For all the ups and downs and inconsistencies of this season, the Timbers all of a sudden find themselves winners of two straight games and right back in the thick of the playoff race. After Wednesday's 2-1 win over Colorado, the Timbers are second in the Western Conference on points and, more importantly, fourth in the conference on PPG (which helps account for the games in hand other teams have on Portland right now).
The rest of the season, then, is about shoring up that playoff place and avoiding a play-in game as much as it is about ensuring the team actually make the playoffs. The Timbers have 21 points still to play for, fewest among the playoff teams (Dallas has three games in hand on the Timbers, and every other playoff team has at least one), so they're not comfortable just yet, but six points from six is exactly the tonic Portland needed.
Relentlessness. For the entire first half, the Timbers poured on the pressure. In the first 10 minutes or so, it looked like it would be one of those nights, as the Timbers bore down on a very compact, low-block-stationed Rapids defense and tried to force their way through, to no avail. Then, in the space of two minutes starting in the 21st minute, the Timbers' hard work paid off, as first Diego Valeri and then Darlington Nagbe found the back of the net. And oh, that Nagbe goal.
VAR. In the 29th minute, Valeri was taken down in the penalty area by Mike da Fonte, and referee David Gantar originally made no call. Soon, though, his finger went to his ear as he strained to hear what the VAR was saying, and then Gantar made the Video Review sign. Shortly thereafter, he pointed to the penalty spot. Granted, David Guzmán wasted the opportunity by sending his penalty wide, but chalk this up as another victory for the forces of VAR. The call was made quickly, with clarity, and with minimal interruption.
Diego Valeri had an excellent game as well.
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Sebastian Blanco. This is a classic case of a good player having a bad night. Blanco had several good chances that he either skied or scuffed; he should have emerged from this night with at least one goal, but it wasn't to be. He did a lot of good work though, so overall I'm not too worried, but this is definitely a night he'll want to forget.
Darren Mattocks. I lost count of how many times in the first half that Mattocks started making a brilliant run and then just stopped. Whether it was fear of straying offside or something else entirely, Mattocks also had a really poor night. He doesn't have the luxury of having too many of those at this stage; Jeremy Ebobisse is right there, nipping at his heels, and doing all he can to make sure Mattocks isn't the automatic replacement for Fanendo Adi on nights the big man doesn't play. Last night was not a great advertisement for the Darren Mattocks Experience, for sure.
The second half. Remember up there when I was talking about relentlessness? Well, that sorta got left in the locker room at half time. The Timbers, as they have done so often this season, came out for the second half a lot more timid and protective than they needed to be, playing with a lead against a team that was showing nothing offensively. Instead of pushing for that third goal, the Timbers tried to slow the game down, and while they were never really in any danger of surrendering the lead, it would have been a far more comfortable win had they second-halfed the same way they first-halved.
David Guzmán. Oof.