Tag Archives: Jorge Perlaza

Trading Places

Portland Timbers recently attempted to kick start their ailing season by bringing Danny Mwanga in from Philadelphia in exchange for Jorge Perlaza. General Manager Gavin Wilkinson indicated that they would be seeking to improve key areas over the next few weeks, so it’s highly likely that the trading is far from over.

Timbers fans hoping to see the team take a step forward this year have been bitterly disappointed by a number of sub-par performances, culminating in a humiliating loss to Cal FC in the US Open Cup.

As the front office look to strengthen their squad over the next few weeks in the hope of kick-starting a playoff push, it seems an apposite time to review their preview dealings in the transfer market.

The system of trades in MLS, while familiar to American sports fan, can seem Byzantine in it’s complexity to outsiders, and that is without wading into the murky waters of Allocation Money.

Regardless, by looking over six of the highest profile trade moves, and addressing the clubs policy in general, can we get an idea of where the club is heading and whether fans have reason to believe that a second year with no playoff soccer can be avoided?

Let’s see…

[learn_more caption=”McCarty / Wallace”]

Dax McCarty was already a veteran of almost 100 MLS matches with FC Dallas, and still only 23, when taken as the Timbers’ first pick in the expansion draft that greeted the clubs arrival in Major League Soccer.

Yet McCarty would only be a Timber for as long as it took to make a deal with DC United to exchange the midfielder for the Costa Rican left-back Rodney Wallace.

Despite his youth and being an important part of the Dallas midfield an abundance of players there, as well as the emergence of Eric Alexander, led Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman to leave McCarty unprotected.

In trading away the US international the Timbers lost a hard-working, combative midfielder, who allied grit with a finesse that delivered 17 assists in his time at Dallas.

On the face of it, the move for Wallace made some logical sense. In building a team from scratch they had also moved for left-back Anthony Wallace as their fourth pick, but had traded him right back to Colorado Rapids in return for allocation money. It left the team with no left-back on their nascent roster, and that role is traditionally one where it is difficult to find quality.

Rodney Wallace, himself a first round pick for DC in the 2009 SuperDraft, already had a couple of years of MLS experience under his belt. He’d also played in the same University of Maryland side as Jeremy Hall, who’d joined the Timbers a couple of days previously, which was something that Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson thought would be “a tremendous benefit” to the team.

In the end, there are few fans who would consider Wallace to have been a benefit to the team. A couple of goals and assists in his first year failed to mask the fact that Wallace has never really set the heather on fire at Portland due to displays that are only consistent in their inconsistency. He never looked comfortable at left back, seemingly better suited to midfield, and yet, when moved to midfield, he looked lost.

He now finds himself behind Steven Smith in the pecking order, and could even be considered third choice for left back behind Mike Chabala. With a substantial cap hit of $110,000 it wouldn’t surprise if he was one of the pieces that the Timbers were looking to move out to freshen up the squad, as they did with his ex-college team mate Jeremy Hall.

McCarty on the other hand would only spend a few months at DC before being traded to New York Red Bulls in exchange for Dwayne De Rosario, where he’s become an anchor in midfield.

While there may have been some sense in the trade at the time, it’s hard for Timbers fans to not to look back on it with hindsight and wince.


Verdict: Qualified Failure


[learn_more caption=”Cronin / Perkins”]

After a fantastic year in the Timbers final USL season in 2010, goalkeeper Steve Cronin was one of the first four players announced as members of the MLS squad.

The stats for that final year certainly indicate that his step-up to the big league was a no-brainer – a 42.86% shutout rate and 114.5 minutes per goal conceded.

However, almost before the ink the dry Cronin had been traded to DC United in exchange for another keeper, Troy Perkins. If the McCarty/Wallace deal was an error on the part of the front office then this trade was nothing short of a masterstroke.

2011 would be Cronin’s second bite at MLS after spells at San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy before dropping to USL. His final year in MLS, 2008 with the Galaxy, saw Cronin play 22 matches and ship 44 goals. Admittedly, it was a difficult year all round for LA but a rate of 2 goals lost per game is not good.

