Well, that was unexpected.
And, yes, I have some crow to eat.
I didn’t think - and, in my defense, there was really no reason to think - the Portland Timbers had any chance in Carson on Sunday.
And through the first half that assumption looked safe. Although the Galaxy only scored once, they rocked the woodwork twice and (aside from a Liam Ridgewell corner-kick header) kept the Timbers silent.
But then the second half happened. And we’ll be talking about that for a long time.
Here are three questions from the Timbers’ shocking 5-2 win over LA Galaxy:
1. Where does the Timbers’ second-half eruption rank among surprises in this MLS season?
At the very top.
In the first half the Timbers looked toothless against a Galaxy team that had won 12 of 16 at home in 2015 and only lost once at Stub Hub Center. Based on everything we had seen of the season to date and everything we had seen in the first half of the game on Sunday, the Timbers’ 1-0 halftime deficit looked insurmountable. Maybe if things fell right the Timbers could scratch out a draw. But even those odds felt pretty remote.
But that’s the beauty of sport. Sometimes what happens next defies everything that has come before.
In 25 minutes on Sunday the Timbers’ put up 13.5% of their goalscoring output of the season to date. The team that had scored the second fewest goals in MLS in 2015 scored five - yes, five - goals between the 65th and 90th minutes.
Those five goals that the Timbers scored in the final 25 minutes on Sunday? By themselves they’re impressive. They’re mind-blowing, however, when you consider that the Galaxy had only conceded 11 times in the first 1,505 minutes they’d played at Stub Hub Center to that point this year.
On some level, the second-half performance from the Timbers’ defies words. It wasn’t a matter of any brilliant tactical shift from first half to second, or any single player putting the team on his back (though, as we’ll discuss, there were some standout performances). It was just eleven players finally and suddenly putting together what they’d seemingly been missing all year.
And the result was the best half that the Portland Timbers have played in recent - and perhaps distant - memory.
Players, coaches, and staff deserve immense credit for pulling off the shock of the MLS season at a massive, massive moment.
2. Who gets Man of the Match - Diego Chara or Fanendo Adi?
Don’t worry. There’s no wrong answer here. Both were immense.
Deployed in a system that puts a great deal of defensive pressure on him and facing a team that is the most lethal in and around the box in MLS, to say Chara had his work cut out for him on Sunday would have been an understatement.
But not as much of an understatement as it would be to say Chara rose to the challenge.
Throughout his time in Portland, Chara has been a dominant ball-winner and tireless midfield workhorse, but he hasn’t been a number six. In fact, as we discussed after the win in Salt Lake, Chara’s skill set really doesn’t make deploying him alone in front of a backline a logical thing to do.
But that’s exactly what he’s done over the past week. And he’s done so spectacularly.
Now this is where, again, I look silly. Because I wanted to highlight for you the things Chara did well on Sunday. So I looked at his defensive map. It was excellent. And then I looked at his distribution map. Also excellent. So, basically, I couldn’t decide.
As a result, I created one bird’s nest of a comprehensive map for Chara against the Galaxy. Among that mess are six tackles won, eight recoveries, two interceptions, a clearance, and a tidy 37 out of 40 passes completed. Oh, and see that little soccer ball up top? That’s a goal that Chara scored with his head.
With. His. Head.
The inverted-triangle 4-3-3 that I thought lived on borrowed time may be here to stay. And, by its nature, it still carries with it considerable risk of giving up too much space in front of the backline.
But if Chara plays like he did against RSL on Wednesday and especially LA Galaxy on Sunday, then the Timbers may be a force moving forward with Chara as the backline’s white knight.
So it would be easy to hand Chara the MOTM. He put in, after all, one of the best performances we’ve seen from a Timber all year.
Except what about Adi? After a relatively ho-hum first half in which Adi had some solid holdup play, but failed to help generate anything of note in the attack, the Timbers’ number nine came out in the second half and, for the decisive fifteen minutes during which the Timbers took control, was the best player on a field that contained Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, and Giovani dos Santos. And it wasn’t even close.
In fact, it may have been the most dominant fifteen minutes we’ve seen from a Timber in quite some time. Let’s recap.
Adi equalized in the 65th minute when he controlled a Lucas Melano pass in the box with his left foot before spinning and firing into the roof of the net with his weaker boot. Again, all with his weaker foot.
But if his first goal was an impressive technical display, the penalty that Adi earned two minutes later to set up his second was all about physicality. After Adi posted up Dan Gargan in the box, Melano whipped a low cross from the right side across the top of the six-yard box. With his back initially to goal, Adi spun Gargan and had an unimpeded path to the end of Melano’s cross for a tap in, leaving Gargan only to drag Adi down by the waist and narrowly avoid a red card for denial of a goalscoring opportunity.
Adi was at it again when the Timbers went up 3-1 in the 74th minute, holding the ball up with Omar Gonzalez on his back and attracting Leonardo before re-distributing back to Rodney Wallace whose cross found the end of Chara's run into the now-vacant box for his soon-to-be legendary header.
Adi arguably should have caused another Galaxy player to be sent off in the 77th minute when he checked Gonzalez to get to a long clearance from Liam Ridgewell. As a result, Adi put himself with only he and Leonardo between goal. The Timbers’ striker put the ball past Leonardo and clearly had a step through on goal before the Brazilian centerback hip checked the Timbers’ fifteen-goal scorer to keep him from earning his hat trick.
Again, all of that was in 15 minutes.
So take your pick between Chara’s tactical perfection and Adi’s quarter-hour minutes of dominance. But make no mistake, both performances were among the best we’ve seen from any Timber this season.
3. What are the Timbers going to do with Taylor Peay?
We’ve heard a lot recently about how the Timbers don’t put enough emphasis on the draft.
And with recent first-round picks Schillo Tshuma and Nick Besler struggling through the early portions of their career with the Timbers, I suppose that’s a fairly easy narrative (though it would be foolish to close the book on Besler so soon).
But it also ignores contributions the Timbers’ have received from a pair of 2014 second-round draft picks. George Fochive is just shy of 600 minutes for the season, and has logged seven starts sprinkled in among ten appearances in defensive midfield. Fochive’s progression throughout the season has built upon a strong rookie season spent largely on loan before T2 came into being, and heading into 2016 Fochive looks to be in contention to be a regular part of the Timbers’ rotation. That, frankly, that only possible because Fochive received significant first-team minutes this season.
But the former-draftee star on Sunday was right back Taylor Peay, spelling the suspended Alvas Powell. The Galaxy were clearly keen to get after Peay, the obvious weak link on the Timbers’ backline. And while LA got a couple looks from that side, Peay largely shut down the Galaxy’s left wing. And this isn’t a one-off performance. Peay was also a bright spot in otherwise blasé 0-0 draws with San Jose and Sporting Kansas City, respectively, in the past couple months.
Which is to say this: Like Fochive, it looks like Peay is ready to be a regular part of the Timbers’ rotation.
While that is certainly good news for the Timbers, it gives Caleb Porter a good problem to have. Alvas Powell is and should be the incumbent at right back. Oozing with talent and showing real signs of progress, Powell has the makings of a tremendous MLS right back and perhaps more. The Timbers simply can’t afford to sacrifice Powell’s minutes for the purpose of Peay’s development. At the same time, however, Peay looks very much like a prospect worth developing.
Whether it is a position change or another year bouncing between T2 and the first team, however, it is clear that the Timbers need to start planning for - and nurturing - the longterm future of what looks to be a second promising prospect from the 2014 draft.