Welcome back to the Post-Slab Pint, where I break down (pint in hand) the good and the bad from each Portland Timbers’ result. This week we’re talking about the Timbers’ 1-0 win over Austin FC, which gave Portland their first three points of the season.
Seeing as there was quite a lot of good to come out of the game, I’ll start with the things I liked about the match:
Three Timbers made their debuts for the club, and none of them looked out of place despite their recent arrivals. Head coach Giovanni Savarese handed first-team debuts to Justin Rasmussen, David Ayala, and Diego Gutierrez against Austin FC, and all three of them were quite impressive on the night. Rasmussen, the Timbers’ rookie left back, started in place of the suspended Claudio Bravo, and after a nervy opening 10-15 minutes, I thought he grew into the game in a big way.
His best moment was providing a great cross for the header that Bill Tuiloma put off the post in the first half, and defensively, Rasmussen won six duels and kept Cecilio Dominguez quiet for the majority of the match. Ayala entered the match for the injured Cristhian Paredes in the 75th minute, and in his brief cameo made two ball recoveries and won two duels, while completing 10 out of 10 passes. Gutierrez only played three minutes plus the five minutes of stoppage time, but won a duel and completed 75 percent of his passes, and consistently made runs behind Austin’s defense as the game became more stretched. I recognize it’s only one game, but the Timbers’ squad depth looks to be in as solid a place as it has been over the last few seasons.
The Timbers’ backline shut out Austin FC’s potent attack, who had scored 10 goals in their opening two games. Just Like they did against LAFC, and the New England Revolution, the Timbers' defense put in a massive performance that resulted in the team’s first clean sheet and win of the season. Portland won 56 duels to Austin’s 39, won 11 tackles, and didn’t allow a single shot on target for the entirety of the match.
The success of the defense early on this season doesn’t boil down to one player or two, but Tuiloma and Zac McGraw have been stand-out contributors through three games so far. Of his partnership with McGraw, Tuiloma said, “having [McGraw] in the environment and being together with him, it helps a lot and it prepares us for these kinds of moments and these games... There’s always room to improve as center backs, as a pair together, but we just have to keep working hard each day and take it game by game.” With Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic both fit enough to make the bench against Austin FC, after undergoing sports hernia surgeries in the offseason, it will be interesting to see how Savarese chooses to line up his in-form defense moving forward.
Now, what did I dislike about the game?
For the third game in a row, the Timbers looked fairly disjointed in the attack. I’m not sure if it’s down to injuries, a lack of fitness at the beginning of the season, or some combination of the two, but the front line’s slow start has provided some cause for concern. It just seems like the front-four - Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Dairon Asprilla, Yimmi Chara, Santiago Moreno - are taking one too many touches or trying to play one too many passes when they have an opportunity to score. The best example of this I can provide is the 1v1 chance that Asprilla burned in the 24th minute of the match, after being sent through on goal by Niezgoda. Instead of taking an open shot with his left foot, Asprilla did too much and cut back onto his right foot, which allowed the defenders to get back into position and block the shot. I’m not saying that the forwards have played poorly to start the year. They have gotten into some really promising attacking positions at times. I just think that they’re trying to do too much in the critical moments, instead of simplifying their decisions.
Cristhian Paredes left the match in the 75th minute with an undisclosed injury. The team haven’t released further details on the injury that forced Paredes out of the match, but his exit certainly didn’t look promising. I don’t want to speculate on a player’s injury but hopefully, it isn’t too serious for Paredes, who recently signed a long-term extension with the club.
The Timbers travel down to Texas for their next match against FC Dallas on Saturday, March 19. Kick off in Frisco, TX is slated for 5:30 p.m. PST.