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Timber Cruise: Portland Timbers 3, LA Galaxy 1

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MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Portland Timbers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers need points. So by that measure, Sunday was a success. The Timbers currently sit on 1.42 points per game, which, on one hand, is sixth best in the Western Conference but, on the other hand, is only .06 PPG away from third.

The Timbers’ place in the table, then, is equal parts precarious and promising with 10 games to play.

So, as I said, the Timbers’ three points from Sunday are an unqualified success. But that is, perhaps, the end of the “unqualified” part of Sunday’s performance.

To be sure, the Timbers were the better team on the field on Sunday and deserved all three points. But that was in large part a function of the Galaxy being a disorganized, passive mess until Jonathan dos Santos came on facing a two-goal deficit in the second half.

Deep Cuts

The “plus-one” Timbers, as some members of the media have taken to pejoratively referring to the Timbers when they have a one-goal lead, showed up again on Sunday. No, it didn’t ultimately hurt them as it has in the past, but it nonetheless remains the story of the season.

The Timbers are 7-2-5 (win-loss-draw) when scoring the first goal and 4-1-5 when leading at the half. Both are in the bottom-five in MLS regardless how you measure, the Timbers’ six dropped halftime leads are the most in MLS by two, and their seven results dropped after scoring first are tied with Atlanta United for worst in the league.

It’s not at all hyperbolic to say the Timbers are the worst team in the league with a lead. So you’ll understand if I’m not wild about the Timbers’ fifteen-minute faceplant after utterly dominating the first five minutes of the game and opening the scoring. Let’s recap.

After Liam Ridgewell deservedly punished the Galaxy’s pulse-less start, the Timbers (1) conceded one minute later, (2) were fortunate that Gyasi Zardes needlessly handled the ball immediately before what would have been the Galaxy’s second goal, and (3) got some help from their old friend Jack McInerney when he skied a 22nd-minute sitter.

In a pre-VAR world or just a world in which the Timbers don’t get the benefit of their opponents’ mistakes in those situations, the Timbers very well could’ve found themselves down 3-1 just 17 minutes after going up.

To be sure, the Timbers are in line for credit for not only pulling out of meltdown mode, but also for taking it to an overmatched opponent in the 15 minutes on both sides of halftime. As encouraging as that effort was, however, the fact that they went into meltdown mode in the first place (for the second consecutive game at Providence Park) is the continuation of a trend that is a big part of the primary reason why the Timbers are struggling to stay above water in the playoff race.

So the Timbers’ performance was enough to get the result on Sunday. But if past experience is any indication it won’t be enough to get a result next week in Toronto or, for that matter, in any of the handful of tough matchups remaining on the schedule.

Spotlight on...

Fanendo Adi, and the impact he has on the Timbers’ ability to keep the ball. Look at the Timbers’ distribution before Adi went off against their passing after he left with an apparent knee injury.

To be sure, the game state didn’t favor the Timbers continuing to run rampant over the Galaxy after going up 3-1. But going from having almost 60% of the ball before Adi’s exit to giving up almost two-thirds of it afterward certainly wasn’t the Timbers’ plan in a still-competitive game.

And Adi’s absence was unquestionably a major factor. In addition to being a creative force behind the Timbers’ third goal (a play on which he suffered his game-ending injury), Adi was influential in his holdup play, as he often is. Here are Adi’s passes and dribbles during his injury-shortened outing on Sunday:

Notice that the lion’s share of Adi’s touches came in midfield, and were often checks back to a teammate. Although you’d like to see Adi have a bit more action around the box (in fairness, though, he assisted a goal and should’ve drawn a penalty), that kind of work is the ignition to the Timbers’ possession engine.

And it was conspicuously absent after he left.

We don’t yet now the extent of Adi’s injury, but even with Adi in poor goalscoring form right now, any significant layoff would be close to devastating for the Timbers’ hopes of rising above a late-season race to beat the red line.

Stat of the Game

Comes our way courtesy of the StatMan:

Both added to their totals today, Diego Valeri by way of his spectacular first-half goal and Sebastian Blanco with his secondary assist on Alvas Powell’s goal. Even with Adi struggling to find goalscoring form, the Timbers have plenty of firepower. The question is whether they can find consistency at the back.

Man of the Match

Vote!

Poll

Who was your Man of the Match against the Galaxy?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Sebastian Blanco
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    Diego Chara
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    David Guzman
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    Darlington Nagbe
    (27 votes)
  • 6%
    Alvas Powell
    (28 votes)
  • 4%
    Liam Ridgewell
    (20 votes)
  • 72%
    Diego Valeri
    (304 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (8 votes)
422 votes total Vote Now

Finishing Bullets

  • The Video Assistant Referee came away with a mixed report card its first game at Providence Park. Although it was difficult to see in live action, VAR correctly disallowed Zardes’s goal that would have put the Galaxy up early in the first half. As noted above, that’s a goal that would’ve stood last week, and could have dramatically changed the course of Sunday’s game. So good on VAR in that instance.
  • The more questionable case, however, comes from a decision that was not reviewed. Referee Drew Fischer elected not to award the Timbers a penalty for this play:
  • Moreover, Fischer did not even review the play, something that could have been the case for one of two reasons: 1) The assistant referee in the video booth did not recommend to Fischer to review the play; or 2) the VAR recommended that Fischer review the play, but Fischer overruled him and elected not to. Because media are not permitted to inquire as to the VAR process, however, we may never now which of these reasons is correct in this instance.
  • Given that Dave Romney put in a challenge that would naturally cause Adi to fall and failed to win the ball, it certainly seems as though a penalty would have been warranted. This raises an important question, though: Just how “clear and obvious” must a mistake be before review and, ultimately, a reversal is warranted? You can make an argument that the force from Romney wasn’t enough to justify a foul and Adi went down easily, but given the arm around Adi’s back and the challenge that clearly came across Adi’s front leg that’s a pretty bad argument. But given that such an argument exists only in the realm of unreasonable, but perhaps not necessarily the laughably incorrect, is that enough to uphold the referee’s decision? Is it enough to justify not recommending review, if that is what happened in this instance?
  • We simply don’t know the answers to these questions, and there really doesn’t currently exist a mechanism to shine any light on them. But the point that Taylor Twellman made at halftime is spot on: VAR remains subjective in multiple respects, and as long as that subjectivity exists there remains a space for controversial results notwithstanding video replay.
  • Those of us in Portland all have one profound blessing in common: We get to watch Diego Valeri play soccer on a weekly basis.