Timbers Stuck in Must-Win Limbo

Portland looks to break its winless start, again, this weekend
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, April 11, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

After an amazing match that ended in a draw, but felt much like a loss, the Portland Timbers now are staring at a match that could likely be called a must-win.

Because anything other than 3 points will put them deeper in the hole they have already dug themselves, and father away from the majority of the MLS Western Conference with a tough road swing looming.

There’s three ways that Saturday’s 4-4 epic at Providence Park can be looked at. For the neutral, it was an incredibly entertaining match in one of MLS’ biggest rivalries (if not the biggest, depending on one’s point of view). Not many games this season will be able to live up to how the Timbers-Sounders match turned out.

For Seattle, it’s a match that can be built upon, and a signal that they intend to be a contender again this season. That Clint Dempsey had a hat trick, Kenny Cooper scored and Oba Martins was a force up front.

But for Portland, there were as many positives as negatives that came out of the match, and as such it makes the next match against Chivas USA almost a must-win situation, especially with 2 very tough road games on the horizon.

The Sounders match was where the Timbers’ offense finally seemed to click. Diego Chara’s 2 stunning goals, Maxi Urruti’s curling score and Diego Valeri’s spin-shoot-and-score were all fantastic finishes (the goals from Urruti and Valeri, plus Chara’s second goal, all were nominated for MLS Goal of the Week). There were numerous other chances that were only kept out by great efforts by Sounders keeper Stephen Frei.

But the defense…it became an issue again. Cooper was left wide open on a corner kick when he scored in the 3rd minute and a poor clearance by Norberto Paparatto led to Dempsey’s first goal in the 24th minute. Then came the defensive lapses in the last 5 minutes of regular time, one that left Dempsey wide open to score his second goal and Ben Zemanski’s foul on DeAndre Yedlin that helped Dempsey finish the hat trick on a penalty kick.

It was enough to frustrate coach Caleb Porter, wasn’t pleased with the defensive lapses that ended up costing the Timbers 2 points.

“For me, the way we played in the attack was encouraging,” Porter said in the post-match press conference, “but the mistakes that we made in around our box, in around our backs, as encouraging as our performance was, that part of our team was very discouraging and concerning.”

And that’s the position the Timbers are in with Chivas USA coming on Saturday night. The offense may have mostly figured things out, but the defense is under fire and Porter may be looking to maybe shake things up. Donovan Ricketts is returning after his red card suspension, but that actually came at good time, allowing him to rest following being injured in Colorado. But the problems Paparatto and Kah (who licked up another yellow last Saturday) have had, especially on set pieces, may put their places in the starting lineup in jeopardy. They need big performances on Saturday.

Really, that could be said for the entire team, as well. We are 5 weeks into the MLS season and Portland has yet to win. The Timbers have drawn all 3 of their home matches, each in a different fashion. The 2 road losses were deserved, with more questions after than before. And with road matches coming up at Real Salt Lake and Houston, getting 3 points from Chivas USA is vital.

The standings show how vital the need for a win is, even at this early stage of the season. The Timbers are already 10 points behind the Western Conference leaders, FC Dallas. They are 4 points behind Seattle and Colorado, who are in the last 2 playoff spots. Portland is one of 5 MLS sides yet to win a match, joining Chicago, New York, Montreal and San Jose on that dubious list. So while the Timbers aren’t the only expected contender to get off to a slow start, it also shows the hole that they have already dug themselves.

In a sense, everything the Timbers do on Saturday night will be looked at closer than usual. Whether it’s by the coaches, by supporters, by the media or even by each other, the spotlight will be on the team to finally put together a complete match, to beat a team that they are expected to beat. That this is Chivas USA, and they have been winless in their last 4, including a 3-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday, makes this look even more like a “should-win” match.

Which makes Saturday night’s match very dangerous. The need to concentrate on beating the Goats is huge, even with the conference final rematch with RSL on the horizon. If Portland can get near the effort they gave against Seattle, with the added advantage of Ricketts’ return, then it should be a win.

But the margin of error, even at this stage, is very thin.

NEXT UP: April 12 – Portland Timbers vs. Chivas USA, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 10:30 p.m. EST, KPDX (Oregon/SW Washington only), MLS Live.


Washington State
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Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.