Where do I begin? To tell the story the story of how great a love can be?
Only it wasn’t. Damn, damn, blast and dammit. (Shit, gimme the reference?!)
I smiled through a lot of losses for the Portland Timbers in 2016, we all did. They did, too, and, trust me, it was much, much, much worse for them. Still, we felt less than optimal and, well, noted. Look, we have a right to our feelings, too. We do. Shut up.
At any rate, tonight’s loss to Real Salt Lake, 4-to-a-participation-ribbon-1, and at home, well, that poses questions. Several of them, in fact. Fans, or at least me as a singular person among them, looked at what the Timbers did in the off-season and, broadly, it made sense. Or sense enough. And, yes, one of the things the Timbers did this off-season – let’s just call him David Guzman - was, in fact, gone tonight (there were other things, however, who were present). So was Diego Chara. So was Darlington Nagbe, Liam Ridgewell. Uh, Alvas Powell…hmm, is that everyone? Is it ballpark? If so, isn’t that good enough.
And, honestly, sorry for all the commas. Jesus Christ, mugged by caveats.
Still, the team had Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, plus the team started the shiny new bauble fans have bayed for all season long, new centerback, Larrys Mabiala. The Timbers had enough of the players who carried them to a slightly positive record (7-7-6 record, with a +3 goal differential) that the omens didn’t spell “holy shit” in blood on the walls.
Events, as it happened, played out that way. As in, “holy shit” spelled in blood on the walls. To state things bluntly, the Timbers played a team tonight, one with a recent history that read like a rash of bad news. And they lost to that same team in roughly every facet of the game: intensity, chances (a halftime report shared the preliminaries, and I wept a little), and, sweet lord jesus, goals. RSL had four of ‘em, while Portland got a mangy mutt of a goal at the bitter end, in the end, one with halitosis and a list of lurking medical issues.
I went into this game dreaming of a Timbers re-boot; record of that optimism remain in my twitter timeline, where I predicted the opposite result (all three points for Portland, and two more goals than RSL at a minimum). RSL felt like just the team to lend a hand with kicking off the second half of the season right. Sure, I clocked their pummeling of the Los Angeles Galaxy, but that game read as a “roaring blip,” an data point far enough outside the mean that it felt wiser to chalk it up to LA’s spoiled-child malaise. As recently as the very end of May, RSL head coach Mike Petke gave…extraordinarily pointed career advice to his players. It was a riot act, and a deserved one; RSL’s season, at that point, looked doomed as a horror film harlot.
So…what the hell happened? Sure, mistakes were made. Jake Gleeson and Ben Zemanski owned RSL's first goal between them, but Gleeson would go on to make two great saves and several good ones besides. Moreover, the Timbers have been joined at the hip with mistakes all season, the series of slips and stumbles that have chucked a point here, forgot two points there. That’s Portland’s normal this 2017. But this game was not normal.
Diego Valeri struggled with his touch throughout the game; he got the ball tied up under his legs enough last night that I wondered if he didn’t do a Freaky Friday swap with Dairon Asprilla. Speaking of, Dear God, I hope no one let that man near heavy machinery last night, because he was toddler clumsy (just the most consequential instance). And, of course, when the team least needed it to happen, Adi lost every last log of his shit. That, my friends, is how you lose an important game at home against a team that has struggled for most of the season.
What most disturbed me about this game – the thing that disappointed me outright – was seeing the team get pressed into submission. I mean, I’ll allow that the optimism I carried into this one fuels my sense of disappointment like a boost of nitrous, and just about every man wearing green had an off-night (the only attacking player who seemed keyed in was Blanco), but those injuries aren’t going away (picked up a freshie last night, in fact; welcome to the Physio’s Lounge, Mr. Myers), and Portland now has more road games than home games going forward, and this really did feel like one of the ones I was counting on. Oh, and this already depleted team now goes into Sunday’s game, a road game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have rounded into steady of late, without Adi. And on short rest.
A team playing a thin, only semi-direct whisker over .500 ball (+3 goal differential) drops a game like last night’s at its own existential peril. YES, I understand that the Timbers have seemingly murdered past seasons with fearsome losses like this, only to come out smelling like roses. Unlike, oh, to pick a season at random, 2015, the only distinct bright spot for the team is Valeri’s call-up to the All-Stars (best of luck to you, Diego! I won’t be watching! Hate All-Star games…). And…well, shit. Just shit. Not feeling great about 2017, all y’all.
Well, that’s enough panicking. It’s still early this morning…but it’s getting awful late in the season for this kinda shit.