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Six Degrees: And So It Begins

Portland 2, CD Marathon 2

Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland Timbers

1) After what seemed like the longest off-season ever, last Tuesday, the Timbers finally had a real, live soccer game. I previewed it last week, but not all of my predictions came true.

I predicted CD Marathon would be a high-pressing team, but in truth, they were pretty average defensively, setting their line of confrontation somewhere around midfield.

I predicted the Timbers would be rusty and out of shape, getting overrun at the start of the game, but in truth, we came out like gangbusters, absolutely dominating the game’s first 20-30 minutes.

I predicted a whole bunch of CONCACAFy stuff, be it pushing, shoving, diving, flopping, bad reffing, or animals invading the pitch. In truth, the only CONCACAFy thing we saw was grass so long it would stop the ball dead if you tried kicking it more than 10 yards along the ground. By CONCACAF standards, that’s pretty tame.

And I predicted a 1-1 final score, with the Timbers happy to come back to Portland with an away goal in their pocket. In truth, the Timbers are coming back to Portland with two away goals, so I’ll bet they’re feeling hella optimistic entering this week’s follow-up game at home.

2) Let’s talk about the start of last Tuesday’s game. My God, did the Timbers come out strong. They looked like friggin’ Bayern Munich out there, absolutely dominating from the opening whistle. Honestly, we could’ve scored two or three in the opening 10 minutes, and could’ve, maybe even should’ve been up 5-0 at the half hour mark.

One nice thing we were doing? Line-spitting, over-the-top balls. One of those almost led to a Yimmi Chara goal in the fourth minute.

Yimmi was involved again when Diego Valeri tried some Zlatan kung fu shit in the 11th.

Dairon Asprilla kinda man-vs-boy’d his defender in the 25th minute.

Dairon was dangerous in the opening half, but I’m actually a little annoyed with him because of the play where he could’ve made a perfect layoff to Yimmi, but didn’t. I wish I had video of that. It was wonderfully infuriating.

Anyway, all that cool shit up above? None of that was our best almost-goal. Our best almost-goal belongs to my guy Eryk Williamson who, after a preseason of coming off the bench, finally got the start, then put up one of the coolest shots I’ve seen in quite some time.

You see that shit, right? He shoots the ball with the outside of his right foot while not even facing goal. He shoots it sideways. Goodness me, that’s impressive.

Anyway, that’s my collection of gifs showing you how we could’ve been up 5-0 in the opening half hour. Unfortunately, there’s one common theme in all those gifs: the ball never actually goes in. Which means they’re not goals.[citation needed]

3) Our first goal didn’t come until the 35th minute, courtesy of Felipe Mora.

What did I say about Mora a couple weeks ago? He doesn’t seem all that amazing, but then you look up and he’s leading the team in goals. I won’t be all that surprised if Mora ends up scoring a very quiet, very unimpressive 15-20 goals this year.

So Mora’s goal put the Timbers up 1-0, but since these are the Timbers, you know what happened, right? Yep, we’d barely finished cheering when the defense allowed Marathon to tie it up.

Fuckin’ shit, man. Is this an omen? Is our defense gonna do heart-breaking shit like this all year? Have I got a full season ahead of me watching opposing players standing completely uncovered in the six-yard box?

Who’s to blame here? Should Dario Zuparic have backed up and covered that dude? Should Claudio Bravo have come forward to cover him ? Or does Larrys Mabiala shoulder most of the blame? He might be covering that guy at the top of the box, but I’m not sure. Help me out, folks. Who should I blame here?

4) Well, that was just the game’s first goal/follow-up goal. Yep, there was a second. And, yep, it was just as annoying.

It started with a Valeri free kick.

This was scored an own goal, which sorta makes sense. Valeri’s shot hit the crossbar, which means it wasn’t a shot on goal. Except it only hit the crossbar because the goalkeeper pushed it up there, which I think means it is a shot on goal. But then it bounces off the crossbar, hits the keeper in the arm, and goes into goal, making it a goal. Or an own goal. Which is it? I have no idea. All I know is that it made the game 2-1 Timbers.

But only for about seven or eight minutes.

This is gonna be the story of 2021, isn’t it? 2020 was all about giving up goals in the final 15 minutes. 2021’s gonna be about taking a lead, then immediately giving up a goal. That’s what we’ve got to look forward to this year, isn’t it? If so, could someone just go ahead and punch me in the face over and over? Could we get that out of the way now? Thanks.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Eryk Williamson got the start and looked fabulous, doing great stuff at both ends of the field. And to my eyes, it looks like his defensive chops have improved. Over and over last Tuesday, we saw him getting back and putting out fires. Guy put in work.
  • His d-mid partner Diego Chara played exactly like he did last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. The guy literally doesn’t age. Scientists need to take tissue samples and study them in a lab. Diego Chara may hold the key to human immortality.
  • Speaking of Charas, I was mostly pleased with Yimmi’s play. Good energy, good combinations, very dangerous at the start. I hope we’re going to see a jump from him this year. He’s a DP, you know. At his salary, good’s not really enough. We need him to be great.
  • There’s an argument to be made that Steve Clark was the Man of the Match. Without him making a couple ridiculous saves, we might have left Honduras with a loss.

  • Our new right back Josecarlos Van Rankin had a decent first game for the team. He was very good in the first half, a bit less so in the second, then had a couple sketchy moments after switching to left back late. On whole, though, I’m pleased.
  • On the other hand, our new left back Claudio Bravo didn’t make a good impression on me. He had that questionable moment on Marathon’s first goal, and other than that... was he even out there? I honestly don’t remember him doing much of anything. For some defenders, being invisible is a good thing. For a guy who was advertised as being an elite-level MLS fullback, I want to see a bit more. I want to be aware that he’s actually on the field.

6) So how do we feel going into Tuesday’s 2nd leg here in Portland? I, for one, am feeling pretty damn good.

One, the game’s at home, there will be actual fans in the stadium, and I’ll be one of them. That alone makes this game a winner, even before we kick off.

Secondly, this time around, it won’t be the Timbers traveling on a cramped plane for hours, it’ll be Marathon. And they had a game this past weekend, so they might be a little tired.

Third, this game won’t be played in a cow pasture that hasn’t been grazed in a few weeks, it’ll be on a field where the ball will actually roll for more than 20 yards. That’s got to help us a bit.

And finally, in a two-game series where away goals are the tiebreaker, the Timbers enter this second leg with a huge advantage: two away goals in their pocket. This means Marathon has to win to advance. Any Portland victory, no matter the score? We advance. A 0-0 draw? We advance. A 1-1 draw? We advance. A 2-2 draw? It goes to spot kicks.

Prediction time:

  • I predict the same Starting XI we saw in Honduras.
  • I predict both Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse will make their season debuts, though only for mop-up duties late in the game.
  • I predict goals by Felipe Mora and Larrys Mabiala.
  • I predict a 2-1 victory and advancement to the next round of CCL.
  • I predict being back at the park for the first time in over a year will be utterly delightful, even with the place only 25% full.
  • I predict I will really want a beer, but will not buy one, since they cost, like, $12 and I’m not made of money.
  • I predict that my previous prediction might be wrong. I may cave. A beer at the park with 6,000 of my closest friends sounds awful damn nice.