Don’t be fooled by the 3-0 scoreline. This was not a blowout. Not at all.
1) I’ve been complaining that the Timbers don’t know how to put teams to the sword, that they don’t know how to win big. Welp, on Saturday night, for just the second time this year, the team won by more than one goal. But don’t expect too much excitement from me, because, despite the final score, for much of the game, Philadelphia was the better team.
And, sadly, they were better pretty much across the board. They held possession better, they dictated the game better, they played quicker, they got to 50-50 balls better. Our passes were a little off, our first touches were a little off. Hell, even the one thing we’ve excelled at this year, the counterattack, that wasn’t happening, either.
Did we have some stretches that were better than others? Yes. Did we make a few adjustments that helped a bit? Yes. But did we ever look like a team destined to win 3-0? Absolutely not. 0-0? 1-0? 2-1? Those would have felt much more appropriate than 3-0.
So, my apologies, everyone, but I just can’t get too excited about this win. I’ll take the three points, without a doubt, but I’ll take them with the knowledge that this team has a lot to figure out.
2) The main thing I’d say we need to figure out? Our attack.
Sebastian Blanco was suspended for this game due to yellow-card accumulation, and, as far as I could tell, we had no replacement for him.
David Guzman made his first start in months, but in no way did he replace Blanco’s attacking presence. In fact, Gooz was generally the deepest-lying middie.
Diego Chara? He didn’t replace Blanco, either. To my eyes, Chara played his usual game. His usual game is excellent, of course, but it’s not attacking.
And Andy Polo seemed to play his usual game, too, which is moderately useful, I suppose, but is definitely not attacking.
So it would appear that we replaced Blanco with no one, and instead had Diego Valeri and Samuel Armenteros attacking 2v5. Which is not a recipe for success.
In his post game comments, Gio Savarese said things improved when he moved Andy Polo forward a bit, but I’m not sure I’m buying that. I would have preferred replacing Polo or Guzman with Dairon Asprilla, just to get an attacking midfielder out there.
But of course, we can’t do that, since apparently Asprilla’s a forward now. A forward who’s scored only five goals in his four years as a Timber. Honestly, what do we have to do to get Jeremy Ebobisse or Foster Langsdorf on the field? Is Asprilla really that much better in practice? Or does Gio think big minutes in USL are better for the two youngsters than small minutes in MLS?
It seems wrong for me to gripe about Gio’s coaching when we’re in the middle of a 15-game unbeaten streak, but I’m finding myself more and more annoyed by some of these personnel decisions.
Andy Polo, show me what the coach sees in you. Dairon Asprilla, show me that you deserve to play over the two kids.
3) There is one attacker that I was happy with Saturday night and it’s not who you’re thinking of. It’s Alvas Powell, who played not as a fullback, but as a wingback.
For the second straight game, the Timbers lined up with three center backs and for the second straight game, Powell was incredibly dangerous racing up and down that right touch line.
Here’s a question for us to argue about down in the comments: considering how it’s unleashed Alvas Powell, should three CBs be our standard formation?
Related question: if we go with three CBs, should Zarek Valentin be our left wingback? He’s a great communicator and organizer, but not much of an attacker. Should we get someone with more speed in there? Vytautas Andriuskevecius, perhaps? Or even, dare I say it, Andy Polo?
And finally, if we go with three CBs, should that third guy be Liam Ridgewell? Stick him in there instead of Lawrence Olum? His loud voice would replace Valentin’s loud voice. Or would bringing him back mess up the chemistry? Has his time passed? Have we seen the last of Ridgy?
These are all interesting questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts down below.
4) I mentioned Alvas Powell racing down the right touch line. That’s what led to our first goal, via penalty.
I mentioned earlier how our passes were just a little off. Not this one. Valeri’s leading pass to Powell was inch-perfect. I wish he could get an assist from it. I also love how Alvas’s first touch takes him into the box and into Fabinho’s path. And, obviously, I love that Fabinho is a clumsy clod.
Our next penalty was in almost the exact same spot.
The roles were reversed this time, with Powell feeding Valeri, and this time it was Warren Creavalle being the clumsy clod. Dairon Asprilla ended up converting the PK. I was looking away just beforehand, so help me out: did Asprilla ask for the PK, or did Valeri offer it? These things matter to locker room dynamics.
A few minutes later, we got our third. Once again, it involved Valeri.
It’s always a little fun when a free kick goes past all the big, tall guys and somehow gets to the little guy at the back of the line. Also fun, the soft, looping, slow-motion, just-out-of-reach ball that Andre Blake can only watch drift slowly past him. I imagine when goalkeepers have nightmares, they’re about goals like this. Any goalkeepers out there? Are slow-moving yet unreachable goals like this the worst? Or is it the rocket blasts that haunt you at night?
5) A few random thoughts.
- Did you see that guy wearing #19 during warm ups? That’s Tomas Conechny, baby! The new guy makes the bench! Will he get see the field this year? And, fingers crossed, will he provide more offense than some of the midfielders I was complaining about up above?
- If you missed the second half kickoff, you missed something pretty cool. Rather than tap the ball to a teammate, Philadelphia midfielder Borek Dockal took a shot on goal, straight from the center circle. This is what that looks like on a shot chart.
- Diego Valeri’s on pace for 14 goals and 17 assists. Not quite MVP-level numbers, but Best XI? Maybe.
- Jeff Attinella’s on pace for 18 wins and 12 shutouts, but don’t count on that. The team literally hasn’t lost since he took over, and to hit these numbers they’d have to continue not losing for the rest of the year. Highly unlikely.
6) This has been a fairly negative column, with many complaints, but I think I should end by pointing out that the Timbers did, in fact, win. We didn’t look that great, it wasn’t our best performance, but we still won. And winning when you’re not at your best says a lot about a team’s character.
Does it say they’ve got big hearts? Brass balls, even?
Of course, the last time we heard those words was back in 2013, when first year coach Caleb Porter was guiding the Timbers to an unbeaten streak of 15 games. The team’s latest first year coach, Gio Savarese, has now matched that streak, and this coming Saturday he’ll have a chance to beat it against Cascadia rival Vancouver.
Here’s the current Western Conference table. Notice the games played column.
Yes, the Timbers have played at least two games less than everyone in the conference, but before you get too excited, remember that games in hand are a double-edged sword. Yes, we can use those games to get three points and gain ground on those above us. But we can also get one point and lose ground. Or zero points.
And zero points is a real possibility, because we’ll be tired. Why? From playing so many more games than everyone else! From having three mid-week games in the next two months!
Look at these next two months. They’re brutal.
We’re entering the busiest two months of the season. All those games in hand? We’ll be playing them on Wednesday nights.
I hope the Timbers spend this next week of practice figuring out what went wrong Saturday night against Philly, because if we play that poorly moving forward, I don’t think we’ll be seeing too many 3-0 wins.