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Portland Timbers Earn Road draw as Melano Continues to Improve

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

 

The Portland Timbers began the second half of their season on Independence Day with a 0-0 draw on the road against the league-leading Colorado Rapids and their new Designated Player, United States goalkeeper Tim Howard. 

Both teams had good opportunities, with Fanendo Adi hitting the post after finding himself 1-on-1 against Howard. Adi also looked like he may have earned a penalty in the first half after a nifty turn gave him inside position in the box when the defender brought him down, but the referee did not see the call Portland's way. All in all, while they will rue the missed opportunities for three points, it was a good result for Portland considering that only one other team all season had earned a point on the road against Colorado.

Before we go any further here however, I have a simple request of the front office: Could we please add a primarily white jersey for next season? The game was difficult to watch on television, as the forest green of the Timbers blended in with the Colorado burgundy, and the Rapids are not the only team that the Timbers have this issue with while on the road.

The first half the of the season would charitably be described as “mixed”; some bad results (Chicago away, NYCFC home, Dallas home) and inconsistent play (Lucas Melano, the entire defense) were combined with the odd stellar performance (Toronto and Vancouver) to leave the Timbers just over the red line. With talented teams such as the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders sitting below the playoff cut line, Portland has a long and difficult road ahead as they attempt to defend their MLS title.

But there have been signs the past few matches that Portland may finally be turning the corner, with none bigger than the 3-2 comeback win against Houston and the key role Melano played in creating two of the three second-half goals.

Coach Caleb Porter has constantly preached patience with Melano, even as the fanbase began to lose faith. Melano was one of the most expensive signings in Timbers history and the fans expected immediate results from the speedy 22-year-old winger, only to be disappointed as the transition proved more difficult than presumably both Melano and the Timbers believed it would be.

But oh, the talent is there, and it has finally been showing up on a more consistent basis the past few games. Melano was an absolute terror in the second half after a tactical shift from Coach Porter moved Melano from the right wing to the left. Melano remained on the left side and again created a number of chances through the game on the break, this time utilizing his speed and dribbling.

His improvement could not come at a better time for Portland, as the development and progression of Melano is absolutely critical to the Timbers, both this season and for the foreseeable future. For this season, an in-form Melano takes pressure off of Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe while also changing the shape defenses are forced to play against Portland.

Long-term, successful MLS teams simply cannot afford to miss badly on Designated Players, particularly those in smaller markets. The realities of the MLS salary structure are such that, if a team misses on a Melano or a Kris Boyd, the roster depth and talent is unlikely to be able to replace him without a dropoff. Portland is in an even more precarious place with the recent transfer request of Adi; while he is unlikely to move mid-season, a departure this winter of the Timbers' leading scorer looks increasingly likely and Portland will be forced to replace a top-five MLS goalscorer.

Last season, the Timbers had Rodney Wallace to assume the burden when Melano struggled after his arrival, but Wallace left in the offseason and Melano was expected to step up and produce. But he struggled early on, occasionally teasing with his speed and runs, only to fail when a final ball was needed. And, with Nagbe missing time with the national team and the defense struggling, Portland simply could not keep up with the top-performing teams.

But Nagbe is back, the defense is getting healthy, and Melano is finally beginning to show the form that convinced the Timbers to pay $5,000,000 for his services. Portland has done a good-enough job in the first half of the season that, if all of those things continue to break their way, the Timbers just might find themselves back in the MLS playoffs this October.

 

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