I was pretty adamant on Saturday that the absurd conditions at Dicks Sporting Goods Park made it essentially impossible to have any meaningful takeaways from the Portland Timbers’ 3-3 draw. This was, after all, a match that was not just the coldest ever played in MLS history, but also one that took place in the middle of an absolute snow storm. They had to pause the match multiple times in the second half alone to shovel snow off the field markings, which had the side-effect of creating ball-movement-altering trenches around both penalty areas.
These ridiculous, hostile conditions can only serve to radically increase the variance in a game, both in the way the ball plays, and the mental and physical conditions of the players. Can you really expect anyone to perform at physical or mental peak when their sweat is freezing to their face?
That isn’t to say the Timbers are totally blameless in dropping points on Saturday. After all, regardless of conditions, twice giving up a lead to a team playing down a man can only be classified as not great. Especially when you look at how Andre Shinyashiki somehow had 12 yards of space in any direction inside the Timbers own penalty area before scoring the 94th minute equalizer. But, again, how much can you criticize the mental fortitude of players who had just played 90+ minutes in an 18 degree blizzard?
After a day or so of reflecting, I still largely agree with my initial impression of the in-analyzability of Saturday’s match. It’s hard to make any real points about anyone’s performance or anything that happened on Saturday without having to add the caveat of, “but, you know, #TheConditions”. That said, what is there that we can talk about?
Well, Andy Polo is still looking dangerous on the right side, and while he wasn’t directly rewarded for it tonight like he was in Tucson against Real Salt Lake, he forced a highlight-reel save from Tim Howard (who had an exceptionally good night, also stopping an essentially-perfectly placed free kick from Valeri in the upper ninety) as well as the Own Goal that looked, up until the dying minute of the match, to be the winner.
On the flip side, Jeremy Ebobisse had three touches in the attacking third, two of which were an off-target shot and an unsuccessful pass.
I don’t think this is something to be too concerned about. Quiet games from strikers happen, and also, you know, #TheConditions. Ebobisse showed in preseason that he has a newfound ability to consistently get himself into goalscoring positions, and I see no reason for trend to stop now that the regular season has started. That said, if he’s going to be the Timbers’ starting striker for the first few months of the season, they’re going to need him to have games like this less often than not.
Before the season started, I was of the opinion that the Timbers taking 12 points from this 12-game road trip would be a positive result. I still feel pretty good about that number, and think they could even come out of this with nine or ten without having seriously hurt their chances at a decent seeding come October (Richard Farley wrote a lot about road points and playoff berths here, so I won’t go into too much detail on that particular topic). As disappointing as it was for the Timbers to not take all three from Colorado, a draw is far from a catastrophic result.
This weekend’s visit to LAFC will be a different kind of test and, hopefully for us, a more illuminating look at how the 2019 Timbers will fare against top MLS teams. At the very least, we’ll be able to have some takes that don’t end in, “but, you know, #TheConditions.”