The Portland Timbers’ run in the Concacaf Champions League competition came to an end last night, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. In a match that played out similarly to last week’s contest, the Timbers struggled to put together much of anything in the first half and conceded a goal, but followed it up with a tremendous second-half effort. Unfortunately, allowing two goals and not containing Club America came back to haunt them.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We did much better in the second half, even though we fought through the entire time to try to get the result that we needed in order to qualify. It’s unfortunate. We really believe in ourselves and now we have to continue to work.”
Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri echoed that feeling of frustration with a tinge of accomplishment. They didn’t go up against the most successful team in Concacaf’s history and falter. Instead, they played them hard until the end, even if the aggregate score didn’t end in their favor. But even knowing that you played hard doesn’t take away from the frustration of losing.
“When the final whistle blew, being honest, I was very frustrated,” Valeri said. “I was sad. But at the end, you know, this is soccer and we gave it our all. We fought until the end. We competed against a big team and that’s it. Soccer is about that.”
It’s hard to come out with positive takeaways in a loss. In matches like Wednesday’s where there was plenty at stake, most teams understandably don’t want to be talking about what they took away from a tournament well before that tournament is over. They’d much rather be worrying about that after making a deep run.
But the Timbers found themselves closer to the former than the latter, and now all they can do is learn from it. Valeri’s right in that sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way, and that’s just how the sport goes. It doesn’t change the fact that they competed well. From Savarese’s point of view, Portland’s play against Club America showed that they’re a team that isn’t going to bow out willingly. They might not be advancing, but they put on display what they can do when putting it all together.
“I think everyone that has seen the way we competed against a good team like Club America is going to know that we have a team that has the belief in achieving important things,” Savarese said. “We knew it was going to be difficult, but we have a belief in ourselves, and I think that what we have to do now is have a good reflection of these two games and continue to move forward.”
There were other positives as well. One of them was the return of Jeremy Ebobisse. He only played for a short while in the second half, but he made his presence felt. The Timbers switched to a diamond formation with two strikers to try and create chances in the second half, and it worked. It was a good glimpse into how Savarese can use both Ebobisse and Felipe Mora going forward.
“I think today he showed that he’s an important player for us; that he can help,” Savarese said. “Now, he’s got to get fit again and feel more comfortable with the rhythm of the game.”
That will come in time. For now, the Timbers have to shift their focus back to MLS play, with Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders up next. All their time and attention can now be put towards MLS play, even if that’s not what they’d like to do.