It is far too soon for the Portland Timbers to panic. Yeah, they lost at home in Week 1 to Minnesota United — the only game this past weekend featuring two teams from the same conference who'd both made the playoffs. It was a true six-pointer and it did not go Portland's way.
But it is not too soon to make a critical assessment of what went wrong and to try to fix it. Gio Savarese specifically cited "discipline," and though he didn't really expand upon that, it's a fair bet he meant "discipline with regard to team shape and management of risk/reward scenarios when pushing up to try to score in the second half."
Upon review of the game it was pretty apparent what Savarese was talking about:
This is a relatively easy fix, since it's basically a case of saying to right back Jorge Moreira and left Jorge Villafana: "Hey fellas, when one of you guys goes, the other one has to stay or else we become unbalanced and easy to counter against." I would expect to see much, much more conservative fullback play on Sunday against Nashville SC.
But there are two other parts of this indiscipline that maybe need more examination. First, notice in the video above that it's actually right-winger Yimmi Chara who's tucked inside to become an extra ball-winner in central midfield, as well as clearing out that side for Moreira to overlap and cross the ball.
But... why? Chara was Portland's most expensive signing this offseason, and while he can win the ball and do a little bit of central midfield orchestrating, that's not what he's best at. He's a true winger, and it doesn't seem worth it to me to move him out of that spot in order to get Moreira forward to whip in cross after cross (he was fourth in the league with 139 open play crosses and completed just 18% of them).
I'm not saying these guys can't or shouldn't interchange. But the degree to which Moreira pushes forward drastically changes Yimmi's role on the team, and not in a way that benefits the Timbers against teams that sit in against them. And everybody, at this point, is smart enough to sit in against them.
The second thing is the concept of "offensive marking" or "passive defending," i.e. positioning while in possession in anticipation of your own team's turnover. Coaches do this to push the counter-press (or contain a potential opposing counterattack) a certain way. The idea is you know where the risky passes you're about to hit/receive are taking place, so get numbers there in order to win the next ball in case of a turnover.
Here's a still from the above video, just before Cristhian Paredes is dispossessed while trying to send Villafana through on the overlap:
And guess what? Yimmi wins the turnover. Danger averted.
Here's what Portland's passive defending looks like in the immediate build-up to the first Minnesota goal:
There's only one player who's going to win that ball following Larrys Mabiala's header: Jan Gregus. One Minnesota winger (Robin Lod, on the far side) already has two steps on Moreira and is about to beat him down-field, while the other Minnesota winger (Ethan Finlay on the near side) is about to remind everyone Villafana has something less than elite recovery speed.
Was Mabiala actually supposed to push up and try to win this ball? I can't say for sure, but given how Portland tried to play in the preseason and their talk about wanting to be more dangerous when in possession, my hunch is "yes."
Were his teammates competently arrayed to support what looks very much like a high-pressing situation? That is an emphatic "no."
Plenty to fix but, again, no reason to panic. The Timbers routinely attempt to play front-foot soccer, and over the years have become expert at cutting their losses, dropping their lines deeper and settling into more of a counterattacking stance. They did it last year, the year before that and the year before that one.
No reason to think in 2020 it can't be more of the same.