It’s been a little while! What say we catch up a bit, eh?
Since we last met here, the Timbers have:
Lost in the Open Cup to our hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders (to be more precise, a bunch of our T2 guys lost to a bunch of their S2 guys, but hey, who’s counting)
Lost to the worst team in MLS twice in a row, a feat which was only possible because, thanks to our loss against the Colorado Rapids, they were no longer the worst team in MLS, which left Minnesota United with the honor of being the worst team in MLS the following week (to whom we subsequently lost as well)
Gone up a man at home and carried a 2-1 lead into extra time against our hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders, only to give up the stoppage time equalizer to one of our favorite villains, Clint Dempsey
All of this with the additional bonus of having an injury report that is practically a starting eleven of its own, with Liam Ridgewell, Diego Chara, Amobi Okugo, Jack Barmby, and possibly even Darlington Nagbe ruled out for our game against Sporting Kansas City, who, by the way, are leading the western conference and have lost at home approximately zero times this year. (Oh, did I mention that stalwart defensive midfielder David Guzmán has joined the Costa Rican national team and will also be out for the duration of the international break?) Serviceable utility man, all around nice guy, and ukulele player Zarek Valentin has even trained at holding midfielder this week, a position that, as far as I can tell, he has never played professionally. This is where we find ourselves, folks.
I know. It sounds ridiculously hopeless, right?
First: the season is long. I remember 2015. I remember when we got our butts HANDED to us in June 2015 by the Los Angeles Galaxy. That 5-0 loss gave me the rare opportunity to throw a bitter shout out to my friends at Real Oviedo in northern Spain, who have a special name in Asturian (jorobu) for a 5-0 loss. I was convinced we were in for another horrific finish to the season. I was posting pictures of the dreadful pity banner they made the guys march around the field at the end of 2012. And then…this happened, just four months later:
Second, I believe in magic. I do believe beyond reason. I do believe the magic is real. I have seen it, more than once. I saw it in the playoffs against the Sounders in 2013.
I saw it in the penalty shootout against Sporting Kansas City in 2015.
And I saw it again in the MLS Cup final in 2015, when Diego Valeri scored the fastest goal in MLS Cup history.
I guess my point is: yeah, things look pretty grim at the moment (okay, REALLY grim). But we have been here, and worse, before. And there is plenty of time for a little magic. I still believe…beyond reason.
I’ll readily admit to being both testy and trepidacious (read: grumpy and fearful) going into this match. Of course I was grumpy: WHOSE bright idea was it to schedule a Friday 8pm game? Yeah, I know that a later game means that people can probably more easily make it to the match in plenty of time, but holy cow that makes for a long day for some of us. And fearful? Yeah, sure I was.
We had a string of five ties or losses in a row. Not a good look heading into a stretch where we will be missing players on international duty AND getting in a couple of games before our Open Cup match (against Seattle Sounders again, naturally). And let’s be honest, the last time we played San Jose Earthquakes, we were, let’s just say, less than stellar (read: we got our butts handed to us).
On the other hand, our players are pretty much healthy, we were playing at home, and San Jose has not yet managed a win against us at Providence Park. I had my fingers crossed that we could continue THAT streak, at least.
Our lineup was close to the usual starting eleven, with a couple of predictable exceptions. With Darlington Nagbe away on international duty, Dairon Asprilla started in his place on the right wing. This would surely mean a change in the flow of the game: Dairon has pace and is an attacking threat, but he lacks Darlington’s ability to control the ball and make connections. Porter appears to be as tired of the “That’s So Alvas” show as I am, benching right back Alvas Powell again in favor of Zarek Valentin.
We certainly had our share of chances from start to finish. As early as 4′, Vytautas Andriuškevičius had a beautiful cross to Asprilla that gave him a legitimate chance to open the scoring; but his header hit the post and bounced out. Barely two minutes later, we had our second shot at the net, with Davíd Guzmán‘scorner kick finding Roy Miller for a header that was well struck and headed for a score but for a brilliant save by Earthquakes’ keeper David Bingham. Asprilla had another shot at goal around 21′, but he sent it skyward (in Portland, we might say he “Palmered” it; ask around).
