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Timber Mini-Cruise: San Jose Earthquakes 3, Portland Timbers 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Timbers have their first true faceplant of 2017.

On Saturday in San Jose, the Timbers were tactically confused, flat-footed, and ultimately fatally shorthanded as the Earthquakes handed the Timbers their worst loss of the season.

Bad losses happen, especially on the road, and especially especially when a team is playing without two of its most important players. But that doesn’t make Saturday’s comprehensive beatdown any easier to watch.

Deep Cuts

The problems started for the Timbers on Sunday with a tactical wrinkle that the Earthquakes threw in, coming out in a 4-2-2-2 and pulling both of their wingers well inside. Here’s the distribution and touches map of San Jose’s front four (Chris Wondolowski, Danny Hoesen, Marco Urena, and Jahmir Hyka):

Each played primarily centrally (with a modest right-ward slant) and pretty fluidly in interchanging positions between each other.

If the Timbers were prepared for this, they could’ve fooled everybody watching because their response was positively incoherent. The backline wasn’t aggressive enough in squeezing space in midfield, and the Timbers fullbacks and wingers altogether failed to communicate well enough to account for the Quakes’ high-and-wide fullbacks while providing defensive support to the overloaded middle. That led to a lot of situations like this, in which David Guzman and Diego Chara have the unenviable task of accounting for four San Jose attackers:

Although San Jose didn’t get the full midfield box going on the play, these problems manifested themselves on the Quakes’ second goal. Take a watch, if you can bear it:

Credit where it’s due, that’s a really good turn and strike by Wondolowski. But the problems that led to Wondo having that space were the same that the Timbers dealt with all day. Kofi Sarkodie pins Asprilla in by decoying high and wide on the left; Florian Jungwirth makes a run out of central defense (as he does frequently) into the channel where Asprilla isn’t there to cover and David Guzman is reluctant to rotate because he knows what’s been filling in behind him all day; and the backline is too deep, allowing Wondo to sit in enough space between the lines to pull off his nice, second-time finish.

And from being caught off-guard tactically, things simply spiraled for the Timbers, most notoriously when an absent-minded Alvas Powell needlessly dropped off the line to keep Wondo onside for the Quakes’ third.

Finishing Bullets

  • Dairon Asprilla’s performance on Saturday was downright scandalous. In almost an hour of soccer Asprilla registered eight (!!!!) attacking actions: One shot, six passes, and one (unsuccessful) dribble. If it felt like the Timbers were playing a man-down in the attack until Jack Barmby (who more than tripled Asprilla’s activity in half the time) came on, it’s because they effectively were.
  • The Timbers’ setup with two true wingers, although not altogether surprising given Caleb Porter’s preferred attacking options, simply didn’t work. The Quakes sold out on shutting down Sebastian Blanco and, with no other full-time option to help centrally with either ball-retention or playmaking, the Timbers were basically stuck playing down the left wing. Porter’s setup would have been much more effective in a game in which the Timbers could’ve looked to find opportunities on the break, but any chance of that was lost by the time the Timbers found themselves 2-0 down after 30 minutes.
  • It’s hard to know what to make of the lipstick-on-a-pig performances of Barmby and Victor Arboleda, both of whom were effective after coming on in the second half. Arboleda created his share of danger down the left wing even if his final decision was often lacking (although his ball through to Blanco for the Timbers’ best chance of the day was nice). Barmby, for his part, provided much-needed ball-retention (if not great creativity) from his inverted right-wing position. Such performances in a competitive game could very well merit shouts that both should be in line for a look at meaningful playing time, but given the game was well out-of-hand before either came on, it’s hard to draw sweeping conclusions. Unlike many of their teammates, however, both at least deserve relative praise for not soiling themselves on Saturday.