Gavin Wilkinson and Merritt Paulson need to find a line-up and stick with it. Photo by Jennifer Kesgard.
In another part of my life I don't spend all day watching soccer.
I am a teacher, specializing in working in infant and toddler development, where I have helped countless children in their early years. One of the things that we preach is consistency, in how the child is taught, who cares for them, bonds with them, feeds them, etc. This is essential to their development, because studies show that a child has a greater potential outcomes and are more easily adaptable when they have can rely on their environment around them.
Sports isn't any different. Players spend years honing their skills, perfecting them to the point where become reactionary, done without thought. When I coach my U7s and U8s, much of what I am doing is teaching them the basic skills they need to succeed later in the sport, whether they'll play competitively or pickup games in the park.
The Timbers are professional soccer players, but I often find them over-thinking, making the same mistakes that my kids made on the pitch. When my kids do it, they're learning, but when the Timbers do it, its frustrating, but there are some surprising parallels that I wouldn't think would be there at the professional level.
The only thing I can think of is that the Timbers last consistency, so I went back and looked at the line-ups for each Timbers MLS game this year and what I found didn't surprise me.
The Timbers have one player who has started every game in the same position, Troy Perkins in goal. Kris Boyd has played every game at forward, Darlington Nagbe and shifted between forward and midfield, and Diego Chara in either central or outside midfield.
That's it. 4 players out of 20 or so that have seen game time. Now wonder we look lost half the time.
On defense, 5 players have seen starts at RB, 5 at either CB position, and 3 at LB.
In in midfield 6 players have started at either wing position, 3 players in attacking mid, and 3 players in defensive mid.
Finally at forward, Boyd has started all but one game, but has been paired with 4 different players.
Some of this shifting has been unavoidable. Suspensions and injuries has led to the majority of the inconsistency at both CB and on the wings, but for the rest of the positions, it has been constant line-up changes in hope of finding something that works, to varying degrees of success.
All this changing makes it impossible for any kind of flow to develop. Last season, I chalked that up to building a new team. Early this season, many players never got to play together due to injuries or being on other teams.
Now, having played 19 games, this has to stop.
Wilkinson has said they are not looking to make any more moves this season, so it is likely that the players we have will be with us for the rest of the season. So let's put our best team on the field, stick with it, and see what happens.
There are 15 games left in the season. That's 45 points. We are 8 points behind the 5th playoff spot, but with each game that gap either closes or widens.
Individually we have good players, but it is clear that many of them don't trust each other because they haven't seen much in-game experience with each other. This is a young team, save for a few players, and they play like a young team, but young teams do well when they have played together for a while.
Will you keep on tinkering and have the same results, or will you find something, stick with it, and hope for the best results possible.
The choice is yours.