What to say about the Portland Timbers in their inaugural MLS season?
At 5-7-3, they currently stand at seventh place in the western conference with 18 points in 15 games played.They are nursing a rough patch of 4 losses in their past 5 games, and are still winless on the road.
Those are the negatives.
The positives are that they could easily be doing much, much better. The Timbers have, until their recent setback against Dallas, played inspired and creative soccer. They completely dominated the New York Red Bulls and Colorado Rapids, and it was only dumb luck they didn't win those games.
Take some of the bad fortune that has come the Timber's way in the last few games.
Against the Red Bulls, the Timbers were up 3-2 in injury time when Rodney Wallace inexplicably commits a handball in his penalty area with literally ten seconds left on the clock. New York completes the PK and gets a point.
The Colorado Rapids scored on a set piece with, again, ten seconds left on the clock in injury time. This after the Timbers failed to score on numerous opportunities and dominate possession.
They have converted just one out of four penalty kick opportunities this season.
Kenny Cooper might be the unluckiest player in MLS. In 15 games he only has netted three goals. But, that number could easily be nine or ten goals. He's had four goals, at my count, nullified due to offsides. Goalkeepers seem to turn into the second coming of Peter Schmeickel when he's shooting and have made world-class saves on four or five balls that should have gone in. He could have easily had a hat rick in the Chivas game, but came up empty.
Jorge Perlazza has had three breakaways in the last three games where he was one-on-one with the keeper and failed to score on any of them.
In games against D.C. United and New York, the opposing sides were awarded penalty kicks when Timber players committed hand balls inside their own penalty area. Both penalties were critical to the outcome. I don't think I've ever seen this happen to a professional team.
Unfortunately for Portland, they do play in the western conference. If they were in the eastern conference, they would be in 5th place with 2 games in hand behind 4th place Houston.
This looks like a team with a lot of talent, surprisingly so, but just doesn't quite believe in itself. I do wonder if they need a true Captain, who has been through all of the battles and has a cool head under pressure.
The Flounders, to their credit, have Kasey Keller with years of World Cup experience—and years of playing in the premiership. New York, or course, has Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. Los Angeles has Landon Donovan.
Does Portland need that Talisman, that leader who can keep the ship calm under fire?
That said, below is my assessment of the Timbers after 15 games.
Forwards: I just can't knock Perlazza and Cooper too much. Cooper's work rate is immense every game and, again, it's bad luck he hasn't netted nine or ten balls. He leads the team with 34 shots and 12 shots on goal.
Perlazza is making outstanding runs behind the defense and has great pace—he just needs to convert. I'd like to see him take more shots, as he's only taken 18 all season. A forward needs to shoot the ball!
Mid-Field: Jack Jewsbury is without a doubt the MVP thus far in the season. He's calm, steady and might be the best set-piece taker in the league. He leads the team with four goals and six assists.
Kalif Alhassan has been a find at right mid-field and has five assists. He has outstanding dribbling skills and seems to find pockets of space. He was really running at defenses to start the season and I'd like to see him be more aggressive. He can light up most fullbacks when given the chance.
If there is a player that I'm most disappointed with it's Diego Chara, their central mid-fielder and lone designated player. He has zero points and zero assists in the season. I just haven't seen enough of him to warrant his salary and the designated player tag.
He isn't the play maker that I thought he'd be and he doesn't run at the defenses. He doesn't stop a lot of counter attacks and organize the mid-field. I know he did great playing in Columbia for Deportes Tolima. So, it could be he's adjusting to playing for a new team—in a new country with a different language.
On the other side, Darlington Nagbe hasn't done much to warrant his selection in the MLS Superdraft. He's a serviceable but unspectacular player with no assists or goals. He's now splitting time with Sal Zizzo, who has a bit more pace up and down the wing.
On the defensive side, Troy Perkins has been an outstanding pick-up and is a top class keeper. Eric Brunner is a very good central defender. Rodney Wallace and Jeremy Hall are sometimes good, and sometimes completely unreliable on the wings. "Futty" Dunso plays alongside Brunner in the middle and, again, is sometimes outstanding and sometimes unfocused.
I don't know how good this defense is.
They've had clean sheets against the likes of Columbus, Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake. They've had very, very solid performances against Seattle, Colorado and Chivas.
Then again, they've imploded against New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and D.C. United.
In the past two games they've given up seven goals, and haven't had a clean sheet in almost a month.
Against Dallas they gave up two opening goals off of corner kicks!
This seems like a very young team (which it is) that is having trouble with composure and consistency. They are still learning how to play together.
The defense's focus in the latter part of games is absolutely terrible. They've given up so, so many late game goals, and it just can't continue. They must learn how to maintain focus and deal with pressure until the final whistle.
Otherwise, there's a lot to like about this team. They are much, much better than I thought they would be for an expansion club.
I think coach John Spencer is excellent and the exact type of coach this team requires. He's intense and positive (for the most part), and keeps working with the boys to keep their head's up.
If the team can play like they did against New York and Colorado, then undoubtedly good things will start happening.