After a struggling performance in the CONCACF Champions League on Wednesday evening against CD Dragón, the Portland Timbers returned to their winning ways in the league with a 3-0 win at home against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday afternoon. With losses in their previous two games against Sporting on the road and the Los Angeles Galaxy at home, the win pushed the Timbers back into the playoff picture where they sit in the final playoff slot in the Western Conference. The win, especially given the injury-plagued backline combined with the early red card to Diego Chara, should provide some momentum heading into a stretch of winnable fixtures against DC United and Seattle Sounders.
During the fixture, especially during the second half when both teams were playing with 10 men after Soni Mustivar's red card, the play became extremely stretched. The Timbers did an excellent job getting their skilled players like Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri on the ball in dangerous places; they were able to dictate the game a bit more than they had in previous matches and able to find others. A prime example of this is Nagbe's distribution in creating the first goal by Diego Valeri.
As you can see, the move starts with Nagbe's composure on the ball in the midfield. After receiving the ball under pressure from Jack Jewsbury, Nagbe calmly dribbles away from pressure and is able to pick out Vytas on the left wing with a pinged 40-yard ball. The speed in which the point of attack was switched is extremely important as it does not allow Graham Zusi, who applied the original pressure in the midfield on Nagbe, to get back into position and deny Vytas' cross. From there, the Lithuanian left back whipped in a great ball that Valeri smacked home with a well-placed volley. During times, especially in recent games, the Timbers attack has lacked the speed in its ball movement to really break down opponents. This forward pattern was a quality example of the attack that can make the Timbers dangerous; with their athletic outside backs, the team can expose defenses as they shift from one side to the other.
Darlington Nagbe's ability to create and ignite the attack popped up for the second goal as well, beating a couple of Sporting KC defenders and calmly finding Jewsbury on the top of the 18-yard box for him to slot the ball home.
After some great work by Ned Grabavoy in the corner to separate from his defenders, he found Nagbe at the corner of the 18-yard box. Nagbe's technical ability shines through in the play as he not only spins Benny Feilhaber like a top, but also commits two of Sporting players allowing for Jewsbury to sit free. Plays like these show why many fans are clamoring for Nagbe to be more involved in the United States Men's National Team picture; his ability to create and distribute would make him a great addition to the current squad, yet it seems like he does not have a steady position in the group.
While the Timbers did pull together a great result to help themselves back into the playoff picture, there were still opportunities for Kansas City to get back into the game, even before it was a 2-0 or 3-0 scoreline. The Timbers have had issues pressuring the ball in the wing channels, allowing teams to serve in crosses consistently from dangerous positions. Last year, this might not have been much of an issue with both Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell having dominant seasons in aerial battles. However, this season, the entire backline seems to have struggled in winning balls in the air and effectively clearing their lines. There have been issues for the Timbers in crossing situations the entire season, two weeks ago against Los Angeles both of their goals came from the wing channels, against New England early on in the season the was no pressure on the ball in the wing channel for their tying goal, and there have been many other situations where players could close down the ball, but have struggled in doing it. The team needs to address this issue as the season moves forward. Hopefully, in the next coming weeks, the defense will recover from their injuries and allow for a more steady group to appear on the pitch.
With the backline decimated by injuries, the Portland Timbers' 3-0 win against Sporting Kansas City at home was hugely important. As the team continues to move forward in the month of August and players will continue to come back from injury, as well as the players brought in during the transfer window, you can expect the team to become more cohesive. Players like Stephen Taylor and Vytas could be crucial for the club providing some stability at their respective positions. As we saw this week, the team does have the pieces moving forward, especially when all players are clicking. When the entire team is put together and on the same page, they can be one of the most dangerous in the MLS; it is important that they continue to develop and build momentum this month, especially with the fixtures coming up.