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Timbers ready for reflection after exhausting night in Austin

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The Timbers second-half magic ran out in Austin. Now all they can do is rest and reflect on how to improve.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Austin FC Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

You would be forgiven if you didn’t watch last night’s Portland Timbers match against Austin FC. If you’re an Austin fan and you watched it, it was probably awesome. You got to see your team light it up at Q2 Stadium with a roaring crowd cheering them on as they rollicked the Timbers 4-1. There really isn’t a better way for Austin FC to christen their new stadium.

Rollicking teams is fun. Getting rollicked? Not so much. The Timbers had a sense of disappointment — even dejection — after last night’s loss. They were in a situation they’d been in before: They trailed 2-1 at the half, but regained momentum as the first 45+ minutes neared its end. In this position, the Timbers have shown numerous times that they can be the cardiac kids who make a serious run to put themselves in a position to win or tie.

The Timbers had been bending, but not breaking, for most of the game. This time, they broke.

“The third goal killed us,” Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse bluntly said after the match. “The third goal made it harder for us to see a path to come back with 15 minutes to go. I think that was reflected in the final 15 in the fourth goal, and it just seemed like everything kind of unraveled within our decision making and within our confidence.”

Ebobisse — who scored the lone goal on the night for Portland — and the Timbers had the life sucked out of them after that third goal. They were already teetering, losing that momentum they had gained from Ebobisse’s sliding finish at the end of the first half and the intense pressure they applied to Austin to start the second. Once the fourth goal was scored, it was mostly a matter of just waiting for the clock to stop.

“One of the toughest nights since I’ve been here in Portland,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Definitely deserved the score that we saw on the field. Austin played a very good match and deserved the result.”

It was those conceded goals in the second half that put the nail in the coffin, but the Timbers put themselves in an early hole by once again falling behind early. Austin FC got comfortable early and generated numerous chances, culminating in multiple set pieces in the just the first 15 minutes as well as two goals in 33 minutes. Ebobisse noted that too often they are letting teams feel much to comfortable during the match.

“Teams have been imposing themselves and, in those games, where we do concede goals, there are times where we give them what we want them to have,” Ebobisse said. “But when it’s time to make that final play, whether its that final angle to close a pass off or that final one vs. one defending, or that final tracking of the runner ... we’re not making that final play in these types of games.”

It’s been a difficult two weeks back from the international break. They’ve played four games in 13 days and had to push hard in the second half in almost all of those matches. It becomes a balancing act when you’re trying to prevent your team from being gassed while also staying competitive. For Savarese, the defeats are bad, especially this one, but it has been what he described as a delicate moment just because of how fatigued everyone is. This delicacy requires some reflection.

“We need to make sure that we are on the same page and get guys back,” Savarese said. “So that’s going to be the most important part, and I think in some moments we’ve been here, and we have come out stronger in those moments. What I think in reality is that we’re going to be stronger because of what happened tonight.”

Adversity can lead to progress. Maybe the Timbers needed a couple matches where they didn’t have a magical second half and they suddenly fixed everything. Maybe this past defeat and the one before that are indicative of something wrong beyond having their luck run out. All that’s known for sure is that the Timbers have a little more than two weeks before they’re back in action. In those two weeks, some reflection will be necessary.

“We will see how we all come back from this break,” Ebobisse said. “We as individuals need to just reflect honestly on our own performances and where the bits and pieces have been good ... the break, hopefully a mental break to do some soul searching, and we will go from there.”