That was better. Frustrating and incomplete, but better.
Last weekend's loss at Real Salt Lake was nowhere near where the Timbers want to be in terms of tangible success (ie: points), but faced with an old bête noir, in a stadium where Portland have never won, the challenge seemed to bring out the best in Caleb Porter’s struggling 2014 side. The result was, in the end, heartbreaking. Yet another late goal (Grabavoy, 78’), already the Timbers’ eighth conceded in the final 60 minutes of play—six of which have come in the final 15 minutes—once again doomed Portland to a road defeat, prolonging their season-opening winless streak to seven.
At least we can’t blame the back four.
Portland matched up well with RSL, and the stats are there to back it up: 12 shots (three on goal) for Salt Lake, nine (four on goal) for Portland; 408 passes completed for RSL (79% accuracy), 400 for Portland (80% accuracy); finally, the possession was effectively 50/50 (technically 50.1% RSL to 49.9% Portland). It was the first truly even road match of the season, and the Timbers deserved to walk out of Rio Tinto Stadium with a point. But they didn’t. Nick Rimando, who would appear to Portland fans as the world’s only insurmountable 5’10” brick wall, may have single-handedly won the game for Salt Lake.
The subtleties of Caleb Porter’s three lineup changes revealed a deft touch: using first” La Gata” Fernandez’s quickness to try and exploit an RSL back line that had to deal with offside machine Maxi Urruti for an hour, adding an offensively dynamic Alvas Powell in place of a solid-but-unremarkable Jack Jewsbury, and finally the sparkplug Michael Nanchoff for extra energy as the game wound down. The thought of a 1-1 draw, or even a 2-1 Timbers victory, was not far off, if not for Rimando and his two Save of the Week-candidate stops. Aside from the lack of a goal, everything looked to be clicking into place offensively.
The test of character is to now find a way to focus on the positives heading into yet another hostile road match, in steamy Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium (Sunday, noon PST, KPTV.) With former Timbers Eric Brunner (injured), and Mike Chabala (minuteless) as non-factors, only defender David Horst has the chance to be the next Adam Moffat and strike for the Dynamo against Portland.
The Timbers must smell blood in the water. The Dynamo have lost of four of their last five games, and were outscored 12-2 during that stretch. Ouch. Wednesday's brutal 4-0 loss at Red Bull Arena won't help, as it leaves them only a few days to lick their wounds and prepare for the Portland. What's more, Houston's holding midfielder, Ricardo Clark, was helped off the field in the 60' after a collision. If he can't go this weekend, it weakens Houston's already reeling defense.
Still, Houston boast a lot of quality: an eternally-underrated USMNT regular Brad Davis, and fourth-year striker Will Bruin, a load at 6’2, 195lb—as big as any forward Portland have faced this year—who will be looking to break his five match goalless streak.
If the Timbers play in Houston the way they did in Salt Lake City last Saturday, there is a very real possibility that they will get a result. With three consecutive home matches on the horizon, a good showing in Houston (and that elusive tangible result) will finally get the Good Ship Timbers off the ground. They'll have to. The Blazers and Thorns have already set the bar pretty high for Portland success in Houston, and a four game winning streak across two sports and three leagues is on the line.