Tag Archives: Larrys Mabiala

MLS Cup Playoffs: Valeri Brace Gives Portland Timbers Victory

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, 10/31, Portland Timbers at FC Dallas

Result: Timbers 2-1 Dallas

Coming off last Sunday’s 2-1 regular season defeat against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers found themselves in a do or die play-in game on Wednesday night vs. FC Dallas.

While coach Gio Savarese’s decision to bench almost all of the starters in Vancouver was painful for fans to watch (trust me, I was one of them), it looked like the right decision when fast-forwarded to Frisco Wednesday night. All of the veterans were back, rested, and ready, as opposed to Dallas’s squad, who played plenty of starters at higher altitude in their loss to the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City just a few days before.

This was a pretty stressful game (okay EXTREMELY stressful game) to watch as a supporter, aside from the obvious pressure resulting from it being either the gateway to the playoffs or the end of the team’s season. The Timbers got beat in nearly every stat (possession, time in the attacking half, time in the final third, completed crosses…) and spent about 40 minutes of the match down a man. In the end, though, the only stat that matters is the scoreline, and thankfully the Timbers came away with a massive win.

Match Recap

Sometimes when a team gets beaten in overall possession it isn’t really a big deal, because the team’s plan is to sit back, absorb pressure, force wide, keep the other team from doing anything dangerous, and bide your time for that chance at a counterattack. In those kinds of games, even when your team doesn’t have the ball as often, it doesn’t feel particularly dangerous or worrisome.

This didn’t quite feel like that sort of game. It’s true that Dallas has had recent scoring woes, and they had only six actual shots on target for the night, but they felt dangerous PLENTY of times. Maybe that’s because they had 22 shots on goal. If their finishing were a little bit better, this story might have had a completely different ending.

In the first half, it sometimes felt like Michael Barrios repeatedly punished left back Jorge Villafaña, attacking with ferocity and impunity. And at 12′ when Reto Ziegler received Santiago Mosquera’s free kick and headed the ball to Matt Hedges for a tap into the back of the net, it looked like the Timbers would have to claw their way back from behind.

Fortunately, video review showed that Hedges (and frankly Dominique Badji, if he had actually been involved in the play), were WAY ahead of anybody in a green jersey when the ball left Ziegler’s head. The goal was disallowed and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

The momentum shifted when Sebastian Blanco drew a foul in a dangerous spot, and Diego Valeri stepped up for the free kick. El Maestro did not disappoint, curling in a beauty for the score at 23′. Advantage: Timbers.

In the second half, Dallas continued to press, and they definitely had their chances. And unfortunately for Portland, Larrys Mabiala gave Dallas their biggest advantage of the night when he found himself out of position against Badji in the 57th minute. Unable to prevent Badji from continuing unimpeded to the goal, Mabiala reached in with his right arm, pulling Badji down. While it may have saved a goal, it earned Mabiala a straight red, giving Dallas a one-man advantage for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, the Timbers were able to pull off a minor miracle, scoring a second goal while a man down. Jeremy Ebobisse made a beautiful run at 71′, and in spite of having the keeper and two defenders in close proximity Ebobisse kept his head, coolly fielded a well-placed ball, knew that somebody would be coming and where he’d be, and dished the ball to Valeri, who found an open net waiting for him:

The game was far from over, of course. Dallas was desperate to get on the board, and with seven minutes of stoppage time, they finally found their chance. At about 90+4′, Mosquera managed to put a header into a dangerous spot, and Hedges banged it in for a goal:

Dallas continued a flurry of attempts, but in the end it wasn’t enough, and the Timbers came away with the win and the advancement to the Western Conference Semifinals.

Quick Takes

Build the statue already. Diego Valeri, already recognized as the league MVP last year, continues to come through in the clutch. You thought the 32-year-old was maybe finally showing signs of being mortal? Watch that free kick again. And while you’re at it, recognize that he is the first Timbers player to score a brace in MLS Cup playoffs.