Despite this, DC saw enough in Cronin to grab him for cover. It signalled a premature end to Perkins second spell in the capitol.

A spell in Norway with Vålerenga broke up Perkins’ time at DC. From 2004 to 2007 he made 77 regular season appearances, conceding 97 goals, and won the Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2006.

Signing Perkins was a risk for Portland, though as his return in 2010 was less than glorious. He shipped 37 goals in only 22 appearances, making the 2006 and 2007 seasons seem a long time ago. There was no guarantee he could be that keeper again.

The gamble paid off in fine style as Perkins was a rock at the back for the Timbers in an often difficult debut season. He played 29 times, losing 38 goals, and posted a shutout rate of over 30% for the first time in his career.

2012 has seen Perkins improve further, getting back to his very best form.

2005’s figures are skewed by Perkins having played only two matches that year.

A regular contender for Save of the Week, Perkins has been the saviour of the Timbers on a myriad of occasions.

Cronin, on the other hand, make a couple of sub appearances for DC in 2011, and lost 4 goals to mirror his 2008 MLS season. He was released at the end of the year, and has since left the game to become a State Farm agent.


Verdict: Undoubted Success


[learn_more caption=”Moffat / Chabala & Palmer”]

Adam Moffat clocked a grand total of 239 days with the Timbers, four substitute appearances and a sum of 100 game minutes before being traded away to Houston Dynamo for two defensive players, Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer.

It was another move, like the McCarty deal, that made some sense in the context of the time. Jeremy Hall wasn’t doing enough to justify his place in the team at right back, and on the other flank Rodney Wallace was frustrating all and sundry.

Palmer and Chabala would bolster the squad at right and left back respectively and give, as Wilkinson explained, “more depth at the back and more options.”

The industrious Moffat had found himself unable to break into the side thanks to the coach’s preference for Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara in the middle.

A tough-tackling defensive midfielder, the Scot brought aggression and passion to the pitch, but also knew what to do with the ball when we got it with a good range of passing.

He’d been Portland’s third pick in the expansion draft after coming to the States in 2007 and establishing himself at Columbus Crew despite a serious knee injury early on.

In trading Moffat away, along with a chunk of allocation money, the Timbers bolstered their defence with two experienced players.

Chabala had already played for the Timbers in 2006, when loaned out by the Dynamo. Though much of his time in Houston was on the periphery of the team, 2010 saw him clock up a career high 22 starts. 2011 had seen him return to the fringes, and he had only 2 starts under his belt before being moved on.

Palmer had been a regular for the Dynamo since moving there in 2010 from his native Jamaica. Able to play at full back or defensive midfield, it was in the former role he would establish himself at Portland.

It would be fair to say he’s not won a great deal of admirers among Timbers fans who have wearied of his wayward distribution and ball control. Coach Spencer moved him into midfield this year, and that switch coincided with a marked improvement in defence albeit with a sense that Palmer in midfield carries the cost of curtailing the club’s creativity in attack.

Meanwhile, Moffat no-nonsense style has proved a hit with fans in Houston. He would return to haunt Portland with a screamer from distance when the clubs met a couple of months after the move.

I can’t help but ruefully shake my head when I see Palmer play the role for Portland that Moffat excels in with Houston and think that, even in a 2-for-1 deal, we got the shitty end of the stick.


Verdict: Failure. But only just.


[learn_more caption=”Hall / Alexander”]

As already mentioned, Jeremy Hall had joined the Timbers from New York Red Bulls before the expansion draft, making him the first MLS trade the club had made.

Hall had been in New york since being drafted in the first-round in 2009. A strong debut season boded well for the athletic right-back, but his form tailed off and he found his opportunities limited in his second year.

Though he was quickly installed as first choice for the Timbers, he was a frustrating player to watch. He had fantastic pace, and a willingness to break forward at every opportunity, delivering three assists and getting nine shots at goal – impressive numbers for a full back.

The problem was his willingness to get forward at EVERY opportunity. He was often caught out of position and seemed to lack the defensive awareness his position demanded.

His relatively large salary – around $129,000 – made it difficult to justify so much money being spent of a player who clearly wasn’t living up to expectations. The writing was on the wall with acquisition of Lovel Palmer to play in the same position.

