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Stumptown Breakdown: Have the Timbers hit the turning point?

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Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
On Sunday afternoon, fans saw the Portland Timbers climb into the playoff picture once again with a 3-1 win at home against their Cascadia Cup rivals, the Seattle Sounders. With the win, the Timbers have now been unbeaten in their past nine games, with four wins and five draws. The Timbers have steadily been improving their play during the stretch, piecing together some of their best displays in different aspects of the game. However, in the game against Seattle, all of the pieces seemed to come together in a performance that Head Coach Caleb Porter called their "best performance of the year." Porter stated the importance of having their pieces like Lucas Melano, Diego ValeriDarlington Nagbe, and Diego Chara all on the pitch together and the way the team played on Sunday shows what it can mean when the whole team is healthy.

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After the Colorado Rapids game, there was a discussion about how the defense seemed to be finding their shape. With a solid block of six in the defense and midfield, the defensive shape is more organized and compact, making it extremely difficult to breakdown. The Seattle game was no different. The back four of Powell-Borchers-Ridgewell-Taylor and Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury in front of them was swarming around the ball. They were communicating well and provided the necessary cover and balance needed to succeed. With the defense finding its form, the Timbers needed their attack to step up and create dangerous opportunities and score some goals, and they did just that. On Sunday, we saw the three playmakers of the Timbers creating opportunities and controlling the midfield. Looking at the passing charts below, you see Melano, Valeri, and Nagbe all heavily involved in the attacking half.

The three combined had eight key passes during the run of play, two more than the Sounders entire team had. When all three players are healthy and playing, they can create massive amounts of problems for opposing defenses due to their skill, vision, and speed. They can produce service for one of the league's most dominating strikers in Fanendo Adi, in addition to producing chances for themselves. For the Timbers to continue their hot streak, these three players will need to continue their run of form.

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In addition to the three stellar performances that Valeri, Nagbe, and Melano produced, the Timbers Army was witness to one of the best counterattacking performances we have seen in the MLS this year, led by the blazing speed of Lucas Melano.

In the first half, after both teams had chances, the breakthrough came in the 44th minute as Melano found Valeri in space for the opening goal on a blast from outside the 18-yard box. After a long clear up the line from Jermaine Taylor, Melano brought down the ball on his chest and turned and ran at the Seattle defense. After a ricochet to Valeri, followed by a clever nutmeg, Melano was off running towards the backpedaling Seattle defense.

As he began to commit Seattle’s center back, Brad Evans, Melano slipped the ball over to Valeri and his fellow Argentinean tucked the ball home for the 1-0 lead. This play is a quality illustration of the progression Lucas Melano has made over the past games. Earlier this year, we have seen Melano look to hold up this ball, slowing the counterattack opportunity, and not taking full advantage of his speed. In the past couple games, we have seen the Argentinean play with a hunger that matches, and improves upon, what he showed during the playoffs last year. Lucas Melano, with his speed and skill set, can easily be one of the most dangerous players in the MLS; it is just a matter of consistency.

As if setting up the first goal with a powerful run was not enough, Melano created the third goal for the Timbers as well, which effectively dampened Seattle’s momentum and allowed the Timbers to leave Providence Park with a 3-1 win.

After picking up the ball in his own 18-yard box, Lucas Melano just took off up the field in a 4 v 5 situation. Continuing to drive into the heart of the Seattle defense during the counter, Melano again waited to bring in the defenders allowing for Fanendo Adi to peel away into the space. Then at the final moment, Melano found the Nigerian for him to tuck in his 10th goal of the season and quell the Sounders pressure. This goal is vintage counterattacking soccer; after the Sounders’ corner kick, the Timbers broke out with numbers with Melano, Adi, Valeri, and Alvas Powell all sprinting up the pitch. When you look to counter, you not only need to do it with speed, but it needs support, not just a solo runner. Melano had numerous options in the attack and he chose the right one. It was an energetic passage that fans from all over, not just the Timbers Army, should enjoy watching.

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After their 3-1 win versus the Seattle Sounders, the Portland Timbers look to be finding the form that made them MLS Cup champions last year. Their goalkeeper, Jake Gleeson, is in a great run of form, defense is looking compact and cohesive, and their attack is now moving forward on all cylinders. With another important match against the Los Angeles Galaxy coming up on Saturday, it will be important that the team plays with the same hunger and drive as they did against their rivals. If they do, the unbeaten streak should continue to ten games and the team should continue to climb up the table.