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What Is Happening To The Portland Timbers?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

 

Adi, stumped. Photo Credit: Betony Mezsaros

“We dominated the game.” Those were the first words Portland Timbers Head Coach Caleb Porter gave after a 3-3 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 7.

Portland had a club-record 32 shots on goal, ranking third-most all time in Major League Soccer history.

There were three goals in 32 opportunities. Talk about having troubles finishing.

“We probably could’ve scored 10 goals, realistically,” Porter said as he addressed what the Timbers needed to focus on going forward.

Even more surprising, however, is that Portland had to come from two goals down in the second half just to get a draw. 

In reality, a 0-0 tie would’ve gained the same amount of points without as much anxiety.

Where the Timbers Stand

Regardless, the Timbers moved on from the disappointing draw, winning two out of the next three MLS games, rocketing themselves back into the playoff picture thanks to a high-scoring offense.

But as much as fans and analysts like to blame the Timbers’ defense for their inconsistency this season, on Sept. 27 at Toronto, we witnessed a first.

For the first time this season, it was the offense’s fault. A missed put-away from Rodney Wallace is the most common excuse amongst Portland soccer media outlets, though hypothetical situations aren’t the best premises off which to base an analysis.

The momentum shifted after Portland’s second goal, an own goal from Toronto defender Steven Caldwell. From then on, Toronto played as if they had nothing to lose while Portland’s offensive threat shifted into defensive weariness. 

Ben Zemanski, who subbed in for Will Johnson after suffering a broken leg, never looked comfortable. He seemed more concerned with a defensive clearance than regaining offensive possession.

Fanendo Adi folded like a lawn chair and Alvas Powell neither contributed as an offensive winger or a defensive back with speed.

In the end, set pieces and aerial challenges in their own box spelled doom for the Timbers.

Look for Adi to use his stride and speed to get past a slow San Jose defense. Photo Credit: Betony Mezsaros

Of course, it’s a team game, and in no way is it one person’s fault. In the end, it was Toronto’s persistence.

Moving Forward

So, after a monumental collapse in Toronto that would even have Roman Emperor Nero shaking his head, Porter and company look to avenge not only what should have been a blowout on Sept. 7, but also their worst second-half performance of the season; Toronto scored three unanswered goals in the period.

Portland’s playoff picture is still hopeful. At this point, just getting to the playoffs is the primary goal.

For a man always engaged in a pursuit of excellence, memories of the Portland Timbers’ 2014 season will not be based on how well they played against Seattle in April, but of how determined they remained after losing their captain and vocal leader in Will Johnson, as well as Diego Valeri, although the latter is gone only one game due to yellow-card accumulation.

This type of challenge is exactly what Caleb Porter signed up for. The 39-year-old didn’t leave a 10-year deal with the University of Akron – a program that he turned into a dynasty – and take a pay cut for an easier job in professional soccer.

The Timbers have been a back-and-forth team all season, failing to reach the expectations set by last year’s Western Conference Championship squad.

Wondolowski v. Johnson. Photo Credit: Betony Mezsaros

But there is hope. 

Have you heard of the primacy and recency effect? Yeah, I thought “Psychology 111” would be good for something.

The idea is simple: we tend to best remember the first and last thing within a list.

The Timbers can help us determine what this season’s memory will be, starting with San Jose on Saturday, Oct. 4.

San Jose Match Preview

Saturday marks the second meeting between the teams this season, and the first game of two legs, if you will, as San Jose travels back to Portland on Oct. 8.

Looking back at the draw on Sept. 7, Portland could’ve realistically scored 6 or 7 goals. The shot statistics say 32 shots with 12 of them on goal, but shot statistics can be misleading because the box score doesn’t give you the details of how likely a shot attempt may have been. Nevertheless, the law of averages prevails. 

The Timbers’ conversion rate – goals scored in relation to total shot attempts – for the Sept. 7 game was 9 percent. San Jose walked in at halftime with a 50 percent conversion rate, and ended at 25 percent after scoring 3 goals on 12 total attempts.

Chara is crucial to Portland's midfield stability. Photo Credit: Betony Mezsaros

Now, Portland will not be able to repeat that offensive performance without their two biggest offensive contributors in Will Johnson and Diego Valeri.

In all likelihood, the Timbers will not win, but that's OK.

Going on the road and earning one point is all that is needed, considering Vancouver, which lies two points ahead of Portland, will face a tougher remaining schedule, including away matches at Seattle and San Jose.

In the end, the Timbers need to rally around a stout defense – something they’ve had trouble with all season. We know they can score at will, so if they play conservatively and choose their attacking opportunities carefully, there is no reason Portland should ever be out of contention in any of their remaining games.

For the Portland Timbers, the road to the playoffs is four games long, and a lot can happen between now and the Oct. 25 regular season finale.

The key for the Portland Timbers: road draws.

 

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