Timbers find positives in loss to Sounders

Tough loss to rival Seattle taught Portland lessons

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — The much-needed win didn’t materialize on Sunday, but the Portland Timbers might have found some things to work with in their disappointing 3-2 loss to rival Seattle.

A formation shift made to shore up the defense also seemed to add some juice to the play up front for the Timbers.

Rookie James Marcelin, who missed several weeks with a right knee injury, was inserted into the lineup in a defensive midfield spot. Wing players Kalif Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe given more offensive freedom when the Timbers had possession.

From his spot behind Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara and in front of the back four, Marcelin was charged with winning possession and moving the ball to open midfielders.

“With the goals we’re conceding, we were hoping to try to plug a little bit of a gap in the middle and give the central defenders a little bit more protection,” coach John Spencer said. “I thought, actually, that James Marcelin was probably the best player on the field for us in the first half.”

In the second half, in which the Sounders scored three goals. Marcelin committed the foul that produced Fredy Montero’s free-kick strike.

“When you play hoding midfield, you’ve got to be focused all the time, all the time,” Marcelin said. “Because (if) only one minute you’re not focused on the game it can (cost you). That’s what happened on the goal from the free kick. I wasn’t focused enough and I had to tackle the player.”

Marcelin said his MCL strain in his right knee is still somewhat bothersome, but that he is determined to be a contributor to a team in need of a win.

Spencer said his decision to insert Marcelin as essentially a fifth midfielder was based on what his team needed, not on trying to match up against a the Sounders.

The adjustment gave more offensive freedom to Diego Chara and to Kalif Alhassan, and each had productive moments.

Alhassan played with some of the offensive imagination that marked his fast start this season, making a charge into the penalty area and the cross that produced the first goal. Chara was perhaps his most visible as a Timber. His charge out of the back sent friend Jorge Perlaza free for his goal.

“I think Diego played well,” Spencer said. “The more we try the formation out, maybe the more comfortable he becomes.”

Spencer, as he has on several occasions, said that foreign players — including some of the league’s top players — sometimes need a season or more to adjust to playing in the MLS.

As for formation adjustments, Spencer did not say what formation he might favor for Saturday’s road match against the Chicago Fire.

The coach did, however, confirm that veteran Kevin Goldthwaite will play at center back in place of Eric Brunner.

Brunner is suspended for the match at Chicago because he drew a red card against Seattle.

Notes

• Marcelin, from Haiti, was one of four members of the 2010 USL Timbers in the starting lineup against Seattle. The others were defenders Mamdou “Futty” Danso and Steve Purdy, and midfielder Alhassan.

• Camas’ Brent Richards scored his sixth goal of the season for the Timbers under-23s in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. Richards is the first Timbers U-23s player to record six or more goals in consecutive seasons. He tallied 14 goals last year in his PDL MVP-winning season.