Tree Rings: Showing some fight
The Timbers aren't playing much better, but at least now they're fighting and picking up points.
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.
Deep in the heart of Texas… the Timbers didn’t lose! Let us celebrate this joyous of days, and recognize a marginal fleeting step in the right direction from the boys in green (or pink).
Admit it: at the 74th minute of Portland’s bout with Dallas, you thought that the Timbers were as cooked as Texas barbecue.
When the hosts finally found their breakthrough via Facundo Quignon and took the lead over Portland, it looked like the Timbers had once again fallen short, and a team that had come out of the gates sputtering was set for another loss in their young yet worrying season.
And then Franck Boli did the dang thing on his debut:
That goal was significant, and not just in the heat of the moment. It won Portland a point of course, but it also marked the first time the Timbers have gotten a result in Frisco since 2018. It also capped off what was a much more welcome performance than the last time Portland was in Dallas (a 4-1 shelling in 2022).
It was a performance that started out strong, declined as the game wore on, but then ended with a bang.
Portland’s first half performance was an encouraging sign, as they stayed organized and disciplined in the face of a Dallas attack that prioritizes disorganizing opponents with the ball. Portland’s press was smart, and their defensive lines were disciplined and composed for the first forty minutes or so of the game, as they mostly kept Dallas’ offense at bay.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese praised his team’s first half focus and organization after the game. “Our ideas were clear in what we wanted to do, we secured it with patience and being detailed,” Gio shared in his postgame press conference. “We told the players that depending where they (FC Dallas) decided to press, we would find areas to attack… We did a good job to stay disciplined and we had a good first half.”
But as we saw, and as Savarese also recognized, the Timbers wilted as the game went on. Dallas cranked up the pressure, wound up out-shooting (17-6) and out-possessing (60%-40%) Portland, and forced some highlight-reel saves out of Aljaz Ivacic (more on him in a bit). As the game become more and more open, there was a familiar looming feeling of doom hanging over the game.
So when Dallas took their late lead, it looked like a familiar script was playing out for the Timbers.
But then via a magical mix of determination, desperation, and a pinch of quality, Portland flipped that script to a degree and snatched their point at the death. Boli’s goal (off a hard-earned assist from Dairon Asprilla) was special stuff, and hopefully is a precursor of good things to come from Portland’s latest attacking signing.
The equalizer was dramatic and probably a bit fortuitous. If you played out Saturday’s game under the same conditions ten times, I think Portland loses seven and draws three.
But on this occasion, Portland managed to escape with a point. They still have many problems that need fixing, and if they want to get back to the heights the team aspires to they cannot let this be the ceiling of their level of performance.
For one game though, in a hostile environment that has been anything but kind to them, the Timbers showed fight. And in a season where Portland hasn’t been up for the fight for large stretches, it was a welcome sight to see.
Counting out the rings
Welcome back, Darion Asprilla. If you were on Twitter in the hours and days following Saturday’s match, you would have noticed a surefire sign of Dairon’s return to the field: a bevy of retweets and likes from the player himself. And it wasn’t unearned. Asprilla’s determined running and hard work won the ball that led to Boli’s equalizer, netting Asprilla an assist in the process. Dairon’s return to the field is a welcome sight for a Timbers team that has been short of offensive firepower all season.
Welcome back, beautiful passes. The prettiest pass the Timbers have hit this season so far came courtesy of the ageless wonder Diego Chara, who pinged an absolute beauty of a ball forward in stoppage for the aforementioned Asprilla assist. It didn’t get a lot of attention at the time, and it deserves to be recognized. (Also: Happy Birthday Diego!)
Welcome back, Jazzy. After some, um, consternations were aired in the press two weeks ago, questions were swirling around whether Aljaz Ivacic would step up into the starting goalkeeper role with David Bingham now on the shelf. And lo and behold, it was indeed Ivacic’s name listed first on the team sheet on Saturday. The Timbers must be grateful Jazzy and Gio squashed their beef, because Ivacic was immense on Saturday. He made five saves on the night, and once again was a major reason the Timbers emerged from a game with a result.
Welcome back… good results in Texas? Yep, that’s right: the Timbers are actually now undefeated in their last three trips to the Lone Star state, getting results in the houses of all three Texas teams. In their last two trips in 2022 they netted a draw at Houston and a win at Austin, and now they finally have a draw in Frisco to add to the list. I’m not saying away days to Texas are now magically going to now stop being terrible, just that we’ve got to appreciate the little things while we have them.
Welcome back… okay fine, back to reality. For as encouraging of a point as Saturday was, it was also Portland’s fifth straight game without a win. A five-game winless skid is indicative of the fact that the Portland Timbers are still not playing good soccer at the moment. It’s been better at times, but “better at times” does not win you a return to the playoffs. The offense needs to be better, key players (read: midfielders) need to get healthy, and Portland needs to start collecting three points — instead of just one — to keep their heads above water.
They will have their next chance to do so in the Cascadia curtain-raiser for 2023, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in BC Place at 7:30 p.m. PT on Saturday April 8.
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