The past few weeks have been full of action as the Portland Timbers returned from the Gold Cup break in 4th place in the Western Conference standings. The United States enjoyed a 2-1 win over Jamaica in the finals. Alvas Powell and Darren Mattocks represented Jamaica in their battle against the Americans, a team featuring teammate Darlington Nagbe, with his Sounders teammates in tow. Seattle’s Jordan Morris sealed the final in the 88th minute, pouncing on a loose ball in the box and driving it home, earning the US their 6th Gold Cup trophy. Timbers Midfielder David Guzmán represented Costa Rica in the tournament.
The second half of the season got underway in a rather seasick manner on July 19th, as the Timbers Army and another sold crowd witnessed below average Real Salt Lake score four goals on their way to a 4-1 road win at Providence Park. Jack Barmby is the one who scored, in case you’re wondering.
Whether it is due to injury, suspension or international duty, all teams’ depth is tested at this point in the season, and the deepest teams always make the deepest runs into the playoffs. Wondering what that looks like? Toronto FC, last year’s “second place is the first loser”, who were left to watch the Sounders celebrate an MLS Cup victory on their home turf. Toronto lead the Supporter’s Shield race by nearly two games and show no signs of slowing down.
That lousy showing against Salt Lake was soon balanced by a 2-1 victory over Cascadia rivals Vancouver. Currently the Timbers lead the Cascadia Cup standings with two wins, one loss and one draw. They play Seattle and Vancouver once more each, at Seattle on August 27th and at home on Decision Day against Vancouver on October 22nd.
Following the Cascadia showdown, the Timbers secured a precious road point with a 2-2 draw in Houston, where they faced a Dynamo team with one of the best home records in MLS. Just as the altitude in Colorado helped the Rapids take points at home in record fashion last year, the unrelenting summer heat in Texas plays a similar role in Houston. The Dynamo have yet to lose at home and have only tied three games, winning the other eight.
The Timbers were led once again by midfielder Diego Valeri, who picked up his 48th career goal and 50th career assist in the match. The assist gave Sebastián Blanco his fourth goal in the past eight games. Blanco is finally making me feel like I knew what I was talking about when I introduced his arrival in Portland with an article promising: Goals, Goals and More Goals.
Wednesday night is the MLS All Star game in Chicago. Representing the Timbers is Valeri, who will find himself squaring off against one of the best teams in the world, Real Madrid. Valeri participated in the skills competition, part of this week’s All Start Game fesitivities, and helped his team take top honors. The week also features sand soccer on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Next Sunday marks the Timbers return home, where they are set to face the LA Galaxy and their new head coach, Sigi Schmid. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Schmid was the head coach of the Seattle Sounders from 2009 until just over a year ago. Schmid was replaced by long time assistant Brian Schmetzer who took over as the Sounders went on their unprecedented late season run, sneaking into the playoffs on Decision Day and eventually earning their first MLS Cup in club history. No doubt the fans will show no love to Sigi, nor to the Galaxy, who drew the Sounders 0-0 at home last weekend in Schmid’s first match at the helm.
Although the Galaxy have struggled so far this season, rarely finding a flow in attack and dealing with considerable issues protecting their goal on defense, the team is starting to look like its old self, several key players having recently returned from injury and international duty. They will be without defender Jelle Van Damme, who was suspended after being shown a second yellow late in the match against the Sounders.
This is a huge weekend for the Timbers, who are looking to set the tone for the rest of the season. The Timbers will look to move up in the Western Conference standings with a victory at home. Right now they sit just five points out of first place, with Kansas City, Dallas and Houston ahead of them while those damn Sounders and Whitecaps follow closely behind.
After all of the struggles throughout the first half of the season, including injuries and international absences, the Timbers still find themselves above the red in line and holding strong to a Western Conference playoff spot with just eleven matches left in the season.
Video Review Makes its Debut in MLS
One key thing to note going into next weekend’s match against the Galaxy is that it will mark the first day of matches utilizing Video Assisted Referee (VAR). If you are looking for an in-depth explanation of VAR, MLS released an hour long video explaining the ins and outs of the new system, complete with examples for each situation in which VAR affects the game. Don’t worry, they also released a two minute video explaining the same thing.