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Six Degrees: Huge Response

Portland 2, San Jose 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

1) After a demoralizing week when they lost to Club America and Seattle, the Timbers could very well have continued on that downward slope. Playing on the road, against the 3rd place team in the Western Conference, while missing nine players to injury and starting a goalkeeper who’d been on the roster for all of three days? There was every reason to think the Timbers would go down to San Jose, try their best, but eventually get whooped.

Instead, the team responded to adversity by delivering a shutout win. It was a huge response and showed that while we may be hurt, we ain’t dead yet. We’ve still got some fight in us.

The storylines began with the Starting XI, which was exactly as jerry-rigged as you’d expect.

We know why Diego Chara wasn’t playing, but what’s with Diego Valeri being on the bench? Was he resting? Was he being punished for missing those PKs last week? Was this the beginning of a “Valeri As Super-Sub” experiment?

And what about Josecarlos Van Rankin? If a fullback was going to get benched, I’d assume it was Human Penalty Machine Claudio Bravo, not Van Rankin. And yet, there was Pablo Bonilla, starting at right back. What gives?

And what’s the formation, anyway? Our normal 4-2-3-1 or something else? A 4-3-3? A 4-4-2? A little of both?

New personnel, uncertain formations. Hell, let’s just start the game and see what happens.

2) From what I could see, the formation was more fluid than ever. Yes, I think Eryk Williamson, Yimmi Chara, and Andy Polo were officially our midfield, but sometimes Jeremy Ebobisse and Marvin Loria dropped back to join them. And then other times Eryk and Yimmi moved forward, like they did here in the 5th minute.

Remember last week I talked about how smooth Eryk is? On this play, dude weaves through defenders like he’s strolling through the park. He makes a velvety outside-of-the-foot pass to Yimmi, who then chips the keeper, and before you know it, the Timbers are up 1-0.

On this play, Eryk looked like a string-pulling #10. At other times, he was a back-line-guarding #6. And then, to further confuse everyone, he would morph into a box-to-box, connect-the-defense-to-the-attack #8. I think we’ve known for a while now how talented Eryk is, but this might be the game that showed it in its fullest form. Take Chara, Valeri, and Blanco off the field and somebody has to step up, right? On Saturday in San Jose, that somebody was Eryk Williamson.

Gavin Wilkinson may be getting some calls from Europe soon. I hope nobody makes him a Godfather offer. I want to watch Eryk wear the green and gold for a few more years.

3) San Jose dominated possession in the first half – it was something crazy like 75% – but the Timbers kept them off the scoreboard all the way to the 60th minute, at which point, we gave up a penalty. You’ll never in a million years guess who did it. Go on and guess. You’ll never get it.

Oh. Wow. First try. Yeah, it was Claudio Bravo. Again.

Bravo’s kind of amazing, isn’t he? Is this his superpower? I mean, as superpowers go, getting a penalty every single game isn’t a very good one, but I guess we don’t get to choose, do we?

Anyway, it was all-time MLS goal scorer Chris Wondolowski who stepped up to take the PK, so naturally, this’ll be 1-1 in just a second. Who’s facing him in goal, by the way? ...checks notes... Wait... who?

Logan Motherfucking Ketterer, that’s who!

With our 2nd-string keeper Jeff Attinella getting injured last week, and with 4th-string keeper Hunter Sulte looking not at all ready for a starting role, the Timbers got on the phone with USL side El Paso Locomotive FC and brought Ketterer up on loan. His first practice with the team was maybe on Wednesday, so I doubt he knew the names of half the people he was on the field with, but it really didn’t matter. The whole game, dude looked like a seasoned pro. The two times this year we’ve thrown Hunter Sulte into a game, he’s looked completely overwhelmed, but Ketterer looked like he belonged. He looked like he’s been doing it for years.

Do I think he’ll be getting clean sheets every time out? No. Do I think he’s gonna be in Portland for years to come? No. But do I think he’ll be on an MLS roster this time next year, possibly starting? Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. The guy’s clearly a pro.

4) So that was huge. A 1-1 score would’ve changed everything, but instead we held on to our second half lead. In the 74th minute, that lead was doubled, courtesy of Marvelous Marvin Loria.

Remember how I said Eryk Williamson seemed to be playing the 6, the 8, and the 10? Well, look at him now, sitting out there like he’s a winger, chipping inch-perfect crosses into the box. The guy can do it all.

Gavin, the phone’s for you. It’s that German club again. Should I take a message? Actually, you know what, I’m just gonna tell them no. We’re not selling. Eryk’s ours for a little while longer.

5) Both Williamson and Ketterer made the latest MLS Team of the Week and it seems appropriate that they both did it despite not scoring a goal.

After scoring goals by the bushel last year, the Timbers have found them a bit harder to come by so far in 2021. In five games, we’ve scored six goals, and with one goal apiece, there’s a six-way tie for the team’s leading goalscorer.

PTFC Top Goal Scorers, 18 May 2021

Worth noting: not a single one of those goalscorers is named Valeri, Mora, Ebobisse, Blanco, or Niezgoda. Will our big guns eventually find the back of the net? Of course. But maybe this is a year where we won’t have one big scorer. Maybe we’re looking at another goal-scoring-by-commitee year like 2013, when we set an MLS record with five players scoring seven or more goals.

PTFC Top Goal Scorers, 2013

As I recall, that 2013 season was a hell of a lot of fun. I’d dig another season like that. How about you?

6) Some random thoughts.

  • I’m very interested to see our Starting XI this Saturday against LA. What gonna happen with Van Rankin? Bonilla looked good in San Jose. Maybe Gio will play him on the right and Van Rankin on the left?
  • Perhaps more importantly, will Valeri be on the bench again? Is he going to be a super-sub for awhile? I’ll be honest, I’m kind of intrigued by the idea. In San Jose, the Timbers were never able to get any good counter attacks. That is, until Valeri came on late, at which point he sent a couple nice balls forward, almost connecting with Dairon Asprilla on one. Maybe that will turn into his role. Come on late and put the game away.
  • I was really impressed with Loria and Polo Saturday. They’re pretty solidly on the 2nd-team, but both absolutely rose to the occasion against San Jose. Performances like theirs are how teams grind out wins despite nine injured players.
  • Yimmi was also outstanding, but this is less surprising. He’s been solid all year. I had some doubts last year, but I think he’s living up to that DP contract.
  • Logan Ketterer was our fourth starting GK this year. I really, really want Aljaz Ivacic to get healthy and start a game at some point. Five starting keepers in one season would have to be an MLS record, right?
  • We finished the game with a five-man back line. Van Rankin on the right, Human Penalty Machine on the left, and Zac McGraw, Dario Zuparic, and Bill Tuiloma in the middle. I’m extremely intrigued by this and wonder if there’s a road game in our future where we’ll roll the full 90 minutes with three center backs. It might allow VR and HPM to roam forward a bit more often, and getting Bravo forward isn’t a terrible idea. Can’t get called for a penalty when you’re not in the box, right?