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Six Degrees: Good and Bad

LAFC 4, Timbers 2

MLS: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles FC Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

You know how a lot of games are a tale of one good half and one bad half? This was a tale of a good 80 minutes and a bad 10 minutes. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 10 minutes.

1) Before we break down the LAFC loss, let’s remind ourselves of one thing. The Timbers played this game without three of their most important players. Yes, we lost, and yes, there were some bad moments. We’ll get into those. But as we do, keep remembering that things might have been much different with Blanco, Chara, and Mabiala.

Ready? Okay, let’s do it.

For some reason, the Timbers have always played LAFC pretty well. We sit deep, we shut down their big guns, and we hit ‘em on the counter. That’s been our playbook against LAFC.

But on Sunday? Not so much. We actually came out to play. Our defense came out and pressed a little, our attack played through LAFC’s pressure, stringing together passes. It was one of the more confident game plans I’ve seen from the Timbers, and for large parts of the game, it worked.

It worked especially well on Eryk Williamson’s 25th minute goal, which came after a 15-pass buildup. I’ll include the whole thing here so you can count the passes.

That was flippin’ gorgeous! On that goal, the Timbers didn’t look like the team that won the MLS is Back tournament, they looked better.

2) Up 1-0 and looking like that? I could not have been more confident. It looked like an easy win was in the bag.

And we didn’t really let up, either. Yeah, sure, we may have been a little less aggressive, but to my eyes, we didn’t pack it in, we didn’t bunker. We kept playing LAFC straight up and it kept working.

I will admit, though. LAFC didn’t look their best. They had a number of chances they didn’t put away. In fact, when the referee stopped things for a hydration break around the 35th minute, I took advantage of the break to pull out the ol’ laptop and get some of my thoughts down. Here’s what I wrote:

This is not the LAFC of last year. Last year’s LAFC punished any and all mistakes. This year’s LAFC doesn’t.

Sorry, everyone. It’s my fault. I wrote those words, the soccer gods read them, and decided to strike us down with great vengeance and furious anger. The next 10 minutes were an absolute blitzkrieg. Last year’s LAFC showed up and just smashed us. Here are all three goals in one gif. Don’t watch if you have a weak stomach.

That’s last year’s LAFC. That’s the team that left nothing but scorched earth on its way to the 2019 Supporter’s Shield. They only showed up for about 10 minutes on Sunday night, but that was enough.

3) However, there was one good thing to come out of that dismal end to the first half. The Timbers managed to pull one back just before the ref blew his whistle for halftime.

Inch-perfect cross from Jorge Villafaña. Inch-perfect header from Jeremy Ebobisse.

With every goal Jebo scores while playing on the wing, he’s making it more and more likely that he won’t get too many starts at striker. Can Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Felipe Mora play on the wing? Who knows? But Jebo can. And he can stay goal-dangerous while doing it.

4) After five goals in the first half, the second half was mostly about close calls. The Timbers had quite a few chances to draw even, starting with Dario Zuparic nearly scoring twice on this set piece.

Zoop’s pretty good in the air. And so’s Bill Tuiloma. And, hell, Larrys Mabiala’s scored a few headers, too, hasn’t he? No wonder Diego Valeri gets so many assists on set pieces. He’s got a ton of great targets to aim for.

Speaking of Valeri, he rattled the woodwork in the 62nd minute. And I mean literally. You can see the goal shaking in the replay.

So those were just two of our chances in the second. There was also a potential penalty when Niezgoda got taken down on a counter, but the ref didn’t think so, the VAR didn’t think so, and whoever was running the telecast didn’t think so, because nobody has seen a replay of it. If you’ve got video of that play, give us a link in the comments. I’d like to see if we got screwed or not.

I’ll give the Timbers credit. Despite that 3 goals in 10 minutes carpet bombing they endured in the first half, they never gave up, and kept fighting until the end.

Well, almost the end. I was disappointed with the Timbers on the goal LAFC scored late in 2nd-half stoppage time. We’d been pushing like hell and had a good chance on goal. When it didn’t work out, the team kind of deflated, and LAFC took advantage for a fourth goal, right at the death.

I saw a lot of joggers out there. Hell, a lot of walkers. Yeah, fellas, I know you’re tired, I know you’re disappointed, but goal differential might come back to haunt us later. Go hard to the final whistle. Please.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Remember what I said at the start? We were missing three of our best players. With Blanco, Chara, and Mabiala, maybe this is a very different game.
  • Chris Duvall played right back in the first half but was replaced by Pablo Bonilla at halftime. Was it a planned sub to give both players equal time? Was Gio unhappy with Duvall? Was Duvall injured? I have no idea who’s leading the race for that position. I’m not even sure who I prefer.
  • Steve Clark saved a shot outside the box. With his face. Hook that shit straight into my veins.

  • I now feel obligated to remind everyone of this moment from earlier in the year. I doubt Niezgoda’s forgotten it.

  • And as long as we’re taking a trip down memory lane, remember when LAFC coach Bob Bradley took one right in the schnozz?

  • Clearly, at some point I’m going to have to dedicate an entire column to my favorite times someone got smashed in the face with a soccer ball.

6) As we’ve noted before, the very worst way to play three games in a week is to have them on Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday. Alas, that’s exactly what we’re getting ready to do. We just had Sunday at LAFC, next up is Wednesday at San Jose, then on Saturday we’ll be at San Jose again.

Wait... two straight away games in San Jose? Yep. That’s what the schedule says.

I have no idea what the Timbers will do travel-wise. Teams have been trying to fly down in the morning, play their game, and fly back that evening. But with two straight in the same town? Maybe the Timbers will stay down there. I dunno.

What I do know is that the air quality’s probably going to be crap. Though maybe not as crappy as it will be here in Portland. Check out this video from Sunday night, comparing the air at Providence Park to the air LAFC’s stadium.

Thanks goodness climate change is a hoax, amiright?

Will we be able to play in San Jose Wednesday? The air was good enough for the Quakes to host a game on Sunday. But if it gets worse on Wednesday, what happens? Postpone it? Play here? Play at a 3rd site, one that, hopefully, isn’t on fire? Is Seattle on fire? How about Reno? Boise? Hell, maybe we’ll end up playing at some high school in South Dakota. Stay tuned.