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Tree Rings: It never gets old
Reflections on Portland's fourth win in a row over Seattle, and the latest opportunity for the Timbers to start turning their season around.
Welcome to Tree Rings! A weekly(ish) post looking at a big takeaway from the week that was for the Timbers, as well as listing out some good/concerning/interesting things from the recent match.
I was worried that I was too optimistic in my preview for last Saturday’s clash with those guys from up north. Turns out, I wasn’t optimistic enough.
Here’s the thing about beating the Seattle Sounders: it never ever gets old.
Let’s count ‘em out.
Despite three wins in a row against Seattle dating back to the latter stages of 2021, last Saturday felt like it was going to be the end of the streak. The differing forms of the two clubs sure made it feel like Seattle was going to leave Providence Park with a win, and maybe another lopsided one to boot.
With that in mind, here’s what I wrote in that aforementioned preview:
“This rivalry has been defined by form meaning nothing, chaos reigning, and the unexpected happening multiple times per game. The narrative is shaping itself up perfectly for Portland to buck narratives and pull off a surprising win. They’ve done it before, and that plus the energy of Savarese and the squad has kept that faint glimmer of hope alive in me.”
“Form meaning nothing?” Check: The Timbers won for the first time since February.
“Chaos reigning?” Check: 18 minutes of chaotic intensity was what drove the knife in for Portland.
“The unexpected happening multiple times?” Check: How’s four goals, Nathan scoring, Niezgoda scoring, and Seattle giving up more goals than they have all season combined sound for unexpected?
Saturday had all of the hallmarks of this rivalry, including a surprising and signature Timbers win.
It’s worth stating that this win, which is the fourth-straight the Timbers have notched against the Sounders (something that neither side has managed to achieve in the MLS era), solidifies an era of dominance for the Timbers in the rivalry. It is impossible to predict when or if that will end, but the fact that Portland has now consistently come out on top over Seattle for almost an entire calendar year (which has Brian Schmetzer, justifiably, big mad) is worth recognizing and enjoying.
There is just something about playing Seattle that lights a fire in Portland. Giovanni Savarese and his squad talk openly about circling these games on their calendar every year, and you can clearly see why. Despite Seattle’s general control over most of the game last weekend, it just felt like the Timbers were locked in, even when the field was tilting against them.
Yes, they rode another moment of brilliance from their emotional north star Dairon Asprilla to turn the game. But it needs to be said that it was the whole team that responded. Portland’s collective energy was the difference, and that’s a key component that has been missing this season.
The result is that yet again, the Portland Timbers are poised to use a game against their biggest rival as an opportunity to turn their season around.
That outcome will of course be dependent on whether Portland starts, y’know, playing better. The only thing replicable from Saturday was the ethos of a more determined and energetic Timbers team. While of course energy and urgency is important, strapping your season’s success to the “tactics-free, chaos-always” strategy for the final 15-20 minutes of games doesn’t feel sustainable.
In the context of this season, the Timbers still have a lot of work to do and are not out of the woods yet.
But in the context of one game, the result was as sweet as they come. For Timbers fans that have been desperate for something to cheer about all year, they got that and then some on Saturday night (and if you physical evidence, go re-watch the game and pause it on the crowd shots after Portland’s goals. You won’t be disappointed).
The Timbers know they can bring the energy in this rivalry. They know they can beat Seattle. And now they know there is always a feeling that an emotional win over the Sounders could be the key ingredient to start an upward climb.
And that feeling never gets old.
Counting out the rings
Viva Colombia! Portland’s Colombian contingent had an excellent evening across the board. Asprilla hopped on his bike again, Mosqeura scored and continues to be the biggest revelation of 2023, and Santiago Moreno had his best game this year. It’s only fitting that all three, along with head coach Giovanni Savarese, were named to the Team of the Matchday earlier this week.
In his first start of the season, David Ayala played perhaps one of his best games as a Timber. He looked solid and composed in the middle of the field, and while a good chunk of it didn’t come off, he was attempting some ambitious and aggressive passes. He completed 21 out of 26 passes and contributed ten defensive actions, earning him an honorable mention on the Young Players of the Matchday list for matchday 8.
In his first start since early March, Evander showed that he’s still getting on the same page as his fellow attackers. Savarese is still figuring out where best to deploy him and how to fit the rest of the attacking pieces around him. I think we still have to practice patience with the Brazilian, and also keep an eye on how he looks as the attacking corps becomes healthier.
Aljaz Ivacic could not be bothered about any of Seattle’s pressure on him over the course of the game. Some of my favorite moments on the re-watch of the game (besides the goals) were seeing Jazzy’s deadpan reaction as a Sounders forward was sprinting at him at full speed. Portland’s goalkeeper also made several key stops to keep Portland in the game — as we’ve all come to expect by this point.
Portland’s transition defense continues to be a scary story that I do not want to be told. They survived this time, but there were multiple transition moments where Seattle should have punished Portland. For a Timbers team that is still tentative with the ball, tightening up transition defending after losing it has got to be a priority.
Saturday was the first time this season Portland has come back from a losing position to win a game, and the first time they’ve done that since August 26, 2022. Which — hey, would you look at that — was also a home game against the Sounders. That makes it two games against Seattle in a row that the Timbers have come back to gut the fish.
Like I said, it never gets old.
Next up: The road gets 0% easier for the Timbers, as they travel to TQL Stadium to face second in the Eastern Conference FC Cincinnati at 4:39 p.m. PT (gotta keep those kickoff times accurate!) on Saturday. You can watch it on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.