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One Big Tree: A Different Energy

On execution, capturing old magic and catharsis

SOCCER: MAY 14 MLS - Sporting Kansas City at Portland Timbers Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Portland Timbers’ 2022 season felt like it was stuck in second gear — struggling to take off and stumbling out of the gates.

Whatever metaphor you want to use to characterize it, Portland’s season thus far has been discouraging. Encouraging moments were overshadowed by disappointing results and performances, creating an atmosphere of gloom around the Timbers’ season.

But something felt markedly different on Saturday night. A game that seemed destined for a sleepy 1-0 or 2-0 affair suddenly exploded into a record-setting 7-2 beatdown — with the Timbers standing as the victor.

It almost had an air of unbelievability to it. Other teams do stuff like this to the Timbers. The Timbers don’t have games where they’re the ones dishing it out.

And yet the Timbers did dish it out. As the floodgates opened and the goals started flowing, a different energy seemed to flow into Providence Park along with them. As Portland took advantage of a poor Sporting Kansas City side and turned in a historic goal-scoring performance, a positivity and confidence seemed to return to the team.

Head coach Giovanni Savarese recognized as much during his postgame comments. In discussing how this game was different from Portland’s previous outings, he shared, “I think it was a different energy. I think that the guys felt a little bit more determined, focused on what they needed to do; and I think you felt that energy on the field, especially in the second half. Everybody played their role and executed very well.”

At the forefront that execution (both symbolically and quite literally), were some of Portland’s most influential performers. Most prominently was Sebastian Blanco, who finally recaptured some of his 2021 magic and essentially turned into the John Wick “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back,” clip.

Playing in his preferred position on the left wing, Blanco demonstrated that that spot was also his most effective. Multiple times he was able to create space off the dribble, cutting inside to his favored right foot against off-balance defenders. In a season where Seba has been struggling to find separation from defenders, he found it — and then some — against SKC.

When he did, he did stuff like this:

A big reason he was able to find more space is due to the support from the midfielders around him — in particular, Eryk Williamson. Savarese initially set up his team in what looked like a 4-3-3, with Williamson and Cristhian Paredes playing more advanced than Diego Chara. Gio shared after the game that, while the formation shifted as the game progressed, there was always an emphasis on getting Williamson higher up the field.

It showed in Portland’s average positioning over the course of the game, where Williamson was frequently the highest of the midfield trio. In taking on more of the playmaking duties in a box-to-box role, Eryk was also able to recapture some of his old magic.

Williamson was a two-way force on Saturday. According to Stats Perform, Williamson completed the most recoveries out of anyone on the field Saturday (11) and had the most chances created for the Timbers (3). He was direct and aggressive with his dribbling, which was on display in the role that he played in Portland’s second goal, which came just seconds into the second half:

Williamson collapses the defense, shrugs off his defender to get to the end line, and then chips back the ball towards players in space. That’s the type of play the Timbers offense has been missing, and the type of player the team needs Williamson to be.

Blanco firing, Williamson providing, and the goals flowing. In a word, Saturday’s performance was cathartic for the Timbers.

It was not without its caveats, however: Portland still conceded two soft-as-pudding goals, and Josecarlos Van Rankin got a bummer of a birthday present in getting shown yet another red card. The team still has plenty to work on and plenty of season to go. Time will tell if Saturday was a springboard or a flash in the pan.

But for one night, a different energy swirled around the stadium. Savarese has emphasized that his side was playing well, and just needed to take advantage of “little moments.” Saturday is what happens when those little moments are capitalized on, and when an influx of tenacity, determination, and confidence comes to the Timbers.

Stats, Stems, and Leaves

  • Bill Tuiloma’s goal marked only the third occasion that the Timbers have scored in the first half this season.
  • Saturday was Portland’s first victory in their new Heritage Rose secondary jerseys.
  • Four Timbers players have now been shown red cards this season. That’s tied for the most in MLS.
  • Spare a moment to recognize Tega Ikoba, who made his Timbers & MLS debut on Saturday night as well. The homegrown striker, who had been pegged to play a backup role to Jaroslaw Niezgoda, had been sidelined due to injury since the start of the season.
  • Spare another moment to give Santiago Moreno his due for his first MLS regular season goal:

Moment in the Shade

There were so many good performances on Saturday night, that it almost feels unfair to highlight just one.

But of course, this space has to be devoted to the new guy, Nathan Fogaça. He announced himself to the Timbers faithful with an absolute banger of a debut, notching two goals over a thirteen-minute span in the second half. Nathan had impressed initially with his hard work and willingness to run, and it was through that hard running that he broke through and earned his first two log slabs.

SKC’s defense was all sorts of wrong all night, but it’s a credit to Nathan that he was able to take advantage and be absolutely clinical with his chances.

Nathan will undoubtedly go up against much better organized defenses as the year progresses. On Saturday, though, we saw the type of movement and directness from a Timbers forward that the team has so desperately needed for much of this year. On a night when so many offensive elements finally started to click, Nathan’s performance was the icing on the cake that brought it all together in a historic manner.