April 28, 2014

Match Recap: @ Houston

Timbers fans know there's not much new about the performance we saw yesterday on the pitch at BBVA Compass Stadium.

The Timbers center backs failed to keep track of opponent players in the box, conceding an early goal. The midfield maintained possession but struggled to impose its will. The attack wasn't consistent enough to produce the goals required to take the three points.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

While there are weaknesses, this isn't a bad Timbers side. No doubt the explanations and invocations to remember it's a long season have grown tiresome. No doubt we have players who look to have regressed from last year. No doubt we had breaks go our way last year that haven't so far this year. That said, this is still a talented team with a coach who's demonstrated he can take the Timbers to the upper echelon of MLS.

There remains a small (and closing) window for the Timbers to make the playoffs in 2014. If that is to happen, the side must capitalize on the upcoming stretch of three home games. If the Timbers fail to earn more than five points in that stretch, the window will most likely close.

With all that's at stake over the next three weeks, there's one moment from the match Sunday that haunts. It's minute 33. The Timbers have struggled all season to generate goals and haven't won a single game through nearly 1/4 of the season. Fernandez connects on exactly the type of goal the Timbers have been missing this season. The goal is forceful, it's opportunistic, it's scrappy. It's exactly what the Timbers need right now.

Watch the celebration, such as it is. Jack Jewsbury contributes a half-hug, consisting mostly of pats on the head. Valeri eventually puts his arm around Fernandez too but Diego seems to have joined primarily because his momentum brought him too close to completely ignore the proceedings. Looking frustrated, Nagbe literally walks in the other direction. And that's it. Even La Gata seems bored.

This is a team desperately in need of goals. This is a team desperately in need of points. This is a team desperately in need of a win. The team scores the goal which would eventually earn them the point and the side doesn't seem to care.

If the Timbers are going to claw their way out of last place in MLS and earn a playoff spot, they're going to have to create their own luck with hard-fought, high-scoring performances. That kind of turn around takes guts. It takes heart. The Timbers didn't show much of either in yesterday's draw.

Let's look back at the Three Questions for yesterday's match (link):
  • Have the Timbers identified a back line that balances leadership and athleticism?
    • No, but that's not why we came away with only one point. Futty and Kah have traded costly lapses in marking for the past few games. It appeared that this week was Kah's turn and he did what he does: 89min of decent marking, a handful of sloppy clearances, and one goal conceded. With Ricketts looking slower this year, the truth is it may be too much to ask this defense for clean sheets. It's up to the rest of the team to score multiple goals to generate wins. This is one of the touchstones of Porter's philosophy. The back line didn't deliver a clean sheet but that's not why the Timbers didn't win.
  • Can the Timbers control time of possession?
    • Yes. The Timbers utterly dominated time of possession in this game. This is an important component of Porter's philosophy. Similar to scoring the first goal, possession itself doesn't guarantee wins. But in Porter's system (like scoring first), it's a critical precursor.
  • Can the Timbers convert chances on offense when it matters?
    • No. The Timbers had fewer shots and shots on goal than the Dynamo.

Bottom Line:
  • Last season, 1pt on the road against a potentially dangerous opponent would have been good enough. This season it isn't.

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