Monday, September 25, 2017

Timbers dismantle Orlando City in compelling fashion in 3 to 0 rout

Derrick Tellez was part of the game day festivities in the player procession
I've been a sports fan long enough to know that every season has ups and downs, and Major League Soccer is no different. Starting their season in January with matches beginning in February leading up to a March to October regular season and nearly 6 weeks of playoffs before a champion is crowned, each team has to deal with the inevitable highs and lows of a campaign. Between injuries, fitness issues, international competitions, friendlies and a league schedule, MLS seasons have become more of a journey or quest than anything else. We've witnessed many of these twists and turns through the hot March run through a May swoon, a short June rebound to July struggles and a late August rebirth as MLS teams point to September to know this is the time to find their best form and solidify post season plans. Portland completed a reasonably successful 3 match road trip with a win (NYCFC) and draw (Seattle) trying to solidify their claim to the top 2 spots in the West in facing Orlando City, a team that has seen more downs than ups in 2017. From start to finish, the Timbers put on a virtual offensive clinic behind their hottest player, Diego Valeri, who has again set several historical marks in a 3 to 0 victory that wasn't as close as the score indicated. However, this was far from a one man show as the Timbers collectively rallied around Valeri and put forth their most complete and dominant result since March.

The list of collective marks set in this match could fill any listing - Valeri's 2 goals not only continued his MLS record consecutive streak of matches with a goal at 9, but Valeri now sits at 20 goals scored in 2017, which make him the current leader in goals scored in MLS for 2017 and the MLS midfielder who has scored the most goals in a single season. Valeri's 20 goals are also the most scored by any Timbers player in any era as well, and with 3 matches left in 2017, he could obviously add more to his account. Portland also currently leads the Western Conference in goals scored with 53, putting them in 3rd overall in MLS tied with Chicago and trailing only Atlanta United and Toronto FC, and their 18 consecutive matches with a goal scored is the current longest streak in the league. While the litany of offensive records is impressive, the shutout also represents the team's sixth clean sheet in 2017 as the defense starts to find its rhythm in front of goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who has been one of the players that has contributed to the current good form. Portland now sits in second place 1 point behind Vancouver with just 3 matches left to play: a road date with San Jose on September 30 and home dates with D.C. United (October 15) and the Whitecaps (October 22). With striker Fanendo Adi now back full time in training and defender Marco Farfan also nearing a return, Portland is now nearing full health at a time when they need all available player options at peak form and solidify their hold on one of the top 2 spots. The only downside to the remaining schedule is that most of the teams around the Timbers have 4 or 5 matches left to play, but their fixture dates are compressed in comparison against other teams with plenty to play for as well.
Darren Mattocks and Jonathan Spector met up a lot in this match.
Porter had to make some adjustments in his starting eleven from the loss versus Real Salt Lake as David Guzman continues to deal with a tight quadriceps muscle. With Attinella making his sixth consecutive start in goal even with Jake Gleeson healthy, Porter kept his defensive line the same: Zarek Valentin and Roy Miller at the right and left backs with Larrys Mabiala and Liam Ridgewell at center backs. Darlington Nagbe played his second consecutive start at central midfielder, but instead of replacing Diego Chara like he did versus RSL, he was paired with Chara to replace Guzman. With Nagbe playing centrally, Porter played the same foursome up top with Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco joining Valeri as the attacking midfielders and Darren Mattocks as the lone striker. Adi wasn't included in the available substitutes, as Porter decided to use goalkeeper Gleeson, defenders Vytas and Alvas Powell, midfielders Ben Zemanski, Lawrence Olum and Jack Barmby and forward Jeremy Ebobisse as his reinforcements. Portland's offense has been among the most prolific in MLS for 2017, but Porter has always felt the defense would be much improved once Mabiala was better acclimated and Ridgewell was back and healthy.

