Blanco keeps Timbers going without Nagbe
After starting the season with three consecutive wins, the Portland Timbers have won only two of their last eight. They continue to lead MLS in goals — tied with Houston at 21 after Sunday's 1-1 draw with Atlanta United. But the attack has lost some of its edge.
One contributing factor: Portland has not had its primary attacking four — Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Blanco and Fanendo Adi — together in the past four games.
Nagbe's ability to dribble out of tight spots could have helped against Atlanta, which had a startling 72 percent of the possession in the first half and finished with a 70-30 possession edge.
The previous week at San Jose, Portland had the ball less than 46 percent of the time in a 3-0 loss to the Earthquakes.
"We're just not as good in possession" without Nagbe, coach Caleb Porter says. "Sometimes you don't know how good a guy is or his impact until he's gone. It's not always the goals, but it's his ability to float around and find pockets and help us keep the ball, get out of tight spaces."
Porter says he believes Nagbe will be back Saturday at Montreal and against Seattle the following week before leaving to join the U.S. national team.
The versatile Blanco will be a key to life without Nagbe. Like his teammates, Blanco didn't see enough of the ball against Atlanta (only 36 touches and 15 completed passes). But the Designated Player from Argentina delivered some spark with his effort.
"He's very feisty, and he likes to motivate the team, too," Valeri says. "Of course we need that."
Captain Liam Ridgewell understands how Blanco's energy impacts the team.
"He's a very good player. He's come in and done very well. I like the passion. I like his work ethic," Ridgewell says. "Yeah, he's going to get yellow-carded for tackles, but he worked very hard, and I'm sure he'll show his quality more and more."
Ridgewell scored four minutes after Atlanta took the lead. He was unmarked when a well-taken David Guzman free kick bounced to him. It was the center back's first goal since June 1 — and his fourth for the Timbers.
"It's been a long time coming. It's been annoying," Ridgewell says. "Most goals I get are tap-ins of 2-yarders. It's just me getting free."
The Timbers have goals from a league-high 11 players, including three center backs.