What to say about the recent form of the Portland Timbers?
That it's no accident.
There's a big, big secret that's not so big anymore. That is the midfield play, or lack thereof, of the Timbers. It's a weakness so glaring that it's simply affecting every facet of the team.
The keeper, Troy Perkins, seemingly has no choice but to play the long ball every possession. The defense very rarely plays into to midfield, electing to try and kick it to the top two very lonely forwards—Perlaza and Cooper.
On paper, at least, the Timbers should have a very stable midfield with Alhassan, Jewsbury, Nagbe and Chara (although Sal Zisso has been starting in place of Nagbe the last two games). The class of the midfield seems to be Jewsbury, who is outstanding at possession and set pieces, and Alhassan, a very nice playmaker with great pace.
Nagbe did seem lost quite a few times and out of position, and it wasn't surprising that Zisso replaced him. Zisso did make some nice wing runs in the game against DC United.
It's the play of Chara that has me concerned, and increasingly the play of Alhassan.
Chara has, thus far, not earned his weight as their sole designated player. He has flashes of brilliance, but that's it. Too often he doesn't track back, leaving plenty of space directly in front of the defense. He seems lazy off the ball and doesn't come too the ball nearly enough. He doesn't make great runs or is aggressive in getting to the ball.
I'm afraid folks that all those characteristics are required of a central mid-fielder. That's why they brought him in, and he's been a disappointment. He must control the midfield with the ball at his feet and go at the defense.
Alhassan is a complete mystery. At the start of the season he was a wonder and displayed outstanding ball skills and continued to make run after run at the defense. Now? He just looks lost.
It's the play of these two that continues to plague the Timbers. The defense is under constant pressure and the forwards never get quality touches.
This is probably the most quiet that I've seen Kenny Cooper this season. He didn't have one quality shot on goal. I would have liked to see both he and Perlazzo a little more active at the defensive end and put more pressure on the Chivas defense.
Chivas, to their credit, deserved to win the game. The lone bright spot for the Timbers was the outstanding play of Troy Perkins, who had three world-class saves and kept the Timbers in the game until the 70th minute when Chivas scored on a quality goal from Marcos Mondaini from Nagamura. It was an excellent goal. However, it also highlighted the defensive deficiencies present all night. Sloppy marking of midfield runs.
It's odd that the Timbers have now lost to both DC United and Chivas, while beating the likes of Philadelphia, Columbus, Houston and FC Dallas.
The run of bad form shouldn't be too surprising given that the Timbers are an expansion franchise. It takes time for players to get accustomed to one another.
Still, the midfield play, or lack thereof, has to be a concern to coach John Spencer. I don't know if it's his tactics, lack of belief in his midfield, or the players themselves who continually refuse to challenge the opposing defense.
I have to wonder if the team didn't get a little cocksure with wins against Philadelphia and Columbus and the tie against Seattle?
Whatever it is, the squad needs to regroup and end this two game losing streak. Both Colorado and New York play at home and let's get another win streak started.