After getting embarrassed at home by archrival Seattle Sounders, then managing to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory on the round against Sporting Kansas, one thing managed to be of some solace to Portland Timbers fans. It could always be worse. For example, the Timbers could be Austin FC, an expansion side that ranks near the bottom of MLS in most offensive and defensive categories.
So it would naturally seem that the best thing to fix the Timbers’ woes would be to play Austin FC, which the team had the chance to do on Saturday. Nothing like an expansion team to get a nice blowout win and get things back on track.
Instead, it was the expansion team that blew out the Timbers, scoring three goals in the first 30 minutes of the match en route to an easy 3-1 victory.
There are no moral victories to be found in an embarrassing loss to an expansion team. Sure, occasional hiccups happen to good teams, or a squad can let down their guard playing against a bad side. The Timbers were and are not in a position to do any of that. Not after being utterly embarrassed at home by the Seattle Sounders. Not after giving up a late goal to cough up three points for what feels like the four millionth time in the past few seasons.
If there ever was a time for a change, it’s now. The time has come for the team to change head coaches, and that probably should not be the end of the changes.
Two weeks ago, the team traded Jeremy Ebobisse, one of its few consistent scoring threats, to San Jose. In return, it netted a load of allocation money distributed over the next few seasons. It was a change that allowed the team plenty of flexibility for future acquisitions but did nothing to shore up a leaky defense or an offense that just forgets what it is doing for large stretches.
It also did nothing to help cool down head coach Giovanni Savarese’s hot seat. The man is probably coaching for his job. He knows it, and his team knows it. Yet, their performance is not exactly rallying defenders to his cause.
Since winning the MLS is Back tournament last season in a Florida bubble, the Timbers have regressed to their 2019 tendencies of scoring struggles and defensive lapses. After seemingly hitting rock bottom in a 6-2 shellacking by Seattle, the team found new and inventive ways to just keep digging.
If the Timbers are preparing to try and reload next season with financial flexibility and likely some significant roster changes, why delay the inevitable? If the team isn’t willing to do what it takes to get back above the playoff red line, it’s time to give a new voice a chance on the bench, time to give what young blood there is a chance to fight for spots on next year’s team. It’s time – if owner Merritt Paulson is finally willing – to do what vocal portions of the fan base call for every time the team stumbles and make a change in the front office. While general manager Gavin Wilkerson deserves credit for assembling a roster that won a championship, has a pair of MLS Cup appearances, and won the MLS is back tournament, he has a track record for alienating coaches, failing to develop and retain young talent, and a knack for getting the roster into a financial bind.
If the team is set up to have some financial flexibility next season, it would be best if it had fresh eyes in the front office to use it and fresh eyes on the team’s bench to make it work on the field.