The Portland Timbers have dropped a lot of points in games in which they played well this year. There have been plenty of matches in which the Timbers have dominated, deservedly put their noses in front, and yet come away with less-than-maximum points.
So there’s something refreshing about the Timbers’ win on Friday. Don’t get me wrong — for extended stretches the game was close to unwatchable, and the Timbers were decidedly out of synch. But they got three points, darn it.
The Timbers had some very good fortune coming into this one. On Tuesday, the Red Bulls played 120 minutes of soccer in Cincinnati to advance to the U.S. Open Cup Final. As a result, Red Bulls’ coach Jesse Marsch held a number of his regulars out of the starting eleven.
Because of the Red Bulls’ midweek duties, the Timbers’ talent advantage on the day was clear. Outgunned, the Red Bulls came to Portland on Friday to disrupt; and disrupt they did. New York defended — well — seemingly everywhere.
New York’s line of confrontation was wherever the ball was at any given moment, which, in turn, caused the Timbers to play very direct and to try to dump the ball into the box as quickly as possible.
When the Timbers are playing their best soccer, the game can get an almost dance-like rhythm to it. Friday was bumper cars, and that was largely by the Red Bulls’ design. Give credit to Jesse Marsh and his team; that’s not an easy way to play, especially with a team that is a mix of regulars and reserves.
On the other hand, it’s not encouraging that the Red Bulls’ mixed squad was able to come to Portland and dictate — or at least disrupt — the game. In particular, the Timbers failed to get the early goal that would’ve forced the Red Bulls to be a bit more proactive, which, in turn, would have opened up the game. And even when the Timbers did get their opener, it certainly wasn’t encouraging to see the Timbers bend under the Red Bulls’ pressure in the last half hour.
But if we’re going to criticize the Timbers for failing to close out results when they play well, then they deserve a bit of praise for taking three points even when they don’t. If the Timbers had shown this kind of grit throughout the season, this team would be clear of the pack in the West.
The Timbers have 10 points from their last five games. To be sure, their lone loss during that stretch was an ugly one, but in a season full of squandered results the last several weeks have been a notable departure. Is it an indication — despite some decidedly weak-kneed stretches in Toronto and against the Galaxy — that the Timbers are turning a page? We’ll see.
You’d be forgiven, though, if you watched Friday’s game and came away underwhelmed. Without a doubt, the Timbers are going to have to play better than that to make sure they stay above the red line, to say nothing of being any sort of factor come playoff time. But Friday’s performance was enough for the night. And although that’s something we haven’t been able to say much this season, it’s a phrase that has largely described the Timbers’ recent results.
All that said, please don’t make me watch that game again.
Sebastian Blanco, and his ability to thrive in an ugly, ugly game like Friday’s.
Although it was Diego Valeri that filled up the scoresheet, Blanco was the Timbers’ most dangerous attacker in a game that lent itself to wingers breaking down the opposing defense with the ball at their feet. Blanco’s five successful dribbles was a game-high, and they led to some of the Timbers’ best chances on the day, including this one in an otherwise arid first half.
Just as impressive, however, was Blanco’s defensive output. After the game, Caleb Porter praised Blanco for his commitment to sacrificing to do dirty work, noting that high-priced designated players don’t always come with that type of mentality. Friday was a prime example, as Blanco had a game-high 10 recoveries against the Red Bulls, which isn’t the first time the Timbers’ winger has led the team (or game) in a major defensive category.
Especially in disjointed games like Friday’s, the players that scratch their way onto the scoresheet aren’t always those that were the most influential. Sure, Diego Valeri came away with a goal and an assist against the Red Bulls, but over the course of the game he may have had one of his worst outings of the season. Blanco, on the other hand, was the Timbers’ most dangerous player over the course of his 83 minutes on the field, but didn’t find himself on the scoresheet.
But don’t let that fool you. When the margins are as small as they were on Friday, work like Blanco’s on Friday is as crucial as anything Valeri did.
Stat of the Game
This isn’t even close.
The Timbers’ 61.6% pass-completion percentage on Friday is their worst of the Caleb Porter Era and their third worst since joining MLS.
It really was as ugly as you thought it was.
Man of the Match
Who was your Man of the Match against the Red Bulls?
This poll is closed
- This may be the best save any Timbers goalkeeper has made this season.
- It’s been a rough go both for Jake Gleeson and Jeff Attinella this season, whose collective mistakes have cost the Timbers more points than their heroics have earned. Although down years happen for goalkeepers, the fact that both Gleeson and Attinella have struggled this season will make the Timbers want to look at their goalkeeping program in the offseason. Still, chalk Friday up as two points saved for Attinella.
- Attinella’s save may have spared Vytas being doubly in the doghouse, as the Lithuanian left back failed to pick up the run of Sal Zizzo (yes, Sal Rizzo) that very well could have put things level. Based on Porter’s lineup selections, it certainly appears Vytas was among those whom the coach was upset with after the loss in Toronto, and Vytas’s primary responsibility for what would’ve been another late equalizer and crucial points dropped would’ve only made matters much worse.
- Aside from his shocker to start the Galaxy game, Roy Miller has been passable at left back (although he will return to left centerback on Wednesday, if healthy, because of Larrys Mabiala’s suspension). Despite his athletic limitations, Miller has been steady defensively. The Costa Rican, however, is very limited in the attack.
- What Miller lacks is exactly what Vytas excels at, but it’s clear Caleb Porter doesn’t think Vytas is in good form right now. This, however, represents a tough decision for Porter because Vytas’s attacking influence is crucial on the wing paired with a winger (like either Blanco or Darlington Nagbe) that likes to dive into the channel. Although the decision doesn’t immediately face Porter (Vytas will start at left back on Wednesday with Mabiala out), it’s going to be an important one going forward.