1) Saturday night’s game against Sporting Kansas City felt like a celebration. Yeah, I know the stadium was only at 80% capacity, but you honestly couldn’t tell. It felt completely full, didn’t it? Everyone was happy to be in their usual seats, happy to see their neighbors, happy to see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the smoke. It was wonderful.
What was happening on the field, though? Less wonderful. Sorry to say it, but SKC was the better team on the night. They controlled the ball, they took the better shots, they played the prettier brand of soccer. From the opening whistle, they were the better team.
And in the 28th minute, they finally broke through. It was a beautiful attack, too, the sort of attack I want to see from Portland.
Look at all the targets in the box! On the initial cross, dude’s got three targets racing into the box. Bill Tuiloma makes the nice block, but then SKC gets another try, and that’s when they really shine. First of all, the SKC guy pulls a “Seba.” That’s when you eschew the cross and instead walk it up the endline. Sebastian Blanco does this all the time and I love it. Here, the SKC guy pulls the Seba, picks up his head and sees, one, two, three, four, five targets in the box. But he goes for none of them, he goes for the sixth guy, who’s just racing into the completely empty space at the far side of the box. After an unlucky bounce, the ball got to its target and was banged into the upper corner.
Now, to be clear, this was a tough and beautiful finish, in no way a tap in, but it bears repeating, there were six targets in the box! And the passer was in the box, too!
The Timbers have done this in the past, and I know they can do it again, but on Saturday night, they weren’t even close to putting together an attack like this. It was just crosses, set pieces, and the occasional counter. I hope Gio can fix things. I want to see beautiful attacks, and, ideally, not from the other team.
2) In the 36th minute, the Timbers had one of those set pieces I just mentioned. With all our defenders coming forward, we were finally able to get numbers in the box, and good things resulted. Not pretty things, but good things.
I like to imagine that, up at the top of some mountain, there’s a goddess named Lady Chaos, and she hands out goals whenever shit gets crazy enough. That’s what happened here. Chaos. The ball’s bouncing around, the keeper can’t see very well, and next thing you know, Lady Chaos has handed Dairon Asprilla a goal and the score’s 1-1.
3) And Lady Chaos wasn’t done. 10 minutes later, she blessed us again.
Okay, first up, let this be a lesson to all television directors out there. DO NOT DO A CLOSE UP OF THE GUY HOLDING UP THE STOPPAGE TIME SIGN. If they’d cut to the sign, we’d have missed Loria’s goal, and not even Lady Chaos could have saved that director from my rage.
Secondly, was this ball going into goal on its own? Marvin Loria definitely got to it first, so he gets credit, but if he’d been just a half second slower, I think that ball goes in anyway and gets counted as an own goal. This wouldn’t affect the final score, of course, but it would affect Loria’s stat line, and maybe his next contract negotiation.
Anyway, thank you Lady Chaos! You were good to us on Saturday night. I’m not sure we deserved to be up 2-1 at the half, but you did it for us anyway. I’ll sacrifice a rooster in your name. Or is a rooster sacrifice not your thing? Something more chaotic, perhaps? I could shout fire in a movie theater. Too much? What if I squeeze out an SBD in a crowded elevator? Is that more your kind of chaos? Awesome. Consider it done.
4) Loria’s goal gave us a very lucky 2-1 lead at halftime, and we spent the entire 2nd half making that score stand up. We played a lot of defense, scrambled in front of goal, knocked down some shots, made some saves, and basically just worked our asses off until the final whistle. The entire team, front to back, striker to goalkeeper, did their part.
Was it our prettiest win ever? God, no. But should we celebrate it? Hell, yeah. If you’ll remember, in 2020 our big thing was “giving up points late in games.” Last year, there’s absolutely no way we win this game.
But in 2021? Maybe our thing’s going to be “grinding out victories” or “winning ugly” or “putting our faith in Lady Chaos.” And all of that is a hell of a lot better than watching teams tie it up in stoppage time. I saw enough of that in 2020 to last the rest of my life, thankyouverymuch. I could do with some ugly, scrappy, lucky, chaotic wins. So, good on ya, Timbers. Let’s make this a regular thing.
