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Six Degrees: By the Skin of Our Teeth

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Portland 1, Cincinnati 1 (4-2 shootout)

SOCCER: JUL 28 MLS - Portland Timbers v FC Cincinnati Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tuesday’s column breaking down the LAFC game came out less than eight hours before the Cincinnati game, which to be honest, felt a little weird. So this week, I’m gonna do two columns. Imma bang out a quick Cincinnati column right now, then on Tuesday, I’ll break down the upcoming NYCFC game. Forgive me if this one feels a little ramshackle. I’m doing it quick.


1) The Cincy game played out about how we expected. Cincinnati bunkered, then they bunkered, and after that, they bunkered some more. As far as we know, they’re still bunkering right now, back home with their families in Cincinnati. Their children are probably like, “Daddy, why are you being so weird?” and they’re like, “Sorry, kid, but the bunkering’s kind of in my DNA by now. I can’t turn it off. Now, get the hell out of my penalty box.”

Last year, the Timbers would have responded to all this bunkering with 47 crosses. This year was a little better. Yes, there were some long, hopeful-at-best crosses from the sideline (I’m looking at you, Chris Duvall) but for the most part, we saw the guys trying to connect passes in the box, trying to be brave, trying to keep up the great soccer we’ve seen during this tournament. Did it turn into goals? No. But at least it was nice to watch. At least it didn’t feel like I was banging my head against a wall over and over.

2) At the 60 minute mark, the game was still tied, but I felt pretty good. We seemed the better team. I was optimistic we’d break through.

This this happened.

Was this as devastating for you as it was for me? I was cursing soccer, calling it a bullshit game, the cruelest game, wondering why I bother following it at all. I was truly ready to throw a brick through the TV and never watch soccer again.

Thank God for VAR, amiright? Dude was clearly offside and the refs caught it. Well done, fellas. (Also, how great was it that, for maybe the first time ever, we got to hear the on-field ref and the video ref discussing it in their earpiece? Loved it. Next improvement I’d like to see: the ref describing his decision to the crowd over the PA, just like they do all the time in American football.)

3) So it was still 0-0, and five minutes later, the Timbers broke through. Remember a couple weeks ago when I was talking about how Sebastian Blanco had this signature move where he gets on the endline, picks his head up, dribbles into the box, and looks for either a pass or a shot? Welp, he did it again, and, as usual, it was glorious.

Another thing I wrote a couple weeks ago? That Jaroslaw Niezgoda might not be a finisher. Two games and two goals later, he’s making me look pretty dumb.

Man, I loved his first touch here, then loved the quick second touch, not even letting it hit the ground, just toe poking it in. I’m suddenly all in on Niezgoda. He has a calm confidence about him that I really like. Jeremy Ebobisse’s still my guy, but I’m now pondering the idea of a 4-4-2, trying to figure out how we could get both our strikers on the field at the same time. If we did it, I think Yimmi Chara’s the guy you’d need to take off. I like much of what Yimmi’s bringing to the the table, but replacing him with Niezgoda might make us much more goal-dangerous. Some of you will say it’s Diego Valeri we should sit, but I dunno, man. The old fella’s still banging in goals. Yimmi ain’t.

4) Okay, sorry about this, but it’s time. We have to talk about the Steve Clark fuck up.

Dear God in heaven, what was he doing there? He had to have thought it was a back pass, right? He had to have. Why else would he not just catch the ball there? And yet, on the replay, it’s clearly a Cincinnati player who kicks it. So what the fuck was Clark thinking?

I dunno, man. Do any of you have a good theory on this? Because I got nothing.

5) Anyway, the converted PK made it 1-1 and I figured Cincy would just bunker the rest of the way, but strangely, they kind of didn’t. The game was surprisingly open after that. We had some chances, but the best chance of the night was the Cincy guy who was wide the fuck open on the back post and somehow, against all odds, found a way not to score.

Apparently soccer’s not the cruelest sport. Unless you’re a Cincinnati fan, I guess.

So the game ended 1-1 and we went to PKs,

(Can I just say that it feels weird calling end-of-game shootouts PKs? There aren’t any penalties involved, so by definition, they’re not penalty kicks. Should we call them spot kicks instead? Maybe?)

Anyway, here are the three most important moments from the shootout.

You think Steve Clark’s feeling a little lucky after all that? He looks like a guy who just got out of prison.

One last, rather small thing: we only needed four guys during the shootout. If we’d needed five, who do you think it would have been? We used, in order, Valeri, Blanco, Felipe Mora (who I thought was still back here in Portland), and Niezgoda. Who was next? Andy Polo? Diego Chara? Jorge Villafaña? Steve Clark, just to get in the opposing keeper’s head? I honestly don’t know. Who do you think our fifth guy would have been?

6) Okay, let’s finish with some random thoughts.

  • This first half pass from Valeri to Yimmi was so sweet I think it gave me diabetes.

  • Has this video clip been sent to the US Soccer Hall of Fame yet? It really should be. Absolutely cracks me up, every time I see it.

  • Cool stat here. Apparently this is what happens when the opposing team has a bunker inside their bunker, which is itself inside a third, slightly larger bunker.

  • Now we’re on to the quarterfinals, where we’ll face NYCFC on only three days rest. I was hoping we’d be able to pull our starters early in the Cincinnati game, but nope. They actually had to play a little extra. So that sucks. But at least we’re moving on, and maybe the short rest will end up helping us. A few days ago, Seattle had a whole lot more rest than LAFC, but came out sleepwalking. Maybe the same will happen to NYCFC on Saturday. We can hope so.
  • NYCFC will give us a very different look than Cincy did, and Gio’s got three days to plan for it. Any predictions on a Starting XI? Think Gio will figure out a way to get two strikers on the field together?