The Portland Timbers need a spark.
After a 3-0 thrashing against then-league-worst San Jose, the Portland Timbers (0-1D-4L, 1 pt) will travel to Western Conference foes FC Dallas (3-2D-1, 10 pts). Kickoff is on Saturday at 5:00 PM (PT) on KPTV (local) or ESPN+ (national). The good news is that the Timbers are now halfway through the grueling road stretch before they can return to a renovated Providence Park:
4/20 @ Columbus Crew SC
4/27 @ Toronto FC
5/4 @ Real Salt Lake
5/10 @ Vancouver Whitecaps FC
5/15 @ Houston Dynamo
5/25 @ Philadelphia Union
The bad news is that the Timbers are running out of time to drop points. As I explored at the beginning of the season, Portland can’t rely on win streaks in long home stretches to get to the playoffs. With only one point out of a possible 15 so far, any road points would be welcomed with open arms.
Last week was supposed to be a turning point for the Timbers, but it was clear from kickoff that this would not be the case. Portland was flat all game, giving up three goals before half while showing little threat to score. The Timbers couldn’t even convert a second-half penalty kick.
Valeri's penalty… Not ideal. pic.twitter.com/YWm2sV0PRk
— Mark Yes-ill-I have to practice that name (@MarkWhyy) April 7, 2019
Giovanni Savarese’s 4-2-3-1 formation left gaps all over the field, and an atrocious Diego Valeri giveaway [link] gifted the Earthquakes didn’t help the matter. By the end of the match, there was a fitting pessimism throughout Timbers fans everywhere.
The best performance for the Timbers since Week 1 has been against the LA Galaxy, where two Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalties were the only goals conceded against the 5-3-2 Timbers back line. It is the only match all year in which the Timbers haven’t conceded at least three goals.
This should be the approach Savarese takes against Dallas, who have scored twice as many goals as the Timbers (10 to 5) and conceded half as many (7 to 15). Portland’s only chance in this game might have to come on the counterattack, even though the attacking flare was on full display a couple weeks ago.
Here’s how the Timbers lined up last week, as well as how I hope they will line up against Dallas:
The biggest concern in a potential 5-3-2 is if Portland can rely on any of their center backs, much less an effective backup in Claude Dielna. Dielna’s season thus far has been less-than-stellar to say the least, but being in a five-man back line should ease that pressure to an extent.
It’s safe to say that Bill Tuiloma is now the best center back option that Portland has, and that he has earned the right to start as the middle anchor to a back line.
While Larrys Mabiala has been horribly inconsistent, he is still the only center back that has a bulk of experience or success under Savarese, and he’s better than any other option the Timbers have.
In the attacking phase, Diego Valeri has to improve. Without the creativity of Valeri, the Timbers lack any sort of bite in the final third. Valeri has honestly been one of the worst players on the team this season, and is a far cry from his 2017 MVP form. Whether this is due to age, lack of effort, or otherwise is unknown, but it’s clear that Diego is not his usual self.
At the end of the day, the Timbers need points. If that means sitting back and playing for a draw, then so be it. But there has to be some sort of confidence created for a squad that hasn’t earned a point in a month.
Prediction: 2-0 Dallas
As always, go Timbers and #RCTID !