|Sebastian Blanco was very busy against Toronto FC as a catalyst for goals.|
Timbers Coach Gio Savarese indicated there would be some changes in the Timbers lineup from the group used against the Sounders. He wasn't kidding when the full scope of the choices were revealed although Savarese did stay with the tree formation of 4 defenders, 3 defensive midfielders, 2 attacking midfielders and a lone striker. Jeff Attinella again started in goal for Portland with Steve Clark on the bench as the substitute, but the defensive line got a massive makeover. Instead of Alvas Powell, Julio Cascante, Liam Ridgewell and Zarek Valentin on the backline from right to left respectively, Savarese went with the recently re-acquired Jorge Villafana on the left, Ridgewell and Larrys Mabiala as the center backs, and Valentin moved over to the right. While the move regarding Cascante made sense after consecutive starts and a tough performance against Seattle, Powell had been fairly consistently used as well. David Guzman stayed in the lineup for defensive midfielder with Diego Chara and Andy Polo, as Cristhian Paredes was again given the night off with Andres Flores and Lawrence Olum as the available subs. With Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Samuel Armenteros again making the attacking trio, Savarese did add more attacking options from the bench; however, he didn't use Dairon Asprilla, who had been a regular rotational player for several matches. Gio decided to give young Jeremy Ebobisse a chance to appear, while the other attacking option was another 2015 MLS Cup alum in the form of Lucas Melano. Melano was signed back in 2015 by Portland and became a key contributor to the MLS Cup run, but he struggled in 2016 when he was elevated to a starting role. Melano was eventually loaned out, and his play intrigued the Timbers and Savarese enough to bring him back to the Rose City for the time being.
|It was great to see Jorge Villafana out there even if the number was different.|
Unfortunately for Timbers fans, the first half this match bore a strong resemblance to the last match in terms of style of play - the Timbers created a plethora of opportunities to attack the goal, which did generate some contested shots that went straight to Irwin, or were blocked by a TFC player. However, many of the chances died by a rushed pass that was either off target or easily intercepted, as it appeared the attacking players were not on the same page at all. Of all the chances, a 35th minute shot by Valeri off a deft pass from Blanco was the most dangerous chance, but it was blocked by TFC defender Justin Morrow. Portland did seem more willing to challenge Irwin from distance as Guzman, Armenteros and Valeri did try longer range efforts, but Irwin was able to catch each attempt rather easily. The biggest looks from the Timbers' offense for the half, though, were moments of exasperation as Armenteros, Polo, Valeri, Blanco or Chara either outran the ball or just didn't anticipate where their teammate would be in making the attacking runs. Toronto FC, meanwhile, had Janson hit the right post with a shot in the 16th minute when Bakero was able to outflank Valentin, but the Timbers were able to clear away the shot eventually.
|David Guzman was a key contributor to the big win over Toronto FC.|
Savarese and Vanney chose not to make any changes to their respective sides, but some took to whatever halftime message was spoken more strongly that others. Blanco, in particular, seemed to be more energized in his approach as he was determined to create something; in his prematch routine, Sebastian brought his year old daughter onto the pitch for the anthem celebration because it was her birthday. Eventually leading the team in chances created with 6 in total, Blanco nearly created an own goal against Toronto FC in the 57th minute off a 40 yard run where he blasted a shot on frame that Irwin pushed into the path of Morrow on the right side. Much like Cascante's reaction on Sunday, Morrow tried to clear the ball awkwardly and it spun toward the goal off the clearance, but it moved just outside the right post and out for a corner kick. The Timbers generated consecutive corners, both ending with Blanco shooting from distance on goal, with the first being pushed away by Irwin for the second corner and the latter caught by Irwin at the last second. This sequence was showing that Sebastian was getting locked in and getting close to breaking things open, and in the 62nd minute, Seba and Armenteros executed another one two play where Blanco pulled a shot wide, but it was showing that he was getting closer to breaking the match open for the elusive score.
|I'm not exactly sure which arms belong to what player here.|
The pressure wasn't fully done either, but the Timbers nearly added to their tally courtesy of Melano, who had entered the match in the 81st minute for Armenteros. Taking a ball on the right from Valeri in the 85th minute, Lucas settled the ball and uncorked a shot directed at the left post that Irwin just pushed wide. Valeri had a near miss off the sequence of corners, while Toronto added some nervous moments when Janson hit the post again in the 89th minute off a passing sequence. But the Timbers settled in and were able to run out the match and hold on for the 3 points. For Attinella, it was shutout number 7 on 2018, and he was barely pressured for most of the night. The defense, which had been collectively struggling, adapted well to the return of Villafana with Ridgewell directing the charges, and I'm fully expecting to see a lot of Liam and Larrys down the stretch for Portland. Offensively, Armenteros and Valeri had several good moments, but the man of the match offensively was Blanco, who continually provided danger and creativity for the home side. What was most intriguing to the mix was to see Melano provide some dangerous moments late, and work seamlessly with Valeri and Blanco to be in the right spot. The Timbers have needed a jolt after their unbeaten streak was broken and Fanendo Adi & Vytas were traded away, and the answers to settling down the team could very well come from the re-introduction of two players from their magical cup run. Savarese has said there will be more changes for the weekend against New England, and so we will see what Gio has in store for the Revolution on September 1.