Just real quick, in a fit of enthusiasm, I want to talk about the Portland Timbers' 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup. This’ll be bullet-style (will it?) and refreshingly straightforward, but also stylistically frustrating. I walk the line…
When I talk about the Timbers being “good” - even in a post like the last one, where I’m shoving a ceiling on top of the conversation - a game like tonight is exactly what I’m talking about. This Timbers team is organized, it knows what it’s doing out there, and it has reasonable flexibility on top of all that. That’s how a team wins a “Cup” tournament - and, yes, I’m talking U.S. Open and MLS, if the stars line-up right - only Giovanni Savarese and staff haven’t figured out how to weaponize that yet, into the unstoppable force that wins titles without blinking. But it’s working well enough, like, nine games in a row well enough.
More to the point, Portland plays well. The team moves the ball to where it wants it to go well enough that I can poo-poo possession like the mediocre appetizer it is. The coolest detail comes with how they came up with a smart way to play the ball forward out of the back, especially against teams that press - i.e., diagonally, and outside-in; it doesn’t just beat the first line of pressure, it means the team can switch the play, or keep it on the same side.
After that, this Timbers team gets vertical real goddamn fast.
Also, Portland is fine without Darlington Nabge. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s not better.
Back to this particular Open Cup tie, LA came into this game 3-1-1…on that, um, just checked the opposition across that time (e.g., @ MTL, v. SJ, V. FCD (this was the loss; noted), @ Portland (the draw, and one of Portland’s flattest games of the season), v. RSL), and I take back what I was about to say, LA wasn’t quite so much on a tear as a run of reasonable expectations with good fortune riding in the side-car. LA is adequate at this point, maybe even playoff-reasonable, but that 3-1-1 amounts to getting results any team with a remote chance of success should get. In other words, this is a result to celebrate for the Timbers, but not get cocky about.
For those who do want to feel cocky, on the other hand (not judging; I’m raising my hand in that tentative way people do when they only think they know the answer), think about how Portland managed the keep-away, how they passed well almost as often as they did, the fact they created - what? - 4-5 quality chances, and that’s at a minimum. The defense cleaned up what it couldn’t prevent from coming in - and hats off and thrown on the ground in gratitude for the mighty, reverse goal-line header by Mabiala to make Portland’s one goal stand up.
Just to note it, even with Liam Ridgewell out, Portland has a decent four-man deep rotation in central defense right now: Mabiala, Tuiloma, Julio Cascante, and (worst-case) Lawrence Olum.