If last week's 3-0 demolition of Orlando made any of you think the Timbers are a perfect team, this weekend's 2-1 loss to San Jose will have shown you otherwise. We're a good team, yes, but perfect? Far from it.
1) One of the team's flaws? A worrisome inability to handle high pressure. From the first minute of Saturday's game, San Jose was pressuring the ball way up the field and our back line did not respond well at all. There were multiple giveaways from multiple players, and in the 16th minute one of those miscues was turned into a San Jose goal.
Clearly, the blames starts with Roy Miller, who feels Jahmir Hyka on his hip and completely flubs a high bouncing ball. I have to be honest, I'm much more fond of Miller as a center back than as a fullback. Chris Rifer agrees, breaking it down in this week's Timber Cruise.
Next up for blame is Liam Ridgewell, who gets his doors blown off by Hyka. In Ridgy's defense, forwards are kind of supposed to blow the doors off center backs in the open field, but on the other hand, moments like this are when we expect Ridgy to earn that big paycheck he’s getting.
And then there's Larrys Mabiala, who finds himself on the wrong side of a 3-on-1 break. Help eventually arrives, and they do a moderately good job of shielding goal, but then the final shot is inch-perfect, just beyond Jeff Attinella's reach and just inside the right post.
Spread the blame however you like, in the end it came down to the Timbers panicking under high pressure. I feel certain that opposing coaches will take note.
2) In the 49th minute, San Jose scored again. This one wasn't about panicking under high pressure. It felt more like a lack of defensive urgency, which annoys me even more.
There are so many people I'm annoyed with on this. For starters, look at Diego Chara making a half-hearted attempt to break things up. Actually, are we even sure that's Diego Chara? The Diego Chara I knew didn't make half-hearted attempts. The Diego Chara I knew would've blown up at least three dudes on this play. I'm not sure who this new guy is.
Darlington Nagbe? Even worse. This isn't a 5k Fun Run, Nags, it's a soccer game. Save the jogging for your off days. When you're out there wearing the green and the gold, we expect you to sprint.
Larrys Mabila looks bad going in for that challenge, but then again, it should've been Chara or Nagbe challenging that guy.
And finally, I'm trying to decide what recreational drugs Ridgy and Miller were using on this play. Weed and beer, I think. Ridgy closes out that attacker like a guy who definitely doesn't want to harsh anyone's mellow. And Miller? Spinning around like that? That's either Mad Dog 20/20 or Boone's Farm Kountry Kwencher. I drank plenty of both in my younger years, so I know what it looks like.
In goal, I can't help but feel sorry for Jeff Attinella. Not only is he getting no help from his defense, he's getting no help from the San Jose shooters, either. Two shots perfectly placed just inside the far post. Hard to blame him on either one.
3) I haven't talked yet about the Timbers offense, but things weren't terribly good up there, either. Particularly annoying was Darren Mattocks, who proved against Orlando that he can run wild if the defense plays a high line, but followed that by proving against San Jose that he's nigh useless when things are packed tighter and deeper.
When the commentators told us Caleb Porter was making a double sub in the 54th minute, I assumed it would be Vytautas Andriuskevicius for Miller and Jeremy Ebobisse for Mattocks. Instead, Mattocks stayed on, while Dairon Asprilla was pulled for David Guzman. This allowed Darlington Nagbe to move up to the left wing, while Sebastian Blanco shifted over to the right.
I was annoyed with this at first, simply because I was annoyed with Mattocks (and Porter, to be honest, for never playing Ebobisse). But it turns out the Gooz substitution was a good thing, since it allowed Darlington Nagbe to play the rest of the game completely engulfed in flames.
It was almost shocking how aggressive Nags played over those final 30+ minutes. Sure, being down 2-0 will do that, but still, maybe the guy's been feeling a little constricted at CDM? Maybe the aggressiveness was piling up in his system, waiting to be released?
Based on all of that – plus the jogging I pointed out on San Jose's 2nd goal – I wonder if the narratives of “Nags at the 6” or “Nags at the 8” are done for the season. I don't really have a horse in that race. Nagbe's proven he can be effective in multiple positions. I'm just curious if we'll ever find a final answer.
