Timbers fans were nervous heading into Dallas. I was nervous as a Timbers writer, as I bellowed during the picks in this week’s Last Word SC podcast. A Diego Valeri injury before a massive road tilt against one of the most talented teams in MLS will do that. Taking on FC Dallas without the best player on your team is hardly something any team wants, but the Timbers didn’t seem to mind once the storm soaked match in Texas got started.
Diego Valeri Injury Not an Issue in Portland Timbers Draw Against FC Dallas
Valeri suffered a grade one hip strain in last weekend’s Cascadia Cup win over Vancouver Whitecaps and was ruled out on Wednesday afternoon. Injuries are nothing new for this Timbers team, although they had been confined to defense before this weekend. Key defenders Liam Ridgewell and Vytas Andruskevicius each missed several games earlier in the season. Roy Miller and Marco Farfan both provided strong play in their stead.
The next man up philosophy was great at the back, and Caleb Porter thought it was nice to see up front as well. “That’s kind of been the theme all year. We’ve had a lot of injuries and guys have been out and the next guy steps in and gets the job done and we saw that again tonight. I thought [Sebastian] Blanco was really good in that role. [Darren] Mattocks, when he came into the game, set up the second goal,” he told reporters after the 2-2 draw.
Porter opted to stick with his 4-2-3-1 and play Argentinian newcomer Sebastian Blanco in Valeri’s normal number ten position. He performed admirably and highlighted the performance with the first goal in his MLS career.
Blanco did more than score a goal, however. He completed 41 total passes, including one leading to a shot. His accuracy was only 74%, which is a touch below Valeri’s season average on 80.7%. He contributed more defensively than Valeri usually does, going three for five in tackle attempts and only committing one foul.
Blanco still showed he is a wide player at heart, though. The Timbers generally focused their attacks on the flanks and Blanco was roaming out wide to help out. More than half his passes, and around half his overall touches, all came along the left flank, where he was assisting Darlington Nagbe. This left Dairon Asprilla a little out to dry on the other side, but it didn’t really affect the result at all.
Blanco was satisfied with the performance, but he also knew it was far from perfect. “Overall happy because we were well-grounded. Obviously, we played against a difficult rival that will certainly continue to fight until the end to be first in the conference. So we’re happy overall, we just have to work on the errors we made tonight,” he said when asked about the game as a whole.
Most experts, myself included, thought the Timbers would struggle without Valeri, on the road, and against a high quality opponent. Instead, Blanco stepped into a more high profile role and led the attack almost as if Valeri had been there himself. The team still lacks attacking depth in ways that could bite them in the dog days of the season, but this match shows that one injury is far from enough to derail their attack.
Now, if only they could fix the leaky defense that capitulated in the second half, keeping the Timbers from a full three points away from home.