I) Saturday’s 0-0 result versus Real Salt Lake was a tough draw to take. I really really REALLY wanted the win. Why? Not just because we should ALWAYS win at home. And not just because we needed three points to make the playoffs. (We didn’t. We made the playoffs anyway.) It think this draw frustrated me for two reasons.
One, I’d gotten myself REALLY geeked up about the Supporter’s Shield. I’d spent the past week looking obsessively at the standings, looking at New York’s schedule, Kansas City’s schedule, figuring out what two straight wins meant for us, convincing myself that this was really going to happen.
My second reason for frustration is because Real Salt Lake feels like our boogeyman. Including the US Open game, we’ve played them four times and we still haven’t beaten them. Even worse, they’re the only team this year who’s truly kicked our asses (August 30th’s 4-2 loss in Utah).
It would have been nice to slay our dragon, just once. Just so we’d know we could do it. If we end up facing them in the playoffs, I’ll go into it very anxious. Like I said, they’re our boogeyman.
II) That being said, we’re pretty damn good, too. My main reaction to the game was that these were two very good teams going toe-to-toe. On Saturday night, both teams were organized, skilled, composed, and driven. Portland may not have won, but there’s no doubt we’re a great team, a true contender.
I’ve bitched many times about us starting games slowly, but I was very happy with the attacking spirit Saturday night. We got after it right from the first whistle.
The defense? These guys are unconscious. I told you we don’t lose when Futty plays. Never doubt me again. My powers are legend. I called the Futty thing. I called for Seattle’s epic collapse. Who knows what I’ll call for next? Maybe a functioning national government.
Jokes aside, I’m quite happy with the team right now. We’re getting hot just in time for the playoffs. How will we do there? No telling. This is uncharted territory. But could the pressure of the playoffs be any worse than the pressure of the last month? We’ve had a string of playoff-atmosphere games and we’ve come out on top. Definitely a good omen.
III) Okay, enough of all those happy thoughts. Let’s get back to my specialty, agonizing shifts of emotion followed by snot, tears, drool, and fetal positions.
How many almost-goals did we see Saturday night? It was horrible. Truly a game of inches. I’ve got two almost-goals from Kalif Alhassan, one or two from Valeri, at least one from Trencito, Piquionne’s header in the 90th, then the two in stoppage time from Will Johnson and Sal Zizzo. Maybe there are others I’m forgetting? It seemed like non-stop heartbreak. So agonizingly close all night long.
So, CLEARLY, the man of the match was RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The bastard.
But if I were to pick someone in Timbers green, I’d suggest the entire back four. RSL held 56% of the possession, but they got almost no truly dangerous shots. Rimando was the one under siege, not Donovan Ricketts. His shutout came a lot easier, and I think that’s because of the four horsemen in front of him. They’ve been so tremendously solid for the last couple of months, it makes me feel very good about the playoffs. Yes, we’ve been having trouble scoring, but when you don’t give up any goals, you’re guaranteed at least a point.
IV) A few quick player notes.
Donovan Ricketts – How great was he in the 28th minute when Robbie Findlay got behind the defense and was running down a long pass? Ricketts came racing out of goal, then out of the 18-yard box, chested the ball, collected it on his feet, then bopped it upfield like he’s a fullback or something. Beautiful. His best play on an otherwise quiet night.
Jose Valencia – I’ve gotta tell ya, I’m starting to come around on the Little Train. I think he might be turning into the real deal. He’s pretty remarkable with the ball at his feet, isn’t he? Yes, he sometimes tries to much, but oftentimes, he pulls it off. His 42nd minute ball across the face of the goal was glorious and ALMOST found Kalif’s foot. So close, so heartbreaking.
Chris Wingert – Complete Douche. Why do I hate this guy so much? It’s not just that he’s out there mugging our guys, it’s that he does it while looking like a high school popular-kid bully. Or a frat boy. (And, really, what’s the difference?)
V) A few numbers to throw at you.
We’re unbeaten in seven games. Five of those have been shutouts. Not bad form, heading into the playoffs.
We held RSL to zero shots on goal. ZERO. That’s the first time we’ve done that in 101 games as an MLS side.
Last year, we had 34 points for the entire season. This year, we had 38 points AT HOME. Aww yeah…
Finally, I have not given up on this Supporter’s Shield thing. Here’s what we need: we need a loss from both NY and SKC. A tie would be good enough from LA. But all of these scenarios require a Timbers win against Chivas. Three points, nothing less. If we win, and NY loses a game, SKC loses a game, and LA loses or ties a game, we win the Shield. We win the damn shield.
I will now begin obsessing about this for the next week.
VI) Last thing. This past week, like many of you, I went online and cast my vote for the Timbers Army 2013 Supporter’s Player of the Year. Also known as “the People’s Champion.” With its oh-so-perfect-looking boxing-style championship belt.
It was a tough decision.
I considered Diego Valeri, who was the perfect conductor for Caleb Porter’s new style of play and who’s in the discussion for MLS Player of the Year. I considered Diego Chara, who’s possibly my favorite Timber, always where you need him, his engine never slowing. I considered Darlington Nagbe, who’s had his best season as a pro, and who seems to have made “the leap.” I considered Donovan Ricketts, who’s only been the best goalkeeper in MLS, who’s got 13 shutouts, and leads the league by a healthy margin in “oh dear Lord, that was going in, he just saved us a goal” plays.
But in the end, it was Will Johnson who got my vote, who got everyone else’s votes, and who raised the championship belt Saturday night. I can’t speak for everyone else who voted for him, but for me it came down to the change in this team’s attitude. The 2013 Portland Timbers absolutely REFUSE to lose. When we’re down a goal, we turn up the intensity to almost homicidal levels. And if we get a goal to draw even, we don’t celebrate. We grab the ball out of the net and RACE back to the center line, eager to get started on scoring the go-ahead goal. Losses are unacceptable. Draws aren’t good enough. Getting three points is all we care about.
This attitude did not exist twelve months ago, but now, everyone has it. Clearly, Caleb Porter’s the biggest reason for the change, but I couldn’t vote for him, so I voted for the guy who personifies him out on the field. The scrappy gamer whose personal attitude has become the TEAM’S attitude. Who’s always in the ref’s ear, who gets into scraps defending injured teammates, who cracks me up on a regular basis by irritating opponents or mocking inept referees or just basically giving us the “Will Johnson Face.”
I’d congratulate Will on his victory, but I know what he’d say to that. We all do. “We haven’t done anything yet,” he’d say. “There are still a lot of games left to play and we’re gonna keep working hard and staying focused. We won’t be satisfied until we’ve won the whole thing.”
And that’s why we love him. That’s why he’s the People’s Champ.