Changes Need to Come to the Portland Timbers

The Portland Timbers are currently on an eight-game winless streak. Changes, as Manager Phil Neville has hinted at, are coming. What could some of those changes be, well let's take a look.
Portland Timber v Charlotte FC
Portland Timber v Charlotte FC / Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/GettyImages

11 games into the MLS season, and not many could have predicted how badly things have turned out for the Portland Timbers. They are in the middle of an eight-game winless streak, and after a 2-0 defeat on Saturday to Charlotte FC, the Timbers are on the brink of having a disastrous season. 

Where do the Timbers go from here? What do they need to do to course-correct their season, to avoid missing out on the playoffs for a third consecutive season? Those specific answers must be addressed now if the Timbers want to turn this around, as they start an important stretch in their 2024 season. A stretch that can determine the rest of their campaign. 

Fallout from Charlotte

The 2,771 cross-country road trip to Charlotte was not going to be easy for the Timbers. However, a result was not out of the question. Portland has proven they can get a point in difficult road environments, getting a draw in Columbus, Kansas City, and New York FC earlier this season.

A trip to an offensively struggling Charlotte could have done wonders for an inconsistent Timber’s backline. Before the game on Saturday, Charlotte had only scored 10 goals through 10 games, which ranked them 25 out of 29.

That was not to be the case. Instead, Charlotte exercised their offensive demons and scored more than one goal for only the third time this season. With the 2-0 loss, Portland has allowed double-digit goals in 10 out of their 11 games this season. Not optimal. Also, the usual explosive and reliable offense for the Timbers was nowhere to be seen on Saturday, as they were scoreless for just the second time in 2024. 

Manager Phil Neville was not happy after his team’s defeat at the hands of Charlotte FC on Saturday. To say he was disappointed would be an understatement. “I’m probably as angry as I’ve ever been as the Portland Timbers coach.”

The first-year manager continued, “That performance was unacceptable. The goals that we conceded were unacceptable. And I think I’ve been here for 11 games now and it’s pretty obvious that something needs to change. I take full responsibility. I probably should have done it sooner, but there will be changes now.”

This isn't the first time Neville has publicly called out his team. After falling behind to Sporting KC 3-0  in Matchweek 8, the first-year manager questioned the effort of his team and threatened that would be their last game as Portland Timbers. 

What Changes

So, what exactly are the answers to try to fix this year’s version of the Portland Timbers? The obvious answer is the backline. The defensive third is allowing too many goals. Portland has conceded 23 goals this season, only second to San Jose’s 26. They are also expected to concede, 1.79 xGA per game,  second only to Austin FC with 1.80. That is not something a serious team does. 

Is the answer moving to a five-man backline?  Or leaving your two fullbacks Juan David Mosquera and Claudio Bravo, to stay back on attacks. Mosquera and Bravo play important parts in the Timber’s offense, bringing the ball up the field from the wings. However, Mosquera has been known to be a defensive liability at times, which was showcased against their 3-2 loss to LAFC, being subbed out for Eric Miller, the more reliable defensive option. 

If a five-man backline is the answer, then someone will have to be sacrificed on the offensive third. With Evander out with a leg injury, that could be a temporary fix. If the Brazilian is set to miss more games this season, perhaps it would be a bad idea to change the strategy to be a more counterattacking team, concentrating on stabilizing their backline and having the athleticism and speed of their offensive third take over on turnovers and missed shots. 

Once he returns, however, a more permanent option will need to be figured out. Upon his return, Evander needs to be the focal point of the team. Whenever that is. Evander was playing at an All-Star level, and his production is not something you can replicate.

But perhaps more importantly, the impact Evander has to open up the game for the rest of his teammates is the reason why Portland has one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Evander being out against Charlotte FC showed the impact he has in a game. There has been no news if Evander is set to return against the Seattle Sounders. 

Whatever the changes are, Neville will need to act fast as he doesn't want to lose his already criticized locker room. A change in manager is perhaps too soon to be talked about, but a change in strategy needs to be done. 

A Make-or-Break Stretch in May for the Portland Timbers

May will be an important month for the Timbers, as the schedule FINALLY settles down after a rough March and April. During their eight-game winless streak (0-4-5) the Timbers were on the road for 6 of those games. In the next five fixtures in May, Portland will have three very winnable games at Providence Park and two away games -- Minnesota and Austin-- where a point for the Timbers is not impossible. However, they must come into play and implement changes to initiate a spark in the team. 

The first opponent will be Portland’s hated rival the Seattle Sounders. A win against your archnemesis can be a cure-all. The Timbers have to be careful, however, as a loss to Seattle could mean permanent changes to the team. Nothing could correct the season as a big win versus your heated rival. Momentum is on the side of the Timbers in the rivalry, as they are in the middle of a six-game unbeaten streak versus the Sounders (4-0-2). 

After that, they have the only team worse than the Timbers in MLS defensively: the San Jose Earthquake. This game should be a must-win. If Portland can't capitalize against the Earthquakes at home, it might be a longer season than expected for the Timbers. 

After that, Portland travels to Minnesota, hosts Sporting KC, travel to Austin, and hosts the Houston Dynamo. All games that the Timbers not only can get points and results but MUST get points and results. If not, the rest of the season will be an uphill battle and left behind in a very stacked Western Conference.