Saturday’s match at Toronto FC didn’t just give gave the Portland Timbers a reality check on the standings.
The 3-1 result was a clear reminder of where the club stands in this current state of Major League Soccer.
Toronto have been the talk of the league since signing Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi over the summer; but their role players also shined against Portland’s aging veteran core.
Jonathan Osorio. Richie Laryea. Chris Mavinga. These were the guys that shut down what was once a fearsome Portland attack. Two goals in the past three matches will probably quell that expectation.
Note: Yes, I agree Mavinga should have been sent off for that challenge on Eryk Williamson. But we are stuck with the facts.
The Timbers know they won’t sign any big European stars. But they have been arguably the best team at playing within their resources over the past few years. When a team plays with a unified mindset……..
I’m gonna stop myself right there, because none of it happened Saturday.
Toronto dominated the first half, especially down Josecarlos Van Rankin’s defensive flank. They survived a few hard challenges and broke through in the 41’ after Laryea rounded Claudio Bravo (Portland’s best defender this year).
Sebastián Blanco’s hopeful passes over the top were useless when being chased by the sometimes-deceptively-fast-but-not-actually-that-fast Jaroslaw Niezgoda. Yimmi Chará had a few nice tackles but jogged pretty much everywhere.
And those were just Portland’s Designated Players.
Aljaz Ivacic was the only Timber who played exceptionally well. He made eight saves (six from inside the box) and continued to validate his claim as (one of) the best net-tenders in MLS.
Everyone else? Not good enough.
Portland genuinely composed themselves and played better to start the second half. Of all people, it was Van Rankin who finished Blanco’s flick to make it 1-1 in the 73’.
Six minutes later, though, Insigne provided his second highlight goal in as many games. Bernardeschi followed soon after.
Portland will only get lucky in signing a player of that quality — and that’s fine. It’s worked out well so far.
But a new era of MLS is coming, and when Portland’s pillars start to fall (I’m talking about Diego Chará retiring), it gets harder and harder to scrape out results — especially in the playoffs.
The TSN announcers threw out a really interesting stat near the beginning of the game for Portland: The Timbers haven’t won a game outside the Pacific Northwest this year.
It would have been naive to assume the Timbers would win this game, but the point stands: Portland have been dreadful on the road, and not good enough at home.
Something has to give. The Timbers have just one remaining game against an unserious opponent (at Sporting Kansas City in eight days). If they lose that, it would mean five straight games without a win.
This was Portland’s first loss since May, but the three home draws on that stretch all felt a little bit like losses. The 4-4 fiasco in St. Paul did too. So did the late collapse in Carson, if we want to go back that far.
I called Portland’s game against FC Dallas last Saturday a must-win. They scored an own goal in the 100th minute to make it a 1-1 draw.
Unfortunately, right now, that seems like it’ll stick out as the big metaphor for this season.