Yeah, sure, it ended a little sooner than we’d all like, but I think most Timbers fans would call 2020 a good season. Let’s break it down.
1) How We Played
Personally, I loved how we played in 2020. Far fewer long crosses, far more combinations in the box. Was it perfect? No. But was it better than 2019, and better than anything we’ve seen from a Gio Savarese-coached Timbers team? Absolutely. It was my favorite Timbers attack since 2013.
The defense? That was up and down. We had a rough patch right after the MLS is Back tourney where we gave up goals by the bushel, but that seemed to be the exception, not the rule. On the whole, the defense was solid.
For 75 minutes of the game, that is. The 15 minutes after that was the chink in the team’s armor. Our late-game defending is the number one thing we need to fix in 2021.
2) Breakout Players
Pretty much all our off-season acquisitions worked out, but I’m not putting them in this section. They’re supposed to be good. Signing a DP and then watching them be good isn’t a breakout, it’s what’s expected.
But Eryk Williamson? No one expected that. Going from a solid-USL player in 2019 to an incredibly-valuable-at-two-different-positions-MLS-player is a huge leap that none of us saw coming. He’s clearly this year’s breakout player. I just hope he can keep it up. I don’t want this to be a one-year thing. I want Eryk to be a write-his-name-in-ink starter for years to come.
I think I’m also gonna give Jorge Villafaña half a point here. He’s always been steady, but this year, he really picked it up a notch. He looked like 2015 Jorge again.
3) Disappointing Players
I’m not listing Tomas Conechny here because I think he lived up to expectations. He was less-than-impactful last year, and he was less-than-impactful this year. That’s not a disappointment, that’s a player meeting expectations.
Cristhian Paredes, though? Man, I can’t believe how much he fell off. I really liked him these last couple years. He was utterly competent in the midfield, protecting the backline, connecting passes, and occasionally providing late-arriving goal-dangerous runs. In 2020, though? He was a shell of his former self. Every time he was out there, he looked overwhelmed, all confidence gone.
My question is this: was his collapse caused by things internal or external? Was his play affected by nothing but himself, or was he affected by the rise of Eryk Williamson? Did seeing Eryk catch him, then pass him, cause Cristhian’s confidence to fall off a cliff? And can he recover? Will we see 2019 Paredes again?
4) The Season’s Apex
This has to be the MLS is Back tournament. On the surface, the tournament seemed forced and fabricated and sponsorship-ready. But I dunno, man, after being without the Timbers for four months – hell, after being without sports of any kind for four months – I was absolutely giddy to have it back. I got fully absorbed in the tourney, living and dying with every game like we were chasing an MLS Cup.
But the tourney wasn’t just a highlight because it came after the layoff, it was also the moment when the Timbers started looking good. Remember the season’s first two games? We got our doors blowed off by Minnesota in the season-opener, then we won a 1-0 game over Nashville that may be the least enjoyable win I’ve ever seen. After those first two games, I figured the 2020 Timbers just sucked and would have to scrap to get into the playoffs.
But then COVID showed up, the team shut down for four months, and somehow, during all that time quarantining, they figured something out. I have to guess they spent the lockdown watching a lot of tape, having a lot of zoom meetings, and getting their heads right. When July arrived and games started down in Orlando, the Timbers looked nothing like that ugly, ineffective team from March. They looked fabulous. They’d figured themselves out.
5) The Season’s Nadir
Geez, man, it’s hard to choose. Maybe when Sebastian Blanco went down for the season? Or when Jaroslaw Niezgoda went down for the season? Or when Jeremy Ebobisse went down for the season? (And, yes, I know he played like five minutes in our final game, but honestly, the way things played out, we might as well call that a season-ending concussion.)
Actually, you know what? I’m not gonna choose any of those as our low point. Instead I’ll go with the six games immediately after the tournament. Pretty ironic, right? We look awesome, win the tourney, then come back to Portland and immediately start sucking again. From August 23rd to September 16th, the team went 1-3-2. The defense fell completely apart, giving up, in order, 3, 4, 3, 1, 4, and 1 goals. Included in that putrescence? Going into stoppage team with a 4-2 lead over RSL, and finishing it with a 4-4 draw. Absolutely abysmal.
(*whispers* But then we immediately went on a five-game winning streak, but I have to whisper this part since we’re still in the “nadir” section.)
6) The Team’s Overall Letter Grade
Imma give the team an A-. Giving up so many stoppage time goals has to drop them a little bit, but honestly, it was a really impressive year. Losing two DP’s to torn ACLs? Losing our leading goalscorer to a season-ending concussion? Those things would destroy most teams. But the Timbers somehow managed to finish third in the Western Conference.
Not only that, but we didn’t have a single player or staff member catch COVID. That’s huge.
And remember all the locker room drama from 2019? There was none of that. Everyone seemed to get along, everyone was easy to root for.
Yeah, an A- feels about right. Congratulations, Timbers. Let’s get that stoppage time defense figured out and next year go for the A+.
Next Tuesday, I’ll hand out end-of-year report cards for players and staff. See you then.