Hey Everybody, welcome to Numbers and Nonsense in which I poke around on the internet until I find a few things that make me think “huh”, or “neat”, or maybe even “wow”, then share those things with you. This week let’s take a look at the remainder of the season in the Western Conference and why the Portland Timbers might be in a good position to climb that ladder.
Looking at the top of the Western Conference should fill most teams with some measure of dread as they contemplate going up against the ascendant Carlos Vela and his Los Angeles FC. The league leaders are a buzzsaw, a wrecking crew, and an aesthetically pleasing soccer team all rolled into one, making them darn difficult to take a point off of (let alone three).
Which is why it is not all that surprising that the Portland Timbers, who faced them twice in the first half of the season, lost twice to LAFC in league play before finally managing to take a win against them in U.S. Open Cup play.
Now, in their final nine matches of the year, LAFC need just fifteen more points to set a new record for points earned in a season. To accomplish that, they will need to go through three Eastern Conference teams, two teams below the red line, the San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy, and Minnesota United twice.
With the Timbers primarily concerned with the sides above them on the table stumbling and leaving space to squeeze into a higher playoff seed, watching three potential playoff opponents struggle against perhaps the best MLS team of all time will be just fine.
Oh, and did we mention that three of those four matches against teams above the red line will be home matches for LAFC?
Of course, it will also be up to the Timbers to propel themselves up the table by taking as many points from their final nine games as possible. Looking at the Timbers’ remaining schedule, they are set to play three more Eastern Conference sides, two games against 10th place Sporting Kansas City, and four six-pointers: games against teams also in a playoff position in the Western Conference.
Six-pointers are so named because by winning them a team is not only picking up three points, but they are denying three points to their opponents. For the Timbers to secure a better playoff berth, denying points to their fellow sides in the West will be absolutely vital. Whats more, because of these six-point matches, the Timbers, despite looking up from the seventh place spot, still hold some measure of control over their own destiny.
But how do the schedules of the rest of the West compare when it comes to six-pointers?
- Los Angeles FC: We already covered this. Come on. See above.
- Minnesota United: @LAFC, vs. RSL, @POR, vs. LAFC, @SEA
- LA Galaxy: @LAFC, @SEA, @COL, @RSL
- Real Salt Lake: vs. COL, @POR, vs. SJ, @MIN, vs. LA
- Seattle Sounders: @POR, vs. LA, @COL, vs. FCD*, @SJ, vs. MIN
- San Jose Earthquakes: @LAFC, @RSL, vs. SEA, @POR
*Dallas might not be above the red line, but they are at least within striking distance of the Timbers currently.
Update: That Earthquakes at LAFC match happened and Carlos Vela did this. LAFC won.
As the Timbers go through their fraught annual run to the playoffs, few players will be as central to the success or failure of the side as Diego Valeri.
For the last two years, pundits have speculated as to when Valeri would lose a step and when he would no longer be able to produce the magical sort of displays that made him the league MVP in 2017. Well, he isn’t exactly the same Valeri of years gone by, but there is still plenty of magic left in the boots of the Timbers’ Maestro.
The Timbers are still Valeri’s team just as they have been built around his skill set since his arrival in 2013. Thankfully, his best moments are still to be found in transition where a sudden cut or stop to get separation from a defender can open just the sort of window that a player like Brian Fernandez needs to get into scoring position.
Valeri has paid back the Timbers’ continued willingness to build around him with the best haul of assists ever by a Timbers player; fifteen assists in twenty-four games played in 2019, besting his own record from 2017 (11), his own record from 2018 (12), his own record from 2013 (13), and his own record from 2014 (14). In fact, Valeri is just three assists this year short of potentially joining the top ten list of most assists in an MLS season league-wide. And six more assists will be enough to make him the 10th leading provider of assists in MLS history.
Getting even more specific about his assists, Valeri’s six game-winning assists are also the most in Timbers history. Before this year, no Timbers player had managed more than four; a record shared by Valeri in 2018, Sebastian Blanco in 2017 and 2018, and Rodney Wallace in 2015. Six game-winning assists is also enough to lead MLS this season, putting Valeri one ahead of Maximiliano Morales, Carlos Vela, Cristian Espinoza, and — of course — Blanco in the league standings.
So, Valeri is more central than ever to the Timbers chance creation and, a few rough touches not withstanding, with five of his fifteen assists coming in just the last seven games there is plenty of reason to hope that the Maestro is just getting rolling for 2019.
In the end, home games are good, road games are hard, and the Timbers are a talented team lead by one of the best attacking midfielders MLS has ever seen. Hopefully this added some context to the Timbers’ struggle for position in the West and, just maybe, made you nod your head and mutter “huh” somewhere along the way.