Hall’s time as a Timber came to an end in August when he was traded to FC Dallas for Eric Alexander.

Alexander had been a factor in McCarty being unprotected in the expansion draft, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find Schellas Hyndman willing to let him go, even with the deal sweetened by Portland picking up some of Hall’s salary for the rest of the year.

No-one was more surprised than Alexander himself, but Hyndman’s reasoned that the signing of Daniel Cruz in midfield left them overstocked in that area yet light in defence.

In Alexander the Timbers gained a hard-working, versatile midfielder who carried a salary of less than half that of Hall’s.

Eric has struggled to pin down a starting place for Portland since the move, and has fallen foul of Coach Spencer’s high standards but, despite this, he remains fairly popular with fans, thanks in no small part to his play this season.

Despite being 10th in terms of playing time, he leads the club in assists, and is third for shots taken (591 mins, 3 assists, 13 shots).

Hall, on the other hand, had a torrid time at Dallas. He failed to win over the fans, and even Hyndman later expressed regret about the move.

To be fair, he carried an injury during his time at Dallas which limited his mobility before being traded to Toronto FC where he promptly got injured in preseason. Having only recently returned to action, he played a part in Toronto’s first league win of the season.

Despite Alexander’s lack of first team action even Dallas fans would agree that Portland got by far the better end of this trade.


Verdict: Success


[learn_more caption=”Cooper”]

Though strictly not a trade in the sense of the other deals in this list, it would be remiss of me not to address Kenny Cooper here.

Cooper joined the club from 1860 Munich with high hopes, and Wilkinson raving that the striker was “a great signing” who added experience and a goal scoring pedigree to the attack.

It’s hard to find fault with Wilkinson as Cooper had scored 40 times in 90 regular season matches for FC Dallas before joining 1860 Munich midway through the 2009 MLS season.

Though Cooper struggled to find form in Europe, Timbers fans were still excited by the prospect of him leading the line with over 40% predicting a goal haul in double figures in an online poll.

In the end Cooper never seemed at home in Portland, and would score only 8 times in 34 matches, marking his poorest year in MLS. Those figures get thrown into stark relief by Cooper’s 11 goals in 13 games since being traded to New York Red Bulls in exchange for a first-round 2013 draft pick.

Cooper’s shot accuracy also dipped to 38%, while it averaged 50% across all other years

The reasons for Cooper’s failure to find the net consistently at Portland are hard to pin down. He often seemed without a real purpose or clear idea of his role, and would drift ineffectually all over the pitch in search of the ball, disappearing out of matches like a namesake DB from the back of a Boeing 727.

Despite rare flashes of the potent finisher he could be, the overriding memory of Cooper as a Timber is one of frustration, fans and player alike.

Cooper’s travails are perhaps best encapsulated by an incident in a match against DC United where he had a meltdown from 12 yards. He missed twice from retaken penalties before Jewsbury stepped up to score, and would later be subbed. He was never quite the same player afterwards.

His resurgence at New York, which has seen him touted for international honours, has been a talking point among Timbers fans. Some point the finger at Spencer’s tactics as having doomed Cooper to fail, whilst others see the greater talents – Thierry Henry, Joel Lindepere and, ahem, Dax McCarty to name but three – around him in New York as the real answer.

Cooper’s year in Portland is an example of “right man, wrong place”. It underlines the fact that simply going out and buying the “best” isn’t always the right move if that player isn’t suited to how the club play, or vice versa.

The coaching staff never seemed to be able to bring out the best in Cooper and his role as totemic front man has been taken up this year by Kris Boyd, a striker who broke records back in his native Scotland.

Boyd currently has 4 goals in 12 matches.


Verdict: Kenny Flopping Cooper


[learn_more caption=”Perlaza / Mwanga”]

All of which brings us to the most recent trade. Jorge Perlaza, a polarizing and frustrating player at times, traded to Philadelphia Union for Danny Mwanga.

Clearly it’s too early to call on whether this is a good deal. Perlaza saw a little time towards the end of the Union’s defeat to DC United, though Perlaza did score in a friendly. Having been burnt on seemingly “good deals” before, most fans are wisely taking a wait-and-see approach.

