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Six Degrees: First Win

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Timbers 2, Dynamo 1

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

1) We’re gonna do something different with the first degree today. I’m gonna let you inside my brain. My mysterious, befuddling, and somewhat disturbing brain.

In the last few years, since I left the TA section and entered the exciting world of reserved seating, I haven’t always arrived at Timbers games early. I mean, why show up an hour early if I don’t have to, right? But this past week, I made a point of showing up early, and was thus able to play one of my favorite games, a game I like to call “See If I Can Guess The Starting XI Based Solely On How The Players Are Warming Up.”

Normally, this game’s super-easy, since the Timbers are usually starting the same guys each and every match. This past Saturday, though? I had no idea who was starting. Yes, we wanted to beat Houston, but we might also want to rest some guys in preparation for Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League game against Liga MX giants Club America. This meant playing my dumb little game was going to be a challenge.

When the players first come out of the locker room, there’s a period where they all mill about, kicking the ball around, laughing it up, no big deal. Then at a certain point, the starters head over to the sideline, where the fitness coach starts running them through some warm up drills. All ten field players head over there, plus one random guy who I guess is there... well, I’m not sure why he’s there, but he is. The past few years, that extra guy’s always been Andres Flores. This year, who knows? Could be anyone.

So the 10+1 guys head over to start their drills and I immediately start playing my game.

Okay, there’s Yimmi, there’s Diego, there’s Larrys. Wait, where’s Valeri? Oh, shit, he’s over on the other side of the field with the backups! And Zuparic is with him! And Felipe! And Eryk!

Yes, this is really how the conversation took place in my head, exclamation points and all. And, yes, I’m a giant fucking nerd.

Seeing that so many normal starters were chilling with the backups, I turned my attention back to the warmup group.

Marvin, check. Dairon, check. Paredes, check. Wait, wait... Pablo Bonilla’s starting?

A quick look over at the backups and I see, yes, Jose Van Rankin’s gonna be on the bench.

Okay, so who else is with the starters? Who’s the blond kid? Number 98? Who is that?

Bit of a pause.

Ohmyfuckingod, is that Blake Bodily?!? Is Blake Bodily going to start?!? Or is he the 11th guy who’s always over there for no clear reason?

At this point, I start going position by position.

Back line? Check, check, check, and check. D-mids? Well, that’s Diego and Cristhian, right? Except Renzo Zambrano’s also out there. Are we going with three d-mids? What about attackers? Dairon, Yimmi, Marvin, and... and... wait, the only other attacker is Bodily. Are we really starting Blake Fucking Bodily?

Now, dear reader, I know at this point that I could just pull out my phone and look at the Starting XI on Twitter, but where’s the fun in that? My little game, my stupid and pointless little game, is also a whole lot of fun if you’re a giant nerd, which I am.

It was around this point that I realized there wasn’t a single striker in the warm up crew, at which point, my inner nerd practically passed out from excitement.

Is Blake Bodily going to start at striker?!? Is this going to happen?!? No, wait, maybe Yimmi’s going to be our striker, which would put Bodily as our... our #10! The shortest guy on the pitch Yimmi Chara’s going to be our center forward and never-started-an-MLS-game-in-his-life Blake Bodily’s going to be Diego Valeri’s replacement at the 10 spot!

I don’t think anyone around me could tell, but on the inside, I was losing my fucking mind. It was awesome.

Anyway, that all happened pregame. When the match finally started, I saw the truth, which was that Yimmi and Blake kind of shared the 9 and 10 roles. For a few minutes, Yimmi would be up top, playing the 9, while Blake would be in the middle of things, playing the 10. Then they’d switch. I never figured out a pattern on when and why they switched positions, but that’s what they did.

And how did it work? How did Gio’s roster rotation experiment work? Pretty good, actually. Both those guys looked decent. I’m sure Blake was blind with nerves the first five minutes or so, but after that, he didn’t look out of place. He even got himself a secondary assist.

The rest of Gio’s roster rotations worked out, too. He replaced Yimmi with Valeri at halftime, which means 45 minutes of rest for both guys. He also replaced Larrys Mabiala with Dario Zuparic, shifting Bill Tuiloma from LCB to RCB. Again, this gives both Larrys and Zoop 45 minutes of rest. Our only true striker, Felipe Mora, got a full 60 minutes of rest before replacing I’ll-play-whereever-the-hell-Gio-wants-me-to-play-I’m-just-glad-to-finally-get-on-the-field Blake Bodily. Eryk Williamson got 75 minutes of rest before replacing Marvin Loria, and Jose Van Rankin got a full 82 minutes of rest before replacing Pablo Bonilla.

All in all, I’d call this a hell of job by Gio. If we’d lost, I might be singing a different tune, but we didn’t lose, we won, and also managed to keep most of our heavy hitters rested before Wednesday’s big matchup with Club America. Well done, Gio.

And, yes, I did just spend 900 words talking about warm-ups. #ThugLife

2) Experimenting with the lineup is a whole lot easier when your team can bag a goal six minutes into the game, which is exactly what Team-MVP-After-Two-Games Dairon Asprilla did.

Seriously, though, what the hell’s gotten into Dairon? The dude is crushing it. I’ve never seen him put together a four-game stretch like this. Crushing it for a game here, a game there? Sure, Dairon’s done that before. But he’s been pretty much the best guy on the pitch for both Marathon games and both MLS games. What gives? Did Gio figure out some special, super-secret button to push? Or is Dairon just making a leap to the next level at the very late age of 28? Whatever’s going on, count me in. I’ll take all of that you’ve got.

