Community Discussion Post: Reevaluating expectations?
With break in the NWSL and MLS league schedules, is it time for the Thorns and Timbers to reevaluate their expectations for the season?
With the sun beating down and the World Cup kicking off, the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns are taking a bit of a break from their respective league schedules. There are Leagues Cup and Challenge Cup matches to be played, but neither the Timbers nor the Thorns will play a league match until August 20.
With this break in league play, it presents an opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture and expectations for both clubs. While the prestige of the end goals for the teams differed both teams had high hopes for 2023.
So for this week’s discussion post, let’s briefly take a look at where each teams’ goals were going into the season, where they are at with reaching them, and whether we as fans should perhaps reevaluate what we expect from our clubs this year.
The Thorns: Can they continue to make the constellation?
With the talent, pedigree, and history the Thorns have, it makes perfect sense that their goal going into this season was repeating as NWSL champions. In fact, you could argue that one piece of silverware was the bare minimum for this Thorns side, despite having a new coach in place at the start of the year.
For the most part, the Thorns are still solidly in the hunt for that fourth star. They’re second in the table, still have the universe-destroying force that is Sophia Smith on the roster, and are still winning many more games than they aren’t.
But there are some cracks in their form that are cause for a bit of concern. They’ve already lost more league games (4) than they had through all of 2022 (3), and they’re currently sitting on three straight losses in all competitions. Their vaunted attack has abruptly ground to a halt since the departure of their World Cup stars, and even when those players were in the team it appeared that the Thorns didn’t have much of a backup plan to manage games other than “keep scoring goals ‘til you can’t anymore.” That gameplan is pretty unsustainable, and it’s led to a few lackluster performances that we are unaccustomed to seeing from the Thorns.
The Challenge Cup is essentially a lost cause at this point, thus giving Portland full-reign to focus on winning the ‘chip. And if they’re going to correct their recent poor performances, and get back to being perennial title favorites that they are still capable of being, they might need it.
The verdict: The goal of repeating as champs is very much alive, but the Thorns will have to show a bit more in managing games to confidently call themselves favorites.
The Timbers: Can they fight back into the playoffs?
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Timbers, who are fighting to return to the playoffs after missing out for the first time since 2016 last year. We can have a separate discussion of whether simply making the postseason in MLS constitutes a “success” (my take: it shouldn’t, but way too many decision makers around the league think it does), but regardless of the stakes the reality is that with the Timbers’ level of talent they should have made the playoffs last year and should be making it this year.
Their quest to do so has been… disappointing so far. Stuck in the doldrums of right around or below the playoff line for most of 2023, the Timbers are now in 12th place in the Western Conference, three points away from the final playoff spot in ninth place. They’re at 1.13 points per game, which is not a rate that equals a playoff spot this year, and hasn’t since the bizarro 2020 season when Miami snuck in with 1.04 ppg.
Saturday’s feel-good win over the Crew aside, the Timbers have not put in many good performances this season, and it shows in their form and position in the table. Their goalscoring has been abysmal for most of the summer, and the team’s attacking sequences have consistently been stagnant and uninspired.
So plain and simple: the Timbers need to start playing better soccer, because right now they do not look like a playoff team. Last Saturday’s game was a bit of a sign of life, as Portland did play very well for stretches. The question now is whether that game was a glimmer of hope to come, or if it was a classic “Timbers get up for a big game and then fall flat on their face a week later”.
The verdict: The Timbers have time, and they’ve executed late-season runs to the postseason before, but the goal of making the playoffs is on life support and could flatline before we even hit September.
Time to reevaluate?
What do you think, dear reader? Can each club achieve their 2023 aspirations? As fans, should we set our expectations lower, or higher? Where do you think each club will end up when all is said and done at the end of the year?
It’s hard to predict in August where things will be in November — but that’s not going to stop us trying anyway. Have at it in the comments!