The Portland timbers lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1 last night, and there’s a lot to dive into there. But I have to start this article with an apology to Timber Dave. As you may or may not know, I wrote an article earlier this week about how everything seemed to be going according to plan for the Timbers. Well, Timber Dave made note of the headline.
So for this, I apologize Timber Dave. While I like to think it was the porous first half that dug us in more, I have to acknowledge that my jinx played a role in this loss. I said that I would apologize if such a thing were to happen, and it did. So again, I am sorry.
Okay, now on to the game. It was a bad loss for Portland. They were able to right the ship partially in the second half, but they dug themselves into a big enough hole in the first half that it didn’t really matter. The offense and defense that had been so good the past six games was stymied in the first half of this one.
“There was about 15 minutes in which we got a little bit disorganized, and they found that ball in behind us that created some problems,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “The first half we were a little bit too timid, and were not pressuring quick enough. We were not good with the ball.”
They weren’t good when they had the ball, and they weren’t pressuring enough when they didn’t have it. RSL played like a team that had lost three in a row and did not plan on losing a fourth, and they came out attacking hard, especially along the wings. The balls in behind were especially killer for Portland last night.
“We were a little bit deeper, and we didn’t step to be able to get to pressure the ball a little big earlier, so we invited that ball, but even though the balls kept on coming,” Savarese said. “We just had to be a little bit more in line in the back.”
They did tighten things up in the second half. They possessed the ball better and started to actually create some opportunities. Most of their chances came off of set pieces. RSL tried very hard to clog up passing lanes and sit deep, making it difficult for Portland to find any real chances within the flow of the game. But the Timbers did a good job earning fouls for set piece opportunities, and the result was some beautiful crosses from Diego Valeri. El Maestro’s passing was pinpoint all night, and there were plenty of equalizing.
“They defended very narrow in the second half, closer to their box and that’s why we couldn’t find clear passes there,” Valeri said. “We became dangerous on long-distance kicking, crosses and set pieces. We couldn’t find the second goal and the game I think in the half could’ve used it.”
One factor that also played a role in last night’s loss? Fatigue. The Timbers had just played a match on Sunday and then had to go on the road to face RSL. They were able to rotate some, but it’s still draining to have play on such short notice. Valeri said that actual play on the field was more of a problem than fatigue, but Savarese acknowledged that it was surely a factor.
“That’s why you try the rotations, but sometimes when you play so many matches, it’s difficult, and we had only two days to rest,” Savarese said. “Nevertheless, even though some moments in the first half we looked tired, in the second half the guys put the work [in] to try and equalize the match.”
The Timbers have played three games so far in October, and they still have another three to go. They have LAFC on Sunday as their next match and still have to face the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy before the month ends. They’ve fairly consistently played on a schedule that entails a game every three days. It’s stretches like these where depth becomes even more important.
“We’ve got the players who can do the job and I believe in every single player who steps on the field that they can do the job,” said Bill Tuiloma, the lone goal scorer for the Timbers last night. “We have a strong team, we have a strong chemistry throughout training and going toward up to the game and just got to focus on the next game.”
That’s just about all Portland can do. While losing isn’t ever fun, the good news is that the Timbers are still tied for the points lead in the West. It stinks to have a winning streak snapped, but they’ve shown before that when they’re confident and semi-rested they can be a dangerous club, and now they’ll just have to find that mojo again in this final push.
“We are very confident,” Valeri said. “I think the team is looking good and overall, we are doing more positive things to build on it...obviously, you know that we have a lot of games coming every three days so we need rest after the games to be as best as we can next game and it’s all about that. But I’m feeling confident. I see good levels and overall the team is very connected.”