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Six Degrees: Very Good, Very Bad

Timbers 5, Marathon 0 — Whitecaps 1, Timbers 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Weird week, man. The first game gave us a beautiful evening at the park and a dominating win. Five days later, we got a completely impotent loss to a team everyone predicted would be at the bottom of the standings. As the great man once said, soccer is wild, y’all.

1) It’s hard for me to overstate how wonderful it was to be back at Providence Park last Tuesday for the Champions League game against CD Marathon. The weather was sublime, the sights and sounds were like old friends, and the soccer? The soccer was an utter delight. After a hit-or-miss first leg down in Honduras, in this second leg, the Timbers were all hits, no misses.

With his three goals, Yimmi Chara was clearly the Man of the Match. That being said, dayum, Dairon Asprilla was feeling it! Dude was fast, dude was strong, dude was aggressive, and dude was probably the Man of the First Half.

If we get that Dairon on the regular, who the fuck needs Sebastian Blanco back from injury, amiright? Take all the time you need, Seba! Dairon’s got you covered!

2) Let’s go through our five goals one by one.

Even though he didn’t get an assist, the star of this first goal is clearly Dairon. Watch him storm down that sideline like a runaway train. That kid Tega Ikoba thinks he’s the fastest player on the team? Check out this play, Tega. You really think you can match that? Dairon was flying.

Helluva finish by Yimmi, right? Perfect balance, and beautifully placed into the side netting with his right foot. Why do I mention it was his right foot? Because on Yimmi’s next goal, he used his left.

The thing I want you to notice on this goal? The three-man weave Yimmi, Eryk Williamson, and Felipe Mora pull off. Eryk to the near post, Felipe to the far post, and Yimmi down the middle. Absolutely gorgeous. God help defenders who have to stop that.

3) As good as the Timbers were in the first half, they were even better in the second. It started with Diego Valeri and Josecarlos Van Rankin playing a little give-and-go.

That’s an utterly professional finish by Valeri, as casual as if he was buying a cup of coffee. Van Rankin’s looking pretty professional, too. I still haven’t decided about left back Claudio Bravo, but I’m fully on board with right back Van Rankin. Guy looks like he’s been playing here for years.

Next up, Yimmi’s third goal, which he got through pure scrappiness.

While it was wonderful and we should celebrate it, Yimmi did not score the Timbers first hat trick. Non-league games don’t really count. If they counted, Frederic Piquionne would have scored our first hat trick. He scored, like, four goals against the Wilmington Hammerheads in the US Open in 2013. So, yes, well done, Yimmi, but if you want to be the guy to break our hat trick drought, you’ll have to do it in a league game.

I said in last week’s column that Yimmi needed to live up to his DP paycheck by raising his game from good to great. Scoring three is a pretty good response, wouldn’t you say?

Final goal of the night goes to Marvin Loria. But the real star of this play? Cristhian Paredes’s gorgeous, inch-perfect, perfectly-weighted, over-the-top through-ball.

Up 5-0, it feels weird to complain, but I do have a suggestion for backup left back Ismaila Jome. Show a little more urgency on plays like that. Crash the box. The Marathon keeper very easily could have saved-and-spilled Loria’s shot. If Jome had been sprinting into the box there, he’d have picked up an easy tap-in goal. It’s a small thing, but small things matter when you’re a backup trying to earn more playing time.

4) As I watched us beat up on Marathon in the first half, then completely dominant them in the second, I couldn’t help wondering if we could be just as good against MLS teams. Clearly, Marathon wouldn’t be a good MLS team. But a bad MLS team? Could they be that? Are they the equivalent of Cincy or RSL or Vancouver? And if the Timbers can drop five on Marathon, could they drop five on Cincy, on RSL, and on Vancouver?

No. The answer is no.

Tuesday’s 5-0 win over Marathon and Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Vancouver could not have been more different. There was no sunny day at the park, just a bunch of frustrated fans trying to find a legal way to watch a road game. There was no home field advantage, just a low-oxygen 4,000-foot-elevation slog, since, due to COVID restrictions, Vancouver’s playing their home games in Utah this year. And there was no five-goal offensive clinic put on by the Timbers, just an impotent, frustrating 90 minutes of banging our heads against the Vancouver D.

Vancouver’s game plan was to sit deep, frustrate our attack, and try to score on a counter or a set piece. Their game plan worked to a T. The same Timbers who ran rampant against Marathon had very few ideas when facing a compact, well-drilled defense.