Jeff! Jeff! Jeff! Jeff! If Valeri wasn’t your MVP for this match, maybe that’s because it was Jeff Attinella. Coming back to his second game following a separated shoulder injury, Jeff had five MASSIVE saves in Frisco, four of them in the second half and one of them in stoppage time. If Diego Valeri won this game, Attinella saved it.

Halftime adjustments. I mentioned earlier that Barrios was pummeling Villafaña on his side of the field in the first half. But whatever adjustments were made at the half, they seemed to be effective. Dallas maintained possession and continued their attack, but Villafaña’s defense improved, with 5/7 of his successful recoveries and 8/11 of his successful passes taking place in the second half. Barrios, in contrast, had most of his unsuccessful passes (8/11) in the second half. Kudos to Jorge for making the adjustment. By the second half, he looked more like the 2015 season player we know and love. Welcome back, Sueño.

Defense, defense, defense. When you’re down a man for a third of the game, your defense is critical. And a couple of players stepped up in a big way to preserve the lead and the win. Between them, Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell had 15 clearances. 14 of them in the second half and 11 of them after the team went down a man. Of those 11, all but one were inside the 18, and all but one were directly in front of the goal. Chara and Ridgewell defended the goal tenaciously in spite of Mabiala’s booking. Honorable defensive mention also goes to Zarek Valentin, who aside from putting in another smart, solid shift, literally took it on the chin for the team, catching a free kick to the face. Ouch.

Looking Ahead

As of this writing, pending the outcome of the LAFC vs. Real Salt Lake play-in, the Timbers will host either Sporting KC or the Seattle Sounders on Sunday at a time still to be determined. Either opponent would be formidable, and with both Chara and Ridgewell having obtained a yellow card in the match, another yellow would have either player on the bench for the away leg, something the team can ill afford.

Here’s hoping the soccer gods are kind, that yellow cards for our key defenders remain in the center ref’s pocket, and that the boys put in a solid performance. See you all at home on Sunday.

Featured image: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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Portland Timbers Derail NYCFC

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Sunday, April 22: 3-0 Win

After five performances on the road that ranged from embarrassing to inconsistent (to say the least), and after two thirds of a good game at home that was just enough to allow us to cling to a win, the Portland Timbers finally put in a rock-solid performance for a full 90 minutes this Sunday, handing first-place New York City FC their first defeat of the regular season and earning three points in a decisive 3-0 victory at Providence Park on 4/22.
Recap

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I will admit, when I saw the starting lineup, I was more than a little intrigued. Jeff Attinella got the start at keeper, which I appreciated. After a stint in the doghouse, Liam Ridgewell was back in the lineup next to Larrys Mabiala in front of the goal, with Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin filling out the rest of the back line. So far so good.

Then, there was the rest of the lineup. Andres Flores got the nod over Andy Polo. The rest of the starters were unchanged from the week before; but holy cow, was the formation different. Diego Valeri up top with Fanendo Adi? And what was everybody else doing? I’m no expert, but MAN the guys were sitting deep. On paper, it might have been 4-4-1-1 but in practice, it looked more like a 6-2-1-1 or even an 8-0-1-1 at times. It was a fascinating look at what we had always been told that coach Gio Savarese would do: change lineups and formations in response to changing opponents.

In this case, Gio adapted the team’s approach to the opposition, to incredible effect.

You know those “possession with purpose” conversations we used to have with Caleb Porter? This was “give the other team possession, but with purpose.” NYCFC had 75% of the possession, but to what end? Our back 4 (or 6 or even 8 at times) gave NYCFC plenty of opportunities to touch the ball…up to a point.

But as our opponents approached the final third, they were, time and again, forced wide and given little opportunities to punch holes in a solid, well organized back line, that held a clean sheet against the top team in the league. And with Blanco, Valeri, Diego Chara, and Cristhian Paredes ready to pounce on any mistakes, dispossessing NYCFC and setting up the counterattack, it was a recipe for success.

