Portland have to fight way out of rut, says Spencer

PORTLAND, Ore. — It’s been nearly three months since the Portland Timbers beat the Chicago Fire in a memorable home-opening and first-ever victory for the expansion team.

With all that’s happened since — and as Portland prepare to face Chicago again Saturday — the Timbers have experienced what it is sure to seem like a lifetime of ups and downs.

The Chicago win tempered early worries incurred by two losses and a tie to start Portland’s inaugural MLS season. It also started a stretch in which the Timbers won five of seven matches, including five straight at raucous JELD-WEN Field.

But since beating Columbus 1-0 on May 21, the Timbers haven’t won in seven matches and have lost six of those. The clear low point came at home on Sunday, when the Timbers twice squandered leads to lose 3-2 to bitter rival Seattle Sounders in a nationally televised match.

So which team are the real Timbers? And how do they recover a form that made them seem unbeatable at home?

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “Do you think anybody feels sorry for us because we’re an expansion team?”

There have been injuries: Forward Bright Dike, the leading scorer from last year’s second-division Timbers team, hasn’t played at all due to an Achilles injury.

There have been lineup changes: benching forward Kenny Cooper due to ineffectiveness.

There’s been the bad: a hapless performance in a 4-0 road loss against Dallas and the Seattle loss. And the good: a 1-1 tie on the road against Seattle toping that list.

“When you got off to the start we got off to, I think people’s perception of us changed,” Spencer said. “People thought we were Real Madrid at home and that the Timbers could go undefeated at home all season long.”

Spencer said that the truth about Portland might be somewhere in the middle. And it’s the gaffes — allowing extra-time goals that led to a loss against Colorado, a tie against New York and wasting two leads against Seattle — that really vexes the fiery coach.

“We didn’t get cut open by unbelievable play,” Spencer said. “We shot ourselves in the foot every single game and cost ourselves points.”

And as Portland hit the road for 10 of their remaining 17 games, Spencer is hoping another “up” is on the way.

“There’s only one way you can get yourself back to winning ways, and that is by playing well,” he said. “And it depends on saying to yourself, ‘I’m going to have to play better than I’m playing right now. I’m going to have to give more effort than I’m giving right now,’ because nobody is going to give you the points. Nobody is going to lie down and roll over.”