Tonight, the Portland Timbers will face off against Real Salt Lake, and that sentence alone probably generates at least a little anxiety. There’s probably a few reasons for that (playing on only two days of rest and a suspiciously good run of form), but I’m venturing to guess the main reason for any uneasiness going into tonight’s match is because of what happened last time.
Last time these two teams played it ended a draw, but it really felt more like a loss for the Timbers. They led 4-2 going into extra time only to give up two goals in rapid succession, leading to a 4-4 draw and dropping to points from their total in the standings. Considering the Timbers are now second, tied for the points lead in the West, having those two extra points would be very helpful right about now.
That match and others like it were ones that Giovanni Savarese and crew have had to learn from. They seem to have figured something out, considering they’re on a six-match unbeaten streak and have also won five in a row. Savarese says that even though every match in the MLS is different, there were things he and the Timbers learned.
“There’s some things that we need to be aware [of],” Savarese said. “Definitely the first half of that match against RSL was a difficult match. We had to kind of chase a little bit some of the things. Nevertheless, we found good form in right moments ... and then there were certain things that we needed to be a little bit better.”
The last time they played RSL, it was early in the season. The defense was struggling, specifically with giving up goals quickly one right after the other. That’s exactly what happened against RSL — and it happened again later against teams like LAFC. Savarese said earlier this year that their problems defensively weren’t centered around giving up the first goal; it was what they didn’t do afterwards to stop the second or third goal.
That seems to have turned around a bit. Throughout this unbeaten streak they’ve only allowed five goals, three of those coming in just one game. They have three clean sheets during that span also. The improved defense as well as some experience playing RSL has given the Timbers some idea of what to expect tonight.
“We’ve seen it through all the games that we have watched them play,” Savarese said. “They throw a lot of numbers at the end of the game and you can expect that they’re going to throw everything out trying to make sure that they create in their dangerous situations.”
The defense is what did them in last time, but what should help is that the Timbers seem to have found their stride offensively — 18 goals in six games will usually help with that kind of thing. Portland are finding ways to get all of their attacking options time on the field, and all of them seem to be making the most of their opportunities.
“The players have a lot of confidence and right now we’ve been attacking a lot,” midfielder Marvin Loria said through a translator. “I believe it’s the mind of the team, that is very confident and very strong, that has allowed us to do that.”
This isn’t the same Timbers team that we saw at the beginning of the restart. They aren’t giving up goals left and right or struggling to find that rhythm offensively. They’re humming along right now and, while they’ve acknowledged what happened last time they played RSL, they’re more focused on what they can do right now. For them, that’s sticking to what’s worked up to this point.
“We have to stay on our path,” Savarese said. “We have to continue to believe in our principles and the type of team that we want to be.