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Six Degrees: Two Straight Shutouts

Timbers 3, Galaxy 0

SOCCER: MAY 22 MLS - LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1) According to the MLS Injury Report, the Timbers are the most injured team in the league, with nine guys listed as “out.”

Not “questionable,” but straight-up “out.”

And yet, we just beat the second place team in the conference and got our second straight shutout. We just played a whole raft of backups and looked good doing it. And I’m not talking about Saturday’s second half, when we were a man up, I’m talking about the first half, when the LA Galaxy had a full 11 players – first-choice players, at that – and we still had the better chances, still looked the better side.

2021’s been a weird one for the Timbers so far. We’ve had six MLS matches, four Champions League matches, a string of three-game-weeks, long flights to Honduras and Mexico, and So. Many. Injured. Players.

But ever since we got a break from all the mid-week games, our guys are starting to look a little rested, our 2nd-stringers are starting to look comfortable, and we’re starting to look like a team that could compete for trophies.

2) The Timbers started strong against the Galaxy on Saturday afternoon, getting some really good chances in the first half. Jeremy Ebobisse and Diego Valeri both had shots from inside the 18-yard-box, only to be stoned by LA’s new keeper, Jonathan Bond, who’s kind of crushing it so far this year.

None of that’s the big story of the first half, though. The big story is what happened to Andy Polo in the 44th minute. Content warning: this foul is uuuuuuuuuuuugly.

Did you cringe watching that nightmare of a tackle? Me, too. And we aren’t the only ones. Here’s what my Twitter timeline looked like in the moment.

After a couple days wondering Polo’s fate, on Tuesday morning, we finally got the official prognosis. We’re going from nine injured players to 10.

Situations like this raise certain questions. Yes, Derrick Williams got tossed from this game – he didn’t object even the smallest amount, just walked off with his head hanging – but is that enough? When a player gets a red card – any player, not just Williams – should MLS base their punishment on how bad they damaged their victim? If – and I’m going to take our fandom out of the equation by picking a random Timber here – if Dario Zuparic were to get a red card and the player he fouled is out for two months, should Zoop also be out for two months? If Yimmi Chara scissors someone’s legs and wrecks their knee, should Yimmi have to miss the rest of the year, too?

I really don’t have a strong opinion on this, I just want to hear what all of you think. Take off your green and gold-tinted glasses for a minute and give me your thoughts on what the league’s policy should be for when one player injures another.

3) With Polo being taken to the locker room in a wheelchair, Gio Savarese replaced him with Felipe Mora. That’s a midfielder being replaced with a striker, which seemed an odd choice at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. With LA down a man, we knew we didn’t have to worry about their attack as much. Instead, we had to worry about them parking two or three buses in front of goal. Facing that kind of bunker, replacing a defensively-minded midfielder with a second striker makes a lot of sense.

And less than two minutes into the second half, Mora delivered.

This goal’s reminiscent of last week’s Marvin Loria goal against San Jose. The personnel’s different, but the look’s the same. There’s a guy on the right, there are multiple targets in the box, there’s a nice backspinny cross, and there’s a strong header, sending the ball back in the direction it came from. Solid work from the Timbers on both goals.

Mora’s second goal is all about effort. Josecarlos Van Rankin had the assist on Mora’s first goal, and here he is again. He nearly chips the ball into goal, and when it nicks the crossbar and lands in the six yard box, Mora’s just a tiny bit faster in reacting.

I swear, if you know a kid who wants to play professional soccer, show them this clip, then tell them to race like hell into the box on Every. Single. Shot. How many goals could a player get, just by cleaning up rebounds and spills and stuff like that? 10 goals a year? That would get you a long professional career, and you wouldn’t even need to be that good. You’d just need to crash the box each and every time.

4) Van Rankin was involved with both of the first two goals, and he wasn’t done. Here he is, drawing a penalty in the 67th minute.

Whatta ya think? Penalty or dive? I can’t tell for sure, but I do think Van Rankin looked a little sheepish in that television close up, like maybe he knew it was a dive and was waiting for someone to call him on it.

No one called him on it, though, and as you saw at the end of the clip, Diego Valeri stepped up to the spot and fired a beauty into the upper right corner.

Okay, let’s get into it. Should Valeri have let Mora take that PK, yes or no?

In the moment, I was quite conflicted. Mora was on two goals, and what striker doesn’t want a hat trick? Additionally, it would have been the club’s first MLS hatty. That ain’t nothing.

As time’s passed, though, I’m feeling better about Valeri taking it. After all, Valeri hadn’t scored all year, and missed a couple PKs just two weeks ago. It’s well-known in the world of soccer that sometimes a team’s PK-taker needs to give up the PK because someone on the team needs their confidence boosted. In Saturday’s game, you know who needed their confidence boosted? Valeri. So, yeah, I think I’m cool with him taking the PK. Maybe it’ll get his head right and he’ll score his ass off in the next few games.

5) Some random thoughts.

  • Two starts, two wins, and two clean sheets for goalkeeper Logan Ketterer. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts when things start to go sideways, because eventually they will. If he gives up an early goal against Philly, is he going to fall apart? I predict no, but you can’t be sure until you see it.
  • Speaking of clean sheets, Bill Tuiloma has started both of these shutouts. If Larrys Mabiala’s healthy and available next weekend, should Gio start him, or ride the hot hand? Same goes for Steve Clark. If he’s healthy, does he get the start, or does Gio stick with Ketterer?
  • Late in the game, within five minutes of each other, Diego Valeri took a ball to the face and Eryk Williamson took a ball to the balls. I can’t decide if this is horrible or hilarious. I’m leaning toward horrible, but it’s close.
  • And, yes, I’m contractually obligated to show you this gif of Dairon Asprilla absolutely ragdolling some poor bastard. Enjoy.

6) It’s been said many times, but I’ll say it again for the people in the back: the Timbers are just astonishingly injured. We entered this game with nine guys unavailable, finished it with 10, and I’m genuinely curious if this is a new MLS record.

But here’s the thing: the 2021 Timbers were supposed to have great depth, and you know what? We do. Our depth is proving itself. Our mix of first-, second-, and in some cases third-string players just beat the 2nd-place-in-the-conference-at-the-time Galaxy, and last week beat the 2nd-place-in-the-conference-at-the-time Earthquakes, and the week before that, outplayed for long stretches and kinda shoulda beaten the 1st-place-in-the-conference Seattle Sounders.

Not enough to be proud of? How about the fact that we just banged out two straight wins without Diego Chara? And what about us completely negating Galaxy striker Chicharito, who’s been far and away the hottest goalscorer in the league?

What I’m saying is that, despite all our injuries, we’re playing some really good soccer against some really good teams. I, for one, am pumped.

And this coming weekend, our tough opponents continue, as we travel across the country to face last year’s Supporter’s Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union. Normally, a team as banged up as we are would have no chance. But the absurdly deep 2021 Portland Timbers? I think Philly better watch out. Our patched-together lineup might just roll into town and steal all three points.