Well, that was a stinker.
The Timbers winning streak met an ugly demise on Wednesday night, punctuated with Liam Ridgewell’s sending off.
It’s Caleb Porter’s worst loss as Timbers boss and, without digging into Akron archives, likely the heaviest defeat he has suffered in quite a while.
So the streak is dead, and so is the momentum, right?
Not one bit.
Call this Rose (City) colored glasses, but a loss can be beneficial; it takes focus off the streak itself and recenters the group. Four out of five still sounds good, and (knock on wood) five out of six sounds great. A win on Sunday will erase Wednesday’s nightmare.
If anything, the Timbers might have been guilty of looking forward to Sunday, as are we all. It would be one thing to blame the schedule overlords for inserting a challenging midweek road match in advance of the most anticipated match of the year. Then again, they made Sigi and his Ekto-colored gang fly all the way to Philadelphia. And they lost!
It turns out the fish from the north aren’t quite as strong without their high-dollar striking duo. Indeed, Oba Martins and the guy who ripped up the ref’s notebook combine for 14 of their team’s 23 goals.
That’s 60%, gone.
And let’s face it, Dempsey has tortured the Timbers throughout his tenure in MLS. It makes his 3-game ban—and the temper tantrum that lead to it—that much more head scratching.
As they say, don’t look a gift fish in the mouth.
Sitting just four points behind the flat-tailed bottom feeders, the time for Portland to strike has never been more evident. Even without the services of Liam Ridgewell—due to his own disciplinary lapse—the Timbers are primed to take control of this derby and get back into the Cascadia Cup conversation.
The immediate concern, however, is the nasty fall Darlington Nagbe took early in the second half. For the most fouled player in MLS five years running, Portland’s #6 has endured his fair share of punishment only to spring back up and play on. Nagbe did indeed play on, but was subbed off a short while later, hopefully for precautionary reasons. Caleb Porter was on pace to have his full XI available (minus Ridgewell) for Sunday, yet if Nagbe can’t play, Gaston Fernandez will be ready.
Sigi Schmid has a sturdy central defense at his disposal, including last year’s Defender of the Year, Chad Marshall, but the rest of his lineup is pockmarked with inexperience. With captain, midfield boss, and all-around pest Ozzie Alonso out injured and Brad Evans nursing a groin injury, the onus is on Portland’s creative midfield to exploit the gaps.
What’s good for the Goose (Hollow) is good for the flounder, and as the Timbers struggled through an injury-riddled start to 2015, Sigi’s bunch have lost two straight games without Dempsey and Oba without scoring a single goal. Defensively for Portland then, if there’s a silver lining of losing Ridgy, it’s the form of Norberto Paparatto. Fresh off his Team of the Week performance, Big Papa is playing by far his best soccer as a Timber. His standout performances against Houston and D.C. United contributed to two clean sheets. He also went the full 120 minutes in Tukwila, frustrating the home team at every turn en route to an Open Cup victory.
To compound, the front four of Marco Pappa, Aaron Kovar, Cristian Roldan, and Lamar Neagle combined for one shot on target against Philadelphia, the league’s most porous defense.
Some credit is however due for Sigi’s ability to start two homegrown players, with a third (Victor Mansary) on the bench. Throw in the departed DeAndre Yedlin, and one must admit that they do churn out MLS talent up there. It would be foolish to look past a group of motivated local boys who would love nothing more than to announce themselves in front of the Timbers Army.
It’s a derby afterall. The Derby. At risk of opining too much, this is the one true rivalry in MLS, and as is the case with the great derbies around the world, anything can happen, and it often does.
Did we mention it’s going to be nearly 100 degrees at kickoff? It’s a big, important, passionate rivalry game, but it’s just one game and it’s not worth heatstroke. The players will get mandatory water breaks, and so should you. Stay safe, everyone!