Saturday night’s loss to Chivas USA was more than another disappointing result, more than another failure in the already poor Gavin Wilkinson era, and more than our fifth MLS loss in a row. It was our sixth and final game of the season against Portland’s favorite city to hate (except Seattle, of course) - Los Angeles. Six games, six losses. Those games have seen 18 points left on the table, the difference between the last-place Timbers and the 3rd-place Sounders.
The Army was never particularly happy about Gavin Wilkinson’s appointment as interim head coach, but that whisper is starting to turn into a roar. As much as I agree that Gavin has earned himself a quick exit, I’m going to defend him a little on this game. Hear me out before you turn your pitchforks on me too.
Gavin can train with the team during the week, put out a team and formation, and choose the substitutes. It’s an old cliché, but he can’t put the ball in the net for them. When I see a team that is out-possessed, a team that fails to create chances and struggles to do anything positive, I say “There’s a badly coached team.” But that wasn’t us on Saturday night, especially in the first half. We dominated for long stretches, and created chance after chance, only to see them wasted by our forwards. Boyd had probably his worst night as a Timber (in MLS, that is. Cal FC doesn’t count) and Nagbe’s finishing was equally poor. Time after time, we had a man in front of goal with a chance, and every time it went begging.
The team that went out against Chivas wasn’t a perfect one, but it was a sufficient one to beat them. So on the first half of Gavin’s job - setting up the team and formation - I’m going to give him a pass. Unfortunately, I can’t be as kind with the second half. The substitutions were once again really poorly done. Boyd was having one of those nights where he couldn’t hit a barn door, and by the hour mark it was clear that he wasn’t getting any better. He had to come off, with enough time for a backup like Fucito or Danny Mwanga to make a real contribution.
Instead, Boyd finished the game, looking as tired and distracted as ever. Mwanga came on in the 86th minute, subbed in for a defender. I’ve never seen the point in a substitution that late when trailing, especially in the forward position. It takes time to get into the game, and Mwanga should have been in for Boyd at least 20 minutes earlier. It was a mistake by Gavin, pure and simple, and he should own it.
There’s no sunny way to look at where we are. Last in the league, miles from the playoffs, losing to mediocre teams at home. As I’ve said before in this space, the bright spot in our season is the Cascadia Cup. If we perform well in those four games, two each against Seattle and Vancouver, we’ll have a trophy at the end of this mess. Otherwise, 2012 has to be seen as a huge disappointment. I love my team, and I love being at the stadium regardless of the results. I and the rest of the Timbers Army will continue to love this team to much lower depths than this. But a little relief would be nice, to break up the last month of defeat. RCTID.