Doing what you’re supposed to do
Sometimes, winning a soccer game really is as simple as all eleven players doing their job on the field. And On Saturday, we saw what happens when everyone on the field wearing green & gold what they’re supposed to.
Sebastian Blanco was his imperious and active self, and buried Portland’s first half penalty under pressure. Santiago Moreno, the man who earned said penalty, was a lively menace the entire game. Jaroslaw Niezgoda had his first multi-goal game for the Timbers in two years, Aljaz Ivacic made some fantastic saves, and Claudio Bravo was active and effective at both ends of the field.
When your expected goals value is above 3.0, you’re supposed to score three goals— and the Timbers did. When the opposing team’s starting ‘keeper goes off with an unfortunate injury (glad Yarborough is okay) and a young substitute goes into the net, you’re supposed to take advantage of the situation and score the PK— and the Timbers did. When you face a team that isn’t at their best in your home stadium, you’re supposed to win— and the Timbers did.
In short, the Timbers did what they were supposed to Saturday night. The more times they can do it in their remaining 17 games, the better.
Addition by subtraction
Portland were down two normal starters on Saturday night. One was out before the game, as Larrys Mabiala was suspended due to yellow card accumulation. The other came roughly twenty minutes into the game, as Christian Paredes came out with a hamstring injury.
In the stead of Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma stepped up and put in quite the performance. He was active and engaged in the backline, coordinating well with Dario Zuparic to help earn a clean sheet. Colorado found space and chances, and perhaps should have found a goal, but Tuiloma was a key part of Portland’s “bend but don’t break” defense, which was sufficient on the night.
And of course, he also pinged a gorgeous ball upfield, and I’m pretty sure brought a tear to Liam Ridgewell’s eye, to assist Portland’s second goal of the evening.
When Paredes went down injured, Eryk Williamson came off the bench and also had a very impressive game. He commanded the middle of the field, and was the catalyst for many of Portland’s attacking sequences.
Here’s Eryk’s night, by the numbers (courtesy of FBref.com):
- Four shot creating actions (second most on the team)
- 33 out of 36 passes completed
- Four successful dribbles
- One assist
In his 90 minutes on the field, Tuiloma showed the quality that has also earned him the trust that Giovanni Savarese has shown him in 2022 so far. And he might not have had the chance to show that if Mabiala wasn’t suspended.
And in just about 70 minutes, Williamson had a huge influence over the game, in particular in the second half. And he probably would not have had all of that time to influence the game if Paredes hadn’t been subbed out in the first half due to injury.
You probably get the point I’m trying to make by now: Tuiloma and Williamson put in two standout performances in places of players that previously had been starting ahead of them.
That is of course a testament to Portland’s depth, but I think it also says something more about the players that were rotated in.
To be specific, I think we’re running out of arguments against Tuiloma being one of Portland’s starting centerbacks moving forward. And we’re also amassing more data points showing that Eryk Williamson might be the most dynamic midfielder Portland has on their roster. As we enter the part of the season where starting lineups should be more consistent, there is a case to be made that Tuiloma and Williamson deserve spots on that settled starting eleven.
Paredes will recover (hopefully quickly) and Mabiala will be back from suspension. Both are important players and will see the field again for the Timbers this year. But after Saturday, I’m not sure they should be seeing the field ahead of Williamson and Tuiloma.
So… is this the spark?
Harken back with me if you will to May 14: the Timbers had just trounced a Western Conference foe via an offensive explosion and looked poised to recapture their form and rise up the table.
Sound familiar? Portland find themselves in a very similar spot now to where they were back in May. But that huge performance six weeks ago was followed by three straight losses and a draw– a disheartening and abrupt face plant, and not the spark we thought it might be.
The job now for the Timbers is to prove that Saturday wasn’t just another outlier. Portland still sits four points adrift from the playoff line, and they have played one more game than some of their rivals they are jostling against in the standings. In order for the Timbers to truly become a legitimate factor in the playoff conversation they are in urgent need of turning this win into the start of a patented mid-season run.
The man of the hour— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) June 26, 2022
Let's hear from Jaro: pic.twitter.com/CM6VH8I1aa
The stage is set for such a run to be impactful. Portland’s next eight fixtures are all against Western Conference teams, and five out of those eight are at home. That’s basically six straight weeks of so-called “six pointers” for Portland to claw their way back up the table.
They tackle that stretch with the roster as healthy as it has been all year, and with some players rounding into form. Their schedule isn’t easy, but on paper they have everything they need to make the most of it. And with Saturday’s result behind them, they have the kindling for some real momentum.