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Why The Timbers Won’t Make the 2014 Playoffs

Saturday, October 25, 2014

 

Fanendo Adi must turn around his finishing woes if Portland is to win against FC Dallas. Photo Credit: David Cath

The Portland Timbers are one defensive mistake away from MLS playoff elimination, and judging by this season’s trends, that’s exactly what is going to happen. Yes, I said it, though indirectly: the Timbers will not make the playoffs in 2014.

First, let’s start with what the Timbers need to do (and hope for) in able to eek above the red line and steal the last spot from Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Potential Scenarios

A) The Timbers defeat FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps lose against the Colorado Rapids.

B) The Timbers defeat FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps draw against the Colorado Rapids.

C) The Timbers draw against FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps lose against the Colorado Rapids, giving the Timbers the final playoff spot based on a tiebreaker.

Notice a pattern? 

In order for the Timbers to even have hope, they cannot lose. On top of that, Portland must put their faith in an aging and injury-burdened Colorado team that, frankly, is the worst team in the MLS right now.

Colorado hasn’t won a game in three months and only one game in almost four months, with that sole win coming against another perennial disappointment and soon-to-be MLS dropout, Chivas USA.

Then, of course, there’s the whole situation of traveling to FC Dallas – a confirmed playoff team – and pulling off the upset just to stay in contention.

Likelihood of Winning at Dallas

Psychologically, Caleb Porter and company will not have a hard time getting mentally fit for this game considering they did not advance from the CONCACAF Champions League group stages, but that’s a different story in itself.

Liam Ridgewell, though a good defender, is not worth his $1.3 million salary. Photo Credit: David Cath

So it’s simple; win (and get lucky) or go home. The only problem is that whole “winning” part.

FC Dallas favors the attacking set pieces, as opposed to a more possession-based style of attack.

Nearly 40 percent of Dallas’s goals have come off set pieces, and they favor shooting from direct free kicks as opposed to crosses. The combination between a set piece threat and the possibility of a direct shot on goal can reek havoc for the defending goalkeeper, for he will never be too certain of what type of play to expect.

Whereas Portland has Diego Valeri as their designated free kick taker, Dallas has two – Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez.

Perez and Castillo have accounted for over half of their teams goals, and given Portland’s tendency to foul right outside the box, Portland’s defensive midfielders in Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski will have to practice diligent physicality in their defensive third, if there is ever such a thing.

In other words, Portland’s Achilles’ heal – aerial play – is Dallas’s strength.  

The Timbers’ offensive capability is their only attribute that can balance out a towering FC Dallas aerial attack.

Scoring on Dallas in Dallas, though? Good luck!

Dallas has gone eight games since a home loss and 12 games since a draw. They haven’t conceded two or more goals in their last seven home games, with teams averaging less than one goal during that same span.

Given the Timbers’ defensive woes, a three-goal game seems to be the magical number for a Timbers’ win. Portland has posted at least threegoals in six of their last seven wins, including CCL play.

The Timbers have the capability to score, we know, everybody knows. The inconsistency in the backline, however, hinders the whole team – even the offense.

Offensive midfielders like Diego Valeri and wingers like Alvas Powell are on the field to generate scoring opportunities, but when they move forward they leave the backline vulnerable. Since a team is only as good as its weakest point, the Timbers just aren’t playoff-worthy this season.

Reflecting and Looking Forward 

Diego Valeri takes a shot on goal against Real Salt Lake and USMNT Goalkeeper, Nick Rimando. Photo Credit: David Cath

Let’s face it, the Timbers experienced something akin to a sophomore slump given last season’s results. Unfortunate injuries combined with a slow start put the Timbers in a difficult position from the season’s start, and combined with CCL group stage play, the blessing of having additional games affected how the Timbers approached their MLS playoff push.

On one hand, it allowed for Caleb Porter to test out different line-ups. On the other hand, a sense of continuity has been inevitably delayed. Too often we’ve seen miscommunication in the backline, especially between the central defenders (eh-hmmmm, Liam Ridgewell).

It’s wrong of us to blame one player, or one coach, or GM. So instead, let’s blame the other teams for the quality play they’ve had this season. Believe it or not, the Timbers are not among the top five best teams in the western conference, and that is why they will not and should not make the 2014 MLS Playoffs.

 

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