3) An early 1-0 lead while rotating your lineup? I’ll take all of that you’ve got, too. Unfortunately, it only lasted 22 minutes before Houston tied it up. Actually, this was officially scored an own goal against Cristhian Paredes, but I’m not seeing it. Can you tell who headed this in? Because I can’t.

Whoever put it in, that made the game 1-1.

Worth noting: see who’s in goal there? Jeff Jeff Jeff! Yep, with Steve Clark pulling something against Vancouver, 2018 MLS Cup starter Jeff Attinella was back between the sticks.

And he did pretty well, too. As I said last week, soft tissue injuries can be a little weird, so maybe Clark’s back in a week, maybe he’s back in three months. Either way, it’s good to know Jeff Jeff Jeff can still get the job done.

4) I’m not sure if Cristhian Paredes scored a goal for Houston, but I’m damn sure he scored one for us.

That’s a cracker of a strike by Paredes, but the true stars of this goal are center back Bill Tuiloma with his gorgeous 40-yard pass to Felipe Mora’s forehead, and Mora himself, who knew he couldn’t get off a shot, but saw Paredes racing forward and laid the ball right into his path.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column titled “Most Talented Strikers,” in which I ranked Jaroslaw Niezgoda the club’s all-time fifth-most-talented striker, just behind Fanendo Adi and just ahead of Mora. I’d now like to officially move Mora up to number five. The mora see of Mora – see what I did there? – the mora like. The dude’s super-calm out there, he’s got his head on a swivel, he knows when to pass instead of shoot, he’s just a really talented striker. Sorry, Jarek, you’re off the list. When you get healthy later in the summer, maybe you can work your way back onto it.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Left back Claudio Bravo had a few good moments on defense, and did a couple nice things in transition, but I still don’t like him as a 1v1 defender. Some guy I’ve never heard of named Pasher absolutely owned Bravo in the first half. Nutmegged him three or four times. It’s concerning, but I’m trying to be positive and tell myself that Bravo’s just getting his feet under him and will get better. Blanco did. Yimmi is. Maybe Bravo’s next.
  • On the other hand, right back Pablo Bonilla looked absolutely fantastic all night. If Bravo’s not careful, Bonilla’s gonna be starting on the right and Van Rankin’s gonna be starting on the left. Stay tuned.
  • Speaking of fullbacks, in the 36th minute, beloved ex-Timber Zarek Valentin received a yellow card. One minute later, beloved ex-Timber Maxi Urruti also received a yellow card. For some reason, this made me very happy.
  • This game ended 2-1, but that was only by the grace of God. Toward the end, there were big, big chances, most for us, but a couple for Houston. Here’s the game’s Expected Goals chart. Shit blows up at the end, doesn’t it?

  • Houston was going all out for a tying goal, of course, while the Timbers had a bunch of fresh attackers in, so damn, it’s amazing we didn’t score three or four times. Here’s two of our biggest chances.

  • Yes, there were also some scary moments in our defensive end, so the team wasn’t perfect in putting the game to bed, but on the whole, I was pleased. We looked like a team that could get really good at closing out games. Which, after the nightmare that was 2020, would be an awfully nice thing.

6) So, we do have an MLS game this coming week – at Dallas on Saturday – but that’s not the game I’m most excited about. I’m excited about Wednesday night’s home game against Liga MX giants Club America. It’s the first game of another CONCACAF Champions League home-and-away series, and I’m having a hard time thinking of the Timbers as anything but an underdog. Club America’s not just any Liga MX team, they’re one of the league’s giants.

At this point in the column, I was prepared to tell you how much more money Club America spent on their roster than the Timbers did. Unfortunately, when I tried to find some actual numbers, I came up empty. MLS teams release semi-accurate payrolls to the public each year, but not Liga MX.

The only thing I could find that’s close are the “Market Values” assigned by transfermarkt.us. Market value is not an annual salary, but an estimate of how much money a team could get selling a player’s contract to another team. For the most part, market value is determined by a player’s skill, their position, their age, and the length of their current contract. The longer the contract, the higher their market value. The younger the player, the higher their market value. Strikers are worth more than defenders, good strikers are worth more than average strikers, blah blah blah.

According to transfermarkt, the Timbers currently have 11 players with a market value exceeding $1,000,000. Club America, meanwhile, has 19.

The Timbers market values top out at $4.4 million (Yimmi, Felipe, and Jaroslaw are all tied there). Club America have two players matching that number and six players exceeding it, topping out at $8.25 million for midfielder Richard Sanchez.

So, yeah, Club America has a much bigger payroll. How much bigger? I’m not sure. I wish I had salary numbers, because I really wanted to write some cool line like, “if Club America were in MLS, they’d have 10 DPs.” Alas, the lack of definite information means I can’t quite do that. What I can tell you is that Club America’s got a shit ton of talent on their team, they pay them a shit ton of money, and, yeah, if they were in MLS, they’d maybe, possibly, perhaps even probably have, like, 10 DPs.

Can we beat them at home? Yes. Can we beat them 5-0 like we beat Marathon? No way. But beat them? Yeah, I think we can do it.

2-1, that’s my prediction. What about you?