Last week I wrote that the Portland Timbers had some big questions to answer, and how they answered them would show how their season would go following a string of difficult losses. The bad news is the Timbers have more questions following a devastating injury to Andy Polo on Saturday, but the good news is they seem to be figuring out the right answers so far.
The Timbers put up a terrific display in difficult circumstances over the past week, winning a pair of matches by multiple goals and not giving up a single tally in return. With a roster devastated by injuries, the team had to use an emergency roster exemption to grab a starting keeper. Logan Ketterer was acquired on loan for the remainder of the season from the USL and immediately slotted into the starting lineup. Elsewhere the Timbers were already down to their second or third options at defender and midfielder spots and now have to dip even further at midfield after a terrifying tackle took out Polo just before halftime against LA Galaxy.
The good news is that even with the injuries, the Timbers are playing some smart soccer. Teams beset by injuries the way the Timbers have been can have things go wrong in several ways. The injuries can break the back of a team, and things can fall apart across the board. They can become passive and hope to get through the stretch without too much damage done. Or they can get hyper-aggressive to try and overcompensate for the injuries only to watch their opponents take advantage when they get caught pushing too hard.
To their credit, the Timbers did none of those things this past week. Giovanni Savarese has his team placing pressure on the opposition while trying to paper over the injuries as best he can. So far, the tactic has worked. San Jose never mounted a big threat in a 2-0 Timbers road win, and then the Timbers used three second-half goals to put away a tough LA Galaxy side. To be fair to the Galaxy, they played the entire second half with 10-men. That was because Polo was wiped out by an utterly reckless play by Galaxy defender Derrick Williams that will probably see Polo out for most, if not all, of the remainder of the season.
Felipe Mora came on for Polo and filled in more than admirably, scoring a pair of second-half goals as the Timbers kept the pressure on Galaxy. The Timbers could have just waited for an opportunity to present itself, as they have done so many times in the past, but they didn’t do that. They could also have pushed forward out of frustration to try and take advantage of the 10-men opposition and left their new keeper exposed on counterattacks, but they didn’t do that either. Instead, the Timbers just kept up the same consistent pressure they had been presenting before Polo went down.
The Timbers cracked open the Galaxy by sticking with a solid plan and made their own luck with three second-half goals. If the Timbers can keep that up in the face of mountain injuries, they will be successful. Savarese will need to continue to resist the temptation to go passive and wait for opportunities. The Timbers don’t have the depth or youth left to sit back and hope a playmaker makes a play. They will need to continue to apply pressure and put players in an opportunity to be successful. With all the changes and adapting the team has to do, it won’t always be pretty. But it’s working — and that’s what counts.