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Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter turns the focus on finishing as stretch run looms

BEAVERTON, Ore. – “We expect to win, and our supporters expect us to win,” Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter explained on Friday, reflecting on the US Open Cup semifinal loss to Real Salt Lake two days prior. “We have absolutely flipped the culture to the point where now every time we play and every time we take the field, our players, our fans, everybody expects us to win.”

The transformation from Portland’s last two disappointing seasons has been underway for some time now. But it’s taken some recent struggles – Portland have lost three times, tied twice and won just once across all competitions in the last month after enjoying a franchise-best 15-game unbeaten streak at the end of July – to shine the light on just how the team’s culture has changed.

The Timbers still have a league-low three losses. They’re still in touching distance of the top spot in the Western Conference, and they did just play in a Cup semifinal.

It’s a long way from the darkest days of 2012.

“I don’t know if there have been many teams that have gone into Salt Lake and out-possessed them,” Porter said. “They’re the best possession team in the league and have been for years, and it was 60-40 and 13-9 in shots. Football and the result can be very deceiving. Like I said, we could have easily won that game 2-1 and be feeling like we’re on top of the world right now because we played well enough to have that happen.”

In his postgame comments, Porter said his team may have been “overconfident.” Meaning, he said, they shouldn’t expect to go into Rio Tinto Stadium and come away with a win over a team like RSL without playing well.

And they did play well – they just didn’t finish, which is perhaps the biggest worry of the past month. And it’ll be the biggest focus of the coming weeks as the Timbers try to conjure another undefeated streak with the regular season stretch run in front of them.

“I think it happens to every striker, it happens to every team, you go through a period where you get chances but it doesn’t fall,” he said. “But you’d be concerned if you’re not getting the chances because that means you’re not playing well.”

And even though his team is “struggling” for the first time this season, Porter’s expectations haven’t changed. With 12 games remaining, seven at home and four on the road, starting with a home game Aug. 17 against FC Dallas, a first-ever playoff berth and even a shot at the Supporters’ Shield are within reach. That includes three remaining league games against RSL.

“We have some crucial games ahead,” Porter said. “We know we’re a good team, and we’re not far off. We need to make a few adjustments, we’re always reflecting on how we can get better and that reflection will occur after this game, just like any game. But there aren’t major things we need to correct.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.