Dropped points aren’t good under any circumstances. And they’re especially frustrating at home in a game that the Timbers otherwise dominated.
For the second consecutive week the Timbers let a positive, attainable, and deserved result slip away in the last ten minutes.
This problem for the Timbers is hardly an emergency as they still sit atop the Supporters Shield standings (albeit they’re third on points per game), but lost points matter even when they come in the spring and even when the team is otherwise in a promising position in the table.
Matt Doyle hit the nail on the head with this tweet.
That wasn't totally deserved by the Revs, but it wasn't not deserved, you know? Timbers have played with no intensity in 2nd half. #PORvNE— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) April 3, 2017
The Timbers were not nearly ruthless enough with their one-goal lead, especially in the second half in which Caleb Porter’s side seemed content to hold the Revolution at arm’s length.
But the thing about a one-goal lead is that it’s still a one-goal lead, regardless of how much a team has controlled the run of play. All it takes is one momentary slip among an otherwise clean 90-minute game, and the result is lost.
The Timbers, to put it simply, needed to find a second goal to put to rest all doubt against the Revolution. They didn’t. And so they dropped points.
But what exactly does lacking the killer instinct to finish off the game look like?
There are, of course, multiple ways to attack. And in the second half on Sunday the Timbers found a lot of success attacking in wide areas:
But when you attack from wide areas, you still need to find targets in the box in order to convert possession and even penetration into goals. Typically those targets will come from the weak-side winger (on the side opposite the ball), the ten (if he’s not already pulled to the wing on the ball-side), and/or the eight.
On Sunday, however, the Timbers were almost uniformly less than eager to provide those targets. Look at this sequence, for example:
From the moment Blanco plays to Valeri, it is clear the Timbers’ chance here is very likely to come from a cross from the right side. Adi certainly senses the danger, but nobody else — in particular, Darlington Nagbe, who remains out of the screen — does. You can argue all day whether the Timbers should’ve been given a penalty, but if the Timbers have a runner on the back post it very well may not have mattered. At very least Nagbe could've contested to recover the ball after it came through and had an opportunity to revive the chance.
And this wasn’t an isolated incident.
Again, you can harp all you want about Adi and Blanco not being on the same page with Blanco playing to the near post and Adi dropping into the hole. But it’s a lot easier for Adi to crash the post when he knows he has another runner in the box providing a second level or looking to poach a rebound. And it’s a lot easier for Blanco to blindly play the cutback when he knows in addition to Adi he’s going to have Diego Chara or Nagbe streaking in.
As the Timbers learned on the goal that they conceded, sometimes stuff (this is a family website) just happens in the box. The Revs got a goal out of very little because Jake Gleeson took a bad touch.
Look back at the very beginning of that last video and, in particular, watch for Darlington Nagbe and where he’s headed when the sequence begins. This may be a family website, but I guarantee you when Porter reviews that sequence and Nagbe’s role in it with the team on Tuesday it won’t be a family-friendly video session (earmuffs, Marco).
If you’re not putting bodies into the box, you’re not in any position to take advantage of stuff happening. And you’re not making the game difficult for the centerbacks who are tasked with cleaning up box entries and for whom a moment of indecision is often the proximate cause of a concession.
The Timbers did a lot right on Sunday. Don’t go scouring the game tape of Sunday’s match for fundamental, systemic flaws in the Timbers’ performance; there really weren’t any. The Timbers did a very nice job of probing where the Revolution were soft and using smooth combinations to unlock promising attacking sequences. In addition, the Timbers were very effective in limiting the degree to which the Revolution could penetrate, and largely kept the game in front of the backline.
But when the Timbers unlocked their combinations and created promising attacking sequences, they all too often weren’t willing to commit to the initially speculative second and third runs into the box that create havoc and, in the end, lead to stuff happening.
And that is a big, big part of what Doyle was talking about when he said the Timbers lacked the requisite intensity to put the game away in the second half.
For the second time this season Caleb Porter didn’t use any substitutes. Asked about it after the game, here is what Porter had to say:
It didn’t look like they needed to be subbed off. You know, ultimately, some years you have a really strong eleven and, for me, who am I going to sub off? I mean, it’s that simple. I didn’t feel like Blanco needed to be subbed off; he looked good. Valeri and Adi you’re not subbing off, Darlington Nagbe, you know, that’s not where you’re going to make the subs.
And with the way we were playing with the four [in back] that becomes a two because both outside backs are getting forward, there’s no reason to go three in the back because now you have one less number, actually, getting forward.
Porter’s answer was a somewhat meandering way of making the same point we discussed above: There was nothing systemically wrong with what the Timbers were doing on Sunday. They were creating chances (even if they weren’t maximizing them) and they were comfortably controlling the run of play. And in his view there weren’t any obvious substitutions to make that wouldn’t have disrupted what the Timbers were doing systemically.
You can certainly argue that the Timbers should’ve brought on Dairon Asprilla or Darren Mattocks in place of Darlington Nagbe. Without question those two are more inclined to provide another box target than Nagbe, something that, as noted, the Timbers very much needed. Given the opportunity to do it over again, it wouldn’t surprise me if Porter would make exactly that move.
But Asprilla and Mattocks also aren’t nearly as clean with the ball as Nagbe and, when pushing their fullbacks like the Timbers were, an ill-timed turnover could’ve given the Revs all three points instead of one. Moreover, there really wasn’t anything that the Timbers needed that the players on the field couldn’t provide and haven’t provided in the past.
So — whether you agree with it or not — there was logic behind Porter sticking with the team that he had on the field.
Stat of the Game
Eight — The game-high number of tackles won by Marco Farfan in his home MLS debut.
After looking understandably tentative on the defensive end in preseason, Farfan put in a confident, even borderline dominant performance there on Sunday. As was to be expected from any young left back, the book on Farfan coming into 2017 was that he had some seasoning yet to gain as a defender. And although that undoubtedly remains true, Farfan’s learning curve is a sight to behold.
If it keeps going, Farfan is going to be a very, very good left back.
- Draw notwithstanding, it’s incumbent upon us to take a moment to appreciate this:
- Jake Gleeson’s yips are now unquestionably a thing. Goalkeepers — like all other soccer players — go through rough patches, and Gleeson is very much in one right now. The Revs’ goal on Sunday was very much one that should’ve been avoided even with a routine play from Gleeson. But it would be foolish to be too quick with the hook for Gleeson. Over the last year Gleeson has certainly saved more than he’s given away, and there’s every reason to think he can pull himself out of this tough stretch. Still, that doesn’t make the last two results feel any better.