Platitudes are those wondrous miracles of gift cards intended to fill you with hope and courage for the unknown future. Too often they are used, but people do still look to them to bolster their resolve to persevere. And that should never be derided. We need hope. We need faith. We need to know that things will be A-Ok. Otherwise most things would just suck or they would be the equivalent of the Timbers 2012 season.
We lived through that and so did the team. Though not many players remain from a side that gave Toronto a run for its money at being the worst in the league, the players that did stick know the difference between being a good side and a bad side resides in the execution of a system. Sure, there were other contributing issues but overall the 2012 season was an exercise in directionless play run through a directionless system imposed by a directionless cheerleader who had little reason to be managing a team.
But as they say, what does not kill you makes you stronger. In the case of the 2013 Timbers, they were able to weather a period of 8-9 games where injuries ruled them and their fortunes and limited the amount of time key partnerships were able to spend together on the pitch. In August and July combined, the Timbers took 9 points out of 27 and played as if they were floating in a helium filled balloon that had finally reached its zenith.
Had this been last year the side would have shrunk at the prospect of playing without the numbers this Timber squad missed in those months, and, really, through most of the season. In April, they would have curled into a ball after they lost both David Horst and Mikael Silvestre to season ending injuries, suffered the persistent injuries to Futty Danso and Jack Jewsbury, watched the captain break his shoulder and Chara receive the inevitable suspension for yellow card accumulation, and the list just continued to grow. But they made do.
Despite the fear that the team might not pull through the first two months of summer, they did. It was not enjoyable, it was not beautiful. Indeed, it was some of the most frustrating football to be played and only because they had the chances to succeed yet blew them. They were let down by poor defensive positioning on several set pieces, permitted teams to grow back into games, and they gave up points in the process. They were anything but clinical, and that left them to struggle to make a push for the play offs in the final 7 games of the season.
If they follow the trend set in July and August, the Timbers will collect an additional 9 points and finish the season with 48. With the current strength in competition of the Western conference, that simply will not be good enough to make the play-offs. The Timbers have several must win games in front of them—games that on paper can be considered 3 points in the book. But unlike the emotional cheerleader who once announced unconvincingly to the team they can go to the playoffs well too early in the season, this manager and this side have learned their lessons and look only to the next game.
Thankfully, the next game is against Chivas. While they are not DC United, they are still a bad side with little direction. And in the rough patch of games the Timbers learned about theirs. In the last game, Toronto had several set piece attempts and they were unable score from a single one. Indeed, Toronto had 5 direct shots from corners, one of which was cleared off the line by Kalif Alhassan who proved the point that positioning a man at the farpost is essential to defend set pieces. Though we should not get too far ahead of ourselves in the praise of the Timbers greatest failing this year, especially when the result was against a side that had no actual aerial threat nor any business scoring against the Timbers, but improvement must begin somewhere and given the way they defended against the set piece that result should do wonders for the Timbers confidence going forward.
The return of the captain should also improve the confidence of this side. In that 9 game stretch in July and August, the Timbers were forced to play without their most important and influential partnership. Until the Toronto match, Johnson and Chara had not played together since the first week of July. While the team learned to play without them on the pitch, giving important minutes to Ben Zemanski to show his worth to the club, they were not as effective at controlling possession and midfield play. Against Toronto, Johnson completed 65 of 69 passes for a 94% pass completion rate. Between them, Johnson and Chara had an 89% pass completion rate, and were their typical little balls of destruction on the defensive end.
His return to competitive play also saw Johnson earn a spot in the MLS team of the week. Not that the league gave it to him simply for showing up, he did a few things to justify the honor. To be honest, the lay-off may have been a blessing. Johnson looked knackered over the course of several games. Up to his injury, he had played more minutes than any other player on the side and, whether you believe it or not, minutes do take their toll on a player. Of course we want our best players to always be on the pitch, but an occasional rest may give the side a greater chance for success in the future.
At any rate, the club has weathered a few disappointments this year and they are not dead in the hunt for the playoffs. With the addition of a new face and the return of old faces, things are looking rosier for the rose city. In case you have not yet seen the new boy at the Old Boys, here is the You Tube scouting report.