The Portland Timbers are coming off their biggest win of the season — a massive 2-0 Heineken Rivalry Week triumph over the Seattle Sounders at Lumen Field. But was that a sign that the tide has turned in an inconsistent 2021 season for Giovanni Savarese's group?
The Extratime crew put that to debate on their latest episode, first assessing the positives from the Seattle match, which co-host Matt Doyle said started on the defensive side of the ball, where the Timbers have had their issues in 2021. One of the keys? A standout effort from legendary defensive midfielder Diego Chara, who put in what Doyle called a "throwback performance".
"He looked like 28-year-old Diego Chara, not 35-year-old Diego Chara in this one," Doyle said.
It wasn't just about one player, though. Portland's defense from the run of play looked much improved and more cohesive, especially when compared to the 6-2 drubbing they were handed by these same Sounders at Providence Park two weeks prior. The only caveat would be that their set-piece defending still left much to be desired, as the Sounders racked up multiple chances that they only barely failed to take from corner kicks and dead balls.
"Even though Portland was absolutely flammable on set pieces and it's kind of a miracle they didn't give one up, they were pretty good defensively from the run of play," Doyle said. "Part of that was that for whatever reason – maybe they were just weren't pushing as high – the fullbacks were way less flammable in this game than they have been."
Given their success against Seattle, Doyle said the match might leave the Timbers with a new tactical blueprint as they look ahead to the rest of the season.
"That might be how they have to play because the thing with Portland is if they play like: 'We're just going to defend. We're going to have two different teams on the field. The three guys we attack with and then the seven guys we defend with and do not go forward.' That might be how they have to play it from this point forward," he said.
Co-host Andrew Wiebe pointed out that it feels as though we've seen this movie before with the Timbers, who have shown a propensity in the past for discovering their best formula well into the MLS season.
"This is Groundhog Day," Wiebe said. "Every single year, this exact time of year, we have this exact conversation where it's like, 'Well, maybe they've just go to do this.' And that's where they've wanted to be the entire time."
Will it be enough to make a run in the Western Conference? That's the prevailing question in the Rose City, and Doyle said he can see it going either way. For however many issues they've had defending, the Timbers remain a talented and veteran group and will look to use the big victory in Seattle to springboard a run down the stretch.
"You're not wrong but the issue is they could do that and mostly survive and even occasionally thrive because they were good enough defensively," Doyle said. "But the way this team defends or doesn't defend on set pieces, like if you bunker for a good portion of any game, you're going to give up a lot of corner kicks and a lot of free kicks as well. And they just cannot defend them.
"So this is a great result from Portland, back up into sixth place, they have [Sebastian] Blanco back. It's like a [Columbus] Crew thing though. They have so much talent it's hard to imagine them missing the playoffs, but they have such obvious Achilles' heels that you can see a very clear path to them actually managing to miss the playoffs."
For more from Extratime, check out the full episode here.