Dear Portland Timbers,
I am sorry. Also, you’re welcome.
Last month I wrote that the time had come for the Timbers to pull the plug on coach Giovanni Savarese and probably also dump general manager Gavin Wilkinson as well. I didn’t take that lightly — it’s fairly routine for a rather loud set of Timbers fans to call for Wilkerson or Sevarissi to be fired after literally anything goes wrong, but at the time, it didn’t seem like things could be going any further in the wrong direction for the franchise. With the way things were going, it seemed like change was both necessary and inevitable.
Let’s review: As of August 21, the Timbers were 1-4-2 in their previous seven matches. Their last three games had seen them embarrassed in a four-goal defeat to archrival Seattle at home, coughing up a late equalizer at Kansas City, and then stomped by expansion side Austin. They had dropped below the playoff qualification red line, had traded one of their best-attacking pieces to fellow western conference side San Jose and generally looked lost, confused, and ambivalent. Savarese appeared unable to inspire the team or make any sort of tactical adjustments, and it didn’t look like the front office was willing to do him any favors to keep his job. Savarese desperately needed the squad to get hot again and to rediscover the success they had seen in the early part of last season.
They certainly seem to have rediscovered at least some of that magic. They also seem to want to prove that I am a big idiot. Since a thoroughly wretched 3-1 loss to Austin FC on August 21, here is how things have gone: The Timbers are 4-0-1 since that date and have impressed in every outing. They got things rolling by returning the favor to Seattle and beating the Sounders 2-0 on the road. Instead of folding late as they did against Kansas City, it was Felipe Mora who put the icing on the cake with a stoppage time goal to put the result away. They then stayed on the road and collected a 2-0 win over Houston and a 1-0 win over Vancouver. It’s impressive for this team to get a road win, much less with a shutout, and then they go and do it over three straight games.
They then came home and gutted out a tough draw against Colorado. Colorado had jumped ahead in the dying moments of regulation thanks to an incredible ricochet shot that found the only possible angle off the far post that could get into the net past Steve Clark. Yet instead of folding up shop, the Timbers rallied for the equalizer, with Sebastian Blanco scoring at the death in stoppage time. Oh, and Timbers played the entire second half with only ten men. It was one of the grittiest performances the club has put up in a long while.
Against LAFC this past Sunday, the Timbers scored early thanks to Dairon Asprilla, only to see that lead vaporize thanks to a penalty for an unlucky handball. Once again, the team refused to let misfortune get the best of them, and George Fochive headed in a cross from Blanco to give the Timbers the lead in the 68th minute. While the Timbers had a third goal denied by VAR, the defense could do enough to see out the match.
Now, just a few weeks after I called for the coach and general manager to be canned, they have won four of five, are back above the redline and have a chance to solidify their place on the ladder with upcoming matches against Real Salt Lake and LAFC. Over the past few weeks, Blanco and Mora have become a force to be reckoned with; Clark has returned to being a steady presence in goal, and players up and down the lineup seem to be settling into their roles and doing what needs to be done. The offense has become more opportunistic, and the defense, while still causing fans to clench up when the team has a one-goal lead late in a match, has proven to be to the task of closing out a game.
To be sure, the Timbers under Savarese have a well-established track record of being streaky. They could easily follow up this hot streak by going on another cold one. At the end of the season, there will still be plenty of questions if the Savarese/Wilkinson combo is the right one to guide the team going forward, but right now, the Timbers are playing excellent soccer, and they appear to be having fun doing it.
The Timbers now sit in fifth place in the conference, just one point back of LA Galaxy, and are four points clear of the red line. A cold streak could send them tumbling right back down, but if they can keep things going, they could absolutely crack the top four as the season enters its final full month of games. If they keep playing like they are right now, this is a team no one wants to face come playoff time.
I seem to be capable of producing one heck of a reverse jinx. So as the team enters the homestretch, I predict they will fall flat on their face and go crashing out of playoff contention. * wink wink * That should do the trick.