With Cascadia defeat fresh in their minds, Portland Timbers look to improve set piece defense

dash; Caleb Porter has spent a lot of time in the aftermath of the Portland Timbers’ 1-0 loss Sunday to Seattle talking about the set piece goal that was the decider.

It was Eddie Johnson’s header that was all that stood in the way of Portland getting out of that game – which they played without several key pieces including captain Will Johnson and midfielder Diego Chara – with a hard-earned result. And Porter has said before, with his team usually controlling possession in most of their games, the Timbers’ success comes down to their execution in the boxes.

“I thought we played well enough to win, but in the end, you don’t deserve to win unless you find the goal, and you don’t deserve to win unless you stop guys from scoring on set pieces,” Porter said of the Seattle game. “And the guys know that, and they realize that.”

So it would stand to reason that Portland are spending a lot of time on set pieces in preparation for Friday’s crucial matchup on the road against Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET, NBC Sports Network).

What the stats show, however, is a team that doesn’t really struggle all that much with set pieces – at least not when compared to other successful defensive teams.

Of the Timbers’ 26 goals allowed this season, 12 have come from the run of play and 14 from dead ball situations. Of those 14, four have come from penalty kicks and two more from direct free kick situations (meaning it didn’t come from a failure to mark a man).

Of the eight set piece goals that involved box defending, one came from a long throw-in, two off corner kicks and five from free kicks in the attacking third.

In comparison, the LA Galaxy have allowed 11 set piece goals and RSL seven.

“Really you’re looking at eight moments, eight situations, in 25 games where we’ve gotten beat with poor marking,” Porter said.

Still, the Timbers are trying to be mindful of their set piece defending, considering it cost them a key result.

“We’ve focused on set pieces all year, we know it’s a big part of the game,” midfielder Ben Zemanski said. “It’s a one-v-one battle, we’ve talked about that, and it’s about winning your battle one on one and not letting your man score. And on the other side, if we can finish a couple it will give us an advantage.”

Dan Itel covers the Portland Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.