When a draw occurs in soccer, one of the three emotions usually shine through. The first is a feeling of equilibrium. This occurs when both teams play equally as well and a draw seems like the only fitting end to a match. The second is a feeling of disappointment. That’s a feeling the Portland Timbers experienced last season due to the high volume of potential wins snatched away at the last second due to late goals conceded.
The third feeling is the opposite of the second feeling, a feeling of accomplishment. That’s what the Timbers felt last night. That’s because after allowing two goals in the first half to the Houston Dynamo, the Timbers rallied back to put in two goals — including a 91st-minute equalizer from Jeremy Ebobisse — and steal a point at BBVA Stadium. It was a big about-face for a team that spent most of last season being the ones who conceded the late goals.
“Given the circumstances, to tie it up in the 91st minute, it’s going to feel like a very good moment,” Ebobisse said. “Not exactly a win, but close to the feeling of a win.”
That’s probably the best way to describe this last tie. It wasn’t one where you say “Man, that felt like a win,” but more one where you say “I’m glad we didn’t lose.” And again, it came from a team that often fell victim to goals in the final minute last season. The Timbers allowed the most goals (15) by any team in the final 15 minutes of each half in MLS. It’s something that Ebobisse addressed last night, saying that Portland knew they couldn’t let the late concessions continue.
“We’ve come to the realization that the late goals shouldn’t be a characteristic of our team, and they cost us too many points and frankly they cost us vying for a year as well,” Ebobisse said. “With that said, we know how detrimental it is for the morale to concede those goals. When we see a team who’s under pressure, we keep going to the end and if we’re able to get that go-ahead goal or that comeback goal, it’s something that brings about good feelings in the group.”
Still, Portland were feeling happy about this one. How did the Timbers manage to pull off the draw? Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese had an interesting lineup, utilizing his defenders more and putting his team in formation that shifted from a 5-2-3 to a 3-4-3. That formation struggled in the first half, but after bringing in Diego Valeri and putting more pressure on Houston higher up, they were able to double their shots taken (10 shots in the second half to five in the first) and come away with two goals. It was one of the best halves the Timbers have experienced all season.
“The tactical moves that we made for the second half, I think it paid off very well,” Savarese said. “The sacrifice of the group, the belief of the group, the guys that came in, I’m very pleased with the performance in the second half and even in the first half. It’s just that changing a system that we worked a little bit to try to come here and perform knowing the players we had.”
Performing with the players they have is something the Timbers have done well, especially considering how shorthanded they’ve been this season. But despite numerous injuries, Portland are 4-1-1 (W-D-L) in their last six matches. That’s a much better record than anyone could’ve asked of a team that was missing nine key players at one point.
So we have yet another good Timbers result. And they’ll have a chance to do so again on Saturday with their late matchup against Minnesota United FC. It should be a difficult one, considering it’ll be their third game in seven days, but Savarese and company don’t seem worried about that. After Wednesday night, they’re just ready to change one point into three.