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Portland Timbers Drop 3rd Straight as Injuries Continue to Mount

Monday, May 16, 2016

 

For the first time since Caleb Porter took over as head coach, the Portland Timbers have lost three straight games after a 2-1 defeat at home on Sunday against NYCFC, dropping them to 9th place in the Western Conference.

The first half was classic Porter-era Timbers: dominate run of play, create plenty of chances, and still end the half down 1-0, after a David Villa goal for New York. One thing to note was Porter’s decision to try Jermaine Taylor at left back over Chris Klute; Taylor had an excellent half, particularly in distribution.

The second half started off much like the first, with Portland dominating the run of play and pushing hard for an equalizer that finally came in the 55th minute, as Fanendo Adi scored his eighth goal of the season. But shortly after a controversial no-call when Lucas Melano was pulled down twice in the New York penalty area, 

Thomas McNamara bent an admittedly beautiful curler into the top corner where Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson had no chance. 

Even more troubling for Portland, Adi asked to sub out of the game minutes after scoring his goal; with reports from the sideline indicating he aggravated a hamstring issue. How serious the injury is and how long he may be out won’t be known until an MRI later in the week.

As anyone who’s ever followed sports can tell you, injuries always play a huge role in a game, season, or even career. A team filled with promise can have their hopes dashed with one bad spat of injuries at the wrong time of year, or one big injury to the wrong player. 

Make no mistake, all teams deal with injuries throughout the season, be it minor tweaks to an ankle or shoulder, or torn ligaments in a finger or knee. But the Portland Timbers are testing just how many injuries one team can sustain while still remaining competitive game-to-game. 

When the Timbers took the field against NYCFC Sunday evening, they were missing four players who had started multiple games for Portland this year: goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey (torn finger ligament), defender Alvas Powell (wrist surgery), midfielder Diego Chara (toe), and wing Darren Mattocks (torn knee ligament). 

These injuries not only affect the way Portland approaches the next game (or five), it is also a blow to team on-field chemistry. Team coach Caleb Porter has not had all players available to him at any point this season, with six starters missing at least one game due to injury, along with Diego Valeri missing a game due to red-card suspension.  

The fact of the matter is that, for this season to end up being considered a success for the Timbers, Porter may have to do his best job yet in the Rose City. He will not have a first choice lineup available to him until July, at the earliest. Assuming they remain within striking distance of the playoffs, Porter will then have less than half a season to find the winning combination, all while having the target of “Defending MLS Champions” on their back, ensuring every team is giving you their best shot, every game.

It’s truly unfair to ask much more than they are already giving, but this Portland Timbers season will make or break on the performances (and health) of Adi, Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and the growth of Melano. 

Adi is tied for the league lead with eight goals, Valeri has added in three goals and three assists, and Nagbe has chipped in three assists of his own.  Nagbe and Melano, in particular, need to start putting the ball in the back of the net, if for no other reason so that teams cannot focus solely on Valeri and Adi. 

Both had multiple opportunities throughout the game, with Melano in particular constantly putting himself in dangerous positions with his pace and dribbling, only to fail in the final move. 

Portland was the better team against New York and probably deserved a better result, but life in professional sports is not fair. No team in MLS is going to feel sorry for the Timbers, no matter how many injuries they sustain; they all want the large star currently residing just above the Timbers crest and aren’t particularly picky about how they get it.

So it’s up to Porter and his team to right the ship and tread water using whatever hands he has available. Taylor at left back? Ok. Jack Barnby at left wing? No problem. Whatever lineup can earn points is good enough for the Timbers right now. 

Porter and the Timbers aren’t going to ask for any sympathy, no matter how hard things get, and the rest of the league isn’t going to give it; after all, as the Timbers Army is fond of saying, there’s no pity in the Rose City. 

 

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