Though, now that I think about it, maybe “Nagbe's proven he can be effective in multiple positions” is the final answer.
4) In the 76th minute, Caleb Porter made his third and final substitution, which of course was finally Ebobisse for Mattocks, right?
Wrong. Porter surprised me yet again by bringing on long-lost Alvas Powell for Zarek Valentin. If you're keeping score at home, this means our three substitutions were all defensive – a CDM and two fullbacks. Utterly head-scratching.
And yet, once again, maybe the substitution worked? Sebastian Blanco's been quiet these last few games paired with Miller on the left. After shifting to the right and pairing with Valentin, he wasn't blowing anyone away, so Caleb tried a Blanco/Powell partnership.
What happened? Blanco's first goal in nine games. Assisted by whom? Darlington “Dear God, Somebody Put Out This Fire, I'm Completely Engulfed In Flames” Nagbe.
This entire substitution thing? I'm gonna file it under “A” for “Apparently, Caleb Porter Knows More About Soccer Than I Do.” (It's a very thick folder, by the way.)
5) A few random notes.
- What's going on with Ebobisse? Is he awful in practice? Is that why he never sees the field? It's driving me crazy.
- I ragged on Chara earlier and it was deserved, but he wasn't completely worthless. He had one length of the field run that was truly breathtaking. Sadly, I couldn't find video of it. Do any of you have a link? I'd love to give the guy the gif he deserves.
- Diego Valeri's streak of scoring in 9 straight games came to an end Saturday, and I gotta be honest, I think we should trade the bum. If he's not willing to score in every single game for the entire year, what good is he?
- Nobutseriously, I was really rooting hard for Valeri to get an assist, thereby reaching the storied 20/10 Club. In fact, was I imagining it, or did it seem like Valeri was going hard for that 10th assist, too? A few times he could've shot but passed instead? Maybe it was my imagination.
6) The Timbers have a week off. Most of them, at least. Nagbe, Guzman, Vytas, and – wait for it – T2 center back Bill Tuiloma have all been called up to their national teams. Give 'em hell, boys!
When they return, how many of them will be lining up against DC United? Tuiloma, probably not. The other three? I hope so.
Gooz and Nags are almost guaranteed to start, Nagbe back on the left wing, I assume. What about Vytas? Will he re-claim that left back spot for good?
And over at right back, who ya got? Alvas or Zarek? Personally, I think it'll be Zarek, but I've been wrong before. Maybe Caleb likes the Powell/Blanco partnership. We shall see.
But perhaps the biggest personnel question moving forward: whither Fanendo Adi? Will the big fellow ever be healthy? Darren Mattocks has done a moderately okay job replacing him, but Adi just brings more to the table. The quicker we can get him playing meaningful minutes, the better.
And pretty much all minutes will be meaningful from this point on, as the Western Conference continues to be tighter than a duck's ass.
If the Timbers win their final two games, they'll finish with 53 points.
Seattle's in almost the exact same boat. Our last two are at home, so are Seattle's. Ours are against DC and Vancouver. Seattle's are against Dallas and Colorado. If both teams win out, Portland will have the tie-breaker of most wins.
Vancouver, they're in a better spot. Three games left, at NYRB, home to San Jose, then here in Portland. Win 'em all and they finish with an insurmountable 60 points, but even if they win only one of those games, they'll still finish with 54 points, more than either Portland or Seattle can achieve.
But Sporting KC could definitely still pass them. SKC has four games left, three of them on the road. At Minny, at Houston, home to Houston, and at RSL. This is a tough stretch, but four games is four games. Win 'em all and they finish with 59 points.
My ideal finish? Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, SKC.
More likely? SKC, Vancouver, Portland, Seattle. Which would give us a mid-week knockout game at home. Last time that happened was the Double Post game.
So let's all get plenty of rest during this week off, okay? Because in two weeks, it's all hands on deck. Two games to decide our fate. It should be fun.