Portland Timbers Just Can’t Seem to Get Out of Their Own Way
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Portland threw away another golden opportunity to gain ground on the rest of the Western Conference in a disheartening and disappointing effort against New York Red Bulls. The Timbers once again fail to capitalize on beneficial results across the rest of the league, leaving Portland hovering precariously at sixth in the west and just above the dreaded playoff red line.
But if Portland continues to play anywhere near the level they displayed on Sunday, where they stand in the playoff race will be the least of their worries.
While Portland found themselves on the back foot most of the first half, it wasn’t until the final five minutes that the wheels truly came off and New York was able to put up two goals, thanks to lackluster defending from Portland’s wings and defensive midfield.
Porter and the Timbers looked lost and searching for answers throughout the second half, unable to capitalize on the few chances created despite Porter using all three substitutions to add offensive players. With a 2-0 lead, New York was happy to sit back and absorb pressure, leading to a frustrating half of play for the Timbers, as they were unable to break down the visitors.
But it was a set-piece late in the second half that provided the perfect summation of Portland’s recent struggles: Diego Valeri struck a hard, driven ball that deflected off the wall and seemed headed for goal until New York goalkeeper Luis Robles made a phenomenal save that fell right to the feet of Nat Borchers, who put it towards the net only to see Robles make a second, point-blank save keeping Portland off the score sheet.
Coach Caleb Porter inserted Maximiliano Uruuti into the starting lineup over Fanendo Adi, hoping to provide a spark to an offense that has failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities. Unfortunately, Uruuti was mostly invisible along with Darlington Nagbe, leaving the entire burden of creating offense to Valeri and, to a lesser extent, Lucas Melano. The attack noticeably improved when Adi was inserted to replace Uruuti, but by that point the damage had already been done.
At the time of the season when clubs hope to peak and play their best, the Timbers are nowhere near it.
The mid-season addition of Melano has not provided the spark and help for Valeri that the Timbers were hoping for, and no one has been able to regularly find the back of the net. Portland’s second-leading scorers are defensive midfielder Jack Jewsbury and center back Nat Borchers. On a team with Nagbe, Melano, Valeri, Uruuti, Will Johnson and Diego Chara, that is almost unfathomable.
Nagbe has been unable to maintain what was a strong start to his 2015 campaign, falling back into old habits and ceding all attacking responsibility to Valeri. This Timbers team desperately needs the creativity and playmaking Nagbe is capable of, and he needs to be far more selfish when it comes to demanding the ball in open spaces. As it stands, defenses know that if they are able to take away or key on Valeri, Portland’s offense will stagnate and rely on long balls or crosses from the wings, both far easier to defend than cutting runs from Valeri, Nagbe, and Melano.
This was a performance that, top to bottom, was simply unacceptable from a team with this much talent and this much to play for. Coach Porter needs to realize that there is no magic solution, and that the time for tinkering has come and gone. There are now five games left, and Portland cannot afford to give away points in any of them. Porter needs to put his best lineup out there and have faith that the talent will take hold and the goals will come.
The Timbers are not going to be given much time to figure things out, as they have a steep road test next week against the second place team in the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Crew. Portland then sprints to the finish with four games against Western Conference foes, including three against teams either currently in the playoffs or within three points of the Timbers.
Related Slideshow: Timbers v. San Jose in Pictures
Despite a record-setting offensive night from the Timbers, a 3-3 draw was the final result against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes. Here are pictures from the game.
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