When we did have the ball, we made it count. Sebastian Blanco turned in his usual 110%. He berated himself after the game for having not one but two near misses, but those largely existed in the first place because he worked to make them possible. And then, of course, there was this beauty:

It is always thrilling to see a tiny player score on a well-timed header. (Fun fact, I often refer to Blanco as ArgenTiny.) And the arc of that perfectly played ball was a thing of beauty.

The second goal again came from a counterattack, as first Blanco and then Chara worked to steal the ball and transition quickly. Blanco, Chara, and Valeri made short work of the NYCFC back line. After Sean Johnson was unable to handle Valeri’s strike, Adi was there for the tap-in, and suddenly we were up 2-0:

And finally, of course, Larrys Mabiala got to open his account for us, with this lovely header off a corner kick, which put the final score on the board. End result: Timbers 3-0 NYCFC.

Quick takes

Alvas Powell showed maturity. I know last year I often said “That’s So Alvas” in frustration, because, while Powell has always shown tremendous potential, it has nearly always been accompanied by a downside. Powell has frequently made brilliant defensive plays, followed immediately by silly fouls and/or laughably bad giveaways, sometimes within seconds of each other.

This game looked different. Besides that beautiful assist to Blanco, there was one moment in particular, late in the game, that comes to mind. Powell had the ball in the corner, running down the clock, where he held it…held it…held it…and then kicked it off the opposing player for a throw-in.

It was perfectly executed. His rookie year he would have held off the other player beautifully, then immediately thrown an elbow for a costly card or made a terrible giveaway pass. Nice work, Alvas. Here’s hoping we see more of this version of Powell on the pitch this season.

Christhian Paredes is a gem. Hard to believe he is only 19 years old. Last week, he assisted in two of our three goals. This week, you know how many times he lost a tackle? Zero. I love his work so far, and I hope he has a long and happy future with the club.

Ridgewell put in a solid performance. While I don’t particularly care for golf, and I am not in the market for board shorts, I really don’t much care about what Ridgewell posts on social media. All I care about is what he contributes to the team, both on and off the pitch.

Liam Ridgewell was a solid defender this game. He was a field general, constantly talking to the rest of the back line and mids. That back line looked extremely well organized for the full 90. I don’t know what the private conversations between coach and player are, and frankly, I don’t care. Given Ridgewell’s and Mabiala’s ages, I am far more worried about having a consistent, healthy center back pairing going forward.

Speaking of healthy, I assume that the only reason Ridgewell got the start was the knee sprain Bill Tuiloma was carrying this weekend. Here’s hoping our older center backs can stay healthy and focused, no matter which pairing is in the starting lineup.

More Samuel Armenteros, please. Yes, Adi had a decent turn. I STILL want to see Armenteros more. Would have been nice to see him around 65′ or 70′ for Adi. He looked hungry and capable during the preseason.

Well done; but it was only one game. The whole “Gio changes the lineup and strategy for each match” thing we were sold on with the new coach? This game looked pretty, pretty, pretty good. But let’s see how it goes on the road. In particular, let’s see how we close out games away from home.

In the stands

Once again, the Timbers Army killed it in the tifo department. As part of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, many supporter groups with membership in the Independent Supporters Council have carried out anti-racism displays. Since our home opener was the prior weekend, this was our first chance to demonstrate our support for ending racial discrimination, and the Timbers Army did not disappoint:

Well, that was fun! Next week we have a bye, followed by another away match, this time against the San Jose Earthquakes. on 5/5. Let’s see if we can manage to take this successful show on the road for a change. In the meantime, rest up, boys, and get ready. The next home game is 5/13 v. the Seattle Sounders. Until then, I’ll see you online!

Featured image courtesy: Sheba Rawson

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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