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Crossing the Touchline: Timbers at Crew

Who are this Portland side that are off to a slow start to 2019?

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It was not long ago that the Portland Timbers were walking on to the the field at Mercedes-Benz for the 2019 MLS Cup Final. Although the team left defeated, it was an accomplishment for the Timbers to make the final in the first year under new head coach Giovanni Savarese. What has happened with Portland since then has not been as exciting.

The Timbers began the 2019 Major League Soccer season knowing they faced the daunting task of 12 straight road games as renovations finished on Providence Park. Over the first six matches of the new year, Portland has just one point and struggled both offensively and defensively. Saturday, the Timbers come to MAPFRE Stadium to take on Columbus Crew SC.

To get a better sense of what’s going on with Portland, we spoke with Zach Kay, managing editor of SB Nation’s Stumptown Footy. Here is what Kay had to say.

Questions for Stumptown Footy

Massive Report: It’s another slow start for the Timbers in 2019. How much of that do you put on being on the road to start the season and what’s the concern level in Portland right now?

Stumptown Footy: The extended road trip is definitely a factor in the slow start, but I think it’s inarguable that the Timbers have some bigger issues which are perhaps just being exposed more than they would have been with a regular home/away balance. As far as the concern level here in PDX, I would put it at moderate-high. I think everyone expected that the first half of this season would be difficult, but I don’t think anyone expected to only have one point after six games or for the team to look so bad.

MR: It seems Gio Savarese has used multiple formations since taking over the team last year, and he obviously had things working last year with the run to the MLS Cup Final. Recently the Timbers have played a 5-3-2 that you don’t see too often. What’s the best shape for this team and what do you expect to see on Saturday?

SF: Gio is definitely a bit of a tinkerer, and he’s not afraid to adjust when things aren’t working. So far, with the defensive issues the Timbers have had this spring, the team’s best performances have come in the 5-3-2, and I would expect to see that again Saturday in Columbus.

MR: Coming off the trip to the MLS Cup Final, what were the expectations coming into the year for Portland? Have those changed at all following the slow start to the year?

SF: Coming into the season, the expectations were high. The roster is largely the same as the one that went to MLS Cup last year, and I think most people expected the team to continue performing at a high level. Obviously, with the way things have started, expectations are tempered. It’s still early in the season, and as we saw last year from D.C., it’s possible for a team to have a tough, long road stretch to start the season and still turn things around to make a strong playoff run. That’s especially true with a strong DP arriving midway through the year; something Timbers fans are expecting to happen sooner than later. That said, at this point I think making the playoffs is now the ceiling of fans’ expectations for 2019.