Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Portland Timbers put on show in dismantling D.C. United 4 to 0

Diego Valeri tries to cross the ball, but he has some company
If there was a microcosm of the Portland Timbers 2017 season in full display, it would be present in their 4 to 0 thrashing of D.C. United in their 33rd match of the year. It had everything that we've witnessed over and over again this season: Diego Valeri being himself as an MVP candidate, contributions from unheralded players, glaring mistakes, sluggish play with questionable passing, back breaking counter attacks, acrobatic saves, mystery defending followed by competent defending, and a cavalcade of whirling emotions along the way. The scoreline underscored the dominance of the home side this afternoon, but consider that the Timbers slept walked through a first half that displayed rushed shots, inexplicable passes and an uneven tempo that allowed D.C. United, the last place team in the Eastern Conference, to hang around and gain confidence through the first 45 minutes. The second half was a completely different situation as D.C. was ran about the pitch, and on the few occasions where they threatened, Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella and his defense was more than up to the task.

With the win, Portland advances to the magic 50 point mark that usually signifies a postseason berth, and due to the other weekend results, the Timbers qualified for the postseason and guaranteed themselves a top 4 finish in the West - which means that Portland will have at least 1 playoff match in the friendly confines of Providence Park this year. What that match represents, however, is entirely based upon the result of their final match of 2017, a date with the Vancouver Whitecaps, in Portland. A win versus the Caps not only gives them the 2017 Cascadia Cup, but they would leapfrog Vancouver (currently in first) to take over the top spot in the West, regardless of any other results. A draw or loss would mean other playoff situations that could involve playing in the Knockout Round: seed 3 hosts seed 6 and seed 4 hosts seed 5 in a one match affair, while seed 1 and 2 await their opponent in a 2 leg conference semi-final. With Portland guaranteed to be no lower than 4, this means they would be either waiting for the Knockout Round results or hosting one of the 2 matches, but to a man, the Timbers aren't resting on their laurels one bit. They would love nothing more to take the top seed in the West, which mandates that any conference championship would have to be partially decided in the Rose City.
Sebastian Blanco added a brace on the evening. His play was superb.

Team accolades aside, the Timbers also set several individual marks within the match. Valeri continued his magical 2017 with his 21st goal of the season off converting a 1st half penalty in stoppage time, but his record setting season took on a new complexion with 2 assists in the second half. Now sitting at 21 goals and 11 assists, Valeri becomes only the second player in MLS history with at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single season. Sebastian Blanco continued his renaissance with the Timbers with a second half brace off goals in the 60th and 85th minutes, further cementing his reputation as a viable and creative option for the Timbers offense. The unexpected goal source of the evening was defender Alvas Powell, who slammed in a left footed shot off a drop pass from Valeri and dribbling move in the 50th minute. Powell was a surprise inclusion in the starting eleven in place of Zarek Valentin, who has been starting in defense since the debacle in Toronto back in August. Powell was a constant source of offense as he made several overlapping runs that kept the DC defense on their toes, but in typical Powell fashion, there were several situations where Alvas either made an incorrect pass or forgot to track his mark.

Powell wasn't the only spinning issue for the Timbers, as the team effectively struggled for the first 40 minutes or so of the match. Considering the team hadn't played competitively since the September 30 loss in San Jose, it might be understandable there might be some early hiccups once the whistle started play. Timbers Coach Caleb Porter had his usual attackers in the starting lineup with Fanendo Adi still injured and unavailable: Darren Mattocks at striker, Valeri, Blanco and Darlington Nagbe as the attacking midfielders with Diego Chara and a newly bronze coiffed David Guzman as the defending midfielders. With Attinella making his eight consecutive start as well, Porter only made 2 adjustments to his backline in starting Powell and Vytas as the fullbacks with Larrys Mabiala and Liam Ridgewell as the centerbacks, thus giving Valentin and Roy Miller a break from starting for the night. With everyone back and relatively healthy, it would be interesting to see if the Timbers could apply immediate pressure against a DCU team that is confounding many soccer experts about the depths of their ineptitude. DCU Coach Ben Olsen has scoring talent in Luciano Acosta, Patrick Mullins, Lloyd Sam and Paul Arriola, midfield talent in Nick Deleon and Ian Harkes, solid defense in Steve Birnbaum and Sean Franklin and goalkeeping talent in Bill Hamid and Steve Clark. But they've not put it together with any consistency all year, and they now set a team record in being shutout in 2017 with 17 after the Timbers' result. You read that right - DCU has played 33 matches in 2017 and scored at least 1 goal in under half of them.

