Ever since his arrival in Portland eleven months ago, Portland Timbers fans have seen the great potential that Lucas Melano offers to the team. The Argentinian is a speedy winger who has the ability to take on opponents and be a game changer for the Green and Gold. However, during those months, we have also seen a player who has struggled to perform on a consistent basis. With the Timbers' fluctuating productivity in the attacking third of the field, a player with Melano's skill set can be crucial in breaking down opponents, but it is just a matter of consistently getting it out of the Argentinian on a regular basis.
During his best games, we have seen Lucas Melano excel in one particular area: taking on his opponents with speed and creativity. The most prominent example of his ability and speed was the incredible solo goal that he scored against FC Dallas in the playoffs to clinch the Timbers' spot in the MLS Cup.
Late on in the game with the tie still in flux, Melano received the ball from Diego Valeri and drove into the 18-yard box. With two subtle dips of the shoulder and shimmy of the hips, he managed to put both Matt Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez on ice skates and slip the ball into the net for the insurance goal. This clip is a perfect example of the ability that Melano has when he attacks with pace and vigor. In Melano's weaker performances, we have seen him hesitate on the ball in situations like this. Here, he does not hesitate; he chooses to drive right at both Hedges and Gonzalez and scored a great goal as a result.
In addition to individual plays like this, we have seen Lucas Melano put the pieces together and offer 90-minute performances where he is a difference maker the entire game. Earlier this year against the San Jose Earthquakes, Melano turned in one of his best performances in the Green and Gold and the Timbers got a 3-1 win.
Melano completed 22 of 33 passes, had two key passes, and a wonderful assist using his pace to put the game away seen below. Melano was active, energetic, involved, and had a great impact on the game.
For every positive play or game that Lucas Melano has like these, there have been examples of games where he fails to make an impact, most recently against the Chicago Fire last week. If you look at the diagram below, you will see the impact, or lack thereof, that Melano had on the game.
During the 70 minutes that Lucas Melano was in the game, Melano completed 9 of 11 passes. He had 1 key pass. He was unsuccessful in his only dribbling attempt around a defender. To put those numbers in perspective, Dairon Asprilla, his opposite winger, completed 27 of 35 passes, illustrating that Asprilla was the far more involved of the two.
With Darlington Nagbe being away with the United States National Team, the Timbers needed someone to help fill the void with a strong performance. Melano did not offer that and as a result, the Timbers earned a 1-1 draw away. This type of performance was not the only one we have seen this season. Against the Los Angeles Galaxy earlier this season, Melano completed 7 out of 10 passes in 90 minutes. For a player of his caliber, that is just not enough production. The coaching staff has seen his ability; the fans have seen his skills. We can see the way that Lucas Melano can impact a game; it is just not on a consistent enough basis.
With unrest developing in the fans about Lucas Melano's inconsistences, rumors have begun to circulate that he could be on his way back to Argentina and reunited with MLS great Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was his coach at Lanus and now is the head coach at Boca Juniors. With the investment that Gavin Wilkinson and the Timbers' Front Office made for Melano, it seems to be foolish to give up on him so quickly.
Fans need to remember that when he came to the United States, he did not speak a lick of English. He was, and probably still is, settling in a foreign land. He has turned in some great performances with the Timbers, as I mentioned above, but it is just the irregularity of his play that is the concern. We have seen him become an important piece of the team and with his surrounding pieces like Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Fanendo Adi, he can absolutely succeed with this group.