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Eastern Conference Championship

Portland's losing skid sapping their confidence

Timbers' Darlington Nagbe gets by Sporting's Chance Myers.

Photo Credit: 
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer said all week that he was looking for something special from his team, for any player to show him something, which led to a shakeup in the lineup on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City.

Except Spencer got something special from a player who has been in the starting lineup almost all along. Rookie midfielder Darlington Nagbe scored the Timbers’ signature goal of the season — a rocket from just beyond the outer box — albeit in a 2-1 loss at JELD-WEN Field.

Spencer called it one of the top three goals scored in MLS this year.

“If Cristiano Ronaldo scores that goal tonight … or [Lionel] Messi, it’s spotted all over the globe in world soccer,” he said. “Everywhere.”

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Unfortunately for Spencer and his skidding side — and another raucous, sold-out home crowd — Nagbe’s goal wasn’t enough to dig Portland out of an early two-goal deficit. And the new-look lineup did nothing to prevent the Timbers from going into their July 10 rivalry match against Seattle riding a six-game winless streak.

“I think we’re lacking a lot of confidence right now,” Spencer said.

Forward Kenny Cooper and defender Jeremy Hall — two of Portland’s marquee names — started on the bench in favor of Eddie Johnson and Steve Purdy, respectively. The result may have been better than Portland’s 4-0 defeat last weekend in Dallas, but it’s still clear that work remains.

“We’re on the ropes and we’ve got to get ourselves back on track,” Spencer said.

Two goals in the game’s first 20 minutes for Kansas City did little for a back line that has looked porous recently. Furthermore, Portland’s work up front lacked consistency and cohesiveness.

“Right now, it’s just little mistakes from me all the way up,” goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “We have to learn from it quickly. We’ve got a big game [on July 10].”

And little time to savor Nagbe’s goal that was something for the highlight reels.

The heralded first-year player, taken second overall in the 2011 SuperDraft by the Timbers, may just be the spark the team needs. The goal came in the final minute of the first half after Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen punched out a free kick taken by Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury.

Nagbe collected, touched it once to set up the shot, and then volleyed a screamer into the upper corner of the net.

“It felt good to give them a spark,” Nagbe said.

Nagbe said Spencer told him on Friday that he would score against Sporting Kansas City, and the 20-year-old showed his appreciation after scoring by racing over to the coach for a long embrace.

“We’re just going to try to build on it,” Nagbe said. “Hopefully we can win the next game. Everything feels better when you win.”