For Orlando City, it's been a very up and down 2017 as OCSC Coach Jason Kreis has tried to figure out a consistent attack plan all season. Already possessing solid attackers in Kaka, Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes, OCSC shocked most MLS experts when they traded for another striker with Sporting Kansas City in getting Dom Dwyer while also acquiring playmaking midfielder Dillon Powers to supplement the midfield. With former MLS Timber Will Johnson on suspension until further notice, Orlando City has been capable of being dangerous at points offensively. Defensively, the team has conceded 47 goals as they've yet to find a consistent backline outside of Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter. That has left former MLS Timbers goalkeeper Joe Bendik facing a plethora of shots, but considering Bendik was on the 2012 Timbers that had several troubles along the backline, it's unfortunately familiar. Many insiders aren't sure if Kreis will remain in charge or how long Kaka will remain in Orlando City, but the fact is with the parts they had and they were still eligible for the postseason going in, the Timbers couldn't look past OCSC at all.

Darlington Hagbe filled in for David Guzman. Very well.
The match itself started with both teams trading early back and forth runs with Mattocks, Barnes and OCSC midfielder Yoshimar Yotun all having chances on goal, but it was the 13th minute when the Timbers took the lead. Mattocks got loose on the left side of the pitch via a through ball and Spector slid in behind him to drop him inside the box. Center Official Baldomero Toledo initially waived off the play and let Bendik grab it for a goal kick, but once play was stopped as Mattocks was writing about in pain, Toledo made the Video Assistant Replay signal to indicate he'd been contacted about the play. Upon review, Toledo pointed to the spot and cautioned Spector for the foul, and Valeri calmly slammed the ball into the left portion of the net via penalty shot to put the Timbers up 1 to 0. In the 28th minute, Chara sprung Asprilla on the right side down the flanks and the OCSC defense couldn't recover in time to stop the run. Dairon was able to cross it into the box with Bendik trying to find his line, but Mattocks beat everyone to the ball to poke it home for a 2 to 0 lead. Valeri was able to add his second goal in the 60th minute after Mattocks shot a Blanco back heel pass right to Bendik, but the OCSC keeper was unable to hold onto the ball and it fell to Valeri on the right side. Diego calmly slid it into goal for his 20th, and the Timbers were never seriously threatened.

The scoreline could have been worse if not for Bendik's work in making several outstanding saves in traffic. Blanco, Mattocks and Valeri all had other chances that could have added to their tallies, too, but Bendik was able to keep the scoreline relatively close in some respects. OCSC was not able to muster much threats despite getting chances for Larin and Dwyer at points, but Attinella was able to hold the line well - making a stone cold leg save on Dwyer in the 86th minute when the game was out of reach. Much of the defensive credit should also go to Ridgewell, Mabiala, Valentin and Miller, who deflected several shots and passes to keep the clean sheet, while Nagbe, Blanco, Asprilla and Chara came back to provide tons of support when needed. Asprilla, Blanco, Chara and Nagbe also created several turnovers by directly stealing the ball or intercepting passes at key points, but what was more impressive was the accuracy and frequency of Timbers passes. For several long sequences, Portland was able to pass from right to left, forward and backwards for several passes and then wait for a break to attack. It was artistry in motion at points, and this effort couldn't have come at a better time. Portland was aided somewhat when Spector was ejected in the 47th minute for his second caution while Orlando City lost another player, OCSC substitute defender Victor Giro, to a straight red card in the 84th minute for a violent foul on Miller.

Diego Valeri has lots of records now, but I think he wants another cup.
Perhaps the biggest energy of the night belonged to Derrick Tellez, the youngster who was signed by the Timbers to a one game contract as part of his Make-A-Wish program. Tellez trained with the team on September 22nd and was part of their team photo, but Tellez was also a big part of the game festivities. From participating in warmups and the team speech before the match to walking with the players and observing the coin flip, the youngster was included in every game day activity with the team. He even got his own thin log slice at the end of the match presented by Timber Joey, and he held up his slab along with Attinella, Valeri and Mattocks. Derrick was even featured in the press notes and game program to complete the day, while the Timbers Army made several banners in his honor to show love and support to the Timbers' newest signee. While the win was certainly impressive, it was also great to see the team and the fans rally around Derrick and his family to show them a one of a kind game day experience. This was such a big match experience that I wanted to write more about this later this week to talk more about the team and this impressive effort.

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