1) Our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week started last Wednesday, when we travelled to Mexico City full of hope, only to be rather forcibly bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League in a 3-1 loss to Club America.
Going into the first leg a couple weeks ago, I thought the Timbers had a chance to make some noise and win a game at home. The 1-1 draw was a little disappointing, but at least I could take some solace in the fact that we kept it close. As I said in last week’s column, we proved we could hang with the big boys.
Last Wednesday’s loss changed my mind on that front. Club America beat us pretty thoroughly, looking like the far better team throughout. Was it a blowout? No. Was it a comfortable win? Yes. The better team won. Comfortably. There was a ton of money on the field for Club America and they showed it. At both ends of the field, it was clear that, while MLS is closing the gap, we’ve still got a ways to go if we want to run with the biggest dogs from Liga MX.
2) We kept America off the board for 20 minutes, but in the 21st, they broke through, on what seemed a excessively easy header.
Who’s to blame here? Obviously, someone needs to close out that passer. Probably Yimmi Chara, in this case. But what about the wide open, barely-breaking-a-sweat goalscorer? Despite Bill Tuiloma being right in front of him and Claudio Bravo being right behind him, Federico Viñas looks almost completely uncovered. How? Is he that good? Are we that bad? I generally think of Tuiloma as being pretty good in the air, but he looks utterly unbalanced and outclassed here. Bravo... well, he’s just a trainwreck.
That goal made it 1-0 America, a score which held up until the 58th minute, when America drew a penalty. You’ll never in a million years guess which Timbers defender was guilty. Go ahead and guess. You’ll never get it.
Oh. Wow. First try. Yeah, it was Claudio Bravo. Good one.
I’ll agree with you that this penalty’s a bit soft, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bravo’s an absolute nightmare when it comes to 1v1 defending. In the attack, the dude’s really not bad, so I could see us making him a winger. But as a fullback, he’s just killing us, game after game after game. The first few weeks of the season, I wasn’t sure about this. Now, I’m sure. Bravo can’t defend and he’s costing us points.
Though, like I said, that penalty was a bit soft. Don’t worry, though, the referee knew it was soft, and made up for it just four minutes later by calling a pretty much non-existent penalty for the Timbers.
I mean, come on. What’s the call, exactly? The guy got hit by Felipe Mora’s foot after Mora kicked the ball? Is that what happened? I dunno, man, and I don’t really care. This was a make up call. Ref fucked up at one end, so he tried to make it right at the other.
Diego Valeri converted the PK to make it 2-1, which led to a brief period of excitement and hope for Timbers fans. If we could score again, we’d have two away goals, which would give us the tiebreaker. A 2-2 draw would put us through to the next round! Here we go, boys! Let’s do this!
Except, no. That excitement lasted just six minutes before America scored their third.
Remember how I said America were just plain better than us? This goalscorer, Leo Suarez, is the perfect example. Dude was absolutely crushing us the entire series. He was fast, quick, slippery, and dangerous. Yes, I’ll acknowledge that he was going up against Claudio Bravo, whose defense would make anyone look good, but Suarez took it to Diego Chara a few times, too, and that’s no easy thing.
And Suarez is just one player. America had talent all over the field. At the start of this series, I thought the Timbers could hang. Now, I think we’d need a hell of a lot of luck. We’d have to play damn near perfectly and also catch a few breaks to get past a team like America.
Will that happen some day? I hope so. And I hope it won’t be too long before we get to try again.
3) Some random thoughts.
- If there’s one person from this game that I’m most annoyed with, it’s not left back Claudo Bravo, it’s head coach Gio Savarese. The team came out waaaaaaaay too relaxed in the first half. I can understand Gio playing it cagey in the first half of the first leg, but in this second leg? Why? Why come out slow when you know we absolutely have to score a goal? And, really, the more away goals we could have scored, the better. I wanted the Timbers to come out with their ears pinned back and their asses on fire. Instead, they played a very chill first half. Why? Why wait until halftime to set the boys loose? If they’d come out at the start of the game the way they came out for the second half – and we know they could do it, because of the way they played in the second half of the first leg – if they’d done that from the start, this might have been a very different game. But no, Gio had them come out all chilly chill. I have a problem with that.
- We did have chances, though. Felipe, Yimmi, Diego, they all had good chances to score, but didn’t. This is becoming a trend for 2021. A very worrying trend. Other than that 5-0 win over Marathon, so far this season, the Timbers haven’t really found their finishing boots. They need to. Soon.
- Valeri’s set piece service was off all night. Does anyone know if Mexico City’s 7,300 foot elevation affects the flight of the ball? Does it make the ball travel more or less? Or does it have no effect and Valeri just stunk?
4) Let’s move on to Sunday’s loss to Seattle, but before we get to the bad stuff, let’s talk about the good stuff. Because there really was some good stuff. Some very good stuff.
For example, Jeremy Ebobisse got his first start of the year. Looked pretty good, too. Didn’t quite have his finishing boots on yet, but his hold up boots? His target forward boots? He definitely had those.
Another good thing? Diego Valeri looked really good handling the ball and passing out of tight spaces. Yeah, we’re gonna crush him a little later, but let’s not throw the dude onto the scrapheap just yet. He wasn’t perfect, and he had some very public mistakes, but he wasn’t a complete disaster. I’m not sure it’s time for the “should we bench the Maestro” conversation yet.
More good things? From maybe the 15th minute to the 60th, the Timbers absolutely ran things out there. We dominated possession, we created opportunities, and we kept Seattle on their heels. Check out this from the #StatMan.
