This was going to start eventually. Letting a two goal lead against the Chicago Fire slip last Saturday was the straw that broke the camel's back. Now, we're hearing this: The Portland Timbers have to start winning games. The Timbers have to stop blowing leads. The Timbers can't win a road game. The Timbers can't close out a victory. I say, enough. And be careful what you wish for.
Yes, the Timbers blew it in Bridgeport on Saturday. Shame to, because a Portland side depleted by international call-ups was coasting by a solid Fire team on the road. But one slip-up between Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Milos Kocic - aided by a timely push from Mike Magee - and an unstoppable free kick wrestled two points away from the Timbers.
It was a tough one to swallow, but there were many positives. The Timbers remained unbeaten on the road and unbeaten in their last 13 games. Those are FC Barcelona numbers. The offense looked frisky; Portland plunked in two great goals and at the end of the day, they couldn't seal a victory. No harm, no foul.
Individual games don't matter in MLS for their impact on the standings. With the overall parity of the league, and mostly MLS' Americanized playoff system, the Timbers winning or drawing in Chicago will have no bearing on what happens to this team at the end of the year. The Timbers will be comfortably in the playoffs. They'd like to win every game, but they know that's not practical, and it's not a problem.
So let's not make it a problem. Win your home games, draw your road games is cliché, but it's also a tried and true recipe for success. Portland is unbeaten on the road. Away victories are gravy. The Timbers are taking care of business at home, and they just may not lose again until 2023. So let's not try to create a problem where there isn't one.
While we're at it, let's also dispel the notion that the Timbers are incessantly blowing leads. Portland has come from behind to win or draw six times this year, and five of those games were on the road. How many times has Portland blown a winning position to lose or tie? Only twice: last Saturday and the game in San Jose in May.
Chicago didn't expose any weakness Saturday; they didn't rip open a festering wound that Caleb Porter now has to scurry to patch up. It's sports. These things happen. Especially in a sleepy little Chicago suburb in the middle of June, when the real event was the Chciago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings NHL Western Conference Finals game across town. One mistake, one great goal. Credit to Chicago, they battled back, and I bet they're in the playoffs in the fall. The Timbers will be there too. And if this happens again then, we can talk.
For now, a little perspective would be nice. The Timbers were a last place team last year. A bad last place team. The year before that, the Timbers were a sort of lukewarm mediocre, but the vibe around Jeld-Wen in 2011 was that the team couldn't hold onto a game in the 80th minute onwards.
The Timbers don't have that problem this year. They're one of the best teams in the league. They're halfway through a season in which they've only lost once. There's a coaching star on the sideline and leadership and talent all over the field. In fact, the Timbers would be well within their rights to tell every complaining fan to sit down, shut up and be happy.
They won't of course, because Caleb Porter is right there with you. He's a perfectionist who was reaming out his center-backs at halftime of a US Open Cup game against the Wilmington Hammerheads with his team leading 4-0. You bet, that blown lead stings.
But it changes nothing. We have a tendency in our 24 hour media today to try to bend every game, every passage of play into an overall bigger picture. Problem is, every moment isn't going to fit into one puzzle. Portland stomped out DC United in their last MLS game with authority and five goals against Wilmington shows a lack of complacency, as does a three-goal shellacking of Chivas USA in the team's last league home game.
Portland is about to enter an important stretch in their schedule. They play at Jeld-Wen Field three times the rest of June and take on Western Conference rivals FC Dallas, LA Galaxy, and Colorado Rapids before the month draws to a close. If the Timbers blow another lead or two, then we have a problem. Until then, there's nothing to worry about.