Welcome back to the final installment of the post-slab pint for the 2021 MLS Regular season, where I break down what was good and bad about the most recent Timbers game (pint in hand).
With the fourth seed in the Western Conference already secured for the Portland Timbers prior to the match, the Timbers were able to convincingly beat Austin FC 3-0 without having to worry about the game having any playoff ramifications.
So, what did I like about the result?
The Timbers exercised their demons against expansion side Austin FC at the third time of asking. Two of the Timbers’ worst defeats of the season came at the hands of Austin; a 4-1 thrashing on July 1, and a deflating 3-1 loss just six days after the Sounders put six past the Timbers at Providence Park. Newcomers to MLS are often difficult for existing teams to deal with during their first year in the league (Atlanta and NYCFC spring to mind), and that was certainly the case for the Timbers in regards to Austin FC this season. But to concede seven goals in two games against a team that would go on to finish with the second-worst record in the West was a little concerning, so the Timbers rolling Austin over on Decision Day was alright, alright, alright in my book.
There were no new injuries reported heading into the Timbers’ opening playoff match against Minnesota United. Every single year, my one wish on Decision Day is that nobody gets injured, especially if the Timbers have already locked in their playoff seed before the match like they did this season. Aside from a minor knock that kept Felipe Mora out for the game, that wish came true this year. I’ll admit, I was a little perplexed as to why Giovanni Savarese opted for what was nearly his first-choice XI for a game that had little bearing on the standings. Sebastian Blanco (who had an injury concern just a couple of weeks ago) and Diego Chara both played the full game, while youngster Hunter Sulte (who could have gained some valuable MLS experience against what looked like a pretty toothless Austin attack) was left on the bench and Zac McGraw was only given 45 minutes. But at the end of the day, nobody got injured and Savarese knows a lot more about managing his team than I do.
The Timbers attack looked very, very good going forward again. To be honest, the Timbers were able to do whatever they wanted on the counter against Austin, which was highlighted by Portland’s 22 shots, nine of which were on target, with just 38% possession. I noted it on Twitter during the game but the high-pressing from Blanco, Santiago Moreno and Yimmi Chara was nothing short of magnificent and led to a fourth-minute goal-line clearance as well as Christhian Paredes’ opener and Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s goal at the stroke of halftime.
The Timbers’ third was tucked away by Blanco after a 15-second, three-pass counter-attack that was the epitome of how Savarese wants the team to play. Granted, Austin played right into the Timbers’ hands (feet?) by insisting on playing out from the back, something they did not do very well at all, but the ruthless nature of Portland’s play was very encouraging with the Loons on the horizon.
It was hard for me to pull anything bad from a 3-0 thrashing on the final day of the season but the one thing I’ll say is that Minnesota is a whole different beast compared to Austin and will be a much more difficult team to break down. If the Timbers go into that match still riding the wave of the Austin result, and think they’ll be able to do the same to the Loons, they will be sorely mistaken. Minnesota is a much more compact defense and allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the Western Conference this year. It will be very interesting to see how the Timbers offense, which is dependent on the counter, deals with a more resolute back line.
The Timbers’ opening playoff game against Minnesota United at Providence Park is on Sunday, November 21, with kickoff slated for 2:30 PM PST.