Opponents are exposing the Timbers' defense in two ways; counter attack and the set piece. In both situations, fouling plays a key part. Or, at least it should.
First, I was disappointed in the team's reactions to Montreal's counter last night. When the Timbers turned the ball over, their reactions were slow, and they were too often wrong. This was most clear on Will Johnson's turnover that led to the second goal.
Here is the sequence. Johnson turns the ball over attempting to pass to Zemanski. Felipe Martins collects and quickly plays to Arnaud, who quickly squares to Bernier. And THIS is where the goal is conceded. Chara (who I applauded last week) starts to close down Bernier, but does not completely cut off the space.
So while I see people blaming Silvestre, or Johnson for not tracking, or Ricketts for not protecting the near post, it was Chara's reaction to the turnover that led to the goal. What should he have done?
Barcelona - the architects of a high press, high possession style of play - had a dirty little secret under Pep Guardiola. They fouled. A lot. In fact they led the league for years in fouls when normalized for how much the time the team spent defending.
And they fouled because they knew that their style of play exposed defenders. When they turned the ball over, they fouled to let the team get set defensively. So they didn't just foul. They fouled and then kicked the ball away. They fouled and then cried to the ref about fouling. It wasn't petulant play. It was strategic. They were resetting.
Chara, who has no aversion to physical contact, should have fouled Bernier. Blatant and obvious so that the Timbers - who had Harrington making a forward run - could reset.
Of course, it is difficult to foul when you do not defend set pieces well. And the Timbers are terrible in set piece defense early this season. The first goal happened right in front of us last night. Before the set piece was taken my seat neighbors and I remarked how focused the Timbers were on the ball.
Montreal had set up with a stack of defenders to the far post. And yet Portland did not find them. They did not put bodies on them. And when the set piece led to a scramble, Portland was lost.
In this case, it was a world class goal. Would Portland defenders finding their mark and putting bodies on players have stopped it? I am not sure. What we do know is this isn't the first time the Timbers have lost players on set pieces.
It's all about the eyes, and right now we have too many ball watchers on set pieces.
When Porter recovers and looks to fix his defensive problems, those are the two areas I would start with.