Things got interesting after the Earthquakes’ Darwin Cerén got two yellows in quick succession. His first yellow, on a late tackle/shove in the back to Guzmán at 35′, was an unnecessary move and an easy call. The second, a shoulder to Sebastian Blanco as they both went for the ball at 37′, was much less clear cut. When I watched it live, it looked legitimate; on the replay I’d have to say that Blanco sold it well. (We talk about “professional fouls;” is there such a thing as a “professional sales job?”)
As an elementary school principal who deals with a fair amount of playground discipline, I also have to wonder if Cerén would have had that yellow called if he hadn’t just plowed into Guzmán from behind not two minutes earlier. In any case, that second yellow meant that San Jose would be down a man for the remainder of the match.
At stoppage in the first half, forward Fanendo Adi had a couple of chances to put it away when Blanco headed him the ball. Adi’s header hit the post and bounced out. Adi tried to make the rebound play, but his toe poke was unsuccessful. Bingham scooped it up and we were once again denied.
After the first half, I was pretty frustrated. We were up a man, we had MORE than our share of chances, but had nothing on the scoreboard:
Finally, in the second half, we had something to show for all of that offensive effort. At 50′ Valentin found space in the middle of the field, drove forward, and made a beautiful pass to El Maestro, Diego Valeri on the left. Valeri chested it, ran onto the ball, and drilled in a bank shot off the post and into the back of the net. WHEW.
We had another chance at 60′, when we had numbers on the counter. Asprilla and Blanco both had chances to put it away but didn’t manage the task. Adi AGAIN found the post instead of the back of the net at 94′. Fortunately for us, it was once again Valeri to the rescue, who followed up in the box (you know, like you’re SUPPOSED to do when a teammate takes a shot), cleaned up Adi’s near miss, and put the game away.
Decent defense. Yes, I know we played a man up for over half the match; but even before that, keeper Jake Gleeson didn’t have a whole lot to do in front of our goal. Vytas continues to look sharp, protecting the left flank well and delivering crisp crosses. Miller and Liam Ridgewell handled the back well. Ridgewell was even more active than usual this game, pushing up when appropriate and still ably covering his territory.
And Valentin continued to make the case for more play time, making smart plays and contributing a key assist. While it’s clear that Powell has more pace and raw talent than Valentin, Powell’s decision making/giveaways were KILLING us on the right wing. I’m okay with Valentin in that spot, though I worry that a speed burner on his side of the field might make him pay dearly on a quick transition.
The post giveth, and the post taketh away. Yes, we know all about posts here in Portland. And Friday’s post action was nowhere near as dramatic as this. But it was still a pretty impressive collection: Asprilla with a post miss at 4′, Adi with a first half stoppage header post miss, Valeri with the post-and-in goal at 50′, Adi AGAIN hitting the post and missing in stoppage at the second half (with Valeri subsequently putting it away). Hopefully the posts are a bit kinder to us next weekend. Speaking of next weekend:
Our finishing continues to be worrisome. At the beginning of the season, looking at all of that firepower, I was pretty confident we would have a season of high-scoring games–and we did, for a time. But that certainly hasn’t been the case lately. And without Valeri’s finishing, we would still have walked away with only a point to show for our efforts, at home, against a team that was misfiring on offense even before they went a man down.
We have a lot of players who should have been able to put together a string of passes and finish. I love Valeri but he cannot be our only scoring threat. Not sure what the solution is, because Asprilla, Blanco, Adi et al seemed to be making good moves and getting plenty of chances. We just need to be able to count on lots of people being able to actually get the ball into the back of the net.
Two men were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.
A third passenger who tried to help was also stabbed, but is expected to survive, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.
We ache for the slain and injured and for their familes; and team, town, Timbers Army alike were compelled to honor their memory and their bravery. Players wore black armbands for the game. The stadium held a moment of silence before the anthem. And the Timbers Army raised a special tifo remembering the names of the fallen: Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche; and survivor Micah Fletcher. The front banner is a line from a poem that Micah wrote while in the hospital recovering from his wounds:
We have seen both the worst and the best of humanity in stark relief. If I have learned anything from the Timbers Army, it is that even in the worst of times, the best of humanity can also break through. Here’s hoping we continue to find and build on what is best in each of us, on and off the pitch.
Featured image courtesy: Nicole Barker/Timbers Army