The Timbers finish the first half against the Sounders with 101 successful passes in the final 1/3.— Mike Donovan (@TheMikeDonovan) May 9, 2021
That is the most final 1/3 successful passes #RCTID has ever had in the first half of an MLS game.
That stat completely confirms what I was seeing live. We set up camp in front of their 18-yard box, shifting the ball around, trying to get their D unbalanced, and looked really good doing it. Unfortunately, when it came time to get the ball into the box, Seattle had it packed up a little too tightly. That was frustrating.
But, you know what? Forget I mentioned that, because we’re still in the positive part of the column, so... hey! How friggin’ great is Eryk Williamson?
Seriously, there are so many things to love about Eryk – he and Jebo are neck-and-neck to be my second-favorite Timber – but I think my favorite thing is how damn smooth he is. Everything he does looks effortless. Dribbling, passing, shooting, all of it’s like butter. Hell, even his defense is smooth. Watch how he intercepts this pass. So smooth it would make a wolverine purr.
Erm... sadly, Jebo drawing that penalty is our cue to leave the happy part of this column and move into the you-will-be-sad-forever part. Sorry.
5) Normally, I make gifs showing how a penalty is drawn, but rarely show the actual PK, since those are boring and pretty much automatic goals.
Not this time, though. Sadly, this time, you get to see, not one, but two PKs taken.
Okay, here’s the thing about that first PK. It would appear that the referee called Stefan Frei for being off the line, which I’ll be honest, is awfully damn close. Maybe too close to call. But you know what’s not close? Nouhou Tolo charging into the box early. Look how far into the box #5 is. Now that’s a clear and obvious reason to give Valeri a second PK.
It didn’t matter, of course, since he banged his second PK off the post. But here’s the thing – and I didn’t see this until the guys at Instant Replay pointed it out – Nouhou encroached on the second PK, too! Valeri should have had a third try!
(Serious question: does Gio let him take that third PK? I think he does. Whether Valeri sinks it or not, I have no idea.)
Unfortunately, there was no encroachment called, there was no third PK, and the game remained 0-0. But only for five minutes or so, at which point the soccer gods decided to punish the Timbers for their wastefulness and give Seattle a penalty at the other end.
I don’t have a strong opinion about whether this was a penalty or not. Ruidiaz got a little divey at the end, but it looks very possible either Bill Tuiloma or Jeff Attinella fouled him at some point in there, and breaking it down frame-by-frame Zapruder-style seems just a small step from all that bullshit the English Premier League is doing with their offside calls, so I’m just gonna let this go. Nothing’s clear and obvious, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, move along, move along.
So anyway, Ruidiaz stepped to the spot, gave Seattle a nice, boring conversion, and it was 1-0, bad guys.
In five minutes, we went from dominating the game and standing over a PK, ready to take the lead, to being down 1-0 and having to hear the soccer gods laughing their asses off, taunting us about what happens when you don’t finish your chances. Fuckin’ asshole soccer gods.
6) Oh, and, fun fact, the asshole soccer gods weren’t done yet. Nope, in the 68th minute, they did something to Jeff Attinella’s right hip and he had to be stretchered off the pitch. Awesome! That means we’re currently down, not one, not two, but three goalkeepers. Who’s number four on the depth chart? Oh, yeah, that tall, skinny 19-year-old who gave up four goals to FC Dallas. Grab your gloves, Hunter Sulte, you’re going in!
And just 10 minutes later, Seattle gave Sulte the perfect opportunity to look slow, indecisive, hesitant, and a little scared.
Actually, Sulte doesn’t look a little scared, he looks a lot scared. You know what he looks like? He looks like an NFL receiver who’s going across the middle and the quarterback’s thrown the ball just a little high, so the receiver’s gonna have to reach up high to catch it, but he knows that if he does that, some linebacker’s gonna absolutely crush him, so he gets what they call “alligator arms.” That’s what Hunter Sulte looks like on this goal. He’s afraid to go into that big pile of bodies because he knows he’s gonna get crushed, so he gets alligator arms.
Oh, well. He’s a kid. He’ll learn. He’ll take a few hits and toughen up.
In the meantime, is he our starter? Does Gio trust him in goal moving forward? If not, what are we gonna do? Sign some unemployed goalkeeper with MLS experience? What’s Nic Rimando doing these days? Hell, how about we just stay closer to home and bring in a Thorn? I doubt they’d loan us A.D. Franch, but what about her backup? Hell, what about her coach, Nadine Angerer? Can we borrow her? She’s not afraid to take a hit.
Actually, while we’re over there, have they got a center back they can spare? Because Larrys Mabiala had to be subbed off in the 15th minute. Can we maybe borrow Emily Menges?
Oh, and check to see if they’ve got a Sebastian Blanco replacement, too. And maybe someone for Jarsoslaw Niezgoda. Jeez, how many people are hurt right now? Three goalkeepers, a center back, a winger, and a striker. Oh, and d-mid Cristhian Paredes.
Is that it? Please say that’s it.
Dangit, I just remembered left back Ismaila Jome. Surely there’s no one else, right?
Nope, I think that’s it. We’re down eight guys.
But we got Jebo back! And we’ve got a full week off before our next game! Our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week is over, the asshole soccer gods are appeased, and it’s nothing but good times from here on! Nadine Angerer’s gonna be our starting goalkeeper and take us to the promised land! #Believe
7) Oh, fuck, we’ve gotta have a seventh degree because I forgot to include Bill Tuiloma’s stoppage time goal. Pretty, isn’t it? Didn’t change anything, but it was pretty. See? We’re a team on the rise! #Believe