The Buzzsaw: Timbers vs. New England Revolution
Winning cures all ills.
After knocking off first-place (albeit depleated) DC United last Wednesday, on Saturday the Timbers traveled to Colorado—a place in which they had never won—and won. Gaston Fernandez opened the scoring in the first half, reciprocating his assist on Maxi Urruti’s goal against DC.
A late stunner from Sam Cronin seemingly wrestled two points out of Portland’s hands. In fairness, it was a great goal that will probably win GOTW.
But Jack Jewsbury was having none of it. The Old Salty Dog drifted in late on a stoppage time counter and capped off a vintage Timbers snatch-and-grab. The Club Captain doesn’t score many goals, but when he does (as pointed out by Timbers blogger Mike Donovan) they tend to be big ones.
Earning six points in four days suddenly makes the Timbers a playoff team.
While the Timbers are in the mood to do things they’ve never done, Saturday’s visit from another Eastern power, New England, gives the Green & Gold a chance to put together a three-game winning streak for the first time in their MLS existence.
Jay Heaps’s Revs sit second in the Eastern standings despite being in the midst of a five-game winless streak. In fact, all five of New England’s wins occurred in weeks 4-9; Saturday marks week 15. If the Revs are to break their current doldrums, they will have to do so without the services of USMNT defender, Jermaine Jones, who picked up a groin injury in Sunday’s draw with the Galaxy. The German-born American plays a box-to-box midfield role for the MLS old boys and was instrumental in their ascent from mid-table to MLS Cup in 2014.
Lee Nguyen returns from suspension and spearheads the second-most potent attack in MLS. Along with Juan Agudelo, Charlie Davies, and Caleb Porter disciple Teal Bunbury, Nguyen and co. have bagged 20 goals in 14 games; the Timbers have 13. On the road, the Revs have scored 8 and conceded 12.
Perhaps the timing couldn’t be better for Caleb Porter to be getting Diego Valeri and Will Johnson back.
New England’s defense used to be solid; they conceded the seventh-fewest goals in the league last year (48). With the departure of centerback A.J. Soares for the Norwegian league, the plan was to slide Andrew Farrell over from right back. The third year defender, who was among the league leaders in crosses as a fullback, hasn’t transitioned smoothly to his new role. The Revolution’s now porous defense has conceded a (tied for) third-worst 18 times.
With the Captain and el Maestro in the lineup, the Timbers attack becomes more centralized, heaping pressure on Farrell and Jose Gonçalves, and shines a brighter light on Jones’s absence.
Caleb Porter doesn’t necessarily have to pick his talisman, as Gaston Fernandez has suddenly played his way back into the lineup. The enigmatic Argentine’s chemistry with countryman Maxi Urruti is undeniable; the duo has combined for two of Portland’s last three goals. He has also seemingly come to embrace his role as a facilitator, rather than his preferred withdrawn striker, which has paid dividends all around.
It’s an intriguing selection conundrum for the Portland boss. The Timbers’ philosophy since day one has been to focus on team play, rather than relying on one or two stars yet, ironically, just as fans and media alike began salivating over two high-profile returns, Portland’s depth is proving it’s worth. Dairon Asprilla looks dangerous down the flanks and is developing confidence in his shot; Rodney Wallace is finally over a nagging knee issue and looks equally spry, while Ishmael Yartey—who disappeared for a few weeks—toe poked the ball out of traffic and into the path of Cap’n Jack for the game-winner last week. Getting results from squad rotation is a rare luxury in any league. Headed into a badly-needed bye week, expect Valeri and Johnson to get some time, but not a full 90.
Saturday promises to be a fascinating game. For once, Portland is the rock-solid defense in the “classic offense vs. defense” matchup. The Revolution sport a -4 goal differential on the road, while the Timbers have scored more away from home than in front of the Timbers Army.
This game is crying out for a big play and a timely goal. It’s right in our uncomfortable comfort zone.