Saturday's win against DC United was as dramatic as it was vital. The team played well as a unit, they generated pressure in the final third, they scored opportunistic goals, and unlike the performance against Houston (link) the team showed genuine camaraderie and elation with each electrifying goal.
In short, they looked like the 2013 Timbers we knew and loved. The win was incredibly important and if the Timbers make the playoffs in 2014, this will no doubt be the week we look back on as the turning point.
In the month of April, apropos of nothing, Slate has undertaken some fairly extensive zebra coverage. They've reported on what happens when you cross a zebra and a donkey (link) and have blown the lid off the "Why Zebras Have Stripes," story we've all been dying to read (link).
As a matter of perspective, is a zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes? I think this is the central question for the Timbers over the next two home games: Is the identity of this team closer to the scrappy, never surrender 2013 Timbers or the snake-bitten side we saw in 2012 and through the first 8 games of 2014? Was the win against DC United the exception or a return to the rule?
I truly believe that Caleb Porter has built an identity exemplified by the 2013 Timbers and the side we cheered on Saturday against DC United. If that's true, it's important that a consistent group of 11 players emerges quickly and that they either minimize lapses that twice allowed DCU to tie before scoring the game winner in the 94th minute or they score enough goals that they can win in spite of frequent lapses.
On Saturday, the Timbers played together as a side and were able to get the three points in a dramatic finish at Providence Park. It's critical that they are able to capitalize over the next two home games as they struggle to fight their way back into the playoff picture.
Let's look back at the Three Questions for the match (link):
- Do the Timbers show urgency without looking frantic?
- Yes. All three goals showed great teamwork, indicative of a team that felt the urgent need to win at home without being frantic. There were lapses to be sure, but the team delivered the win.
- Has Caleb Porter identified 11 players who are able to work together as a team?
- TBD. Unlike most analysts, I do not think Zakuani had a strong performance. While it's possible that his speed and footwork helped open up the final third for his teammates, there were many instances of Zakuani making a nifty move, devoid of any connection to his teammates, before inexplicably conceding possession to DC United.
- Are the Timbers able to take the initiative early and generate goals?
- Yes, and ultimately this was the key. Last week I predicted, "The team gets focused around a Valeri resurgence. Timbers get the first win of 2014 . . . (1-2)." If only I'd had the confidence to make that prediction twice! Back were Nagbe and Valeri. Their efficacy in the attack set the terms of the contest in under a minute and while the team did concede tying goals twice, in the end they were able to keep the pressure on DC United and finish with three points.
- Though perhaps hidden in the excitement of Fernandez's incredible goal and Urruti's electrifying game winner, there were some cracks. The bottom line is that this is a team badly in need of confidence and points. On Saturday, they earned both.