Are Players to Blame For Portland's Flat Start?

Players expected to be big contributors not performing as expected
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, May 02, 2014

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

After a dreadful display in Houston that somehow ended with their first road point of the season, the Portland Timbers are in the last place they expected to be as the calendar turns to May.

That is, well, last place.

Portland is at the bottom of MLS’ Western Conference with no wins and 5 points in 8 matches. They are also 5 points behind Vancouver, who occupy the last playoff spot in the west, and 11 points behind first place Seattle.

There are many directions one can look when trying to figure out how the Timbers are currently last in the MLS standings. One can look at the backline, which tends to have developed the bad habit of not picking up attackers at the worst possible times.

A look at the forwards shows an inability to take the chances they are presented with and turning them into goals. Some would look at the midfield, a major strength in 2013, and see a group that has become inconsistent at best.

There’s a few who look at the coaching staff and believe that they aren’t adjusting the lineups and formations well enough to respond to what the opposition is presenting them.

But the possibly the big issues have been players who were expected to play major roles in 2014, but for some reason have not lived up to expectations.

There’s that word again, mentioned a lot here and on other sites dealing with the Timbers: expectations.

A big mystery has been Diego Valeri. He leads the Timbers in shots with 22, but only has 1 goal (against Seattle on April 5). He’s played 90 minutes in only 4 of Portland’s 8 matches, and has been subbed out before the 70th minute in the last 2 matches, including in the 61st minute at Real Salt Lake. Caleb Porter told reporters on Wednesday that Valeri has been “tight” the last two games, leading him coming out early. But right now, he’s nowhere near the force he was in 2013.

One of the major signings during the offseason was Norberto Paparatto. He was brought north from Argentina to become the new anchor of a backline that has had plenty of critics. But after subpar performances in the beginning of the season, Paparatto has not played in the last 3 matches, with no sign that he’ll be coming off the bench anytime soon. It’s gotten to the point that the only way he might play again is if something happens to centerbacks Pa Modou Kah or Futty Danso.

Another mystery has been the inconsistent play of the captain, Will Johnson. He has shown signs of the brilliance he displayed in 2013, especially in his goal against Chivas USA on April 12. But at other times, he’s been somewhat invisible and not helping Diego Chara dominate the midfield like they often did last season.

The outside backs have had troubles for much of the season, as well. Jack Jewsbury seems to have lost a step, Alvis Powell has had troubles covering opponents streaking in from the outside and Michael Harrington often has to drift more to the inside or further forward to help with play, because teams tend to attack away from him.

Of course, the forwards have been a constant source of frustration. Maxi Urruti has 1 goal in 17 shots, and the number of times he gets caught offside during a match is a constant source of frustration. His inability to convert chances, even seemingly easy ones, has been driving Timbers supporters crazy for much of the season. He came in as a sub at Houston, and whether he regains his starting spot up front is up in the air, for now.

We’re all also waiting for Darlington Nagbe to score his first goal of the season. Yes, he’s had some injury issues, and, yes, the use of the “Hack-A-Nagbe” strategy by MLS clubs against him is seemingly having an impact. But he only has 7 shots all season (3 shots on goal), including just 2 in the last 3 matches. While he does have an assist (a brilliant pass to Will Johnson in the Chivas USA match), opponents seem to have figured out ways to lessen his influence on matches.

The good for the Timbers? Well, Donovan Ricketts has been stellar in goal in the face of the lackluster play by Portland’s back line. Gastón Fernández leads the Timbers in scoring with 3 goals, and after a stretch where he was on the bench for 3 matches, and unused in 1, he seems to have worked his way back into the starting XI. Chara has been the rock of the Timbers’ midfield, often setting up rushes and cutting off passes all over the field.

Fortunately for the Timbers, their next 3 matches are in the friendly confines of Providence Park. But they will be facing an improving DC United, an LA Galaxy side that is starting to find its groove, and a Columbus club that currently tops the Eastern Conference after losing just once in 7 matches. To call this the most crucial stretch of the season for the Timbers isn’t an understatement, as at least 2 wins will be needed to get Portland back into the playoff hunt.

For those wins to come, the entire team has to step up and perform to their abilities. That’s an occurrence that hasn’t happened often enough in 2014.

NEXT UP: May 3 – Portland Timbers vs. DC United, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 10:30 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
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.
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