The Week In Portland Timbers: Near disaster turns into a win

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

A 12th-minute red card could've derailed Portland's season. Instead, as Richard Farley notes, the Timbers are back in the playoff hunt.

The week in five words

Back above the red line.

What went well

After back-to-back, one-goal losses to the LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers returned home to two victories: a mid-week, 2-1 CONCACAF Champions League win over El Salvador’s CD Dragon and Sunday’s 3-0 redemption against Sporting. The second result vaulted the Timbers above Vancouver into sixth in MLS’ Western Conference, two points behind fifth-place SKC.

A big part of that turnaround was the attack. Over the two previous games, Portland had only scored once, with the team only putting one shot on target eight days ago at Children’s Mercy Park. While Caleb Porter claims the first game, a 2-1 loss to LA, saw the Timbers “boss” the game, they did so from an early 2-0 hole, with the Galaxy no longer trying to control the ball.

Over the last week, the Timbers have reversed course. On Wednesday, Portland spent most of the game in front of Dragon’s goal, and while its inability to break through became a source of frustration, the process showed progress. On Sunday, an early red card nearly ruined the Timbers’ day, but three late goals at even strength gave the attack another positive performance.

What didn’t

Diego Chara’s 12th-minute red card for hands-to-Benny Feilhaber’s-face should have cost Portland Sunday’s game. Thanks to Suni Mustivar’s dismissal just before halftime, it didn’t, but Chara will still be suspended for Portland’s upcoming visit to D.C. United.

The team was already expected to miss Ben Zemanski (groin) for the trip East. Now, Darlington Nagbe could be pulled back into the pivot, starting with Jack Jewsbury in deep midfield.

Video of the week

The play saved Portland’s day, but it also could have derailed the team’s season:

Mustivar was sent off, allowing Valeri to get revenge in the 66th minute when he volleyed home the game’s winning goal. From fear to fortune, one dangerous first-half tackle changed everything for Portland.

Quote of the week

He got the s*** knocked out of him.”

- Caleb Porter on Diego Valeri being tackled

“He got the s*** knocked out of him.” – Porter, cutting through the press’ euphemisms, giving his own description of Valeri on Mustivar’s challenge.

The need-to-know facts

With the Timbers set to head on the road, this week’s facts have an “away from home” theme:

  • The Timbers are 0-6-5 this season on the road, joining San Jose and Houston as Western Conference teams who’ve yet to claim three points away from home.
  • Portland hasn’t won on the road in any competition since Dec. 5, 2015: a 2-1 win at Columbus in something called the MLS Cup final (I’m told it’s a big deal).
  • The Timbers’ last regular-season road win came on Oct. 18, 2015: a 5-2 demolition of LA Galaxy that, in hindsight, looks like Portland’s first true claim to MLS Cup contention.

Winner of the week

Jack McInerney. The former Union, Impact and Crew striker didn’t do anything remarkable on Sunday. When Chara was sent off, he was pulled back to left wing and spent most of his day looking over his shoulder at Sporting right back Saad Abdul-Salaam. Nobody’s game was upset more by Chara’s sending off than McInerney’s.

That he even started, though, bodes well for his season. In the face of the attack’s inability to break through, Caleb Porter is toying with a 4-4-2, abandoning a 4-2-3-1 in favor of a selection that gets both “Jack Mac” and Fanendo Adi in the lineup. With Portland also playing a two-front against Dragon, this could be a new feature on Porter’s arsenal.

When Darren Mattocks is back (in two months), Porter likely goes back to the 4-3-3 that took Portland to last year’s Cup. Nagbe will be an eight, Valeri will be a 10, and Jack Mac will likely be on the bench. Until then, though, McInerney has a chance to build on the five goals he’s scored in 709 minutes, a goal rate that compares favorably to many of MLS’ starters.

Loser of the week

Right back Alvas Powell was forced to leave Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Though he was seen walking with little limp after the game, any absence would leave Portland with injuries at every spot along the back line. Even then, the team has only allowed two goals in its last 349 minutes.

If Powell is fine, Sunday’s loser is Chara. He’ll miss Saturday’s game, and there’s a small chance the Disciplinary Committee could tack on more, though the real impact was against Kansas City. With one foul, Chara took a game in which his team was favored and made Portland into significant underdogs, and while the match ultimately went Portland’s way, there are very few things a player can do in the 12th minute to reduce his team’s chance to win by 40 or 50 percent.

Absent-mindedly, Chara found one of those things, and while some could argue he was baited into his response, a 13-year-pro has to know better.

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Richard Farley is the West Coast Editor of FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @richardfarley.