Jebo’s started two straight at striker and scored both times. It seems to me that he’s earned the starting spot until one of those other guys can take it away from him.

4) In our last game, we scored a goal right after Yimmi came in. This time, it was right after Yimmi went out. He checked out in the the 60th minute and literally one minute later, Diego Valeri was putting the ball into the back of the net.

Be sure to notice the beautifully placed and weighted long ball from Larrys Mabiala. Eryk Williamson played it perfectly by not touching it at all, just letting it softly drop to the grass. One cutback pass later and Valeri’s got his 79th MLS goal.

5) Earlier, I mentioned striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda. It’s hard to judge a striker when you only see them late in games where we’ve got a lead. That said, Niezgoda had an absolutely awful miss in the 84th minute. I can’t find good video of it, but here’s some SkyCam footage.

Sorry for the awful video quality, but really, it’s Niezgoda who should be apologizing. That’s some Lucas Melano-level finishing right there. If Niezgoda wants to beat out Jebo and Mora to become our starting striker, he’s got to finish the few chances he gets, and that chance was on a silver platter.

Of course, the goal might have been waved off anyway, due to the Jorge Villafaña handball that occurred just a minute or so earlier, the one VAR checked immediately after Niezgoda’s big miss.

The fuck’s your hand doing way up there, Jorge? Honestly.

Welp, Steve Clark didn’t save Alberth Elis’s PK, so it was 2-1 Timbers, but that’s not the real story here. The real story is that one minute after Elis scored that PK, he got a yellow card. And one minute after that? He got another yellow! I swear this is true. Elis scored in the 86th minute, got a yellow in the 87th, and got a second yellow in the 88th. #StatMan Mike Donovan’s pretty sure it’s the first time this has happened in MLS. To which I say, can we please make this a more common occurrence? Because I think it’s fucking awesome.

6) Some random thoughts.

  • I’ve decided I prefer the broadcasts without fake crowd noise. It just seems a little more honest. Like, why lie to people, making them think there’s a crowd? Even better? With no fake crowd noise, you can get raw audio like this.

  • As that clip showed, Saturday’s soccer game featured three languages: English, Spanish, and Profanity.
  • For the first time this season, Diego Chara made it through a game without earning a yellow card. Jesus, Diego, are you even trying? Do you even care? You’ve always been my favorite Timber, but if you’re not willing to get a yellow card each and every game, I may have to take my fandom elsewhere. Consider yourself warned.
  • Two straight games without Cristhian Paredes either starting or coming off the bench. I think this is officially a real controversy.
  • 20-year-old right back Pablo Bonilla got his first MLS start and looked pretty decent. Had a few sketchy moments, but many more good ones. Sadly, he took a helluva kick to the knee, so I doubt he’ll be starting in Thursday night’s LAFC game.
  • Actually, let’s talk about the LAFC game. The Timbers have already qualified for the quarterfinals, and LAFC’s probably making it, too, assuming they don’t lose very, very badly to us – like, 6-2 badly – which I don’t see happening. If the Timbers want to win the group – and I’m not sure if there’s an advantage to winning it – we’ll need at least a draw. But I’m inclined to think we’ll go into this game not really caring about getting the first seed. If that’s the case, let’s predict a Starting XI. Here’s mine. Give me yours down in comments.

Attinella

Duvall – Cascante – Zuparic – Farfan

Paredes – Zambrano

Polo – Conechny – Loria

Niezgoda