Don’t leave a game between the Portland Timbers and L.A. Galaxy at Providence Park early. For the second consecutive time the two teams have faced off in Portland, the Timbers and Galaxy traded goals after the 90th minute on their way to a draw nobody is entirely happy with.
The Timbers put in a bipolar performance on Sunday, with the first half featuring some of the best attacking sequences in this young season, but Portland putting in their worst spell of the season during the first twenty minutes of the second half. Here are three questions coming out of the Timbers’ draw with the Galaxy:
1. How much will the Timbers’ newfound directness benefit them in the long-term?
It wasn’t to the extent it was last Saturday against Real Salt Lake, but the Timbers’ attack was once again very direct against L.A. Galaxy. The Timbers’ 386 passes were more than 100 more than Portland attempted against RSL, but Portland was still very no-nonsense in the attacking half. Portland’s 62% passing percentage in the attacking half was certainly higher than against RSL (54%), but is still well off the Timbers’ normal rate.
As discussed last week in the Stumptown Breakdown, this isn’t a huge surprise. The Timbers are still missing two of the most important pieces to their preferred style of play and were playing a Galaxy team against whom Portland has historically been very direct to take some of the bite out of L.A.’s counterattack.
"You say we play direct, and we did at times, and the second goal came kind of out of that type of situation," Porter said postgame, "I think we become a more well-rounded team and I think that’s going to pay off over the course of a 34-game season because we’ve got a lot of different ways that we can play."
Under Porter the Timbers have generally been a very possession-oriented team early in the season. It has not typically been until later in the summer and fall that the Timbers have tweaked their approach a little bit to prepare for the run to the postseason.
At least in part by necessity, Porter is installing many of those tweaks early this year, which could pay dividends if the Timbers can bring their typical possession-based approach back into the fold when they get healthier. Going forward, if opponents choose to press, the Timbers can go a bit more direct, but if the other side sits off a little bit the Timbers can be much more patient and build from the back and through the middle. This balance could make the Timbers very difficult to stop once they get closer to full strength.
2. What happened coming out of the locker room after halftime?
Although everybody will remember the late equalizer, the Timbers really lost the result in the 20 minutes after halftime, culminating in Gyasi Zardes’s first equalizer.
The teams’ passing charts in this period are not flattering to the Timbers.
The Timbers were simply ineffective in transition during this period, repeatedly turning the ball over in their own half with the bulk of their troubles coming down their right side. Simply put, Alvas Powell and Dairon Asprilla weren’t getting the job done to help the Timbers push forward.
Under duress of the Galaxy’s press, the Timbers were unable to get a foot on the ball, hold possession, and push their lines back up. As a result the Timbers were under siege for most of the 20 minutes, culminating in Zardes’s goal. The stumble out of the locker room was certainly disappointing, but not terribly surprising. Although the Timbers did a nice job of getting into the attack against L.A., they struggled to bottle up the Galaxy when the five-time champions were in possession. But if the Timbers did their share of box defending in the first half, it was nothing compared to the job they had to do (and ultimately failed to do) in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
If there is lipstick to put on this pig, it’s that the Timbers did well to reestablish control in the final 20 minutes until Alan Gordon’s heartbreaking header at the death. But, in any event, they wouldn’t have had to reestablish control over this game if they hadn’t lost it out of the locker room in the first place.
3. Can Caleb Porter win in March?
The Timbers’ 0-for-March record stretched to 0-3-7 on Sunday, with what likely represents the Timbers’ most painful March draw. There’s no question that injuries and a difficult opening schedule substantially complicate the task of getting out of the blocks for the Timbers, but 0-for-March remains 0-for-March.
After the game Porter bristled lightly at the suggestion that the team may be starting slow again, but with two disappointing draws to open the season (even if there were positives in both performances) and in light of the past two years of history, the questions are certainly justified.
Instead of bristling at the questions, Porter is going to need to answer them.