The Portland Timbers drew 1-1 with LAFC on Decision Day to secure a home playoff match against FC Dallas. The Timbers finished third in points per game in the MLS Western Conference thanks to a late equalizer from Jorge Villafaña. It was a beautifully worked move and, for Timbers fans, it felt great to be on the other end of a late game-changing goal.
The Timbers have struggled to close out games this season. It may seem as though it is just a recent problem, but the issue really started in Portland’s first match of the season. Before the MLS is Back Tournament and the pandemic — a time where we all thought it would actually just be a ‘regular’ season — Portland opened against Minnesota United. Diego Valeri equalized in the 56th minute through a penalty. But the Timbers collapsed at the end of the match, giving up goals in the 76th and 78th minute.
Portland would go on to beat Nashville SC 1-0 with another Valeri goal before the season was postponed. As we all know, the Timbers would go on to win the MLS is Back Tournament, but the conceding late was still a problem. In the 2-1 wins against the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo they gave up goals in the 88th and 86th minutes, respectively.
Steve Clark gave up a horrendously comical penalty in the 79th minute against FC Cincinnati, which allowed them to equalize. Clark atoned for his mistake in the penalty shootout and the Timbers advanced.
In the semifinals against Philadelphia, fans were covering their eyes as Portland gave up two late goals. Luckily one was waved off by a very close offsides call, but the Union had the opportunities to tie the match.
After being crowned MLS is Back champions, Portland took on the reigning MLS Cup champions. Seattle led 1-0 and Portland had the opportunity to get something out of the match, but instead the Sounders put two past Portland in the 83rd and 85th minutes, giving the Timbers a reality check.
The next match was the infamous Real Salt Lake match. Felipe Mora scored to make it 4-2 in the 85th minute and it looked like Portland had secured three points. RSL responded by scoring twice after the 90th minute mark.
Fast forward to the match against San Jose Earthquakes and the Timbers let two points slip from their grasp again. Valeri Qazaishvili scored in the 76th minute to equalize.
The result was eerily similar about a month later. The Timbers went 1-0 up against LAFC through Jeremy Ebobisse. But LAFC equalized in the 90th minute through Christian Torres.
The same thing happened in the final meeting with the Seattle Sounders. Will Bruin notched in stoppage time to earn Seattle a point and steal two from the Timbers.
Finally, the Timbers’ defense broke down in the 83rd minute against Colorado as Kellyn Acosta scored to book Colorado’s ticket to the playoffs.
Obviously, during a long, compact season it is inevitable that a team will concede late goals. But it has been a real issue for the Timbers. These are not even all the instances of conceding late this season. Portland needs to start finishing out games because, in the playoffs, a slip up like any of these could cost them their season. Rather, we need to see more of what we saw on Decision Day — the Timbers earning late goals and flipping the match on its head, and they have demonstrated that they have the ability to do so.
In the MLS is Back match against LAFC, Ebobisse scored in the 81st minute to secure a draw and the top spot in the group. Andy Polo scored a late goal to put the game to bed against NYCFC in the 76th minute of the quarterfinals.
Felipe Mora scored what looked to be the insurance goal in the 85th minute against RSL in league play and scored the winner in the 83rd minute against Seattle. On Sunday, we saw Villafaña head in the equalizer against LAFC.
The Timbers do not have a long time to correct their leaky defense, but it may not be tactical or structural. It may just be a lack of concentration at the end of matches. But Giovanni Savarese needs to get to the root of the problem and nip it in the bud before Nov. 22. The Timbers have the quality to make a deep run in the playoffs, but they need to be much sharper in the final 15 minutes of the match if it is to come to fruition.