Halfway Point Sees Frustrations, 7th Place For Timbers

Inability to win at home, struggling defense has Portland 10 points behind 2013 pace
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, July 04, 2014

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

What a difference a year makes. And not in a good way.

Where the Portland Timbers stood at the halfway point of the MLS season in 2013, compared with where they are now, is almost night and day. It’s the difference between a club that was stunning the league with a 15-match unbeaten run and a club that has been frustrating to everyone who watches them.

On July 1, 2013, the Timbers were 2nd in the Western Conference with 30 points (7-1-9), 2 points behind FC Dallas, having lost just once and riding an unbeaten streak that hadn’t been seen in MLS in a long while. Caleb Porter was the toast of Portland, Diego Valeri and Will Johnson had given the team a new spirit and confidence, and the club that couldn’t seem to get out of its own way in 2012 was suddenly dreaming about the Supporters Shield, and possibly something bigger.

Jump ahead a year, and it seems like a whole different world. Instead of battling for the conference lead, the Timbers are struggling to get into a playoff spot. Friday’s loss to Sporting Kansas City dropped them in 7th place in the conference with a 4-5-8 record and 20 points, 2 behind 5th place Vancouver. They have the same number of points as 6th place Los Angeles, but the Galaxy have 4 games in hand on the Timbers. In fact, only FC Dallas has played more matches (18) than the Timbers, and just 2 Eastern clubs (Philadelphia, Houston) have played the same number of matches as Portland (17).

At this point, any hope of repeating as conference champs is gone, especially with the blazing start that the Seattle Sounders have been on (35 points from 16 games, an amazing 2.19 points per game). The Timbers aren’t out of the playoff hunt by any means, especially as they’re only 5 points behind 2nd place Colorado. So while the task is much harder than last year, it’s not impossible.

There have been highlights, of course. The road wins over New York and Real Salt Lake were as stunning as they were unexpected, as both came after disappointing games at home. The US Open Cup win at SKC also showed some of the promise that the Timbers have.

But it’s the matches at home that have been the biggest struggle. Portland only has 1 home win in 2014, a 3-2 win over DC United on May 3. Maxi Urruti scored in the 4th minute of stoppage time to get the win after a Futty Danso own goal allowed the visitors to tie the match up in the 78th minute. Portland’s last 2 home MLS matches have both been losses, including Friday’s loss to SKC and a stunning 4-3 loss to Vancouver on June 1, where the Whitecaps scored 4 straight goals after Urruti gave the Timbers the lead just 3 minutes in.

The other 7 home matches have been a frustrating series of draws. The season opening 1-1 draw with Philadelphia, when Gastón Fernández scored in stoppage time to salvage a point, was a sign of things to come.

There have been come-from-ahead draws, like the 4-4 tie with Seattle on April 5, when the Sounders scored in the 85th & 87th minutes to wipe out a 4-2 Portland lead. There have been come-from-behind draws, like the 3-3 tie with Columbus that had the Timbers wiping out 1-goal Crew leads twice in the last 10 minutes to get a result. There has also been the bizarre, like the 1-1 draw with LA on May 11 that had both Robbie Keane and Diego Valeri scoring in stoppage time after what had been a ho-hum affair for much of that afternoon.

What have been the issues? The much-maligned defense has been the source of much criticism, both from supporters and within the team. Another major issue is the inability to convert chances into goals, which has haunted Portland, especially at home, for much of the season.

But there have been bright spots. The emergence of Jorge Villafaña and the signings of Liam Ridgewell and Danny O’Rourke have given Porter more options in the back. Fernández and Urruti have established themselves as major forces up front, and Fanendo Adi has added a big target Portland has missed since Ryan Johnson’s departure. Rodney Wallace’s return from a knee injury is also big, as his skill on the outside helps open things up in the middle.

However, other players need to step up. Darlington Nagbe has yet to score a goal this season, a stunning stat in itself. He also had 3 assists, but hasn’t been able to shake off much of the attention he gets from defenses in most games. Pa Modou Kah and Norberto Paparatto have been inconsistent at best in the back, and Will Johnson has only had glimpses of his 2013 form, even being 3rd in goals with 5 (Fernández & Urruti lead the Timbers with 6).

It gets no easier as we head into July. A nationally-televised road match with the Galaxy on July 4 gets followed by 2 trips to Puget Sound to play the Sounders, with a US Open Cup match on July 9 followed by a massive game at CenturyLink Field on July 13. A July 18 home game against Colorado is followed by 2 more on the road, at Montréal and at LA.

Every MLS match is now very important to the Timbers. There’s little room for error, and every lost point will make the playoffs harder to get to and the frustrations run higher.

After all, the season has already been frustrating enough as it is.

NEXT UP: July 4 – Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, StubHub Center, Carson, Cal. 11:00 p.m. EST, NBCSN.

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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