Perlaza’s contribution to the cause was recognised by most Timbers fans, but few shed tears to see the Colombian leave, despite him scoring the first goal at JELD-WEN Field. A record of only 6 goals in 41 matches simply wasn’t enough.

I’ve written in the past about the value I think Perlaza brought to the team, but I can also recognise the sense in this trade. The team are struggling for goals – only Chivas USA have scored fewer in the Western Conference – and a fresh impetus up top may provide the spark they need.

In Mwanga, that spark is a 20 year old, 6’2” striker who hit the MLS at full speed in his first season, scoring seven times in his first 14 appearances. A refugee from DR Congo who had settled in Oregon, he had been drafted first by the Union in 2010.

It would certainly seem on that early evidence that Portland have got the better end of the deal, but the trade is not without its risks.

Since that early burst, Mwanga has found goals and game time under Piotr Nowak hard to come by. Niggling injuries have hampered him, and when he has played it’s often be out of position, or from the bench as Nowak focused on defence over attack.

The trade that saw Sebastien Le Toux join Vancouver Whitecaps this year meant Mwanga lost the one player he seemed to have an intuitive understanding with, and he’s cut a forlorn figure this year, with no goals in his 11 matches.

Worryingly for Timbers fans, if Mwanga’s early form for the Union was taken out of the equation his record is five goals in 47 appearances (526 minutes per goal) – one fewer goal than Perlaza, who’d played six fewer matches (440 minutes per goal).

The change in scenery may do both players the world of good. Certainly Mwanga has looked a lot happier since the trade, and has talked of his return to his “hometown”.

Perlaza’s situation is a little more difficult to read following Nowak’s recent departure, but given the chance he could yet shine away from Portland as Cooper has.


Verdict: Time will tell…


[learn_more caption=”Overall”]

It wouldn’t be fair to say the front office has outright failed in it’s transfer dealings, and neither has it been a roaring success. The truth is there’s been a mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent.

From the ten players selected in the expansion draft, only one has racked up any meaningful first team action – Eric Brunner. Six never kicked a ball for the club with four – McCarty, Wallace, Arturo Alvarez (to Real Salt Lake for a second-round draft pick) and Jordan Graye (to Houston for a fourth-round 2014 draft pick) – traded away and two – Robbie Findley and Jonathan Bornstein – who had left the league.

In terms of moves outwith MLS there’s been tendency to go for almost exclusively Colombian and Scottish targets. Colombians make up the largest non-American bloc in the league and the Timbers have played their part in pushing that number up.

Diego Chara has been a mainstay in the Timbers midfield, and is popular with with fans for his rambunctious style on the pitch. Jorge Perlaza wrote himself into the history books with the club’s first home MLS goal, if not the hearts of the support.

This year has seen three Colombians join – Jose Adolfo Valencia, Sebastián Rincón and Hanyer Mosquera.

Valencia is a huge prospect, but unlikely to see any game time until 2013 due to injury. Rincón is young and skillful, but hasn’t yet got his chance during his loan spell.

Of the three, Mosquera is the one that’s made the immediate impact. He’s a huge presence in the heart of defence and, if he can continue to improve, will undoubtedly prove himself one of the best centre-backs in the league.

Steven Smith joined Boyd, his ex-Rangers teammate, at the end of April following a spell in England. A bustling left-back, his signing has seemed to edge Wallace closer to the door. Rumours swirl linking Portland to a move to another ex-Rangers player, Kenny Miller, but are, as yet, unsubstantiated.

The move to sign Boyd was a big deal. Signed as a designated player, he represents a large financial undertaking. Goals haven’t exactly flowed as yet, and there are some fans who wonder if they will. I still have confidence that he’ll find his feet before too long.

The worry is that the Timbers are often limited in scope when it comes to transfer targets, and don’t seem to address the problems the squad clearly has.

The lack of a natural attacking midfielder has been glaring for some time, and the team still have problems at right back, where Jewsbury has been filling in.

