The Portland Timbers are nearing the end of one of the most compacted stretches of games in recent memory for the club. After the final whistle blows during their match against the Vancouver Whitecaps today, Portland will have played five games over the course of just 14 days. It’s been a long couple weeks, but soon they’ll have a break.
It’s helped being back in Providence Park. Instead of travelling back and forth between Portland and California — where they played LAFC and San Jose — the team has actually had a chance to recover from so many games. And now they have to take advantage of being home while they can.
“We have to make sure that we utilize in the best possible way, as we said before, making sure that at home, we’re the stronger team, and we showed it in the previous match against Seattle,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “So we have to stay on the same path and the same mentality.”
That seems like a good plan. Like Savarese said, it worked against the Seattle Sounders. Portland took them down 1-0, earning their first clean sheet since March and earning three points at Providence Park against the Sounders for the first time in three home matches. It was an overall solid performance, the kind that gives them the momentum they need to keep going.
“We’re coming from a very important result against a good team,” Savarese said. “A team that is our rival, a team that we need to be get three points at home; something that we didn’t do in the two previous matches. And, again, that gives us the confidence to make sure that we continue to go in the same direction.”
As noted earlier, one of the biggest reasons for their previous victory was their defense. Their offense has been good: Their 26 goals are tied for the second most of any team this year, and our very own Grant Little detailed how they’ve thrived even without Sebastian Blanco. The problem has been their defense. They’ve allowed the fourth most goals in the league and have conceded more goals at the end of each half as any other team.
But recently their defense has improved. They’ve only allowed two goals in their last three games, one of those coming against a potent offensive attack in Seattle. They haven’t collapsed for minutes at a time, something that had been a problem since coming back from Orlando. They’ve overall just been more sound when defending their opponent.
“I think we’ve been doing a good job the last couple games,” Timbers defender Jorge Villafana said. “I think going into Vancouver, we need to keep doing the same. We need to be aware the whole 90 minutes and plus, staying in tune with the game.”
The difference between the Seattle clean sheet and previous matches was that it was a complete match — a match where they didn’t disappear for short stretches of time. Goalkeeper Steve Clark said after the Seattle victory that putting together a complete 90-plus minutes was something that they hadn’t done up to that point. Savarese feels the same way.
“I have to agree with Clark that we haven’t had that many complete matches,” Savarese said. “I think that we have had very good games that we did a lot of good things in, but in a matter of minutes — some 15 minutes and other four minutes — we have conceded and allowed teams to be able to come back or put us in a difficult situation.”
So now that they have a complete match under their belt against a very good Seattle team, they have to figure out how to do it again against Vancouver. The Whitecaps aren’t enjoying as good a season as Seattle; they’re 5-0-8 (W-D-L) and currently sit at 10th in the conference. But Portland doesn’t want to underestimate this match and are planning to go in with the same mentality as the Seattle win.
“It’s not going to be an easy match,” Savarese said. “We have been preparing, we have been trying to recoup all the players, and we’re looking forward to this match and hoping that we can get a good result to continue to go on the same path.”