Revitalized Timbers return home this week
It's been a month since the Timbers last played at Providence Park. They'll return this week for matches Wednesday against surging Colorado and Sunday, Sept. 19 against always-dangerous LAFC.
It's safe to say the team is in a much better place than when it last stepped on the field in downtown Portland.
During that month away, it appears the Timbers found themselves. At least that's the way coach Giovanni Savarese explains the recent turnaround in form that produced three consecutive shutout wins away from home and good results from four of the five matches played since that painful 6-2 home loss to Seattle on Aug. 15.
"We did a lot of work, we had a lot of conversations," Savarese said after Portland capped its five-game road string Sept. 10 with a 1-0 win at Vancouver. "We felt we went a little bit away from who we are and we needed to make sure that each player understood back again their role. In those conversations and the work on the field, we built up again who we are."
At their most successful under Savarese, the Timbers are ruthless on the counterattack. They put their work in defending and frustrating the opposition. Then, when opportunity strikes, the quality of their attacking players — particularly Sebastian Blanco and Felipe Mora — makes the difference.
Which is why the match Wednesday against Colorado — a club rapidly pushing for the top spot in the Western Conference — is so intriguing. After the Seattle debacle on Aug. 15, the Timbers were quick to point to their front-foot, proactive play for the first hour of that match. Trouble was, Portland didn't take a lead and eventually were burned by the Sounders' counterattack. So, what happens when the Timbers come home and want to entertain their fans with proactive soccer?
It can work, of course. At Vancouver on Sept. 10, Portland was good at counter-pressing to quickly win possession when it was lost —for the first 43 minutes or so. It was expected that Vancouver would be more aggressive in the second half. Part of that aggressiveness was putting fresh substitutes on early. The five substitutes have changed the odds a bit, it seems to me, of teams rallying late in games. The team trailing is, naturally, going to throw caution away and throw attackers onto the field. The more fatigued defenders, naturally, don't want to let those fresh-legged foes behind them and so sit deeper to defend.
It makes for good drama. Personally, I like the way having five substitutions has changed soccer. I'm not sure defenders would agree.
One Timbers player who has not needed relief is the striker Mora. Since the trade of Jeremy Ebobisse made Mora the man up top for the Timbers, he has started eight games and produced five goals and two assists. That doesn't count his shot (pass?) that resulted in the own goal at Vancouver. The Chilean striker has a team-high nine goals and is second on the team with four assists.
Consistent playing time is part of the story. So is his chemistry with Blanco, something that emerged almost as soon as Mora arrived on loan before last season.
"Seba and I have a great relationship," Mora said through an interpreter. "He's amazing on the field and we talk a lot about tactics and how to find space, how to move so he can give me the passes."
Yimmi Chara, like Mora a second-year Timber, pointed to Mora's work for the team as the reason he is finding success.
"He always puts the team first, and that's why he scores goals and assists," Yimmi Chara said through an interpreter. "It's always going to be about the team in Mora's mentality."
That, of late, applies to everyone in green and gold. It's a mindset that must continue as the Timbers navigate three consecutive home games.
Thorns update — September turned into a two-match month for the Portland Thorns when Washington couldn't play on Sept. 4 because of COVID-19 problems with the Spirit. The Thorns are next scheduled to visit Chicago on Sept. 25.
Portland's 1-0 win Sunday at North Carolina was its 10th shutout of the season. The Thorns are three points up on second place Reign FC with two games in hand and six points in front of the third-place Courage with a game in hand.
Actually, Portland should have three more points. The NWSL made Washington forfeit its Sept. 11 home match to Reign FC, but at the time made no pronouncement about the status of the Thorns-Spirit "postponed" match. Perhaps the Thorns want to give their fans that home match if it can be rescheduled, but from a PR perspective the announcement was a blunder.
Portland to host NWSL championship — The news that Providence Park will host the National Women's Soccer League championship match for a third time is exciting, a deserved reward for a region that supports women's soccer unlike any other. The news that the match will kick off at 9 a.m. on Nov. 20 is less enticing.
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