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Six Degrees: Almost Time?

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MLS: Portland Timbers Training Handout Photo-USA TODAY NETWORK

1) After a long off-season writing a bunch of silly filler columns, almost immediately followed by a long quarantine writing even more silly filler columns, this time next week, I should be writing about an actual real-life Timbers game. Awesome, right?

Well, maybe. I can’t decide. As I wrote about the league’s first Orlando Plan, I’m rather torn about the whole thing. Yes, yes, I definitely miss soccer, but is it too risky to come back before our medical system has this thing licked? I genuinely can’t decide.

But you’ll be surprised to discover that MLS doesn’t consult with me on these matters, so whether I’m for it or against it, the MLS is Back Tournament is going to happen.

2) Or is it?

There has been a whole bunch of COVID-19 news this past week, very little of it good.

The Columbus Crew had someone test positive. Then FC Dallas had so many positives, people were wondering if they’d skip the tourney. Then Minnesota had someone test positive, ...except maybe not, since he tested negative next day. The NY Red Bulls had some false-positives, too.

In addition to medical news, there was travel news. Nashville was delaying their arrival in Orlando. Toronto, too.

But despite all the bad news, no teams were actually canceling.

Until Monday, that is. On Monday, it finally happened. Less than 48 hours before the start of the tournament, FC Dallas withdrew.

It’s unclear whether this is just the first domino falling. FC Dallas definitely has the most COVID cases, but other teams have a few. Will we lose some of those teams, too?

A big question in my head is, did all these people catch the virus before coming to Orlando? I’m no doctor and have no expertise here, but if I wanted to look for good news – and I do – this is what I’d latch onto, the idea that once the teams are in the Orlando bubble, they’re just as safe as they would be back in their hometowns.

The truth is, I have no idea how any of this is going to play out. You and I could be watching games later this week, or we could be watching the entire tournament fall apart.

But since I’m a soccer fan and not a public health expert, how about we spend the rest of this column acting as though the tournament will happen, that it will be safe, and that we will be watching Timbers games over the next few weeks.

Assuming all of that, what’s on my mind?

3) Well, I have some soccer-related reasons for optimism.

  • I like our schedule. We’ll face the Galaxy first – and they suck – we get Houston second – and they suck – so there’s a decent chance we’ll be 2-0-0 when we face our first really good team, LAFC.
  • Even better, our opponents are weakening by the day. Carlos Vela won’t be there for LAFC and Jonathan Dos Santos won’t be there for LAG. Our group’s getting more and more winnable.
  • And while their teams get weaker, our team may be getting stronger. Last time we talked, Jorge Moreira’s loan was over and the Timbers weren’t paying River Plate’s fee to keep him full time. Now, a couple weeks later, things are unclear. Some tweets are indicating he’ll be staying until August 15th, while others say he’s here until the end of the season. Either way, this is good news. If it’s true.

4) Here are some general questions.

  • If Moreira’s at right back, awesome. If he’s not, who will be? Chris Duvall? The recently-returned Bill Tuiloma? The recently-signed-to-the-first-team Pablo Bonilla? My money’s on Bill.
  • Will Diego Valeri continue scoring one goal a game? Will Diego Chara continue earning one yellow card a game? If they both continue this amazing trend for the rest of the season, which one will be named league MVP? My money’s on Diego.
  • This tournament will allow five subs a game. What’s that going to look like? Will Gio continue his somewhat questionable substitution pattern by waiting until second half stoppage, then using all five subs at once?

5) Here are some more specific questions concerning our newbies.

  • We’ll finally get to see striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who was an absolute beast in the Polish league. Will success there translate to MLS? Like, immediately? Brian Fernandez came to MLS and kicked ass from the very first game. Will Niezgoda?
  • More minutes will mean a quicker adjustment, but those minutes might be hard to come by, what with Felipe Mora set up as our starting striker. Will Felipe keep his job, or will Jarek take it? My money’s on Felipe to start the first game, Jarek to start the second, and who-knows-who to start the third. Hell, maybe Jeremy Ebobisse will get get that start, despite Gio’s insistence that he’s a winger.
  • Speaking of wingers, something I’m hoping to figure out during this tournament: is Yimmi Chara any good? I liked some of what I saw in the season’s first two games, but I’d like to see more shots on, and ideally into, goal. After two years of Andy Polo, the Timbers need a winger who’s truly goal-dangerous. Will Yimmi show us that in the tournament?

6) And finally, since I’m a fan, I have questions about the fan experience.

  • Do I want fake crowd noise? If it’s done well, I suppose I could live with it, but there’s another side of me that wants the silence. It might be fun to watch soccer in its purest form. No fans, no noise, just soccer. And if I could hear things as well as I do in this Thorns clip? Hell, yeah. Sign me up for some of this.

  • And my final question, do I want to watch this at my local bar? I don’t know if my local will be open and showing the first game, but if it is... should I go? From what I see in the news, bars are a pretty good place to start a COVID hot spot. Do I want to be part of that? I mean, I’ll be wearing a mask, of course, but if in the next couple weeks a new COVID hot spot starts in Portland and the epicenter turns out to be my local bar, I’m gonna feel like a real asshole.
  • On the other hand, God, do I miss watching soccer with friends. Sports is just so much better with other people. What do you think? I genuinely want your advice. If my local’s showing it, should I go, all masked up? Or wait until 2021?