It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating. It’s also far too familiar.
After yet another "good" performance from the Portland Timbers, the home team once again couldn’t find the winning goal in a game they otherwise dominated.
Here are three questions from the Timbers’ most recent disappointing result against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
1. How long are the goalscoring yips going to last?
There is a serious epidemic of finishing yips going through the Timbers’ locker room right now. And on Saturday night, the Timbers were downright feverish in that respect.
Darlington Nagbe is afflicted, although his condition is probably better classified as chronic than as acute at this point.
Fanendo Adi certainly has a highly publicized case of them, which, considering Adi was the Timbers’ only consistent goalscoring threat in March, likely explains the Timbers’ one measly goal in the past four games.
And Maxi Urruti seems to have come down with a case as well, with his missed header in the first half Saturday being perhaps the worst miss of the evening. And that was in a game in which Nagbe missed a penalty.
The finishing yips happen. Goalscoring is streaky. So it’s not surprising to see a player come down with a case of the yips, especially early in the season. But right now the contagion appears to have spread throughout the team, something that has only compounded the Timbers’ woes in this increasingly not-so-young season.
Look, the Timbers are going to score goals. They’re going to break out of their goalscoring malaise. This is a team that scored the third most goals in MLS in 2013 and 2014 and every player who's struggling now has shown some deadliness in front of goal at some point along the way.
But the question is how long it’s going to take the Timbers to break out of it. Because while the Timbers are (as it stands on Saturday night) tied on points for fifth place in the Western Conference, Caleb Porter’s crew can expect to find itself in another real hole if they don’t beat back their goalscoring queasiness soon.
2. How long is it going to take for Diego Valeri to get back in form?
Diego Valeri, it turns out, is mortal.
That isn’t to say his 2015 debut was bad. But it certainly wasn’t good, either.
He had a golden opportunity fall to him and made a mess of it. But, to some extent, that’s to be expected in a debut after a long injury layoff.
The bigger hope for Valeri’s debut, however, was he would help the Timbers unlock some sequences to get Adi, Urruti, and company on track. But that aspiration, too, was left largely unrequited on Saturday evening as the Timbers remained largely a one-trick pony after the maestro came on. The only place the Timbers could consistently put pressure on the Whitecaps’ defense was on the left wing, where Rodney Wallace and Jorge Villafana found some joy against Ethan Sampson.
Some struggles in Valeri's first few outings was both predictable and, in fact, predicted. Of course there was going to be a period during which Valeri would be shaking of the rust.
But, with Valeri's teammates struggling through some serious goalscoring issues, the Timbers could really use some of their talisman’s magic in short order.
3. Was a brief injury layoff what Rodney Wallace needed to get back in form?
If there was a positive from the Timbers’ attack on Saturday evening, it was the reemergence of Rodney Wallace as a consistent threat.
For the first time this season, Wallace was consistently dangerous down the left wing, with his best moments coming in a first half in which Wallace battered the Whitecaps’ right flank. By all rights Wallace’s performance should have been rewarded with an assist, as Urruti made a mess of a beautiful 32nd-minute cross off of Wallace’s left foot.
Although it’s probably too early to call this a settled matter, Wallace’s reemergence on Saturday night suggests we’re unlikely to see major changes made on the wing, and likely renders moot any questions about whether Dairon Asprilla is truly suited for a starting spot. All bodies healthy, a familiar 4-2-3-1 midfield of Wallace, Valeri, and Nagbe seems to be the most natural fit for the Timbers, with Asprilla poised to step into the primary substitute role in which he has, at times, been a difference maker in 2015.
With Valeri on the path back to regular-season form and Nagbe performing well thus far this season as a playmaker, the reintroduction of an effective Rodney Wallace could be a major shot in the arm for an attack that has struggled at times in the season’s opening months.
That is, if the Timbers can figure out how to finish again.