The Seattle Sounders played the Portland Timbers just two weeks ago, but a lot has changed for both teams. Portland has a star attacker injured and the Sounders have been flying after beating San Jose and LAFC. I chatted with Kyle Garcia from Stumptown Footy ahead of the match on Wednesday night.
Sounder at Heart: So, the Timbers played San Jose twice last week. One was a 1-1 draw, and the other one was a 6-1 win for Portland. What did Portland do differently in the second match?
Stumptown Footy: The simple answer is they inserted Diego Valeri back into the lineup. The Timbers rested him in the first match and also brought Jeremy Ebobisse in off the bench. The Maestro had a brace and an assist in the second match and seemed in complete control when out there, while Ebobisse started in his natural position as a striker, where he looked way more engaged and also put in a goal.
The more nuanced answer is that they did a better job forcing San Jose wide on Saturday to make space for runs at the goal. They also had a problem turning the ball over in the first match, costing Portland too many opportunities early. They handled that aggressive San Jose defense a lot better the second night, better maintaining possession and not giving the Quakes easy opportunities.
SAH: Sebastián Blanco got injured the last time Portland played Seattle. How has the team been doing without the DP attacker?
STF: The offense hasn’t actually struggled as much as I thought they would. The MLS is Back Tournament MVP obviously brought so much to the pitch in terms of his versatility offensively, but Portland hasn’t actually done a bad job creating chances for themselves (as the 6-1 scoreline against San Jose would suggest). And it’s worth remembering that Portland won that last Seattle match even though Blanco tore his ACL very early on. Essentially, it’s not easy without Blanco, but offensively the Timbers have been able to make up for it.
SAH: The Timbers still haven’t kept a clean sheet since MLS play has restarted. What’s going wrong defensively?
STF: Boy, has this been a problem. Since the MLS is back tournament they’ve conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes of both halves than any other team, if I’m remembering correctly. But it’s not that they’re necessarily horrible defensively; occasionally teams will target the left and right backs and stretch them out farther than Portland would like, but it’s nothing they can’t adjust to. It’s more that they’re pretty good defensively for about 80 minutes, but then there’s a 10-minute burst where they give up a flurry of goals. That’s how they ended up with only a draw against Real Salt Lake and a 4-2 loss against LAFC; they would lose the ball in the midfield and then get into panic mode trying to make a stop. It also didn’t help that Larrys Mabiala missed most of last week with a leg injury, but thankfully he’ll be available against Seattle on Wednesday. But Portland still has to stay focused defensively for the whole 90 in order to come out victorious.
The reserve questions can be found over at Stumptown Footy’s website.