Sometimes, you just have to move on.
Last weekend's result, a 3-1 loss to the Galaxy, was not at all what the Timbers needed; not this late in the season, not against a Western Conference team, and certainly not against one with three games-in-hand.
In many ways, the match followed a tired, old script: Portland scored first, on another brilliant strike from Valeri the Maestro, but were unable to hold the lead, and ultimately succumbed to bad habits. Things began to unravel deep into first-half stoppage time, when the en fuego Gyasi Zardes equalized - his seventh goal in eight games - connecting with a Robbie Rogers cross. Instead of taking a lead into halftime, it was suddenly level, and the gaps in Portland’s defense in front of goal were becoming more and more evident.
As the second half wore on, the Galaxy tightened their grip on possession, and ultimately found another way through the Timbers defense. This time, an older hat, Robbie Keane, slithered his way loose of Will Johnson on the right side of goal and headed home Landon Donovan’s cross.
All of the sugar-coating in the world wouldn’t make Portland’s trip to the StubHub Center taste any less bitter.
The loss leaves Portland stuck on 27 points, three behind Colorado for the final playoff spot, with 12 games remaining.
With the margin for error growing increasingly smaller, the Timbers cannot afford to dwell on a bad result; they must move on. Thankfully, with Major League Soccer busy pouring all kinds of love on Soccer City, USA, the Timbers had a temporary breather during the All-Star spectacle. Watching the best team in the world can’t hurt either.
Business resumes on Saturday, when Chivas USA come to town. The bottom-dwelling Goats have lost three in a row, most recently, a 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas in front of 3,951, or roughly 20% of Sunday’s Thorns crowd. Despite their recent run of poor form, Chivas are exactly the kind of team that can play spoiler, and potentially doom Portland’s season for good.
Erick “Cubo” Torres is tied for second in the MLS Golden Boot race, with 14, tied with Dom Dwyer, and two ahead of Robbie Keane. The rest of the team combines for only seven goals. The soon-to-be-rebranded Goats are 0-1-1 against Portland this year, including a 1-1 draw at Providence Park on April 12. In that one, the aforementioned Cubo’s 79’ equalizer resigned the Timbers to their fourth draw of the young season.
Portland, meanwhile, struggled without Darlington Nagbe, who missed the Galaxy game with a knee sprain suffered in the win over Montréal. Aside from Valeri’s excellent strike, the Timbers generated meager offense against one of MLS’s most stingy defenses. In all, Portland lost the possession battle 63.3% to 36.7% without their talismanic midfielder.
The scene on Saturday should be dramatically different. Back at home, against one of MLS’s weaker teams, the Timbers offense will have to click into gear to earn the invaluable points on offer. As has been the case for most of the season, the playoffs are within reach but frustratingly just outside of Portland’s grasp. Three points at home will put the Timbers level with Colorado for the last playoff spot, ahead of a long trip East to face New England, and an even longer trip to Guyana midweek.