Alright, so maybe they were a little over-hyped after a season where you could argue they did just as much “not losing” as winning — 14 wins, 15 ties — but how do you explain the Portland Timbers drop from near-champion to cellar dweller?
I’m not saying I’ve got answers, but let’s go through this together and see what we come up with, shall we?
Some would say it’s simply the matter of a challenging run of opponents. After roughly one-quarter of the season, Portland has already made trips to Salt Lake, Houston, Dallas and Colorado.
But they’ve also failed to gain three points at their intense home park against Chivas USA. Against Chicago. Against Philadelphia. None of those teams can claim a spot in their conference any higher than eighth.
The Timbers have the fourth-worst goal differential — not surprising for a last-place team — and they’ve only scored nine goals over eight games.
Four of those goals came in one match, and the Timbers have been blanked twice. Last year, they weren’t shut out until May 3. They didn’t lose a match in which they were shut out until July.
The advanced stats say Portland may be struggling on attack and defense, but they haven’t been absolutely miserable. And it’s a good sign that of the three major Squawka stats, the Timbers rank the highest in terms of possession (12th in the league). Last year, they were fifth in possession, second in attack, third in defense. It’s all down.
This has a lot to do with the player who was a stat nerd’s darling in 2013, Darlington Nagbe. The midfielder scored nine goals, added four assists and posted the best Squawka score in the league. He’s nowhere near that now — 34th — with a lone assist through 667 minutes of play. Maybe it’s as simple as the his functioning closer to star status again.
But what’s also troubling is where the keepers rank out of the 24 keepers to have taken the pitch for Major League Soccer clubs so far. Donovan Ricketts has already fought injury this year after getting loads of plaudits and award buzz last year.
There are a few bright spots, aside from the traditional possession percentages head coach Caleb Porter has been trumpeting in post-match banter. For one thing, his team is still ticking people off. After totaling the fifth-most fouls suffered in their tremendously successful 2013, the Timbers are third right now.
Next up, it’s DC United at Providence Park, followed by two incredibly-stiff tests. The Timbers will square off with the only two positive possession stat teams in the league so far this season: Los Angeles and Columbus.
Porter is saying his problems are only mostly regarding the final-third (which is true for every team, but I digress). He loves their organization and chemistry, but the head coach wants his guys to be a little more selfish, to shoot. From The Oregonian:
Whatever it is, the Timbers Army is right to feel antsy. The season’s not going well, and five points behind the last playoff spot starts to look more daunting once the calendar turns May.