The Timbers took a point on the road at a consensus top-three team in MLS without their best player. Under any circumstances — and I mean any circumstances — that’s a very good point.
So the Timbers have a lot to hold their heads high about this weekend.
But the way the game played out, with the Timbers twice taking the lead, including in the 71st minute by way of Sebastian Blanco’s first goal in green and gold, the point comes with a twinge of regret. Because as good a point as it was, three points would’ve been a statement.
Still, the could’ve-beens shouldn’t outweigh the result that the Timbers took or the performance that the Timbers put in on Saturday. For the first time this season Dallas dropped points in Frisco. And it was the Timbers that took it them.
Some games really aren’t about tactics.
On a night in which the teams weathered a weather delay before kickoff and played through occasionally driving rain and a persistently stiff wind, Saturday’s game was never going to be a pretty one. You can look for trends or tweaks all you want from Saturday’s game, but beyond those changes that ordinary accompany the shifting of game states, it really didn’t make much of a difference on Saturday.
The stats pretty much tell that story. The Timbers completed an ugly 67% of their passes, their lowest completion percentage of the season by 9%. And although Dallas strung together an almost-respectable 74%, that was in large part on account of Oscar Pareja’s team harmlessly working the ball around the back in the first half.
In short, with the conditions as they were the game became choppy and direct. And in a game like that, it really just boils down to players making plays.
But that’s perhaps the most encouraging thing for the Timbers. In a game in which they were missing their most creative player, the Timbers still had the firepower to pull off enough plays to earn a result in an otherwise disjointed game.
In the absence of Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi was a terror — contesting every ball, drawing eight fouls, and scrapping his way to a goal and an assist. Sebastian Blanco, who has struggled at times in his campaign with the Timbers, not only scored but also set up the Timbers’ best wayward chance of the evening and was generally the Timbers’ most dangerous player in the second half. Darren Mattocks came into the game in perhaps his least-preferred attacking position on the right wing, and set up Blanco’s goal by putting Alvas Powell through and very nearly created a stoppage-time winner. Jeff Attinella, filling in for Jake Gleeson, denied Kellyn Acosta twice in the second half.
Players and plays.
And although there were certainly plays that the Timbers failed to make — Darlington Nagbe failed to capitalize on the chance that Blanco set up for him and Alvas Powell slipped to concede the second equalizer — they made enough to take a key point under conditions that were less-than-ideal on a number of levels.
But if only they’d made one or two more...
Darren Mattocks, who, despite only appearing on the scoresheet once, has made a real impact for the Timbers over the course of the last month.
Everybody will remember the goal that Mattocks scored against the Whitecaps last week because, well, everybody remembers goals. But in three of his last four appearances Mattocks has been intimately involved in a key goal.
Against the Union, Mattocks beat Fabinho and Andre Blake to earn the penalty that set up the Timbers’ nail-in-the-coffin in Chester, Pennsylvania. And again on Saturday it was Mattocks who patiently waited for Alvas Powell’s run to develop before playing his countryman through to unlock the sequence that led to the Timbers’ second goal.
In neither instance did Mattocks earn a goal or an assist, but in both cases he came on as a sub to help earn a goal that, in Philadelphia, locked up three points and, in Dallas, earned a very good point.
Mattocks’s acquisition was controversial, and when the MLS Players Union salary list came out last week it was Mattocks’s $300,000 base salary that drew the most scorn on the Timbers’ roster. But over the last several weeks Mattocks has been quietly earning his keep as the kind of impact substitute that the Timbers sorely lacked in 2016.
Stat of the Game
Eight — The number of fouls suffered by Fanendo Adi on Saturday. It wasn’t the type of easy, free-flowing game that would produce a lot of chances for Adi and, indeed, Adi’s only shot on the day was the one he buried for the opener. But in a game as direct and rhythmless as Saturday’s the Timbers needed Adi to find his way onto the end of long balls, hold the ball up and, if necessary, draw fouls. He did that in spades, adding a slew of blue-collar contributions in addition to his goal and assist.
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- After the game Caleb Porter reported Nagbe came off due what he called hamstring “tightness.” Although it sounds likely that Diego Valeri will be fit in time for the Timbers’ game at San Jose next Saturday, questions hanging over both Valeri and Nagbe this week will loom large as the Timbers get set for a game that is among the Timbers’ best opportunities to get three points in a stretch in which they play four of five on the road.
- Nagbe, for his part, had a stinker on Saturday. In addition to fluffing the best non-goalscoring chance of the evening and being partially culpable on both of the Timbers’ concessions, Nagbe was far from influential in the attack. Nagbe failed to create a single chance, spent most of his time near the left touchline (where he’s least effective), and completed his fewest passes of the season. Stinkers happen, and there isn’t really any reason to think this is a sign of a broader drop in form. But it was a costly stinker, nonetheless.
- By putting two on Dallas on Saturday, the Timbers scored only one fewer goal than the Burn had conceded in their previous six games combined. Incredibly, however, Dallas’s defense no longer leads the league. That distinction belongs to Sporting Kansas City, who has conceded only three times in eight games. But herein lies a little bit of hope for the Timbers vis-a-vis their Western Conference rivals: It’s unlikely either team’s goals-conceded pace is sustainable. The MLS record for goals-against-average in a single season in 0.67 by Real Salt Lake in 2010. Even after conceding twice to the Timbers, Dallas is basically sitting on that pace right now and SKC is conceding at half that rate. Given the unlikelihood that the Timbers are sharing a conference with not one, but two historic defenses, there’s reason to think the Timbers’ conference rivals may be due for some regression to the mean.