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Six Degrees: Pressure Released

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Portland 1, Dallas 0

MLS: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

1) Our Starting XI for Saturday night’s game against Dallas featured, for the first time in awhile, Yimmi Chara and Felipe Mora. Felipe was our striker, so Jeremy Ebobisse was out on the wing with Dairon Asprilla. There was no Diego Valeri at the 10, so Yimmi did his best to fill that role. There was no Eryk Williamson at the 8, so Renzo Zambrano did his best to fill that role.

How did it go? Kinda shitty, actually. In the first half, at least. Yeah, all those guys tried their best – and to be honest, Yimmi and Felipe almost pulled off some cool stuff in the opening 10 minutes – but on the whole, our attack in the first half was flaccid and ineffective. Just a bunch of guys bumbling around out there.

At the other end of the field, our defense was giving up big chance after big chance after big chance. Here are Dallas’s first half highlights.

Three really good chances that Dallas somehow managed to flub.

Now, here’s our first half highlight.

And that’s it. That’s the only thing we did in the first half that’s worth mentioning, one long distance bomb from Dairon. How we made it to halftime with the score still 0-0, I have no idea.

2) The second half? Better. Not great, but definitely better. On defense, we gave up fewer big chances, though Steve Clark did have to make a few nice saves.

On offense, our attack was still a bit stilted. I actually liked Zambrano at the 8, but he’s not the attacker Williamson is. We may be lacking in creativity until Eryk comes back from the Gold Cup.

At the 10, Yimmi wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t awful, either. He had a ton of energy, was trying some tricky stuff, and had the second half’s two best chances.

On that second chance, you saw who fed Yimmi that sweet pass, right? Super sub Diego Valeri. More on him later. In the meantime, damnation, Yimmi, you gotta finish big chances like that. DP’s finish those.

Yes, the second half was better, but despite the improved play, we reached the 84th minute still tied 0-0 and it felt like we’d all go home hoarse, sweaty, and frustrated.

3) But that’s when Jeremy Ebobisse stepped up to the plate.

Hey! Ho! Jebo!

Man, you want to talk about a release of tension? Providence Park felt like a pressure cooker, everybody just desperate for a goal, and when Jebo sent that ball into the roof of the net, holy hell, did the park explode. Just a wonderful moment.

If you watch the video again, you’ll see that, immediately after Jebo scores, his defender falls over dead. I assume he’s dead, at least, and who can blame him? Jebo went straight at him, then slowed a little, got him on his heels, confused and a bit off-balance. Then Jebo moved the ball to his left foot and knocked the ever-loving piss out of it. A goal like that would kill a lot of defenders.

That’s the third goal in four games for Jebo. Could this be the start of a hot streak? We could definitely use one.

4) In last week’s column, I talked about the possibility of Diego Valeri transitioning from starter to super-sub. Well, on Saturday night, we got our first taste of what that might look like and OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, WAS IT BEAUTIFUL.

Seriously, man, Valeri looked fantastic out there. So. Much. Energy. He was sprinting all over the place, stringing together sweet combinations, sending out beautiful little through balls. He looked like 2013 Valeri again.

Could El Maestro bring this sort of performance off the bench every time? Possibly. I will grant you that perhaps he was trying a little harder, maybe to show Gio that he’s still a force. Or perhaps he was going hard simply because it was late and we really needed a goal. We need more data before we can call this experiment successful. We need to see how Valeri does as a sub when we’ve got a lead. Or when he’s gone 10 straight games without a start. Maybe in those situations, he’d be less of a spark. The only way to know is to keep bringing him off the bench. I, for one, am excited to see how this plays out. If we keep getting the Valeri we saw on Saturday, it could add five years to his career.

Another guy who came on late and looked good? Sebastian Blanco. Dude entered the game in the 81st minute and looked outstanding. Maybe not as game-changing as Valeri, but still really good. He had tons of energy, tried to nutmeg every poor bastard who came near him, and even got into a post-game shoving match. It was glorious. Keep being you, Seba.

(Also, God, if you’re listening, please protect Seba’s knee. No more setbacks, okay?)

5) Some random thoughts.

  • As I said earlier, Renzo Zambrano looked good out there. He’s not the creator Eryk is, but I’m still liking him more and more. I’d be comfortable seeing him and Cristhian Paredes start on Wednesday.
  • Zambrano and Paredes in the midfield would allow Diego Chara to rest, which, as I said last week, should be a priority moving forward. The more I watch, the more convinced I am that Diego’s lost half a step. He’s still really quick, but he no longer plays like some kind of superhero.
  • Little brother Yimmi looked good coming back from his international absence, but I can’t say the same for Felipe Mora. It’s not that he looked bad, he just looked invisible. I don’t remember him doing much of anything the whole game. Let’s hope that doesn’t last.
  • Really good game from center back Dario Zuparic. I was less impressed with Larrys Mabiala. Still, the two of them helped us pitch a shutout, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.
  • Speaking of which, Steve Clark got the first shutout this year by a goalkeeper not named Logan Ketterer. So that’s something.
  • From Jebo’s 84th minute goal until Bill Tuiloma entered the game in the 88th, Blake Bodily was our left fullback. It was every bit as terrifying as you would imagine.
  • And finally, Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal is both a really good soccer player and a real button-pushing dickhead. I enjoyed booing him on Saturday night, but am willing to admit that if he was on the Timbers, he’d probably be my favorite player.

6) This is a three-game week, so get ready for a homer on Wednesday night against LAFC, then a roadie on Saturday in Minnesota. Weeks like this are tough when Gio’s planning his lineups. Yes, the Timbers are healthier than they were a few weeks ago, but they’re still not perfect. There are players coming back from injury who Gio can’t start (Blanco, possibly Paredes, possibly Marvin Loria), and there are other players who are tired and who Gio probably doesn’t want to start (Valeri, Chara, Jebo, Mora) but may have to anyway.

On Wednesday, I think it’ll be Jebo up top, Asprilla and Loria on the wings. Jebo looked tired by the end of the Dallas game, so expect Mora to sub in by the 60th minute. Probably the same for Asprilla.

I’m not sure who’ll be playing the 10. Does Gio give Yimmi a break and start Valeri? Or maybe bite the bullet, cross both fingers, and start Bodily? Yimmi would be the best option, but sitting him keeps him fresh for Saturday’s game.

In the defensive midfield, I think he’s got to sit Diego Chara. I think three-game-weeks are a thing of the past for Diego. I think Gio’s got to go with Paredes and Zambrano. That is, if Paredes is fit enough to start. If he’s not, do we play Chara? Or play Bodily at the 8 and Renzo at the 6? Or Renzo at the 8 and Tuiloma up to the 6?

And on the backline, does Zac McGraw start at CB? Does Tuiloma play as a fullback? With Claudio Bravo off at the Olympics, we’ve only got two true fullbacks. Do we want to push them to play all three games this week? We may have no choice.

(LATE EDIT: As Timber Dave pointed out in comments below, Zuparic received his fifth yellow card on Saturday and will be suspended for the LAFC game. I’m now thinking it’ll be Mabiala and Tuiloma at centerback, unless Tuiloma’s needed elsewhere. Whatever happens, missing Zoop is bad news.)

In 12 games this year, we’ve had 12 different starting lineups. By this time next week, I think it’ll be 14 in 14.