Most of the league predicted that the Portland Timbers would struggle at the beginning of the 2019 MLS season. Historically, they have never been a great team on the road and because of stadium renovations they won’t play their first home game until June 2.
Taking all that into account, the Portland Timbers have only lost one out of the past five matches. This includes three consecutive wins and a comeback draw against a tough Houston Dynamo side. This also included a big win against a rampant Toronto FC team. While they still have a ways to go, Portland now finds themselves only five points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand.
After a being lauded as one of the worst in the league, how good is this Portland team? There were many changes made, these are the main ones.
Timbers Defensive Improvements
At the beginning of the season, the Timbers were giving up goals as if it was a new hobby. Head coach Giovanni Savarese ended stopped the bleeding not by playing five in the back, which many of us thought would work best. Instead, it was starting Bill Tuiloma at centerback alongside Larrys Mabiala. The two of them have formed quite a partnership that has frustrated forwards.
Though they still have yet to keep a clean sheet in 2019, the Timbers went from conceding an average of 2.8 goals a match in their first six games to only allowing one goal in each of the last five. This was against some potent offenses such as Toronto FC and the Dynamo.
Brian Fernández and the Offense
We haven’t seen a whole lot of Portland’s record-breaking designated player Brian Fernández, but scoring the equalizer 12 minutes after coming on is a great way to get everyone’s attention.
His inclusion not only gives Portland a different threat going forward, but it relieves some of the playmaking duties from Sebastian Blanco.
With Diego Valeri not performing to his usual quality — though he is starting to dictate games again — much of the playmaking activity fell on the shoulders of Blanco. His creativity became Portland’s only threat. However, with Fernandez in the side and Valeri’s revival, Blanco isn’t the only player that can create and score. As you can see in the goal above, Fernandez going forward provided a threat even when Blanco was receiving the ball in midfield.
Another part of Portland’s turnaround is the emergence of Cristhian Paredes in the midfield. While had 18 starts last season with the Timbers, the Club America loanee has become a linchpin in the Portland midfield. His name won’t often appear on the score sheet, but it’s the little things he does that is important. Most importantly, he is vital in keeping possession.
While playing in the middle of the field, Paredes has been able to dictate possession which, first, alleviates pressure off the defense and also builds up possession for the offense. His best performance was against the Columbus Crew where he completed 85.3 percent of his passes. Most of those were simple passes in the middle of the field, containing possession and allowing other players to be riskier in their passing.
His first for @TimbersFC! ☝️
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2018
Last Word: How good are they?
So how good are the Timbers? It is hard to tell but they are no longer the punching bag of the Western Conference. We should fully expect them to take advantage of their long home stretch and lock up a playoff spot. However, for now, they will make it difficult for teams to play against them.