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Three Questions from the Timbers’ 4-1 Win Over the Sounders

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That was sort of like the 5-0 loss in Los Angeles. Except the exact opposite.

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

That was sort of like the 5-0 loss in Los Angeles. Except the exact opposite.

Although the final result remained in doubt for longer than it should have, the Portland Timbers utterly dominated the shorthanded Seattle Sounders on Sunday, with the Timbers firing off 23 shots to the Sounders’ six and putting 11 on frame to Seattle’s one. In the end, although Sounders coach Sigi Schmid disagreed postgame, the lopsided scoreline was just.

Here are three questions from the Timbers’ win over the Sounders:

1. Did three of the Timbers’ attacking front four have their best game of the season?

Very likely. You could probably quibble about ranking Sunday ahead of some of Darlington Nagbe’s early-season performances, but Nagbe, Gaston Fernandez, and Fanenedo Adi were all excellent on Sunday afternoon. As a result, a little bit of a difficult outing for Diego Valeri didn’t matter one bit, as the Timbers got massive production from their front four on the way to a dominant performance.

Including attacking substitutes Maximiliano Urruti and Rodney Wallace, the front four logged four goals, four assists, and 17 chances created on Sunday evening. That is bananas.

Missing for much of the season, Adi’s holdup play showed up Sunday in a game in which Caleb Porter built the team’s gameplan around putting Adi alone up front to battle Chad Marshall and Brad Evans while stacking three central-centric midfielders to run in behind and off of the big man. The result for Adi was a touches map that looked like this:

That’s spectacular center forward play from Adi and is a reminder of why the Timbers signed him to a designated-player contract a year ago. Even without discussing his two goals, it’s not going out on a limb to declare Sunday to be Adi’s best outing of 2015.

Just as easy is calling Fernandez’s performance his best of 2015. Fernandez crated five chances on Sunday, a number that almost is certainly eclipsed by his tally for fools made.

Fernandez was an absolute monster working combinations from his largely central-midfield position and in delivering balls into the box. From a playmaking perspective, Sunday was certainly Fernandez’s best performance of the season. That is no small feat considering we’ve been in the midst of a Gata Spring the last several weeks, with Fernandez almost certainly pulling himself off the transfer list and into the everyday rotation for the foreseeable future.

But, as good as Adi and Fernandez were on Sunday, the day belonged to Darlington Nagbe. Yes, Nagbe found a great goal to open the scoring. But his distribution map tells the true story of Nagbe’s day:

On Sunday Nagbe was a ruthlessly efficient playmaker, repeatedly carving up the Seattle midfield with the ball at his feet and distributing into dangerous areas. And, among all of that work, Nagbe only had two incomplete passes. Put in context, Nagbe created twice as many chances as he had incompletions. Elite stuff.

The production the Timbers received from virtually every corner of their attack was reminiscent of the Timbers offense in 2013 and 2014 that consistently lit up the nets. Although the Timbers are certainly going to have to do so against better competition than the Seattle team that they filleted on Sunday, there are few who can stop Portland when the Green-and-Gold are getting contributions from this many players in the attack.

2. How do the performances of Adi and Fernandez affect the Timbers’ transfer strategy going forward?

As I alluded to above, with several solid performances in a row it appears Fernandez’s spot in Portland is safe for the remainder of 2015. And his performance on Sunday is a perfect example of why: The Timbers’ chances of going on the international market and picking up a sub-DP-level player who can step in and make an impact like that this year are slim to none.

But now we have to start asking the same question about Adi. With eight goals in 18 appearances (11 starts) in 2015, Adi’s goalscoring production has reached a near-elite level. But goalscoring hasn’t always been Adi’s biggest problem in 2015, as his holdup play has waned significantly from the dominant force he was through much of 2014.

That, however, is showing signs of changing, too. After the Timbers' dramatic U.S. Open Cup win in Tukwila, Porter went out of his way to highlight the success Adi had in holding the ball up and occupying Seattle’s central defenders. And, as noted, Adi was dominant in that respect once again on Sunday, going toe-to-toe with Chad Marshall while dominating Brad Evans on the left side of Seattle’s centerback tandem.

The Timbers are almost certainly still working the market in hopes of signing an elite talent up top. If there is a deal there to be made, I still think the Timbers will make it. But Adi’s recent emergence from his late-spring slump significantly alleviates the urgency for the Timbers to make a move. Can the Timbers make a trophy run with Adi getting most of the minutes up front? You bet, as long as he plays something close to the way he did on Sunday. That last part, however, is the trick.

But, inconsistency issues aside, Adi has given the Timbers the ability to wait for the right deal to present itself. And if it does sometime over the course of the next month, Portland can likely expect to turn a nice profit on Adi as he heads out the door.

3. How did Will Johnson and Diego Chara work out the central-midfield responsibilities on Sunday?

Last week we talked about the way the Timbers were working the balance between Will Johnson and Diego Chara with Johnson returning from his broken leg suffered in Toronto last fall. If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking a look sat the different ways the Timbers have deployed Chara and Johnson in 2015. The tl;dr version, however, is that the Timbers haven’t had a very consistent approach to date with the pair, as they have deployed Chara and Johnson as dueling box-to-box central midfielders and, alternatively, with Johnson as a holding midfielder while Chara plays box to box.

For reference, the square boxes with arrows are passes while the triangles of various colors are defensive events.

On Sunday, the Timbers largely went back to working Johnson as more of a holding midfielder while Chara worked box to box. Although Johnson’s average position in the attack was probably a little bit higher than you’ll usually see a true six play and Will certainly picked his moments to venture forward, that was probably on account of the Timbers not being terribly fearful of Seattle’s pace up top. Johnson’s focus on moving the ball laterally, however, is a shibboleth of true d-mid work in the attack.

Chara, on the other hand, played his usual box-to-box role, being a little bit more advanced in the attack and winning the ball higher than Johnson typically did. Accordingly, I’m going to score this as a single pivot with Johnson at the back, albeit in a little bit higher attacking position than we’ll usually see when the Timbers go with a true holding midfielder.

With a sample size of four games now, therefore, the central-midfield tactics scorecard is Single Pivot: 2, Double Pivot: 2.