Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter's tweaked lineup seeing better results

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter

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USA Today

BEAVERTON, Ore. – It may not have been perfect, but the Portland Timbers’ defensive effort this past Saturday in their 1-1 tie against the Seattle Sounders marked a tangible improvement from their first two games.

The Timbers allowed a season-low seven shots, with three on goal. And after an early Seattle goal, on a 13th-minute Eddie Johnson strike, the Sounders were largely neutralized.

Portland head coach Caleb Porter credited a slight tweak to the midfield after giving up three goals in the season opener against New York Red Bulls and two to Montreal Impact in week two.

Porter added another player to the mix at midfield, giving veteran Jack Jewsbury his first start of the season as a holding midfielder behind Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Will Johnson. In the first two games, Porter employed a version of the 4-3-3 with Chara, Valeri and Johnson as the central midfield trio.

“The thing I’m most encouraged by was the balance,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s session at the team’s training facility. “I thought the tweaks we made, especially for that game, gave us better balance defensively. And that’s going to be important to winning games.”

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Porter said having Jewsbury as a safety valve allowed the attacking midfielders to make deep runs without getting burned on counters. Of course, Portland did get beat on a counter attack on Johnson’s goal, and were in danger twice more, but Porter said he felt a lot better about the overall performance.

And most importantly, Donovan Ricketts only had to pick the ball out of his own net once.

“In just evaluating the first two games, I felt like we had to do something to get us a little tighter,” Porter said.

Central defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste said the backline is also starting to come together. Jean-Baptiste noted that he’s the only returning player from the 2012 back four, and he only started three games there last season.

“It takes time to build up chemistry, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” the 20-year-old said. “And so far it’s been going well. It’s on the right track; it’s not like something where we have to go back to the chalkboard. We know what we’re capable of and we know why we’re getting scored on. ... It’s these moments, these counter attacks, these set pieces, and as soon as we cut that out teams are not going to have those chances.”

The lineup tweak also resulted in a season-low 13 shots for the Timbers, but Porter said he was still happy with their attack and, most of all, the overall balance.

“Did we create as much as we created in the first two games? Probably not," he said. "But I still think we created enough to score goals and I felt much better about the defending side."

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.