Things were looking good for the Portland Timbers heading into Saturday’s match in Montreal. They had their optimal starting eleven in for the first time since opening night. All of their key pieces, including Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, were back and as healthy as could be. Everything was lining up for a big road victory, but instead the Portland Timbers’ foolish play led to disaster. The 4-1 loss at Stade Saputo can be chalked up to the team playing without the intelligence necessary to win a game on the road in MLS.
Portland Timbers’ Foolish Play Costs Them in Montreal
It all started a dozen minutes after the opening whistle. Blerim Dzemaili went down in the box rather easily thanks to Sebastian Blanco getting his arm up high in defense. Jair Marrufo pointed to the spot and allowed Ignacio Piatti to open the scoring. It was a soft penalty, for sure, but Blanco has to know better than to play such aggressive defense in the penalty area. He’s an offensive minded player, so I hardly expect top level MLS defending from him, but I would like to see smarter play deep in his own end.
Chara Red Ruins the Afternoon
The next moment of stupidity was the most idiotic play of the Timbers season, so far. Diego Chara took some exception to a physical, but clean, challenge by Piatti. As he was trotting back up the pitch, he decided to give the Argentinian winger a whack to the face with the back of the palm, earning a straight red from Marrufo. Now, Chara is known for an aggressive challenge and the more than occasional yellow card. He isn’t known to commit such a blatant act of brainlessness that it costs his team a realistic shot at winning the game.
I have spoken at length about how weak the Timbers defense is. Regardless of who starts in the back four, the Timbers have conceded goal after goal in crucial moments all season long. The one shining light keeping the unit from completely capitulating was Diego Chara as the midfield shield. They lost that key component to their defensive puzzle before 20 minutes were played in Montreal, and that allowed the quick Impact attack to take advantage.
Ignacio Piatti’s goal in the 48th minute could have been prevented with an aggressive defender like Chara. The shot came after Piatti was allowed to waltz to the top of the box, right through the area of midfield Chara specializes in patrolling. The same thing can be said for the fourth and final goal from Ambroise Oyongo. Setting aside David Guzman getting his ankles broken by Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla out wide, Chara’s presence at the top of the box could have prevented Oyongo from being crazy open.
Attack Kept Fighting
The Timbers did show some fight immediately after the red card. They didn’t refrain from attacking for the remainder of the first half and even got a goal heading into the break. The stats were not nearly as skewed as you would expect for a match with such an early red card. The teams tied with 12 shots. Montreal only held a 58%-42% possession advantage. Portland even kept enough pressure on their opponents to force 14 fouls out of them, while only committing nine of their own.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Timbers defense was carved wide open without their main shield. This was made more frustrating because of the complete and total lack of focus from Diego Chara that led to his sending off. His brainlessness took a game Portland had a real shot at winning, and turned it into a 72 minute fight for survival, which they ultimately lost.
Portland will travel to Seattle for their first match of the season against their arch rivals next Saturday. Seattle may be struggling, but the Timbers task is going to be much harder without Chara providing valuable defensive cover against the likes of Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, and Jordan Morris.