A Tale of Two Halves for Portland

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, March 31: 2-2 Draw

It’s been a challenging start to the season for the Portland Timbers, with four games in a row on the road and only two points to show for it, but it’s fair to say we’re making progress (if “progress” is defined as moving from a 0-4 drubbing at the hands of a New York Red Bulls B squad to a 2-2 draw three weeks later against a winless Chicago Fire). But the squad is slowly, ever so slowly, showing signs of improvement.

I say this because I remember watching the Timbers-Red Bulls game and just wishing we hadn’t embarrassed ourselves so badly, whereas against Chicago I actually thought we had a shot at three points. So…progress, I guess.

The First Half

The first 45 minutes certainly started out in promising fashion. Sebastian Blanco, the team’s only scorer this year coming into the match, got involved again early, with brilliant movement downfield and an impressive hold-off-your-man-while-executing-a-360-spin-and-pass to Diego Valeri for the first score of the night at 6′. Last year the two Argentine teammates worked well together, and their teamwork was once again on display.

For a moment, it looked as though Blanco would make it 2-nil at the 35th minute, with a hard volley from the left, but Fire keeper Richard Sanchez made a fantastic save to keep the Fire to within one goal going into the half.

In the first half, the Timbers moved the ball well and their defense looked relatively composed. Larrys Mabiala and Marco Farfan were much improved over their performances earlier in the season. Zarek Valentin put in decent service, in spite of the howler he had dribbling the ball out of bounds (to his credit, he had a good sense of humor about it).

The offensive unit also looked to be on the front foot in the first half. There were lots of short, crisp passes and ball movement. In short, we started to see glimpses of what this team might be capable of putting together.

The Second Half

And then, there was the second half.

Was it the wind? Was it that we were playing with a lead? Was it Bastian Schweinsteiger? [Narrator’s voice: yes.]

Whatever it was, the second half saw the Timbers let Chicago back into the match not once, but twice. First, there was Schweinsteiger’s brilliant setup of Nemanja Nikolic for the equalizer at 50′:

The second time was after Blanco’s header (we’ll get to that in a minute), when Schweinsteiger set up the Fire’s Brandon Vincent with a beautiful long, arcing pass from the right for a downward header at 84′ that keeper Jake Gleeson simply couldn’t stop. I know that both Fire goals are credited to other people, but Basti essentially created both of them.

One of the reasons the scoreline was so frustrating was that there were, indeed, flashes of potential brilliance. In addition to Blanco’s volley and near-score in the first half, there was this thing of beauty:

Two things I particularly enjoyed about this score: (1) Andres Flores. Flores came to the Timbers from NASL’s New York Cosmos, where he played for current Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese. His cross into the box was lovely. (2) ArgenTiny (aka Blanco). He is listed at 5’7″ but that HAS to be in his cleats. He is not exactly the tallest target to send the ball to for a header, but he did a beautiful job taking advantage of the room he was given to head the ball in for the score.

Takeaways

  • Blanco aka ArgenTiny aka Chucky continues to be awesome. He has been involved in every single score the Timbers have made this season, and I am here for it. He showed his potential last year in his work with Valeri; I would not at all be surprised if this is a bit of a breakout year for him.
  • Fanendo Adi needs to find his groove. He is doing a decent job of holding up the ball but currently, it looks as though he is still unable to hit the broad side of a barn, which is problematic if you’re a striker; and good LORD Adi please stay onside. Oops, sorry, I said that in my outside voice. Frankly, I’d like to see Samuel Armenteros get more minutes; he looked dangerous, hungry, and capable in the preseason.
  • The back line is still a work in progress. As I mentioned, Mabiala looked better this game than he has earlier this season, and center back Bill Tuiloma also put in a good shift, but we are far from settled in the back. Erstwhile captain Liam Ridgewell has now been benched for two games in a row following the humiliating defeat to the Red Bulls. In our runup to the Cup win in 2015, we had two solid center backs in Ridgewell and Nat Borchers; we are still looking for that level of reliability in the back this year.
  • We have keeper issues. Jake Gleeson has his defenders and his detractors (I’m among the latter), but the hard truth is that between Gleeson and Jeff Attinella we have two keepers who are so-so at best. We’ll see if new keeper coach Guillermo “Memo” Valencia can work some magic, but I have to assume we are looking down the road for something a little more solid in the long term.

The Timbers look to finish up this grueling stretch of road games with a matchup on Sunday against Orlando City SC. Here’s hoping the upward trend continues, and the boys bring back three points. See you next weekend, everyone!

Featured image courtesy: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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