(Though, to be clear, I’d still prefer to watch pretty soccer, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll take what I can get.)
5) Some random thoughts.
- If Bill Tuiloma completed passes like this on the regular, he wouldn’t be playing in Portland. He’d be in Manchester or Madrid. Good lord, what a pass. Was it even intentional? It was so perfect, it almost seemed like an accident.
- I found it interesting that when Renzo Zambrano came on for a banged-up Asprilla, he moved into the defensive midfield and Eryk Williamson shifted out to the wing. By my count, that makes four positions Eryk’s played this year. The six, the eight, the 10, and now the wing. Dude’s versatile.
- I’m on record as being a Claudio Bravo hater, but I’ve got to admit, he had a solid game Saturday. Is it possible he’s coming around? Is he going to keep improving, to the point where I’ll have to eat a bunch of crow and admit he was a great signing? I hope so. I want what’s good for the team. Bravo kicking ass would definitely be good for the team.
- As long as we’re on the back line, I really liked what I saw from our center backs in this game. Dario Zuparic was excellent, Bill Tuiloma made some heroic plays, and I even liked when Larrys Mabiala came on and we went to a 5-3-2. That formation worked so well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it more often.
- Speaking of something we’ll see more often... ladies and gentlemen... Sebastian Blanco!
- On an evening that felt like a celebration, this may have been the biggest celebration of the night. I loved so much about it. I love how Blanco’s ovation started when he was still in the bench area getting his jersey on. I love how he whacked a guy in the face 10 seconds after entering. I love how his vision and aggressiveness don’t seem to have diminished a bit. His passing? A little less so. Let’s hope he can shake the rust off of that pretty quickly. But other than that, it was a near-perfect return for Seba.
6) Three wins in their last four games has seen Portland rise to 5th place in the Western Conference (6th on PPG). Now we ready ourselves for a two-game week. Wednesday, we’re at 7th place Houston, then Saturday, we’re back home against 11th place Minnesota.
Yes, we’ve just gotten a few players back from injury (Blanco, Mabiala, Steve Clark, Diego Chara, Aljaz Ivacic), but we’ve lost a couple others to national teams (Felipe Mora, Yimmi Chara) and had others who spent a few worrisome moments Saturday night lying on the pitch in pain (Asprilla, Clark, Williamson).
Given all of that, who do you think starts Wednesday night in Houston? How injured are Clark, Asprilla, and Williamson? How eager is Gio to rest folks on the road, focusing instead on our Saturday match with Minnesota?
Here’s my prediction. With no other options at striker, I think Jeremy Ebobisse’s got to start and probably play the full 90. In the attacking midfield, I think it’s Loria, Diego Valeri, and Blake Bodily. I think Valeri gets replaced by Blanco in the 70th minute. If Dairon’s healthy, he probably subs in at some point for Loria. Resting folks for Saturday might mean a full 90 for Young Blake.
I think the defensive midfield sees the return of George Fochive. I could be talked into Zambrano next to him, but probably not. I think Gio will want Diego Chara out there organizing things.
The back line... jeez, I’m suddenly uncertain. I’m leaning toward Pablo Bonilla and Bravo on the sides. In the middle, does Mabiala start? And perhaps Zac McGraw beside him?
After that late collision where Clark got hit in the ribs, I’m really hoping Ivacic starts in Houston. Not because I’m worried about Clark, but because Ivacic would be our fifth starting keeper of the year, and, as you know, I’m really hoping that’s a new MLS record.
Final thing: the weather forecast is calling for a heat index of 106 in Houston on Wednesday and 105 here in Portland on Saturday, so don’t be surprised if both kickoffs are delayed until after sunset. If they’re not delayed, don’t be surprised if one or two of our players burst into flames. As we all know, the power of Lady Chaos is exceeded only by the power of Sir Spontaneous Combustion.