|Back for year 10 of coverage. I'm pretty excited|
I was flabbergasted at how quickly this situation had unraveled, but wanted to reserve comments about the result until I got home to talk with my wife, Jennifer. Within seconds of arriving at home, she asked me if I had heard about the Timbers, and after indicating I'd heard the score, I asked her what happened. "Well, it was a total collapse in the final minutes and Toledo.." was all that I needed to hear to reach some type of judgement, but she had further explained about an odd pattern of substitutes, MLS officiating being MLS, and some unfortunate events in the final 10 minutes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I was able to read more about the result from other outlets, watch replays of certain events and generally piece together the theme - Portland was amazing for about 70 minutes with solid defense and attacking soccer, but when we changed up the personnel, the moves were more to manage the match instead of more pressing. Portland gave up a goal, and with the officiating greatly influencing Orlando's second goal (VAR reviews the situation with Blanco early, but yet, Dwyer's dive after contact with Powell warrants nothing?) the momentum was clearly with the home side. Portland played to hang on, and they weren't able to do that thus putting tons of questions about for their home opener on April 14 versus Minnesota United FC.
|The early season MVP for Portland in 2018 so far.|
Even with the Timbers returning much of the core from 2017's Western Conference winning side, there have been enough major changes to the side that could explain this early disconnect. Portland is still adjusting to the Gio Savarese era and he has everyone playing different tactics from the previous era - possession is important, but the team is actually designed to work without the ball just as much. Even the defense and goalkeeping have been put into the mix as ball distributors with a design to move the ball as much as possible, and that's difficult to capture and understand not seeing it up close. I think another big issue for the Timbers right now is trying to find leadership within the players, especially with Ridgewell sidelined for a poor effort against New York and several nagging injuries. There's been mention of other team transgressions that have led to fines and other discipline, and it's entirely normal to players to test the boundaries against a new coach; but the leadership vacuum has also reared its ugly head in results with the Fire and Orlando City. Both matches were easily winnable except for late collapses that turned both from 2 wins to a loss and draw. I love Valeri and his efforts on the pitch, but leadership also comes from holding others accountable on the pitch and being a little fiery. I think Blanco has quickly become an emotional leader for the team, and it's great to have leadership come from various sources, but the defense truly needs someone to rally around. You would hope the answers would have been figured out during pre-season, but sometimes, they jump into the regular season.
|Bring your rain gear, people, there will be a monsoon.|
Yet the recipes for a similar outcome to what happened in 2011 seem very similar to this group - a team that had spent several weeks away from Portland under a new coach, searching for identity and leadership, and they return home to a rabid home side under the threat of driving rain for the match. The result on that night in 2011 turned out very good for the home team as the emotions and excitement were enough to push the young side to a win, and I'm actually predicting a similar outcome with a 3 to 1 scoreline. The Timbers have waited and wanted this for some time, and I think the home pitch will bring forth some of that vaunted magic one more time. Over the next few weeks, more of the traditional predictions crew will be back to provide thoughts, but in accounting for time, the cats have wanted time to see more matches before giving their thoughts. It's been a long time coming for us to see the home team in Portland, and despite the challenges and conditions, I think it will be a load of fun. I hope I'm right.