If this article were to be written last year, getting Jewsbury from Kansas City would’ve been viewed a stunning success. Jewsbury had been a solid, if unspectacular, part of Kansas City’s midfield, but during those early months of 2011 he was transformed into a set-piece specialist and driving force behind the Timbers. He delivered eight assists and seven goals in 31 matches, defying all expectations of him.

However, 2012 has seen a regression to the mean. His overall play has slumped, yet there seems a reluctance from John Spencer to drop the man he installed as captain, preferring to fit him in at right back instead.

The recent move to sign Mike Fucito, another striker, from Montreal Impact also confuses me. Is another striker really what the team needs at this point? I’ve no doubt Fucito will give his all, and he’s certainly looked eager in the little game time he’s had so far, but what is the front office’s overall strategy here?

And that is my concern.

At times it seems like there’s no guiding principle as to how the Timbers are working their trades. My own sense is that John Spencer and Gavin Wilkinson seem to have different ideas on the kind of squad they want, and this is leading to there being “Spencer players” and “Wilkinson players” on the roster, with very little overlap in that particular Venn diagram.

The transfer window remains open for some time, and the season is young, so the Timbers can still turn it around and reach the play-offs. The next few weeks will be very interesting in Soccer City USA.



What do you think? Have the Timbers trade dealings worked for you, or not?

Sound off below.

The New Mwanga

The Timbers took advantage of an extended mid-season break to engineer a trade with fellow strugglers Philadelphia Union which saw Jorge Perlaza leave Portland, and a homecoming of sorts for Danny Mwanga, who made a similar trip to his old strike partner Sebastien Le Toux, who left in preseason, to the Pacific Northwest.

It’s an interesting move by the Timbers front office. In retrospect it’s not hard to see that Perlaza was the obvious trade bait on the squad. He’s a guy who’s underappreciated by a large section of fans – so unlikely to cause uproar by being sent away – but clearly has enough about him for those within the game to value him highly. He’s experienced, tough, cheap, hard working and will fit right in at Philly, where he has a number of fellow countryman around him. Continue reading The New Mwanga

The Intangible Man

I mentioned in my match report for the Vancouver matc that there was more I’d have liked to write about Jorge Perlaza’s role in the match, but was limited by what I could illustrate thanks to Major League Soccer Soccer Dot Com’s pitiful match “highlights” package. Well, fortunately (or not…) I now have access to MLS Live, so let’s do this thing.

There’s no doubt that Perlaza is a player that will divide fans. I’m of the opinion that he’s a valuable asset to the team, and a great foil to Kris Boyd. Others will point to a poor shots-on-goal rate, or his erratic finishing and ask, what’s the point in a striker that doesn’t score goals? Continue reading The Intangible Man

Beautiful Ugly

Football is often called “The Beautiful Game” but those who went looking for it at Jeld-Wen Field on Saturday would’ve been sorely disappointed. The unbeaten juggernaut that is Sporting Kansas City came visiting with the Timbers at a low ebb – four defeats in a row and no wins since the opening day – so it’s little wonder that the match bore more resemblance to trench warfare than Joga Bonito.

In the end, the Timbers stopped their losing run, and put paid to Sporting’s perfect start, with a scrappy, hard-fought 1-0 win. It was an ugly match; the kind of beauty that could only be appreciated by a parent, or in this case, a victor.

The Timbers knew they would face a physical team in Kansas City. They press high, they press hard and they take no prisoners. Any timidity or hesitation and the steamroller would’ve rolled right through Portland and left a team crushed by a fifth defeat on the spin. This was, after all, a match with 28 fouls and a couple of scuffles although, I never really thought it was especially dirty.

The Timbers not only stood up to the challenge, they pushed right back. They were physical and determined right from the first whistle and never allowed their opponents a moment to settle, hunting in packs to close off those in light blue.

In my match preview, I’d talked about Sporting’s effort and work rate, and the Timbers matched that and more, with Spencer taking a risk in his team selection. Injuries perhaps forced his hand to a degree, but the decision to play Lovel Palmer as a defensive midfielder could so easily have been one that backfired on the coach.

