Despite the third loss in a row for the Portland Timbers, Sunday's performance against New York City FC, especially the first 60 minutes, was one of the best that the team has put together this season. Last week, we discussed here a team that looked out of sync in the attack. Against Vancouver and Dallas, runs were poorly timed, passing was not crisp, and the decision-making was not up to the usual standard that we hold the team to. On Sunday, taking the result out of consideration, the team looked fluid once again and hopefully it is a sign of more improvements to come.
Straight from the beginning of the game, the Timbers pressured New York City FC high up the pitch, looking to create turnovers in the attacking third of the field and enabling counterattacks and quick scoring opportunities. Coinciding with this, the Timbers looked to probe the NYC FC defense and get in behind them, as illustrated with their great scoring opportunity in the 5th minute.
After some smart build-up by the Timbers with Diego Valeri finding the gaps in the NYC FC midfield, Lucas Melano found himself on the wing serving a great ball into the box. Josh Saunders scrambled to beat Fanendo Adi to the ball, but leaving Valeri with a tasty rebound. Unfortunately, and not for the last time in the match, the NYC defense offered a brilliant block in the box, negating the opportunity. Since the evolution from "Porter Ball," the Timbers had made a living off of attacking with speed, exposing holes in the defense and moving into them swiftly. This particular stretch of passes and play is a quality example of it and while it did not end up resulting in a goal, it created an excellent opportunity that on another day, could easily have resulting in another log slab for Valeri.
In addition to the quick counters, the Timbers attack was far more fluid than it had been in matches past. As pointed out last week against FC Dallas, the team looked a bit stagnant at times, looking like they did not quite know where things were going to be going. The script flipped on Sunday afternoon with some great interplay between Fanendo Adi, Darlington Nagbe, Valeri, and Melano. In the first half, Nagbe and Valeri had quality opportunities created through combination play and quick ball movement.
In both of these chances, Darlington Nagbe needs to be recognized for his driving runs that created the opportunities. In the first, after receiving the throw-in, Nagbe spins his man and provides that third man run for Valeri to find in the box and offer an incredible shift of the shoulders to beat his defender. In the second, after eluding the defense, Nagbe found Valeri again and continued his 40-yard run to the top of the box to create another opportunity that was unfortunately blocked by the NYC FC backline. Both instances illustrate the effect that movement with and without the ball can have in creating chances.
Unfortunately, once Adi exited the match with his injured hamstring, the Timbers' flow seemed to lose a bit of edge. Adi offers so much to the Timbers' attack with his physicality and ability to post up defenders and offer himself as a wall for passes and build up. His skill set matches so well with the likes of Nagbe, Valeri, and Melano who are all so good in small spaces and combination play. Look at Nagbe's chance early on in the second half.
Before receiving the ball from Valeri in the box, Adi searches for his man and gives him a little bump, creating separation to receive the ball in. Then, with the awareness that Nagbe is trailing the play, Adi provided a clever backheel pass into the space for the onrushing Nagbe who's attempt was saved by Saunders once again on the afternoon. At no fault of their own, the other forwards on the team do not have these sort of pieces in their game, specifically the physicality of Adi; Darren Mattocks is more looking for balls in behind the defense to use his speed and Jack McInerney has been a clinical finisher during his time in the MLS. In addition to the goals he has scored, Adi offers so much to the buildup play of the team. The Green and Gold must hope that Adi's injury is not too serious and that he will be able to return soon.
While just looking at the results, seeing three 2-1 losses in a row is discouraging. However, the match against New York City FC was a completely different game than the previous two. Looking at the statistics, the Timbers created numerous opportunities, had a lion's share of the possession, and generally kept NYC FC at bay. It was not just on paper though, the flow of the match heavily tilted towards the Timbers during the run of play. There were a lot of positives to pull from their performance and pieces to build on for their match against Vancouver on Sunday.