Welcome back to the post-slab pint where I break down the good and the bad (pint in hand) from the previous Portland Timbers game or, in this case, games.
Normally, I’d start with what I liked about the result(s), but seeing as I didn’t like much at all, I’m going to start with what I didn’t like:
The Timbers’ eight-game unbeaten streak is snapped. As Sam pointed out in his latest “One Big Tree” earlier this week, the Timbers season-saving eight-game unbeaten streak, and it was season-saving, was snapped against the LA Galaxy last Saturday. The response to the loss against the Galaxy wasn’t much better, as the Timbers’ defense absolutely imploded against the Whitecaps, giving up three unanswered goals in the final 30 minutes of the game after being up 2-0 going into halftime.
The Timbers lose two “playoff six-pointers,” giving up ground in the Western Conference playoff hunt. I know it’s an annoying cliché, but six-point swings at the end of a season can be the difference between making the playoffs or not, and the Timbers were just on the wrong end of two six-pointers in the span of a few days. The ramifications of said results are that the Galaxy are now sitting just one point behind the Timbers in fifth and the Whitecaps are now just three points behind the Timbers in seventh. With games against Colorado and RSL on either side of a match against San Jose all coming before the Timbers’ regular season finale against Austin on Nov. 7, it is imperative that the team get back to winning ways, and do so quickly.
The Timbers’ calamitous defending rears its ugly head. Just when I thought the Timbers’ defensive struggles were finally starting to be curbed, they concede five goals in two games, three of which came from simple defensive mistakes. At the risk of sounding too harsh, I think the opposition goal that summed up the Timbers’ defense this season was the Galaxy’s first goal last Saturday - a Chicharito tap-in after a completely whiffed clearance from Larrys Mabiala. One could also argue that both of the penalties that Jose Van Rankin has given away in each of the last two games highlight the story of the backline’s season: needless mistakes conceded from positions of strength, giving away a late penalty at 1-1 against the Galaxy and in the 82nd minute against the Whitecaps at 2-2. I concede (like the Timbers defense) that it’s easy to criticize players behind a keyboard, but those two penalties cost the Timbers what could have been two more points, while also giving two playoff contenders 3 points each. When opposing coaches talk about being able to score at will against your defense with four games remaining in the season, it’s time to panic.
Now, what did I like about the two games?
Despite the two losses, the Timbers attack has still been able to find the back of the net. Sebastian Blanco, Yimmi Chara, and Dairon Asprilla all found the back of the net over the last two games, which is an encouraging sign even though the Timbers lost both games. While Blanco admitted that his goal against the Galaxy was meant to be a cross, Y. Chara and Asprilla’s goals were two high-quality finishes under pressure from the Whitecaps’ defense. If Portland continues to show that they aren’t capable of keeping the ball out of their own net, the remaining games this season become a matter of who can out-score the other team, and I like the goal-scoring ability of an attack with Blanco, Chara, Asprilla, Niezgoda, Mora, and Valeri, more than probably any other team in MLS.
The Timbers still control their own playoff destiny. Barely. I know that I just went into detail about how much ground the Timbers have given up in the playoff race because of the nature of the last two results but for the time being, the team is still in control of their own playoff destiny. Right now, the Timbers sit four points above RSL and that dreaded red line separating the contenders from the pretenders. But RSL have a game in hand and will take on the Timbers in the penultimate match of the season on Nov. 3. Current third-placed Colorado will also prove a tough test in the Timbers’ next match, but should Portland beat the Rapids, they would be just 3 points behind Colorado in the standings. With the Earthquakes currently six points outside of the playoffs, and Austin FC already eliminated from playoff contention, the next four games, while difficult, should give the Timbers more than enough opportunity to cement a playoff berth.
The Timbers take on the Colorado Rapids at 6 PM tomorrow, Oct. 23, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.