Instead, Palmer rose to the challenge with a seasons best performance, snuffing out much of the threat offered centrally by Graham Zusi. Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe played out wide, with Jack Jewsbury offering an extra insurance policy in the centre. Jorge Perlaza and Kris Boyd led the line, with the Scot in particular relishing the battle against Aurélien Collin, who he had faced before in Scotland when Collin was part of the single worst team I have ever seen in the SPL, Gretna. (Honestly – eye-gougingly, breaking out in hives just remembering, dreadful.)

Given the height and physical presence on the Kansas City attack, it’s little wonder that most of their threat came, as Phil Collins once said, in the air tonight but here Eric Brunner and Hanyer Mosquera did very well. Though they didn’t win every header, they were alert to the second phase and, with help from Steve Purdy and Mike Chabala, were able to clear the danger. Sporting thrive on the chaos they can cause in the box, often scoring scrappy goals from rebounds, but they rarely got much of a sniff in the Timbers box and that’s a credit to the defensive organisation of Spencer’s team.

But the defensive side of the Timbers game wasn’t just about winning second balls and hoofing it clear, they also did a fantastic job in nullifying the threat that Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic offer down the flanks. I was worried when I saw the Nagbe was playing out left as his natural inclination to attack could’ve left Chabala wide open to an overlapping Myers run, but Nagbe did fantastically well in keeping Myers out of the game with defensive covering.

Nagbe was also able to force Myers onto the back foot, pinning him back into his own half for much of the game. So much of Sporting’s play is about exploiting the flanks to work the ball across for their big target-men strikers, but Myers wasn’t nearly as effective at this as he has been in the past.

In previous trips to the West Coast, Myers has proven to be a useful attacking outlet, but up against Nagbe and Chabala, he didn’t get many touches of the ball in the final third.

A poor night was compounded for Myers when he headed home the only goal of the match, right in front of the massed ranks of the Timber Army. A hopeful floated cross from Boyd seemed to be going nowhere in particular until Myers nodded past his own keeper at the back post, under a challenge from his own team-mate. Whether it’s an own goal, or a thirty yard screamer into the top corner, all goals count the same and it put the Timbers on their way to an important victory.

The move that led to the goal was started by Diego Chara sweeping up a loose ball. Chara revelled in a role that allowed him to go both ways, rather than just staying back. He was up and down the field all night, even switching flanks at times with Nagbe so that he covered just about every inch of the field in the course of 90 all-action minutes.

There was some confusion over Chara when he was signed. Was he an attacking midfielder, or a defensive one? The truth is I think he’s neither, and yet both at the same time. He’s the guy who’ll nip at heels in defence, win the ball back, and then give and go. He has a great engine, as was shown in a great chance right at the start of the second half.

This was counter-attacking football straight out the text book. The passing was crisp and direct, and the off-the-ball running timed to perfection. Sinovic’s attempt to play the high pressing game backfired on him as Chara simply outpaced him. This running is an aspect of his game we don’t see often enough given he’s usually played in a holding role, but he is deceptively quick – covering a good fifty-sixty yards in six seconds – before delivering a, forgive me, slide rule pass that Boyd got on the end of and probably should’ve done better with.

Chara's defensive work
Chara played his wide role very well, even though it’s clearly not his natural position. This versatility is a great asset for the team. He often ranged in field, as you’d expect, and it’s here that he won most of his tackle and turnovers. He was able to do this, and abandon the flank thanks, in part, to the excellent work of Perlaza.

I got a bit of stick for my defence of Perlaza a while ago – though many more agreed with me, at least on some points, which is always nice to see – but I thought he was magnificent here once more. If anyone did have criticisms about Perlaza before, it was generally along the lines that he does a lot of (often pointless) running but with very little end product, and poor link up play. His link-up play against Sporting was beyond reproach and if he’d been a bit greedier, and willing to stick out his left foot, he could’ve scored from Chara’s pass in the breakaway.

A goal would’ve been fine reward for his performance but even without that tangible reward, his running kept the Kansas City back line wary, and that was a crucial cog in the Timbers defensive strategy. The best defence begins at the front.