Most of our best chances happened in the first half. There was this early strike from Yimmi.

The bad news? Mora was offside, so it didn’t count. The good news? Yimmi could not have looked more confident striking that home. After his hatty against Marathon, then this almost-goal against Vancouver, Yimmi’s suddenly a friggin’ sniper.

Diego Valeri almost had a goal in the first half, though I don’t have video of it. Just know that, one, it might have been scored an own goal, and two, it came after an absolutely gorgeous through ball from center back Larrys Mabiala.

And the rest of our good first half chances belonged to Dairon Asprilla. Have a look at all three, then we’ll talk.

Regarding his first shot, I normally look down on long, hopeful shots from outside the box. But on the other hand, sometimes they work. Sometimes they turn into Sebastian Blanco’s playoff banger against SKC. Sometimes they turn into Jack Jewsbury’s Cascadia Cup-clincher in 2012. So, yeah, I guess I’ll forgive Dairon for the long, hopeful shot. It was almost a banger, and it would have changed the game.

His second shot, the header off the corner kick... dang, man, how did he do so poorly with that? He had a perfect chance to put that inside the post and completely scuffed it. Bummer.

And then his third shot, the bicycle at the top of the six-yard box, did he really need to bike there? Would it have been better to head it in? Or maybe chest it down, then toe-poke it in? He had only milliseconds in which to decide, but I think Dairon chose poorly. Something simpler might have gotten him a better chance.

5) I was hoping Gio would use halftime to fix some of our issues, but alas, alack, not only did we not find our scoring boots, we came out of the locker room and immediately started giving Vancouver big chances. Less than four minutes into the second half, they went up 1-0.

When you’re watching this goal, keep a close eye on the back post.

Who the hell do we blame here? Lucas Cavallini could not have been more open, and there’s no real mystery how he got there. He stood at the back post, marked by both Larrys Mabiala and Felipe Mora, then he dashed away from goal, to a spot maybe five yards back, and was followed there by... no one. Larrys didn’t follow him, Felipe didn’t follow him, and there he was, wide open, absolutely smashing a header into the back of the net. Just abysmal set-piece defending.

My instinct tells me it’s Mabiala who should have followed Cavallini when he dashed away, but I’m not sure. Maybe some of you have got ideas. Let me know down in comments.

While you’re down there, maybe let me know what you think this year’s theme will be. 2020’s theme was “Dropping Points Late In Games.” The theme of this year’s first Marathon game was “Allowing Goals Immediately After Scoring,” the theme of the second Marathon game was “We’re An 11-Man Buzzsaw And You’d Best Get the Fuck Outta Our Way,” and the theme of this MLS Season-Opening Vancouver game was “Just Kidding, We’re Kind Of Lame, Actually, And We Suck At Defending Set Pieces.”

So, clearly, the 2021 Timbers haven’t quite figured out who they are. I, for one, am hoping we’re a buzzsaw.

6) Some random thoughts.

  • In that 5-0 Marathon game, there were three goals and various injuries in the second half, but not only did the ref not add any stoppage time, he actually blew the whistle at 89:50. I saw it on the game highlights. The clock hit 89:50 and dude was like, “Fuck it, we’re done here,” and blew the game dead. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
  • You know who’s awesome? Marathon fans. They’re awesome.
  • You know who I hope gets healthy soon? Jeremy Ebobisse. Because we’re damn short on attacking subs. Down a goal against Vancouver, we were bringing on d-mids and center backs. Gio was desperate enough to throw Bill Tuiloma into a three-man backline so Jome and Van Rankin could go forward as wingbacks. A thin bench is fine when you’re winning 5-0. It’s less so when you’re down a goal late in the game.
  • But speaking of attackers, we did have a second striker out there. Yimmi Chara. Did you see the times when he would move up and play striker while Felipe Mora would fall back to the midfield? Very cool. And we know Valeri can be a false nine, too. When Jebo and Seba get healthy, we’ll have five or six guys who can drift up and play a little striker now and then. Which is nice.
  • Speaking of Mora, damnnation, did he almost tie it up late.

  • Mora’s miss aside, that was a helluva pass from Diego Chara, wasn’t it?
  • And finally, as we begin our MLS season, let’s take a moment to celebrate Jack, who’s back for another year. The guy’s an #RCTID legend.