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Six Degrees: Shutout City USA

Portland 1, Seattle 0 — Portland 1, Vancouver 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of giving up goals like it was their job, the Timbers just had two shutouts in four days. Let’s hope it’s the start of something long-term.

1) I haven’t pored through old box scores to confirm this, but it sure does feel like the Timbers are getting the game’s first goal a lot this year. And we did it twice this past week. In last Wednesday’s game with Seattle, we opened the scoring in the 13th minute.

First of all, how great is Jeremy Ebobisse? The guy plays multiple positions, he scores with his left foot, his right foot, and his head, and he can make gorgeous, line-splitting, perfectly-weighted passes like this one. Add in the fact that he’s an awesome dude and it’s no surprise that the guy’s quickly climbing up my all-time favorite Timbers list.

But enough about Jebo, let’s talk about the goalscorer, Yimmi Chara.

Game by game, we’re starting to see all the tools in Yimmi’s attacking toolbox. Earlier in the year, before he started scoring, I admired his ball control in tight spaces. On his first goal, a week ago, I admired how he used his body positioning to fake out his defender and get himself a free run at goal. On this most recent goal, I’m admiring how he didn’t take an extra touch. The pass was nicely-weighted, so he just got his body right and first-touched it into goal.

When it took Yimmi multiple games to open his Timbers account, I think we were all a bit worried that he wasn’t the attacker we needed. Now, after three goals in three games, we’re seeing that maybe he is. Maybe he’s got the skills needed to score a lot of goals in this league. Let’s hope that’s exactly what happens.

2) So Yimmi’s goal gave us an early lead. From that point on, though, it was all Seattle. We were on our heels the entire game and Seattle had a huge number of chances. In fact, how about I just put together a SUPER MEGA COMPILATION of their chances? Sound good?

Steve Clark was named to the MLS Team of the Week, and those six saves he made against Seattle were probably a big part of that, but did you see any difficult saves there? Seattle kept kicking it right into his belly.

We’re so lucky Seattle didn’t bring their finishing boots. Raul Ruidiaz is normally a terrifyingly cold-blooded finisher, but he let us off the hook multiple times last Wednesday. I’m not complaining, of course. These things sometimes happen to strikers, and I’m glad it happened to Ruidiaz and Morris and Bruin when they were playing us. But I think we should acknowledge that we were a little lucky.

3) Some random thoughts from the Seattle game.

  • Check out this “shot” from Jaroslaw Niezgoda.

What do you think: a bad shot by Jarek? Or a good pass across the face of goal that no one tapped in?

  • Now check out Ruidiaz kicking Pablo Bonilla in the 54th minute.

That was such an obvious red card, such an easy call, and yet Alan Chapman managed to blow it. Turns out, the MLS Disciplinary Committee agrees. They fined Ruidiaz and suspended him for his next game. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the Timbers, it helps the next team Seattle plays. Which is bad for us, actually. If I were MLS Commisioner, I’d change the rule so if a player gets an after-the-fact suspension, he has to serve it the next time his team plays the aggrieved team, even if that’s the following year. If anybody’s going to miss the next game, it should be the ref who blew the call.

  • And here’s your weekly cool stat from #StatMan Mike Donovan.

4) So that was Wednesday’s Cascadia clash. On to Sunday’s Cascadia clash!

Once again, adding more evidence to my developing theory, the Timbers scored first. This time it was Felipe Mora redirecting an Eryk Williamson free kick into goal.

Remember a few weeks ago when I was talking about how Zuparic and Mabiala and Cascante and Tuiloma were all good in the air? And we all know how good Ebobisse is with his head. Well, apparently that’s not enough airborne threats, because now Mora’s getting headed goals, too. Pity the team with short defenders.

More significant than all the headers, though, is how many goals we’re scoring off set pieces. We’ve become absolutely deadly from corners and free kicks. And apparently, it doesn’t even need to be Diego Valeri serving it up. Eryk can deliver the ball, too.

I’ll tell you what, folks, it’s a lot of fun to watch teams that hold the ball and kill you with a thousand passes, but that’s not the only way to win. You can win a whole lot of games just by being good at set pieces and counterattacks, and right now, the Timbers are doing both at an elite level. If our defense can hold things together in the back – and I’ll remind you, we just had two straight shutouts – the 2020 Timbers could set piece and counterattack their way to some serious silverware.

5) So, just like in the Seattle game, the Timbers were up 1-0 early in the game. Against Seattle, the rest of the game felt like we were desperately hanging on. Against Vancouver? Not the same vibe. Yes, we were only up a goal for 80+ minutes, but it never felt terribly desperate. I was not constantly on the edge of my seat, the back line was not constantly putting out fires, Steve Clark was not constantly making saves. Against Vancouver, things felt much calmer.

Why the difference? I think it comes down to talent. Against Vancouver, the best 4 guys on the field were all Timbers. And this was our B-team, mind you. Once some of our starters got subbed in, we had the best 7 or 8 guys on the pitch. That’s not the case with Seattle. Lodeiro and Ruidiaz and Morris all terrify me. Who on Vancouver’s team terrifies me? No one.

So, yeah, I was tense, hoping we could add on to our 1-0 lead, but the game never felt like it did against Seattle. We were just the better team. We had the better players. We hung on, but in a much more comfortable way.

6) Some random thoughts from the Vancouver game.

  • Midweek against Seattle, we used our first choice lineup, but went second choice against Vancouver, which I think speaks volumes about Vancouver’s lowly position on the Cascadia food chain. I’ve always thought that the most vicious thing the Timbers Army could do during Vancouver games would be to take the “Fuck Seattle” chant and change the words to “Not Our Rivals.” Disrespect Level: Galactic.
  • If you didn’t get to watch this game, you missed a very odd sight. It took place at Providence Park, but was considered a Vancouver home game. And as such, all the signage was switched from Timber green to Whitecap blue. Here’s what the stadium looked like on TV. Weeeeeeeird.

  • A few games back, we were treated to a Chara to Chara goal. Against Vancouver, we almost got it again, only this time in reverse.

Take the shot, Diego! I know it goes against your nature, but do it!

  • Speaking of goalscorers, 2020 is shaping up to be a bit like 2013. In that year – if my memory is correct – the Timbers set an MLS record with five players scoring seven or more goals (Valeri, W Johnson, R Johnson, Nagbe, and Wallace). There may not be enough games in this pandemic-shortened year, but in a full 34-game season, I could totally see Valeri, Ebobisse, Niezgoda, Mora, and Yimmi all getting seven-plus goals. And if Seba hadn’t gotten hurt, he could’ve gotten there, too. All of which is to say that the Timbers have a well-balanced attack. Which is nice.
  • And finally, Steve Clark’s feeling a bit sassy on Instagram.