Should Timber Fans Worry?
By Philip Mitchell
After earning a draw against Chivas USA, many fans of the Portland Timbers reacted quite negatively to the result. This was the same roster, well with the exception of a few players, that Portland beat three to zero earlier in the season. Should have they though? One could argue that since sacking El Chelis, Chivas has improved their game. The addition of Eric Torres has been one of the changes that has helped them. Another way to argue was this was a positive result. Portland has never walked away with a point against Chivas USA. This was a huge point for them to earn. With the draw, this was the 9th point in 5 games for the Goats. For Portland it was only their 5th. Should Portland fans worry? One word…..Yes
Ok, I know I may take a lot of flack from some of my pals in the Timbers Army. But the numbers do not lie. If we expand Portland’s form to 10 games, they have only won three, drew four and lost three. Do the math. That is 13 points in ten games (dating back to the epic home win against LA). Barely getting more than a point per game on average during that stretch has sunk them down to 5th place in the West, the last of the available playoff slots. With all of this said and done, I have one question that has been going through my mind since the game at the Stub Hub Center….what does Portland have to do this Friday against Colorado?
First instinct that comes to mind is they have to win. No more draws. But then when I began to look at Dallas, who is in 6th, there is a three point spread. A draw would prevent losing the playoff outright on points alone but then there is the issue of who Portland plays and the same for Dallas.
As of late, Dallas has been terrible. In round 25, they won their first game since round 13 and since that win against Chivas USA (ironic isn’t it) they have only won one of the past three games. For Dallas, this next round, they get to face Thierry Henry and the rest of his team mates from New York. This will be very difficult for Dallas. They not only face a team that has won three straight but are in 1st place in the Eastern Division. So theoretically, Dallas could lose. The game is on the road and NY’s current form is pretty darn good. With that said, can Portland afford a draw? Yes….but I would begin to worry.
For Portland, playing Colorado Friday is actually going to be a very important match. Not only are the points going to be absolutely necessary to protect a playoff birth, they have to host the LA Galaxy the following game. Points are crucial not just Friday but on the 29th too. Momentum is necessary to take to the next round. To make the situation involving the Galaxy more interesting, Los Angeles have a Concacaf Champions League game on the 18th and face the Seattle Sounders, in LA, on the 21st. Arena has gone on the record complaining again but I think that is due to his team only getting a few days to prepare for the Sounders. If Portland is able to beat Colorado, which I hope they do, this adds pressure on Arena and his team to win. With that said, this Sounders team is not the same that got blown out earlier this season. Martins is in form, Eddie Johnson is scoring regardless of the kit he is wearing, Lemar Neagle is playing out of his mind…do I need to say more. I know people in LA may say they are not worried at all, but Seattle is the last team I want to face right now. Dempsey is due and with the form of his team mates this could be his break out match. But I digress.
One may ask why would a Timber win add pressure to LA? Simply, Portland could see themselves inch up the table in the conference standings up to 4th with a win and if Seattle can get revenge in LA with a win. If the two draw in the Stub Hub Center with a Portland win, the Timbers and Galaxy are equal in points making the race for the playoffs more interesting. Arena does not want this to occur.
Colorado seem to just be the team that is unbeatable. With only one loss since round 18, they have climbed up to 3rd place in the West. So what are the factors for victory that the teams will be facing?
Colorado got blown out last time they were in Portland. They did not even look like the same team that they are now. With the addition of some new players acquired during the transfer season, Gabriel Torres for example, mixed with the skilled youth on their roster they have really started to play some face paced football similar to Portland. For them, they must control the ball and not make any mental mistakes on defense. The crowd in Portland will be a factor as well. If they can ignore it, which I doubt they will, and focus on their game they will be tough. Clint Irwin will have to play better than last time in Portland. He has had an outstanding season but this game will require him to have his best available.
If they (Colorado) can manage to pull off an upset, Portland has only lost 1 home game, they can be tied for second place if Real Salt Lake loses their match. If they lose, they will share the same number of points with PTFC. So for them, they also want to keep their place towards the top end of the table while keeping space between them and the rest of their rivals below them. Plus with a loss and a win by the Galaxy, Colorado will drop in the table while Landon Donovan and his pals will move up to 3rd.
For Portland I would say similar as I did for Colorado. Possession is key. Not giving away the ball to poor passes is another. The back line needs to hold and not do anything stupid. Communication from Donovan Ricketts is key with Pa Modou Ka. His presence is necessary and he needs to keep a cool head. Will Valeri play a full 90? He changed the flow of the game against Chivas and Toronto when he came in as a sub. How about the forward?. There has to be more shots taken from distance to test Irwin. As of late Darlington Nagbe has been taking longer shots but we are left with the issue of the starting striker. Who will it be? What about Urruti? What is his real role on the team? Is he a sub? A possible starter for the club? What I saw of him against Chivas was mixed. The service was poor to him but he really showed a positive work ethic. His role and those that he shares with at forward is significant. For example, what will Porter do with Ryan Johnson?
Jose Valencia has come on late as someone PTFC fans can trust will be hungry for goals. He is far due for another. His two assists against Toronto are proof that he is not just hungry for goals for himself but for the team as well. But with Johnson, you get a physical presence that is needed inside the box and a work ethic to keep pressure high that is hard to top. Who knows that will be the winning combination for Friday. I want to see what happens with a 442 formation with two strikers. A single striker formation gives Porter more freedom to stack the mid but what if Urruti and Valencia start with Valeri as the set-up man in the center? That may be an interesting combination. Will it happen? Who knows?
When the dust clears after the weekend, fans of Major League Soccer will get a better picture of what lies ahead for the race to the playoffs. Will Portland be in 4th thanks to their rivals from the Emerald City after each team earns decisive wins? Will they stay in 5th? It is hard to tell. But what about Dallas? Should Portland fans worry? I say not yet. Let the games be played and then see what the table in the West looks like. But if Portland fails to start earning three points this late in the season, I am going to start worrying. I want them in the post season.
This article may be hard to believe for Portland Fans but the end of the season only getting closer and expectations have been high all season. Much talk from Porter has been about winning trophies and getting to the playoffs has been going on. If you ask me, Portland has to make the playoffs to essentially back up what their front office has allowed members of their club to state publicly.
Am I off base and becoming a pessimistic supporter? Or am I looking at the facts that exist at the moment and just calling it as I see it? Finally, what do you think? Are you worried or are you confident that everything is fine in the Rose City? I guess we just need to see what happens over the weekend. As you can tell, I cannot wait to see what occurs.