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Twigs: Seven things I liked and didn’t like about Timbers away at Galaxy

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MLS: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese was upbeat following Portland’s 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday: “This team is going to win more games than lose games.” he said of the Timbers, adding, “I leave from here with a sensation that we are just about to win the first match.”

It may seem like an odd remark given the Timbers remain winless and are two months away from playing a home game. But I share Gio’s optimism and found that there was plenty to like about the Timber’s performance in their 2-1 road loss to the LA Galaxy and a few causes of concern as well.

What I like: Not playing a 4-2-3-1 before autumn

I remain stuck on the narrative that the Timbers’ early season woes last year were overcome by switching formations. Is this oversimplistic? Yes. Yes, it is. It is also not even all that accurate since Portland played in a 4-2-3-1 setup exclusively in their run to the 2018 MLS Cup Final. Yet, here we are.

As Will noted in his Stumptown Footy recap the initial returns were very good:

The Timbers defense pretty much bossed the Galaxy in the first half, pushing LA attackers out wide and forcing the Galaxy to deliver a cross into the waiting feet of 4-5 Timbers defenders and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. The Galaxy were happy to oblige, attempting a whopping 29 crosses, most of which were easily dealt with.

“Yes, they created some good crosses,” Savarese conceded in his post match remarks to the press. “But we handled it very well. I don’t think they had that many shots. We were able to defend well.”

What I like: David Guzman as a creative force

It’s almost cheating adding this as an additional line item, but the formation shift pushed David Guzman higher up the pitch and proved to be a stirring reminder of Guzman’s potential as distributing playmaker.

There’s a reason Guzman was Caleb Porter’s break-in-case-of-emergency number ten before Portland signed Sebastian Blanco ahead of the 2017 season. Guzman’s passing and ball-retention skills have always been evident, but on Sunday those passes were taking place higher up the pitch.

Guzman’s give-and-go with Diego Valeri that led to Guzman’s assist easily stands out as the most notable, but his early doink from the right touchline to a streaking onside Sebastian Blanco really showcased a skill we don’t always see from the Tico.

What I don’t like: The Timbers went away from Guzman during a critical juncture of the match

The Timbers best two chances in the first half—perhaps in the game, as well—were created by Guzman. But instead of feeding that machine, from the beginning of the second half to the 80’ mark, Guzman had five passes. Guzman was pretty effective in the first half with only 18 passes. But of those five passes in the first 35 minutes of the second half: one was a free kick, another was a tap on the right touchline that went a whole eight inches.

What I like: Timbers defense locked in on Zlatan

Sunday’s match was exactly a year after Zlatan Ibrahimovic single-handedly brought the league to a standstill, scoring one of the most improbable goals with his first touch.

With that in mind, of course It’s easy to look at the scoresheet and think Zlatan Ibrahimovic had his way with the Timbers. In a way, you are correct. But there was a palpable difference in the defensive effort I saw on Sunday and what had transpired on the previous fortnight when FC Cincinnati players were consistently beating Timbers players to balls all up-and-down the field.

MLS: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t stop Zlatan, you just have to contain and I felt for the most part the Timbers defense did just that, throwing different bodies on him, and giving him different looks. The team was able to draw a foul early and the back line was able to draw Zlatan into an offside position three times in the first 25 minutes.

Zlatan would of course get his looks and the defense didn’t look quite so dominant after either of Zlatan’s penalty conversions. Even despite the Timbers efforts, Zlatan hit the post in the opening minutes and by all rights should have had a hat trick. But Jørgen Skjelvik’s cross was off the mark and Zlatan’s exasperated “Nooo!!!!!” was picked up loud and clear by the goal microphone.

What I don’t like: Defensive lapses continue to sink the Timbers

In the last three games, the Timbers have either allowed a penalty or lost a player to a red card. Those are the defensive miscues that hurt the most. But even in Colorado, Portland’s three goal effort was nullified when unmarked Colorado rookie Andre Shinyashiki strolled into the box to tap in what will probably be the easiest goal ever to win Goal of the Week.

Portland is shooting themselves in the foot, effectively walking into opposing stadiums with an opportunity to leave with at least a point and instead coming back empty.

MLS: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

What I like: The lively new guy

Jorge Moreira wasted no time making his presence felt on Sunday. In the opening minute, the former River Plate man went into a tackle, winning possession of the ball on the Galaxy’s side of the field.

MLS: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy
Jorge Moreira wasted no time on Sunday.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

As Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson said of Moreira, he gives the Timbers a different profile at the right back position. Maybe it was the plan all along or maybe just Moreira seizing the opportunity but the Timbers team attack did pivot to the right with of 40% of the Timbers possession and forward movement coming from the right side. The right side is where 56% of the team’s shots came from, as well.

Moreira would finish Sunday’s match with a game-high seven successful tackles.

What I like: Another Chara milestone

While Jorge Moreira made his Timbers debut on Sunday, Diego Chara hit yet another incredible milestone, playing in his 250th match as a Timber, counting regular season and playoffs.

At this point, and probably for the next 40 years, every meaningful Timbers record will be owned by a Diego.

We all know the team’s record without Chara. He is a true box-to-box midfielder who does a bit of everything. He was the Timbers’ first designated player signing and he may truly be the most indispensable Timber.