The Story So Far
As the leaves begin to fall and the weather returns to its typical overcast and rainy days, everything seems to be returning to normal in the Pacific Northwest. However, despite the increased rainfall, there appears to be a drought in the walls of Providence Park.
270 minutes: Roughly four-and-a-half hours, or just an hour longer than Avengers Endgame. At one point near the end of the Timbers scoreless draw against Minnesota United, ESPN showed a graphic that said Portland had 66 shots, with 17 on target and zero goals in that period. The Timbers may have been able to snag a point and prevent three consecutive home defeats, but they should have found the back of the net at least two or three times.
On Wednesday night, Portland will exhaust its games in hand when they take on their Eastern Conference equivalent, the New England Revolution. The Revs are sitting on 41 points and have had a midseason resurgence after hiring ex-USMNT coach Bruce Arena and signing Gustavo Bou, but their form has tapered off recently. Coming off their own scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake, New England have just one win in the past eight games and are desperately looking for points of their own as they try to secure a playoff spot in the east.
For the third time this week — and fifth time in 15 days — the Timbers will head back onto the pitch at Providence Park in search of all three points. There are still many questions to answer as decision day looms near, but none is more important than this: Can they find the back of the net? Time will tell.
What to Watch for
New England Revolution: (10-11-10, 41 pts)
New England is an interesting team to try and figure out. One week they are clicking on all cylinders, while the next they look hapless trying to put any form of coherent attack together.
Arena likes to play in a 4-4-2 formation that sits deep and compact before trying to take advantage of opportunities in transition. Much like Portland, New England’s front line has good chemistry and can be dangerous when playing off of one another in the attacking third.
In the past, the Revs player to worry about has been Lee Nguyen — one of the best midfielders in MLS during his time with the Revolution. Now that player might be Gustavo Bou, an Argentinian DP who is known for his goal-scoring prowess and has had the same effect in New England that Brian Fernandez initially had in Portland. A prolific striker in Liga MX, Bou already has seven goals and an assist in just eleven MLS matches. And while he is an opportunistic striker, he is capable of the occasional wonder-strike, like this effort from his first game.
Gustavo Bou scores a stunner on his MLS debut! #NEvVAN pic.twitter.com/BuXFsBAgW8— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 18, 2019
Other players for the Timbers to wary of include Carles Gil, who has played in both England and Spain and is a menace down the right flank; and Nat Turner, a player who Revolution coaches claim to have “Premier League quality.” The American keeper’s 74.7 save percentage is second in the league and just below Steve Clark’s 77.5 save percentage.
Much like every other team that has come into Providence Park this season, the Revs will look to sit back, play compact, and dare the Timbers to be effective in the final third. While that prospect wasn’t as worrying at the beginning of this ten-game homestand, those two words are now enough to strike fear in any Timbers fan.
Portland Timbers (13-5-13, 44 pts)
As the Timbers home stretch concludes, it’s easy to see that Clark’s early prediction has been mostly correct. Providence Park has proven to be a “house of horrors” — just not exactly for the visitors.
Against the Red Bulls last week, the Timbers had two chances that had a combined expected-goals number of nearly two. That trend did not go away against Minnesota United; in fact, and it to be becoming a habit.
In the second half, Ebobisse had another great look in the box that he could not put on frame, while Paredes had a header that beat Mannone but careened against the far post and out. Those were just two of the Timbers plethora of decent offensive opportunities. Part of the goal-scoring woes can be attributed to bad luck — the Timbers have had three shots hit the woodwork in the past two games — but there still seems to be a little bit of the yips at play.
What Portland now needs is confidence. Taylor Twellman brought that up a lot on the ESPN broadcast, and he has a solid point. It’s one thing to forget about one great opportunity that got away; however, that one opportunity has compounded into unlikely miss after unlikely miss. If the Timbers can find an early goal against New England on Wednesday, that would do numbers to improve the team’s confidence, and maybe that’s all it will take for the floodgates to open.
One player who might be able to help with creativity woes is Sebastian Blanco. He’s been playing limited minutes recently but looked to be the Timbers best player on Sunday afternoon as his crosses were the ones that created some of the teams most dangerous chances. He was a breath of fresh air and gave fans a good reminder of how versatile and vital he is to the team.
After the Timbers draw against Minnesota, Gio Savarese came out and said what has looked to be increasingly more evident: His team is tired. Being at the back-end of a stretch of five games in fifteen days will have that effect, even on the best players, but the LAFCs and Atlantas of the world have proven that they can fight through those stretches. With every scoreless home performance, the pressure continues to mount, which means one thing in regards to the team’s short-term future: Wednesday night’s game will be more important than any midweek intra-conference game should be.
In its match against Minnesota United, the Timbers attempted 29 shots, which is the third-most shots they attempted in MLS history.
Sebastian Blanco and Jorge Moreira were both credited with six chances created in last Sunday’s game against Minnesota United. That was only the second time in the club’s MLS history that two players have created six chances in a single match.
Wednesday night’s game will cap off a 46-day, ten-game home stretch, the longest in MLS history. The Timbers have currently have a 4-1-4 record during this home-stand.
Valeri and Blanco have combined for 26 assists this season. The rest of the team has a combined total of 23 assists.