It wasn't a bad performance from the Portland Timbers Saturday night against Real Salt Lake. Portland's team generally played as well as they could and certainly better than expected in Sandy.
The Timbers were beaten by a better team. A better team with Nick Rimando.
But good teams are a reality in MLS, and Portland didn't play too many in the first six games of the season.
You can't be angry or frustrated with how the Timbers performed. The defense was good - Jack Jewsbury was notably and comfortingly solid. The midfield was terrific, battling to a 50-50 draw in the possession game against the best possession team in the league. Individually, most everyone was capable.
No lashing out here. Just a lot of respect for Real Salt Lake's brand, and especially their goalkeeper.
This game gives you some hope for the season going forward. And yet, the problems were very much there: No forward. No depth. No clean sheet. No goals.
A Timbers player hasn't scored on the road all year. The team hasn't won in seven games to start the season, and the moment Caleb Porter changed his right back down a goal with ten minutes to go was a somber one indeed.
The 2013 team would have moments of brilliance, flashes of inspiration. There was a certain pop every time they took the field, because you just knew something amazing would very likely happen. The 2014 team has no sizzle. If you remove the Seattle game, there hasn't been a single memorable moment from the entire year.
RSL won because RSL has a winning makeup. Kyle Beckerman's strip of Darlington Nagbe stands out as a moment when the division in class between the two teams was clearest. Javier Morales was terrific despite Chara's disruptions.
Ned Gravaboy got some help on his game-winner from a gassed Darlington Nagbe, and Donovan Ricketts, who didn't make a play when his team needed him unlike Rimando at the other end of the field.
To be sure, there were positives in this game. Diego Chara was exceptional - incredibly active, disruptive, and important. Kah and Futty, the wily elders of Gambia, played a very complete game, however rickety they looked.
On the other hand, Maxi Urruti.
This team just isn't constructed well. We saw how good Gaston Fernandez can be tonight, because he was playing his natural position as a central attacker. But that happens to be the same position as Diego Valeri plays, and Fernandez is simply ineffective out wide or up top.
It's also clear that Portland's best back-line is the exact same back-line they had last year. That's not good when one of your two offseason goals was to strengthen that defense. Michael Nanchoff and Alvas Powell off the bench at Real Salt Lake? That sounds to me like a team who is rebuilding, not trying to turn their season around and make the playoffs.
It's frustrating to consistently draw and lose. It gnaws and nags at the psyche of a team.
To be fair, there was zero expectation that the Timbers would win against RSL. They turned in a decent performance, but they have put in one great offensive performance and some strands of good defensive performances in a few games, and that's it. For the entire season.
What are the Timbers' goals for this season anyway? They appear to have gone from winning MLS Cup to winning one game.
I look at the Western Conference and see playoff locks in LA, Salt Lake and Seattle. I see very strong contenders in Vancouver, Colorado, and Dallas. Portland has no chance if they don't have two wins by the end of May.
How desperate is this team? Porter has been playing catchup all season because of the the idea of the starting eleven that the Timbers had on day one of 2014 was so drastically off. He's been playing catchup poorly. He probably lost two to four points by experimenting with Alvas Powell.
Porter isn't going anywhere. Neither is Gavin Wilkinson. No one was bigger believers in the Timbers in 2013 than the Timbers. Than Porter. Than Merritt Paulson.
And now, going on the age-old win at home, tie on the road decree, the Timbers are 0-7 this season.
I think everyone in Portland would like some fire from their coach right now, instead of the cliched, fatalistic dribble from Porter we've been getting since March 8. John Spencer would have killed his cat after three straight road losses.
Will Johnson said of taking positives from the loss, "I’m a little bit sick and tired of hearing that; it’s all about results." He went on to say, "when we get in those big moments we look like amateurs."
The Timbers put in a good performance against Real Salt Lake. It ended in another loss. And that oxymoron is more troubling than anything else.