Alvas Powell started in defense, and he was good. For most of the match.
They certainly didn't show a lack of confidence or spunk as they watched the Timbers whirl through the first half buffering along. Mattocks, Guzman and Blanco all had good chances in the first 10 minutes, but it wasn't until Valeri's double shot effort in the 26th and 27th minute that Portland appeared threatening. Mattocks was having trouble finding space or the ball with any regularity, while Valeri, Blanco and Nagbe weren't on the same page with their passes or shots. It didn't help when normally reliable players like Chara and Guzman were making sloppy passes or passes directly to their opponent, but after Arriola and DCU midfielder Zoltan Stieber challenged Attinella around the 40th minute mark, Portland appeared to turn up the intensity. After Mattocks missed in the 44th minute followed up by blocked shots of Powell and Guzman back to back, Portland finally got on the board via penalty in first half stoppage. Mattocks was finally sprung on the right attacking a loose ball from DCU defender Chris Korb that he tried to play back to Clark in goal. Mattocks pounced on the ball in space and Clark took out the Timbers striker in the box as he tried to attack, and Center Official Mark Geiger pointed to the spot without hesitation. Valeri stepped up to face an old friend for the penalty, and he easily converted it to the left to give the Timbers a 1 to 0 lead at the break.

While Portland certainly looked more focused after the break, it was DCU that earned 2 early chances on goal in the 49th minute as Mullins and Acosta both missed from close range - Acosta with a header off an Arriola cross that Attinella punched clear, then he scrambled to block Mullins, who had found the rebound and tried to chip it on frame. DCU would rue the miss because second later, Valeri dropped a pass to a charging Powell on the right flank and after a quick dribble, Powell punched it into the left corner of goal in the 50th minute with a towering left footed shot. The goal seemed to send DCU reeling a bit, and their fortunes took a bigger hit 10 minutes later when Valeri and Blanco combined on a one - two drop pass that Sebastian slammed into the left portion of goal for his 7th goal of 2017. Blanco added one more late off a breakaway in collecting a loose ball midpitch on a turnover caused by substitute Jeremy Ebobisse on a daring one on one run, but DCU was furious play was not stopped as Ebobisse's contact dropped Birnbaum to the turf and he struck his head on the playing surface. DCU did get a final chance when substitute Lloyd Sam challenged Attinella from distance in the 83rd minute, but Jeff parried the ball away with ease.

There was lots of happy Timbers fans on this day. Wins do that.
Porter was actually able to give some players a break as Dairon Asprilla and Lawrence Olum spelled Nagbe and Guzman respectively around the 62nd minute as both Timbers had played internationally over the past few weeks, while the rest of the club avoided injury and suspension issues due to cards with just the status of Adi as the only remaining injury concern. While Mattocks had some of his uneven play with missing passes and rushed shots, his work to earn the penalty helped the team and he contributed 2 quality shots before Ebobisse replaced him in the 75th minute. While Powell had a few gaffes on the night, he contributed a goal and had several good overlapping runs; a big part that aided in that was the fact that his fellow defenders (Mabiala, Ridgewell and Vytas) stayed home and organized and Olum joined them late to provide a stronger backline. Guzman and Chara got rid of some of their rust for some better play in the second half, too, as again it appeared Porter had pulled out his magic halftime speech to inspire his team. At this point in the season, though, the Timbers will need more that just fiery halftime speeches to secure a cup for their troubles. As if they needed any more inspiration, the Portland Thorns were on hand for the match after securing their second NWSL title in dramatic fashion on October 14, and the ladies received the loudest ovations of the night during a halftime ceremony honoring their accomplishment. Can Portland add another star to their profile and pull off a magical NWSL - MLS Cup run this year? If the Timbers played the way they did in this second half, I wouldn't bet against them one bit.

Goals by Half                1          2          F 
D.C. United                   0          0          0
Portland Timbers           1          3          4

Scoring Summary:
POR: Valeri (Penalty kick), 45+3
POR: Powell (Valeri), 50
POR: Blanco (Valeri), 60
POR: Blanco, 86

Misconduct Summary:
DC: Clark (Caution), 45+3
POR: Guzmán (Caution), 58

Lineups & Stats:
Timbers: GK Attinella, D Powell, D Mabiala, D Ridgewell ©, D Vytas, M Guzmán (Olum, 66), M Chara, M Blanco, M Valeri, M Nagbe (Asprilla, 61), F Mattocks (Ebobisse, 75)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Gleeson, D Miller, D Valentin, M Zemanski

TOTAL SHOTS: 17 (Mattocks, Valeri, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Three players tied, 2); FOULS: 6 (Guzmán, 3); OFFSIDES: 4; CORNER KICKS: 5; SAVES: 5

D.C. United: GK Clark, D Korb, D Birnbaum, D Canouse, D Robinson, M Harkes (Sarvas, 67), M Acosta, M Arriola, M Stieber (Sam, 67), M DeLeon, F Mullins (Miranda, 75)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Klenofsky, D Franklin, D Odel-Atsem, F Brown

TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Arriola, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Five players tied, 1); FOULS: 9 (Mullins, 3); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 3; SAVES: 3

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