Friday, May 5, 2017

After Match Analysis - Looking back at Timbers v FC Dallas

This guy had a breakout game versus FC Dallas.
Even thought I called for the result that ended up happening, I was a bit disappointed in the end result for the Timbers in their last match versus FC Dallas. After watching several Timbers side absolutely struggle in Texas under various circumstances and situations, Portland was actually ahead twice in the match. First, they scored their first goal by Fanendo Adi in the 30th minute off a wonderful feed from David Guzman when Adi was left open in front of goal. Seriously, it was a glaring error, but FC Dallas responded in the 61st minute when former Timbers striker Maxi Urruti didn't give up on a run and scored against his former side (I did appreciate the excited but rather muted celebration). 10 minutes later, Sebastian Blanco put his name on the score sheets off a pass from Alvas Powell and the new Timber didn't miss. You could see the emotion on everybody's faces after taking the lead, but Portland conceded it just 9 minutes later when Tesho Akindele tapped in an easy cross from Hernan Grana that saw Nagbe struggle to mark Grana and Powell fall down next to Akindele.

Under the circumstances, it's an extremely fair result as a media observer - both sides played reasonably well without key personnel and the match had several changes in ebb and flow that kept everyone guessing until the final minutes. Soccer can be a cruel sport in terms of results, for as we often see, results often don't mirror effort or production at all; a team can win simply by putting one shot into goal and hanging on forever. This match wasn't that way, as both FC Dallas and Portland could point to their teams and feel very good about the overall efforts, especially since both teams left Texas with a much needed point. Casual observers of MLS I would expect were entertained by the long stretches of back and forth play, as MLS advertised this match as the big one of the weekend in featuring the top 2 sides in the Western Conference. If you didn't have a horse in the race and were just watching the soccer for sporting purposes, I don't expect this would have turned many noses up in protest. Even the officiating, which has been a very sore subject for players and fans all season so far, was very competent and there were no glaring errors or mess-ups that I can recall. So my honest question at the end of all of this is if this was such a fair result, why doesn't it feel better?

Having Liam Ridgewell back has helped the team a bit.
I think it's the fan part of me that is frustrated because this was a completely winnable match. If Portland had just played better in a few instances, they could have secured a full 3 points and gained some confidence going into a tough stretch of matches in May - at San Jose, home versus Atlanta, followed by road matches in Montreal and Seattle. June brings San Jose and FC Dallas to Portland, but then it's followed up by road games in Colorado and Minnesota followed up by Seattle at home. I am not saying that one loss or one victory defines a team by any means, but teams that routinely give away points usually regret that later on in the season. Portland has already had a match like that versus New England at home, and I put this one in that category - a completely winnable match that didn't fall their way despite gaining points anyway.

The revamped offense has certainly done their part by adding Blanco and David Guzman to a formidable attack with Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri, Dairon Asprilla, Darren Mattocks and Jack Barmby. Portland currently leads MLS in goals scored with 20 goals in 9 matches and only Atlanta and Houston remotely close to that number; Portland is also second in number of wins with 5 victories as only Orlando City ahead of them. The Timbers have had 10 different players add goals on the year as well, so it hasn't just been the attacking players that have been contributing, either. At just under 2 goals per match on average so far, I am not worried that the Timbers can't keep up this pace as they've only been shutout once this year by a club that has been the best defensively in the league, Sporting Kansas City. SKC frustrated the Timbers with a tempo influencing, extremely physical and choppy tempo that really kept Portland from doing much of anything consistently, yet even in that match, the Timbers had chances to at least gain a point. Portland really hasn't been blown out in any match, although most people would also feel that the Timbers haven't played a full 90 minutes of impressive soccer either. The opener with Minnesota United FC might represent the best start to finish approach for the team, but they've had good runs in their matches with Houston, Vancouver and Philadelphia. Portland also exhumed a ghost after going winless on the road in 2016, and the team has already earned more road points - 7 with 2 wins and a draw in 4 matches - than in their 17 dates away from the Rose City last year.

Marco Farfan has a great future on defense for the Timbers.

With all that, the questions have always been centered around the defense. Portland revamped their backline in giving Gbenga Arokoyo a chance to earn the job, but an injury in preseason ended his season before it started. Portland also added Chance Myers, Roy Miller and Lawrence Olum to incumbents Zarek Valentin, Vytas, Liam Ridgewell and Alvas Powell and promoted Marco Farfan from Timbers 2.  Vytas and Ridgewell have been battling injuries, but are both back and healthy, which gave Farfan a chance to play and showcase his skills, while Olum and Miller did very well in several matches as the starting center back duo. With Jeff Attinella added as a goalkeeping option with Jake Gleeson, the Timbers certainly have talent collectively on the defensive side, especially with Gleeson dealing with a hip flexor injury for the past few weeks. Portland's defense is in the middle of the pack in terms of goals allowed and has 1 shutout in their 9 matches, but against FC Dallas, the two goals were essentially conceded by defensive errors - nobody closing down Maxi Urruti on a turnover and he drove towards goal without much marking although his goal was impressive, and Nagbe not closing down FCD defender Hernan Grana on a cross and Powell falling down trying to mark FCD midfielder Tesho Akindele, allowing the FCD player to tap a shot past Attinella for the leveling goal.

We now know that Nagbe was struggling with a nagging leg injury, which was the reason why he had to be subbed out. Valeri was not available for the FC Dallas match, but Portland was able to get Adi back after he was suspended for actions in the SKC match. Offensively, this team has been able to promote and plug in options with really just a few matches where the offensive was a collective match long struggle - the SKC match. Defensively, we have seen Farfan play very well for many matches, but he was consistently struggling in the SKC match and Vytas regained his starting role. For me, I don't need the Timbers' defense to be all world, but they simply aren't good enough at this point to overcome mistakes - and while the offense is very good, we have seen matches where they have been frustrated in trying to find goals. I still think this group has the potential to be above average as a unit, and the Timbers continue to state that reinforcements are likely coming later this summer when the Summer Transfer window opens, but hopefully having Ridgewell and Vytas back and rotating in the various pieces will allow this group to gel more and gain some confidence. Honestly, a big win in San Jose this weekend could be a great way to gain some swagger.

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