It's always welcome in the Rose City when the Portland Timbers beat the Seattle Sounders. But it’s especially nice when the Timbers do so to pull themselves above the red line, and bury Seattle nine points below playoff-qualification pace. And it’s even nicer when the Timbers do so and the return of Diego Valeri puts to bed lingering concerns about the Portland’s attack.
Here are three questions from PTFC’s derby win over the Sounders:
1. Diego Valeri should be a leading candidate for MVP, shouldn’t he?
With Valeri just 16 games into his 2016 campaign, the Timbers’ playmaker has 9 goals and 5 assists. Those numbers are certainly good, and put Valeri on pace to finish the season somewhere in the 16 goals, 9 assists ballpark despite missing five games to date. Those are MVP numbers.
But for MVP purists, we now have an easy way to gauge Valeri’s value to the Timbers: In three recent games without Valeri the Timbers were 0-0-3 and scored a total of one goal. In their last three games with Valeri the Timbers are 2-0-1 with 8 goals to their credit.
Valeri is without question one of the most important -- indeed, valuable -- players in MLS. And if the numbers or his value to the Timbers doesn’t convince you, then maybe this will:
And while Valeri was certainly goal-dangerous for the Timbers on Sunday, he did his normal work as Portland’s biggest playmaking threat, working all over the field and putting the Sounders’ backline in difficult spots throughout.
So it came as a little bit of a surprise that MLS All-Star coach Dominic Kinnear opted not to put Valeri on the team. Although the Timbers (and probably Valeri) will lose little sleep over the snub as they prepare for a visit to Sporting Kansas City the following weekend, it’s an odd omission for a player who is putting together as strong an MVP resume as anybody in MLS.
2. Was Sunday another breakthrough for Lucas Melano?
We’ve been talking about this a lot recently, but that’s because it’s becoming a major story. Lucas Melano is starting to get things sorted out.
Yes, the numbers of late have been solid. In his last six games, Melano has two goals and two assists.
But Sunday was more than just about the scoresheet production for the winger. All too often in his year with the Timbers, Melano has looked active for a brief period, only fade out of the game after things don’t come easily. This is certainly part of what made Caleb Porter repeatedly note confidence when discussing Melano’s troubles and periodic breakthroughs.
And so the predictable thing on Sunday was for Melano to fade out of the game after he made the least of two good first-half chances, the first of which is fairly described as a near-sitter. On cue, the $5 million-man tweets started coming fast and furious.
But instead of sleepwalking the rest of the way, Melano made himself one of the most dangerous players on the field.
Even if Melano performing well isn’t new (he’s been pretty consistently good now a month), then, the Argentine enigma fighting through early adversity to be a game-changer is a revelation.
So although he didn’t see as much of the ball as he did when Valeri was out, therefore, Melano’s performance on Sunday represented as significant a sign of progress for his confidence as any performance to date.
3. Is there reason to be concerned about the Timbers’ set-piece defending?
It certainly wasn’t great on Sunday, and, perhaps just as importantly, the Timbers gave up far, far too many set pieces against a Sounders team that was struggling to create much from the run of play.
Given as many chances as they had, the Sounders were always likely to score on a set piece. And so Chad Marshall's 59th-minute goal off a corner to momentarily bring the Sounders back into the game was hardly a surprise.
But that goal was just the third the Timbers have conceded from a set piece this year (as Caleb Porter will tell you, penalties aren’t set pieces). Moreover, although the Timbers probably gave up a few more chances than they would’ve liked on Sunday, it’s hard to look at Portland’s recent defensive form (two goals conceded in the last four games) and call it anything but progress from early in the season.
Notwithstanding the Timbers’ struggles defending (and giving away) dead-ball situations on Sunday, therefore, it’s probably too early to be concerned about that in the longterm. And now that the Timbers’ attack is back on track with Diego Valeri returning to the fold, the Timbers look as close to the team they were late in 2015 as they have at any point this season.