The Week in Portland Timbers: Three straight losses and many injuries

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Three straight losses looks ugly, but are there some silver linings for the defending MLS champions? Richard Farley investigates.

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The week in five words

Eight days, three 2-1 losses.

What went well

What went well … by defending MLS Cup champions standards? Not much, but that’s what you’d expect after a zero-point week (if you consider eight days to be a week, which we are in this case). Parse things a bit, though, and you find some silver linings.

The team’s marquee attackers – Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe – are all still, more or less, performing to their elite standards:

  • Valeri continues to be the team’s driving force and scored the Portland Timbers’ goal in its midweek loss at Dallas;
  • Adi is Portland’s only reliable goal-scoring option and, before picking up a hamstring injury, scored a vital goal Sunday against New York City FC;
  • And Nagbe assisted on two of the week’s goals, the second assist coming as Portland’s injury issue pushed him out of the center midfield and back to the wing.

Bigger picture, the team played legitimately well against NYCFC, doubling the visitors’ shots (24-12) and dominating control of the ball (480-283 passes). While much of that could be game state, New York City head coach Patrick Vieira insisted that, even after David Villa’s opening goal, his team wanted the ball.

“We wanted to control the game and have the possession of the game, but we played against a really good side tonight,” Vieira explained after Sunday’s result. “You have to give them credit, because they make it really difficult for us.”

What didn’t

The results, obviously, though each game was different. In Vancouver, Portland looked to be playing out a plan that worked against Toronto (May 1) and New England (April 27) before goalkeeping mistakes cost them. At Dallas, the team seemed good before a quick defensive collapse found them chasing a result on the road. And against New York City, two moments of magic cost them, even if the Timbers should have had some spells of their own.

The commonality is defense. The team is still yet to keep a clean sheet, and during its three-game slide, Portland has allowed exactly two goals per game. It’s as if the backline needs to be punched twice before it wakes up.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

An injury to Adi would be awful for Portland. (Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

In four of the team’s last five games, that wake-up call has come after the Timbers have gone in front, almost every game since Portland’s trip to New England fitting the same pattern. The Timbers’ attack, led by three elite talents, will craft a goal that puts the team in front, with the team then relying exclusively on the counter. A faulty defense can't stand up to the pressure, and Portland concedes, only during the current slide, the Timbers are conceding twice. Unable to turn on a dime and go from passive to controlling, the Timbers struggle to reclaim the points they’ve lost.

The biggest commonality, though, is those mistakes. Portland’s back six (if we include destroyer Diego Chara in this) has been far too injured and far too inconsistent. Right back Alvas Powell, center back Liam Ridgewell, left back Chris Klute and goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey have all missed significant time with injuries, and a toe problem sidelined Chara for Sunday’s visit from New York. Nat Borchers, the only consistent presence at the back, has shown his age (35), mixing great performances with poor ones as the Copa America-altered schedule takes its toll.

Portland has given up 22 goals this season, worst in the league. The Timbers only conceded 39 times all last season. In a number of ways, 2016 is looking like 2014 all over again, when a mistake-prone defense cost the Timbers a place in the postseason.

Quote of the week

“(I) thought we were excellent. Pressure, possession, chance creation. We dominated. By far our best performance of the year on both sides of the ball.“ – Portland head coach Caleb Porter after Sunday’s loss.

The need-to-know facts

  • Sunday’s loss leaves the Timbers ninth in the West, their minus-5 goal difference worst in the conference.
  • Only three teams are conceding more shots than the Timbers, with opponents’ 15.3 attempts per game only slightly better than Orlando’s league-worst mark (15.7).
  • Diego Valeri’s 4.1 shots per game ranks fourth in MLS, behind only Sebastian Giovinco, David Villa and David Drogba.

Video of the week

“Tommy Mac” is good, but with this much time, half of Major League Soccer could have buried this shot. Diego Chara was missed.

Winner of the week

Providence Health & Services. The name sponsor of the Timbers’ home stadium also helps treat the team’s ailing talent, something it’s had to do too often this season. Fanendo Adi’s second-half injury makes him the 12th Timber to be injured this season, with up to five starters (Adi, Chara, Powell, Kwarasey and Darren Mattocks) potentially absent for Sunday’s derby against Vancouver.

Loser of the week

The Timbers’ attack, given Adi’s fitness concerns. There’s no word on the severity of the injury, with Adi due to have an MRI on Monday, but if the Nigeria international misses any time, Portland will be without one of the league’s most important goal-scorers. Only Giovinco with Toronto, at 62 percent, has scored a higher percentage of his team’s goals. Adi has accounted for eight of Portland’s 17 scores.

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