During November and December 2010, the Oregon Ducks men's basketball team had some nasty losses. Granted, nothing much was expected of the Ducks last season, but still, the losses were painful. By New Year's Day, Oregon fell four times to teams ranked outside the top 100 in the RPI, and three of those games were at home. By the time the Ducks had bottomed out, they had a six-game losing streak and were 5-9 overall.
Ducks head coach Dana Altman came up with a solution that kick-started Oregon's second-half surge: He took junior point guard Malcolm Armstead out of the lineup and replaced him with freshman Johnathan Loyd. This move defied convention, as Armstead was regarded as the second most talented player on the team, and he had been a starter for the one and a half years he had been a member of the program.
This move saved Oregon's season.
Sure, there were other things that certainly contributed to the Ducks' second-half surge, including Joevan Catron's incredible consistency and hustle, and the growth of E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim. But this switch reversed the team's fortunes by motivating Armstead to hustle and by giving Loyd an increased opportunity to contribute.
(More on this after the jump and how it relates to the Timbers)
John Spencer has the same opportunity with the Portland Timbers. He, too, is mired in a midseason slump, and his team could certainly use some positive momentum right now. I'm no expert soccer tactician (I use a straight 4-4-2 in FIFA with two strikers, and I just Sam Allardyce the other team to death), but it's easy to tell that Portland's offense has stagnated in the run of play. In fact, the Timbers have only one goal in the run of play since April 30, a desperation header by Jorge Perlaza in a futile comeback attempt against DC United — and even that came from a Jeremy Hall throw-in.
Whether through shape, tactics or personnel, Spencer should make some sort of move, because MLS has Portland figured out right now. There doesn't seem to be a link between the midfield and the strikers, and the Timbers built this team from front to back. Because of this, the defense — which, compared to the rest of the team, was cobbled together — has been overexposed, and the side backs have proved to be liabilities. Eric Brunner and Futty Danso have been huge in central defense for most of the year, and they and Jack Jewsbury seem to be the only people keeping the Timbers from being embarrassed on a regular basis.
Futty himself is a good example of the impact that can be made by a simple change. After Kevin Goldthwaite proved to actually be an embarrassment for the Timbers and David Horst sprained his ankle — and foolishly shaved the Horstache — Futty seized the opportunity in the starting lineup and instantly became a game-changing player for the team.
Spencer needs to step up and make a change somewhere, because what Portland's putting on the field right now isn't playing well enough to win, even in matches where the Timbers should be favored. Since Portland's seven-goal rampage in the home-opening weekend, the team is averaging fewer than a goal per game. For a team built with an offensive emphasis, that production is unacceptable.
Because the reward is potentially so high, Spencer needs to take his opportunity to make a change. There is still plenty of season to go, and the lessening results of recent weeks can easily be reversed.
Just look at Oregon for example — the Ducks were far worse off than the Timbers are and they still managed to bring home some hardware at the end of the season, in the shape of the College Basketball Invitational tournament title. If they can make something out of a lost season, the Timbers can certainly do as much with their talent.