And in a quirky little statistic that I like to throw out on twitter from time to time, Perlaza has now started in 12 of Timbers’ 13 MLS wins – the most of any player on the roster, and has a win rate of 40%, compared to the Timbers own 31.7%. Funny, that.

Perlaza's heat map
Collin was given the unenviable task of marshalling Boyd – a fascinating duel within a duel there that would probably have resulted in a marginal points victory to Boyd – which left Besler to pick up Perlaza, except Perlaza often pulled out wide right leaving Besler with little to do. The man-marking of Boyd seems to be an emerging trend this year, and having someone with the mobility of Perlaza is ideal to exploit this close attention on his strike partner.

Perlaza’s shift to wider areas had the effect of keeping Sinovic in check and with Convey having a pretty poor game and his replacement, Teal Bunbury, not being a natural wide man, it cut Kansas City off from their own left flank.

The sterling work out wide forced Kansas City to try and play through the centre, where the Timbers had numbers in their favour. They were reduced to looking to long range efforts or set plays for their best chances, and the Timbers did a good job of defending these – again dominating the second ball and forcing it clear of the danger area before a Sporting player could pounce.

As I wrote about in the preview, exploiting the space behind Myers and Sinovic was going to be the key that unlocked the Kansas City defence, and that’s what Chara saw with his run round the outside of Sinovic for the earlier chance. It was a route the Timbers tried to take a number of times and with a bit of luck, could’ve profited from.

A look at the Timbers passing from their own half just shows how often they would look for the direct ball out of defence in an attempt to spring a quick counter on Sporting.

What should also be noted is these weren’t simply hit-and-hopes or wild clearances. You can clearly see the targeting of the passes towards the wide areas.

I’ve given John Spencer some stick over the last few weeks, and I maintain every word was warranted, but tonight he played a perfect game. He set his team up to cancel out the threats of Kansas City, got some outstanding performances from his players, and had a clear counter-punching strategy that was effective.

It was a strategy that gave a lot of possession of the ball to Kansas City, but in all honesty possession is overrated. It’s actually a very poor indicator of victory. The assumed correlation of possession and goals scored is one of the great myths of football. It’s not how long you have the ball, or how many passes you string together, it’s where you do it that counts and the Timbers were all about denying Sporting access to those areas, whilst looking to go direct in exploiting them in return.

Jack Jewsbury’s got a bit of stick here too, but I thought he was much improved. Perhaps having Palmer behind him gave him the confidence to play a little more freely, but whatever it was, he looked like a player with a weight off his shoulders.

One result doesn’t make a season – Timbers are still bottom of the Western Conference – but it has stopped a slide that was threatening to effectively end Timbers play-off hopes before we’d even hit May. With a match against Montreal Impact next week, this is a great chance for the team to turn the momentum round and start climbing the table again.

It was also pleasing to see the team do everything I hoped they would do…

Okay, I got the minute wrong, and the body part, but close enough!

Oh, and in terms of Man of the Match, it’s Chara for me. The team as a whole played well, so it’s difficult picking one out, but I loved Chara’s industry and guile.

It’s only one win, a scrappy three points thanks to an own goal, but there’s heart back in the Rose City, and if they can build upon this, it could be looked back on as the catalyst for a famous year for Cascadia’s finest.

You cannot stop us.

Portland Timbers 2 Real Salt Lake 3

Losing a match is always tough. Losing it in the last few minutes of a match is even tougher. Losing it from a winning position in those last few minutes…

It’s little wonder then that emotions ran high among Timbers fans in the aftermath of a spirit-crushing 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake. Having clawed their back from a 1-0 half time deficit to lead 2-1, thanks to two routine wonder goals from Darlington “Yeah, I Just Did That” Nagbe, it looked like the Timbers were going to score three crucial points in a tough battle for the play-off’s in the Western Conference. But back came RSL with a sickening 1-2 at the death.

It’s natural for people to look for an explanation for such a dramatic turnaround. For some, it was the ref’s fault, though I can’t follow that logic myself. The ref, or his assistants, didn’t have a great game by any means, but they didn’t lose this match for Portland.

For me, the match was lost because of individual errors, both on field and off. Continue reading Portland Timbers 2 Real Salt Lake 3