The Portland Timbers finally lost on Sunday. Well, not finally. Before they were defeated by the Philadelphia Union 3-0 yesterday, they had already lost three times before. But before that loss, they had done something remarkable: They earned points when they had absolutely no right to do so.
With limited players available before the June break, the Timbers accumulated six points in two matches, beating both the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy by multiple goals. It was a remarkable turnaround for a team that was missing anywhere between seven and eight key players for these past three matches. While it’s never ideal to be shutout, the fact that they got six points in three games when they arguably should’ve gotten zero is impressive.
“We always have the belief that we want to win every game, and we’re not content to have those six points because we wanted nine,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “But when you look and you reflect where we are, of course six points is very important us, and regardless, I’m very proud of the group.”
Savarese is right. Six points are six points. It doesn’t matter how you get them as long as you do it. But Savarese is right also in that that outlook requires one to step back from what just happened in order to maintain some perspective. That’s because what happened on Sunday was ... not ideal.
What did the Timbers in more than anything was poor defense on set pieces. All three of Philadelphia’s goals came off of set pieces. Portland consistently lost guys in the box or couldn’t track the ball, which led to untimely goals for the Union that killed all of Portland’s momentum. Savarese noted that the blame can be placed on both him and the players, but in the end Philadelphia is a team that is well suited to play off those set pieces.
“Unfortunately today we weren’t [very good] against a team that is very strong in the air,” Savarese said. “They have some tall players and I think, especially [Kacper] Przybylko was fundamental for them in basically the set pieces they converted into goals. We just needed to do a better job, but the entire group will continue to work on that and be better.”
It wasn’t all drab for Portland, despite the scoreline. They were finally able to create some chances for themselves as the second half wore on, looking dangerous in their own right on some set-piece opportunities. But that didn’t particularly matter because of the hole they’d already dug themselves into.
“By the time the game was out of reach, we were able to see their back link get exposed a little bit more and us being able to take advantage a little bit more in spaces, but it’s a work in progress,” Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse said. “We gave them a little too much confidence in the beginning of the game by not focusing defensively.”
Overall, it’s just a tough loss to concede. It’s easy to say with some separation that the Timbers getting six points in three games is objectively a good thing, but it’s hard in the moment to recognize that, especially after a 3-0 loss. And while a 3-4-0 record (W-L-D) is nothing to write home about, the fact the Timbers can use the break as an opportunity to rest up and gets guys healthy is huge.
“They all did a great job,” Savarese said. “What more can I ask these guys for what they’ve been able to give me today. Of course we are disappointed, but achieving six points in three games has been great from the players and I’m very proud.”