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Portland’s Cascadia Clash Victory Ends Bad Start to 2016 for Timbers

Monday, May 23, 2016

 

In a clash of Cascadia rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps traveled south across the border to meet the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday, with Portland walking away with a hard-fought 4-2 victory and a vital three points.

Much of the drama prior to the game was centered on the status of Fanendo Adi and Diego Chara, who were both questionable with injuries. While Chara was able to go, Portland was forced to go without their star striker.

But Portland managed well in the first half, capitalizing on a pair of mistakes by Vancouver to head into the locker room up 2-0. First, Pa Modou Kah had a bad takedown in the 3rd minute, which led to a penalty kick that Diego Valeri converted. Then, and a slip and fall by Kendall Watson in the 29th minute let Jack McInerney in on goal, where he calmly slid the ball past Vancouver goalie David Ousted.

Vancouver quickly climbed back in the game right after the halftime whistle, when, in the 49th minute, a Kekuta Manneh shot was deflected by Nat Borchers past Jake Gleeson and right into the net. 

However, it was a six-minute stretch that sealed the game for Portland; in the 78th minute, Dairon Asprilla converted Portland’s second penalty kick of the day after a hand ball was called on Kah, his second penalty of the day. Four minutes later, Darlington Nagbe would remind the Portland faithful what they will miss over the next few weeks with a brilliant curling free kick that gave the Timbers a 4-1 lead. A Vancouver penalty kick converted by Pedro Morales in the 84th minute finished the scoring.  

While the scoreline looks great for Portland and Caleb Porter will take wins however they come after recent results, it is important to note how most of these goals came; these were not the result of brilliant team play or scheming, but almost entirely due to bad mistakes by Vancouver. Portland absolutely deserves credit for taking advantage of the chances presented to them, something they haven’t always done this season. But moving forward, Portland cannot count on opponents to gift three goals each game the way Vancouver did. 

Nagbe, in particular, had an especially strong game. While he was nominally listed as a left winger, Nagbe was everywhere on the field, constantly pressuring the Vancouver defense and winning possession in the middle third of the field, halting many Vanocuver buildups. He was decisive in the final third, taking eight shots and creating numerous chances. To put it bluntly, it was probably Nagbe’s strongest overall performance this season.

Nagbe’s excellent performance makes the news received by Portland earlier in the week all the more bittersweet, with both Darlington Nagbe and Jermaine Taylor being called up by the United States and Jamaican national teams, respectively. While both (Nagbe in particular) get valuable experience against some world-class players and teams, the impact on the already-depleted Timbers will be significant. Both Taylor and Nagbe will miss Portland’s next two games at a minimum and, depending on how far their respective teams progress, could miss as many as the next five. 

With Portland already missing several key players to injury, the thought of two more key players missing for a month or more has to give Caleb Porter heartburn. And it hasn’t even been mentioned yet that Valeri was subbed off late in the game holding his hamstring (Porter said after the game it was just tightness). 

Unfortunately for Portland, they are left with little margin for error after the poor start to the season they’ve endured thus far. Even after the win against Vancouver, Portland still sits at 9th out of 10 in points per game in the Western Conference, and we are now over 1/3rd of the way through the regular season. The Timbers need to start making their move now, or risk being left in the dust as Portland waits for their regulars to return to the field.

But there are silver linings on the horizon for the Timbers. First, all MLS clubs will be taking a two week mini-break for the Copa America tournament. While Nagbe and Taylor will still miss multiple games, the damage is not as bad as it could be, and the break also gives valuable time to Adam Kwarasey, Alvas Powell, and a host of other Timbers dealing with injuries. 

Second, the two matches Portland has left before the break are not among the stiffer tests the squad will face this season. Next week, they travel to Chicago, who are currently in last place in the Eastern Conference; if any game will break Portland out of their road slump, this is it. Then the Timbers come home on a short turnaround to face a San Jose squad that will be without star forward Chris Wondolowski, also on national team duty. If Portland can find a way to win both of those games and earn a full six points, they will be right back in the thick of the west just as they return to full health. 

Sunday’s win against Vancouver was a critical start, and provided a much-needed boost of confidence; but there remains work to be done in the coming weeks while important players are still out of action if the Timbers are to see the 2016 season become a success. 

 

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