PORTLAND, Ore. – Coming off a 1-0 victory over the league’s hottest team in Sporting Kansas City, the Timbers headed to Montreal last Saturday and played to a limp, 2-0 loss against the expansion Impact.
It shed light on two areas of concern. One is a familiar demon, with both goals conceded coming in the final 15 minutes. The other is something new: the sudden inability to create any kind of offense.
In the last two games, the Timbers have no goals with just six shots on target. (The win over Kansas City came courtesy of a Chance Myers own-goal.) And for a team with five losses in their last six, getting things turned around with the Columbus Crew coming to town for a Saturday meeting at JELD-WEN Field (7:30 pm PT, Presented by The Home Depot, KPTV Fox 12 | Timbers Television Network, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM) has been the theme of the week.
“You can’t complain of offense if you don’t create offense,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “You can have two of the best strikers in the world up there, but if you don’t give them quality service they’re not going to score goals.”
And therein lies the problem.
Spencer has fielded a defense-oriented lineup the last two games by shifting outside defender Lovel Palmer to a midfield position. That’s pushed defensive midfielder Diego Chara to a wing. And Spencer has plucked forward Darlington Nagbe from his spot alongside Scottish striker Kris Boyd and placed him on the other wing, putting Jorge Perlaza at forward.
The results haven’t been stellar.
Boyd, who had three goals in the Timbers first six games, has been limited to one shot on goal in the past two. Perlaza has no shots on goal in the same time. Nagbe had two shots on goal against Montreal, but neither was dangerous.
The theme is clear.
“As strikers, all we can do is get ourselves in the box and hope the ball comes in from the wide areas,” Boyd said. “But it’s not as easy as that. The team as a whole has not been defending properly, from the front to the back. We have not been attacking properly in terms of squeezing the game and making it difficult for opponents.”
Spencer acknowledged that injuries – namely to winger Kalif Alhassan – have forced his hand in some ways, putting Nagbe in a spot that doesn’t optimize his talents. All three of Nagbe’s goals have come with him at either the attacking midfield spot or at forward.
“He’s the coach, so I’m just going to do whatever he tells me to,” Nagbe said. “I don’t think it’s a panic button at all. I think it’s just getting different looks out there and seeing what works best.”
There also is no indication from Spencer that the formation will change against Columbus, with Alhassan still likely out and midfielders Franck Songo’o and Eric Alexander coming off the bench the past two games.
“We’ve proved that, in the past against good teams that are at the top of their game, we can win in style,” Spencer said. “And we need to get back to playing some good football and creating good opportunities for our forwards and midfielder players to score.”
Boyd said the team has hit the video room this week and made strides during training. And if the team wins “ugly,” like they did with an own goal from Kansas City, then, well, they’ll gladly take it.
“It’s been difficult after the result last week, but we need to stay positive, remain positive and look forward to the game Saturday,” he said. “We keep saying this every week, but we need to start winning games. It’s as simple as that. We know everybody is starting to get frustrated, but the lads are all still together and we’re still fighting and we want to the best we can for the club.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.