Strong's Notes: Don't Panic
The greatest irony of Friday night’s emotional postgame ceremonies between the Timbers players and the Timbers Army was that it had such a sense of finality. The team had lost a game they needed; fans were leaving the stadium with heads bowed at the end of a 2-0 defeat; it was over. Except, it isn’t; far from it, in fact. Despite Friday’s crushing blow at the hands of the Houston Dynamo, the Timbers still have two matches to rescue a playoff spot, and go into Wednesday’s battle with D.C. United in the hunt as anyone else.
The same can be said for D.C. Despite their fourth straight loss on Saturday—and in spectacular fashion, as a 90th minute PK was dissolved into a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Chicago Fire by a pair of stoppage time goals—they’re not out of it either. Both teams pretty much mathematically need a win on Wednesday, and both teams desperately need it to rebuild whatever momentum or confidence was lost in their last outings.
In addition to the irony of last Friday’s postgame emotion, there’s a tremendous irony to the importance of Wednesday’s game: it’s not even supposed to be taking place now. This game was originally scheduled for late August, when the Timbers had roared back to win two straight—and were on short rest for the fourth straight match—while D.C. had just two losses in their previous 11 games. It would have been an important game for playoff positioning to be sure, but Hurricane Irene’s intervention and the lack of another suitable date to reschedule means we have a truly spectacular playoff six pointer on our hands.
There’s a reason it’s printed so big on the front of that book about hitchhiking in the galaxy: it’s one of the more important lessons we’ll carry with us in life. It also applies to this game—with so much riding on the outcome, and so much pent-up emotion waiting to be unleashed at the opening whistle, it’ll be easy for whoever concedes the opening goal, or even has the first few minutes go against them, to crumble.
Say what you will about the referee last Friday night, but Houston had a game plan to come in and be physical. Obviously, whatever response there was wasn’t in the tangible form of goals, and while you can be sure D.C. coach Ben Olson will have taken some note of that, the Timbers have to be prepared to fight back better on Wednesday.
On the other side is a United team that might be a bit shell shocked right now, not just because they’ve lost four straight in a pivotal time of the year, but because of the manner of those losses: becoming the first MLS team since 2004 to take the lead in the final 15 minutes and still lose (vs. Chicago) and becoming the second MLS team ever to concede goals in the first minute of each half (vs. Vancouver). In the two games before that, they had the lead against Columbus; fought back to tie with Philly only to ultimately come away with nothing in both.
The ability of each team to weather whatever storm comes their way—har!—could go a long way to deciding who stays in the playoff race.
Deal with DeRo
He’s an enigma, that Dwayne De Rosario. A few months ago, he was North American soccer’s ultimate White Elephant, a man shipped out by hometown team Toronto FC—on April Fool’s Day of all things—to New York, only to be seemingly dumped three months later to D.C. United for a player, Dax McCarty, who’s struggling to make the field for the Red Bulls. And yet, after twice having to change all the addresses on his magazine subscriptions, he’s caught fire, tied for the league lead in goals, and sparking debates about whether a league MVP can have been traded two times in one season.
The other oddity of the whole situation? De Ro will be playing against the Timbers for a third time this year, for a third different team. In the previous two games—a 2-0 win in March for Toronto FC, and the “I still can’t believe that happened” 3-3 draw with New York in June—he scored a goal and provided two assists.
His best position seems to be in midfield, where he can be more influential on the game with more touches, meaning Diego Chara has his work cut out. If United coach Ben Olson once again elects to move De Rosario up front, it’ll be another battle for Eric Brunner and Futty Danso, who have been nothing short of marvelous most of the last two months. Whoever takes that task, and whoever suddenly is marking him 1 on 1 as the game goes on, had better be sharp, because De Ro is a player with the quality to practically beat you by himself.
The Supporting Cast
Given the injury report lists Sal Zizzo and Darlington Nagbe as both out for this match against D.C., the question as to who will step in for them is a big one. There is a tremendous amount of young potential on the squad but, at this point in the season, it’s not about pretty, it’s not about “almost,” it’s not about the collective “oooooh” of a crowd that appreciates a chance juuuust gone begging. It’s about results; goals, assists, and wins.
The Starting XI, the replacements for Zizzo and Nagbe, and whoever comes off the bench, need to produce those results to get the Portland Timbers where they’d love to be, where I think they deserve to be: the MLS Cup playoffs.
It starts Wednesday night, 5 pm PT, against D.C. United.