That’s a good point.
Actually, no, that’s a very, very good point.
The Timbers — sans a good portion of their spine in Fanendo Adi, David Guzman, Liam Ridgewell, and Jake Gleeson — went on the road and earned a deserved draw against the hottest team in MLS.
There’s no need for qualification or equivocation. That was a good performance and a great result for the Timbers.
The Timbers’ inability to close out games has in large part crippled their 2017 season. Over and over again throughout the course of the spring and summer, the Timbers let points slip away late in games as they failed to find the dagger and gave away poor late goals.
So you’d be forgiven if you didn’t foresee the Timbers turning into a team that grinds out results late in the season. Nonetheless, here we are.
Against each of New York, Colorado, and Sunday against Seattle, the Timbers have ground out close results and come away with a very impressive seven points in three games. Before Sunday there were reasonable questions about whether the Timbers could do so against better opponents than a second-choice Red Bulls side and a pathetic Rapids team.
Well, you have your answer.
How did the Timbers do it? Well, with pretty conventional low-block defending. After the Sounders found Jordan Morris in behind a couple times in the opening moments of the second half, the Timbers dropped their defensive block a little bit and forced the Sounders to break them down. A very clear pattern emerges from the Timbers’ second-half defensive actions chart:
The Timbers had two defensive aims late in the game: First, the Timbers wanted to deny the Sounders early balls into the box. Hence the flurry of defensive actions on the flanks 20-35 yards from the byline. The purpose of this is to try to limit Seattle’s ability to get balls into the box as the backline is getting set. A backline in motion is a backline in which the likes of Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris can find dangerous space. That’s a lot more difficult when the backline is set and the midfield is able to help close down spaces at the top of the box.
Second, once the backline was set, the Timbers relied on their centerbacks (and — to his credit — Vytas) to mop up anything and everything that came into the box from wide areas.
In other words, the Timbers tried to force Seattle into low-percentage crosses and to make sure they didn’t give up a goal on a low-percentage entry ball. Like I said, it wasn’t rocket science.
Except it sort of was rocket science for the Timbers earlier in the season, as they gave up multiple costly goals from exactly those kinds of balls.
Rocket science or not, though, on Sunday it was successful. Aside from a poor Larrys Mabiala clearance that but for a nice Jeff Attinella save, the Sounders lacked for quality chances despite throwing the kitchen sink into the attack.
Now, to be sure, the Timbers are hardly a park-the-bus kind of team. And it wouldn’t be accurate to say that’s what they did on Sunday. But, as is natural on the road against a quality opponent, they did have to weather a storm on Sunday. Unlike so many times this year, they successfully did so on Sunday, as they have done three times over the course of the last nine days.
If this is going to become a longer-term trend, the Timbers could be poised to put together another late-season run.