C.I. DeMann returns to go over the remains of the Timbers 2-4 loss in Utah in the first leg of the Western Conference Final against Real Salt Lake.
1) I’m going to start this column by addressing what the entire world wants to know: why my last column – a Pulitzer-worthy reflection on our glorious victory over Seattle – was never actually published.
It’s a complicated matter. My editor, Kevin Alexander, has told me that the column was rejected due to “poor quality.” (EDITOR’S NOTE: this isn’t actually true. It was a website issue.)
A more likely reason? It was a simple act of spite, brought on by Kevin’s long-standing jealousy over my six-pack abs, my pearly white teeth, and my full, luxurious beard. (EDITOR’S NOTE: okay, this part’s true.)
Just be aware, loyal readers, that it was my best column to date and contained detailed analysis, fancy tables, charts, and graphics, plus some exclusive locker-room photos of Sigi Schmid eating an entire pumpkin pie in one bite. (EDITOR’S NOTE: none of these “editor’s notes” were actually put here by the editor, but were instead written by C.I. DeMann himself in an effort to get some cheap laughs and to delay his having to write about the horrors of Sunday night’s RSL game.)
Okay, now that we’ve dealt with that, on to the game.
2) All season, I’ve been very up-front about the fact that Real Salt Lake scares me. They’re the only Western Conference team we haven’t beaten. They’re the only team this season that truly blew us out (4-2 in August). They came to Portland twice and both times earned draws (one of which was a 3-3 late-goal punch to the man-bits). They seemed to have our number. They were our boogeyman.
After we stomped Seattle last Thursday, I allowed myself a tiny bit of optimism. The team looked great. Going up 3-0 on Seattle, we look nearly perfect. Not just one guy, but everyone, offense and defense. We were looking as dangerous as we had all year. I told myself that maybe this RSL game would be different.
Then, on Sunday night in Utah, in the 14th minute, when Will Johnson had his latest free-kick goal, I was jumping around like a kid, thinking we’d finally done it. We’d finally figured out RSL. We would finally conquer our boogeyman
3) Then RSL welcomed us to our nightmare.
Three goals in 13 minutes. A fourth goal in the 82nd minute.
And then I got into bed, curled into a little ball, and hoped the boogeyman couldn’t get me. Hoped that if I covered myself in blankets and didn’t expose any body parts, the pain would stop.
Was taking to my bed the reason Frederic Piquionne scored that last-second goal? Probably. And you’re welcome.
4) So, anyway… wow. What a clusterfuck.
Seriously, could we have looked any worse? It really reminded me of that 4-2 loss back in August. That one was also in Utah, and it also looked like a game of men versus boys. I wish I could tell you WHY we looked so horrible in both games, but all I can give you is general impressions, wild guesses, and a whole lot of dear-Lord-make-the-pain-stop.
General impression: this ass-kicking reminded me of last week against Seattle, when we could do whatever we wanted. Unfortunately, this time the positions were reversed, with us playing the part of the Flounders and getting our asses kicked.
Wild guess: could it be elevation? Salt Lake City’s at 4,327 feet. This isn’t as high as Colorado, granted, but maybe it’s enough to explain how we were okay for the first 35 minutes then suddenly our legs turned to cement while we watched RSL score four straight goals. Just a theory.
Dear-Lord-make-the-pain-stop 1: from the 35th minute on, our possessions were a struggle simply to keep the ball. Their possessions were smooth, precise, and led to non-stop shots on goal.
Dear-Lord-make-the-pain-stop 2: the few times we managed to get the ball near their goal, we only had 1 or 2 guys in the box. 1 or 2 tired guys. But when RSL came down on offense, they had 5 or 6 dudes in the box, all of them looking fresh, dangerous, and ready to score.
Dear-Lord-make-the-pain-stop 3: even Diego Chara looked slow and tired. Read that sentence again. Diego Chara. Slow and tired. I never thought I would use these words together.
5) Remember a week ago when we went to Seattle and beat them 2-1? Remember how everyone was crowing about that late Seattle goal and how it was such a “big deal?” How it had “swung momentum?” How it “changed the complexion of the series?”
I thought it was a bunch of malarkey back then, but I’m sort of understanding it a little better now.
That Piquionne goal in the 94th minute really was a big deal, wasn’t it? Before that goal, we were going to have to come back to Portland and beat RSL 4-0. A monumental task. Perhaps impossible.
Now, thanks to Freddy, we only need to beat them 3-0. And that seems much more do-able, doesn’t it? We scored 3 against them in the home game on August 21st. We shut them out 0-0 in the home game on October 19th. Now, if we can just put those two performances together, we’re on to the MLS Cup.
Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.
6) How do we do it? I’m not entirely sure, but I think lowering the stadium by 4,000 feet might help. Giving our legs 2 weeks to recover will be pretty cool, too. And it goes without saying that I’ll spend the game covered in blankets, curled into a tiny ball.
Past that… wow, man, I dunno. Like I said, they’re our boogeyman. Seattle didn’t scare me at all. The LA Galaxy? Same. But RSL? What do you want me to say? I was scared of them BEFORE they destroyed us on Sunday. Now? I’ve got no answers for you. Rest the legs, lower the stadium, and curl into a ball. That’s all I’ve got.
Can we do this? Yes. Will we? I don’t know. But if we DO beat them by three goals, if we DO make it to the MLS Cup, it will be one of the great moments in Timbers history, so I’m glad it’s happening at home, where we can all see it.
Not that I’ll actually see it. I’ll be under my blankets. Curled into a ball.